Note: It seems particularly appropriate to be writing about this subject because yesterday was Gary and my 34th wedding anniversary. It has been wonderful to think back on the beginnings.
The summer of ‘79 was a defining one, on many levels. The research experience in Corbett was enlightening, but more importantly, the summer of ’79 is when I met Gary.
I moved off campus in my junior year (’78-79) with friends, Merle and Alison. They went home for the summer, but I stayed in our rundown apartment at 30 Haendel Street. Binghamton has a neighborhood where the streets are named after German composers and writers. The pronunciation of some of the names bore no relation to their German origins. For example, Goethe was pronounced go-e-thee! 30 Haendel was a three story walk up, with two apartments on each floor. We lived on the third floor, which was fine in the winter since warm air rises. Not so great in the summer, as I was about to learn. Forget air conditioning, I didn’t have so much as a fan.
Our apartment sloped down about 10° from the front to the back; if you put a marble down on the floor of the living room it would have rolled down the hallway, through the kitchen and out the back door. It was a wooden structure, with sagging porches and rickety steps. The building probably should have been condemned, but we were oblivious to that at the time. It had its charms – mostly it was cheap, and it was the first apartment for all of us.
Our friend Dianne sublet Alison’s bedroom for the summer. Dianne, a psychology major, had a job for the summer waitressing at Sambo’s (yes, that was the name of the restaurant, as offensive as it was) and working at the autism clinic on campus, too. Dianne was an RA in College-in-the-Woods, one of the dorm complexes at SUNY-B, during the school year.
Dianne was friendly with a couple of guys, Mark and Russ, who were also psych majors. They were also spending the summer in Binghamton. Mark lived a few blocks away from us, on Schubert Street which sat between Beethoven and Mozart (more German/Austrian composers!). Dianne and I began the summer hanging out with them and Mark’s housemates.
Mark and his housemates talked about another guy joining them. I kept hearing that Gary Bakst was coming up soon. I had heard a bit about Gary before because Dianne was his RA (I’m sure Gary is wincing as he reads this), but I had yet to meet him.
During the previous school year, I had several conversations with Dianne about this guy, Gary, who was a bit of a thorn in her side. Her floor was made up of females, but there were males in the two suites. Dianne took pains to cheerfully decorate the bulletin board that displayed the cafeteria menu and other announcements. Apparently, Gary and his buddies liked to kick a soccer ball around indoors with complete disregard for lighting fixtures and the bulletin board. 19-year-old ‘boy-men’ were not particularly respectful of her artistic efforts. Hearing Dianne’s frustration was my first awareness of Gary Bakst. Dianne and Gary did come to a meeting of the minds before the school year ended, but it was a bit of a bumpy road.
I don’t remember exactly how I ended up in the car that picked him up from the bus station, but I was there when Gary arrived, and there was a lot of chatter about a problem. The house on Schubert Street was overbooked. Mark, had invited a friend, Jon, from another college, to spend the summer and offered him space in the apartment. Apparently, the other guys didn’t know anything about it, or maybe they did, it was all unclear. Gary was the last to arrive, though, and he was not okay with sleeping on the couch in the living room. It took a while to iron things out, there were some tense negotiations, but everyone ended up staying and Gary got a bedroom.
When I wasn’t doing field work in Corbett, I went to the library on campus and ate lunch outside the student union. Some of the guys from Schubert Street who were working or taking classes on campus, along with Dianne, would show up at the student union at lunch time, too. Whoever got there first would grab a big table and slowly it would fill up. Sometimes Gary and I got there early and we would chat. We got to know each other. I don’t remember what we talked about, but we shared a lot of interests. We were both sports fans and interested in politics, conversation flowed easily. Gary was taking physics that summer because he was pre-med, but he was a political science major, like me. I was comfortable with him and he made me laugh. I was, however, seeing his housemate, Mark.
I don’t recall thinking at the time that I was interested in Gary ‘in that way.’ I was happy for his friendship, to be dating in general and to finally have separated myself from what had been a painful ending of a two-year relationship.
Unfortunately, I spent much of my junior year wondering what was wrong with me because the guy I had been seeing (exclusively on my end), kept choosing to date other people! Part of the problem was that he lived in Brooklyn, going to Brooklyn College, while I was in Binghamton. But, I thought it was my failing – I wasn’t attractive enough, I wasn’t interesting enough, etc., etc. I was ruminating on that to the point that my stomach always hurt and I was pretty miserable to be around. Frankly, I think my housemates were getting tired of it. Finally, Alison left me a note and a bottle of Di-Gel, reminding me I needed to take care of myself and move on. It was the nudge I needed. I stopped wallowing – not completely, of course, but enough so that I took steps forward.
That’s where I was at the beginning of the summer of ’79.
Dianne and I kept busy: we hosted Mark and Russ for a barbecue. They arrived in suits! They returned the favor and invited us for dinner. The whole group of us, including Gary, went out to dance at Power and Light, a disco (it was that era). Some weekends we went to a lake to swim. I played tennis with whoever was available. It was a good summer.
As the summer wound down, Gary mentioned that he and two of his buddies were looking for an apartment for the fall. I knew the apartment across the hall at 30 Haendel was going to be available so I told him about it and gave him our landlord’s phone number. Before I knew it, Gary had taken the place.
One early August evening I realized I left a book in Dianne’s car, a two-door red Pontiac Le Mans. It was parked just across the street from our apartment. I quickly went down the three flights to the street. I opened the driver’s side door and leaned in, but couldn’t quite reach the book on the floor of the passenger side. So, I sat down on the seat, one leg in the car, one hanging out the door. I stretched to reach and as I did the car door closed on my left foot. Ouch! That was one heavy door! I didn’t think that much about it, though. It was bruised, but I could walk. I finished out the last week of the summer in Binghamton, hobbled a bit, but doing what I needed to do.
Everyone went home for a couple of weeks before coming back for the fall semester of our senior year. I was happy that Gary would be living across the hall, but I didn’t think too much more about it.
Since I had a couple of weeks at home, I went back to work at the Perfumer’s Workshop. My foot wasn’t getting better, in fact it was getting worse. The subway ride was torturous. I felt the vibrations of the train as if electric shocks were shooting through my left leg. The pain traveled from my left foot all the way up to my thigh. After two days of commuting, I went to see Uncle Terry, who was at this point a practicing podiatrist. He x-rayed my foot and, lo and behold, I had a fracture! No wonder it was so painful! He wrapped it and gave me a surgical boot.
I went back up to school for the fall semester still wearing the surgical boot. Merle and Alison had not yet returned, but Gary had. Each time Gary left his apartment he checked on me to see if I needed anything. While I could walk, I was minimizing the number of times going up and down the three flights of stairs with my bulky boot. One evening he unexpectedly brought me ice cream – a sure way to a Brody’s heart. I was impressed, he was very thoughtful. I was still seeing Mark, but we weren’t that serious. Now Gary was on my radar.
About two weeks into September, Gary asked me out on a date. We planned to go to Copperfield’s for dinner (a big step up from the usual places college students went to eat), and then to campus to see a movie. Sounded pretty mundane, but it didn’t turn out to be.
More to come next week 🙂
5 thoughts on “Summer of ’79: Gary Enters the Picture”
Linda: I am grateful beyond measure that you met and married Gary. And that is not just because your union has produced Leah and Daniel. You guys are a wonderful couple and invaluable to the whole family.
But most importantly your use of the word whoever causes me to wonder why you did not use whenever. I was a solid 80 average student in English so I can’t say for sure that you are wrong but I thought you would appreciate the public question. Your always considerate brother mark
Thanks for the kind words in the first paragraph. The two ‘whoever’s I found seemed appropriate to me since they referred to people, not a time. Maybe I missed something, or maybe you did. I got a 99 on my English regents, if that helps 🙂
When Linda chose to take on this blog, she and I had extensive discussions and I realized at that time that at some point, some of my less magnificent moments might eventually be mentioned. And I decided right then and there, that if and when such a moment might occur, I would not get defensive. After all, others might get their chance and Linda in particular was willing to put her shortcomings and insecurities out there. It just seemed like it was only reasonable that I do the same.
Of course, even then, I knew I didn’t mean it. The little piece of the story that Linda barely mentioned, really glossed over, that part about her friend Dianne and the bulletin board is the part that I am referring to. Linda and Dianne have now been friends for over 4 decades and she has been a terrific friend, loyal and dependable. She is truly a fine person and I have only positive things to say about her as a person.
As an RA (resident assistant) she was enthusiastic and tried so hard to make the floor a positive and pleasant place for all. However, her bulletin boards decorated with Big Bird were not always well received by the 19 year old males on the floor.
Now, to be fair, I should subject myself to some scrutiny as well. And junior year was really not a great time for me. I had gotten pretty good grades as a freshman and sophomore without making much of an effort. Junior year, as I hit the upper level classes, that strategy was losing its magic and I was grappling with the reality that I needed to grow up and have some discipline and that was not easy. Thank goodness, I had my soccer in the hallways with my buddies as a sort of therapy session. Of course, even Pele missed a few kicks and there was an odd kick that went awry and might have injured Big Bird.
And I must say, those Big Birds were gorgeous. They was smiling and happy and sunny days chasing the clouds away. And I am pretty sure a few unicorns cried when the birdie took a soccer ball to the face. So maybe it was just a mostly my fault and maybe it was a little bit of an imperfect fit.
In any case, I remember very well meeting Linda outside the student union during the summer between junior and senior years. I looked forward to those conversations unaware that I had been billed as a miscreant prior to meeting her. We talked about life and our philosophies of life and just at the moment that I was trying to grow up and start taking care of my stuff, I became enamored with someone who seemed to me to be especially good at that and simultaneously kind, liberal, pretty and interested in sports. Not a bad combination, if you ask me.
Now, the prior year, my suitemates on campus included a couple of guys who were also friends with this guy Mark who Linda was dating during the summer that we met. And I must say, while I was not personally friends with Mark (he was really a friend of friends) I got to quickly dislike him. And while I was asked to come up to Binghamton and share an apartment for the summer, and while that worked so that I could get my second semester of physics out of the way, Mark brought in another guy who nobody knew about and nobody had planned for.
When I arrived, that guy, Jon, was already there and Mark explained to me that I would have to sleep on the couch in the living room. This led to one of those frank discussions between Mark and myself after which we both agreed that I would get my bedroom. As it turned out, Jon was a great guy and we hit it off.
Mostly that summer was the summer I met Linda and not much else about it seems very important now.
Thank you for the wonderful blog post. Maybe, if you’re not too busy, we could have lunch together.
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Gary. Mostly I thought it was amusing that your reputation preceded you – clearly, I didn’t hold it against you. We were just kids then and look where we are now – so very lucky!
Finally able to read comments after your blog. Mark was wrong, it is whoever and not whenever…..different meanings for each word. So fascinating for a mother to get some insights which were never apparent to me at the time. I do agree with Mark, Gary is a great guy and a super asset to our family, not that you needed my approval then or now. May you have any more happy times together.