Monday, December 1, 2008

Velma's Journal--May 6, 1932

A note was left in my campus post box stating that, in one week's time, I am to meet with Tobias Finch, Private Investigator at 8:15 PM under the far staircase of track 16 in Pennsylvania Station. The note said to tell no one and bring no one. It also said that I was in no danger and could be of great help to him in a very important investigation.

What does this all mean?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Velma's Journal--From the Desk of Nick Fish

Readers (if there are any of you left):

The wait is over. Now, over two months since Mr. Rivers's absence from the blogging process, the word has been handed down from both Mr. Rivers and Ms. Graydon that I may continue the process where he left off. At last check-in Mr. Rivers was still mired in the lettering of his graphic novel and happy to turn the work over to me. Also, I am pleased to report that I have been given full editorial discretion which means entries will be posted with more efficiency.

I shall enjoy communicating with Ms. Graydon's readership in the future. Thank you.


Nick Fish

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Velma's Journal--May 4, 1932

Met with Fox last night at the Bakery. After throwing back a whiskey with me, he said that by the description of the man I gave him, it sounded like someone by the name of Tobias Finch was following me. Fox said he is a private eye usually hired by the affluent to investigating heists and thefts. He occasionally comes into the Bakery and was in last week having a drink with Mick and Rick. When I approached both of them, they both said (so eloquently) that he asked nothing about me. How strange this all is.

In the most important news, I received another letter from Robert. He has made it to Edinburgh and is staying with his grandmother as Mrs. Vanderford has given him leave to see his family while they're in Great Britain. He says he will stay the reminder of the month and rejoin Mrs. Vanderford in London. He mentioned many times that he missed me and wished I was with him. How I wish the same. He said he has no doubt his grandmother would love me.

And through all this I have finals to attend to. I can hardly believe my first year at Barnard is drawing to a close.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Velma's Journal--May 1, 1932

I've confided in Dottie that someone's been following me. There have been at least six occasions since Jacob Vandewater pointed out the tall gentleman three weeks ago. I've noticed him every once and again when I'm off campus. For some reason I can't bring myself to tell anyone else but her about it. He seems to trail far behind me so that I can never make out his face, and like some secret agent or mysterious gumshoe of crime novels, he wears a gray hat and trench. He is abnormally tall, at least 6'4". I can't be sure exactly. Besides that he's only a shadow lurking behind me.

Dottie said that Fox the bartender at the Bakery can help me. She said he knows all the "shady" characters. I'll pay him a visit.

Tomorrow night, Dottie, Sarah and I are going to see Tarzan the Ape Man at the Roxy. It will be my first time there and I've heard it's just grand. Perhaps my tall mystery man will join us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Velma's Journal--April 14, 1932

Was called back to Jacob Vandewater who once again received me curtly at his door. Looking quite disheveled again, he handed me the exact same manuscript in the exact same shirt box which was now crumpled and in a sad state.

"Don't return that to Dr. Loockersmans. The note is intended for Mr. Rapalje." His wire-rim glasses were still crooked on his face. I wondered if he had changed at all since my first delivery. "Do you understand?"

"Yes sir, completely."

"And don't hand it to that driver of his either. Directly to Mr. Rapalje himself. I fear that man to be meddlesome."

"I understand, sir," I said almost chuckling. Rudy, to me, seems to be the nicest man I've met in my travels.

Vandewater looked both ways down the street and ducked inside the door. "Be careful, Ms. Graydon, I fear you're being followed. Do not go directly to Mr. Rapalje just yet." With that he slammed the door.

I turned slowly and started walking down the street. In the corner of my eye I did notice what seemed to be a tall man in a hat following me. I couldn't make out his face but as soon as I reached the corner he began to move in my direction. I quickly found my way into a taxi cab and as far as I can tell, was free of him.

The intrigue doesn't seem to end. And now, part of me, is starting to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Velma's Journal--March 30, 1932

Listening to the radio this morning, my favorite show at the moment is The American Album of Familiar Music on the NBC dial. I have to usually fight off Dottie for the radio. She is completely enthralled with Little Orphan Annie which just so happens to come on everyday of the the week at the same time. But listening to some of the bands on my program makes me think of Robert. He's been gone for nearly a week now and I can't believe how much I miss him. I know that be he'll be back by summer. I only hope he doesn't go off and fall for a fancy European girl.*

It's Sarah's birthday today. Her father had Dottie and I down to their home for dinner. It was a different dining experience from the last time. Mr. Schimberg served a traditional Shabbat dinner. We had chicken and a stew of carrots. I was introduced to a host of Hebrew words for certain household items like mapit is a napkin and prachim means flowers. Sakin means knives. There was a song which was a prayer to the Shabbat Angels to bless the food and Sarah as she entered her 19th year.

Of course Dottie added her own flare to the evening. She stopped at an Italian bakery on the way down and bought an assortment of pastries. I bought Sarah a biography of Louis Daguerre, which she loved the most she said.

Tonight Sarah is staying in Hewitt Hall so we can go to the Bakery to celebrate "properly." 

*EDITOR'S NOTE: In a prior entry not included on the list given to me by Velma, it is mentioned that Robert was accompanying Caroline Vanderford on a European tour as her butler. He was gone for approximately five months before returning to New York. She mentions many times how she misses him but does not confirm whether or not they are officially coupled.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Velma's Journal--March 11, 1932

Studying feriously for mid-terms next week and then there is a spring recess called for the week after. I don't think I'll go to Saratoga but rather stay in New York and continue to practice my Dutch and research more on these Lightkeepers.

I've been dreaming quite a bit again. Recurring images. The girl in the tattered bonnet like the one in my dreams back in the fall. She continually gives me the long blue feather which I can sware I feel in my hands. And for the past two nights I've been dreaming of ships sailing into a desolate harbor. There are three of them and they are old. Perhaps caravels or European schooners of some kind. The images flash by in my dreams in a nonsensical pattern.

Had a delivery to a new Lightkeeper today. His name was Jacob Vandewater of E. 77th Street. I delivered him a shirt box tied with brown string. It felt as though there was a stack of paper's inside. He answered the door in quite an erratic state. His hair was disheveled and his glasses crooked. He took the box quickly and said that he would call on me soon to bring the box to Mr. Rapalje. He then bid me good day and shut the door rudely. I have now met four of the seven Lightkeepers. Two seem perculiar to me and two I like very much.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Velma's Jounral--March 2, 1932

Read a disturbing article in the morning paper about Colonel Lindbergh, the famous aviator, who found his child missing last night with a ransom note. How frightening! I think this Depression is making people commit desperate crimes for money.

It has been over a week since I've received an assignment from Loockersmans, so I have taken the time to do some investigating of my own. Of course with Mid-term examinations coming, this is the worst time for that sort of thing, but I can't help myself.

Robert and I are going out again for the third time tomorrow. He is taking me to the cinema to see 20,000 Years in Sing Sing with Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis. He told me that he enjoys my company more than anyone elses. I said I did his. I really cannot stop thinking about him. I'm not sure these feelings couldn't have come at a worse time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Velma's Journal--February 25, 1932

Delivered a package today from Professor Loockersmans to William Fitz Roy, CEO of the Commissioners. When I arrived on the 75th floor of the Empire State Building I noticed the stark contrast of the office. There were glass partitions between offices and silver marble lining the floors. A secretary was there to greet me when I stepped off the elevator. She escorted me down a newly formed hallway, extremely art deco, all black, white, and glass. Stark. Everything was shining and new. Even the secretary wore a black dress and her hair was pulled tightly in a bun. I felt completely out of place in a drab brown dress with my trusty green satchel.

I was led past an enormous room and saw the longest conference table ever imaginable. There was a maid polishing the finish on it. It was clear that every detail of this office was deliberate.

When we reached the end of the hallway, two black and silver-trimmed double doors were opened. I was announced by the secretary and Mr. Fitz Roy bid me to enter.

I explained that I would have left the package with his secretary but Professor Loockersmans said I give the package only to him. He had me sit and offered me a drink. I declined. He said not taking a drink was poor form in a business meeting. I replied that I was not aware we were in a business meeting. For some reason I felt a strange air of confidence in this situation. Being such a standout made me feel like I needed to act like a standout.

“You’re missing out on a wonderful Scotch from the Isle of Skye. Nothing from a bathtub in Harlem, I assure you.” He poured himself a drink.

I simply handed him the package and asked, “Does this have to do with John Randel Jr.?”

He said, “You looked him up?”

“I did.”

“It does. Everything here does. City planning is our bread and butter, Miss Graydon.”

And then out of nowhere I asked a question that I felt was none of my business. “How are you associated with the Light Keepers then?” I’m still not sure who the Light Keepers really are. I was hoping he could elaborate. But I noticed the question cut the air and created a moment of discomfort for him.

His face was blank for a moment. “That is a good question. Ask your professor. I’m not at liberty to say.”

I smiled politely and suddenly felt the need to leave, “I’ve taken up too much of your time.”

“Not at all.” He sipped his Scotch. “Always a pleasure Miss Graydon. ” I was promptly shown out.

I vow to the page that I will get some answers even if I have to do some investigating of my own.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Velma's Journal--February 17, 1932

Had the most wonderful night with Robert. I arrived at a club called Small's Paradise which is in the basement of a building on 135th street in Harlem, hence the 1/2 address. Robert stood at the door waiting for me with a black case in his hand. When he saw me, he handed me a green carnation stating that he thought green was my color. He said it was his favorite. I said it was mine as well.

When we walked inside a round man greeted Robert familiarly and took the black case from him. He showed us to a small table among the smoky room. The tables were set up around a large open dance floor where people were dancing wildly. On the stage, in the front of the room, was an ensemble of men, one on piano, one on base, one on clarinet, one on trumpet, one on trombone, and a gentleman on drums. All where wearing black fedoras. The room was stuffed with people drinking and moving along to extremely upbeat music. I would assume jazz, although I had never heard it before. The entire club was alive with energy and even the waiters danced with the drinks on their trays.

Robert ordered two whiskeys and offered me a cigarette. I refused it since I've never smoked before. He lit one for himself and we talked a little over the music about growing up around horses since his father ran Mrs. Vanderford's stables. He also fascinated me with the story of his crossing from Scotland when he was eight. There was the 10 days he spent on the boat with only he and his father and for 8 of them it was stormy and he couldn't go above the deck so he stayed below reading all the complete works of Sir Walter Scott. His mother and two sisters came over two years later when his father could send the money. Then out of the blue he asked me what my favorite church hymn was. I told him I wasn't much of a churchgoer, but I remember Granny Ellie saying she loved "Closer Walk with Thee" when she went down south with her sister.  He smiled and said Granny Ellie had excellent taste in southern hymns.

Suddenly the music stopped and the same round man came on stage and asked Robert to come up. The host introduced him as "White Lightening." The room went crazy with applause. When he stepped on stage he took a silver trumpet out of the case he was carrying before and addressed the ensemble. He turned to the audience and said, "This is a fairly new little dirge from New Orleans, but tonight it'll raise the dead." The band then exploded into this swing rhythm of "Closer Walk with Thee" which lasted for 10 minutes, each instrument having their turn on improvising on the theme. Robert's solo was the longest and most complicated. The audience hollered, clapped, and some people even danced in the aisles. It was the grandest thing.

Robert played fives songs after that and stepped off stage. We finished our drinks and he offered to walk me back to campus. I accepted. When I asked where he learned to play trumpet, he said that Mrs. Vanderford gave him a trumpet for Christmas when he was twelve. One of the stable hands from Harlem, who played drums, took him to his father who taught him how to play trumpet.

When we reached Barnard's campus at 1:30 AM, I told him I'd never had an experience like that and I wanted to go again. He leaned over and kissed me softly. I almost collapsed from weakness. He said anytime and walked off. When I walked in to the room, I found Dottie up sitting in bed waiting to hear all about it. She said by the color of my cheeks the night went well.

Whatta night!


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Velma's Journal--February 14, 1932

The day of Saint Valentine. Not very much to report on that front for myself. Dottie is off with Howie, doing what, I'm not quite sure. She told me not to wait up. Like I ever have in the past. Sarah and I will most likely have dinner. Neither of us pretend to be too broken up about being single young women.

Although, I only admit this to the page, but my thoughts keep coming back to Tuesday evening's upcoming date with Robert. His note was so terse and mysterious and that leads me to question his intentions. I have only seen him a handful of times and each we have exchanged less than five words to one another. Of course he is exceedingly handsome and he smiles at me like no one else ever has. It makes my heart beat a bit faster than usual. Something I've never felt. Dottie says this is what normal "dames" call falling in love. Sarah said the same thing. I assured both of them I haven't had the time or the occasion to fall in love with him yet. She then called me an idiot for trying to schedule love like an appointment.

Regardless, after having Dottie do a little investigating at the Bakery, the club where I'm meeting Robert has the queerest address, 2294 1/2 W. 135 street. Can half a building be correct? She says I have Mick to thank for the information, so I wonder.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Velma's Journal--February 3, 1932

The third Olympic Winter Olympics games opened today in Lake Placid. Henry has informed me that he will be traveling north on the 9th to watch the bobsleighing competition. That has always been a favorite pastime of his in Saratoga. He was sweet to ask if I wanted to join him, but time will not permit me.

This afternoon Abby Putnam, who seemed to virtually fall off the face of the earth since Christmas recess, came to our door with a huge gift-wrapped box on a dolly. She said that it was a very late Christmas present from the Putnam family to all of Abby’s closest friends. We are only mere acquaintances and Dottie has kept Abby at an arm’s length since the bootlegging situation this past fall. Thus one might understand my complete confusion as to being classified as “closest friends.”

“How many of those do you have, Abby?” Asked Dottie unscrupulously.

Abby smirked, “More than you think, I’m sure.”

Dottie who is much stronger than she looks, hugged the package, threw it on her bed and did the honors of unwrapping it. “With the number I’m thinking of, I’m sure you’re right.” Dottie, being proud, did not appreciate feeling used by Abby for booze. “But I’m never one to turn away a gift.” She proceeded to tear open the box. Inside was wood-paneled tabletop Zenith radio with gold fixtures.

I gasped. “Abby we couldn’t possibly accept this.” I knew how long it took mother and dad to save for ours.

“Of course you can. Dad was given a gross of them as gifts for one of his contracts. He told me that every cultured college girl should have one.”

“So I guess this one’s for you, Vel,” Dottie said.

“No,” Abby insisted. “It’s for both of you. I sincerely hope you both enjoy it.” And with that, Abby wheeled her dolly out of our room. “Have a good evening ladies.”

We both thanked her graciously. Well, at least I did. Dottie and I then both looked at each other. “She wants something,” Dottie said to me.

“I agree.” I said.

“But hell, I’ll take the radio. Ma and pop don’t even have one yet.” Dottie spent the remainder of the afternoon finding the perfect spot for it which we settled on being my desk since it is closest to the window. When we first turned it on, we mostly heard static and finally settled on a frequency that was playing something classical. Perhaps Brahms. Dottie didn’t enjoy it.

Photo: Courtesy of

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Velma's Journal--January 16, 1932

Unemployment at an all-time high in Germany, according to the papers. Apparently it's up to 6 million people. It seems the entire world is in a depression. No sign of relief anywhere.

Yesterday was an interesting day to say the least. As Mrs. Vanderford asked, I went to St. John the Divine Cathedral, which is a breathtaking structure. When I walked in I was awestruck by the size. Then immediately, I was hit with the sense that I had been there before, even though I know I never had. I couldn't seem to place the feeling.

As I traveled down the cavernous nave, I saw a small man standing off to the side of the choir. What a marvel of architecture, it's what I imagine the great cathedrals of Europe would look like. The man must have been about 5'4" inches, long gray beard, not much hair left on his head and he was smoking a pipe. There was a sweet-smelling smoke billowing out everywhere. He spotted me instantly. And looking at him, I felt like I had seen him before as well, but I couldn't remember where or when.

"Can I help you young lady?" He said through his teeth.

"I'm looking for a Mr. Irving Lincoln."

He smiled. "Why that's me. And you are?"

"Velma Graydon, sir." I took the the blue velvet pouch out of my satchel. "This pipe is from Caroline."

The color left his face for second. Then a puff of smoke came out of his pipe. His look was grave. He took the pouch and slowly removed the clay pipe. "So it is. And she sent you directly to me huh?"

"Yes she did sir."

Then he went on about something very queer. "Do you know that just today, it was announced that astronomers have seen as far out in the cosmos as they can. And what do you think they saw? Twin nebulae. What the laymen call island universes and they're moving away from the earth at 15,000 miles per second. They calculate the distance by their luminosity. And within the small portion of the cosmos we can see their are hundreds of constellations, with thousands of nebulae which inside them contain hundreds of star systems." He puffed on his pipe. "Imagine all that."

"Yes sir." I must have looked confused.

"You have no idea why I'm spouting on about this, do you?"

"No sir, I don't really."

"You work for the Light Keepers now."

I gave another confused look. "The Light Keepers?"

"Well don't ya?"

"I work for a Mr. Rapalje of--"

"He never told you did he?"

"Told me what sir?"

"That must be my job. Well, I'll tell you what. Today is not the best day for us to begin. So come back to me soon and we will start."

"Start what sir? I'm not sure I understand any of this."

"No of course, you don't. You're not supposed to." He puffed his pipe. But you will." He smiled then he turned and walked behind the choir a trail of pipe smoke following behind.

The frustration and mystery of this post is about all I can stand. I wish someone could deliver a straight answer to me about anything.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Velma's Journal--January 14, 1932

I was called today to go to Caroline Vanderford's. It was a note hand-delivered yesterday to my postbox, not by Loockersmans or Harold. It wasn't in either of their hands. 

I traveled to Park Avenue this morning and was greated by her Butler, Robert. He smiled when he saw me and showed me into Mrs. Vanderford's office. She was sitting at her empty desk twirling a pen, much the same way she had done months before. Two cups of tea were waiting on the desk.

"I took the liberty of having Robert fix us tea, Ms. Graydon. He never forgets a cup. No milk. One sugar."

"Yes. Thank you," I said. I sat down and took a sip.

"I've called you here on unofficial business." She turned and smiled at me. "I need you to deliver this to an old friend." She pulled out a blue velvet sack and revealed its contents to be an old clay smoking pipe. "His name is Irving Lincoln. You may find him at St. John the Divine Cathedral near your university. Go in and ask the first person you see for him. Tell him this pipe is from Caroline. Do not say Mrs. Vanderford. He'll be offended."

"I will." I took another sip of tea.

"He'll be expecting you the day after tomorrow."

"At what time?" I asked.

"At whatever time is conveniant for you. He is there all day and into the night most of the time." She carefully sipped her tea. "Also take note of the small envelope on the tray. That is meant for you." She smiled as I picked it up. "Do not feel the need to read it in my presense. I assure you it isn't from me." Her smile grew wider.

Later, after Robert showed me out with only a smile and a goodbye. I immediately tore open the envelope. It was a card simply saying: FEB 16, 9PM, SMALL'S PARADISE, HARLEM. BEST, ROBERT.

I felt my face radiate heat through the cold afternoon. My stomach, at the same time, fluttering.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Velma's Journal--January 3, 1932

Mahatma Ghandi has been arrested by the British Viceroy in Pompey today. This could be disastorous for the Indian movement. Now that I've been keeping up with current affairs, I've taken a special interest in the Independance movement there. I think Ghandi is a remarkable figure and I truly hope for the best in his situation.

Returned to New York this morning by rail and took the BMT to 77th Street and 4th Avenue which was around the corner from the Cento's home. Upon arrival, I was immediatly fed by Dottie's mother, Anna with grapes, crusty bread and cheese. Dottie's family is just as energetic and loud as she. They all live in a three-floor tenement on 5th Avenue above a tailor's shop. Dottie her mother, father, and two sisters live on the first floor. Her mother's sister and her family live on the second. Her grandmother lives on the third. Her cousin Constance (Connie) and Anthony (Little Tony) came down to meet me and introduce themselves. They brought pastry with them. I went up to meet her grandmother whom they all call Grandma Susie and she was making Sunday dinner for everyone, which was prompty at 2 PM.

When I sat down at the long table, which started in the kitchen and ended in the living room, with the other sixteen members of the family, I could hardly hear myself think. Aunts, uncles and cousins came from around the corner. They all started asking me questions at once. Where was I from? What was I studying? Was I married? Will I marry? At one point, Dottie just told all of them to "can it" and just let me eat in peace. Of course for dinner there was pasta with gravy (red sauce), eggplant parmagian, vegetables, a host of meats that were made in the sauce including sausages, meatballs, and a pork dish I can't remember the name of. Of course there was crusty bread at every end of the table. Then there was fruits brought out and less than an hour later it was dessert.

I have eaten a week's worth of food in less than 8 hours. It's amazing Dottie keeps her figure eating like this on a regular basis.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Velma's Journal--January 1, 1932

I am still in Saratoga and have enjoyed a lovely holiday here. Am anxious to return to New York which I will be doing on Sunday. One of my New Year's resolution for 1932 is to read the newspaper every morning so I can stay informed of the events in this world. Grannie Ellie came down from Maine and had many a discussion about current affairs. I realized I had no clue about half the stuff of which she spoke. I love to read about history and languages, but I rarely delve into newspapers. She told me she's read the morning papers since she was 16 years old. So that has inspired me to do the same. Another resolution, which Dottie and Sarah suggest, is to loosen up a bit.

I have read only a third of Dottie's book. It is more dense that I expected and my mind hasn't been in the material.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Velma's Journal--July 5, 2008

Dear Readership,

It seems that, once again, the Velma blog has fallen to the wayside. With Velma and Mr. Fish out of the country working on a mysterious project, and me trying to decipher this new list of entries that Velma gave me months ago when we lunched at the Peace Fountain, I've felt a bit overwhelmed. The list that was compiled by Mr. Fish to tightened up the material, which he felt was "too numerous in entries and the scope too overwhelming to sustain a readership," was ill conceived. It's too scant and lacked a narrative cohesion. That's my fancy way of saying it made for bad story telling. So I've taken the past month to look at all of Velma's journal entries from January 1932 (since that is where I left off) consider the ones on the list and add a few more in to make it a readable story arc. It has actually been a more gruelling task than I initially thought.

But today I think I've finally come up with a suitable list to work with. Out of the remaining 2,438 entries from January 2, 1932 to July 12, 1942, I was handed a list of 152 from Velma and Fish (those they felt where the most important) I have added an additional 145 in order to make the story more readable (i.e. including entries with Dottie, Sarah, Robert and some characters you are yet to meet). So in all we have 297 more entries to go before we start the events of the first installment of The Wonder City which begins in July of 1942.

Another thing worth noting: as the years go by and Velma becomes more involved in her academics and side career as courier, her entries becoming shorter and shorter. Nothing half as long and detailed as her beginning journal efforts which will make transposing them into blogger easier and faster.

Thanks for bearing me.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Velma's Journal--December 18, 1931

My final day at Barnard for the semester. The train leaves at 4 PM from Pennsylvania Station. Of course, I haven't packed nor thought about how I'm going to get to the station; most likely by taxi.

All five of my finals are finished and Dr. Loockersmans has informed me that I have leave from my post until January 4. Although classes don't resume until the 14th of the new year, I've been invited to stay with the Cento family in Brooklyn until the dormitories re-open. I'm actually a little relieved to have the break cut short, since I already anticipate my boredom in Saratoga. Also the chance to stay with the Centos is one I would never pass-up. At the very least, I know I will be well-fed.

Both Sarah and Dottie loved their gifts. They conspired on mine, which Dottie said involved going home to Bay Ridge. Last night, Dottie lugged out this large package from under her bed and passed it over to me.

"Sarah wrapped it," she said. "Not bad for a Jew huh?"

Sarah turned and punched in the arm. "You're such a twit. Jews give gifts!"

"But they ain't under trees."

I knew it was a book when I held it. I unwrapped it and saw the title in gold embossed letters: THE HISTORY OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK 1609-1906. My heart leapt.

"Ma called to tell me I still had it on my shelf at home. I guess I never returned it from the 4th grade. The catalogue card's still in there." Dottie's smile was huge. She was proud of that. "We knew you would blow your wig over it. And now you can stop asking me dumb questions about dead guys I did reports on."

I do love it. It's coming home with me over break and I am committed to finishing it by time I return.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Velma's Journal--December 12, 1931

Needing a break from my grueling final's preparation, I decided to do some Christmas shopping for my family. Now that I am earning a side income, I feel obliged to repay those who have shown me kindness and love in the past.I also had it in my mind to find little gifts for Dottie and Sarah even though Hanukkah ended for her two days ago. Both have helped to make New York City feel a bit more like home for me during these past three months.

I have heard Abby say that the only places worth shopping in New York are either Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue. I'm sure I can afford neither, but I thought it would be fun just to take a trip downtown by myself and see what treasures I could find. So I rode the IRT downtown to 50th street and walked across to Fifth Avenue. I was told that both stores were within walking distance of each other, Saks Fifth Avenue being on 49th street and Bergdorff Goodman's being on 58th street. Once I reached Fifth Avenue, I noticed the towering Sak's which stood with its rigid canopies and faux columns like a giant gift box under St. Patrick's Cathedral. What grand sights to see standing next to one another. When I walked through the doors, I was amazed by what was on the other side. Like Alice stepping into Wonderland, I was in another world, one that was completely unknown to me. The smells of perfumes and powders immediately caught my nose, as my eyes spied these giant trees that wrapped up the columns of this marvelous room. There were white lights wrapped around every branch which made the store look positively magical.

Wandering around, I noticed that many people where looking, but not buying much. . Walking through the women's department I saw a rainbow of cashmere scarves lied out on a mahogany table. I just loved the look of them and decided that I would purchase one for Dottie and one for Sarah, and green since all three of us love the color green. My mother's favorite color is blue, so I picked a blue one for her. Then I went and bought simple pins that suited the personalities of each of the women. A diamond shape for Dottie because she is a diamond in the rough, a locket pin for Sarah so she could put a small photograph in there. My mother would a receive a horse pin for when she goes to the races.

I went upstairs to the men's section and decided on silk neck ties for my brother and father. Although the event, rarely presents itself that they would wear them, I thought it would be nice for them to have for holidays and special occasions. When I brought my purchases up to the cashier who, I think, was amazed to see a girl of my age with such expensive tastes. When he rang the total, which I shall not record here, he asked if I was interested in opening a charge account at the store. I told him that would not be necessary. He then asked if I wanted the items gift wrapped and I said, of course. He packaged them and told me to take them to the gift wrapping room on the fifth floor. I did so. I choose different wrappings for each of the the people I was giving, which made the young woman behind the counter less than happy.

When I was through I exited out to Fifth Avenue and saw the most peculiar thing. Directly across the street from the store were heaping mounds of earth behind make-shift fences. There were dump trucks and bulldozers all standing dormant. A sign on the fence read, "FUTURE SITE OF THE JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER CENTER." It went on to say that it was going to be a complex of fourteen commercial buildings. I found the optimism of the sign and the size of the lot odd considering most development has been halted due to the Depression. The stranger sight was a line of men waiting beneath a 30-foot pine tree. It was wrapped haphazardly with garland, as if decorated for Christmas. At first I thought it was another breadline. But then I realized the men were being handed slips of paper. Most likely paychecks by the looks of their faces. Seeing as they had lunch pails and hard hats, I presumed they were being paid for their labor. I can only assume that the Christmas tree was erected in celebration of the work which is so scarce. The Christmas of 1931 would, perhaps, be the best for them. One they would never forget.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Velma's Journal--December 10, 1931

After days of research I was unable to find out who John Randel, Jr. was. It seemed that no where in any of the encyclopedias in our university library was he mentioned. Although it was a waste of my time to do this instead of studying for my exams, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something I should make my business to know.

In what I thought would be a vain attempt, I asked Dottie one morning as she rubbed her throbbing head. “Oh yeah, he was the lead surveyor for the New York City street grid back in the 1800’s.”

Days of research turned up nothing and my cigar-smoking, hooch-drinking dear friend and roommate could tell me off the top of her pounding head. She must have seen the stunned look on my face because all she said was, “What? I did a report on it for Ms. Mancini in fourth grade.”

I asked her where she found her information. She looked at me strangely. “It was in some huge book about the history of New York. Pop needed to carry it around for me.” When I asked her where she got the book, she simply said the library in Bay Ridge. “Every library had one. All fourth graders need to report about their city.” She paused. “I got an A on that project and Ms. Mancini was a real bitch about that stuff.” She huffed, “Whatta bitter spinster.”

Then she laughed, “You kinda remind me of her, Vel (she’s taken to shortening my name now).” I threw a pillow at her, assuming she was joking.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Velma's Journals--December 4, 1931

I shouldn't even be taking the time to write with all I have to do, but I feel it is necessary to record all my transactions as messenger in case it should be disputed that I didn't carry out my charge.


Upon arrival at the former World Exchange Bank I was greeted by a rotund man who would not name himself. The building was empty and he was in, what appeared to be, a cheap black suit, bowler hat, and red neck that barely made it over his stomach. He stood in the middle of what used to be the bank's lobby with a small wooden box in his hand.

He said, "Miss Graydon, yeah?"

"I am," I said cautiously.

"Tell Look I found what he needed." He gruffly handed it to me. "Open it. Just so he knows there's no funny stuff."

"It's not my business to-"

"Sweetheart, you got to open it so you know what address to bring it to."

He was right. I had forgotten that I wasn't bringing this back to Dr. Loockersmans and there was no further instruction from him on where to deliver it. I opened the lid to the box to find a slip of paper atop a gold quadrant ruler. It was the last thing I expected a man of this caliber to turn over to me. The address on the slip said Empire State, 75th floor.

"Ever been?" He asked me.

"Where?" I said.

"To the Empire State Building?" I think he was expecting me to say no.

"Yes, I went for my birthday."

"I've always wanted to go. Some day, ya know?"

Then the thought occurred to me, "Who am I delivering it to?"

"Look didn't say. I'd bring it myself, but I've got other business to attend to." With that he walked toward the back of the empty bank and disappeared behind the vault door. The most curious part of this whole scene is how comfortable I'm becoming with these shady characters.

I walked up to the Empire State Building and entered the same bronze hallway that left me in awe a month ago. I walked to a desk with a uniformed gentleman sitting behind it. "I have a delivery for the 75th floor." I figured he would ask for a name. He didn't. Only a nod and his finger pointed to the center elevator in the center embankment. I pressed through the line of people waiting to go up to the observation deck. When I pressed the up arrow, a bell sounded and the door immediately opened. Another uniformed man stood inside at the controls.

"I'm going to the-"

"I know where you're going." Again, nothing surprises me anymore.

The elevator sped up the shaft the same as it did last month. I felt dizzy when the door opened to a completely empty floor. "75th floor," the man said.

"Are you sure?" I said peering out the elevator. "There's no one here."

Then I heard a man's voice call out, "Come Ms. Graydon, you're right. Welcome."

I stepped off the elevator. "Make a left off the elevator and walk to the back." I followed his instructions. The enormity of the empty space didn't help the dizziness from the elevator. The entire floor was without walls or doors or furniture. There was only one desk by a window. On it was a small lamp and the shadow of a man sitting behind it.

"Excuse our office. It's a new aquisition. We figured how best to show the world we are a modern institution than by moving into the most modern building in the world. And of course, the tallest."

I walked up to the desk, the man stood to receive me. He was tall and thin, his salt and pepper hair was slicked to the left side. Unlike the man who handed me the box, this man was striking and dressed very well.

"You look a little scared. I understand." He said extending out his hand. "My name is William Fitz Roy. CEO of the Commissioners."

"Velma Graydon, messenger to-"

"I know, you're one of Jack's. A Barnard girl and a smart one, according to Gerdi. I wish I could offer you a seat, but I only have one." He smiled. "Besides, you just came to deliver my artifact. I won't keep you."

"Yes sir." I handed him the box.

"Do you know what it is?"

"It's a quadrant ruler, I believe, sir."

"You're right, this quadrant dates to at least 1807. It was used by John Randell, Jr.. Do you know who he is?"

"No, sir."

"Look him up. He was very important." He smiled and put the box in one of the desk drawers. "Well, I thank you," he said sitting down back in his chair. "The elevator should be waiting for you."

"Yes, sir, a pleasure." I said slightly embarrassed I didn't know the answer to this question. I turned and walked toward the elevator.

"Next time I promist to be more hospitable, Ms. Graydon."

I turned and nodded. "Thank you Mr. Fitz Roy."

"Please call me Bill."

I couldn't. And I left as quickly as I came. Now I'm frantically trying to look up John Randell, Jr..

Friday, May 2, 2008

Velma's Journal--Justin Here

Dear Readers,

I cannot thank Mr. Fish enough for so eloquently explaining my absence. But I'm back! My fingers are hard at work typing out Velma's journal entries and I have posts ready to go. Mr. Fish also let the cat out of the bag by announcing that I'm putting together a blog of Edwina Tulip's letters. Her family generously granted me permission to use them in any way I saw fit. The bulk of her letters run from the late 40's into the early 70's and they are fascinating reads. My hope is to actually get a few of them scanned in, so I can post the scans of the actual letters with the entries. That of course takes time. It will all be explained when that blog is up and running. I'll be sure to post a link to it here on Velma.

Bottom line: Thanks for waiting. Thanks for reading. And it's good to be back.


PS-I'm trying to convince Mr. Fish to edit the entries for typos but he told me he finds copy editing demeaning. Oh well.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Velma's Journal--A Letter from Mr. Nicholas Fish

Dear Readership:

My name is Nicholas Fish and I am Ms. Graydon's assistant. Reading over the blog in it's entirety, I am under the impression that you know very well who I am and no further explanation is needed. Mr. Rivers has done a fine job of making our correspondences part of this electronic display. In turn, since he insists that there are no secrets between his readers and ourselves, the gatekeepers of Ms. Graydon's information, he has allowed me access to this blog so that I can address you as to his whereabouts.

Mr. Rivers recited a liteny of reasons for his now, 38-day absense from the already slow moving blogging process. I shall attempt to reduce them down to a less rambling state: a hellish amount of work at his "day job," the preparation of a grant for a comic that he and Ms. Zell were working on (apparently it's about the history of coffee) and the preparations for a new blog containing the letters of Mrs. Edwina Tulip and her family back in England. He assures us that he will be back on the blog by next week. If not, he has given me full permission to blog in his absense.

The best to you all and on behalf of myself and Ms. Graydon, our sincerest apologies.

Nicholas Fish

Monday, March 17, 2008

Velma's Journals--December 3, 1931

I am in the thick of finals. My attention to this journal will be scant because of it. I will be leaving for Christmas recess as of the 18th and not returning to campus until the 4th of the new year. A large part of me dreads the time at home. But it will be a chance to catch up on the reading I was not able to do because of school. I will also need to perfect my Dutch usage since a second semester of Dutch is required for my post.

After two weeks of not hearing from Loockersmans, he has contacted me for a very important matter. I spoke with Harold this morning who told me that a directive has been left with him at the professor's office. Apparently a large sum of money was drawn out of the World Exchange Bank when it closed earlier in the year. There was also an important item in one of the safe deposit boxes that I need to claim and deliver to an anonymous member of an associated commission. I don't know what any of this means, but nothing surprises me anymore. 

The ladies of Hewitt Hall are having a Christmas social this coming Tuesday. I have nothing to wear.

Friday, March 14, 2008


"Why don't I give you what you came all the up here for, huh?"

I actually forgot there was a purpose to this meeting other than freezing ourselves for the sake of a tuna sandwich. I neglected to mention that it really was one of the best tuna sandwiches I had ever had. It was something about the amount of mayo she used in concert with the celery bits. I'm always a sucker for celery. "Right, the letters."

"And my profile. Nicky wanted to type it out, but I thought handwritten would be much more personal."

"You can scan the note and put it on the blog," Courtney offered as she sketched.

Nick perked up, "With Velma's permission." He turned to Velma, "Would you be okay with that?"

She hit him across his shoulder with her gloved hand. "Would you stop it! Quit showing off in front of guests. What the hell do I care if he posts my note? He's gonna put it on there anyway. You're not my mother, Nicky, so cool it."

"I'm watching out for your interests, Velma." I have a feeling they've had arguments of this nature before. Nick didn't seemed phased by the retribution.

"I already told you, we can trust this one. He's a good egg."

Nick just looked at me suspiciously. "I assume. He doesn't appear threatening."

I kept all of the many comments I could make to myself.

Velma growled a little and opened her satchel. "God, this kid. He's lucky he's good at what he does." She carefully pulled out a brown package wrapped in newspaper with a white envelope on top of it. "Here. The package is the letters. The envelope is my profile."

"So about these letters-"

"Yeah. Return them to me when you're done and I'll give them back to Laural. They said use 'em for whatever."

"What if I added them on to the blog?"

"They said whatever."

"Should I call one of them and ask?"

Velma took out a piece of scrap paper and pen from her pocket. She quickly scribbled a number on the scrap, "This is Laural's number. Her full name is Lauralea Tulip. Although she's married now, I don't know if she took his name. Wilcott or Walcott, I think the husband's name is. She lives in Brooklyn by the park."

"Do you know where? Courtney and I live over there."

"I forgot the address, but it's close to the park. Call her. I'm sure she'll be fine with it."

"What about Owen?" I asked. I noticed everyone sort of snapped out of where ever they were and looked at Velma. Courtney stopped sketching. I couldn't help but ask.

"What about him?" She said quickly.

"Does he live there?"

"Yeah, they all live in the same house."

"Could I talk to him?"

"Look, sweetheart, don't bother Owen. You know me, I don't mind the fuss. Owen likes it quiet."

I knew I hit a nerve with Owen. As Nick is protective of Velma, I think, knowing what I know, Velma is protective of Owen. And just who Owen is, will be answered soon enough.

"Nicky, did we feed Mimi, yet." Mimi is one of the peacocks, for those who might not remember.

"I haven't."

"Alright, go do that for me, while I wrap up with these guys."

Nick immediately got up and gathered his things. "Well it was very nice meeting you both."

"Good meeting you, Nick," I said.

"Yeah, bye, nice meeting you," Courtney said distracted with her work.

"Be there in a minute, Nicky," Velma said as he was walking off. Velma whispered a couple of things in my ear. She asked that it not be put on the blog. "So I'm glad you finally got these letters." She forced herself up.

"So am I. And thank you for the tuna sandwich." I got up and grabbed her by the arm. "Let me help you."

"I'm not an invalid sweetheart."

"I know, but I would love to have the honor."

"Oh, such a gentleman. Courtney, are we done?"

"Well, no. But I have enough to work off of."

"Am I beautiful?" She asked with a grin.


"Good, maybe I'll get a man from this blog."

"Maybe," I said.

"I hope he's not one of those internet weirdos," Velma cackled.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


When I stepped off the C train at Cathderal Parkway the wind was whipping down Amsterdam Avenue. My face was already tingling and my fingertips where raw. This was going to be a challenge. I was never one to mind the cold, but to sit out in a park and eat lunch was a bit much. I had decided on the walk up Amsterdam that Velma Graydon was a woman of extremes.

When I came to the fountain I saw Velma sitting down with a skinny dark-haired gentleman of about 24 or 25, and Courtney next to them clutching a cup of coffee. All where wrapped up in scarves and hats. Velma had a large thermos and the gentlemen, whom I figured was Nick had a bottle of water that was in the process of changing from a liquid to a solid.

"Courtney said you'd be late," Velma yelped out.

"It is only 1:04," I said, struggling to find the watch under my glove and coat sleeve.

"That's the worst kinda late," she said. "If you're gonna do it, be courteous enough to take a full hour," she then jumped up and bear-hugged me. "I'm just pullin' your chain. Glad you made it, sweetheart."

"So am I." Thinking about making it out of the cold.

"Justin, this is my assistant, Nick Fish. I believe you've met."

Nick stood up to shake my hand. He was shorter than I thought. "A pleasure to finally put a face to the name."

"A face to the fingers," I said. "They're the real stars of the show," I laughed. He didn't. "Nice to meet you too."

"Ok so sit," Velma commanded. "Business first. Nick?" Nick turned around and handed her a green satchel. She pulled out four white packages tied with brown string. "Lunch."

"Ewww tunafish, yummy," Courtney said. She put down her sketch pad to take the sandwich.

"I brought some coffee, but Courtney beat me to the punch," Velma said taking white styrofoam cups out of the satchel.

"Well, I haven't and I could use a cup," I said grinning at the thought of holding something warm.

"I'm fine," Nick said.

"Nick doesn't drink coffee," Velma said. "How can you trust a guy who doesn't drink coffee?" She started pouring.

"My thoughts exactly," I said

"I made it light and sweet, I hope you don't mind.... Yeah he only drinks water. It's why he's so thin. Courtney, sweatheart do you need more in that cup."

"Please," she held out her bodega cup.

"Velma can I ask you something?" I said eying the worn satchel. "Is that the bag you've always used?"

"Good eye. Haven't used anything else. I hate change."

I looked at the satchel in awe; a virtual time capsule that held my tuna sandwich. To think what that thing has carried over the past 75 years made me giddy.

"Velma, our friend Jenny is from Saratoga," Courtney offered.

"Oh really. Does she still live there?"

"No she moved by us in Brooklyn."

"Smart move. Saratoga was a great place to grow up, but it got too small, too fast for me."

"She works for Yaddo," Courtney said.

"Fascinating. Good for her. Beautiful campus." She sipped her coffee. "I haven't been up there in 15 years. To bury Henry."

"So, Justin," Nick cut in, "Velma and I were talking about your progress with the blog."

"Uh huh," I said munching on my sandwich.

"We've done you a great service," he said. "We've compiled a list of dates from 1932 to 1942 which are the highlights, so to speak, of her journals."

"What does that mean?" I asked nursing my iced coffee.

"That means we're gonna cut to the chase a little. Cut out some of the bull that you're readers don't need to know," Velma said. "I mean, I'm bored with some of it."

"That's because you lived it. We haven't. I find it all fascinating."

"That's because you're a nerd sweatheart. I'm gonna trust your readership is not as fascinated by all this as you are."

"She's right. You are a nerd," Courtney said.

"Shhh, you're not helping," I said to Courtney.

"Honestly, it's not that much of a cut. Just enough to keep things moving. I'd say we axed about thirty or so entries. Wouldn't you say that, Nicky?"

"More like forty or fifty, but still that's nothing compared to what lies ahead of you. Of course, I volunteered to help in the process, but Velma said no."

I continued munching on my sandwich, a little vexed at the turn of events.

"Sweatheart, honestly it's chump change stuff," Velma said kindly.

"You see Justin," started Nick. I could imagine my eyes rolling to the back of my head, but my pupils were frozen in place. "You're job is to edit. An editor would pick and choose pertitinent entries. Not include everything. Can we talk about typos yet?" He looked at Velma but she made a head-slicing motion with her gloved hand. I assume she saw my face turning purple.

"I guess you're right, Nicky, I can't thank you enough for bringing that to my attention," I said smiling.

Courtney had picked up her pad and pencil and begun sketching again. I noticed Velma had taken her hat off and was primping her gray bob. "Courtney assured me she hadn't gotten to my hair yet. I've become so vain in my old age. Ha!"

"Pretty much there," Courtney said. "It won't be too long. I also have to draw you in," Courtney said to me.

"No you don't." I barbed back. "Just do Velma and Nick." I gobbled down the remains of the sandwich with a frown.... I knew Courtney was drawing me into the sketch.