Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part Two- The Ladies of the Pizza

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.


This is Marianne of the Pizza Shack.

First there was Rosy's on Pitt and Grand. Then there was Aldos on the corner of East Broadway and Grand and finally there was Pizza Shack on Columbia and Grand and some other place in the middle of Grand but they also serve dogs and burgers and everything is deep fried so for real pizza you go to the Shack. And if you don't want pizza,there's the the Luncheonette, the Chinese combo-plates-with-grease and a sushi place. I can't imagine eating sushi on Grand Street. Besides, on Grand Street, pizza is the thru-line and when you're packing up your mother's life, pizza wins hands down.

For three days straight I got the fried chicken-tomato pizza. Today an eggplant stromboli. While waiting, I mention Rosy's to Marianne. My co-worker, Annie had grown upstairs from Rosy's (AUGUST, 2008: SUNDAY'S MEMORIES-ANNIE'S SONG) and I still dreamt of a meatball hero like the ones Rosy made.

(Actually I never really had a meatball hero from Rosy's, just bites offered from occasional generous friends. Florence didn't believe spending money for food outside the house so a baloney sandwich was it for lunch.)

Marianne not only remembers Rosy's, she tells me the family still lives in the neighborhood. Then she tells me about Rosy.

Even after they torn down the tenement and built a nice project building and new precinct on Pitt, Rosy still lived in the neighborhood and was a helpful neighbor. One day she decided to visit someone in Staten Island, maybe they were older or sicker than she was (she was pretty old herself at that point). So like anyone without a car which was just about everyone, she took the Staten Island Ferry.

These are different times now. What happened that day might upset us now but I doubt it would faze us much.

But that day was in a different time. There were no metal detectors anywhere. Shootings in schools hadn't happened yet. And if you got mugged you could still have a chance to fight back.

Rosy got on the ferry. At some point out in the harbor, a guy wielding a machete started slashing people. He headed toward a young girl, he clearly was going to kill her when Rosy stepped in front of him, shielding the girl.

"She's a young girl," Rosy said. "Why are you doing this?"

He killed Rosy instead.

All I could say to Marianne was "I'm shocked, I'm shocked, I gotta tell Annie, I'm shocked." Since everybody knows somebody who knows everybody, we try to figure out if Annie's siblings went to PS134 with Marianne's siblings. But mostly I'm shocked and Marianne just keeps shaking her head and repeating, "Helped everyone. He was going to kill that girl..."

When I ask if I can take a picture of her, Marianne says how she never likes the way she looks in pictures.

"Beautiful women never do," I tell her.

The pizza gets me through another three hours of packing. It has become the thru-line of these last days on Grand Street.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Memories - The Exhaustion of Diaspora: Part One

"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.


We start with one of the many ends to this journey

That's Florence's window behind those trees. The white corner coffee table is poking out of the taxi's trunk.

We tie the trunk as closed as we can get it which isn't very closed -- actually the young man from Pakistan ties it not-very-closed with a scarf I had found in the Laundry Room in the "up for grabs" pile. It takes about five minutes on the corner of Columbia and Grand to get the table into the trunk and to make the knots hold. This pisses off several mini-vans of Hasid origins since the taxi driver isn't white, I'm wearing pants and they're in a hurry.

On the way home I stare at First Avenue - I look at the east side of the street rather than the west side. The day is dark and grey. It is not the day Florence and I rode up First and stared at the west side of the street. (APRIL, 2008: CAR RIDE TO THE DOCTOR).

This is my neighborhood. This is my home. This is where I have lived for 33 years. Do I recognize it? Do I understand what it means? Is there a reason I keep starting to cry?

I give the taxi driver all but $5 of my money as a thank you for driving with his trunk half up. I hold onto the $5 just in case I need emergency Chinese food or intervention ice cream.

It's only afterward, I see bruises up and down my arms from all the moving.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


The packing of the Life Of Florence and the dissemination of beloved items that lit our books and held our tushies has caused a night of collapsed couching and Michael Palin watching.

However, come tomorrow night yet another Sunday Memory will unfold and once again reveal the secret New York that now only exist in Florence's heart.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sometimes It's a Friend Who Becomes Your Horizon

This is Michael. He runs a reading series that introduces writers to a world beyond their constant terror that every stroke on the keyboard is hopeless and futile.

For eight years, he has sat in the front of every one of his reading and has never looked anything but interested and enthralled. Sometimes I think he actually is but really, who wants to take the risk to find out that might not be the case? I mean, what if he hates everything he hears and that includes your work?

So I sit way in the back, curled up in a cringe or stretched out in delight and marvel at the breadth and generosity, the ferocious commitment to all being heard, the elegance and the style that is Michael.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"If I Bring Forth What Is Inside Me, What I Bring Forth Will Save Me"

This is Dana.

Her husband, before he was smart enough to marry her, had, as a teenager, a crush on Florence. When they all grew up, Dana and Florence and their husbands and children lived across the hall from one another on Lewis Street.

I knew Dana was the most beautiful woman I knew. And I knew this before I knew how to tie my shoe. I also knew she knew something about the world that would be essential to my survival. Perhaps it was the beautiful stones from Brazil she gave me after her trip there with her husband to help establish socialist co-op housing. Or maybe it was the tiny little Bolivian dolls given after another trip to continue developing affordable housing in South America. Or maybe it was the story book with real art as illustrations that told me there were more worlds beyond the wall of sound I heard every day from Florence's Steinway.

Whatever it was, what beamed from her heart and soul was a living example of utter enjoyment of every second of every moment to love, eat, laugh, talk, touch, live.

Today, at least 45 years after learning to tie my shoe, Dana is still the most beautiful woman I know. Or at least Number One of a very short list. And today she brought forth a story she had poured into devastating poetry. She said that when she wrote that story it saved her life. Once again, so many decades later, I learned of a world beyond the horizon of my own fear, my own pain, my own disbelief.

*The fortune cookie fortune Dana reads every morning as she fixes her hazelnut coffee.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Memories - For the Heart of the Building and the Sweetness of the Day: Stephen O'Haire (1959-2009)

Stephen was living in the building with his Aunt Pat when I moved in in 1976. We were both 17. He went into the Navy but this was where he lived. And when he got out of the navy, this is where he lived. Ok, and sometimes he lived in Montauk but mostly he lived here and even when he wasn't living here, I still felt he still lived here.

He was our good morning, good afternoon, hello, anything you need, how's it going. He was the one who, after 9-11, put a little angel on the lamp between our front doors. He was a papa to his dog, Rags who became a star of Fox 5 TV because she could jump six feet straight up - like a yo-yo, only in the other direction. And one of Stephen's proudest boasts to me was that Rags won Fourth Place in the American Mutt Competition for Most Misbehaved.

No matter what his struggles and his victories were, he was a neighbor to each and every one of us.

With apologies to the incredible writers and reporters in his family and community, here are some moments from the mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on 14th Street and First Avenue.

Terry, his younger brother: (on being brought home from the hospital) "Joe, Jr. [older brother] said 'One peep out of you, we're going to throw you out into the snow.' Stephen bent down and kissed me on the forehead."

The Priest leading the service: "A gentle giant. When he was in town, he came to Saturday Mass at 4:00 or 5:30."

Terry: "He was the Bill Gates of our neighborhood [Flushing, Queens]. He did all these paper routes on his big Schwinn bike.

His aunt Kay
: During the six years in the navy, whatever port they docked out, he'd buy an expensive gift to his mother back in Queens. "I asked him why he bought such expensive jewelry. He said he didn't have much time, but lots of money and he had to spend it quickly."

Terry: "He fell in and out of love hard. He felt both the joy and the sorrow of love. And when our mother was dying, he would sing to her."


Stephen had a Last Will and Testament. In it he left something for all of us:

"Have a great life and be happy. I am happy now."

...so you do not grieve as the rest who have no hope.
Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pen & Brush Photo Contest - Audience Participation

Pen&Brush is having a contest for women photographers to submit THREE photographs.

I don't really think of myself as a real photographer. Regardless, I'm going to submit. Below are photographs culled from my collection by an informal panel of friends. I would love your input as to which ones might have the best chance to get into this show. Leave your comments and your picks either in the comment section below or via email! The photo on top of Florence looking out of the window is not eligible as it comes from a video I directed and Ruben Guzman shot. Technically it is not my photo.

The Promise Land


Soldiers At The Wall

Florence and Whoopi


Room With A View

A Corner of the World

Seymour Talks To His Hospital Bed


I Still Have Pain

Hall of Water

The Luncheonette

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On The Street That You Live*

Nights walking home from Gramma's once-a-week-TV-watching with her...

...these nooks and crannies, as intimate as her small apartment....

... the purring of the bridge...

...if I had my way I'd live right here.

People stop and stare. They don't bother me.
For there's no where else on earth that I would rather be.
Let the time go by, I won't care if I
Can be here on the street where you live.

*My Fair Lady

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Memories - Stairway To Heaven
Loew's Delancey Street

We didn't call it LOW-SSSS like it was some royal palace. We called it LO-EASES. Because that's how you really say LOEWS.

This one was on Delancey Street. So we called it DA LO-EASES DELANCEE (as opposed to the one on Grand Street and Essex which was smaller).  And it was no royal palace.  It was a beat-up movie theater with a tattered lobby.

"Where ya goin'?"
"LO-EASES DELANCEE. Gonna go see a pitcha."

Florence told me when she was a girl - and even as a young woman - she used to climb up the fire escape stairs and sneak into the movie house to see the second feature because it was easier to sneak in during the second half. It was easier to sneak in, period. No fire alarm, no cameras, no nothing.

I remember me and my big sister going to the Saturday matinees, the place packed with screaming kids.  The "COMING ATTRACTIONS!" were always horror movies trailers with monsters and demons and really scary men. Maybe there was already too much fear inside me from this life or a past life or the street life but I would freak out and run to the back of the theater and hide in the lobby until "COMING ATTRACTIONS!" were over. For years the words "COMING ATTRACTIONS!" sent me into a panic.

On the rare occasion Florence took me along in one of her infrequent escapes, it was understood I was not to bother her or remind her of her current life as mother/wife/piano teacher. I was to be a silent witness.  So when I panicked at "COMING ATTRACTIONS!” I tried to be really quiet about it. This was her time and I now wonder what movie I really watched - the one on the screen or the one sitting next to me.

Who knows what lives inside DA LO-EASES DELANCEE these days…the neighborhood spouting up luxury housing, the street level filled with cheap stores and cheaper national chains.  Any hint of a movie theater has been obliterated. But ghosts of those stairs are still there, etched into brick, holding memory of a rakish girl sneaking in to see a pitcha.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

So Sayeth Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained....

...Life breaks free, expands to new territory, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously."

And somehow, despite New York rents and real estate, so does art.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jutta's Kitchen Blooms

She has six pieces in a show. She paints every day. She wakes up to music in her head, sometimes songs from her childhood, sometimes Broadway tunes and often Mozart because "he's my man."

She lets nothing stop her, not a recent fall, not the mercurial nature of acoustics and one functioning ear, not the worries of fixed incomes and stringent budgets and certainly not eight decades plus of facing whatever life has thrown at her.

What have you done today?

Faces and Places
March 4-28, 2009

West Side Arts Coalition
Tompkin Square Library
331 East 10th street (Between Ave. A & B)
New York, NY 10009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Memories - ... And Don't Call Me Shirley*

It was 1979 and me and Dany saw it in a theater - probably the nice one on 8th Street and University before NYU bought it and made it a fancy screening center for their students.

And then Sony invented a VCRs that was affordable and VHSs could be rented down the street at the new video store which had replaced the neighborhood hardware store. So me and Joni watched it at home.

And then I watched it late night on TV in between the commercials that made it look like a classic drama.

And then years and years in between normal conversations peppered with "Joey, do you like movies with gladiators?" and "Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.", an occasional DVD rentals from the library when times were blue.

And then 30 years after that first time in that movie theater, a gathering in a living room because two friends had never seen it and we all wanted to be there to watch them laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh...

*AIRPLANE! (1979)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

If Victor / Victoria Was A Diner...

It's a diner pretending to be a restaurant pretending to be a diner. But everyone goes there. The cops with their cute tushies wiggle-waggling their guns and night sticks, the sober table of sober men murmuring and eating and sipping many coffee cups and then like Catholic boys at their first mixed dance, checking out any woman going to the bathroom, the two gay guys with great plates of fried foods (I thought the middle age one was cruising me until he reached over and tongue kissed his boyfriend for about five minutes), several fathers with enthusiastic little daughters ("I have NEVER in my ENTIRE life been here at night, Daddy.") and our table's favorite, especially after a long discussion of how Sophie Loren could have done that to her face, a woman probably as old as Sophie Loren, but with a face that still sings every moment of her life, framed by bright red, teased hair that still claims pride and delight in her girlish sense of style.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


MARRYING GEORGE CLOONEY - Confessions From a Mid (dle of the night) Life-Crisis

By the one, the only, the absolutely incomparable AMY FERRIS!!!!

Available September 2009 on www.amazon.com

And from the delicious Ms. Ferris:

It is so funny (okay, hysterical) and charming, and so poignant (and very funny, did I say funny) -- as someone recently said, its just like david sedaris but for menopausal women. really. menopause - mine; dementia - my mom's. it was only supposed to be about my menopausal journey, my whacky, off the wall, weird 3 am musings, my middle of the night journey -- but of course, my mom had to join in, and we have met here: right smack in the middle: an amazing, wonderful, take no prisoners memoir.


Some people, if there's something weird, and it don't look good, call Ghostbusters.

But for me, if there's something weird and it don't look good, I call Cousin Ruth. Because she is just about the smartest, most insightful person I know.

And now Cousin Ruth, with colleague Hannah Wiltshire, is starting a business helping parents parent.


She'll be presenting a workshop so check out the info below and her new cool website!

Limit Setting Workshop

Do you ever find yourself wondering how to set appropriate limits? Or even what limits are appropriate to begin with?

In this workshop we will focus on ways to incorporate discipline into your household without locking horns with your child. Learn how to convey what behavior you expect, what is unacceptable and how to follow through with realistic consequences. Led by Hannah Wiltshire and Ruth Wyatt, co-directors of Everyday Parenting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time: 7:00pm

Location: 39 West 14th St. Suite 307 (between 5th and 6th Avenues)

Individual - $15.00 in advance; $20.00 at the door

Couple - $25.00 in advance; $30.00 at the door

¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Everyday Parenting is an exciting new, comprehensive parenting resource, serving families throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. It offers a wide range of services targeting the needs of both new and experienced parents, with children from birth to teen.

Hannah Wiltshire and Ruth Wyatt, Directors, are both NYC parents, educators and clinicians. Between them they have over 25 years of experience working with parents and teachers and developing and leading workshops.

For questions about these events or to reserve a space, please contact us at info@everydayparentingnyc.com or 212-560-2340.

To register online or for more information about Everyday Parenting go to www.everydayparentingnyc.com.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Know It's Against The Law To Take Photos In The Post Office ...

...but I wanted to capture it before it became condos.