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.