For a family that rarely took vacations, almost always bought second-hand clothes, and never went out to dinner (unless it was chock-full-o'nuts or the annual Chinese food splurge), that trip to Dr. Lowenthal up in the Bronx or Washington Heights* - I just remember the long train ride taken with Florence, the buildings were shorter than New York's and there was more light - was money my parents never questioned spending.
The fear and discomfort of awful sounds and unpleasant probings were all balanced by the promise of a toy - one I could pick myself from a big box he kept near the chair of torture. For a child, toys are always too rare and to choose my own was a precious moment. I remember quite clearly a plastic sailboat that I could snap together. Perhaps it was my attempt at an homage of the big 1800's sailboats docked at South Sea Port. Odd choice for a child of the lower east side who either walked along the East River or rode the ferry, but never step foot into the 'sailing' culture until the age of 30.
Adults seem endless in their years, never aging, always staying the same, but one day I was told Dr. Lowenthal had retired. A new dentist, one right by Macy's, had taken his place. And I, now a 12 year-old teenager, was responsible to get myself there for the yearly check-up.
Somehow, when house and home began to descend into fractured words and silent rage, the care of my teeth had fallen through the cracks. After 10 years of perfect checkups, I suddenly had 13 cavities, The new dentist, who hummed tunelessly as he work, filled them, one by one, week after week.
And after, not quite understanding how I really felt about just everything, I'd head over to the sweets shop, tucked into the corner of Macy's and, in place of a box of new toys, buy forbidden pieces of fudge and other bad sticky things that tugged at a mouth full of metal.
*Washington Heights: from Louise: 181st St stop on the A train, around the corner to 180th
St. I don’t remember the avenue, but I was there perhaps 20 yrs ago
(can’t remember the circumstances) and recognized it and knew where the
building was. The stops on that part of the line have exits onto Ft.
Washington Ave and to Overlook Terrace or Bennett Ave. Wikipedia says
the escalator (which we took) was at the 181st St end and an elevator was at the north end. Dr. Lowenthal used to go hiking in the Alps during the summer and had a beautiful
photo of mountains to look at while sitting in the chair. His
receptionist was Mrs. Dee.
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.