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Ramona's Ramblings

Only in NY

Ramona Jan
Posted 12/19/23

September 10th 1975: I had just moved into the Hotel Bretton Hall on the corner of Broadway and West 86th Street. It was a dangerous time for the Upper West Side of Manhattan with record high crime …

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Ramona's Ramblings

Only in NY


September 10th 1975: I had just moved into the Hotel Bretton Hall on the corner of Broadway and West 86th Street. It was a dangerous time for the Upper West Side of Manhattan with record high crime of various kinds. I was nineteen, alone, and had just left home.

My only possessions, a single mattress, a coffee table, a chest of drawers, one straight back chair, a hot plate, a bag of shoes and a hard suitcase filled with clothing occupied the hotel lobby while I went to the eleventh floor to check out my first-ever apartment, number 1102. As I placed the key in the lock, a large hairy hand reached over my shoulder and grabbed it. I quickly turned around and there before me was the realtor, Mr. C, from whom I had rented the place. 

“Where’s your lease?” he asked addressing me as if I were a total stranger. I had only given him a deposit a week ago. 

“Uh…” I stuttered because I didn’t have one. No one told me I needed a lease. Before I could say another word, Mr. C escaped with my key down the stairwell never to be seen again. I was now homeless in New York. Best to go downstairs and gaze at my worldly goods. Worst case scenario, I’d sleep in the lobby.

I didn’t cry. Instead, I just stood there in a daze until a young couple approached me. I don’t remember the man’s name. I think it started with a J so I’ll call him J. The woman I’ll never forget due to her hip-length natural red hair. Her name was Hillary. 

“Don’t worry,” said J. “We’ll help you. We’ll sort all of this out with Mr. C…tomorrow. You can stay with us tonight. We have a big apartment. I’ll put your stuff in storage and deliver it to you tomorrow. No problem.” He seemed sincere. And as someone who had just arrived in the Big Apple, newly homeless, I couldn’t turn the offer down, but there was more.

“We’re going to The Comic Strip tonight,” added J. “You could come with us.” Though I was looking forward to unpacking and settling in, I had little choice but to tag along. Upon seeing Hillary, the staff at Comic Strip waved us past the crowd, into the club and over to a reserved table where we sat like royalty, on a riser, overseeing the show. I thought it was her red hair, but it was something else.

There were several comedians on the bill that night who could have been anyone from Dick Cavett to Andy Kaufman, but I wasn’t astute enough to know or to realize what a moment I was being gifted. Instead, I focused on ordering only what I could afford in the way of food and drink with the little money I had on me. In the end, J picked up the entire tab, cab rides and all. 

Finally, back at the Bretton Hall, in time to hunker down, I was welcomed into their apartment; a cozy one-bedroom. A couple of couch cushions, a pillow, and some blankets created a place on the floor in a closet for me to sleep in privacy. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

The next day, as promised, J sorted my situation out with Mr. C. I signed my first-ever lease while J moved all my possessions one by one into my new pad. That’s when J told me that Hillary was the daughter of Jack Rollins who not only managed the most prominent comedians including David Letterman, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, he also co-produced every Woody Allen film. J and Hillary moved from the building far too soon for us to become bosom buddies, but this Jersey girl will never forget their spectacular rescue and warm welcome to New York City.   

RAMONA JAN is the Founder and Director of Yarnslingers, a storytelling group that tells tales both fantastic and true. She is also the roving historian for Callicoon, NY and is often seen giving tours around town. You can email her at callicoonwalkingtours@gmail.com.


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