Dusk fell and pie was eaten. Hearts, song, music and words wove into four-part revolutionary harmony and we celebrate the birthday of a man who gave his 39 years of life to ensure our country became what it claimed it was.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -- MLK
He remembers not what he said five, ten, fifteen minutes ago. He remembers not what he has to do today or that he just checked his calendar which informs him of every minute task ahead. He remembers not that he has told me several times an hour the same joke, anecdote of someone once famous, or about how his neighbor and he are just friends. He remembers not that he has told me about the cookies and potato chips, the cans of vegetables the packets of coffee and tea. He remembers not the hours of my sister worked to put together a packet of comparison prices and services at two different cemeteries, the many conversations she had with him, the notes sent to him, the changing of his mind from one place to the other even though it was more expensive it was worth it because it was the same place his mom and sister were and he wanted to be near them. He remembers none of this.
So when I remembered for him that the man was coming today to make final his final place of residency and that he would have to write a big check he remembered none of it and stated he might refuse to have anything to do with it.
But when he finally signed the deed of his next home, he remembered the first home - the one he began in, the nice place in Brooklyn before abject poverty and his father's rage crushed the life out of his heart, the kindness out of his brother and the hope out of his sisters. Before that all happened, his family was rich enough to own a phone.
"Dad, what was your phone number in Brooklyn?"
And without missing a beat, he replied, "HAdenway-6781."
And now for the joke:
Three old bubbymeisters are sitting around.
Ethel bursts into tears. "Oy, oy, oy! The other night I got out of bed, put on my hat, my coat, my purse, I went into the kitchen and opened the icebox and I don't know what I was doing. Bessie, this ever happen to you?"
Bessie bursts into tears. "Oy, oy, oy! Me too! The other night I got out of bed, put on my hat, my coat, my purse, I went into the living room, stood on the piano chair, I don't know what I was doing. Gussie, this ever happen to you?"
Gussie drew herself up in her chair and said, "I'm 92 years old. I got my health, my wealth, and thank G-d, I got my mind. Knock wood. (knocks wood). Hello? Come in?"
As single and childless women, we all laughed nervously over pizza and wondered who would take care of us when we could no longer storm out of the house and into our lives on our own steam. Then we stared at this picture hoping that even if we shrank to too-short-for-the-bank-teller's-window, we'd be strong enough to rise as high as she did.
I had to go uptown to some violin lesson or to Schirmers or perhaps to someone's house to play quartets or study theory or meet Louise at her violin lesson or something to do with something that I probably didn't enjoy.
On a piece of scrap paper, Florence detailed exactly what I was to do and how I was to do it. Then she gave me a token.
*Walk to the East Broadway Street entrance.
*Take the uptown F train.
*Be in the back of the train.
*Get off at...
*Walk to the entrance that says...
A couple of trips later, I didn't even need the scrap of paper.
Finally 30 years later I could drift, however temporary it might be, without terror of unemployment, without a frantic search for something or someone to grab onto, without fear of shattering in eviction and homelessness.
Instead, sitting in the front window of a "European" fast food place I pondered the truism "the secret is in the sauce" because the only thing making it possible to chew and swallow the veggie hot dog was the relish, ketchup and mustard.There was such a rare relief of being unanchored in the world.
Then she sat down.
And when she got up I wondered if she too felt a relief or, like me 30 years ago, yearned for an anchor.
Lester grew up in Queens. He was in New York resting from having to live in Switzerland.
We were coming from dinner to go drink at Hazel and Greg's when this car started following us and honking. We thought it was honking at the kebab pushcart. It wasn't. It was Lester's brother, Anthony. He had been driving up 6th Avenue when he saw us.
We kidnapped Anthony and made a bank account of memories for Lester to survive the exile in a much neater and quieter neighborhood where nothing much is said and if it is, it's done on time.
"But don't you want to see my elephant trunk?" "You know what they say in England."
"When I met them they were lesbians."
"On the lips. His wife was going to kick my ass in." "Chris Rock is skinny."
"But I didn't go to Boarding School."
"They're divorcing." "I'll have some fries with that."
"You told him she was the ho?" "Oh look who's talking."
"You never know someone until you live with them." "What's my name?"
"They ask if we kiss. Maybe it's a twin thing." "You want to be my bitch?"
"It's not that easy." "Fuck the trump card. Take it like a man."
"If she has a brothel that's fine." "Don't make it messy."
First a prayer at the Buddhist Center... That's Mrs. Y.'s beads flying. She's 90 and if ever you wanted clarity she's the go-to lady. Everyone stops by her this evening and wishes her a happy new year with the love and adoration reserved only for one considered a Moses in our respective deserts.
Then a rare chicken is prepared to be eaten by the vegetarian. A back-up dish of fake bbq ribs is made just in case the vegetarian can't do it. In the meantime, while food cooks, much wine is prepared...
Long limbs and party shoes, bad carving and juicy bites, texting William, calling Stephen, talking, laughing all become contrapuntal bells ringing until the last bite of ice cream is gone and the tiny left over cake is eaten...
It is now 4:30am. The last drop of many bottles finished, talk of love and loss fills quietly the first new day of a better year. A song slips into thoughts.
Morning has broken, like the first morning Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird Praise for the singing, praise for the morning Praise for the springing fresh from the word
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.