What else were we going to do? A deep recession in the aftermath of the Vietnam War had rendered jobs beyond minimum wage ($2.75 an hour) a rarity. In 1975, New York City itself — yes, the city! — had barely avoided bankruptcy, rescued at the last minute by its teachers’ union, which cashed in a pension fund.
At twenty-seven, I knew two people who had respectable jobs: one was a piano tuner, and the other delivered mail. I took the USPS civil service exam myself, hoping to walk the streets cheerfully with a bag slung over my shoulder. I scored 70 — F was 69. I’d graduated from Hunter College, Summa Cum Laude, but my memory for random lists of names was hardly impressive. I clung for a while to the part-time job that had gotten me through Hunter, teaching children’s after-school art classes, but soon enough it dried up. My husband, at twenty-nine, was already living on the dregs of what had been a brilliant early career in show-biz. Friends, also “creatively unemployed,” were sharing our big old rented house on a hill overlooking New York Harbor in Staten Island. Down the street a magnificent movie palace had just gone dark for the first time in its long career. What to do but rent it?