Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
the daily events and musings of Jim.
It provides an easy way for his friends and family to check in on him,
and serves as a online repository for his random
thoughts, kaleidoscopic flashbacks, and writings on an array of diverse topics.
“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
entertain you, but not intended for college credit.

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Chapel Hill, NC, United States


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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Me and Tennessee

Today’s blog is about the historic encounter between two great names of the literary world: Tennessee Williams and me.

Tennessee Williams, the great major American playwright who won Pulitzer Prizes for his plays A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, both The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and his play The Rose Tattoo (1952) received a Tony Award. Many of his plays were made into movies, and they in turn have won many distinguished awards and honors.

Yours truly (Jim) has been posting on the blogosphere for over two months. I have an estimated following of nearly two dozen intermittent readers.

While I go by the name of Jim today, at the time of this story I had the misfortune of being called “Frosty.” I had been given this nick-name by one of my relatives (cousin Robert, I think) because of my pale-white skin and emaciated look.


The world used to be a smaller and much simpler.

In 1955 my parents lived for a short time in a brownstone in an area of Manhattan known as Sutton Place.,_Manhattan

Zipcodes did not exist yet, but the building's address was 316 East 58th Street, New York 22, NY. Here is a photo of the building from the side-rear. (It was torn down in the 1960's).

When we lived on 58th Street it was just a decade or so after the end of the great war, and America was growing in leaps and bounds – both economically and culturally. In 1955 Micky Mantle hit his 100th home run, and NY city seemed to be at the center of the universe.

Manhattan has many distinct neighborhoods, and Sutton Place was (and still is) a small residential area in the shadows of the Queensboro 59th Street Bridge. I vividly remember taking the electric trolley over the bridge and back again with my father. It was a great ride over Roosevelt Island.

Here are some photos of my brother and I playing in the neighborhood.

On the left I sit my my art deco stroller, while Larry (on the left) climbs a street lamp with his friend.

The photo on the right shows Larry (still using training wheels) pulling little "Frosty" down the street. My younger brother Patrick Jr. had not yet been born.

Here are some family photos of mom and the boys over on the West Side of town. We're "all dressed up with nowhere to go." I like my bow tie and white shoes. It looks like Larry is holding a box of Cracker Jack.

In the background of the second photo is the memorial to Christopher Columbus erected in 1892 by the resident Italians in America. It is located at the intersection of Broadway and 8th Avenue at 59th Street. The sculpture at the top of the monument (not seen in this photo) was created by Gaetano Russo. It's near the entrance to Central Park.

Whenever the circus was in town, they would transport the elephants down the city streets to the old Madison Square Garden. It was quite a scene. I count about 20 elephants in this photo alone.

Back then telephone numbers reflected what neighborhood you lived in, for example SU was the two digit prefix for Sutton Place, MU for Murray Hill, or in the boroughs it could have been CL for Cloverdale and NI for Nightingale. At some point the phone company added a seventh numeric digit just after the two prefix letters to accommodate direct dialing on rotary phones. By the 1950’s a typical seven digit number might have been MU3-7263, but you could still determine which neighborhood someone lived in by the alphabetic prefix.

(A slight digression… in 1956 my parents moved 20 miles up the Hudson River to suburbia where the telephone exchange was known as OWENS-3. All seven-digit phone numbers in that town began with OW3. Attempting to dial my friend for the first time, I kept getting the Operator. After several attempts, she lost her patience and scolded me. I had repeatedly been dialing Zero rather than the letter “O").

Today many celebrities, such as Woody Allen, live in the multi-million dollar brownstones up and down Manhattan’s East Side. The same was true in 1955, although the real estate was much more affordable. My mother told of seeing Marilyn Monroe in the corner supermarket in Sutton Place. The movie actress could have been buying milk, bacon, and eggs to cook breakfast for her soon to be husband, playwright Arthur Miller.

Miller’s friend and fellow playwright Tennessee Williams lived in the area too, although he may have been a resident of Murray Hill which was nearby. Williams was easy to spot, and always dressed impeccably in a three-piece suit and adorned with a pocket watch secured by a chain. He spoke with a southern drawl, and had a casual familiarity with my mother who would greet him on the street as a neighbor. He was always polite and courteous, but never inquired about my mother’s southern accent or how she too ended up living in NY city far from her home in the south.

October 31st, 1955 fell on a Monday. I was not yet two years old, still in cloth diapers, and dressed-up in a little tiger costume. As my mother was parading me around the neighborhood for my first Halloween, Mr. Williams walked by.

As the story goes, I was pushed up to Tennessee Williams, and I shyly said “twik or tweet.” My mother described his reaction in great detail… the renowned playwright, at the height of his career, felt obliged, but very uncomfortable in the situation. He reluctantly reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a large handful of silver coins that sparkled under the streetlamp. He hunted through his large wad of change looking earnestly for a nickel or dime he could part with, but only saw silver dollars, half dollars, and quarters. After what must have seemed like an eternity, he finally gave in and handed me a quarter. He said "have a nice evening" and walked on his way.

Here I am in my tiger suit with my mother (left) and brother Larry (right). (The young lady in the center is not related).

That’s the story about how I met the great American writer Tennessee Williams in New York.