Elizabeth Mason’s parents always strived for the best for their daughter, sparing no expense on her education and upbringing. Now, on the verge of her freshman year at prestigious Layton College, Elizabeth has grown into a brilliant and compassionate young woman, if a little spoiled and naïve. But when a senior tennis star named Jimmy date rapes her during freshman orientation, Elizabeth’s once-tranquil life is shattered. Humiliated and guilt-ridden, she slips numbly through her first months of college before reporting the assault—a decision that launches her on a crusade to bring Jimmy to justice, one way or another. In this powerful and affecting novel, Corman explores the devastating repercussions—both private and public—of campus date rape and the double standards surrounding sexuality for young men and women. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Avery Corman, including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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By Avery Corman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Avery Corman
All rights reserved.
The girl is about seven years old and is wearing a blue velvet dress with a white lace collar. Her straight blond hair is cut short and parted in the middle. She is gazing straight ahead, with a look of composure characteristic of so many renderings of children in nineteenth-century folk art. At her feet is a small brown dog of incalculable breed, a folk art dog. She stands on a flowered rug, her hand resting languidly on a small, round Victorian table with a vase containing delicate roses. She is a perfect child in a serene and comfortable world.
The painting hung in the foyer of Laura and Ben Mason's apartment. They would tell visitors they loved the work because it was a classic rendering of the style and period. In fact, the perfection of the child and her surroundings was the way they wanted to think of their own lives and of their own family.
When Laura and Ben Mason's daughter, Elizabeth, was five and their son, Josh, was one, the Masons had been included in a New York magazine article on families in the city. A full-page color photograph showed them in their living room, surrounded by their folk art collection.
"You have to use the article for the interviews," their friend Phil Stern advised them. "Schools love this kind of stuff."
The Masons were going through the process of finding the correct private school in Manhattan for Elizabeth. The Sterns' daughter was enrolled at the Hargrove School, a prestigious all-girl preparatory school. The Masons favored the Chase School, coeducational and equally prestigious.
"You can't come right out and say: 'Did you see us in New York magazine?'" Laura responded.
"You find a way."
The Sterns lived in the same building as the Masons, at Lexington Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street. Phil was an investment banker, Jane a caterer. Frequently, in their quest to extract the best out of Manhattan living—the best Italian restaurant, the best sale on linens, the best children's mattress—the Sterns made the right choices. So if they were advising that to get Elizabeth into the best school the Masons should mention an article in New York magazine, the Masons were prepared to take the advice.
Laura and Ben were interviewed by the Chase admissions director, who had already observed Elizabeth in a play situation with other children and in a session with a teacher. In his attempt to follow through on Phil Stern's suggestion, Ben made a transition as grinding as the sound of a New York sanitation truck early in the morning. He went from talking about how vital and alive were the children brought up in the city to saying abruptly:
"Laura and I have made a real commitment to the city. Perhaps you saw us in New York magazine last month. The piece about New York couples. The couple with the folk art collection."
"Oh, that was you. Yes, I did see it. Very nice. Very nice, indeed."
Elizabeth was accepted at the Chase School. The Masons were ecstatic. They thought the only Jews who managed to get their children into the school were Wall Street types. Laura was a magazine editor, Ben a folk art dealer. They surmised that they succeeded in getting Elizabeth accepted because they sounded interesting, and of course, the full-page picture in New York certified them as interesting. For Ben Mason, who had gone to De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, and for Laura Mason, who had gone to Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, having a child at Chase was an enormous step up in social class.
The Chase School population was sixty percent WASP, thirty percent Jewish, and ten percent "others." To some of the old-liners, the idea of Jews and "others," or of Jews, who were by definition "others," at Chase was like an unfortunate sociological oil spill.
Ben Mason, thirty-four, was a stocky man of five feet eleven, with light-brown eyes and hair, and a jaw that was so solid it was nearly a caricature of a manly profile. He looked as if he could have been a construction worker instead of the owner of a gallery. Laura Mason, thirty-two, was five feet six and slender, with blue eyes, a narrow, elegant face, and auburn hair. She might have passed for a model, and in her early days at Home Furnishings magazine, she filled in as a model on some of the magazine's page layouts. Laura had entered the magazine field when she found that as an art history major from Brooklyn College, she couldn't compete with students from more prestigious schools for the handful of jobs in the art field. Ben was a graduate of Cooper Union and began his career as a commercial designer. They had met when he made a sales call at Home Furnishings.
While working as a designer, he became a collector of old advertising marginalia, and this led him to collect folk art. The folk art became his passion. When he began to spend more time on the acquisition and trading of pieces than on his design business, Ben Mason opened his own gallery, at First Avenue and Eighty-ninth Street. He became a dealer well regarded for having a good, small gallery.
Elizabeth Mason was a cheerful girl with reddish-to-auburn hair, blue eyes, and a pug nose. She embarked upon a successful career at Chase. She was popular; as she grew older she had an increasing number of play dates, and she was invited to her classmates' birthday parties. Some of these were modest affairs, such as lunch at McDonald's, but some were galas. One Chase parent, a motion picture producer, invited thirty children to a showing of Pinocchio in a screening room, followed by an elaborate buffet. There were ice-skating birthday parties, roller-skating birthday parties, parties where a professional storyteller or a magician came to the house. Having attempted to save money for her previous birthdays by running their own parties, with games and prizes, in the apartment, the Masons opted for the magician at Elizabeth's eighth birthday.
"Wasn't it fun?" she said, as they were putting her to sleep. "Thank you so much for making me such a nice party."
They were happy about having a child thoughtful enough to thank them for their effort, and they were satisfied with the event. However, if they counted in the extra money spent on having their weekday housekeeper come in on a Saturday, the party for an eight-year-old cost three hundred dollars.
The Masons' housekeeper, Mrs. O'Reilly, was a rotund woman from Ireland, who kept the rooms in the Mason apartment as dust-free as was humanly possible. A compulsive housekeeper was a fantasy for working parents. However, Mrs. O'Reilly's idea of raising children under hospital-level conditions collided with the subject of pets, which she deemed unsanitary. Mrs. O'Reilly could not mount a persuasive argument against tropical fish, and the Masons started there. Fish died; there were burials at sea, fish ceremoniously deposited into the East River. The Masons moved on to hamsters. They lived, they died, they were buried in Central Park, a succession of little furry creatures whose running on the treadmill and gnawing on the cage came too close to being a metaphor for New York living for the comfort of the parents.
Over Mrs. O'Reilly's objections, the Masons acquired a part-golden retriever, part-German shepherd puppy at the ASPCA, a lively brown dog that the children named Queenie. Growing rapidly, Queenie skittered all over the street when taken out for a walk, and with no one other than Ben able to walk the dog easily, Queenie went to obedience school. After weeks of training, everyone in the family attending the sessions, Queenie graduated with honors. The Masons now had a dog who could obey the commands "Heel" and "Sit."
This is urban life, Ben said to himself one morning while walking the dog. It cost me three hundred and fifty dollars to train a dog to walk around the block and sit in a New York City elevator.
The Masons' neighbors the Sterns were on the cutting edge of parental overcontrol. Melanie Stern, a year older than Elizabeth, had experienced so many after-school "enrichment" programs that the child was nearly burned out at nine. Phil Stern was a tall, lanky man, vain about his trim middle. He worked out in a gym a couple of days a week and played tennis once a week with Ben. Jane Stern, at five feet four, had a tendency to be pudgy and changed exercise classes as often as her daughter was moved in and out of new activities. The Sterns tried to sell the Masons on the idea of after-school dance classes for Elizabeth, to teach her grace and poise. Melanie, who was chunky and fairly clumsy, was already enrolled in such a class. Elizabeth refused, saying she was simply not interested. She was already a veteran of preschool arts-and-crafts classes, tumbling classes, most recently a Saturday morning art appreciation course, and swimming lessons prompted by Mrs. O'Reilly to make sure the child didn't drown one day.
The following year, Ben was asked by the New York State Tourism Department to be a guest curator for a traveling exhibit of folk art by New York artists. The project was noted in the art collectors' magazines and in a piece in the New York Times. He enjoyed a run of new business and felt encouraged to expand the size of his gallery to larger quarters, at Lexington Avenue and Eighty-first Street.
He told the children at dinner that the Mason Folk Art Gallery was moving.
"Since this is what I do, I'd like to do it bigger."
"I know what I want to do when I grow up," Josh, age five, declared.
The Masons had talked with friends about how fashions change on the subject. When Laura and Ben were children, little girls wanted to be ballerinas and little boys policemen and firemen. Laura remarked at one dinner party that if gender-neutral thinking had truly filtered down, little boys would want to be ballet dancers and little girls policepersons and firepersons. The last time they checked, Josh wanted to be an astronaut and Elizabeth wanted to be an animal doctor.
"What would you like to be?" Ben asked Josh.
"Kung Fu," Josh said.
"Why?" Laura asked.
"Kung Fus are tougher than everybody."
"There goes years of anti-macho rhetoric down the drain," Ben remarked.
"Elizabeth?" Laura inquired of her nine-year-old.
"TV weather girl," she answered.
The parents sat, amused, bewildered. Where did these ideas come from?
"Why that particularly?" Ben said.
"Because Connie Brooks, she's on Channel Five and she came to school to talk to us and she's very pretty and nice, and she wore a beautiful dress, and that's what I'd like to be."
"Well, they get a lot of attention," Laura said. "Everybody watches them."
After the children went to sleep, Laura said to Ben: "I just hope, after all the talking and the marching, that the pendulum doesn't swing all the way back for her generation of women."
"She did say TV weather girl. She didn't say TV weatherman's wife."
Ben opened the doors of his new gallery with a wine and cheese party. With his background in design, he organized the space meticulously. The pieces were illuminated with well-placed lighting. He wrote descriptive material, which he set in type and mounted adjacent to the objects. His design sense extended to his selection of the folk art pieces themselves, each an outstanding example of a genre. He had created a folk art gallery with the ambience of a small folk art museum.
The guest list included friends, customers, school parents, and Ben's and Laura's own parents, who stood to the side trying to make sense of his business. Laura's parents lived in downtown Brooklyn. Her father, Sol Goodman, was the proprietor of a newsstand in an office building near the Brooklyn County Courthouse. A small, wiry man with wisps of red hair on his balding head, he was fidgety in his demeanor and used the stub of a cigar to underline his opinions, which were largely uninformed. Her mother, Jean, was a thin, quiet woman, whose main activity had always been keeping house and deferring to Sol. Laura's view of her parents was that she had been stuck with a broken radio that could get only one station.
Ben's father, Henry Mason, was six feet tall, stocky, with dark-brown eyes constantly on the alert for weakness in the other fellow. He presided over a ladies' handbag company, with a plant in the South Bronx, to which he drove every day from Riverdale in his black Chrysler. Ben's mother, Belle, was the company's office manager, a slender woman with hazel eyes and light-brown hair that she kept blond. They were fond of saying about themselves, in their joke about the business, that they were "tough as leather." Ben had a younger brother, David, a lawyer in Chicago, the one with "a head for business," unlike the dreamy older son. The parents were mystified that Ben, a boy they never would have allowed to be part of the business, could persist in selling knickknacks and old paintings.
"From these tchotchkes he still tries to make a living?" Ben's mother said to her counterparts.
"If you hit it right, you can sell some of this for plenty," Laura's father, Sol, declared.
"How do you know?" Ben's father said sharply. After years of children's birthday parties and holiday events, he had heard enough of the man's opinions, listening to this newsstand dealer rattle on. "To sell this stuff for plenty you have to find plenty of morons."
"These things always looked nice in the apartment," Laura's mother offered weakly.
Ben's father examined an antique, hand-carved miniature Ferris wheel.
"Four hundred dollars he expects to get for this," and they nodded in agreement about the dire straits.
Home Furnishings, under Laura's guidance as editor in chief, had been in the process of changing from a trade publication to a magazine that also attracted consumer readership. In the three years of Laura's regime, circulation had risen from 70,000 to 100,000. She had worked first as an assistant art director for the magazine, eventually becoming art director. But she always had skills in developing ideas for articles and was a skilled writer. Everything came together for her when she became editor in chief. She raised the level of the publication in terms of its writing, its editorial coverage, and its layout, which she redesigned. She also imbued her staff with a sense of mission; they were going to take yet another trade magazine and make it into a respected forum for design ideas. In her tailored suits, which she wore with a model's flair, she was a stylish cheerleader for her staff and the magazine.
Home Furnishings was one of six magazines owned by the publisher, Peter Miller. An absentee owner, he had given Laura freedom to run the magazine. One day, he made a rare appearance in Laura's office.
"Laura, you've done a fantastic job here. I'll always be grateful to you."
"That sounds like an ending," she said warily.
"I'm selling the company. A Japanese group, Oiako, has made a great offer."
"What does this mean?"
"They're moving the company to San Francisco."
"But we've all got our lives here."
"They're not taking any of our people. They've been running some special-interest magazines in the West. They're going to run the book from out there."
"We have twenty people on staff!"
"Everyone will get ten weeks' severance. That's probably an industry record. I think it's more than fair."
"Fair? We thought we were creating something, and now we're going to be out of work."
"You have nothing to worry about, Laura. You've got another four months on your contract. You should have another job in four minutes."
"There are people who define themselves by what they do here. You've just taken that away from them."
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"I'm sorry, Laura. It's, as they say, business."
Miller circulated a memo to all employees. People milled around in shock, and Laura had the task of calming them and reassuring them of their worth and viability in the marketplace.
She told Ben the news that night, and he didn't say anything for a moment; too long a moment, she thought.
"It'll be all right," he said. "We'll be all right. It's a self-improvement opportunity for you. I read that somewhere. Some article when I was at a checkout counter."
"I was thinking more along the lines of how do we pay tuition, rent, and taxes."
"We're a little ahead."
"What about day camps for the kids this summer? They can't be home all day."
Excerpted from Prized Possessions by Avery Corman. Copyright © 1991 Avery Corman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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