Twenty-five years ago, we were all in China together. We wrote on thin pieces of paper mailed in pretty envelopes with rarely seen stamps to friends and family who got our news maybe two weeks later and by that time the homesick may have past, a heart may have been broken after notes of hope read, and new adventures had in a foreign language.
Florence always said "sitting down is half the battle."
I never really thought she was sharing, just instructing. Giving me another piece of artist theory like the sight singing she drilled me in or the ear training we did every day until I was a teenager with too much fury to cooperate.
But she wasn't just talking to me. She was talking to herself, cooing at her own terrors and reminding them that once that butt hit the chair the rest would show up. All she had to do was sit down.
"Half the battle is sitting down," I'd murmur to myself as I ran through the city day after day, too frightened to face packed pages while there were friends still awake and meals to eat and second-hand furniture to consider.
Sitting down then came deep in the night when the air was cooler, the streets were quieter and the desperation to not go a day without writing stronger than the desperation to run away. And once the butt hit the chair the rest showed up pouring out of moving fingers while piles of life were discarded or pushed away for other times when sitting was not such a joy.
Sitting and sitting and sitting and one night, deep and late, something was finally finished.
The Hotel Chelsea, during its years as a true haven for artists and their friends, would often accept art work in lieu of rent. The recent looting speaks of something much deeper than paintings being taken off walls by new management. How a society responds to looting is significant of how civilized it is. Just as how "the greatness of a society and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals" (Mahatma Gandhi). Both are expressions of our hearts and souls and our respect for expression and life.
Thieves and butchers only work well in darkness and secrecy. So please help spread this post. To friends, neighbors, fellow artists, family, blogs and bloggers.
The announcement didn't leave the refrigerator until she was deep into grade school and the stains threatened to eat up Bob and Carola's faces.
During toddler years, her finding the volume control on the remote meant any minute we'd hear a blast of 'Talking Heads' or some TV show. "YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF..." always reminds me of her. Just those words. At full volume.
Sax lessons were sweet to listen to. She had some swing. Then she switched to piano. Her recital at Third Street Music I kvelled the whole piece through.
Woman Nina Now, while her folks are at a wedding, we hang out and watch PARENTHOOD, drink beer, eat Chinese food and talk about Lautrec and biology and having kids and gossip about the actors and the transferring of credit and all the while cliches whirled in my head and occasionally leaked out making me sound like every old lady on the lower east side.
It was left in the apartment early on, I think in the 70's. Otis brought it up to fix something or maybe I borrowed it. But it remained after he left.
A hulking presence - like a six year old boy who didn't understand why he was 6'8" when all the other kids in kindergarten were kids size - this ladder moved from corner to corner in the odd shaped hall, never quite blending into the wall, but still becoming part of the scenary.
However, its height was necessary in an old apartment of ceilings beyond reach and so it hulked about. At some point its rungs held the excessive number of shopping bags I felt were too pretty to throw away, but too pretty to use.
It was used maybe a couple of times a year when a bulb had to be replaced or the even rarer event of changing a light fixture. It didn't matter what you were using it for. The minute you stepped on it it wobbled and swayed, even if you were on the lowest rung. Only Joni had the presence of balance to meander about on the very top.
As space within and without opened and an old home cleared for new welcomes, this ladder, covered with history from before I moved in 35 years ago, was quietly taken to a storage closet, my name now taped to it. No one, but me, would remember it had once been Otis's.
Cuz Patty needed deli and she only had a few days in New York.
Deli is in her blood. She comes from the same grandparents I come from, the ones on the Lower East Side surviving diaspora and poverty, domestic violence and disease.
Where she lives now, pastrami comes in plastic and is served with mayo on white bread. And the only blintzes in a ten mile radius is frozen and made of tofu.
So in 100 degree weather, we trekked to the Second Avenue Deli which used to be on 10th and 2nd but the landlord raised the rent and now it's on 33rd and 3rd and the minute we walked in we smelled the smells of food we knew like we knew the names of our ancestors.
Vacations were for other people. For us, summer was a stand-off between our need to have something to do during the day and our parents’ need to not have to think about it. Everything really worked much better when we were at school. He was at work and she was at the piano.
Time stops for no man or pianist for that matter and neither do the seasons. Summer came. Repeatedly.
I am not sure when it started and when it ended - it didn’t last long - but for a couple of years, Atlantic City became our Riviera. And with the recent purchase of a car needed to get my father to his job out on Long Island, it was suddenly accessible.
The exotic motel we stayed at had an ice machine - the push of a lever and a cascade of perfectly formed ice cubes tumbled down - not the bitterly small, thin ones we made in aluminum trays. And right below our small balcony was a real swimming pool - not the huge ocean of Pitt Street Pool, but small and shallow enough to paddle across and splash about. It even had a fancy swirling shape. It was DESIGNED like from out of a Jacque Tati movie.
Those few days in such a luxurious setting - whatever was or wasn’t happening in this family didn’t matter - there were things to delight in - the beautifulness of the old boarding houses and cheap motels pushing the battered boardwalk into the sea, all the salt-water taffy stands in every flavor in the world, all the magic peelers transforming radishes into flowers.
The beaches were clean like the Beatle’s movie HELP, not a cigarette or empty beer bottle in sight. And the wonderful waves didn’t smell bad. And the big seafood restaurant had fancy chowder crackers in beautiful little seashell shapes. Beat the penny pretzel we got on Delancey Street any day, hands down.
The four of us in one room, two beds, no memory of how my sister and I negotiated sudden close space but we slept not missing the familiar rumble of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Time stops for no man and no family either. We all moved out to other worlds, leaving Florence behind in the former home of the family. Not sure what my sister or my father did for their summer vacation, but Florence’s became day trips to Coney and, in between shit jobs, I worked for room and board in a fancy commune upstate.
And soon after, Atlantic City got torn down and shiny casino hotels we could have never afforded took the place of those old motels and boarding houses.
Still, there was an unexpected silver lining. Searching for eager gamblers who didn’t drive, the casinos sent buses to the Lower East Side with an offer hard to refuse - take our free bus to our fancy shiny casino hotel and we’ll give you $10 to gamble.
Surrounded by shabby men of all sizes, religions, races and cigarette brands, Florence, bathing suit under her jeans, beach towel in hand, grabbed that free trip to Atlantic City - $10 to splurge on a cold beer and a sandwich she didn’t have to cook? Now that was a vacation.
What drives people to examine their society and question the status quo?
As events in France brought the French Revolution to its climax, many people, particularly members of the Church, the Monarchy and the Aristocracy, blamed the ideas of the Enlightenment on the turbulent events.
But our very own Republic, the United States of America, emerged in the last quarter of the 18th century because of Enlightenment ideas.
So what were these “powerful” ideas that coalesced over a century of trans-national discussions and debates? When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” the fact was nothing could have been less evident. This idea would have been as foreign to the man standing behind the plow as to the man who called himself a lord or duke.
Jefferson was sending up a test balloon within his 18th century society. Given the current events in the United States, the hostility, the polarization and anger… I wonder whether Jefferson’s test balloon would have survived long. Today American policy often seems confused. So let’s review some of the key ideas from which modern European and American society emerged. It’s time for Americans to En-lighten-up!
And what better place to start than with a 17th century Dutch masterpiece, painted in 1650, by Emanuel de Witte. As the title indicates “Interior of the Oude Kerk, Delft,” it portrays the interior of an old church, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. The scene celebrates Holland’s new-found freedom from Spain and Catholic rule. The bigger picture reveals that the Dutch had begun to define society in terms of the individual, and human achievement on earth. The emphasis was placed on science and commerce. It was now incumbent on each citizen to educate him or her self, and to participate in local politic. The Dutch participated in their society as equals.
Three separate scenes in this painting celebrate this spirit. First, this is a church yet there seems to be no opulent ceremonies. The space has been transformed into a town square. Two boys scribble graffiti on a column. Two men are engrossed in conversation, while a woman with a small child, holding a straw baskets, stops to greet a man. All the while, a dog is running and barking while the other dog stops, raises his leg near a column base and pees.
How does this scene encapsulate Enlightenment principles? Because, first and foremost, the focus is on the individual, individuals (men and woman) who were meeting together as equals, to discuss earthly matters. Information and education were now essential. Following these principles, the Dutch championed the free exchange of ideas within a State that was separate from the Church and became known for their freedom of speech and press. This, for the United Provinces and the first Republic on the continent was a golden time.
And so followed such a time for the United States of America and for France... and perhaps now for all countries throughout the world.
My parents were swept up in the events during the 1950's that led to Algerian independence from France. I was born in Paris in the late 1960’s.
My childhood was spent in Algiers during a time of great optimism when the country played host to all major third-world independence movements, including the Black Panthers from Oakland, California, and when there was faith that colonialism would end, poverty and racism would end, and that peoples all over the world would hold their destinies in their own hands.
A Brooklyn girl since teenagehood, I have a Master’s in Art History and a Master's in Modern European History with a special focus on understanding the ideas that brought about the French Revolution, the mother of all Revolutions.
DOUG RAISED $146 FOR THE SALK INSTITUTE FOR CANCER RESEARCH!!!!!
Dear Friends at The Salk Institute,
Last night, I hosted a party for my birthday and, in lieu of presents, we asked for donations to The Salk Institute in memory of Carrie Hamilton. We love Carol Burnett, whose humor has helped us through the best and most challenging parts of our lives. We're choosing to show our gratitude to her by sending this contribution to your institute, which took such good care of her daughter. Thank you for all you do.
Have a well-lived day,
*** Happy Birthday, Doug!!! And thank you so so so much for joining the world-wide movement to say thank you to Carol Burnett, raise money for organizations Ms. Burnett supports and have fun and joy at a party!!!!!!
Click on any highlighted word and learn more about Doug and about the Fun and Joy Movement!
She is the rare bright moment in a long, bad memory.
Florence had just gotten sick and days and weeks were scrambled into bloody battles of panic and fear that felt like driving down a treacherous mountain road in a hurricane with your eyes closed.
Somehow in the midst of our lives shattering, I got out for a free evening. I remembered I wore something pretty and even took a pretty handbag. I was determined to reclaim some part of something called 'hope' or 'I do have a life' or anything but what I did day in and day out.
There was a barbecue/fundraiser for some radical literary magazine in the backyard of some one's 20-something street studio apartment. The old school of writers were there and many were old. I knew no one except one person and she was busy either panicking about the reading or honing in potential sources of nourishment both living and dead.
In my rush to wear different clothes than the ones I wore taking care of Florence, I had forgotten how much I hated parties and how painfully inept I was at speaking to strangers.
I grabbed a soda and out of the corner of my eye saw a woman so open and self-confident, she seriously had it going on. I thought "she's the coolest person here." But couldn't ever imagine getting to know her. She was, in friends-ville, out of my league.
I decided to be zen-like in the hell I suddenly found myself in. I sat down on a rock in the tiny backyard and pretended to just be. How or why she sat down next to me I don't know but sometimes the universe is kind.
It wasn't just the flattery that she knew my work or even liked it. It wasn't just the delight in finding a writer who could carry on a conversation about writing with enthusiasm and clarity. It wasn't just the surprise of hearing interesting ideas about cowboys and westerns and all that American stuff I was clueless about. It was the delight and joy of finding unexpected connection in a time nothing connected.
Years later, she had a barbecue in her own backyard. All the worst things that could have happened since that day have happened. But one or two really wonderful things have happened as well.
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.