There are new eyes looking out of Florence's windows. I mentioned that when I was a kid, the trees in the park below always let me know when Spring was coming. The tenant wrote back that she knew Spring was coming by how many more people were walking across the bridge. Oh, have times changed. When we all lived there, no one walked across that bridge.
The trees outside the windows I have lived in for the past 34 years never really tell me anything until it's summer and much too late to get excited. So the heralding of Spring has instead become that roller coaster of volatile weather - hot! cold! warm! cold again!
A chilly walk on 103rd Street the other day changed all that when I saw something I hadn't seen since I was a kid.
Flowers. At least what passed for flowers on the Lower East Side. Spring.
This was before video games. This was before the internet. This was even before James T. Kirk appeared in the horizon on the Starship Enterprise.
And since we didn't have a television, excitement had to be found where ever we could find it and what better place than public transportation. The subway had that front car window, as good as any Coney Island ride. But if you were on a bus, you had both the window and the chance to pull the bell. A ride with sound effects! Couldn't be beat.
Then somewhere along the line they modernized the buses and those long cords begging to be yanked so the bells pealed like a Sunday church disappeared. Now most buses had subtle strips that only rang on the first request, thus sparing the bus driver from going batty from constant dinging all day.
And then today in the middle of a lovely meandering down Fifth Avenue on the M5, I looked up from my window seat only to see a cord. With a little sign:
I didn't know where Florence kept the sugar in our house. And there certainly wasn't any honey. She had been once again ahead of her time, and during the golden era of sugar, fat, and pre-packaged everything we were forced to eat fruit and vegetables and other G-d awful healthy food. Soda and any kind of cake was relegated to Friday night at Gramma Sophie's house in Knickerbocker Village.
But with all my sneaking into friends' homes and oogling the forbidden fruit in their cupboards or at their tables, I fell in love with that little honey bear. It was a toy, it was a bear, it was sweet. It was all the things I yearned for rolled up in one.
Even now, I'd rather have that bear than a pot of organic honey made by bees who each had their own name.
Before it arrived, Florence shopped at the Essex Street Market until it was impossible to do so. Then she switched over to the Fruit Man, Chinatown and the expensive organic place, Commodies but only for the olive oil. Her fridge was filled with pots of healthy salt-free food she hated eating.
I didn't shop at all. My fridge was filled with order-up cartons and very little food resembed anything close to how it started out in this world .
Then Trader Joe's opened. A weekly offering of organic bananas to Florence began along with other exciting little things that for a while made food exciting to her again.
And soon after that I was figuring out how to heat things up without burning down the building and trying out different spreads and sauces on semi-burnt food.
These days, there's rarely any take-out containers in my fridge and most of the food looks like how it arrived on this earth.
It was one thing for Florence to throw out two shopping bags filled with the letters of the woman who had loved her for four decades, or for me and Adrian to chuck into a private garbage truck two huge boxes of shoes and tapes and baby pictures and books left after an ignoble departure by my then-boyfriend.
These banishings offered an illusion that the time it took to heal was somehow faster and lighter.
But what never quite got thrown out were all those other things collected when part of a duo.
* How a good cup of coffee is made.
* Why Frebreze is bad.
* Who's in 'Who's Who's In America'.
* What is needed to shoot a documentary in Uranium City. In winter.
These virtual knick-knacks faded into the background until something, an errant comment or mundane moment illuminated the clutter from past relationships.
At the end, Florence couldn't remember who that woman was. The name meant nothing. But in a desperate attempt to be there for her and with her, the woman sent a little guitar keychain that played little electronic songs until the battery died. At that point Florence just strummed and soon after that, just clutched it, along with the keys to a home she no longer understood.
Other than the rare night when the world suddenly changed, recent news and politics and idealism lived in wireless waves. Perhaps it was my electronic version of Florence's life long love affair with the New York Times, but I sought information alone in front of a variety of screens.
Not sure how this happened, but several phone calls by young, earnest sounding people urged me out of my home and into an apartment on St. Marks place to meet a candidate running for something or other.
I couldn't catch the name and honestly didn't care but the adventure of seeing a stranger's apartment was tempting. Of course it also didn't stop me from considering that I might be walking into a dangerous situation so wearing boots I could fight or run in I headed out with just I.D. on me. Old school habits die slow.
There in a new building that piped Michael Jackson in the elevator, in an apartment with no windows because it was sub-subterranean (and I hope discounted heavily in the rent), a young woman in a fierce black but tailored pants suit told a small group of residents that she was running for Congress and wanted our support.
Reshima Saujani either answered questions bursting with concern (the younger ones) or listened to criticism tinged with nostalgia for the days when demonstrating meant something (the older ones). I offered condolences.
But win, lose or draw, to step out of one's comfort zone and into the fray - be it a stranger's apartment, love or politics - requires strength and courage. And for that, gratitude and thanks for leadership by example is offered.
Perhaps walking down the street or sitting in a diner no one would think we all had great plans and important dreams. After all, all four of us are over 50. We were supposed to have accomplished everything already or given up and been content with what we had.
But that's utter bullshit and stepping out of two hours of committed work to continue our dreams the possibilities were endless.
We literally met on international ground.
Even though she was being just as polite as everyone else, there was something about her that felt very familiar. I, on the other hand, was not just a fish out of water.I was a big fish out of water and a bull in a teeny tiny china shop - pick two - and it was all I could do to sit still and keep my mouth shut so I wouldn't get fired on my first day of work.
But rushing down a sweeping corridor filled with priceless art and important people, out of nowhere she said, "Have you noticed everyone here is so fucking polite?!"
To which all I could say in a flood of relief was, "Oh Thank God. You're a fucking New Yorker!"
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.