The story about the animal-print shower curtain guy – Spring Break -1979

It begins in Daytona Beach, Fl, where my grandparents were wintering in neighboring Port Orange and breakfast hung from a tree outside the window. It was the end of the 70’s and, although we didn’t know it, the end of lots of other things, too.

My little Nana made pancakes for everyone. It seemed like dozens and to this day I don’t know how she shelled them out so quickly. She never seemed in a rush and kept the kitchen clean and shiny as she went. Then we said our goodbyes and left for the beach. We had 4 free days ahead of us, and someone said “Let’s go to Philadelphia!”

I remember my mixed feelings at this idea. I was sure we would be arrested or worse. I was fairly confident we would end up missing classes upon our expectantly tardy return. Actually, the more thought I gave the idea, the more I could not come up with one good reason to embark on this journey, so of course, in the car we I got.

Our driver, who I will just refer to as Audrey, loved to drive, loved to be in charge and seemed to know where we were headed. She did not want to share the navigating responsibility, which was OK with the rest of us. We pooled some funds for gas and made very few stops. We were four in all, piled in the sort of white wood-paneled wagon a parent would own. We had one shy, quiet unlikely (but pleasant) passenger and the three of us who never shut up. I was hoping to see the Liberty Bell.

Even the simple details were exciting, after being in school for so many months it was fun being on the open road. We were an eclectic mix of humans, and each passing mile made me happier to be long for the ride. As the city bridges started to pop up over the horizon, famine and fatigue began grab a hold of us, the three of us dozing in and out and the quiet girl sleeping soundly.

When we parked and got situated, we stopped and got a pizza, you know, like ya do. We walked up a few flights of stairs, happily stretching out our kinky muscles.

Finally we reached the threshold of the door of Audrey’s friend and knocked.

We knocked again. I’m not sure I’d seen an apartment before but the place was something to see….animal print on every surface, before I even knew what animal print was.

Cheetah adorned the furry shower curtain. We took turns in the bathroom while our welcoming host explained, over and over to each one exiting the loo, that Audrey no longer lived there and would we care to order another pizza so that there would be plenty for everyone?   (It was around this time we all started saying “loo” at every opportunity, cause we were going to London the next year). He as very apologetic regarding her absence, as if it was his fault.  I felt curiously safe which was a good thing, because the next morning we all woke up there.

Nobody wanted to do anything touristy but they did indulge me by allowing a side trip to the Liberty Bell.  I am especially glad for this memory and for getting to see the bell a last time before it was shuttled to an interior location and ensconced in layers of security post 9/11.  We had an exceptional, well-trained docent and one or two liberal arts majors re-affirmed their love for history.

This bi-coastal Florida- to-Philly adventure provided a badly needed diversion and a shot of adrenaline to get me through the rest of the semester. I got home and changed my major, and started writing his love letter to you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Guy on the Train: London 1980

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily Prompt: Come Fly with Me

Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.

The guy on the train.

I had been schooled: “In America, people say ‘come on over’ or ‘I’ll meet you next week’, but they don’t mean it.”

Even the book “Let’s Go–England” (a 70’s copy found in a Laundromat) told me that if  invited somewhat casually, with no follow up plan, to a location, it would be considered rude not to show up.  This would be the farthest from home I had ever traveled, and the last thing I wanted to be was rude.

The other thing that I failed to learn by reading the travel books was the train ticket advice…you will need your ticket to get off the train. Simple enough, right? It wasn’t as if I was accustomed to train travel (at least not yet, anyway), so I didn’t have any bad habits to break.

On a train from Gatwick  (ultimate destination, Gower Street via the Goodge street station) I had the weariness and exhilaration that accompanies the completion of a long trek.  I wouldn’t have needed this next-to-final leg of the journey had I flown into Heathrow, but I saved hundreds of dollars, and I met ‘the poet.’

He sits across from me and says ‘hello’ with an English accent so thick I had no idea what in God’s name he was saying. Since the plane was full of Americans, this was my first sip of the UK and I intended to drink deeply.

It was all that I expected. It sounded beautiful and I listened intently, picking up a bit here and there. He seemed fascinated that I was American, and I was fascinated at his fascination, among other things.

He told me he was a poet and I said I kinda was too.  We dug through our belongings. In a moment he came up with a journal out of a worn, cotton messenger bag. I pawed through  my luggage to get mine. I was also packing a Martin guitar in a massive hard shell case, an over-sized soft sided suitcase that said “parental property” all over it, and a purse. Nothing had wheels and I checked my passport (purse) and guitar every eight minutes.

We shared a few poems, and had that non-verbal agreement that writers sometimes have: Yes, these are poems.  It is so embarrassing when someone hands you something that doesn’t seem like a poem to you. I was glad I didn’t have to manufacture some kind of reaction, I was way too tired for that. I had been awake for 19 hours, in the air for 9 of them, and I was having alcohol while severely dehydrated. I wasn’t buzzed, drunk or stoned. I was crazy, but I didn’t yet know it.

The ride was less than an hour and we exchanged numbers, mine, the student number for the house at 35 Gower street.  I spoke to him on the phone a few times but this caused some issues with a boyfriend or two…ahh, the jealousies of youth!

When the train stopped, I went to hop out and the conductor asked for my ticket.  I was wearing my cape and had no pockets, and I was so struck by the ride and my new poet friend that I was flustered and near tears while searching my purse and the bag that held the poems.

A hand reached out behind me holding a pale yellow ticket. The sans-serif font explained my destination to the conductor and to the world. It was as if I was freed from incarceration, the endorphin release brought the tears the rest of the way.

The hand belonged, of course, to my new literary cohort, who had come to the front of the train to see what the commotion was about. We had already said our goodbyes, simple and sincere. Now came an awkward moment and a final glance that I was sure revealed my craziness in full bloom. The last look I saw from him can only be described by the word poignant. I probably looked a little desperate, that would be the kindest word for the moment.

Map of Gower Street

Map of Gower Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had a few phone times, me on the Gower street phone where the whole house could hear even the slightest whisper; he on a pay phone in a little red booth that I got to see in a Polaroid photo he later sent me.

He sent me a few love poems but it was not “like that”; he wanted to share critiques and, while we were close in age, I believe he felt a little fatherly towards me, writing-wise. If this girl couldn’t get off the train by herself…

After a few phone calls and failed meeting attempts and new, exciting adventures supplanting this one, we stopped talking.  But he that was the boy who helped me validate myself me as a writer, by way of my first European peer review.

Weeks after we met I realized he must have paid a hefty few pounds for me to exit the train (what the delay hoopla was about). In a pocket in my sweater was the pale yellow ticket with the sans-serif font.

Early Pharmaceutical Reqirements or, 16 hours, a new record!

The pills were like the LiteBrite pegs my cousin Max had, shiny, mooth, colorful, abundant, and forbidden.

The pills were like the LiteBrite pegs my cousin Max had, shiny, mooth, colorful, abundant, and forbidden.

Pharmaceutical Requirements

The job with the shortest duration, even shorter than the maid week, lasted two days.  It took a couple of weeks to land the job, and get through what passed for a background check (they put your application in a secret place and let it “age,” and then called you back later to see if you were still interested).

This job suited me mainly because:

  1. I could walk there
  2. I was always interested in drug interactions
  3. I could wear my own clothes (vs. the Ponderosa polyester).

The first day at the pharmacy, while technically, I could have walked, I got a ride. This, imprinted in my memory, because when I opened the door; the pharmacist was standing there eying my transportation warily. I knew it was a strike against me but hey, could I help it if I Florida didn’t believe in vehicle inspections?

The pharmacist himself was a big, overbearing kind of guy, and fortunately a wall separated his area from us. He was loud, and everyone’s personal business was broadcast throughout the place routinely. It was a small operation with one cashier. This odd combination of details made it a very challenging environment.  Add the fact that everyone but me smoked cigarettes. I mean, all day, continuously, in the pharmacy.  This was near the beginning of folks just thinking that smoking  in public places should be restricted, but the idea of asking someone to put it out would like telling a kid he couldn’t have Happy Meal at a McDonald’s.

The prescriptions were all hand written, and then typed in duplication achieved by little sheets of carbon paper. (Ask your parents). We used an antique manual typewriter, (“fewer mistakes,” was the excuse). We had a little list taped to the typewriter, a cheat sheet, with about six items on it such as “bid” (2x a day) and PRN  (as needed).  Sometimes we needed the symbol for “without” (the sine) which we had to achieve by typing an “s,” backing up a space, and typing a little dash over the “s”.  If you screwed this up you had to do the whole label over.  Never one to downplay my own importance, I saw it as being entrusted with people’s lives. Make and error and maybe someone dies. OH! I was so narcissistic I can hardly write this post.

After learning how to type the scripts, there was the filing.  Again, amazement that this was a manual job; it was the 80’s for crying out loud! To augment my misery, scripts were NUMBERED.  They were small, covered in carbon grime and stuck to your hands. You had to figure out where they went numerically, and you were expected to do each day’s filing on that day. Only this day, my first day, they were about 3 weeks behind. If a doctor (or, more often, a lawyer) called needing information from one of those little yellow smudgy copies, everyone would stop what they were doing and rifle through the stacks, putting the filing further behind. Ever my father’s daughter, midway through day one I was still confident that given a couple of weeks, I could fix this place.

It was a thrilling moment that afternoon when I was finally permitted to touch some pills. The little turquoise trays with pill-sized holes in them thrilled me then the same way my LightBrite did 13 years earlier.  I was concerned with making an error until I realized the pharmacist would check each bottle, the label, match it with the copy of the script and then throw all the script carbons in the file pile. I didn’t expect to make a mistake, but I was glad to see quality control measures in place. People’s lives were at stake!

I know you are thinking my undiagnosed ADD was the death of me at this job. Cigarettes contributed to the early demise of my before-it-began pharmaceutical career. I wanted to throw up from what I thought was the heavy smoking.  Two days later I woke up two days late, and too nauseous to go to work.  While it didn’t always seem like it at the time, it was the beginning of the best decade.

London Calling

-Part 1-

It never occurred to me that I might have trouble getting from St. Petersburg to the Miami airport. Steve One said he would take me, his reliability for things like airline schedules had been proven (we did get to Lakeland for the Dylan ticket sales, didn’t we?) and yet still there was yet another plan developing behind the scenes, unbeknownst to me.

My parents drove down to say goodbye, a long drive for them and we didn’t even share a meal. Long as in a carton of Salem long, a case of beer long, these were the days when the roadways were unencumbered with things like Breathalyzers and Triple A, the cops would actually help a stranded motorist change a tire.

There was a Steve at each end of the trip. Steve One’s goodbye would coincide with my folks’, and he would kiss me in front of them before driving away, humorous because we didn’t share that kind of intimacy normally and because my parents could now be glad to see me go. A year prior, I mistakenly thought his Conscience Objection to the Viet Nam war would garner approval (he served two years at a desk job and simultaneously cared for aging parents); I look back at my naiveté on this matter.  Steve Two was already at Gower Street, scoping out Museums and Pubs.

The details are fuzzy, but I ended up riding pre-dawn to Miami with a stranger, the cousin of a friend who was going to the airport also. He seemed alarmed at my lack of luggage (if you needed more stuff, you weren’t getting away from it all) and my lack of plane ticket. This was the day of Freddie Laker,where you went to the airport and stepped on to the next available seat to Gatwick.  That Heathrow would have been the airport of desire was another detail overlooked by me. This was before smart phones and databases; this was the era of maps and hearsay.

I didn’t need a crush; I was flanked by Steves and had grown to see things as unrequited before they had a chance to take root. But it didn’t get by me that my driver was handsome and talkative, and we were riding in an awesome car with an awesome stereo. We developed a bond over the five hour drive and he didn’t want to leave me alone without a ticket, but I assured him I would be fine and watched him leave for the gate for his pre-paid conventional flight.

I only had to watch one plane take off before it was my turn. After a 3 hour wait I was buckled in and feeling the relief of take-off. I was relieved to be heading to my semester abroad that I had dreamed and planned for years. Relief to be out of the crowded waiting room, relief that I only had to wait for a few hours to get my seat, relief that in a day I would be seeing Molly and Ken, and resuming my plan for my life.

-Part 2-

By the time I arrived at 35 Gower Street I had been awake for 24 hours not including the 9 hour flight. I was too excited to nap on the plane so I thought I would try cocktails. After the flight was the train, where I met a guy who whipped out a notebook and wrote out directions for me to London’s center. We shared more cocktails and he repeated for me, three times, that the key to travel was to hold on to your ticket stub, that, unlike America, you would not be able to get off the train without your ticket. He gave me a lot of advice on currency exchange and how to use the Tube, and where to go on a tough day (sit through a Scientologist presentation and they will feed you a hot meal).

English: Street Sign in London, Gower Street, ...

English: Street Sign in London, Gower Street, Camden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knocked on the door and was greeted with the searching eyes of the housekeeper who must have been alarmed by my appearance, if not my fragrance. I had a suitcase and a guitar. Years later I would compare this fatigue to the ins and outs of anesthesia…you want to come out but you kinda don’t. Someone slaps you in the face. There’s usually a headache involved.

The official students had been there for a few days, and from the top of the stairs I heard David yelling “Do I hear Jaye?” I was surprised by his surprise, why didn’t people believe me when I said I was going to London?

I was taken to a tiny room with bunk beds where I could stash my stuff and tidy up-and then, still on my sleepless marathon, I was taken to Molly and Ken’s room. Ken greeted me with open arms, gave me a hug and seemed delighted to see me. Molly came from behind a corner and I quickly read the “shit Jaye, what have you done” look in  her eyes.  I stayed 2 nights while various phone calls were made and deals were struck. Ken advocated for me to stay and catch up with the studies, consisting of Museum browsing by day and theater-going at night, with plenty of pub crawling in the middle.

Three times in my life I would overhear a couple arguing over something I had done, and this would be the first.  I sat in my 5£ a night bunk-bed hearing Molly through the plaster walls making her point that if I got to stay, the whole selection process would be out the window and it wouldn’t be fair to the students who legitimately had been accepted to the program.  Ken seemed understanding but anxious to look for a solution that would allow me to stay. That I had caused this friction between them caused me genuine pain. It was the only moment where I thought maybe I wouldn’t do this again. I went with growing delirium to the guest room. 24 hours after that I was on my way out of Gower Street, but I always think of it as my London home.

The absolute least amount of money I ever made

The front page of the final edition of The Eve...

The front page of the final edition of The Evening Independent on November 07, 1986 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Right around the time that the lamp factory guy couldn’t make his payroll, the job I dreamed about, (not my dream job), was about to fall into my unemployed lap; reporting for the Evening Independent, the afternoon edition of The St. Petersburg Times. It was dreamy because I didn’t have to wear orange polyester and I wasn’t chained to a desk. It didn’t have the asthma inducing dust-o-phere of the lamp factory and the hours worked well with our transportation; the sharing of the 1965 Ford Falcon.

If we take a closer look at the word “reporter,” it might help to highlight my expectations for this job:

Reporter: a person who reports, especially one employed to gather news for a newspaper, news agency, or broadcasting organization. (

I had to learn several lessons, outlined here with a helpful quiz at the end of the article for those that want to gauge their learning.

Newspaper Reporting 101

  1. Trust nobody.  Even your parents, who have paid for your schooling.
  2. Your parents, who have paid for your schooling, will not be impressed by your $25 per story correspondent career choice.
  3. Lock your computer. It might take a half hour to sign in and out of your 1983 mainframe terminal, but do it every time. Refer to rule #1.
  4. “I covered for you” means “I submitted your facts under my own byline.”
  5. “I’ll cover for you” means “I didn’t make it to the City Council meeting on time, so while you were there I sat in your car and smoked weed.”
  6. If a story breaks on your shift (11 a.m. deadline), a more substantial story will be written on the next shift (11 p.m deadline) by somebody who is not you. Pass Go. Do not collect $25.
  7. Factoid: Twenty-five dollars is seventeen-fifty after taxes.
  8. The evening edition of the paper is the rival of the morning edition. Despite what you may have heard, you are not on a team. There is no N E W S in TEAM.

I fell into this job when my landlord revealed that he was a sports writer for the Evening Independent. I revealed that I was taking a Gregg Stenography class because I wanted to be a newspaper writer.  I didn’t fancy myself interviewing the 85 year old mayor with threats to publish fake facts if he didn’t pony up some worthy interview substance.  (That would come later).

I failed the Steno class, but I learned a valuable lesson there. It was held in the local high school where the walls were covered in graffiti (not the artsy kind) and the bathrooms, even during night school, were locked.  You knew you didn’t want your kids to grow up here. It was my first inclination that St. Pete might not be our permanent home.

My $25 stringer job wasn’t cutting it financially, or in any other way for that matter, and so, with baby on the way, I went to work for the newspaper library four to midnight. It was still possible to share the Falcon (we would leave it running when we switched keys in the afternoon), and shared the quickest of kisses as we went our separate ways.