FROM DIARY OF A MOD MODEL 1965
I married him on the Fourth of July 1964 and lived a fabulous year with him in Key West, Florida. He was a Junior Officer in the Navy stationed on a sub-marine tender, in the amazing tropical Paradise that was Key West in the Sixties. He was brilliant with electronics and could practically make a radio out of a coat hanger, if you know the type. Nowadays we would call him a techie. He was twenty, I was eighteen and we were in love.
He wound up working for IBM on their newly invented electric type writers. It came to the attention of upper management that Michael was having amazing success in location and fixing problems in the typing pools of IBM users in Manhattan. He was offered a job in the engineering department. IBM would give him on the job experience, and pay for his further education to become an engineer. He was to have a part in developing the next big thing: Computers. (more on that later).
Although he was stationed in Key West, we did not have to live on the base. We rented a little gingerbread house on a street of other little white ginger-bread houses each different in its own way. Palm trees of all kinds and different bushes and flowers bloomed. The breeze was fragrant with the winds of the Atlantic the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico that all met at the point of Key West.
Michael had to work on the base all day and he came home at night like any husband. I was supposed to stay home, go to the beach and cook and clean. I explored the island a bit but it was hard to walk around, a lone woman, with sailors every where. I was always getting whistles. At first I almost had to look around and see if it was really me they were whistling at. After all the jibing I had gotten back in Lindenhurst in those formative years, it felt good to have male attention. Fortunately I did not have to do more than just show up. I was married and therefore untouchable. I liked being married. So I decided it would be better for me to stay home.
I found a library nearby, within walking distance. Since I did not know much about the “wifely duties” I decided to get some books about sex. One was a huge tome called “Of Love and Lust” by Theodore Reich. It must have weighed ten pounds.I was disappointed to find that it was a dry treatise on sexual aberrations that I could hardly understand. When I got home there was a giant Palmetto bug (read huge cockroach) in the corner of the shower. I had never seen such a frightening thing. I killed it with the book.
I enjoyed this little residential part of paradise, and did not take part in the raucous night life on the main streets. Michael and socialized with other young couples. Sometimes we would go to the movies downtown and I would catch glimpses of a West Village atmosphere and It seemed interesting. But the military was not really welcome and they were warned by their officers to stay out of that part of town at night. I could hear the strains of music as we walked back to the little cottage, with me looking over my shoulder like Lot”s wife.
Finally I got very bored and told Michael that I wanted to get a job. We could use the extra money and it would give me something to do. I worked for one day as a soda jerk in Woolworth’s. I was terrible. Of course I said I had experience or they would not have given me the job. From behind the counter all you see is a long row of hungry people all gesticulating wildly and expecting you to remember their ketchup and that they wanted their hamburger done just so. Each one is only interested in himself and his needs and you are expected to make them all happy. I went home that night and never even returned to pick up my pay.
A few days later I decided to try my luck again. There was a lively restaurant left over from the days when Hemingway lived on the island. It was built like a Cuban beach shack, rustic with a fishing theme. There were old salty nets nailed to the wall in which various starfish and conch shells were trapped. The food was spicy and delicious, genuine Cuban conch chowder and the best Key Lime pie I have ever had before and after.
I still had no experience as a waitress, except the few hours at Woolworths soda fountain, but I lied again and said I did. The owners were an American woman and her husband, a Cuban chef. He was always trying to pinch my butt and she was very mean to me. I only worked there a few days when one of the regular customers offered me a job. That was the day I dropped a tray of six steaming bowls of spicy conch chowder, the specialty of the house. The wife was furious and fired me on the spot. As I rushed to the door after grabbing my purse from its designated spot under the cash register a glared at the chef. I was glad to be leaving.
Just then I saw a darkly handsome man in a silk print shirt waving at me from a table near the door. In my short stay he had become my favorite customer, always complimentary and leaving a big tip.
“Darling!” He cried. “Perfect timing. Please come over here.”
He was Jim Russell, a gorgeous Hollywood type who had moved to Key West after an unsuccessful career in Hollywood. He was much better suited to design, despite his Rock Hudson looks and George Hamilton tan. He became the leader of the fabulous openly gay community that Key West was known for. He owned the Key West Hand Print Fabric company that made the most beautiful hand silk screened fabrics. They sold the fabric by the yard and it was quite expensive. Lilly Pulitzer had an exclusive contract with them and they silk-screened her designs and had the dresses cut and sewn.
“I was just going to offer you a job. I need a model!”
I was fortunate enough to be given four of these darling dresses to wear in the boutique where I served as model/sales clerk.The original fabric was designed and manufactured upstairs in the small building they owned. Silk screening is an art form and these beautiful fabrics were the finest examples on polished cotton. The relative stiffness of the fabric allowed the whimsical dress be cool for resort wear but still have a modicum of structure, like the clothes Jackie Kennedy was wearing.
As Jim’s protege with the coolest scene and wound up starring in The Key West Players version of "Under The Yum Yum Tree." The other actors and all the customers were encouraging me to be a model. They took out an ad in The New Yorker, with me as the model. I had no idea what to do, but tried to look like Veruschka, of all people.