Letter from Leslie in the East Village – 1963

Put on some Miles before you start reading. Maybe Generique, or Blue In Green. Whatever it is, make sure it’s about neon cities late at night, cold coffee, looking backwards at your mistakes and, well, melancholy. Leslie’s letter lays on the desk before me like a French new wave movie starring Jean-Paul Leaud and Anna Karina, black and white and in slow motion. It was a dark time. Acid rock and the Summer of Love were a long ways away. Leslie is purely natural, purely herself, purely her persona, but all the star-crossed young bo and beat lovers of a hundred years illuminate her pink pages. I can feel the intense drama of being eighteen and pregnant, poor and beat in a unknown, uncaring city as written down by a self-aware eighteen-year-old young woman, burgeoning into a remarkable life. I like this Leslie so much. And I haven’t seen her since 1963…


it’s still right now and now is rainy east side sunday. it has come to the point where rainy days are almost my favorites–i feel so comfortable and i can open our kitchen window and smell everything clean and cold.

how wonderful to get your letter. i am almost scared to answer because you are still thinking of me as i was over a year ago and i have changed i am much deader inside–almost never do i run down hills now. there are none in ny. i am somewhat disillusioned now about things–i had thought that to hitch hike three thousand miles of the united states would be very exciting (i’m afraid i thought of it in kerouacian terms) and i found out that kerouac’s innocence and wonder approached that of a mentally deficient and that i have lost all the innocence and wonderment that once ruled my existence. and now i sound phoney and i hunt for words.

how awful ny is! the first week we were here, i was depressed and sick and cried and bitched. i hated everything about new york–especially the filth and squalor and smells of the lower east side. it did not seem worth the struggle to try and live here. but now i have come to almost like our life.

we have a two room place on e. 12th st. it is in a building behind the one opening on the street, so that we look out on the buildings opposite (from the back they all look like they are made of crumbling adobe brick and i can almost imagine paris) and the wash hanging frozen from the clothesline. our place is very small–one of the rooms is big enough to hold our two mattresses one cardboard carton of over-flowing books and our hi-fi stuff. the other room contains the bathtub, a trunk, the refrigerator (surprisingly new and roomy), the stove (surprisingly free of roaches), two wooden box chairs, the sink, various kitchen materials, and the top of an old captains chair mounted on a wooden box.

this place has become almost the entire center of my existence. i stay in here almost all day except when peter drags me out to get a beer or shop or try to score. i have decorated the walls with pictures and i cook and read and listen to the fm and most important i write letters–the letters i get and write occupy my attention the greater part of everyday.

when we do go out, we usually have no money to spend and so sometimes we just walk–along the edge of the east river and look at the dirty red factories and smokestacks that is brooklyn or up 2nd avenue and look at the antiques shops or through the unbelievably tall buildings and hustle that is uptown (grand central station is a wonderland of towering ceilings and marble pillars) or we walk down avenue c past 7th street and look at the fruit and vegetables and kosher foods of the street vendors or 14th st., a market street that stretches forever with countless discount places selling cheap perfume and scarves–woolworth’s run off on a monstrous mimeo machine.

and even greenwich village, looking so much like north beach only even more vulgar and without the charm of hills and alleys and coit tower. no italians–just millions of frustrated teenagers and stereotyped girls with long hair pierced ears and capezio boots. angry young negroes dykes with italian cut trousers and so many 15 year old girls high on amphedamine and sitting in basement folk singing places.

and i am with child–gloriously pregnant–and happy about it even, afraid of becoming an example of maternal docility. i am reading have read summerhill and i am full of hopes of raising a beautiful brilliant nuerosis free child. and ever peter is beginning to enjoy the idea. pregnant women are almost morbidly depressing.

and so–perhaps a mistake–i (and peter) will be coming back to sf in early march, if possible. i miss everything so much. there are a million things for me to do and a million places to see again. so many hills to run down and hills to sit on.

please tell me how your life is. i love you still.



6 thoughts on “Letter from Leslie in the East Village – 1963

  1. Another amazing letter. Something interesting- I just finished listening to the audio book version of the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler- can’t remember if you know this book. Two children run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anyway, I only just realized that it was published in 1968- so the story in the author’s mind most likely takes place around the same general time period as Leslie’s life there. It’s just kind of strange to read two windows on the same place in the same time- very different windows.


  2. This letter, I notice, is addressed to “copyboy” at the SF Examiner. I can remember doing that job myself long ago.

    Best wishes with this new look on WordPress. While waiting for the changover to take place an old saying Dad used to use came to mind: “Let’s get this show on the road!”


  3. Well, I feel a little shy about this, but Chris (aka the Pondering Pig)contacted me a couple of weeks ago by email, asking if I was the same Leslie who had written him from NY, and he gave me the blog address so I could read the letters. I was blown away — first, because a voice from the very distant past 45 years ago doesn’t pop up in my mail box every day;secondly, I think these letters are the only ones existing from that period; and, third, reading the letters from the girl I was shot me back to those days and those feelings. It was almost overwhelming.
    I thought maybe if anyone is still following this thread, they might want to know what happened next, since I apparently didn’t write anymore letters to Chris. The story doesn’t have a happy ending until about 40 years later, and in fact, the days I wrote of were some of the most unhappy times of my life. Propelled by history (the Cuban missle crisis and the 60’s)and my own inate recklessness, I had hurtled myself across the country with a boy I had just met (Peter)and a culture shockingly different from what I grew up in. I did fall in love with Peter but, disasterously I immediately got pregnant, and it turned out that Peter didn’t want to be a father at the age of 22, or maybe just not with me. So, I had my baby and Peter was there at the birth. We tried for a couple of months to raise our son, but it wasn’t working so we gave him up for adoption and I moved back home with my mom and tried again to go to college and forget my heartbreak. Eventually, I did, though it took years. I went on to have other adventures and other heartbreaks. And then, as you know if read some previous comments, I heard through friends that Peter had found the son we gave up when I was 18. That was in 2001, and it was the most wonderful gift I have ever received from the gods. We have been fortunate that Steve has entered easily into the lives of the rest of my family and that we all get along and enjoy being together. I’ve heard of other reunions that didn’t go so well. Another gift is that Peter and I are now friends again after being out of touch for 35 years. Is there a moral? I don’t know, but I am grateful to the Pondering Pig for digging up this child from the past. She was confused and immature, but she wrote a good letter!


  4. I have been waiting, wondering when Brer Pig was gonna post something new. Then he posts letter #2, as intensely rhythmic as the first and, yes, sad. Then Leslie appears out of the ether. Hanging with the Pig is indeed a magical experience.


  5. It’s really interesting to read a letter written by the woman (girl?) who is pregnant with me. I’m sorry there aren’t more than the two. I never realized I spent some of my gestation in NYC. I’ve only been there once and I must have picked up Leslie’s feelings for the place because I hope to never go again. I’m not sure where I was conceived, but I was born in San Francisco and the place is in my veins.

    Even though Leslie didn’t raise me, I like to think that I wound up neurosis-free.


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