We are making small talk as we walk across the Genesee River on my first day of work cityside at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. I don’t know it yet but I am brushing up against the man with whom I will soon fall truly deeply madly in love. Our love will thrust me into a life I never could have imagined, but at this moment I am merely walking across a bridge.
He is somewhat older, already established in the profession that I have dreamed about since the fourth grade. It’s early evening, dusk is hurtling toward dark, but it’s not cold for February, it’s foggy and damp but not quite raining. A silk scarf is tied at the back of my neck a la French movie star, and I am wearing a slick soldier-blue trench coat with a red lining—Made in France!—that cost a week’s salary. I am high on life at that moment—hell, I
am practically gliding across the bridge—for I’m the first woman to be hired
for the metro desk at The Democrat & Chronicle since World War II emptied
the newsroom of men.
To get here had taken more than cracking a certain glass ceiling in the
office—it also meant breaking through at home, starting when I was thirteen and
had to convince my father that taking Latin and algebra next year in the ninth grade
was crucial to the rest of my life. Daddy was a cabinet maker, he didn’t believe
anyone from a family like ours could actually go to college—especially a girl!
You’re just going to get married and have kids! Who do you think you are? Some
movie star’s daughter? were words I heard more times than I can recount. What I
said back to him and repeated to myself: I am not going to be a housewife. I am
going to have a career. On a newspaper. I can do it. I will do it. You wait and see.
|The motel my parents owned.|
Our battle—and that’s what it was—raged longer than the Siege of Stalingrad. It continued all through high school, intensifying when he had a heart attack in my freshman year of college. By then we owned a small motel—the kind of place that proudly displayed its AAA rating, with red-and-white striped awnings, family and pet friendly. It nearly killed my father. Making the mortgage was difficult during the off-season, Dad was never able to quit his day job, and after the heart attack he insisted that I quit school and get a job and help out. The idea nearly killed me—here I was on track, one semester of college already under my belt, already getting front page stories on
The Daily Collegian, with a boyfriend also in college, and Dad wants
me to quit and get a job? Doing exactly what? My terrible typing precludes
my becoming a secretary.
Money was tight, all right, but I was determined. However after the heart
attack I had to pay all my college expenses, including tuition, books, lunches,
clothes, transportation. I went to Wayne State University in downtown Detroit and
lived at home in the suburbs. With my mother’s unwavering support, numerous
part-time jobs, a tuition scholarship my senior year, and the nagging belief that if I
dropped out my life would be forever ruined, I managed to graduate on schedule.
Now less than a year later, when women reporters in the city room were as rare as
suspenders are today, I was proving that I had made the right choices. A girl like
me—decidedly not a movie star’s daughter—could do it. Now I was doing it in
Rochester, New York. Hello, world!
Today Rochester might be a struggling upstate city, but back then, Rochester
was someplace. Bausch & Lomb and Kodak and Xerox (which hadn’t yet become
a verb) were all headquartered there, giving the place a raw, vibrant energy. Kodak
controlled most of the photography market in the U.S., and manufacturing jobs had
not yet gone overseas. Those who knew, knew the Mafia was around, providing
services. The University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music and Rochester
Polytechnic Institute added intellectual and creative flair. A new downtown mall—
the first urban indoor mall in America—had a posh restaurant and bar on top where
the city’s power elite ordered Tanqueray gin martinis, seduced their secretaries (which
is what they were called then) and acted like big shots.
We are headed instead to the Towpath, a grittier joint that serves as an
unofficial outpost of The Democrat & Chronicle. The tavern sits directly across the
bridge over the Genesee River, where the D&C, along with Rochester’s afternoon
daily, The Times-Union, is housed in a substantial hunk of an art-deco structure.
The D&C is a morning paper, deadlines are in the evening, the metro staff works
afternoons, three to eleven p.m. I’ve been hired to write features for metro. The
few other women on the editorial staff have long since cleared out for the day.
Though the cityroom has been emptying in the last hour for the dinner break,
I have no idea where the guys are going or what to do for sustenance myself. I
certainly haven’t brought a snack. In the meantime, I’m sitting there, trying to look
busy. No one’s asked me to join them. I am not only the New Face, I am A Girl.
The city editor who hired me, Dick Dougherty, comes to my rescue,
suggesting he take me to the Towpath and introduce me around. Dick is done for
the day and normally would be heading home; the front and metro pages are made
up for the night. Dick is thoughtful, silver-haired, tall, thin, distinguished and good
looking enough to be a model for expensive men’s suits. As we head out, he turns
to the guy with the big desk next to a window who sits directly across the aisle
from me, and in his deep baritone, asks if he wants to join us. His name is Patrick
As the three of us make our way across the long span of the bridge, Dick
comes upon his conveniently parked car and decides to go home. You’ll take her
over to the ‘Path, right? he says to Brasley, not addressing me except to nod
goodbye as he folds himself into his silver VW bug. Patrick later would tell me his
immediate reaction was, Damn, we’re going to spend an hour saying, where did
you go to school, what did you major in, etc. How did I get stuck with her? I knew
as much, instantly intuiting this other guy with whom I have not shared ten words
|Lorraine at The Saginaw News,|
soon after college
Today crossing the bridge with this guy there’s nothing to do except keep walking and talking and depend on the kindness of someone who is nearly a stranger. Patrick later insists that I kept brushing up against him. This I vaguely
remember, and I remember being embarrassed. My heels were extraordinarily high.
At the Towpath, the other reporters have already filled up a large table and
there’s no room to squeeze in. Patrick makes quick introductions, and we end up at
a table for two, certainly not what he or I had in mind, the awkwardness of my
being thrust upon him increasing by the moment. Yet he is polite.
The linguine’s good here, he says, Fine, I’ll try it, I say. Somehow the
conversation flows easy like the house red we’re drinking. My college and career
up until then are dispensed within ten minutes (journalism major, college
newspaper, hometown weekly, a few months in a women’s department in Saginaw,
Michigan), then his (he grew up in Rochester, went to the University of Rochester,
English major), and before you know it we are churning rapidly through recent
movies, the imagery in Polansky’s Knife in the Water (I found out later he was
winging this one), Hemingway’s books, which I was not winging as I’d read a
couple, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, which naturally leads to John Donne
and bizarrely enough I’m rattling off Donne’s "No man is an island," suddenly
appreciating that Sister Jane Edward [Yes, Dear Reader of FMF, that really was
her name] had made us memorize those lines junior year, and that somehow leads
to Patrick quoting Andrew Marvell, which is kinda cheeky when you realize this
is the guy who had a coy mistress.
The waitress asks if it’s one check or two.
“Two,” we fairly shout in unison. This is not a date, this is not what it looks
like, we both are in a rush to tell her. I’m the new kid on the block, I say.
Uh huh, she says.
She reads the cues right. It is the beginning.
The next evening around seven Patrick appears in front of my desk. He is
already in his trench coat, Irish wool fedora in hand. “Going to dinner?” I notice
how blue are his eyes, how inviting his smile.
“YES.” An ice maiden I’ll never be.
If Patrick hadn’t asked me to join him, I probably would not have taken a
dinner break that night, or the next, or the one after that, just stayed at my desk and
read newspapers or otherwise kept busy, the Girl Without Friends. The guys in the
cityroom are not overtly hostile, not a single one; they simply take a wait-and-see
attitude. I am an object of curiosity, someone to observe but not befriend. Anyway,
what’s the protocol? I am young and female and an outsider. Almost everyone is older
and married and grew up around there.
The atmosphere wasn’t like the easy camaraderie of The Daily Collegian
where both sexes were on an equal footing until one had the outlandish desire to be
editor-in-chief (that would be me), or The Dearborn Guide, where I’d worked
during my last two summers of college, and been mentored by a former Detroit
Free Press reporter who was there on her way down because of her drinking. Less
than a year out of school, normally shy unless I’ve got on my reporter’s mien,
insecure about my physiognomy, I did not have the chutzpah to say, Going to the
Path—mind if I join you? Or, god forbid, walk in alone. Maybe another woman
could have. Not me.
on the paper’s exit ramp is in charge. To him, I am The Girl.
Oh, he might throw me a few press releases to rewrite or an unimportant
obit. He did give me one good assignment—Go see what the commotion is about
over this group called the Rolling Stones, Dusky. They’re at the War Memorial.
Mick Jagger was gracious during the fifteen minutes we spoke before he went on
stage. But it wasn’t until Jagger removed his tweedy sport coat (yes, that is what he
wore), the kids went nuts and the cops—still reeling from race riots in town a year
earlier—shut down the show during the second song that I had a good story.
Mayhem ensued, and my story ended up on the front page and the state AP wire.
Ultimately the seven-minute concert made a kind of weird footnote in Stones’ lore.
Patrick is the consummate newspaper man—a nose for a good story, an
innate love of the business, and skillful writer—with the indispensable cigarette
and a cup of coffee that came from a machine that dispensed murky black dreck for
a dime. His beat is city and state politics; he has a Saturday political column that
runs with a sketch of him. Not only is he a good reporter and writer, he can turn
out a phrase on deadline you remember, all of which made him a big deal on the
paper. With his reddish, sandy-colored hair, weathered skin and broad nose,
Patrick looks as Irish as anyone named Paddy. A few inches beyond six feet, he
has the lean, rangy body of someone who might be the tennis pro on his way to the
country club, which is how he always dresses—navy blazer and tie, gray flannels,
often in need of a pressing. I swear I did not presume a flirtation, or anything,
then—but then, what am I doing? I am fitting in. I had male friends on the other
papers—was this any different? No line has been crossed. I am playing with fire,
but too young, too inexperienced, too lonely to know it.
As I am swimming solo in a sea of men, Patrick’s friendship is a lifeline. So
when he asks me to join him—and the guys—at the Path those three nights of the
week when our schedules coincide, why say no?
No one is waiting for me back home.
--by lorraine from hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
From Chapter 1.
See also previous excerpts...