Even though the bar stools were new and you could actually sit on them without sliding off the cracked vinyl and even though the beautiful lady wasn't living over the cash register anymore, the millions of cuts into the old wood tables of millions of initials hadn't been replaced with new shit looking old but clean.
Those long-ago afternoons when no one was there, just us regulars drifting in late day sun, the Daily News, Post spread out on the bar, Frazier flipping through the gossip pages and the crimes that shouldn't have happened, maybe a late lunch, not even a drink, just the company we all needed to keep during those times.... occasionally, in the corner, were two little boys playing as their father checked out the beer pipes and the 100 year old wiring. ** Related Posts: Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder
If you are not allergic, you have to have a cat in order to write.
It's to ensure that even when the page is full of shit and you hate everything you ever put to pen and really why didn't you become ANYTHING ELSE other than a writer... the cat reminds you life is sweet and happiness is just good company and since you're not typing at the moment get that spot behind the ear? And perhaps it's time for a snack... a bisseleh chicken might be nice...oh you're writing again it's O.K. I can wait. In the dark. Starving. As you write the Great American Novel... which is more important than feeding me...
Of course we had a real playground to play in. In fact, we had three. It's just that two of them were kinda small, didn't have much stuff to climb or play on, were sometimes locked and the big kids often played in the other one.
But it didn't matter. The whole neighborhood was our playground and we had the run of it. Including corners like this which in those days didn't have video surveillance because there was no such thing as video. These hidden spots became our castles and battlegrounds, our field for jacks and dodge ball.
I don't ever remember not running around the streets of the lower east side. From the time I was four or five until I left for higher ground, I ventured forth in rain and shine, every season there was. As long as I had finished my violin practicing and homework, the world was my oyster.
Of course there were terrible things and bad people out there. But, last time I checked, there are terrible things and people inside too. My stories of those moments were pretty much the same as those who spent their childhoods behind closed doors and iron wrought fences.
I learned to dodge and to survive. It paid off when the streets got filled with crack addicts, my home got filled with idiot boyfriends, and jobs were treacherous.
Frankly, today's sidewalks filled with people texting or shouting highly personal information into their cell phones may be much less dangerous but they are much more annoying. And I wonder if, when they were kids, they ever went outside by themselves to go play in a city.
He was my second love, Allan who lived in the building on Broome Street with the Fedder Air Conditioning being my first.
All that was a long time ago. Today David is 59.
Still, the heart of my inner four-year-old always jumps up and down when I see him, either on the street or at his mom's or even at Florence's memorial.
He was the boy who could make me laugh so hard that many liquids poured out of many places on me. I was never sure what exactly we were laughing about. I just knew it was rare laughter and I wanted to drown in it, it made me so happy.
He was the boy who could swing upside down on the ladder to his bunk bed and watch Hitchcock's THE BIRDS without crawling under available big pieces of furniture like I did.
And right before the Paper Bag Players began their show at the Henry Street Settlement Playhouse and I wanted to rush outside to see if my friend was waiting for me on Grand Street, he was the boy who explained what would happen if, per chance, I tripped on the stairs in the dark just as the curtain rose. And to this day I am not sure how he did it, but my last minute foray clearly was going to lead to the destruction of Planet Earth. Needless to say, I stayed put in my seat, terrified.
Oh, but most of all, he was the boy who played Conrad Birdie in BYE BYE BIRDIE at P.S. 110 on Broome Street. When I saw him sing and dance, I almost forgot who the Beatles were.
He was so proud of his daughter and how he was teaching her the intricate science of cutting a man's hair, he stopped and waited until I snapped the picture.
The picture haunted me for months until it dawned on me how, in so many ways, it was a subversive act in certain places, at certain times, to teach his daughter anything that brought her into her own independence.
I wondered if he knew he was making revolution that truly insisted on a better world, or if he was just being a great dad.
Middle of the night, in a field of empty cubicles, punching numbers into computers. Law office at 3 am wandering corridors because they needed someone there in case the phone rang. Getting on an immigration line at 9 pm, huddling all night in the cold until official doors opened at 830 am and the well-rested and richer person took my place.
Florence, only qualified to play or to teach, once did supermarket inventory in the middle of the night. Hands trained to wring out the nuances of the saddest music in the world, placing Del Monte cans neatly on a shelf. It paid the bills as she put her life back together.
And my father, neatly charting the 162 jobs he applied to after being given the shaft by a company he had shown up to for 25 years, rain, shine, grim, broken, bereft, lost, still providing for a family that was slowly disappearing…
He finally got a job with the city through blind testing and worked until it was time to retire and get a bit of a pension.
She finally got enough paying piano students that paid the bills and allowed her to dance with the girls she liked.
And after all the too-many decades I trundled through, I looked at that wide open barren space and decided to fill it with story.
We didn't go every year to Dana and George. Maybe we only went a couple of times total. But, however many they were, those evenings became oases.
Why was that night different than all other nights?
It surpassed any joy I saw in movies or the rare TV shows.
Grampa Ray pulling quarters out of our ears, a table with a real tablecloth, all the expensive light bulbs on, the house filled with smells as good as restaurants or what I imagined reading fairy tales with feasts in them, David dazzling me into gales of laughter and fits of love. It was even wonderful the one year I was the youngest and had to ask the Four Questions
in Hebrew, a language I didn't know, couldn't read or even speak.
I waited for Passover as eagerly as I did my birthday.
Tradition has it that during Passover, a wandering Jew must be welcomed to any table she appears at. In my own exodus to new lands and new apartments that turned into old homes, I visited many tables with gratitude and hope I'd once again experience that utter joy I had at Dana and George's.
But recent years got busier and busier and soon it was just another night neither the Mariner or I could leave work early or a rare weekend we could stay home and write.
Why was this year different than all other years?
No work interrupted the day. We had a little bit more time. A Rabbi friend said she could come with us and bring a whole bunch of Haggadahs. And Trader Joe's had decent kosher wine.
Because Dana could not wander to all the welcomes of a Sedar table, we all brought the Sedar to her. and lo' and behold.... old joy revisited.
But the one all the way on the right, standing proud by her Passover dish, survived brutal poverty, hunger, beatings, molestation, death of her baby brother, denial of education and the responsibility from the age of eight on of raising her surviving siblings.
She went on to survive 7-day weeks, 12-hour days working side by side with her husband until at some point they got to what we all considered wealthy: comfortable middle class with the freedom to stand over a table of a lot of food commemorating the departure from hardship.
When you are running for your life, you sometimes gotta leave a lot behind: happiness, hope, the joy of skipping because the sun is out. Giggling.
... somehow, as my aunt fled to promises of better days, the girl she once was before a war broke out on her body and soul, a girl who could giggle with delight, came with her.
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.