I had just finished typing the period at the end of that first sentence when we heard an explosion and the power disappeared. Thank you to El for her hospitality today so that we could all plug in and turn on.
It was Monday. Figuring streets would be quiet and stores closed, we took a walk.
The Open Pantry was open. Why wouldn't it be? was Themis's shrug of an answer. The Pantry had weathered the East Village for the last four decades. It was always open, come rain, come shine, come anything. "Come back and take a picture when Pete is here," Themis said.
Themis and Jose
The Stage was packed, not a seat in the house, everyone storing up on pre-storm pierogi, cutlets and burgers.
So an emergency smoked mozzarella from Russo's was the next best thing, catching up on medical procedures and gossip about customers who were always surprised they could swing by later and pay if they didn't have enough cash on them. Any gluten-free pasta in the future? A sigh, and then "No. Just dried pasta". I stared at the refrigerator case filled with the best ravioli, tortelli, and spaghetti in the world.
Once upon a time some filmmaker believed himself to be the purveyor of Lower East Sider-ville. He mistakenly dismissed me as someone who grew up in a nice middle-class neighborhood like the one he had left behind - which is why he shaved his head and wore dirty clothes and cried poor all the time - constantly trying to put distance between his real history and the people to whom he deigned to speak.
He was surprised to find out in a rare conversation he accidentally had with me that, in fact, I grew up on the streets he had claimed as his own.
The usual type of questions unraveled - ones I had heard for a couple of decades from annoyed men usurped from their hip thrones - how did my JEWISH mother feel about me living in the East Village (because of course all she wanted was for me to marry a doctor) and was I looking to get married after college or before and what kind of eating disorder did I have.... (these are all real questions that I have repeatedly been asked.)
This guy, however, being a filmmaker, couched his in the cinema.
"So, like, it was, like 'Crossing Delancey'?"
I think I replied "I don't know what to say to that." Meaning, when you offend that much, there is no answer.
But, years later, on a trip back to Florence's, looking up at the bedroom window facing Columbia Street, the answer was no, asshole, it's not a movie where a Jew-girl runs uptown to escape from cartoons characters of Bubbies and Yentas obsessed with finding nice Jewish boys for all the single girls.
That movie treated those old women like a punchline to some horrid joke. But those old women had survived pogroms and the Holocaust and horrific poverty in tenements. They had suffered beatings and buried babies. They had worked 16 hours as maids, seamstresses and factory girls.
Their Jew girl-granddaughters who were more assimilated to America and involved in the arts and didn't live next door to them, every once in a while had goals beyond doctors and lawyers and fighting the fate of Rhoda and other desperate shrill second-banana voices peppering sit-coms.
I didn't have to Cross Delancey to know the world. And neither did my Jewish parents. Or my Jewish grandparents or many of our neighbors and their families and their daughters and their granddaughters.
We may have been Jewish, and we may have been broke and attended public schools. We may have lived on Grand Street or Broome Street or played on Willet. We may have had strong accents that amalgamated Yiddish and Russian and New York and self-taught English.
But we weren't fucking stupid. We could and did read the New York Times.
We crossed ideas and we crossed cultures. We crossed from Mozart to Copeland. We crossed from Lenin to Kennedy and back to Bella Abzug. We crossed into museums and concerts. We crossed to demonstrations and we crossed the police. We never crossed picket lines.
And after all our crossings, we came home.
Every school day, I would walk from PS 110 to the corner of Broome and Columbia and called up to the fifth floor window. Florence would stick her head out, look up Columbia to make sure no cars were coming and then wave me across.
I crossed Columbia that way, every day so that my Jewish mother, who would have killed me if I brought home a lawyer or a doctor, could stay just a few minutes longer at the piano to work at her craft and live in her art.
I crossed from learning to art to expression to heart to healing to home to the universe of story unfolding before me. And every day, even living "uptown" like I have for almost four decades, I still cross Columbia. Just like my JEWISH mother, the ARTIST taught me.
Originally posted on November, 17, 2011, the Programme of Assistance now faces an uncertain future for lack of funding. Today, on the 67th birthday of the United Nations, this Programme offers hope for the promises of the Charter - a world filled with peace and justice.
The United Nations
And Peace Be With You.
The longer road begins with a word, a word that opens the possibility of everyone being welcomed to the table. And one hopes the word and words that follow build that welcome. Sometimes it is called the law. And sometimes that law welcomes justice to the table.
There is this programme available all around the world that teaches the teachers the word and the many that follow.
During long days away from home, what makes home "home" becomes, in between the pressing needs of chores written down on a list, a wonderment of longing.
From my bubby's home, via my childhood's home.
From a friend's house no longer wanted.
From the street - placed carefully so that everyone passing would know it was up for grabs.
From an abandoned yeshiva summer camp.
From a long-lost cousin and painter in Moscow, smuggled to me in the late 1970s before Gorbachev and glasnost.
From a roommate who moved west in 1979.
From a neighbor. (The pillows were $2.50 each at a Church basement sale on 37th Street.)
From Florence's ex-girlfriend.
1. From Florence's other ex-girlfriend - a recipe from Florence's mother-in-law given to said ex-girlfriend one evening in 1947 at my parents' apartment in Knickerbocker Village. 2. From a temp job in 1978 - Mapplethorpe portraits of Lisa Lyon's biceps. 3. From a former boss in 1997, an internet joke of a meditation on killing someone to reduce stress. 4. Magnets from my roommate who lived here at 17 and has, in her forties, since returned.
the wry comments
the deadpan delivery
the funniest line ever written and said in a play
the occasional beers
that awful memorial funnier than any black comedy but with more wincing
knowing the long march the bloody boxing ring called writing
preserving memories about healthy resistance to awful people
the kindness of listening
the determination to find love
the best short story ever written about aching
the fearless traveling
the leading by example
the words that unfolded those intimate moments of living until goodbyes were said
showing up to celebrate Florence's life after a redeye flight
the willingness to help with an email to his cousin
which led to an email for a position
which led to a six hour test and interview
which led to a freelance position that would never had been considered ever in a million years
which led to another one
and another one
and another one
which led to doors constantly flinging open into healing
which led to
impossible to imagine more than ten less than twenty ** Related Posts:
It's been almost more than a handful of autumns, that beautiful season unfurling like surprised love. A long day of new challenges and old words ends, and the same walk happens, usually towards home along an avenue as familiar as the mottled history with an childhood friend.
There is one spot, though, that isn't meandered through.
A hidden corner where, that first fall, I sat by a fountain and billions of Christmas lights and remembered the brief moments when Florence would hold my hand, not as an old woman fighting mad her body was leaving her, but as a mother, ambivalent at caring, remembering her own broken heart, and hoping something, even a maternal gesture, might make it easier.
That first fall I would stop by that fountain and cried. However few those moments were, I understood no one in the world would ever hold my hand like my mother.
It was like finding the ring I found that day in another park. I was just minding my own business when I looked down or up or right or, in this case, left.
This park, a block-long garden that had been loved into being by volunteers from all over the neighborhood, was filled with chickens and extra other birds and lots of dirt and plants and flowers and people digging things, and little wonderful corners to sit down in and listen to other things besides annoying cell phone conversations.
And in one of those sweet corners, I found this stone table, this old stone table with dark grey squares and light grey squares, just like the one I leaned against one hot summer in 1964 or 5 and announced my undying love for Allen to the old men playing chess, not knowing his people and my people didn't marry during those olden days.
Times have changed. The stone table waits for new players.
(I don't know where it is and I know I could google it, but I think I need to keep the mystery alive.)
So we all gathered at Odessa to say hello and then to say goodbye.
Nineteen years ago, Marty landed in a roach infested hotel room on the upper west side. Roaches or no roaches, he didn't wasted a moment, doing more in this city than a dozen writers could have done in the same amount of time, daring to go where no imagination had gone before. "A lot about being a New Yorker is going beyond the fear," he said in a voice that had walked into 365 noisy dive bars.
But over fried beige foods and brutally funny off-the-record-stories of a New York no longer on the streets, diaspora emerged.
Rent, even his rare kind, was high, work was scarce, and, like all of us who belonged here, it was getting tougher and tougher to watch our home be erased bit by bit, street by street, artist by artist. The diner counter, the bar stool, the affordable apartment where we had found one another was joining the fate of ice caps and the rain forest. And that roach infested hotel was now a luxury something or other. How, then, could a writer or painter or musician or dancer or for that matter anybody who belong here, stay here?
"Here isn't Here anymore," the Mariner said, splitting the last piece of a latke.
No. Here was now virtual. Here was in blogspheres and email, texts, and tweets. Perhaps where we belonged was not a state, but a state of mind. And perhaps that place could be anywhere.
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.