I was 23 years old when I had the pleasure of working with radio personality Barry Farber in New York. Stumbling into the job was one way to put it: I was in the right place and needed a job, so he offered me one as his assistant along with a place to live. Mr. Farber lived in the Apthorp at 2211 Broadway which is a wonderful building on the upper West side in Manhattan. It has a beautiful stone façade and there is an black metal gate on the outside. When you enter, there is a fountain and a large walkway area, and he lived on the second floor. He had 5 rooms including a room off the enormous kitchen which he sublet to a British couple. There was another room rented very cheaply to a friend of his daughter who was auditioning for acting roles with the goal of becoming a soap opera star. I had the pull away futon which turned into a bed and was in the living room. It was a situation where I really needed a place to live and he needed someone to help him with some paperwork and host his famous language dinner parties.
I answered an advertisement for a gathering of his language dinner parties since I spoke French. Mr. Farber was a lean Jewish man always active running from table to table seating his guests. He asked me if I would be hostess of the dinner parties and I agreed. The parties were partly to make friends, and foster language skills along with eating a very good dinner at an affordable price. There were some very interesting people from Eastern Europe and long time New Yorkers. It was an interesting group of people. When I moved in, I had 2 suitcases. Mr. Farber was very kind to me. I met his daughter and one was almost the same age as me. She worked for Spin Magazine as a writer. He invited me to breakfast every morning when he went out and we discussed the day’s itinerary. He told me his agenda and as he was writing something, he would ask me to answer the door, make telephone calls for him, read some of his work and also go with him to the radio station in the evening where he was a talk show host. I was master of many odd jobs one of which included supervising his cleaning team which consisted of two Russian workers. He told me to “watch them and make sure they don’t take anything.” I can still remember following them around the grand apartment with the cavernous ceilings as I watched them dust the tv’s, and awkwardly clean the messy paper pile inside his inner office.
From time to time, I saw the British couple but they mostly kept to themselves. The soap opera queen as I called her was full of drama. She was very beautiful with long almost whitish gold hair and a year younger than me. She was originally from the Midwest and I can remember her suitors coming to the door with red roses and leaving them. One of the most interesting incidents happened was while Mr. Farber was away on business and his beautiful Norwegian ex-wife visited. She demanded entrance and began to take away wooden stools and other furniture from the apartment. As I watched, she opened the door to the bedroom of the soap opera actress to be and took away some of the furnishings. Then she left. When he
returned, he asked me “For god’s sake, why did you let her take the stuff.” I guess I just assumed she could, I stuttered.With a slow Southern drawl and a kind smile, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered something like “never mind” much to my relief. Today, I appreciate this opportunity and wish I had the chance to say “hello” again from Florida but we lost touch over the years. Once I left New York, I left New York.
Mr. Farber was like a minor celebrity in New York especially among the older New York community. I also had the opportunity to meet Curtis Sliwa, who was head of the Guardian angels with his wife. At that time, in the late 80’s there was a big crime wave in New York and they were part of the organization that patrolled the area. It wasn’t uncommon to read of them and of his beautiful wife who was also photographed for the cover of Vogue Magazine. I also met lots of literary agents and some native New Yorkers’ who were big fans and supporter of Barry Farber. Living with him for six months made me realize and appreciate the small connections of New York to the neighborhood. It became a small town until I picked up myself again and moved on.The stability of the ties he had with the area helped foster my stability and gave me strength to move forward independently. Years later, I realized that meeting and having the opportunity to interact with Barry Farber was like having my own guardian angel descend upon me: the voice of cosmopolitanism with some down home humor was exactly what my small town roots desired. It didn’t hurt that he loved language and words and probably knew me better at the time than I knew myself. I went on to get my masters in linguistics and make my living as an English Instructor.
I haven’t yet traveled to Eastern Europe but there is still time.