Sweet Saturday Samples—1965 Blackout Continued

3

I’m continuing in Sweet Saturday Samples this week with more of the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. This time the spotlight is on 13-year-old Ernestine in the Meatpacking District. Ernestine reaches a milestone at the mother of all inconvenient times.

***

Ernestine is fumbling around for some matches or a flashlight when she feels as though she’s wet herself.  Hoping against hope it’s not what she dreads it is, and at this worst of all possible times, she dashes out to the fire escape and looks around for people standing on nearby fire escapes or down on the street.  When the coast is clear, she pulls down her skirt and underwear.  In the bright light of the full moon, she sees what looks like a colored stain and lets out an angry shout.

Girl comes running out onto the fire escape after her. “Ernestine, what in the world are you doing with the bottom half of your clothes down where everyone could see you?  Even I ain’t so into the mystical and unexplained that I’d believe people go nuts with a full moon.”

“Look at this,” Ernestine whispers in mortification. “I’m having my first period.  Damn, I wish I could just hang out on this fire escape all night and bleed onto it.  At least then no one would know what I was doing.”

Girl puts her arm around her. “I know it stinks.  Pull your clothes back up and we’ll go across the hall to Mrs. van Niftrik.  She helped me when I got mine back in June.”

“Can’t I just spend all night sitting on the toilet?” Ernestine begs in mortification. “I don’t like the idea of anyone else knowing.”

“What if someone else needed to use it?  They’d wonder what you was doing in there so long.  And you know Boy would be embarrassed beyond belief if he was told you was in there all night ‘cause you were menstruating.  I don’t envy him, the only guy in a household full of girls.”

“Then I can sit on onea the buckets we use for washing windshields in the warmer months, and just switch buckets if I fill one up all the way.”

“Even I think that’s gross.  Come on, Mrs. van Niftrik was a girl once.  She knows how to handle this.  I keep the cloth sanitary napkins I made in a purple laundry bag in the bathroom closet.  Yours are in a smaller blue laundry bag within the big laundry bag, ‘cause it ain’t healthy to share something as personal as that.  We’ll just take ‘em over to Mrs. van Niftrik and let her do the rest.”

Ernestine feels herself blushing in the dark as Girl leads her over to the bathroom and pulls out the blue laundry bag, then takes her by the hand and slowly makes her way over to the van Niftriks’ apartment.  The other four residents assume they’re just going to borrow a flashlight or something and don’t question why they’re leaving.

“We’re glad to see you, girls,” Mrs. van Niftrik smiles at them when she opens the door. “We were just wondering how you all were making out with the power outage.  You can all come over and keep us company if you want.  Mr. van Niftrik isn’t home yet.  I assume he’s trapped in the subway with all those other poor people.”

“Ernestine needs your help the same way I needed your help in June,” Girl says. “She just started to menstruate.”

Ernestine hangs her head in shame.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, dear,” Mrs. van Niftrik tries to reassure her. “All normal girls have that happen at about your age.  It’s a normal part of growing up, and it means everything is working just as it should.  I know it’s inconvenient and that you don’t always feel your best during this time, but just think, this is your body’s way of preparing for having a baby when you’re a grownup.”

“But normal girls don’t have babies as teenagers anymore,” Ernestine protests as Mrs. van Niftrik ushers them inside. “Why couldn’t our bodies evolve to do that when we’re eighteen or twenty-one instead of twelve or thirteen?  I don’t want all those years of menstruation when I’m not even old enough to get married or have a baby.  My ten-greats-grandma probably got married and had her first kid at my age!”

“I’m not looking forward to my first one either,” Betsy admits. “That filmstrip we saw in sixth grade just made me even more confused and scared about what’s gonna happen, and so did that silly booklet.  Why am I supposed to look forward to something so annoying and cherish it as some magical, special part of becoming a young lady?  Those dumb booklets were written by people who think all girls in junior high are wearing their first makeup and going on dates.  I’m not even allowed to wear makeup till I’m sixteen, and I can’t go on a date till I’m in high school.”

“Well, complaining about it won’t make it go away, will it?” Mrs. van Niftrik asks. “I’ll help fix Ernestine up, and then we’ll all have some roasted marshmallows and chocolate bars.”

Sweet Saturday Samples

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This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from Chapter 47 of Little Ragdoll, “Adicia’s New Identity.” While Adicia and Ricky are waiting for their marriage license to become valid, they’re going to stay with Adicia’s old family friends the van Niftriks in the Meatpacking District. Her friend Betsy is shocked to find out a modern woman is voluntarily entering an arranged marriage of sorts, but Adicia and Mrs. van Niftrik try to convince her of the merits of such marriages.

***

“That’s a huge elevator,” Ricky marvels.

“Well, this place did useta be a factory.  They must’ve used it for transporting huge bales of grain or lots of dead cows or something from floor to floor.”

Adicia knocks on the door after the short ride up to the fourth floor.  She knows the van Niftriks go away on vacation during the summer, so she’s not entirely sure anyone will be at home during this particular week.  After about half a minute, she finally hears approaching footsteps.

“Adicia!  We didn’t know you were coming to visit us!” Betsy says. “I’m home on summer vacation from Vassar.  Are you in the area, or did you just drop by to visit?  And who’s this, your boyfriend?  I never even knew you’d gotten yourself a fellow!”

Betsy is dressed in an ankle-length pink dress with white flowers and a lace-trimmed neckline, turquoise beads hanging down to her waist, a lot of golden and silver bangle bracelets on both of her wrists, a mood ring on her right hand, and open-toed white plastic sandals.  Her long brown hair is hanging loose, with a crown of daisies wound around it.  She wears no makeup except for an image of two fish painted on her right cheek.

“It’s not permanent,” she says when she notices Adicia staring at it. “I just had it done in the Village.  Some woman was painting astrological signs on people for a buck.  I’m Pisces, the fish who are chained to each other for all of eternity, no matter how hard they’re trying to swim away.  You’re Cancer, the crab.  We’re both water signs.”

“This is Ricky Carson, my fiancé. We’re getting married at the courthouse tomorrow.  We know this is a really huge imposition and favor to ask, but is it okay to stay here overnight while we’re waiting for our marriage license to become valid?  I guess you can come to our ceremony if you want, since we do need witnesses.  I would’ve gone up to Marjani’s place, but I didn’t wanna leave our moving van with all our stuff sitting out in Hell’s Kitchen overnight.  Someone would probably break into it.”

“You’re engaged?” Betsy shouts excitedly. “Of course I’ll come to your wedding!  Are yous guys eloping?”

“I guess we are.”

Betsy leads them into the apartment. “Mom, Dad, is it okay for Adicia and her boyfriend to stay here overnight?  They’re getting married tomorrow at the courthouse and just need somewhere to stay till their marriage license becomes valid.  They’re eloping.”

Mrs. van Niftrik rushes over to them. “How nice to see you again, Adicia!  Of course you and your young man can stay here for a little while.  We have a guest bed for the two of you, and we can put up a spare wooden panel to give you some privacy.”

“Just one guest bed?” Adicia asks, blushing. “One of us will have to sleep on the sofa bed.”

“You’re not sleeping together yet?” Betsy asks. “I thought all couples nowadays took the car for a test drive before getting married.  If I had a serious boyfriend, I’d be trying him out beforehand, and my parents would be cool with that.  Is it because of what happened with that Ethan punk?  But surely if you’re enough recovered from that rotten thing to be getting married, you’d be okay with doing that by now.”

“This is not a love match, at least not for me,” Adicia admits as she sits down on the davenport. “It’s a marriage of convenience, kinda like an arranged marriage.  We’re both running away, Ricky from his snobby, out of touch, rich parents, and me from my own parents, who were forcing me to marry some grotesque creature forty years older than me.  This prize they picked for me was in prison for fifteen years for beating his first wife to death.”

“We won’t be consummating our marriage right away,” Ricky agrees. “I hope Adicia grows to love me over time, just like my feelings of being in love with her will change into a more mature love after enough time has passed.”

“You’re marrying someone you don’t even love?” Betsy asks. “And you’re okay with this decision?  Gee, I didn’t think anyone still had arranged marriages outside of really religious folks.  Even if you’re compatible in other ways, what’s going to keep you married if you’re not in love?”

“I like him as a friend,” Adicia says. “Part of me really wishes I could’ve had a husband I fell madly in love with and felt butterflies in my stomach for, the kind of love at first sight Allen and Lenore had, but maybe it really is true that a strong bond of love can come from growing instead of falling in love.”

“You can tell us more about this over supper,” Mrs. van Niftrik says. “I’ll make it early tonight for you two.  I suppose you’re right on some level.  Maybe more hasty marriages and painful divorces could be avoided if people weren’t only thinking with their hearts when they got married.  Being blindly, passionately in love with someone today doesn’t mean you’ll still get along and be able to run a household and live together in the long run, after the fireworks have died down and it’s time to get down to more serious, grownup matters like raising kids, paying bills, and dealing with medical emergencies.”

Sweet Saturday Samples

6

This week, for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m sharing the end of Chapter 25 of Adicia’s story, “Ernestine and Girl Are Beatlemaniacs.” It takes place on 9 February 1964, the day The Beatles first performed on Ed Sullivan. On the  first day of 1964, Ernestine, the four Ryan siblings, and their friend Julie moved into an abandoned apartment in the Meatpacking District with help from Allen. To their delight, they immediately made friends with Betsy van Niftrik, the girl who lives across the hall, and discovered Betsy and her parents are very progressive and have no problems with six kids squatting across the hall in an apartment that looks boarded-up and unoccupied from the outside. The six of them were squatting in the basement of Allen’s West Village apartment since their original squat in The Bowery was raided in August of ’62, and they only sometimes came up to Allen’s to sleep and eat, since they didn’t want to impose on him by having eleven people in a two-bedroom apartment. They get by through begging and doing odd jobs, and help from the van Niftriks and Allen. In spite of Allen’s pleas for Ernestine to come to live with him, Lenore, and their three sisters, Ernestine insists her place is with Julie and the Ryans now.

Ages: As of February ’64, Ernestine, Girl, and Betsy are all 11 years old (going on 12), Julie and Boy are nine (going on ten), Baby is six (going on seven), and Infant is four (going on five). The now-absent Mr. and Mrs. Ryan never really wanted kids, and let their four kids be raised by the squatting community they moved around with. Therefore, they named them what they were, and since the name Girl was already taken, they named the second girl Baby and the third one Infant. Later on, Girl becomes Deirdre Apollonia, Boy becomes David Edgar, Baby becomes Fiona Líobhan (Lee-VAHN), and Infant becomes Aoife Saoirse (EE-fa SEER-sha).

***

A little before 8:00 that night, the six of them trot across the hall and into the van Niftriks’ apartment to watch Ed Sullivan.  Betsy shows Girl, Ernestine, and Julie some newspaper articles she cut out about the British group that’s going to be on the show tonight.  The girls think they kind of look similar, since they all have brown hair and the same haircut, but they agree with Betsy that they are pretty cute.  Betsy is a little surprised they have haircuts on the long side for a man, but Ernestine tells her there were a number of men with hair that long back in the West Village and Greenwich Village.  Mrs. Troy would probably lecture them about being interested in male singers with long hair, but thankfully she’s not here now to spoil their fun.  Someone who was born in 1923 doesn’t know jack about what’s popular nowadays, anyway.

“Here they are!” Betsy shouts as Mr. Sullivan is introducing them.

She and the other three girls on the davenport sit at rapt attention as the band begins their first song, which is called “All My Loving.”  Ernestine thinks it’s pretty rude how the majority of the girls in the studio audience are screaming.  Even if you really like a band and are excited to see them perform, that’s no excuse for screaming nonstop.  They’re probably screaming over the entire performance and making it hard for the band to hear themselves play, and are missing the entire show because all they’re doing is screaming.

During the next song, a cover of what Mrs. van Niftrik says is a Broadway tune, “Till There Was You,” there are close-ups of each member of the band, providing each one’s name.  Ernestine rolls her eyes when a caption appears under John’s name, saying, “Sorry girls, he’s married.”  As though any of the girls in the audience or watching at home stand a chance of marrying someone that much older and that famous.  She and Girl both think he’s the handsomest, besides, married man or not.  The others are cute alright, but John seems to have a more mature face, like a handsome adult man, not a man still carrying the look of a cute, soft-faced boy into early adulthood.  Girl also feels a special energy coming from him, an aura she has a very good feeling about.

After the third song, “She Loves You,” there’s a commercial break, and then a magician named Fred Kaps performs some tricks.  Infant and Baby are more interested in the magic tricks than in The Beatles.  Boy seems more interested in the tricks too, feeling the musical stars of the evening are more for girls.

Performing next are some of the members of the play Oliver!  After the opening musical act, Ernestine and her friends can’t help but feel bored and anxious for The Beatles to return.  A day ago, they never would’ve been so picky about what they did or didn’t watch on television, never having watched it before, but now everything seems somehow different, like a special kind of magic has been worked upon them by these cute visitors from across the ocean.

Finally The Beatles return and sing “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Julie decides she thinks Paul is the cutest member of the group during this song.  Their final song of the evening is the one Betsy told them about, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  Ernestine, Julie, and Girl think it does sound fantastic, and hope they can buy their own copy if they can hustle up enough money after they’ve bought some food for the week.

The final performers of the night are Wells and The Four Fays, who are doing some kind of comedy routine.  The four girls on the davenport barely care about them at this point.  All they can think about are the four cute young British musicians who just stole their hearts and did something to them they can’t find words to explain.  All they know is they feel really different now.

“I don’t feel sad anymore,” Ernestine announces. “There’s been such a black cloud hanging over everyone since we lost President Kennedy, but now it’s like the bad spell has been broken.”

“I think I feel the same way,” Betsy agrees.

“Do they have a full LP do you know?” Girl asks. “After tonight, I could listen to those fellows singing the phonebook!”

“They have an album called Meet The Beatles,” Betsy says. “I’ve been saving up my money so I can buy it.  LPs are about three bucks, which is two bucks more than a single, but I like them so much I don’t care how much I have to pay.”

“When can we see them again?” Julie begs.

“I think they’re going to be on again next week,” Betsy says.

“Can we come over again next Sunday night, Mr. and Mrs. van Niftrik?” Girl asks.

“You girls are welcome any time you like,” Mrs. van Niftrik tells them.

“Do you have a favorite yet, Betsy?” Ernestine asks. “I like John.”

“So do I!” Girl says. “We haven’t been best friends for almost two years for nothing!  It’s like we’re sharing a brain at this point!”

“I don’t know who my favorite is yet,” Betsy says. “I think I’ll have to see them again and read a little more about them before I make my decision.”

“Paul is cute,” Julie says. “He has pretty eyes.”

“I didn’t know you was into that girly stuff,” Boy says.

“What, just because we don’t do other girly stuff doesn’t mean we can’t do one girly thing in our lives?” Girl challenges him. “Why can’t we fawn over cute guys in a band?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you looking this happy, Julie,” Ernestine says. “I guess the special magic these guys brought over the ocean with them healed even you.”

“Maybe we can even see them in concert!” Betsy says. “I’m sure they’ll be playing here in New York.  After all, they’re right here in the city as we speak, right in the CBS studio.”

“Maybe if they’re here over the summer, you can go to a show as a summer vacation present,” Mr. van Niftrik says. “You do deserve something nice as a reward for your upcoming sixth grade graduation.”

“That would be the best present ever, Dad!”

“We’ll start stepping up our begging and odd jobs to earn money for our own concert tickets!” Girl says with bright eyes.

She, Ernestine, Julie, and Betsy look around at one another with happy expressions and the same special feeling in their souls.  They have no idea exactly what just happened, but they do know they’re never going to be the same again after tonight.