The World of Franyo 75: Larger than Life


In January Jofka and I finally moved into our own apartment. It was in a big white brick doorman building on the corner of 79th and Third, with a wide sidewalk in front and an old age home next door. We had wood-paneled walls, courtesy of the previous owner, high ceilings, a big open living area, and a lot of light since the apartment wrapped around a corner. There was only one bedroom and that went to Jofka. I slept in a closet that had been converted into a sleeping alcove or loft with louvered doors for privacy.



201 E 79th St 18A – our dining room with someone else’s decor –


This was at a point in my life when a number of old friends and acquaintances were returning to New York from long-term sojourns in other parts of the world, so there was almost always someone surfing on our couch. Our most frequent visitor was my friend Laurie, a plus-sized girl whom I’d met as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. We’d lived in the same dorm, Campus Hall, a rambling rundown house where most of the Jewish girls from New York, Philadelphia and Chicago seemed to end up. Laurie and I had both started life in Great Neck, were avid readers, fluent French speakers, gifted writers and students. I can safely say I’d never before met anyone so large. My other friend from Campus Hall, Annie, whose room was next to mine, blanched the first time she laid eyes on Laurie and whispered she could never associate with someone that obese.  This was not out of any weird prejudice, but rather that she had her own body and weight issues, and an instinctive fear of growing heavier no matter what she did. (A little, I imagine, the way sober alcoholics fear being “struck drunk.”) It is interesting to note that we have grown larger as a nation in the years since I met Laurie; if she seemed big back in the sixties, her ample weight would seem more normal now. Despite Annie’s fears, the two women became friends for life, both of them moving to Morocco together in the mid-seventies where Annie (who later worked in haute couture with my painter friend, Sander) had her own fashion design atelier and Laurie worked in film production.



Laurie in our dining room





To me Laurie was a force, a larger-than-life being, someone who would have qualified as a mythical creature with her own kingdom and court. People visited her regularly for her opinions on a wide variety of matters. She was a specialist in love, problems of the heart, so if you and your boyfriend had issues, Laurie was the first person you’d want to consult. Despite her large size, Laurie was very mobile. During our second year at Wisconsin, she persuaded me to join her in one of the protest marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to show our solidarity with voter registration and the civil rights movement. This was a crazy last minute decision; we hopped the bus with nothing but a few toiletries and the clothes on our backs. Somehow Laurie squeezed herself into a seat and off we went, excited, scared, and out of breath. When I called my parents from Chicago to let them know where I was, they pitched a fit, begging me to get off the damn bus and go back to school. But by then it was moot: there were too many buses headed for Selma and we were rerouted to DC, where we marched once around the White House and were then relegated to a church kitchen to prepare meals. I returned to school a few days later. Laurie, specialist in matters of the heart, fell in love with a handsome black demonstrator and went AWOL for the next six weeks. When she did get back to school, she refused to give us details.



March on Selma –


Years later, just after we’d moved into the new apartment, Jofka and I drove to JFK to pick Laurie up on her return from her long sojourn in Morocco. The two had never met. I was a little worried that Jofka would make remarks about Laurie’s size, but the moment Jofka saw her she kind of swooned and demanded to sit in Laurie’s lap, rest her head on Laurie’s big bosom. She had a calming, hypnotic effect on children. Over the next year, she spent many nights on our couch, holding court with friends who came to visit and presiding over Jofka’s wellbeing and education. She taught Jofka to read using the Laurie method — placing gum, sweets and cash between the pages. She also watched over me as I continued my ever steeper descent into the black basement of alcoholism.



Laurie & Jofka

To be continued…

(Cover Photo ~

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