Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Memories: Crossing Columbia

the corner of Broome and Columbia
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.


Marty Wombacher said...

I loved this post, great memories and when I read it, it played out like a movie in my mind.

bucko said...

Yes! Yes! Yes. That is one awesome statement.