And then, glory hallelujah, my father got a job offer in New York City, a better management position with a company called Joy Manufacturing, whose name would be the butt of jokes for years to come.
The timing was perfect, as my brother was about to head off to college.
My mother sat on the back patio after dinner, when my father made his announcement, and wept. For joy, of course. I was thrilled too, because I was sure it meant we might move back to Mountain Lakes and I could go to high school with Dede and other friends.
But my parents had different plans. They wanted to live in the big city, in Manhattan, and I was too young to be given a vote in the matter. And so at some point that summer I was put on a bus that dropped me into the steaming chaos of Port Authority on West 41st Street, an experience unlike any I had ever had before, and I felt my first waves of panic at the brave new world opening before me, a sweating sea of humanity in a rush to go in all directions. My dad’s secretary—he was now at the executive level—was supposed to meet me at the information desk but was nowhere to be found. I called my father from a pay phone, and he gently calmed me down, saying she was on her way. Before long a stout perspiring woman rushed toward me, cheeks flushed, jowls waggling; she most likely knew me immediately from the photos I hoped were on my dad’s desk.
Hers was perhaps the first Noo Yawk accent I had ever heard, up close and personal (though we had visited the city at least twice a year when we lived in Mountain Lakes). I was soothed and relieved at the way she took charge of me and trundled me into a taxi, telling the driver in no-nonsense terms to take me to the Gramercy Pahk Hotel.
She peeled a fiver out of her purse and handed it to me. “Don’t worry, hon. You just check in and your dad will be there soon.”
I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see his big new office with the views of the city he described, but that could come later.
The Gramercy Park Hotel was in those days a rather run-down place, which surprised me as I assumed my father was now in stratospheric salaryland, and so I’d been hoping for something better, like maybe the Plaza, where I could play at being Eloise. And I didn’t even get my own room, but rather a rollaway bed in his. If anyone found it strange that a 12-year-old girl would share a room with her father, no one said a word. I had already seen him, by accident, buck naked, emerging from the shower in Allentown, and that was enough to scare me away from any thoughts of sex for years to come. The most irritating aspect of sharing a room was my dad’s snoring, which could saw through walls at home and was even worse in close quarters.
Where was my mother? Why was I sent alone? Perhaps she wanted me to have an adventure; perhaps she needed to be at her job or was getting my brother ready for college.
I was disappointed, too, that we didn’t eat in particularly upscale places, like those I’d seen on Patty Duke and The Saint. I was in the city for only about three nights, and the hotel dining room sufficed for my dad. I have a dim memory of eating Chinese, but not in Chinatown, and finding it so delightfully different from the La Choy stuff we ate from cans.
In the afternoons we went apartment hunting. My parents had settled on finding something on the Upper East Side—not the Upper East Side of Park and Fifth avenues—but the neighborhoods toward the river, the East 60s and Yorktown in the East 80s. I am wondering now if they settled on this part of town because of the Troys, who owned an apartment off Third on 72nd and would decamp to the city a few years after my parents.
The early ’60s was an era of overbuilding in residential areas of Manhattan, of massive white-brick apartment houses, known as “luxury buildings,” with tiny postage-stamp-sized terraces recessed into the facades or jutting out like dominoes and enclosed by mesh fences. There was generally a rental agent on the premises, and many were offering free rent for two or three months as incentives to sign on.
I was gobsmacked by the lobbies, papered in flocked velvet, illuminated by gilded sconces, overseen by uniformed doormen wearing caps and gloves. There were marble floors and paneled elevators and sometimes an interior garden. The floor plans, so different from the ones I drew with Barbara Swack a few years earlier, enthralled me. We took back to the hotel the large folded sheets showing the layouts of two- and three-bedroom apartments, some with terraces, all with small but spanking new kitchens.
After each, I tugged at my father. “We have to take this one, Daddy, or it will be gone. We need to say yes now!”
But he counseled patience, and after looking twice, we both determined on a large two-bedroom with a huge terrace, close to Rockefeller University and New York Hospital in the East Sixties. From the terrace, at night, we were told, we would see the Pepsi Cola sign scrawled in red neon across the East River. The building was older, made of red brick with neatly tended shrubs out front, on a quiet block between First and York avenues. There were many doctors and nurses in the building and in the neighborhood because of the proximity to the hospital and the university. Perhaps I dreamed of running into Ben Casey or Dr. Kildare.
I try to imagine that last dinner at the Gramercy Park Hotel. For sure my father had a martini with olives. I imagine plain fare with Parker House Rolls, chicken pot pie, and a green salad.
I returned by bus the next day to Allentown, exhilarated at first. And later scared witless.
Here’s a better pot pie than we ate in the hotel. And we never did venture inside the fabled private Gramercy Park—it would be decades before I got a peek.
PUFF PASTRY CHICKEN POT PIE (adapted from Once Upon a Chef)
Store-bought rotisserie chicken and puff pastry make these individual chicken pot pies easy to prepare.
Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 40 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes
- 1 package frozen puff pastry, best quality such as Dufour or Pepperidge Farm, thawed (see Note 1)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 3 carrots, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the pastry
- 2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/3 cup Cognac or brandy (okay to replace with more chicken broth if avoiding alcohol)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- several grinds of black pepper
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or a combination thyme, rosemary and sage), plus a few thyme springs for serving
- 3-4 cups shredded cooked chicken, from 1 rotisserie chicken (see Note 2)
- 1 cup frozen peas (no need to defrost)
- 1 egg
- For this recipe, you’ll need 4 to 6 oven-safe (to 425°F) soup bowls. If making 4 servings, one (14-oz) package of puff pastry will suffice. However, if making 6 servings, you’ll need another package.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.
- Dust a clean, dry work surface with flour and place the puff pastry over top. Sprinkle the pastry with flour and roll to about 1/8-inch thick, smoothing the creases with the rolling pin at the same time. (Depending on the brand of puff pastry you buy, you may not need to roll it out that much.) Using a sharp knife, kitchen shears, or a pizza cutter, cut out 4 circles about 1 inch larger than the diameter of your soup bowls. (Alternatively, cut out 6 circles if making smaller portions.) Place the dough rounds on the foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack to the center position.
- To make the filling: In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the yellow onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are just cooked, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add the broth, cognac, salt, and white pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan to incorporate the flour. Simmer until thickened, a few minutes. Off the heat, stir in the heavy cream, thyme, chicken, and peas. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. (Note that the broth will taste a little boozy at this point. That’s okay–the cognac will cook off in the oven.)
- Ladle the filling into 4 to 6 small oven-safe soup bowls. The filling should come up no more than three-quarters of the way to the top of the bowls. Do not overfill. (See Note 1)
- Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water.
- Remove the pastry rounds from the refrigerator. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash.
- Place the cold dough rounds over the bowls, pressing firmly around the edges so that the dough adheres. Transfer the bowls to the foil-lined baking sheet. Brush the dough with the egg wash. Using a sharp knife, make a ½-inch slit in the top of each pie. Place the bowls on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is a rich golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then use a wide spatula to carefully transfer the hot bowls to serving plates. Sprinkle a few fresh thyme sprigs over top of the bowls and serve.
- MAKE AHEAD: The pies may be assembled and refrigerated up to a day ahead of time. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash before baking
Note 1: I used soup bowls, and for this recipe one sheet of puff pastry sufficed. The filling came only halfway up the interiors of the bowls, so the tops collapsed a bit. You could also probably use a casserole or soufflé dish, which is what I will try next time around
Note 2: My local market did not have rotisserie chickcns, so I bought a package of six chicken legs and baked them in a 350-degree oven for an hour and fifteen minutes. After discarding the skin, I had about two cups of moist, shredded chicken, which was plenty.
Top: Pierre Bonnard, Montmartre in the Rain, 1897