Mary Beth Writes

9/22/2023

First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

This morning I was going through a computer file of old writing and found this. I first wrote it in the 1980's! I edited it again this morning because it still makes me cringe and laugh. How many adventures did we all have because because we were trying so hard while being so young? 

...

The year was 1977. It was Chicago. I was a shy, anxious young person from rural Michigan. I'd graduated two years previously from a conservative Christian college and I'd already held a variety of not-impressive jobs.

I had been a clerk in a flower shop in Chicago's Union Station. That was educational as it was where I first met and became friends with gay men. Well, the first ones who said they were gay. I bet some of the members of the Christian college Men's Chorale had more gender identification diversity going on than was mentioned aloud.

I also encountered at that job the ‘interesting’ world of mildly hallucinogenic drugs. There were storage rooms in the basement of Union Station where one would go to get stock for the store. Boy, nothing like being ‘high’ while wending one’s way among live, parked, roaring, thundering, steam-billowing locomotive engines. I was probably saved from a life of drug addiction by that particular afternoon when a co-worker said, “Here, try this.”

I'd also picked asparagus, cleaned tourist cottages, and managed a small-town bookstore that was almost entirely devoted to romance and pornography. A stranger came to town once and asked if we had Kierkegaard. I said yes and led him to it. The one book we had. I told him how much I had liked "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing." We talked for a while, then he bought his book and left. The encounter was so remarkable that here I am, 40 years later, remembering the day someone bought a book that didn't have a sex part.

By then a cute boy who worked in the store's warehouse came on to me and that was great until his wife found out. Honestly, he was 19 and I was supposed to suspect he was married? He said she didn't understand him.

I moved back to Chicago, which was not nearly as scary as small-town, 19-year-old, married philanderers.

Well, you wanted to hear about Scott Simon, didn't you?

I ended up as a teller at a savings and loan right off Michigan Avenue. I was anxious, young, curious about everything and everyone around me though generally too shy to speak out loud. So, I did what comes naturally to me. I became silently smitten by most of the people I met.

There was a quiet 40-something business man with passionate eyes and a quiet smile. He withdrew several thousand dollars one day and then turned the money into Travelers' Checks. He told me he was going to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Of course, I fell in love with him.

There was a theology professor from Loyola. After I learned that I bided my time until one day I made a little joke about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I can't remember the joke though I wish I could. It must have been incredibly tacky. Anyway, he revealed his heart to me when he told me in his quiet voice that he'd been waiting in my lines for months. Even when he walked in the door and other lines were shorter he'd wait for me. I started to blush. I noted his wedding ring. My heart throbbed as he told me I was the fastest teller he'd ever known and my lines always moved so quickly.

And then there was Scott Simon. I fell for him the day my manager walked over to me with Scott's brand-new passbook. He was young like me. Not too tall, not too short. Vapid, humdrum clothes. He had dark wavy hair and dark eyes that I just knew were filled with lively and intelligent thoughts if only he would speak to me or I to him.

I loved the romance written over time in his passbook. He would come in on his paydays to cash his unheard-of radio station check and put most of his money in his passbook. The balance would zoom up to around $200. Then he'd come back two or three times a week to withdraw $10, $15, or maybe even $20 for the weekend.

I'd say wildly romantic things like, "Hello. Can I help you?" Or "Cold today, isn't it?" What I really meant was, "Oh, your hair is so shiny and I too struggle to have a life, any life, at $10 a pop. We are both young and tightly wound and I bet your heart, too, burns with a gem-hard flame."

By then my theologian or my mountain climber would be coming in the door and I'd turn to communicate with them in my urgently silent way.

It was a cold dark day when Scott Simon came in for the last time. He came right up to my window, smiled, and told me he was closing his account because he was moving to Washington DC. My heart raced; my world shattered. He said he was taking a reporting job for a new news producing radio program in DC. I held my chin high as I said good-bye and let him walk out the door, into the fog, into a world that needed him more desperately than I.

A few months later I was flipping around on my radio when a better than average news show came on. I listened to and became hooked on National Public Radio within a week. I realized not long after that the Scott Simon on the radio was, indeed, my Scott Simon.

Scott, we'll always have the fourth teller window at Uptown Federal.

I managed my grief by going to seminary and not becoming a minister and eventually marrying Len who knew more NPR stories than I did. All of our cars all our married life have had buttons preset to NPR stations.

I sent this to Scott Simon years ago. He emailed back to me that it was one of the most ‘memorable’ letters he had ever received from a listener.

 

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Comments

Made me smile the entire time I was reading. Also, I loved being at the zoom last night! You are a star!

Loved this piece MB! What adventures you have had in good Ole Chi town! Brought back a flood of warm memories !
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks!

That article captured so much of what the potential for each moment and interaction could hold. Wonderful!
Mary Beth's picture

Yearning for connection. It's a gift and a curse and then a gift again.

I loved this. It reminded me of my early days in Chicago, being young, the yearning for romance, the shy awkward interactions with those we encountered. It's difficult to wrap my mind around how many years ago that was, but you evoked it so well that I was instantly back there in my head. And how cool that you have a connection with Scott Simon -- one of my longtime heroes. I am so glad that you continue to share your stories with us.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks so much..

What a sweet story! I really enjoyed it.

superb!!!!!

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What the Dickens?

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