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June 15th, 2008

PURE GOLD: THE ARRANGEMENT.

by Ed Gold

More than 50 years have passed, but I can’t forget the weirdest residential experience of my life; it followed a serious romance that went sour.

I had been working in Gallup, N.M. (pop. 11,000) where I was the entire news staff, when she came into town visiting longtime friends who were new friends of mine. She came with a large chip on her shoulder, the result of a failed three-year marriage.

We argued furiously during the first days of her visit, but then we both mellowed and romance took over.

The romance got hotter during her next trip to Gallup, and when I left after working there for three years, we met in Chicago, traveled joyously through red and blue states and wound up at her parents’ home in Minneapolis.

It was precipitous but we decided to get married. The plan was for me to go back to New York and look for a newspaper job. Once I found work, she would join me wherever I located. She indicated that New York was not one of her favorite places.

It took several months before I had any job offers but finally an ad in the Sunday Times paid off. I was offered city editorships in towns on the east coast and in the midwest. But I’d had my fill of small towns. I was called down by Fairchild Publications in Greenwich Village for a job interview. On my third interview I was offered a job as a reporter and section editor, and I grabbed it.

I called her in Minneapolis to tell her the good news. She did not sound very enthusiastic and told me it might take a month to wind up her business affairs.

She ran two stores in downtown Minneapolis—one selling bridal gowns, the other maternity clothes. She was very bright.

After several weeks, I sublet an apartment on the West Side so we’d have our own place when we got married.

I kept writing letters but got no response. I phoned and her mother answered, I thought sadly, “She’s visiting relatives in Madison, WI.”

“Please tell her to call me,” I asked.

Weeks passed and I heard nothing from her. I sent her a feeling-sorry-for-myself letter. No answer. So I got real and sent an I-guess-it’s-over letter.

I never heard from her. Now I had to get out of the sublet and find a place to live.

I called a Columbia classmate of mine who lived in a brownstone in mid-Manhattan. Fred and I had become fast friends, spending more time in extra-curricular activities than in the classroom.

When he was editor of the Columbian, the college yearbook, I was editor of the Columbia newspaper, the Spectator. I was his associate editor and he was my associate editor.

I called and told him my problem. He said: “C’mon over. Maybe we can make a deal.”

He lived on the top floor of a three-story building. His apartment was one large room. It had a closet near the door, a studio couch that opened into two beds, very modest kitchen facilities, a small bathroom and, at the far end of the room, two connected work tables adjacent to three windows overlooking an alley. On the left side of the room, between the couch and the work tables was a large square wooden box topped with a flower pot.

There was one serious problem, Fred pointed out. “I’m living here illegally. The building is supposed to be completely commercial, so I have to be very careful.”

The work tables were used by two commercial tenants. “They have the space daily from nine to five,” Fred noted. One renter was a book designer, the other a public relations freelancer. Fred had the place to himself the rest of the time, including weekends. He was then working for a stock broker uncle.

The wooden box, he explained, was the receptacle for blankets, sheets and other bedding. The landlady came around periodically early in the morning to check on violations. Fred would be tipped off by a friendly artist on the second floor and would move quickly to get all the bedding into the box.

“So what about the financial arrangement?” I asked. His renters each paid $20 a month and he paid $60 a month for the apartment. If I gave him $20 a month he’d break even. I readily agreed.

About two weeks after I had moved in, I was alone in the place on a Saturday morning. Fred frequently went home on Friday night to his parents’ home in Riverdale, taking his laundry with him, and often returned on Sunday.

Someone with a key was opening our door. Enter a middle-aged man I had never seen before. “It’s alright,” he said reassuringly. “I have an arrangement with Fred.”

He worked for the New York Public Library, he explained, and his politics were “pretty far left.” He didn’t want his mail going to the library so he used Fred’s address as a mail drop. He also kept literature on the top shelf of the closet. He walked over to the closet and grabbed a stack of flyers promoting a rally in Peekskill, N.Y., that would feature Paul Robeson as speaker.

“I pay Fred $10 a month,” he said. It was nice to learn that Fred was making a little profit on the apartment.

We actually had only one incident during my stay with Fred. He had gone to Riverdale on Friday evening and said he would return on Sunday. Late Saturday night, there was a knock on the door. It was Fred: “I decided to come back early.’

“Fred, there is no room here right now,” I answered.

He phoned the next morning and I told him the coast was clear. He had spent the night sleeping in the hallway in front of the artist’s apartment. It never happened again.

I lived there for two years. Then I got married to a fashion editor at Fairchild.

Fred, of course, was my best man.

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