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BIOGRAPHY

in neat lettering, taped beneath her own. The sight was so beyond my experience I had trouble processing it. Married women always took their husband's names! Didn't he object?

 

They were cute together. Fumio was a diminutive man--slight, almost girlish in build. He had a kind face, gentle manner and spoke very little English. At first, Kate served as his translator. She told him she regretted he could not understand the nuanced bite of my wisecracks, a street affectation I had at the time that seemed to endear me to her. But despite the language handicap and the imprecision of relying on Kate as our interlocutor, he and I seemed to communicate well, and I liked him. A gifted artist, Fumio built delicate mobiles of birds that hung trembling from the ceiling of Kate's apartment. They complemented her pop art that was on display everywhere in the flat, like witty furniture.

 

She told me they married to solve Fumio's immigration problem, making it sound like a business decision rather than a romantic one. But although she sounded almost apologetic, perhaps even defensive, it was clear that the relationship was a genuine one. When they were together they created an atmosphere of calm compatibility. I was happy for Kate. Gone was the low grade fever of sadness and sorrow, the whiff of loneliness, some undefined suffering in her that seemed always to linger just beneath the surface--all appeared to have abated. Or so it seemed.

 

They divorced in 1985, the marriage technically lasting 20 years, although they lived apart for much of that time in an open relationship. After Fumio died in 2002, Kate told me she was planning to write a book about him. But she already had, I thought. She described her marriage and its disintegration inFLYING, as well as the female love interest who'd supplanted Fumio and impelled Kate's return to her previous lifestyle as a woman who loved women.

 

She continued to drag me to meetings and protests all over the city, championing causes that reflected themes of social unrest and social justice: civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, and pacifism--including many fringe groups too bizarre even for my unformed tastes.


Finally, she took me to a meeting that resonated in a way the others had not. We sat in a room with passionate and argumentative women who had recently formed an organization called NOW. They were magnificent, I thought, thrilled to my core.

 

I joined immediately and, with Kate looking over my shoulder, perused a menu of possible committees. It was no surprise that I selected Education, Kate's own specialty. She was the Chair and I, Vice-Chair. There were no other members. A committee of two, we elected each other.

 

Together, we tackled the daunting job of analyzing curricula and pedagogical trends across the country. It was mind-blowing to discover how pervasive and systematic was the bias against females and the ways in which it infected our entire system, short-circuiting girls and women from getting good educations and eventually, productive jobs and careers as well.

 

Where were our judges, college presidents, and architects? They were in the next generation, soon to be born, we hoped.

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How did I know who Kate Millett was and who she would become?

 

In 1961, Kate declared she was going off to Japan to study art. This struck me as a bad idea, even worse than her decision to live on the Bowery. She knew no one there, did not speak Japanese, and it was halfway around the world. Two years later, she returned with a boyfriend and fellow sculptor named Fumio Yashimura, an urn containing his dead wife's ashes--and a friend, Yoko Ono.


After their marriage in 1965 I paid them a visit. They were living at Kate's apartment on the Bowery. But as I approached the front door, my eyes were routinely drawn to the familiar sign over her doorbell: Kate Millett. But wasn't she now Kate Yashimura? I thought.  And there was Fumio's name,

The apartment, like the woman herself, was a miracle of surprise. It was a large space filled with books and more books, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. They compensated for sparse furnishings and a lack of amenities, including a bathroom without a door, as well as for the sour smells that permeated the walls from outside. Winos and derelicts lay strewn with their empty liquor bottles across her broken front steps, causing me to worry each time I visited this young woman who was my friend, living alone in this neighborhood and under these conditions.


We had great fun exploring the city and sampling its banquet of adventures and ideas, open to life as only the very young and innocent are capable. She took me to the Cedar Bar, a neighborhood pub where artists hung out, where she hung out. I didn't realize it then, but we were rubbing elbows with Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers. How could I know who they were and who they would become?

"We have been 'hanging out' for 54 years, having marvelous conversations and being amused by each other."   Eleanor Pam

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