UN PLAZA MEMOIRS CHAPTER I --- BY LESLIE SIEGEL
It was a bright sparkling winter morning as the sun rose over the East River with Riverside Drive winding its way around the various scrubby green parks dotting the curbs and streets of the lower East Side of Manhattan! The famous Twin Towers were in foreground gleaming brightly and sparkling in a Contessa setting of diamonds!
Cars, buses and brigades of yellow cabs made their way up 1st Avenue as day overcame the twinkling lights of The Big Apple. And on the opposite end of the World Trade Center duo, facing The Western Front across the street from the United Nations stood two tall, brilliant looking buildings rising up over TudorCity. Not to be confused with the WTC buildings in the distance, The UN Plaza Towers stood alone in all their own gleaming glory!
The UN Plaza Apartments were laid out in two sections – East Tower and West Tower. A red velvet lobby with crystal chandeliers, marble tables and floors was only scratching the surface of this residential opulence. It was, in Eliza’s Osberg’s opinion, “humongous”! 38 floors with each hallway on each floor decorated differently.
She looked out at the slight commotion beginning at the UN Building, just a slight ripple of a clamor with men running to and fro, and even police cars taking positions on all 4 corners. “Wow, something is really going down today,” she said aloud. Eliza caught the slight strains of the slight scratching sound of radios and walkie talkies drift all the way up to her bedroom on the 23rd floor!
Then the sometimes hyper, yet imaginative kid wondered why they didn’t make the UN Plaza an even 40 floors instead of 38! Maybe that could have been because of the 13th floor that was even listed on the elevator panel, where most large buildings in New York City skipped the number entirely.
Each floor had 6 apartments, most with multiple bedrooms, a den, living room, 6 bathrooms, even a maid’s quarters, kitchen and dining room – the whole nine yards! To the Osberg children it was a huge playground of sparkling crystal and glass. The revolving door was their merry-go-round, the elevators were like fun rides at Disney, the hallways were like bowling alleys and the children were gaining quite a reputation for themselves. Other tenants constantly complained about their noise and uproar, their conduct and rabble rousing antics through the cavernous lobby. Usually it was Eliza instigating it in some form!
On the 23rd floor of the UN Plaza Eliza Osberg and her family lived. The tomboyish Osberg oldest daughter sat in her bedroom she shared with her 8 year old sister Glinda that looked out at the General Assembly Room at the famed UN Building. The curly-headed, rambunctious 10 year old stared down at the long rows of shiny black foreign delegate cars lining up in front of the UN Rose Gardens. They looked like her brother’s Match Box collection, so small, yet so dignified even from that high up, over 20 stories! The East River glistened in the background, with the GeorgeWashingtonBridge in the distance picking up the slack for a spectacular view. It was always breathtaking, especially when something big was about to go down at the United Nations, which faced Eliza and Glinda’s bedroom.
Eliza was eagerly joined by her sister and two older brothers Richard and Roy. The children sat quietly looking at the view that never seem to get tiresome. In fact, it exuded their parent’s tastes.
Their Mother Lena loved glamour! That mixed with the need to be different than all the rest, and know she was sparked with a special aura about her. Mrs. Osberg was gorgeous; she knew it. Lena was elegant, she knew. The woman who loved wearing all white and mink was outspoken and to the point; everyone around her knew that.
She could carry a conversation on for hours and absolutely lived for being on the telephone and in “the know”. But on the other hand, used it to her advantage; her public speaking skills took her to various forums and panels, as well as at parties in the “industry” both media and music, plus movies. In many ways it was rubbing off on Eliza, but more so with Glinda.
Richard was introverted, shy and remote and didn’t say much due to the overbearing but good intentioned way Lena doted on the boy. But it wasn’t all negative… Eliza knew more positive than negative! All the Osberg children did! Sometimes, if not most times, their lives were a picnic!
The Osbergs received the best tables in the restaurants, the best service, #1 seats in the theaters and the best rooms in hotels. It was in Mrs. Osberg’s nature to strive for the big things in life. She got it, but not quite like it should have been! But an interesting life for Eliza lay ahead and was destined!
“Can’t you tell that there’s something really big going on today,” said Eliza looking out at the great expanse of the city with the East River simmering with tug boats, tour boat company Circle Line and even trash barges sifting back and forth.
Living at the UN Plaza was very exciting and upbeat with gleaming black limos, fancily dressed doormen, immaculate elevator men, glittering celebrities and foreign dignitaries milling around the lobby and grounds, which were sprawling and elegant. ‘Well knowns’ like Johnny Carson, Cliff Robertson and even famed “In Cold Blood” author Truman Capote as well as Senator Robert F. Kennedy along with his family lived in the penthouses on the 38th floor and brushed by Eliza like a normal everyday thing. Eliza even remembered the Senator coming in the elevator and actually meeting her gaze and looking straight at her big feet, probably wondering if she were a boy or a girl! Then when he was assassinated, Eliza then had full eye contact and a conversation with Ethel, who at that time was dressed in all black and heading for her husbands funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where even Eliza’s mother and grandmother attended.
Her father and brothers and sister were upstairs in their dad’s den watching it on t.v. scanning for them in the crowd. Meanwhile Eliza stood transfixed as she said to Mrs. Kennedy, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay!”
“I know, Dear,” said Mrs. Kennedy, now a widow, with a single tear making its way down her face! She smiled at Eliza and everyone in the elevator were transfixed for a split second, until the doors opened on the Lobby level and she exited with her entourage in tow as a million and one flash bulbs and camera lights shined on her. Eliza had stayed in the elevator with Juan the operator. The clamor followed Mrs. Kennedy’s exit out the revolving doors and into a big black stretch limo. Eliza rode the elevator with Juan back up to 23, and thanked him. “Do you think Tom will tell?” Asked Eliza speaking of the head front desk man who had been with the UN Plaza since it was built.
“I don’t know, Miss, you know him pretty well!”
“We’ll see, thanks Juan, bye!”
Now Eliza sat on the window sill pondering where Ethel Kennedy and her kids had gone, which later she found out was Virginia, or Cape Cod. As she was thinking about Robert Kennedy, and the day she met him and they had a “moment” in the elevator, a vibrating sound shook the window.
Suddenly, out of nowhere a roaring black helicopter flew by. Glinda’s eyes almost popped out of her skull when she saw it. The youngest Osberg jumped back startled.
Eliza’s family had been living at the sprawling 5 bedroom, 6 bathroom ritzy co-op apartment a few years now. The 4 of them watched out the bedroom window as the Black Hawk helicopter hovered slowly down to the front lawn of the UN and landed. People passed by it as if it was another every day occurrence. As the roaring rotors stopped their twirling a few Secret Service agents flooded the perimeter around the copter. Nothing happened at first. The kids got impatient and had to get ready for school.
“Wait, hang on,” said Eliza. “Just one second!”
The abode 23 flights up was very modern for 1970. The whole apartment was lavish with known paintings by Marc Chagall and assorted French artists on the walls. The other rooms were in order except Eliza and Glinda’s bedroom, which resembled a small tempest with clothes on the floor and toys piled high in the closets and Lego pieces scattered around; Barbie dolls, plastic Indians, and soldiers were littered around the room, but Victor and Lena Osberg could look beyond the mess and could see talent and imagination in both girls churning at the surface.
“Nothing’s happening!” answered Eliza’s older brother Roy. “Who cares anyway?” He left the bedroom. Eliza knew that was standard for her older brother, who seemed to lose interest before she or her sister and other brother Richard did. He’d gone back to his bedroom he shared with his brother and was dressing for school. The oldest Osberg sibling attended a different one than his brother and sisters and there was talk about sending him to a ritzy boarding school in Upstate, New York somewhere, which sounded very exciting to Eliza, who sometimes wished she was a boy!
Just then, as Eliza was about to give up herself, the helicopter doors opened and 3 men got out. They surrounded a cloaked figure dressed in black and grey Arab uniform, with his ‘signature’ turban.
“Look, its Arafat,” yelled Eliza, her nose glued to the window.
Gemma, their Jamaican housekeeper breezed in. “Time for breakfast,” said Gemma in a thick West Indies-like lilted accent. She’d been with the Osbergs for almost 3 years and was hired soon after they moved in to the well known UN Plaza Apartments. She had quickly become almost desensitized to the Osbergs constant clamor and energy, which was very high and it wasn’t just stupid kids talking like parrots. They brought up interesting facts, and asked many questions. And not just run of the mill questions… Questions that deserved an honest and long drawn out answer. These kids drew you out of your shell which Gemma had put herself in at first. She retreated by locking her bedroom door at the UN Plaza and watching her t.v. and ignoring them at first. But as the months passed she became very involved with the kids, and that was mostly due to Fern, a very close family friend who cared for them even longer before Gemma had arrived. Not that she was ignoring her duties, she knew how to handle things, and the kids did mind her.
But on the other hand, The Osberg kids treated the hired help at the UN Plaza like pals they met in the schoolyard and that gave them a certain charm to the workers at the UN Plaza. It made working there so much more bearable because the family was so intriguing in so many ways and no one really knew what to make of them sometimes, so that made the job more fun because in the break room they all discussed the Osbergs, and even the service elevator guys got in on the action and it made them feel like a real union or something like that. The kids even joked around with the guy who ran the service elevator. “Hey Dum-Dum,” yelled Glinda and Eliza when they saw him peeking around the corner looking bored. They lit up his world in a funny way, but they were disruptive and the building could not ignore that…But Darrin the doorman could not resist Eliza, and was constantly bantering with her and all the Osberg kids, they were so full of life and news and questions. But how long would management at the UN Plaza put up with it. It all depended on who was on the side of the Osberg’s side! For now the kids came and went and it was actually lonely and quiet like a church when they left, but then they’d clamor back home and Darrin would smile and pretend indifference when he saw Tom the Deskman looking at him from inside the building where he sat at a huge mahogany desk you’d usually see in airports. He could just imagine how her teachers dealt with Eliza…A smile came to Darrin’s lips… His big white teeth were wide and strong. He looked, at that time, like a crooner or army guy from World War II. He’s put in many years at the UN Plaza and would probably always be there for years to come. Tom the desk man had been there since they opened in 1966, and it was amazing how he ran the front lobby, like a clock. He didn’t take any crap.
Eliza attended PS 59, otherwise known as Beekman Hill School. She and her sister and brothers actually for the first time were taking public transportation rather than being picked up by the usual school bus van or limos by the other snooty kids in the building and surrounding area.
As Glinda and Eliza got ready for school they laughed and joked with each other as Gemma went to the kitchen and started breakfast. The apartment itself was immaculate and glamorous. Mrs. Osberg was very particular about her decorators and furniture.
Their Aunt Dorothy decorated their bedroom in shades of orange, black and white. Ripe stripes of color ran above along the upper walls that were wall papered the expensive way. There was bright “orange” wall to wall shag carpeting with the two beds on either side of the bedroom. And of course the Orange bedspreads and white wicker headboards, even a little white wicker elephant used as a nightstand blended interestingly. Some of the furniture in their bedroom was converted from their nurseries; a white wicker rocking chair and a delicate lamp with a statue of a white angel holding up the bulb. Pretty frilly paintings hung on their walls as well as the girl’s own artwork and scribblings.
Both girls dressed and grabbed their book bags, heading for the kitchen where a nice nutritious breakfast of poached eggs, crispy lean bacon, lightly buttered toast and freshly squeezed juice awaited them. Roy and Richard were already at the round glass table chowing down. They all ate heartily and with gusto, but the Osberg children were reared on the ‘salad fork’, and showed much decorum at the dining table, except sometimes Eliza, who acted up and usually got a reprimand.
It was Tuesday morning as their mother Lena Osberg slept like a log in the sprawling master bedroom. Their father Victor Osberg had flown to where he maintained a lace factory in New England and manufactured lace and women’s underwear with no cotton crotch. They were innovated in Victor Osberg’s mind, so he was trying to make them all the rage and that included his daughters wearing them! Lena always wore them, she had them in 3 different colors and designs and didn’t mind that there wasn’t a solid crotch.
Eliza’s father spent 3 days there at his two bedroom apartment, and then he’d rent a seaplane and fly back to New York City for 3 days. He usually rented the smaller plane, but sometimes flew commercial. But when he was gone, the Osberg children ran wild and their mother indulged them with money for Bernie’s Candy Store downstairs in the delegates lobby while she arranged big charity events and fund raisers for certain colleges and organizations! Her resume reads like a “who is who of entertainment”, but like any fired up mother and lady, she also exposed her children to many things that were not on the menu of the other families at their schools and after school centers. But Lena was able to make many friends and occupied herself with family, running seemingly endless shopping errands plus her husbands anal demands to pick up his dry cleaning, have a certain type of dinner or just be ready to go out at the drop of a hat. She, Lena ran the household smoothly and with such formality in her even and electric way!
Victor Osberg took care of them all though and took them to vacation places and Europe with his wife in the summertime while the kids went to 9 week summer camps in Maine. He lavished everything he had on his beautiful, worldly wife Lena! Life was very good at that moment and neither would change a thing. Although, he had to admit that he was a little hard on his wife, her being from that entertainment Broadway crowd, raised by a daddy that indulged her every fancy, he could understand. His Navy background warranted it, so she put up with it, because they loved each other, and had actually met twice before, years ago before the fireworks burst in air. But that is another story. Flash forward and here they were raising a family in the best apartment building on the Lower East Side in the Turtle Bay District. Lena had even attended the famed JulliardSchool of music which was virtually a stone’s throw from their digs. It was Heaven for Lena, and she indulged her children and encouraged them to read and take up hobbies and take a keen interest in The Arts, Broadway and The Theatre; taking them all to the Nutcracker Suite and all the Christmas and Easter shows at Radio City Music Hall hadn’t hurt them one bit.
Mrs. Osberg got a kick out of buying her girls books on which were loosely based on a little girl named Eloise who roams the halls of The Plaza Hotel. Her family was a bit more retro 1970’s than little French Eloise’s, but the books were fun to read to the kids. In fact, Lena loved to read the books out loud, which her children loved. And when they took the kids to the Plaza Hotel for dinner, there were huge posters of Eloise and everyone kept saying how much little Glinda looked like her, even though it was blatantly obvious that Eloise resembled Eliza more than Glinda.
Eliza was just too hyper for anyone to start to pay too much attention to her thus she would get too energetic, so most times they were trying to hold her down and make her quiet. Deep down inside they all knew Eliza was a special, creative little girl. Maybe with time she would be calmer. Maybe they would one day take Dr. Shipps advice and give her a pill to help her sleep. But then, maybe not.
END OF CHAPTER 1