Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Memories: Loneliness

Over the olives before the dinner, she said, "wait say that again about loneliness..."

Loneliness wasn't like a top-40 song sung in the 60's by a waif-like boy walking along British puddles while every waif-like girl watching that little movie screeched forward profoundly sure she was the one who could make it all better, if only she could walk with him.  Besides, that boy was getting a lot of action being so forlorn, no way he'd give up that easy way to get laid.

No.   Loneliness was more like how Florence and I had both traversed our city the same way; walking through life, going from bed to job to dinner table to the familiar sidewalk towards the familiar brick apartment building, at each stop sparkling out charm and entertaining conversation, but in between visits all these tiny corners appearing out of darkness, offering space for everything we did not, could not say.

"Wait, explain that..." he said over meat and rice and salad and wine.

Well, breaking karmic chains was making sure Florence's grief would end, end with me and perhaps with the younger ones or maybe with anyone.  It didn't matter she was dead.  That never mattered.  So often we were just emotional sound loops of our parents' secrets.   Who were loops of theirs and theirs and theirs and...

It was like quitting smoking, quitting loneliness was.  Putting it down slowly, over and over again; each day, instead of a secret silence,  now filled with words said out loud in bed, at jobs, over dinner, on the familiar sidewalk towards the familiar brick apartment building until one day all those dark corners were just visual echos of everything we had not, could not have said and loneliness was just a memory.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ghosts of Christmas Past

When a friend got knifed to death, I got off the messengering bike, put on a skirt, a real bra, clean shirt, snappy beret and hit the many employment agencies on Fifth Avenue in the forties.  It was too hard to pedal  in midtown traffic when everything hurt so much inside.

It was 1977 and entry-level jobs could be found if you showed up to plastic chaired florescent testing rooms with battered typewriters and sharpened pencils.  I found out I was good at adding and subtracting, but sloppy on accuracy when retyping the paragraph about the brown fox that was quick.

An index card with a company's name got pulled out, a call got made and I entered these doors to be interviewed by a man whose eyes never left my breasts.

Finally, off the housekeeping-housecleaning-bikemessengering-babysitting route, I got to sit down and sit still in order to make money.

The other night, Christmas in full bloom, wandering during a work recess of a job I sit down for, weaving in and out ice skating and cute shops, the Mariner and I bumped into these doors, barely unchanged from almost forty years ago.

So hard to remember one day to the next, the word winter, or the fact I had seen one of my favorite documentaries with a good friend.  But standing at these doors, I remembered the 8 a.m. hustle of many girls in many heels, much perfume, tons of makeup and me waiting to enter elevators that rode us to jobs we sat down for.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012


While recovery begins from flus and jobs....originally posted December 19, 2010

On our side of the Williamsburg Bridge there were barely any electric menorahs in our windows.  Our menorahs, old brass or faux silver with blue inlays to represent Israel, lived on tables and had old melted candles of muted colors, candles bought in the same blue box made by the same company from any store on the Lower East Side.

So it was the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge that every year as it got colder and colder I would watch carefully.  There, the tall projects would burst, window by window, into brilliant colored lights rarely seen in the homes I knew.  I counted them, like counting flowers in a garden.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Encore-Sunday Memories: Visiting Santa

Originally posted on Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why my Jewish parents did this or what they were thinking will forever remain a mystery.

Every year when the blinking lights went up and the store windows filled with moving animals, toys and people, my mother and father, my sister and me would leave the lower east side where nary a Christmas tree could be found and head to Macy's to look at all the Christmas decorations.

In those days, the corner window squeezed in between the Nedicks doors had a special Santa throne. We would wait in the freezing cold and then he'd suddenly appear out of the chimney or a beautifully wrapped box and the crowd would go wild as he waved through thick glass that blocked the sound of our cheering or his 'ho ho ho's.

He also lived on the 8th or 9th floor in Santaland. We may have visited him on more than one occasion but I only remember this one time.

I was in fifth grade and it was not going well. Especially math. I was worried. My father, I think, brought me up to Santaland which for some strange reason was almost deserted. I didn't quite get the "ask Santa for presents" deal. I knew it was my dad or my mom who produced the eight days of Chanukah presents. And our God which we never discussed was busy with plagues and lion dens and Israel.

I was kinda big to be climbing onto Santa's lap, but desperate times call for desperate acts. There was only one thing I really wanted that couldn't be gotten anywhere except from someone who made happy dreams come true.

I perched my ten year old self on his knee, and when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him. I want to pass math.

It recently occurred to me, 40 plus years later, that maybe he didn't hear many requests like that. At the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable. Passing math was beyond my own abilities, asking my parents for help was beyond theirs and our God was busy with more important things. It was going to have to be up to Santa.

As if it had already happened, he decreed, "You'll pass math."

And so it came to pass that when fifth grade ended many months later, I had passed math.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Traces of Love

In the world we called our own, this is where we stood before heading off to Coney.

The Delancy Street stop is now all fancy and cleaned up.  But, East Broadway still looks like home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Miracle on Grand Street

It wasn't just the miracle of the 8th day, when the oil surprised everyone and didn't run out.

It was also the miracle of family, friends, neighbors and strangers who ran up and down 11 or 21 flights of stairs, bringing food and water during storm days and making sure light stayed the course, just like the oil did, all those years ago.


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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Memories: In Between the Cracks...

... stories were told...


...the elegant 80-something asking the drunk Santa-boys why weren't they doing something more valuable than standing online to get into a bar and drink more?  There were children in the world who needed help why weren't they helping...  The bouncer called "next 10!' and the drunk Santa-boys rushed in.

She asked me if the pierogi ladies were still there and did I remember Leshkos?  Everyone went there she said, everyone.  Limousines, homeless, everybody.  Everybody was welcomed.  Leshkos was gone but the pierogi ladies were still there.  I told her when the ladies tried to raise their prices the  neighborhood revolted.  They don't care if they raise our rent, but get upset about pierogis? she said as she headed in to eat.


...the woman selling her belongings outside her apartment. "We are moving to Edinborough.  We can't bear what's happening to New Yor..."  A drunk Santa with a drunk Santa girl wearing barely any Santa clothes staggered by.  "More drunk Santas," the woman sighed.  "Not too drunk," the young barely dressed Santa slurred.   Quality of life was better in Scotland, better for children, the woman went on, speaking Portuguese to her daughter to not interrupt or where was her book or no no more computer games.  Better for artists, too, I said.  Are you an artist, I asked the daughter.  Yes. And then the mother said, She's a good one.


...all of us, gathering as we always do once a year, unfurling stories of once upon a normal life on the Avenue we lived in between painters and writers and journalists and shoemakers and daily lives that  then became stories unheard of in between the drunken noise of screaming santas.


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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Festival of Lights

If you can't find candles, the city can become a menorah 

 found in corners that witness small miracles

coaxed forward through darkness 

and those unbearable unknowns that often travels with struggles

so you can finally see home and the delight of


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Memories Encore: A Table of Thanks

Originally post November 23, 2008, that dinner had been the first one given in years, those friends the first invited in after everything once considered permanent had left, either suddenly or very slowly or both.  

That November dinner heralded a personal spring - the beginning of new times and new adventures.  

Last night, still dancing through ideas and words at 2:30 a.m.,  even though the meal was almost identical, the delight of discovery was more wonderful than ever, as was the gratitude that, indeed, from the ashes, a flock of phoenixes always rise.

(Tonight's menu, besides the ubiquitous chicken, brown rice, salad and bread, included a spectacular guacamole, nuts, smoked mozzarella from Russo's, pastries from di Robertis, chips chips chips, and the Mariner's adventure, once again, into sweet potatoes.)

Over the last couple of decades the meal has pretty much stayed the same because I really can't cook anything else. Chicken, salad, bread, maybe some yams if I remember not to burn them, whatever dishes and dessert others contribute... (Tonight's menu: hard salami, cheese, ratatouille, fondue, snap peas, tiramisu, chocolate and better wine than the ones I got at Trader Joe's...)

But the saving grace of my bad cooking has been twenty-five years of the utter luck of having wonderful friends who come and sit and eat and laugh and talk and drink and share and argue and love and celebrate absolutely nothing except a rare night where all of the above can happen.


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Art Is Where The Home Is

It was on top of the garbage bags in front of a Lexington apartment building.

Not the interesting brownstone-ish kind or the super modern luxury glass towers that got tax breaks to get built, but you had to be filthy rich to live in.

It was one of those maybe 1960s white brick 12 or 16-story boxes where very well-paid people, who offered very expensive services to very rich people on the upper east side, once lived in.  Maybe still did.  Hard to tell.

Seemed like now there were lots of designer outfits flitting in and out and perhaps a lot of them were sharing three to a one bedroom just for the chance to live in Manhattan and work a low-paying job at a glamous office, like a PR firm for exciting hot new restaurants or the Met Museum.

Carolyn, who maybe painted this for a high school art class, had printed her name on the back. The Chair and the little chair with the real piece of frame around it and inside that a picture of an even  littlier chair and inside that...

I wondered if somewhere in this bland building stuffed with thin, young women and buff-young men, there was an apartment where Carolyn got to grow up and tall in and got to, one day, paint the sunny corner that welcomed someone to sit down and be home.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Returning To An Old Embrace, We Suddenly Gathered

Sharon Jane doesn't have a cell or a computer. 

No. She let us all know the old fashion way. She picked up her old landline and called all of our old landlines.

"Come celebrate Diana's life."

So, in the cool of a Monday evening - the night a theatre is dark - we gathered.

Faces still singing our selves from twenty-five, thirty years ago, we sat around pieces of the old willow tree from Avenue B and 6th Street, felled by Hurricane Sandy.

Took turns wearing chiffon arms from a beloved drag queen, and sent stories dancing around the circle, each one describing a part of the journey Diana - tall, strapping, big, strong, ferocious, independent - invited us on in brief moments and long months.

Mesmorizing us with wood chopping at a variety night,

Lending her truck, no questions asked.

Punching out the annoying wind chimes so she could hear a nature's night,

Dancing full out like she was the whole ballet. And she was.

That grin.

Then the accident and refusing refusing refusing her injuries she would push herself in that wheelchair backward down and up Second Avenue she would be who she was she would return the videos to Blockbusters on 9th Street she would.

And even though she wasn't supposed to, still driving her pickup, and even though she couldn't like she could before, driving her soul, her life, her story, her words, her determination and one night down 5th Street a big-ass truck, shouting to Sharon Jane I'm chucking my storage.

We gathered around the space she left in our heart.

Then, suddenly looking up, there she was, right in our midst.  Telling a story, driving her life, dancing full out.

That grin.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sunday Memories: Upstairs Downstairs

Florence worked at Grosingers, that we knew.  There was a story of her almost getting fired for bringing a glass of milk to a little girl in the meat dining room.  One version has Mr. Grosingers himself chasing her around the kitchen with a knife.  There was another story of her giving a New York taxicab driver her savings to bring to her mother on Hester Street.  Needless to say, it never got there.

She may have also worked at the Youngs Gap Hotel in Parksville and the Flagler in South Fallsburg - Flagler's postcard says it's a country club with a golf course and wooded trails to ride horses on.  I didn't meet people who rode horses until I was a teenager, hanging about a rich new age commune.  I didn't meet anyone who played golf until I was almost 30.

Working at these places Florence wore the starched white collar, black dress of a waitress, not a pianist,   That's her, left side, lower corner, her chin resting on her hand.

Did any of the people she served, did any of them see her? Did any of them know that, despite the dishonest cabdriver, she was able to save up enough to purchase her own Steinway?  Did any of them know her playing would one day be described as brilliant, presented in a vivid color and compelling rhythmic force, or that her Chopin demonstrated an affinity with the composer?

She never, to my knowledge, ever got to stay in places like this.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


It can happens almost anywhere.

It can start with "help me" or "how?"

It can end with "show me" or "let me reveal."

It can be done alone or with friends and often it happens with strangers.

And every once in a while, when telling a heart's story, all those prayers come together in a single moment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flying High Now

He used to fly fighter planes.

"Like this?"

"No! That's an M15..."

"I flew an Italian..."

And then he started talking about planes... well... like the way I talk about bags.

Or boots...

Like the boots he wore when he flew all those big planes.

Which are just like the ones he wears now, as he flies words that zoom around the world.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Memories: Of Light and Night

In evenings of late fall, Florence would sallie forth with one or both of us in hand, head over to the Delancy Street or East Broadway stop, and take the F up to Herald Square.

We'd step into a familiar world that was awake and bursting around Macy's, and those carts really did smell of roasting chestnuts and hot crispy pretzels.

No matter how far or close to Christmas it was, nothing felt frantic.  It was more like we were all part of the season's lights and we got to dance and sway through the darkness.

There are still brief moments like that, one unexpected near Carmine Street as we avoided shopping crowds and had hot chocolate instead.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012


Originally Posted November 26, 2009

This really happened.

It was right before Thanksgiving and like a billion other people, my friend ordered dessert from Veniero's on 11th Street to bring to the family gathering in Pound Ridge. It was probably pumpkin pie, or pastiero di grano or maybe even a cheesecake with little cannolis on top.

This woman is very attractive and she is over 30. Maybe even over 40 but her seamless attractiveness is elegant and well appointed. Oprah's makeover couldn't improve on her classic outfits, highlighted with tasteful touches of contemporary accessories.

So... as she waited on the long line she grew a bit tired. Noticing a bunch of round tables stacked along the wall, she sidled up to one and gently, as only elegance and class could, sat down.

The woman behind her, generously described as perhaps not very attractive and very unhappy about not being attractive, snapped I'M IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SITTING ON A TABLE. My friend politely pointed out that these were tables being stored, not being used for service. At that point the counter guy called "Next." Which was my friend.

YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE A NUMBER yelled the Unhappy Woman. My friend pointed out that not only did she have a number, she had the one they were calling and off she went to pick up the family dessert. Turning to leave she came face to face with the Unhappy Woman who then... punched her.

"Why'd you do that?" the counterman asked.

My friend quickly left and joined her husband in their car. As she began to tell him what just happened, the Unhappy Woman ran out of Veniero's and began yelling at the car. Windows rolled up and doors locked, her husband began to drive away. My friend pleaded for her husband to go slow because all they needed was for him to run over the foot of the Unhappy Woman as she followed the car down 11th Street yelling things at them.

That Thanksgiving Dinner the dessert was brought out to many ooos and ahhs.

"We almost died for this cake," the husband said.

A brief discussion ensued. Did the Unhappy Woman attack my friend because she was Asian? Did she attack my friend because she was Asian AND pretty? Or was this Unhappy Woman just basically nuts?

Nothing was decided. So they ate the cake.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Inside Job

After many fingers on every hand got tired of pointing with iron-clad facts, and friends' faces got that polite look, it was time to shut up and walk.

To light and then the light above it.

To a road, however dark and lonely, if only to remember the difference between what quiet sounds like and the ridiculous noise in my head. And also to remember to NOT argue with someone who is NOT there. (Which pisses me off because when they are not there, I win the argument.)

To a chair where my ass belongs so I can hear something greater than the argument I only win with others when they aren't there.

And then back to the world, where I get to see lots of shoes worn thin from walking the walk, not talking the talk.

You can't talk peace. You can only walk it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Memories: These Are The Foods Of Our Gods

Twinkies may have been for the masses, but we only ate the orange cupcakes and the pink snoballs.  Once-a-week. Friday night.  At Gramma's house.   Watching TV.   With a C&C cola.

One of my sister's early memory was her, one Friday night, putting her foot down and saying she was going to have a whole packet of snoballs by herself.  No more splitting it with me.  Which was fine because that meant I got the orange cupcakes all to myself.

I continued to eat snoballs and orange cupcakes through way too many nights of loneliness, drunkenness and bad, bad TV.  Then I got a life, learned to love fruit and cardio workouts.  The foods of Gramma's fell by the wayside.

Years later, during a particularly gruesome series of doctor visits (that included Florence collapsing on a frigid winter street as we waved frantically at off-duty cabs) Louise ran out to get medicine while I stayed behind in the examination room.  She returns with the medicine and one packet of snoballs.   We shared them.

Then the news came that the factory was shutting down.

I hit every deli and supermarket I could.  But there wasn't a bright-pink-looks-like-a-tit or orange-frosting-as-pliable-as-gumby cake to be found.  Nobody had a thing, hadn't for a long time or didn't even know what I was talking about.

My city, in its quest for quality baked goods had filled its shelves with organic or gourmet ingredients, and had erased from its landscape recognizable foods.  Just as it had the bookstores, the mom&pops, the shoemakers, the bodegas, the services we needed, the stores we depended on, the neighbors we knew...

Finally, I went into a 7-11.  The woman behind the counter said, "you better hurry, we're almost out."

The minute I took a bite...

I was 'home'.  Me, Gramma, Louise, Friday night TV.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Same War, Different Day

The sink at P.S. 110

This is where the teacher bent my head over and washed the blood pouring out of my nose off my face.  It was just another fist fight I didn't lose.

You'd think I'd get tired of staring into that white porcelain and rusty drain. 

But, I couldn't give up the hope that one of my punches would set things right.

Never did.

Then I got older. I kept punching, but now with blaming and complaining words.

You'd think I'd get tired of pointing fingers at people as I watched them head off to their dreams and I stayed behind.

But, I couldn't give up the hope that if I complained loud enough, my life would unfold.

Never happened.

Then, after I got older older, I noticed I wasn't punching, I wasn't complaining.  But I was judging - just very very quietly.

You'd think I'd get tired of the raging noise inside my head

But, I couldn't give up the hope that one day my silent tantrums would make a difference.

It did.  It almost destroyed me.

It dawned on me that I had fought the same war with my fists and my words and my thoughts and it was still going on.  The only difference between that sink at P.S. 110 and the days I lived now was my bones creaked when I bent over and, instead of fantasizing about candy and the boy next door, I dreamed of long-term health insurance.

War, in all its incarnations, hadn't brought much  of anything to anyone, including and especially myself.

With what time is left, why not, why not wean off the fists the complaints the judgement wean off the noise the tantrums the expectation of a blow wean off and then perhaps have space space to wonder at why on earth any of us are here and maybe if there was something delicious to eat and someone even more delicious to kiss.

Sunday Memories: Matthew 26.52
"... all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword..."

Sunday Memories: When We Could Still Cry In The Middle Of A Fist Fight

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tales From A Hard Day's Night: Mieux La Chance, Que L'Address (Better Luck Than Skill)

The last of a brief series on one October week in Her New York's.  

We opened at the end.  

We close at the beginning. 

I had prepared.  Just In Case.

Batteries, two transistor radios, two flashlights, kitchen matches and Jade Mountain match books.  Many yahrzeit candles.
The old rotary cooper-wiring landline phone plugged in and operating.

The gas stove from the 1940s cooking.  With gas. And since we were a short building, with water for coffee or tea or hard boiled eggs.

I had prepared.  Just In Case. 

Then Just In Case happened.

I was prepared.

But there was no way I could have prepared for the luck of love and friendship unfolding evenings  into storytelling and quiet conversation.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tales From A Hard Day's Night: Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?

A brief series on one October week in Her New York's.  Doris Day didn't show up.  But the rest of us did.

Some went door to door, checking on those who were a bit older (but only by a couple of years) just to make sure flashlights had batteries and the ancient landlines were working.

Still, others gathered around the coffee cake that was supposed to have headed to the West Village that day, but now needed to be eaten before it went bad.  

Which could have been at any minute so we ate almost all of it.

A couple of us ventured out to charge at a friend's the many gadgets  essential to our lives and send out important emails and information, but lets face it, we were all on facebook within 10 minutes. 

It was the travel back that stunned us.  Not that we had just seen lights and had internet access for the first time in days , but that, as we headed home out of the land of the power,  before us rose a wall of visual silence.

Finally home in that stunned darkness, the candles got lit, and many dusty bottles that had been hanging around high shelves in many apartments got plunked down and opened, just to see how many had turned into rubbing alcohol.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tales From A Hard Day's Night: Darkest Before The Dawn

A brief series on one October week in Her New York's. Another day without power calls for tough decisions and tougher actions. Cooking.

Even with our Olympic-like speeds of opening and closing the refrigerator,  the food was headed to bad.

So everything that still could be was cooked or baked.  Of course, burning guaranteed anything icky would die.  It also guaranteed a visit from a worried neighbor that on top of everything else there had been another fire.

Burnt brownies are, in fact, quite tasty.

With bowls and pots and extra bottles of wine, we gathered upstairs before evening fell in the staircase. What seemed like just minutes later the sky was pitch black, our faces were flushed with wine and all the food had been eaten.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tales From A Hard Day's Night: The Light At The End Of The...

A brief series on one October week in Her New York's. We open at the end.

Seven days and a couple of hours after the storm beat up families, homes and neighborhoods, furious walls of water filled streets, and the Con Edison power station exploded the city into darkness, the world not only lit up with electricity.  It lit up with hope and relief.

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