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JERRY by Alice Sheba

JERRY by Alice Sheba

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Published by City Room
A woman recounts her date with J.D. Salinger in 1946.
A woman recounts her date with J.D. Salinger in 1946.

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Published by: City Room on Feb 12, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/12/2012

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JERRYBy Alice ShebaShortly after I graduated from NYU, where I majored in radiocommunications, a friend called and asked, “Would you want to work at WQXR,the classical music station?”I was passionate about music and listened to the station, but I didn’t thinkthat I could qualify as a secretary. I had no office skills. “No, this job wouldrequire answering questions about music, artists and composers that listenerswould ask to have answered.”“Perfect! When can I start?”“Tomorrow,” my friend answered.“I’ll be there.” And I was prompt to arrive at 57
th
and Fifth Avenue where theradio station was located, on a crisp fall morning in 1946. I was interviewed bythe person in charge of programming, and then hired by Abram Chasins, whohad been a concert pianist, composer, author and teacher, and had become themusical director of the station. He showed me the books and card catalogs inthe library that I would be using to answer questions from listeners. I feltresponsible and well suited for my work in replying to queries about musicbroadcast as well as performing artists. My immediate superiors were pleasedwith my efforts which reflected my enthusiasm and frequent concert attendanceat Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and wherever quality classical music was offered.My piano teacher, who had been a protégée of Moritz Rosenthal in Vienna, toldme that I had an excellent ear for music.Alice Sheba1
 
JERRYIt was pleasant to arrive at the radio station and chat with the announcerswho would tell me the latest news before listeners heard it over the air. Theoffice space where I was located, had a sizeable desk with a phone, chair, andbest of all, large windows that allowed natural daylight in addition to the overheadfluorescent bulbs.Abram Chasins was unusually friendly and invited me to a variety of musical events. He served on jury panels for the Van Cliburn, Chopin Prize,Rachmaninoff and Leventritt Foundation awards. I occasionally wondered if myaccompanying Abram was as much for my critical acuteness or twentysomething good looks. One of the highlights of my time at WQXR was whenVladimir Horowitz, the great piano virtuoso, came to visit. Abram told me that hewas Horowitz’s friend and designated “pusher,” to literally get him on to theconcert stage, because of his stage fright attacks prior to any performance. Oneparticular day I was in the station library when Abram entered with Horowitz. Iwas aflutter because I attended all of Horowitz’s concerts and anticipated beingintroduced to him. Abram approached, turned to the maestro and said, “Valodya,you must meet someone marvelous, here is Alice Rickel.” These honeyed wordsmade me question Abram’s motive in saying them, since flattering unction had anegative affect on me.Another colleague at the station was Marilyn Congdon, who wasresponsible for the WQXR brochure that was mailed to listeners. We becamefriendly because of our mutual interest in music and books, and she told me thather husband, Don, was a literary agent. I considered myself fortunate thatAlice Sheba2
 
JERRYeverything related to my first job experience was not only pleasant, but alsostimulating. I developed some ideas for boosting listener loyalty to WQXR, and Ianswered queries about music, composers, and performing artists. The onlynegative experience at the station was when the owner encountered me. Hetried to pinch my backside. Most of the female employees, I later found out,learned to steer clear of him.One day at lunch, Marilyn said, “There’s someone I know who I’d like tohave you meet. I think that you and he would be very interesting together.”“That might be fun. Tell me about him.” Marilyn was bright and Irespected her taste and judgment. “He’s a writer. My husband is his literaryagent. Jerry is very intelligent and recently returned to the States from Europe.How about coming to dinner on Friday evening? I’ll be off, and I’ll ask Jerry topick you up here at the office at 5:30. How does that sound?”“Are you sure he won’t mind? Otherwise, I can come on my own.”“No, it will be fine, and Jerry knows the way to our house in GreenwichVillage. It’s a bit tricky to find it on your own.”“By the way, what does Jerry look like? Should I wear low or high heels?”A man’s height in relation to my five foot six inches without shoes was always aconsideration for me. I didn’t think that a man would be comfortable stretching tolook up at me.“You can definitely wear high heels. Jerry is over six feet tall.”“Can you tell me something about Jerry that might be important for me toknow?”Alice Sheba3

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