By Peggy Strait
It was June 1957. My husband Roger and I had just completed our graduate studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts when the idea of a life as young bohemians living in the intellectual and cultural capital of the world captured our imagination. So, like many young couples before us, we loaded our barely functioning 1938 Buick sedan with our few belongings – mattress tied on top – and drove to New York City.
Before we checked into the King’s Crown hotel on 116th Street across from Columbia University where we planned to stay for the night, we noticed an apartment for rent sign on a store window: Studio apt. – $53/mo. – 309 W 109 – Contact super.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to grab what seemed like the perfect place for us, I told Roger that I would walk on down to look over the place, and he should meet me there after he had checked into the hotel.
The super, a soured faced middle-aged man, let me into the apartment. It looked perfect – a spacious room with an open kitchen and an alcove for a bed. But before I could say a word, he said he was sorry, the apartment had already been rented.
I was surprised but said nothing except, “Thank you for showing me the apartment,” and left.
As I walked out of the building, I saw Roger turning the corner on Broadway onto 109th Street. I ran up to him and explained what had happened.
“Go in and rent the apartment,” I said. “You are white – he’ll let you have it.”
I leaned against the red brick wall of the apartment building to wait for Roger. It was no more than 10 minutes before he returned – with a big grin on his face.
“We have the apartment,” he said. “The man didn’t even asked if I have a job,” which he didn’t.
We laughed all the way back to the Hotel.
“I don’t care what that super thinks of Chinese people like me,” I said. “As long as he does his job – takes out the garbage, keeps the place clean – I will not complain.”