STEPHANIE LEHMANN was born in foggy San Francisco and didn’t take her sweater off until she moved away to college. She spent most of her childhood watching television. Almost every night she fell asleep to the sound of Johnny Carson on a small General Electric black and white TV in her bedroom. This was when he still broadcast from New York City.
She listened to him talk about multiple locks on the doors and muggers on the streets and dirty subways. She thought anyone who chose to live in NYC had to be crazy or just dumb. She spent Saturday nights watching The Brady Bunch before they were in reruns, dressed like Marcia but was more like Jan. Her very favorite TV show was That Girl with Marlo Thomas, who was the first true “ambitious single woman living in New York City” sitcom heroine. Stephanie’s fantasy to live that life competed for years with her fear of moving to such a decrepit, mean and ugly place.
Stephanie can remember deciding to become a writer in a fit of existential angst when she was twelve. She desperately wanted to be published in American Girl magazine. She talked her parents into buying her a typewriter, and wrote some very bad short stories. She received the first of many rejection letters.
In high school, after a few unpleasant (no boyfriend, mediocre grades) years that were redeemed only by hanging out in the theater department and working backstage (too afraid to act), she went to U. C. Berkeley and missed the best years of Saturday Night Live. She had, for once, a social life, but no television.
She bought an IBM Selectric but was unable to believe she could actually have a “career” as a writer. So she didn’t even buy the kind of IBM Selectric that had self-correcting tape, and had to use the backspace key, then insert one of those little white plastic sheets and retype the incorrect letter to cover it over. (I bet some people have no idea what I’m talking about.) She got a B.A. in psychology thinking she might become a therapist because she liked to listen, and she loved the idea of hearing peoples’ secrets. But after taking a writing class with Leonard Michaels (The Men’s Club) and taking his praise way too seriously, she kissed a regular income good-bye and dreamed once again of being a writer.
After graduating from Berkeley and spending a year hanging out, working in a cafe, getting depressed and feeling like she didn’t know what to do with her life, Stephanie Lehmann decided to move to New York so she could do the same thing in a more crowded location. She was still drawn by the lure of New York City but was still intimidated by it too, so she arrived as a student in the NYU Graduate Program in Creative Writing. She was lucky enough to get the lease to a small, dark, roach-infested apartment of her very own in the East Village of Manhattan. She set up her IBM Selectric on a desk she bought at the Salvation Army, slept on a futon, still had no TV, and was afraid to walk in her own neighborhood.
She started dating a guy from Long Island who was in her writing workshop at NYU. He had a nice apartment on a high floor in a modern building in midtown and a really nice RCA 27-inch color TV. The fact that he used to be a television repairman clinched the deal. She moved in with him and they watched Night Court and Cagney and Lacey — shows that seemed good at the time, but what was I thinking?
In any case, Stephanie Lehmann felt much better about her life and more in touch with America now that she was watching TV again. During this period she wrote two novels on her IBM Selectric. Neither one got published, but she did get lots of temp jobs based on her excellent typing skills.
A few years later she bought one of the first computers sold for home use (gee, this is making me sound old), a Kaypro with a seven-inch black screen and green letters that she still has in storage next to her IBM Selectric. She also got married to the ex-television repairman and had a couple babies. Among many other shows, she enjoyed watching Love Connection hosted by Chuck Woolery, which may have laid the ground work for her current fascination with The Bachelorette, Top Chef, Project Runway, Amazing Race, The Housewives of New York City and other assorted reality shows but let’s not get started on that.
She felt privileged to reach the point in her life where she fought with her very own family over who got the remote. Now that her kids are grown up and being educated elsewhere she enjoys getting to watch whatever she wants. She still lives in New York and owns a down coat, a wool coat, many sweaters, hats and gloves. She prefers the summer, except when it gets disgustingly humid. The weather doesn’t matter as much anymore, though, since she now has a laptop, iPhone and iPad and hardly ever needs to go outside.
Oh, and by the way, Stephanie Lehmann is no longer afraid to live in New York City.