Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Memories - The Men's Park

This is The Men's Park. Men used to play here.

They played chess and sometimes checkers but mostly chess on these stone boards.

We were always told NEVER to go into The Men's Park.

So, of course we did. Not a lot, but enough to feel like we were breaking rules and tempting fate.

Once there, The Men utterly ignored us as we hung around the chess table, bored out of our minds with a stupid game that didn't include punching and running really fast.

The Men weren't too thrilled either with sweaty, snotty, fidgeting dirty kids interrupting their concentration.

I could see the canopy of trees in that park from my bedroom window.

Bigger than the rest of the trees in the playground, they were the clock of the seasons. Glimpses of green would let me know when summer was coming. And then all too soon, hints of wind and leaves getting darker with other colors would let me know when summer was preparing to leave.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Snapshots from A Field of Dreams

An Unidentified International School of Beauty Somewhere in Manhattan.

Taken on the sly while bending over backwards with my head in a sink since they don't allow photos in their football-size-florescent-lit-hair-dryers-from-the-first-cold-war-when-women-still-wore-curlers school.

*The 87 year old-cut-it-all-off-it-is-driving me-crazy-lady --  also needed her roots retouched and  "only him- the boy with know... can do it."   It came to $32.63 including tax.

*The gaggle of girls in beauty technician robes sauntering in, their own hair testaments to chemicals and zero-gravity laws.

*The head teacher repeatedly admonishing the students, "Stop talking to her! She's with a customer".  But that did nothing to stop the discussions about whether or not Miss _____ had the right to kick her out of class everyone knew the trains were all delayed because of the rain and why did she have to wait until November to take the State class that's so unfair.

*Teasing spraying cutting pinning and discussing who spoke English who was Korean who was Chinese who was Jewish who made their children do chores who was always cold who....

*Her plan:  not work out of her house.  Instead "go back to work in a salon because you're in, you're out, the kids aren't driving you crazy, it's unprofessional to yell at them when you have a client..."

(With thanks to the young woman who used her own personal product on my hair because it was better than the school's.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why New York Isn't Kansas: Nicole

"If Dorothy had been Black, she would of worn sneakers and be able to run instead of clicking out of Oz."-- Nicole and one of her pairs of red sneakers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Memories - Annie's Song

This is Annie.

This is Annie as a song.

She talks faster than I write and I write faster than I talk and I talk fast. So some of this she said and some of this I hope she said. This is her song:

"We lived on East 138th Street. My mom, aunt, my uncle on the weekend. Eight of us kids. Then we moved to East 10th. And then we moved to 400 Grand, across from the bialie place and the delicatessen. And then we moved to 440 Grand. Nine of us, two rooms we all slept in the same beds together. We were right across from the co-ops which was the forbidden land. Tenements you had the poorer people. You knew you didn't belong in the co-ops but they knew they didn't belong with us. We played together sometimes but there was this line down the middle of the street. A yellow line that divided us. They still thought less of you. And the special buildings they put up for the bar mitzvahs. This was before they did bat mitzvahs. Huge tents. We lived on the top floor and Rosie's Pizza and Heroes was on the ground floor. We would line up and she would give us for free fried dough in sauce. We couldn't afford the sandwiches. The old principal at PS 134. Jewish woman, red hair, dressed like Joan Rivers, eyelashes, bangles up her arm to here and all she had to do was look at you. Then we had an African-American teacher - female. Wore miniskirts, blue eye shadow, overweight 4th or 5th grade? First one to introduce us to Africa. Because of Biafra. We brought in pennies to donate. We thought we had it bad we didn't have it that bad. 1966? 1967? The principal, Miss Cohen? She was ahead of her time. But mini-skirts. That teacher used to wear mini-skirts. It's the life we knew but it's gone. A sense of community. Gone. And you can't forget the egg creams."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Secret Garden

If you wear headphones it's almost quiet.

In the middle there's a fountain and all these potted plants around it so you almost think you're by a stream in a forest of palms and philodendron.

There are only a couple of benches.

Sometimes people pray in front of the statue of the Virgin Mother.

If you look up you can see the windows to the kitchen and the Church workers washing their dishes.

But if you keep looking up all worries, disappointments and unanswered prayers fall by the wayside and your heart just can't help but open wide like the sky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Not-On-TV Office: Episode Two - Work Is Where The Heart Is

This is Nick. He's in the cubicle to my left.

He talks to me over the "hedges."

Sometimes I hear him giggling in shock while he listens on his headphones to Wendy Williams on WBLS. We lend each other books.   Because of him I'm trapped in the middle of an adolescent vampire series where I am reliving the worst of every crush I ever had - only these book characters have better luck than me even when they want to suck the blood of the one they love.

I lent him a book about a woman's spiritual journey. I'm not sure if that's an even exchange, especially after he told me he reads two pages and falls dead asleep, even on the train. He also makes coffee every day. I supply popcorn. He's the go-to man for pop culture. I supply the moral advice.

This is me.

Thirty-hours a week I get a break from Florence-stuff (except when I have to get on the phone with the insurance company, Medicaid, CASA II, the doctor’s office, the home attendant agency…)

This is Adriene. She's in the cubicle to my right.

This is what I see when we talk.

If it's not Monday we talk quite a bit.

She listens to Michael Baisden on her radio which, unlike my radio, doesn't get static. This is an actual exchange:

A: Oh he's so nauseating.
C: Why do you listen to him?
A: Because he's an idiot.

Sometimes we sing together and when Kiss FM plays Rock Steady by Aretha, I turn on my radio and hug it so it doesn't get static and then me and Adriene chair-dance in stereo.

She's the go-to woman for basic information like the seizures-and-video-game connection, best methods to kill mice, and the 70's. I supply the cheerful morning greetings and one day even a gluten-free loaf of bread which turned out to be inedible to humans and mice.

When she really wants to upset me she offers to hug me. When I really want to upset her I talk about foods with wheat. talk about foods with wheat.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Memories - Cuz It's Your Birthday

'Cuz when there is no refuge except by an ocean there's only one person in the world to go with.

'Cuz you were brave enough to enter a car with me at the wheel knowing I didn't understand the concept "stay in between the lines."

'Cuz there was no one else in my life I could ask those questions and you answered them. (And I'm sure you NEVER repeated our conversation to anyone else.)

'Cuz you let me borrow it.

'Cuz you went forward and forward and forward again.

'Cuz you're the only person who could flip me the bird and still make great art.

'Cuz to shop like that takes talents guts and skill and you are the best argument for shopping to be in both summer and winter Olympics.

'Cuz of that day we walked through the old old neighborhood and we understood we are the ones left to remember.

'Cuz of every meal you shared with me.

'Cuz you trusted me with your kids. Even after we all took the 5th.

'Cuz the generosity was at a price and I hope I did right by you when I passed it forward.

'Cuz again you went forward and forward and forward again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Woman's Bed Where She Lies and Tells Poems*

It's rumored to be made of horse hair, this bed she has slept in since 1977.

Bought it with the girlfriend, the only one she ever lived with, and I think there was even a story of giggling like mad when they brought the queen-size mattress into the building because all the neighbors were watching and knew something different was happening behind closed doors in that apartment. (Or maybe that was the Christmas Tree story, another act of terrorism that only two middle aged Lesbians could do to a Jewish enclave.)

I have never laid down on this bed.

I have stripped it, cleaned it, made it.  I have sprayed it with Febreze.  I have sat on it, held Florence’s hand and comforted her on this bed.  I have dressed her, undressed her and clipped her nails on this bed.  And every time, thinking she was back in the tenement on Hester Street where sleepovers were common between friends, Florence would invited me to "lie down and go to sleep" in this bed.

Her bed.

The bed she bought to begin new life, new hope, new love. The bed where she told herself better futures and denied worst pasts. The bed no man ever slept in.

The bed she loved in, climaxed in, lost in, splintered peace with frightening dreams in, refused to cry in.

The bed she cradled herself through sleep, the radio playing all night NPR news shows.

Her bed.  A woman's bed. Filled with poems told fiercely as reality shattered and disappointment flooded in.

Tomorrow the new electric hospital bed rental will arrive.  Its hydraulic lift will make bed-bathing of Florence by Gabriella and Penny less back-breaking.  It will have bars to keep Florence from falling out in the middle of the night. It will have buttons that push Florence up to sitting and down to sleeping. And when it is no longer needed, it will be returned to Medicaid.

Tomorrow Gabriella and I will somehow coax Florence from her old bed.  I will lie, not in her bed, but to her face. I will say "we are putting you in a special bed just for a little while. Until you get better and can sit up without being dizzy. And when you do and when you are walking again, you'll go lay down in your own bed and then we will go to Coney."

And she will correct me and say "Coney ISLAND. And I will LIE down, not LAY down."

And I will nod and know my lie is forever.
*Dedicated to Florence's demand proper grammar be engaged: One does not LAY down. One LIES down.


Ray and Dennis set up the new stage of her life.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pets of Our Lives: Part One - Pigeons

I mean besides the gunk filled eye rat-dogs that the not-so-religious ladies carried, there were the pigeons. Not exactly the most cuddly beast on the street, but there were lots of them, they were pretty friendly if you fed them and best of all, you didn't have to take them home or clean up after them.

Florence at 17 or 18

Often, going to the zoo or any other place outside, the pigeons were as important as what we were there for.

My father and my sister, age 3
at the South Seaport

By the time I came around, "rats on wings" had entered New York vocabulary. Besides, I was partial to sparrows and feral cats. Still, the peace of those old photos filled me today as I watched the homeless man share his food with his pets.

Small Plaza by
Penn Station

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Memories - "Candy, Candy, Candy for a Penny"*

Until it moved two doors down, Economy Candy lived on the corner of Rivington and Essex. It was heaven but we were atheists and not permitted to enter.

Florence decreed No Candy Allowed with the One Exception of the piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum at Dr. Goldfarb's when we had to get a shot. What was Allowed: apples, steak, Mrs. Paul's fish sticks, Arnold's white bread, broccoli, more apples, milk and then apples.

So I stared. Pushing my nose into the glass to make staring enough. It was never enough. I always wanted more. I dreamt of money and freedom and having my own apartment where if I wanted to I could eat as much candy as I damn wanted to.

Now, two doors down from the corner, Economy pretty much looks the same except that the shelves are newer.

I notice I still stare, first through the window, then, after forcing myself to enter, at every single thing in the shop.  But I touch nothing because God, knowing I don't belong, might come down and send me back to apples.

Overwhelmed with choice, possibilities and a desire to avoid being smited, I end up buying something stupid. Like dates. And the little plastic wrapped hamburger made of sugar.

*Penny Candy - New Faces of 1952

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Surprising Epilogue to Deep Waters

Today was the last swimming class, this motley crew of young and old, fearful and eager each with a unique story of their own deep waters. Several had had near drowning experiences, several had refused to even enter any waters for years and instead sat on the sideline watching family play like dolphins. Several just knew they wanted to SWIM and were tired of not knowing how, and then there was me and Chett, both of us having taken many many classes and still not knowing the first thing to do when stepping into a pool.

But today, here, weeks later, we all could actually propel ourselves down the lanes of the pool. We were really swimming. Each one of us had that delightful look of astonished pride in our face, like when we were little and wrote our names for the first time. Before we couldn't. Now we could.

That left only one thing to do. Deep water. And so these intrepid classmates donned floating belts and gripped railings and entered, some for the first time in their lives, the diving well and water deeper than 4 feet. Slowly but surely, fingers were gently coaxed to let go of the wall (and I think in one case pried off) by the very patient instructor.

And soon they were swimming in their own deep waters.

with gratitude and thanks for being such warm, kind classmates and for letting me document this event.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Final Snapshot from Deep Water Called My Home

It wasn't that I had forgotten to sit down. I had just been too busy.

But one morning the house empty and quiet, waiting for an exterminator who was actually scheduled for the following week, I sat. And remembered what I couldn't remember and remembered what I still didn't.

Always on the edge of the swimming pool's diving well, talking myself into taking my feline self into a world of complete dislike. And the constant sentences so familiar almost a radio station in my brain - "...what the hell was I thinking why am I doing this I hate this wet. cold. I must be crazy what the hell was I thinking and now for the news..."

But I would force a plunge feet first, or more recently a gently-sit-on-edge-slide -into-water-like-a-corpse but always with a muffled cry of horror at wet. cold. touching me and for the first five second feel just utterly miserable. Then regardless I would sally forth and get to work, practicing newly-learned swimming strokes or aqua-jogging about, all the while eying the clock and hoping for time travel.

Although complaining was allowed and misery accepted, there was no further discussion about my future in the water. I was getting old and this was now an essential part of my plan to stay unbedridden until I was dead. Whether I liked it or not from here on in swimming would be a thrice weekly event.

This very morning sitting on the bench, the bench bought years ago with grocery money from the 4th Avenue used odd furniture store, once a common business, now an anomaly in the midst of expensive gyms and exclusive doormen, I remembered.

Just as I sat on the edge of the diving pool, exhausted and waiting to buck up and get on with it, I sat here. A place to rest before plunging into unwanted jobs or a memory-filled home. A place where I could admit sorrow and misery and complete unhappiness at the next step. A place where I could prepare to return to a water of lost words and recover what I had always wanted to say.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Memories - "...A Little Rain Must Fall"*

When did I start hating the rain?

It was another playground Florence would send me to. A summer downpour and she'd throw me into galoshes and really not much else and I'd run full speed into outside and start dancing and stomping and jumping into puddles. The harder the rain the harder I played. The wet was part of a song inside me and nothing felt better.

The rule was that if it rained and you were wearing the good shoes from Mr. Kaplan's store on Clinton Street, you had to take them off and walk the rest of the way barefoot. Those shoes purchased yearly were more precious than our feet but New York sidewalks were actually pretty OK to walk on in those days so I never remember any of us getting cuts on our feet.

Sunny or cloudy, the gaggle of girls we were, me the least religious, them in yeshiva grabbing hands, racing around in a circle, screaming at the top of our lungs a rain dance in Hebrew "..Shav Te Maytim Vesasson, Mi Ma Ne Ha Yeshua Mayim, Mayim, Mayim, Mayim Hey Mayim Vesasson..."

A young summer, still amazed I didn't become something hard to recover later, always wearing this favorite hooded sweatshirt found some place like a park or movie house, or gotten at a church bazaar where we got all our clothes. And the rain that day when Bobby took something really really bad and we all huddled under the beat-up 1970's Washington Square Park Arch while he shook and it poured and even though many sweatshirts have since come and many sweatshirts have since gone, giving him that particular sweatshirt so he could last out the rain until he came down from whatever he climbed up on is something I still selfishly regret. Because I split to a spiritual community that night and he split to Minnesota or Baltimore before I got back and I never saw it again.

When I was briefly a bike messenger you worked or you didn't get paid. I hadn't saved up enough for the deluxe rain suit the better guys wore. I don't remember what it was I did wear but it was just part of the job and wet was part of the air I lived in. Perhaps it was there I stopped breathing as I plunged in and peddled as fast as I could so the day would finally end.

My nine-year commute to City College more often than not on a bike and sometimes with a violin strapped to my back, one night rain pouring so hard as I zipped down Broadway, then still completely deserted and no shops or theaters or people, just a shuttered fast avenue and what was I thinking when I started to sing "..In the Rain What a Glorious Feeling I'm Laughing Again..."? That an orchestra would well up behind me, joy would fill my heart and I suddenly dance like I felt inside?

Metamorphosing in ages that had to be a mistake where did the time go and noticing I hated umbrellas almost as much as liver, but would lug one around and refuse to walk home even if it was slightly drizzling.

But one solitary afternoon recently a rare nap suddenly hearing the storm that barreled horizontally through the city and also through windows left open, the pounding whipping wailing sounds of wet and wind almost the very moving picture of my life and I awoke into the ferocious rain laughing like the girl I once was.

*Led Zeppelin - Rain Song