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BIOGRAPHY

socialized because of contiguity; later by choice. When I was initially introduced to Kate she was just back from England where she had recently graduated from Oxford with First Honors. It wasn't long before we became close pals and intellectual sparring partners. By default, and the sheer genetics of outlasting everyone else in her initial circle, I am her oldest friend.


I think it was my newly minted degree in Philosophy that attracted Kate the most when we first met. In turn, I was awed by her obvious brilliance. She was also quirky and extreme, an original. These qualities initially drew me to her and simultaneously made me anxious. An odd duck to be sure, but interesting and disquieting at the same time. We shared many common and uncommon interests but our differences were just as apparent. Kate was unlike anyone I had ever known, including me. It wasn't only that we came from completely different worlds; the woman seemed to inhabit a universe of her own, one that was not always intelligible or accessible to me. I could rarely decide if she was the alien, or I was. We both lived in our heads, but I was better at pretending that I didn't.


During that period, I was earning a salary of $4,000 a year as a teacher, a sum that seemed like a small fortune to us both. I knew Kate had very little money and was seriously estranged from the aunt who had subsidized her education at Oxford. If she had other income streams they were not obvious. While her impecuniousness was not an expressed concern, it was an undeniable reality. Her mind seemed focused instead on a love relationship that was apparently not going well. It was that, not money, which both preoccupied and obsessed her. Later that would change, when the prospect of poverty would stalk and terrify her like a bogyman she could never dodge.


Her pallor so alarmed me that I mistook it for sickliness, not the love-sickness it probably was. Compelled to do something to aid her recovery, I would periodically present myself at her door and filled with the determination and self-importance of a rescuer, kidnap her. I'd drive us to the beach in my flashy red convertible for fresh air and sun, then end the day with a triumphantly sybaritic excursion to Chinatown for a decent meal.

 

The thing that impressed Kate most about those outings was not what I expected. Like a child who does not focus on the toy, but the box it comes in, Kate did not gush about the food, the beach, our conversation or my stellar company. Instead, she was wowed by my ability to reach our destination in one straight and unfettered shot, to time and calibrate the car's pace so we'd catch every green light and keep on zooming. For whatever reason, this minor talent delighted her. Anarchist that she was, perhaps she was simply appreciating the elegance of beating the system without breaking the law. Later, Kate observed that it was a metaphor for the way I lived my life. Eventually she wrote about this in her third book, FLYING, but the section ended up on the cutting room floor. Obviously, her editors were less enthralled by my parlor trick than she was.


In the winters, the only source of heat in Kate's apartment was a coal-burning, pot-bellied stove that sat precariously on the badly rotted wood floors of her dilapidated flat. A cast-iron creature so heavy I would not have been surprised if one day it crashed through to the flat below. Because it was a hassle to keep running up and down the steep steps to feed the fire, she asked her friends to help out. So we'd scoop up handfuls of coal from a filthy sack that nestled at the bottom of her stairs, then carry ourselves--and the coal--upstairs. A delighted Kate, watching the scene from above, would call down greetings, cheerily monitoring our progress as each of us, with blackened fingers and coal-speckled clothes, panted to the top.

KATE MILLETT & ME: A MEMOIR OF FRIENDSHIP

 By Eleanor Pam

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She had long black hair that contrasted dramatically with milk-white skin and she talked in a soft, slightly husky voice. She spoke as if there were a cigarette dangling from her mouth, even when there wasn't. It made her sound slightly tough. Her name was Kate Millett and she lived on the Bowery. That alone was both  and intriguing. It was the early fifties and no one lived in such a dangerous and disagreeable area, especially a single female! Never had I encountered an educated woman from the middle class who was not only determined to embrace downward mobility, but who delighted in it. Creating a home in the most déclassé neighborhood in the city was a statement she was making then and for the rest of her life. She never left.


Like me, she was in her early twenties. Since we traveled in the same bohemian circles it was inevitable that we'd  eventually meet.  At first, we

"Kate Millett at the Los Angeles Women's Center, 1977" photographed by Michiko Matsumoto, from the Kate Millett Papers. © Michiko Matsum

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