Thursday, May 26, 2016

You Can't Make This Sh*#$&)T Up

Ruth is 92.  She knew Florence. 

Ruth would organize buses for like 150 people from the Henry Street Settlement to go to Jones Beach and once she got everyone settled, she and Florence would lounge by the ocean and talk about anything and everything.

And Laurel's family and my family grew up next to each other on Henry Street and when I want to know anything about them, then or there, I ask her.

She's neighbors with Ruth.

So the other day Ruth had to get her hair cut and I wanted her to talk to these documentary people and Laurel wanted to catch up.

We TRIED to keep up with Ruth but the second we turned away, Ruth was gone and we went up and down Madison Street, going into every hair salon and using every word we knew in Spanish.  By the third place we were asking in almost full sentences. 

Didn't matter.  Nobody had seen her.

So we went back to the benches to catch up.

And while we were there, I took this picture because I couldn't get a picture of the rat that was HOPPING across the grass because it was HOPPING too fast.

Those are the Seward Park Houses.  George had been part of the team that had made them happen.  Lots of my friends grew up there.  Laurel still lived there. 

Did I mention the rat was HOPPING?  With a huge piece of something red in its mouth.

You'd take a picture of the sky too.

Here's the thing about sitting on the bench.  Eventually, everyone stops to talk to you. 


Including this couple. AND RUTH.  who had gotten her hair cut in a salon by the bridge on Madison which is why we didn't find her - she just went further than us.  Let's face it.  Ruth goes further than all of us.   But she was tired and she didn't want to go to any documentary film thing but she'd sit on the bench and if they called, then she'd go....

And everybody started talking about so-and-so and the heart attack on Essex Street and they had been together 40 years, two men a real marriage, a good one, he's now in a can in the living room....

Are you getting the His-and-Her's shopping carts? Laurel whispers to me? Are you writing this all down?

Forget it! You could get sued for writing this shit down.  You gotta hide it in a story and call it fiction.

... what? who's gonna ask if he was Jewish or not? They asked? They asked, he didn't lie and now he, I NEVA HEARD OF A SON, how was the broccoli today, how much for the cut? Only $14 but I think he wants me to come back, usually she's open, it's prom season, I paid $18, it adds up with the tint, the shopping cart is from Amazon but look it goes this way that way, he's coming in from New Jersey, you think that pumpkin pie is going to cut itself....

...Just as everyone agreed that the shopping cart was fine even if the front wheels did go this way that way and wild salmon in a can was delicious with a little vinegar and onion.... Ruth finally said, look are they going to interview me for that documentary or what...

....and that's when they said come on by we're ready for you.  And Ruth told them a story about her life and our neighborhood.

Related Posts:

a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 1

a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 2

Sunday Memories: a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 3

 Guest Artist Dana: The Gift That Kept Giving

Sunday Memories: In the Beginning Was the Word

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why Food Reviews from the Lower East Side Shouldn't Be Trusted

I hadn't been in since they renovated.

It was shocking.

Sundried wha? And what was with the subway tile you see everywhere but the subway?

I winced.  I'm not sure why but I did.  All I hoped was that no one I knew would ever give this to me thinking it was a funny present to give to their Jewish friend. 

I wasn't even sure what to think about some of the names.  But somehow the Czar and Bubby on the same menu seemed a bit...?  I mean even I know the song from Fiddler on the Roof where they sing "God Bless and keep the Czar far away from us".  On the other side of the menu board I don't think counts.

The nice, friendly young people behind the counter were very nice and friendly as I told them how ridiculous it all was and could I please have one bialy and a pumpernickel everything bagel which is one new innovation I agreed with?  Because whoever thought of that was a genius.

The sundried tomato one really IS good, the woman said but we're out.

NO! I'm not doing it - that's up there with cinnamon raisin bagels.  NO!

Then I asked if lots of old timers complained about the changes...

Yep. She said.  They also buy a lot.

The bagel and bialy officially lasted not very long. 

I wonder what the rugelach is like.

Kossars.  It looks silly but boy does it all taste delicious.

But I'm still not trying the sundried anything!

At least for now.

Related Posts:

Rare Friendships: Coming Home

Sunday Memories: Along Came Bialy


Sunday, May 22, 2016

This Will Be Her Sunday Memories
Of What Florence Taught Me

It was the annual Dance Parade and everybody came out to celebrate!

Everyone!  (She was like 80 and getting down in between making requests...)

And him?

Nothing was stopping him... nothing...

Not the traffic, not the cops, not the fact he didn't even have a float of his own

You don't need a float when the music is right and everyone is singing and dancing along with you...

But it was her, this little girl who made the parade the parade....

Maybe she didn't know how to read the teeshirts...

...but she danced to what they said.

Related Posts:

Sunday Memories: Gotta Dance

Labor of Love

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Years ago Jeremiah's Vanishing New York a.k.a the Book of Lamentation asked me what I missed most about the tender rubble of New York.  I answered that that was asking a fish at a fish market what it missed about the water.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Doug, Shawn and the Mariner coaxed me into a sea I had only seen in pictures.   And there we saw a city of fish.  All kinds, living in different nooks and crannies of rocks and coral and some weird concrete slabs - I had no idea how those slabs got on the bottom of the ocean but there were lots of fish and even some lobsters that were glad to nestle underneath.

And then I thought about all the fish living in tanks.  Like the little guy I passed so often on my way home who always came up to the glass to look back at me.   I wondered if he missed his city like I missed mine.


Related Posts:

Vanishing New York: Her New York

First In the Eyes of God...
Sailing with Mariner

Monday, May 16, 2016

Same Job, Different Lunch

A lot of men died building the Chrysler Building.  A lot of men died building the city period.  But you'd never know looking the happy go-lucky lot of them eating lunch a million miles above the city.

These days are a little different. Better equipment, tougher regulations, reasonable hours....

...and a lunch you can eat on the ground.

Related Posts:

Men At Lunch

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Memories
In the Beginning Was the Word

All those years yearning for a TV were spent between these bookcases at the Seward Park Library.

Florence, seeking her own escape, parked me by a stack of Charles Addams books and disappeared into another row.   Those pictures were not macabre to me.  Oh no.  They were a glamorous call to adventure.  And perhaps an unsightly end.

Soon I graduated to being old enough to climb the stairs to the children's room on the second floor and books with more words than pictures.  Along with librarians eager to direct me and my friends to explicit and very well illustrated books on the facts of life, there were piles of biographies that taught me famous people like Thomas Edison or Jane Adams had once been a little kid like me.

And soon after that I graduated back down to the the first floor and the young adult corner where, as only it could be on the lower east side, there were shelves and shelves of books on young people surviving or not surviving the holocaust and one about a boy kissing another boy.  Gobbling up those books, three or four at a time, I felt so less alone with the difficulties I faced every day.  Sometimes life hurt and was frightening and confusing. Especially as a kid becoming a teenager.

Those years of curling up in wood and paper on East Broadway were as normal as breathing or walking or dreaming.  I had no interest to write my own book.  Nor did I have dreams of being a writer.  Just like Florence, I loved the relief of an escape, disappearing into a world I wished I could live in or one I was glad I didn't.

Perhaps all those words that poured off the page and into my heart had plans of their own.  Perhaps filling myself so full was what made all those words push into my fingers to tell my own story.  Who knows?

What is known more than fifty years later is that a library is a sacred place.  It holds for us a million stories from around the world, letting us know we are never alone in our experience, and assuring us of other doors to other ways we didn't know about.

And now the Seward Park Library is even more than that.  It is now a place that will hold and protect all the stories we don't write down.  They are collecting oral histories of us lower east siders.

So if you grew up below 14th Street and above the "bottom" and you know you are from the Lower East Side, join in.  Because every story, whether it is on a shelf or one we tell over dinner too many times, could be someone's door to a wonderful escape and other possibilities.

Tell your story and become a "book" for some kid, maybe one just like me, who needs to know about childhoods and challenges and other doors.

The Lower East Side Oral History Project

The Seward Park Branch of the New York Public Library aims to collect audio of memories and stories pertaining to the Lower East Side, including Chinatown, the Bowery, and the East Village. Stories may run 45 minutes to 2 hours long. It's a rather informal procedure, more of an extended story telling than an interview. Interviews may be done individually or as a group. We are hoping to gather stories from all ages, times periods, backgrounds, and outlooks--and you don't have to be a lifelong Lower East Sider to participate!
The stories collected will be a part of the Lower East Side Oral History Project, which will have its place among oral history initiatives throughout New York which the New York Public Library has been collecting for posterity.

Participants will need to sign a release form and have their picture taken, or send a picture they would like to use for the project's website.

To participate, please contact Andrew Fairweather via email ( or telephone (212-477-6770) at the Seward Park Library.

The Seward Park Library
192 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

Related Posts:

Sunday Memories: From that Moment on the World Was Different

I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip

Sunday Memories: Soon to Be a Memory

Unconditional Love, Unconditional Everything

Sunday Memories: Our Children's Stories

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sailing with the Mariner

It's in the wee hours of the morning that, after placing a full cup of coffee by my side of the bed, the sounds of typing fills the quiet. 

He doesn't use his desk computer.  Instead he props his feet up on a chair, puts his laptop on his lap and begins whirling and weaving words into another world.

Like awaking to Florence's morning scales, his soft tapping is music to me. 

Related Posts:

The Buddha Has Left the Building

The Fiery Sky

Sunday Memories: Steinway to Heaven