Monday, September 2, 2013


My college friend Toni and I hung out together for the one year we overlapped as students.  After that she mysteriously disappeared until I saw her several years later, seven months pregnant and lifeguarding on a beach in Ogunquit, Maine.   She spotted me first and waved frantically to get my attention while yelling, "Hey, Cricket, Hey Cricket.  Over here.  Is that you?"  I knew it had to be someone from college since Cricket was a name I acquired during my freshman year to distinguish me from the three other Pamela's who lived in my college dorm.   


Toni was a WASP  -- a White Anglo Saxon Protestant -- who ate from a silver spoon much of her early life.    She and her mother lived in New York City, and their family had a summer home on the coast of Maine.   We came from different backgrounds, she and I.   Her mother, a mogul for a European fashion designer, spoke with the affect of a socialite, while my mother spoke with an accent of a Greek immigrant.   Toni's mom bought her expensive clothes while mine shopped sales at Filene's Basement.    I ate Greek-style yoghurt my mom made before yoghurt machines were invented, and Toni enjoyed fancy food her mother brought home from Zabar's

In those days it wasn't fashionable to have a heritage, unless your ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, so I avoided any  discussion about where my parents were born.  I  worked hard to camouflage any resemblance to being a rube from hicksville,  and I was grateful that my last name was Perkins and not Pisperikos (thanks to my father's name change after he arrived here from Greece).  

After returning to college following my short stint at Lord and Taylor, I was a New York know-it-all and a New Yorker wanna be.   I bragged to my dorm mates about getting picked up by a man on the subway, who turned out to be a journalist for CBS television.  I bored everyone with my story about selling gold cuff links to Tony Perkins, and I told my classmates that after graduation I was going to be a buyer for a leading specialty store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Neither Toni nor I needed much convincing that life on a small campus was dull, especially at the all-women's college we attended in Maine.    Several months into the winter term we made plans to spend a long weekend in New York where we were eager to find more excitement and definitely more sophistication.  Toni took me to a party in a lavishly furnished apartment where the parents of her Ivy League college friend lived.    We visited the Guggenheim Museum that Frank Lloyd Wright designed,  and saw a couple of foreign films we knew would never make it to Maine.   I remember telling Toni's New York friends how much I loved Fellini's celebrated film La Dolce Vita, although as I write this, I'm wondering what there was to love because the symbolism in this film was certainly lost on me.    I vividly remember the opening scene:  a helicopter is flying over Rome transporting a statue of Christ and below, on a rooftop, there's a group of bikini-clad women sunbathing.   I'm still not sure what that abstract scene represented, but I think my supposed appreciation for the film's artistic concepts had more to do with appearances and a desire to beef up my image as an intellectual, which I definitely was not.

After a nice lunch at a restaurant overlooking the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, one of her rich friends invited us to meet his uncle who lived in a block-long apartment on ritzy Park Avenue.   When the elevator doors finally opened on the top floor of the ten story building, we stepped directly into a king-sized living room.  I was awe struck since I'd never seen a living room like this.  It was filled with furnishings that looked like family heirlooms, and the wood paneled walls were covered with ornately-framed portraits.   It's interesting the kinds of images that impress us as teenagers, but the one thing I'll never forget was that the uncle was still wearing his pajamas and bathrobe in the middle of the day.  

On our last night in New York, Toni and I stood in a long line waiting to get into the Peppermint Lounge, a popular discotheque and one of New York's hot spots,  made famous by Chubby Checker and the dance craze called The Twist. (Click on this link and listen to Chubby.)  After the bouncer checked our IDs,  we walked through the smoky haze and searched the crowd for the Hollywood celebrities we were told convened there.   At our table, which was located next to the dance floor, I ordered a Bacardi rum cocktail, a sweet syrupy drink that only a teenager could love. Toni and I danced the twist until we ran out of booze money and had just enough cash to get us back to the Upper East Side where her mother lived.

After my weekend experience with Toni, I made several longer trips to New York over the years.  I visited my aging aunt and uncle many times,  shopped for my wedding trousseau with my mother,  sought comfort and refuge from a failing marriage at my brother's place, visited my three accomplished nieces when one was an analyst for a well known brokerage firm, another was an actress in an off Broadway play, and the third was a graduate student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  In my fundraising job I visited potential donors in New York with the hope that they might make a significant contribution to their alma mater in California.

In the fall of 2000, Bruce and I went to New York for the first time together,  so I could attend a conference that was held at the World Trade Center.   I remember standing on the top floor in the Windows on the World restaurant, and thinking about how happy I was to be a fundraiser in California and not a retail buyer in New York.  As I looked way down at the Statue of Liberty, I thought about my hard working immigrant parents, who came through Ellis Island more than seventy-five years earlier, raised their kids and built a thriving business.   I am so very proud of them and what they accomplished, and I'm finally proud to call myself a Greek. 



  1. Funny how when we grow up, we realize how special our parents and lives were. Sometimes I'm ashamed that I didn't tell my parents "you did good" instead of complaining when we couldn't afford the dress I wanted or the shoes like everyone else had. Great story Pam.

  2. Pam -- I am struck by how happy you were. Your parents were special, truly. Love, Susan