It was early 1970s. I was less than 14 years old. I'm not sure what precipitated the first time Florence kicked me out or perhaps I ran away, but I ended up in an upper west side pre-war 15 room apartment that was being painted. The head of the youth orchestra had arranged it because he couldn't afford to lose yet another violinist who could sight-read as well as I did. The house was empty except for a bed I slept in, a tv I watched and some pieces of furniture draped with white cloth. I drank chocolate milk and walked from 112th street back down to Grand Street when I ran out of money. I don't remember what ended that exile except that at some point I was allowed back home and the people whose apartment it was returned to nicer walls.
Later that same music teacher arranged for me to stay in his apartment while he was away for the summer. I was less than 18. This time there was no returning home. Florence was serious and so was I. I remember walking the streets in the hot summer nights on the upper west side wondering how a city this big could be so lonely. I ate all the music teacher's ice cream. Repeatedly. Since I kept replacing it. Hoping they're return before I ate again. There was no going home. After many couches I moved into the place I would live in for the next three decades.
Later, in my own apartment, I learned that Loneliness was an inside job. Just like Happiness. I understood that the city was whatever I was - lonely, full, loving, sad, grateful. But, even now so many years later, there are times, no matter what I believe otherwise, where the city clangs and clacks against the sharp emptiness of loss.
A town's a lonely town *When you pass through And there is no one waiting there for you, You wander up and down, The crowds rush by, A million faces pass before your eye, Still it's a lonely town. Then it's a lonely town.Unless there's love, A love that's shining like a harbor light, You're lost in the night; Unless there's love, The world's an empty place And every town's a lonely town.
--Comden and Green
(dedicated to you who I deliberately did not see tonight, but who I miss no matter how hard I try not to...)
I am not sure when it started. More than a while a while ago.
But at some point in the thirty-odd years most of us have lived in this building we started gathering in the lobby once a year to celebrate the holidays, eat each other's favorite food, drink hearty, gossip about the late and former owner Mrs. Schneller whose family built the building, wonder when the children became tall enough to have opinions or pay taxes,...
...and have conversations longer than an elevator ride or a rush past one another late to work or dinner.
On Saturday, December 20, 2008 at Henry Street Settlement over 60 people braved bitter cold and ice to celebrate Florence Deutsch Moed's life. My sister and I are forever grateful for all the incredible stories shared and the love so freely given.
Photos by Morgan Gwenwald and Marianne Barcellona, captions from my memory so forgive the inaccurate quotes.
Melody from Orpheus and Eurydice by Gluck
"...cousin Florence...four-hand piano duets..."
...the most generous person..."
"... and one morning she left a dozen eggs left at my doorstep....
...the next day an egg beater."
"...because of that I started performing again... the world's greatest piano teacher but I didn't say that in front of her..."
"...taught me confidence..."
"Interlude #1 (1993), by Hugh Sams, dedicated to Florence"
"...she enjoyed her whiskey and one night..."
"...I realized she never left a message but was using the phone answering machine as an form to create..."
"...we were not the demographics the new yuppie places on Avenue C catered to and they let us know it...her intrepid spirit about aging..."
"...learned that making mistakes were opportunities..."
"...visit our five-story walk up on 6th Street..."
"...could play anything from 16th century to 20th century..."
"...she was a sexy woman..."
...somehow she convinced Medicaid that she didn't need help...so I had to go back and make a miracle happen..."
"...even with the dementia I really loved visiting her..."
"...she liked the foxtrot...I liked Strauss waltzes..."
...my first piano teacher... and she looked at me and I realized this was serious business..."
"Florence's pride that she, unlike Godowsky and Mannes (sic), could teach her children music...the failure of Otto Klemperer's son who became an actor on TV - 'See what happens when you don't practice your violin!'"
"...BUTTON UP YOUR OVERCOAT WHEN THE WIND IS FREE TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF YOU BELONG TO ME..."
"...Florence's refusal to feel fear...where I get my courage..."
"...my time of day is the dark time of day...And the streetlamp light...fills the gutter with gold...that's my time of day...and you're the only doll I've ever wanted to share it with me."
"...and then we had lunch..." (punch line to an old Yiddishkeit joke)
********************** On Florence's 65th Birthday in November, 1982, Louise and Joshua took Florence to Conesy Island where Florence went swimming. We ask you to on some birthday do something equally daring.
The day would not have happened without the ferocious efforts of:
Rose Ortiz and her incredible staff at the Henry Street Abrons Arts Center Henrystreet.org
To make donations in Florence's name:
WNYC RADIO, PO BOX 1550, NY, NY 10116-1550
SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), 305 7th Avenue, 6th Floor, NY, NY 10001
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.