LARY ANN WILLIAMS is a friend of mine. We work together as ushers at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. Lary Ann is 25, 5' 4", 142 lbs., and black. Today I went to her place to interview her--room 206 of the Longacres House (for women only) 317 W. 45th St. I had to get there early because she needed to be at the Employment Agency at 8:00 a.m. Lincoln Center is closing this week until October; Lary Ann will be unemployed, with no welfare and no money in the bank.
At 7:00 a.m. I arrive. She takes me up to her room.
"You can look around all you like. I've got to excuse myself for a few minutes, and then take the trash out."
The room is small, but clean. Considering Lincoln Center only pays $54.00 a week, this is a nice place to live. There is a bed, a chair, and a bureau--the bureau graced with an artificial daisy placed in a real flower pot. Also on the bureau are hairspray and perfume bottles, 3 bottles of pills, a bottle of nail polish, a container of Finast black pepper, and a large cylinder of Diamond Crystal salt. There's also a blue china dinner plate with a snapshot of a baby on it. As I'm looking at it, Lary Ann returns.
"Oh, that's Mandy, she's my youngest. I have three children. John Paul, he's four going on five. Mandy, she'll be three years old next month. And then there's Eugene, he'll be eight on his birthday. I used to have pictures of all of them. But they were taken. I was robbed. I didn't have money to get new ones. It was a little over a year ago."
"Are you married?"
"Oh, heavens! No!"
"Where are your children?"
"Well the two youngest are in a foster home in Queens. The third one's down home with father."
SHE SHOWS me the closet, with its peeling plaster and decayed odor. Inside is one dress, two pastel sweaters, and a blanket. She closes the closet door and confides--"I've just lost about 30 lbs. I didn't lose that much in the top. I just went on a diet and started starvin'. Starvin'. No, really I got ill and that helped me a lot, my appetite with food. I used to weigh 175. Uh, I want to get to between 120 and 125. That's my normal weight. I have low blood pressure and I have to weigh that anyway, so I might as well get there now. I don't eat breakfast, not usually. Lunch, I eat usually when I'm hungry. It's not my diet, it's just me. I can lose a couple of pounds a week.
"We better leave no 'cause I got to go." We walk to the New York Employment Agency on 36th and 7th. It's 7:45 and pouring. As we walk and dodge other people's umbrellas, she continues our conversation.
"I was born and raised on a farm in Mississippi. Then our whole family moved to Jackson when I was 5. Oh yes, I liked livin' in Jackson. I started being a maid/companion when I was about 9. My mother got a better job and she gave that one to me. I straightened up the lady's house, gave her breakfast, washed her, and got her ready for the rest of the day. Miz Buice, I worked for her for 5 years. Then I had other jobs. I was dish-washer at night. I was 14 then. I didn't have any boyfriends. I quit school at 11th grade; I was goin' to have a baby at the time. At first I planned on raisin' the baby, then my father took him over.
WE REACH 36th St. The employment office isn't open yet, but already lines are forming. We decided not to wait in line in the the rain, but to go have a cup of coffee and come back when the office opens, at 8:30. At Cobbs Corner we sit down with our coffee regulars, and she resumes.
"There was 18 kids in my family. All 18 not living though. 15 are livin'. 12 girls and 3 boys. I'm the 4th oldest one. My mother was in nurses' aide training before she passed away a couple years back. My father was in an accident when I was very small. He's disabled."