In redacting the tapes many of the stories are very small connecting stories jumping from one idea to another. There were so many moments some terrifying and some sublime, many funny. Often we talked as father and daughter more than me being a thoughtful documentarian so in time and subjects we jumped all around. Still some interesting moments came out like these about their housing immediately after marriage, the birth of my older brother, and leaving for California.
So where were you and Mom living?
We were living in a weird situation. We were living in a business owned by a woman by the name of Kaufman. She owned four buildings in a complex. One of them on the corner of Kimbark and the other around 67TH. At the time everything was rent controlled and she was renting these rent controlled apartments for 23 bucks a month. But if she could get people out of them she could then put a couple of pieces of furniture in them and rent them for $75.00 a month. So her strategy was very simple, she would rent to blacks. So she put one black in each building expecting the white people to stampede. But you know the white people they didn’t mind.
So she had a black in each one and there became all kinds of difficulty. It ended up with the black tenants and the white tenants getting together to sue her for ripping them off. She was seriously pissed.
Your mother had moved in one unit with her friend Alice and then she moved in with me. We moved out of the building when we got student’s housing. So then we’re having this baby. So I come out of the hospital and here is this Mrs. Kaufman. She invited me to dinner. She was offering me a free apartment. All I had to do was talk to the tenants about ending the lawsuit. I said Mrs. Kaufman, “ I can’t do that.” She said “Get him Bill!” Bill was a man that she had divorced. He was a drunk. She was still living with him. He was a drunk and he shook like a drunk. The next thing I know Bill was coming out of this little closet and he has this gun and “Oh, shit.”
Wait she invited you to dinner to have you stop the lawsuit and since you didn’t she’s going to get Bill to kill you?
Right. So I managed to get out of there. I talked to him and I said “You don’t want to do this. You do not want to do this.” And I kept moving and Bill was shaking and Bill didn’t want to do it and then when I got to the door I shot out.
And then you moved to California?
No, we stayed in Chicago a while. That ended that. I had no more contact with her. We had moved into student housing. We stayed in student housing the rest of the time when we were there.
So you were in student housing when David was born?
You weren’t in the delivery room when the baby was born were you, because they didn’t do that then.
They didn’t, but in a sense I was. There was an observation window. It was funny I’m looking, I can’t see. I’m looking. Her legs up in the air and so forth and I said “I’m going to go and get breakfast.” I sat down and I began to review this thing and I thought “That was the baby’s head.” I got my ass back and by that time he was born.
How did you feel? You were what 22 and you’ve got a baby boy. Did you feel redeemed? It was your son.
Oh yeah. It was all good. It was wonderful. He was born on the 11th we had ten days at the hospital. So he showed up about the 21st or 22nd. I’m busy putting together a Christmas tree. Your mama was. “Christmas tree?” It was all garlanded with popcorn and cranberries.
How did you negotiate that? You weren’t that much of a Christian but she was a real Jew. That’s one thing I became aware of in the last ten years. And as a child I didn’t realize she was that much of a Jew. I didn’t have any of that as a child.
You are seeing a developmental thing. She was already on the way out of Jewry at that point. She wasn’t rejecting being Jewish, but she was becoming integrated. She was already a bacon eater. That was part of it. And then we were secular. The Christmas thing had nothing to do with Christianity. As a child my happiest time of year at my house was Christmas Eve. And that’s all.
And then the next year you are off to California?
I had my last exam on Thursday and put the baby’s crib and other stuff on the train on Friday. And Alice and Kenny picked them up (in California) and set things up for us. Alice had already rented this cottage for us. We got on the train on a Sunday and our asses were gone. (My mother tells a story of them being on the train and baby David crawling out of her lap while she was sleeping. She was woken by the screams of a woman whose toe David had bitten. Other than that the train ride seemed to have been uneventful.)
A week later you got off in Berkeley.
No Oakland. They picked us up and drove us to Berkeley. We had this lovely little cottage on Parker and McGee.
And that’s where I was born two years later.