Thursday, April 30, 2009

Home Is Where The Heart Is


Before she lived here, Dany lived uptown when it wasn't fancy fancy. Just kinda fancy. More importantly, she knew her train lines by their proper names, not what color they were.

Then when she was seventeen, she moved in and learned many things about living downtown. More importantly, she knew which ice cream and cake to get when sodden with one too many drinks. That was many, many years ago and drink, ice cream and cake are now infrequent treats, but she still looks seventeen. Annoying, but true.

One day she moved out and became a scientist. This was very surprising to me because I didn't know people who became scientists. I didn't know any girls who became scientists. Writers, yeah. But scientists? I had read a book once about girl scientists. Well, one girl scientist. Great American Women, Chapter Fourteen: Madame Curie. And Curie died on the job.

Dany didn't do that. Instead she fell in love with tidepools, blew up worms, and is now growing tadpoles with two tails. She is going find the cure for cancer or stupidity... one of them. Or maybe something even more important than either of those.

But, more importantly, she still calls this one of her homes. How we began then is how we continue now. And really, after 30 years, that's all that counts. I mean, beside finding the cure for cancer.... or stupidity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taxi


He talked as fast as he drove.

And as we barreled down Fifth Avenue at 1:30 in the morning the history of New York and the art of bowling unfolded through stories of his family and his passion and pride for being one of the best amateurs with 19 consecutive strikes one late night up in the Bronx.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Memories - The Bar: Part Two - I Call Your Name*


When cell phones didn't exist and home answering machines had cassette tapes, when there was no such thing as voice mail, and texting meant typing a letter on a typewriter, this bar's telephone booth was my starship of an attempt to reach out and touch someone. The third martini was my fuel and with a finger swirling I took flight, drunk dialing Florence or my father or errant lovers across the country to tell them all how much I loved them.


*I Call Your Name (The Beatles)

...Oh I can't sleep at night, but just the same I never weep at
Night I call your name, I call your name...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: THE LUNCHEONETTE HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR THE PEN & BRUSH CONTEMPORARY EXPRESSIONS



THANK YOU ALL FOR HELPING ME WITH THIS CONTEST!

PEN AND BRUSH
16 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003

The opening reception for the Contemporary Expressions show will be on Thursday, May 28, from 4:00 to 7:00.

As Time Goes By...


Twelve years of Lombardi pizza (six years in finally admitting I couldn't eat mushrooms), always red wine, tea, tarts and tarot cards and the conversation ages as we do, from workouts and diet to incoming babies to milestones of survival to new love to lost love to elderly parents to great leaps of faith to life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beauty In The Eye of...


Any bar that's a real bar has her over the cash register. This bar has had her there since the 70's and I'm sure my cigarette smoke is part of the layer of grime that coats her.

I don't know if she has a name or if each bar names her themselves. I just know that at 12:09 on a Sunday night, sitting at the bar alone and recapturing the weekend's highs and the lows of perseverance and loneliness, how reassuring it is to see a voluptuous woman command such respect and radiate such beauty.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Memories - Where We All Now Live


What is it about stuff, a friend writes. The haunting of stuff discarded from her mother's house or the boxes of stuff imbued with her soul , what she calls evidence of who she has been, what she has done, now tucked away in her attic.

"I think, if they were gone, I would still be me, wouldn't I?"

I have briefly stop sifting through the remnants of Florence's and her mother Sophie's life because it's like finding the only proof that a once great pyramid stood are three teeny tiny pieces of rubble.

Or this crossroad of our family... not yet metamorphosed into Chinatown by fleeing immigrants... my grandmother, my other grandmother, both my grandfathers, my aunts, my uncles, my father, my mother, my sister, myself walked, often at night, stores closed, conversations murmured, sometimes pork buns eaten from Hoy Hung on Mott Street, that sign is just a teeny tiny piece and if I didn't see it would all that had happened still be remembered?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jutta's Kitchen Meets The Internet

George and Jutta met when they were both quite young, just past teenage-hood but not by much. He was a Jewish refugee from Berlin via Palestine. He came to New York and stayed with his aunt, also a refugee. Jutta's family, Germans, welcomed the refugees into their home, 88th Street or 89th on the Upper West Side, then still a neighborhood of modest incomes and new immigrants. Friendships grew. When WWII started, he enlisted and was part of the troops that liberated a concentration camp.

After the war, new marriages, new homes and new lives separated these two old friends.

Decades passed.

Then Al Gore invented the internet. And one day, fifty years later, Jutta mentioned George's name and wondered if there was a way to find him on the computer. A half-hour search and these two old friends spoke to each other once again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three Decades At Veselka's


At this restaurant I wrote a huge book of miserable poetry, sat at a rickety old table with a milkshake and begged the ex-girlfriend of the artist I was crazy for to explain to me the secret of loving him, stared at the mural artist for decades wondering when he was going to put me in his pictures, and spent years at 3am in the morning staring into coffee and tea cups wondering if art and love was worth it because it all hurt too damn much.

But now billions of minutes later, here a new year, a different medium, an unfolding life that says yes art and love are still worth the effort I invite Joel to try the borscht I needed to eat before I performed, and so I ate that borscht for 10 years, night after night after night.

Joel, in turn shows me new pictures of his new love and the places they visited I have only seen on TV and we machine-gun rapid ideas and concepts and feedback and then even more ideas. We both have our cameras out and snap furiously at each other. And thirty years later love and art are still on the table.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Memories - The Boy Next Door

This is David. He is the son of Dana ("If I Bring Forth What Is Inside Me, What I Bring Forth Will Save Me," March 2009) .

He was my second love, Allan who lived in the building on Broome Street with the Fedder Air Conditioning being my first.

All that was a long time ago as today David is 53.

Still, the heart of my inner four-year-old always jumps up and down when I see him, either on the street, or at his mom's or even at Florence's memorial.

He was the boy who could make me laugh so hard that many liquids poured out of many places on me. I was never sure what exactly we were laughing about. I just knew it was rare laughter and I wanted to drown in it, it made me so happy. He was the boy who could swing upside down on the ladder to his bunk bed, and watch Hitchcock's THE BIRDS without crawling under available big pieces of furniture like I did.

And right before the Paper Bag Players began their show at the Henry Street Settlement Playhouse and I wanted to rush outside to see if my friend was waiting for me on Grand Street, he was the boy who explained what would happen if per chance I tripped on the stairs in the dark just as the curtain rose, and to this day I am not sure how he did it, but my last minute foray clearly was going to lead to the destruction of Planet Earth. Needless to say, I stayed put in my seat, terrified.

Oh but most of all, he was the boy who played Conrad Birdie in BYE BYE BIRDIE at P.S. 110 on Broome Street. When I saw him sing and dance, I almost forgot who the Beatles were.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Leaving Egypt on Maundy Thursday

(picture by Adrian Garcia)

At Sedar we were always urged to leave behind the personal Egypt that enslaved us, be it bad habits or unhappy circumstances. And as we did, to remember all the people in the world struggling to leave whatever Egypt they inhabit, for we could not be free if someone else was still enslaved.

At His last supper, also a sedar, Christ asked the Apostles to love others as He loved them and He washed their feet as an act of love and service.

Eleven years ago at Riverside's Maundy Thursday, it dawned on me I could forgive someone who had hurt me and in doing so leave an Egypt of shame, bitterness, and blame. When I left the unhappiness I had lived in for so long, I found Buddhism.

Every day since offered freedom and liberation even when that seemed furthest from the truth. But it never was furthest from what I sought. Ever. Like the steps the Hebrews took through the desert and the feet Christ washed that night, each moment brought me closer to a promised land. And as I stumbled forward I remembered all those struggling and as I grew closer to freedom, love became the bigger land within my heart.

The road to the banks of the River Jordan was made with sorrow and disappointment but traveled with hope and heart. And on this auspicious anniversary, oh, is the view just so beautiful.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sometimes A Friend Is A Cole Porter Song (or And Now For Something Completely Different)


This is Adrian.

Between the thirty daily emails, the late night visit to a suddenly broken heart, the rapier wit, the crystal clear feedback, the willingness to seek the perfect burger, the leadership by example and the companionship in the constant search that shouldn't be rare but often is, there is nothing left to do but to quote Florence's favorite verse from her favorite song.

You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary,
You're cellophane.


*You're The Top, Cole Porter


(YOU'RE CELLOPHANE WAS FLORENCE'S FAVORITE LINE AND AS WE SANG IT TOGETHER SHE WOULD BURST INTO CACKLING LAUGHTER)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Memories - The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Seven - Try to Remember The Kind of September*

This is the last installment of "The Exhaustion of Diaspora," a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.

***
Where the bikes lived, a dusty smell, the secretary nestled between the two doors, a perfunctory space with no welcome, just function.

Where she washed our hair in the deep sink with Sebulex, a towel wrapped around our hair and faces, her rare joking around with us shouting "headless monsters!," the meals just the kids, a pile of books by our plates, reading allowed at the table, the french toast I made myself during Junior High School 56 lunch period while she pounded her fury at imperfection through Brahms or Chopin or Beethoven.

Where the endless practicing commenced, the naps under the piano as she played, the earliest memory of being too small to get on the couch but climbing and struggling until I got up there, the dancing in front of the window hoping he would see me from the Canarsie train he took home from work, where I crouched by the radio speaker to hear every moment of the Goon Show, where I listened through headphones the reel-to-reel tape of Abby Road so I could imagine another world than the one they screamed at each other, the evening spent with him listening to a Leroy Anderson record while reading the last Doctor Doolittle book and feeling so overwhelmed with grief from the music and the sorrow of the story, never listening to that record for twenty years and never reading that book again.

Where they slept, the smaller room without cross ventilation, a place we could, during days home sick, rest and listen to the children shows on the New York City radio station, where, when he didn't want to hit us, he locked himself in, where I accidentally walked in on them having sex and never being told about birth control immediately assumed I'd have a baby brother and a happy family, a bedroom she left behind and an office she resurrected with her new life.

Where I learned to tuck the shower curtain in after my first shower flooded the floor, where I did homework in the dead of night, ironing my lined paper to make it look old and like it really was Lewis and Clark's diary, where also in the middle of the night, snuck a few more pages of a book I couldn't stop reading, the corner of the house I could drag the old phone into, again in the middle of the night and whisper my 13 year old secrets and pains to my 15 year old boyfriend for hours, where I was potty trained, injured myself, pulled out my baby teeth, had bloody noses, played with matches, smoked their True Blue cigarettes and when I was older, a joint, and where one day when I asked my father if I was pretty only to be told beauty was skin deep, decided right then and there that being as ugly as a dog, I'd better be smart.

Where my sister and I grew, with Snuffy and Willoghby and our own reading lamp we could pull down close to our pillow, and books and records and our own record player, first the little tiny one that played 45's and came in a suitcase, where, while Florence taught students, I listened to Harry Belafonte on my little suitcase record player singing along to Day-O and Matilda, and figured out finally how to make the number 2 the right way, not reversed, the room where terrible things happened, and memory erased only parts of it, the crying, the cowering, the defiance, the withdrawal, the accidental hair cut she insisted on, just a trim but so badly done, she wore it short until the day she died, the room where we grew and finally left because there were other worlds beyond their silences.



*Try To Remember (Jones & Schmidt)


Try to remember
When life was so tender
That no one wept
Except the willow

And if you remember
Then follow

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Six - Home Where My Love Lies Waiting*

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.

***
And so it is time.

There is nothing much left to do.

Outside it pours cold rain.  Inside all boxes meant to be packed have been packed, and all items meant to be left to offer the illusion of home to possible paying habitants have been tucked into our childhood bedroom -- the bedroom Mom moved into after shaking off an unhappy marriage and suffocating life.

(Once settled in our old bedroom, she never slept anywhere else with the exception of two occasions. A brief period on the living room couch when one of us accidentally returned home and one night a year ago returning to her marital bedroom and crawling into our childhood single bed the Home Attendants now slept on.

"This is my home," she said and refused to go back to her own bed. For some reason I was still in the house and gently coaxed her back into the bedroom she had claimed years ago by cooing softly to her "This is where you slept when you were very unhappy. This was a very unhappy place for you. But let's go back to the bed where you are happy. Your happy bed." And holding hands she and I walked back to her own bed where her sorrows and her joys were her own.)

Now what is left of her sorrows and her joys lies in a canister nestled in my big satchel along with little things like left-over sandwich bags and her old mirror that she used to scrutinize her hand technique at her piano. There are numbers on the lid of the can and like any good Jew I think of the concentration camps. The distillation of a person into a number.

Outside the rain is hard and the night dark. I am carrying too much for a bus and besides I have just missed one. Until gentrification, there were no cabs on Grand Street, but with the influx of the new residents buying at market value that clearly has changed because suddenly right in front of me there is a shiny empty taxicab.

As we barrel up Essex Street, I look at the name of the driver. Mr. A. is from Togo. He hasn't been home in five years. It is very difficult being so far away from home, he tells me. But things aren't good there. And here he is studying mathematics at Columbia. But yes it is hard. He misses home.

The way he says home and miss and family shreds what's left of my heart.

As Mom packed up her will to live and her ability to walk, I lost the man I loved, the one I believed I would die with, the home I thought we'd live in, the family I hope would always welcome me. 

Those bad weekday nights and brutal weekend afternoons I'd make myself think of my grandmother at 17 getting on a ship and fleeing to America, never to see her mother or her favorite brother ever again.  And then I’d remind myself, "Who the hell am I to think I am excused from Diaspora? Who the hell am I?"

We leave our homes in boats and planes and taxis and cardboard cans. We leave with hope or in terror. We leave with our hearts broken open or our hearts bursting open. But we leave.

The rain rains. Light skitters across wet streets. Traffic signals change.   Diaspora begins.

*Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel)

 ** 
Related Posts: 
 
The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Four - Hyman


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Five - " It's The Pebble, Not The Stream"*

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.

***



The Blue Sagittarius tile made for Florence by someone named Bonnie:
It lived in the living room for as long as I could remember living with my parents. It now lives in my living room.

The tube with a photo of Florence's graduating class of Julliard:
It was mailed to Monroe Street, when she and my father lived at Knickerbocker Village (pronounced "knickabocka villigsh"). I only found it a couple of years ago. It is going to Louise's.

The metal sculpture of a flutist and cellist from the 1972 Greenwich Village Art Fair:

Our family's version of summer vacations including Louise and I working as Au Pairs to better-off families who could afford beach houses in other parts of the world like the Jersey Shore or Fire Island. I had just finished my first stint for two families, one kid each, sharing a small house. I slept in one of the baby's rooms. I think I made $25 a week. Maybe a bit more but finally coming home and wandering around the fair, I took almost all of the money I had earned from those weeks of wiping baby butts and spent it on this little statute as a gift to Florence. It lived until this Sunday on the window sill of the living room.

The old sewing box:

It held the magic of tiny thin cigarette tins from Mr. Oppenheimer the piano tuner, now filled with straight pins, wonderful piles of buttons each like magic jewels telling a story like the ones I read in Florence's old Lang fairy tale books, and spools and spools of thread. Also in this old wooden box are paper envelopes with threaded needles of black, white, brown and blue thread that I made for Florence when she could no longer thread the needles herself. Louise says, "I remember the day she brought this sewing box home. I thought it was so big." This will now live in Louise's home.


*SOMEONE IN A TREE
(Pacific Overtures, S. Sondheim)

It's the pebble, not the stream.
It's the ripple, not the sea.
Not the building but the beam,
Not the garden but the stone,
Not the treaty house,
Someone in a tree.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Four - Hyman Comes To Visit

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.

***

Signs in all the buildings started with "Furniture for Free..." and ended with "... a bit dusty." Most people come for the furniture and other sundry household and office items. But a couple of them come by to see what Florence had that they didn't have - maybe more rooms, more light, a better view of the Williamsburg Bridge.*

Hyman, still 91 or maybe now 92 years old, comes by to see if there's any furniture left, see if I'd take an old frame down to the garbage along with the all extra stuff left over, but mostly to talk about the broken front lobby door.

"A junkie did it! Only this building. It was a junkie. From the other side of the bridge." he insists.

"No, it was revenge against the board member who lives on the ** floor. That's why it's always this building." I was sure of it.

"Obama, but I don't like he wants to talk to Iran."

"Hyman, dialogue creates peace. War hasn't ever worked out." I don't know what happened in the POW camp he was in but his face goes far away. (OCTOBER, 2008: HYMAN)

"What if they don't wanna talk?" he shoots back

"You talk anyways..."

He changes the subject. They took all the furniture? Did we have any records or tapes? He liked music. I promise to bring him the jazz cassette tapes I had just taken home.

"I got tons of tapes. Here, come on I'll show you."

And for the first time ever, 50 years my family is in this building I go visit Hyman's home and see all his paintings, his real kaleidoscope and his many, many tapes of just about everyone.

He points to his kitchen sideboard. "Gotta paint that."

"Have Jimmy do that."

"Nah. I can do it."

Later, I run into him coming back from a walk carrying a can of paint. Over the shoulder he says, "It was the fire department. They broke the lobby door."

*The painting that Hyman is sitting in front of is a 1950 painting of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Three - Even The Baby Chair Is A Transient Moment

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.

***

Louise had it first but I didn't know that because I was either not born yet or too little to sit up on my own.

I only knew it as my baby chair. After Louise had her own kids, there was a brief moment where Florence said something about giving it to Louise and it was one of the few times I put my foot down and said no, it was my baby chair and I wasn't sharing it with anyone. I think I was in my 40's at the time. So it continued to live by the piano.

Fifty years after it was brought into this house, I folded it up and put it in the corner. I was sending it to Louise's. Even if it did have my name tag on it. And then I looked back and realized just like the picture of Florence and Whoopi visiting...

... this was it. A brief moment that would never happen again.