This is Carolyn. Even though she was forced to grow up in Long Island, she started life in Queens. She's almost 50. She's never been married. She's never had kids.
She's taking a photography class at a very prestigious photography place. Her project? Portraits of other women of age who have never married and never had kids.
Rather than heed some of the suggestions made by some her classmates to take pictures of us looking all sad as we walked by baby stores, Carolyn decided to take pictures of how and what and who we really are.
Each one of us is at our own crossroad, reinventing our lives, rediscovering our talents, re-questioning our priorities. It's called life and, unencumbered by the needs of dependents (which according to many of my married friends includes spouses) we get to spread out into rare unlimited space and find our own answers in our own time.
This is Carolyn's New York and this is what Happy looks like.
There were only a couple of places outside of the apartment's kitchen that we ate in. Maybe a Chinese restaurant once or three times a year. Definitely Chock Full O'Nuts. The luncheonette on the corner of Delancey and Essex for pretzels and a glass of seltzer.
And Katz's. Our meals then were usually kept to hotdogs and tons of water from the water fountain, now a bona fide antique but then just a great water fountain. My dad, at frequent, irregular intervals for decades, would often sang out "Send a salami to your boy in the army". (And when I went to study in China and wrote him begging for deli, he actually did. The Chinese post office refused to let it in the country and it arrived back in New York six months later, completely inedible.)
Once I got my own job and my place and my own money, I expanded into the rest of the menu. Still, after tougher days taking care of Florence, a hotdog from Katz was the only thing that soothed.
On March 25, 1911, Yetta Rosenbaum, a 22 years old woman who lived at 308 East Houston Street, and 19 year old Beckie Neubauer, who lived at 19 Clinton Street, perished, along with 144 other factory workers, mostly young immigrant women, in the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire. CHALK IN MEMORY OF THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE commemorates each worker who died with a chalk memorial at their homes.
One sleepy, chilly early Sunday morning, Joke and I headed down to Houston and Clinton. We chalked, took pictures, spoke to passerbyers and remembered those young women who probably hoped for love and happiness as they struggled to make a living and a home in the New World.
19 Clinton Street, former home of Beckie, now a luxury condo building and yoga studio
* municipal, state, and federal association reforms to ensure better working conditions and worker safety * stronger unions in the garment industry, to bargain on safety and working conditions and to lobby for legislative reforms * founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers in New York City * the New York political machine, Tammany Hall, though with a reputation for corruption, embraced labor reforms * several individuals came to public attention, including Rose Schneiderman, Clara Lemlich, and Francis Perkins (later the first woman appointed to a cabinet position)
One day out of the blue, we learned something more about Florence.
Vicki, in 1956
"I was looking at something on yahoo. This made me curious about my old piano teacher, Florence Moed. So I searched Florence and got your blog! I was so happy that it was the same person who made such an indelible imprint on my early life.
Your mom was my first teacher, when I was 9, at the Williamsburg Settlement in Brooklyn. She had me going from rank beginning to my first Haydn little concerto, in one year. She took a keen interest in my development, so when she took the maternity leave, she insisted I must study with her old teacher, Miss Goren, at Henry Street, and also insisted I study theory there.
So I used to travel from my home in East Flatbush, to the Lower East Side in Manhattan, taking multiple mass transportation every Saturday. Because there was a several hour break between my theory and piano lessons, my routine was to grab a hamburger lunch at the small diner nearby, then go visit your mom. Getting to play duets with your mom (at my advanced age of 10 and 11) was a rare treat, and getting to play with baby Louise was the frosting on the cake! I can't give you much detail about my memories of [Louise's] babyhood, except that she was a sweet girl, and allowed your Mom and me to play our duets undisturbed.
Miss Goren was right on target. I don't remember any warmth or much personal connection, but I do remember a rigorous pursuit of perfection (unattainable to me). When I moved away from New York, I never again found the level of excellence and high standards in music education I had enjoyed at Henry Street. I knew that Miss Goren and other teachers usually taught at Juilliard, and that a poor child like me was extremely lucky to work with them, and pay what we could afford.
We tried to find another "Mrs. Moed" in California. The teacher I did find, Jean Kuhns, was also a lovely lady, who eventually sent me on to her aged teacher, Milan Blanchet (who had studied with BRAHMS as a child!).
My strongest memories were of how extraordinarily kind your mom was to take such interest in a beginning student and especially to invite me into her home every week to visit. Those visits meant more to me than the lessons, as did the years of faithful correspondence. I remember she would advise me about what to study among other things. When I got married, she gave me a subscription to The New Yorker, something she thought no intelligent individual should be without!
Although I have retained my love of music, I switched careers at age 30, ultimately finding more satisfaction in interior design. I love creating artful spaces for people to live in, and introducing them to art.
When I read your blog, it was so interesting to read about those other aspects of your mom. I'm glad your mom remained a fiercely independent woman. My goal was that her daughters should be sure to know about this sweet, generous side of her nature that I had the pleasure of knowing. Teachers may not make a lot of money, but they can make a lot of impact."
And Jupiter, approximately two years old this month, has me.
I did not quite understand this until two years into what promises to be one of my longer relationships, I noticed he had trained me to do the following:
* play with him when he wants to play * not play with him when he doesn't want to play * wake up when he wants me to wake up * cuddle when he wants me to cuddle * feed him what he likes * not feed him what he doesn't like * be polite about his displeasure at me preparing to leave the house * share my popcorn with him * throw the ball and then fetch it for him. Repeatedly. * yes he will go on the kitchen counter and what do you mean not the stove * move the bureau so he can crawl under it * open the curtains * open the window * type with one hand because he needs me to scratch his ear with the other
As the Con Edison Meter Reader Lady said as she stepped over him to get to the meter, "He doesn't have to move. It's his house."
Two years ago, nobody warned me. Now it's too late.
Knowing when Rags was headed out for a walk, Jupiter had trained me to open the door so he could gaze upon his unrequited love.
But today, the weather softer, the days longer and rumbles of urges to linger at trees, Rags, tail wagging cheerfully gave Jupiter the equivalent of a flirtatious shy hello - she followed him into the apartment.
And what did Jupiter do when faced with the possibility of an actual conversation with the dog he loved? What every wooing beau does. He ran in the other direction.
A two-month old Jupiter, then called Jimmy, when he was brought into the shelter with his five brothers and sisters. So sick, they were slotted to be put to death when a friend showed up 45 minutes before it was scheduled, brought them home and nursed them back to health.
Some folks say their pet saved their life. At least a guy on a PBS show said that.
I don't think Jupiter saved my life.
I think he saved me from frostbite seeping into my life and killing off bits and pieces. If it hadn't been for him, I probably would have lived on just fine for years, never noticing that parts of my heart no longer felt.
Peter and Dexter were very nonchalant. After all it was just a couch to them. But for me the idea of once thought immovable history successfully dismantled and drained from my now life was impossible to grasp until after gleeful banging and ripping and pulling apart, the past disintegrated before my eyes and in its place was space where anything could happen.
The last in a series of encore posts and new work from Guest Artist Dana.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
It had been years because the menorah had been up in a closet and Dana couldn't reach it. This year Ping brought it down. The miracle of a helping hand.
Dana couldn't remember if there were candles but Ping found the two boxes Dana had tucked away years ago. Another miracle.
I was able, after weeks of work, to come visit. Miracle!
And then Dana sang the bruchas and for the first time in years, miracles of miracles I got to celebrate the Miracle of Lights.
Of course neither of us could remember the words to Rock Of Ages but the miracle of joy at sharing the holiday together unfolded instead.
Rock Of Ages
Rock of Ages let our song, Praise thy saving power; Thou amidst the raging foes, Wast our shelt'rng tower.
Furious they assailed us, But Thine arm availed us, And Thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us. And Thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.
The Eight Days Of Miracles
Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.
A photo taken of Dana as she read to me this new piece.
Diana was the glamorous girl of our set – slim, elegantly dressed in classically tailored clothes made for city doings. Her soft grey hair was tucked into a black beret and her boots were impeccably polished. Her regal posture was the result of strengthening her back for “la danse”. Ballet was her life until she retired, although she never offered personal details of her own story.
She mainly talked about her dance career and the beauty of attempting to reach perfection. She encouraged the rest of us old gals to constantly exercise in order to maintain our balance and lose weight. As we struggled through our 70’s and 80’s with our canes and walkers, she was a real contrast to us all as well as to herself. Usually dressing in black turtleneck sweaters or white ones, her head looked misplaced. Incorrectly sitting atop a youthful frame, her head seemed to belong to a much older woman. She decided to volunteer at Lincoln Center to accommodate bewildered patrons. Eventually she became eligible herself for unsold seats to musical or dance performances.
Her chief defect was her poor neglected teeth; she had long since lived on a pitiable income requiring her to survive on Social Security checks. Her diet consisted of canned soups and snacks. Like many living so fugally, her beloved orange tabby cat Rothbart, named after the evil conjurer in “Swan Lake”, ate much better. To quell her appetite, Diana ate hard candy. From time to time, each of us would attempt to invite her out to lunch. We usually met for a monthly Chinese lunch to celebrate our various birthdays. When Diana decided to join us, she would order sparingly.
A few months ago, at four in the morning, Dian felt the symptoms of heart attack. She managed to open the front door and lie down in the hallway. Then she rolled over and over until she reached the door of a familiar neighbor who awakened and drove her to Beth Israel Hospital’s Emergency Room. We all began calling the hospital as well as at home trying to find Diana. Jean of our group found her in her hospital room. Diana asked her visit again soon and to bring pen and paper and a small bottle of Chanel #5. Diana also commented on how delightful it was to get three trays of food daily delivered to her beside. She did miss her beloved Rothbart, now housed with her neighbor.
Once again, we lost touch with Diana. Then word came from a co-worker at Lincoln Center who had tried to locate her. “Diana is no more. Probably a follow-up heart attack.” We were all grief-stricken. And we all felt guilt pangs that we had let her languish in the hospital and then didn’t follow up on where she might have gone afterwards. Hospitals in New York City close a case record when the patient is discharged. Germany, on the other hand, keeps a police registry of every citizen’s change of address.
Several friends and I met a month ago to have an impromptu memorial. We talked about our lovely colleague whose passing was unexpected and, of course, foretold our own.
It was almost Christmas when Jean called me to say she had just opened her mailbox and jumped when she saw a letter from Diana. Diana had been in a rehab facility for weeks and had made enough progress to be sent home, blessed home. The mild heart attack healed well but she also had needed surgery to remove a defective toe. In rehab, she had to learn how to use a walker and a cane.
We had been so shaken by the awful news of Diana’s death that we were scarcely able to believe she had returned to our lives again. We almost resented being emotionally rocked for no reason, but decided to marvel at the turn of events and never mention it to Diana. Diana, having located her address book, felt a surge of longing to join her old friends again. She never realized that she had emerged from the chrysalis of an iconic departed ballerina into a newly reborn old woman, just like us.
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.