It was like the names of the seven dwarfs or those reindeers. But in the courtyard (pronounced courtch-yard) we had (to the tune of that reindeer song) Mikey and Kushna, Skinny and Bob, Frisky and Blackie and that randy-like Tom...
Hartstein the cop hated them and was constantly yelling at us to stop playing with them. But except for Marcy's dad's fish, those cats were the closest thing any of us got to having a pet. (I don't count the summer I had snails.) (Or the gerbil that kept dying.)
It was normal for our parents to take us to the Metropolitan Museum. Not sure why. Just was. Only recently I realized those big tableau paintings were, after Lang's fairy tale books, my illustrated bible stories, the Family Of Man photos, and Friday night at Gramma's, a way to see a movie of the passion I felt in my soul.
YELLING! SHOUTING! BABIES AND OLD PEOPLE CRYING! BIG BURLY MEN CARRYING BIG DELICIOUS WOMEN!!! WHAT'S GOIN' ON HERE!???!!
HAPPY MOMMY AND DELICIOUS BABY LOVED BY HAPPY MOMMY JUST LIKE ON TV!!!!
ANGELS AND MAGIC DO EXIST! THEY'RE GONNA MAKE IT ALL BETTER!!!
LOVE! LOVE!! THE GIRL LOOKS LIKE THE GIRLS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD YOU KNOW BIG AND JUICY!!! LOVE IS POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME!!!!!!!!!
WOW!!! LOOK!!! SHE'S IN THE MIDDLE OF A MYSTERY!!! LIKE JAMES BOND ONLY DIFFERENT!!!!!! * All photos taken, possibly against the rules, at the Met this past Friday night.
Another one of Dana's short New York stories. I seem to have trouble visualizing accurately how my face betrays my age. Especially when I hit a patch of exhaustion and my color drains completely. On my birthday I went to Trinity Church to hear a concert by a group called Alhambra. They specialize in Sephardic songs accompanied by very exotic instruments. Sensuous and rhythmic 14th and 15th century melodies. When they ended, I was caught in their spell. But hunger and fatigue had to be remedied. I crossed the street to a dingy pizza joint and ordered a large orange juice. Then I plopped down at a corner table to simply rest. I closed my eyes for a moment and awoke suddenly when a young Asian woman poked her nose in my face and asked tenderly “Are you all right?” followed by, “May I buy you some lunch?”
My first thought was “I really must buy a new winter coat. My God, I must look dowdy."
“No lunch, please.” I told her I was enjoying my birthday but just needed a little rest. Then I stood up and left the place. She followed me asking where I lived and how I was planning to travel home. I kept reassuring her that I would take the subway, as usual. She offered to escort me down the steps. I refused her kind help Then she put something in my right hand and ran into the crowd. I opened my hand to find a neatly folded $5 bill. I was truly shocked but also touched and somewhat ashamed at her judgment of me. Her compassion brought tears to my eyes. So that’s how I appear to her!
When I got home I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. There she was – the dear little old lady or perhaps the sad little crone needing a good meal. I swore I’d save that $5 bill forever. But I broke my vow 4 days later.
I'll be reading the first 12 pages of the new novel, ALL ABOUT DICK, which I started to keep me sane while finishing WIRE MONKEY. It did not keep me sane but now I'm in too deep to stop. ALL ABOUT DICK: the night just perfect for love, that corner about to be turned, a really bad joke told by God
Writer's House Reading Series Kettle of Fish 59 Christopher Street New York, NY
June 24 7pm
with Carola Dibbel (bohemian slapstick!) and Elizabeth Smith (cowboys and tampons!)
Except for the rare trip on the Greyhound Bus to Philadelphia and later, after a purchase of a car, two trips to Atlantic City, leaving New York happened on public transportation - the F train to Coney Island or the Staten Island Ferry to... well... no where really. All we did was get off the ferry, run around the corner and reenter the terminal to wait to go back to recognizable land.
Later, when I had my own set of wheels - a three speed Raleigh bike - or enough carfare to take the Madison bus to the First Avenue Bus connection in Chinatown, that ferry ride because respite, refuge and freedom. I'd stand in the back of the boat as it slugged it out with the water and learned perspective. I lived in the most beautiful city in the world, on the most beautiful harbor in the world and I was going to be OK. Everything was going to be OK.
Before ipods, before walkmans, before tvs, before cable, even before satellites left the world of sci-fi and went into the sky, it was a transistor radio stuck to your ear, the crackle of the announcer "foul... rbi... and he's... OH AND IT'S.... bullpen... " and the fiddling of the tiny dial not a button preset but a precise touch and turn that required the finesse of an ancient watchmaker.
This is how she looks today and it's also exactly how she looked 40 years ago when we met in 5th grade. She was one of the new girls transferred from PS 134 on East Broadway to PS 110 on Broome Street. She was exotic and worldly and exciting. She was clean and graceful and unwavering. I was a baby monkey on caffeine. I longed to be her elegant grace. I still do.
I had my first real birthday party at her house (it was a surprise). We suffered through the punches and grabbing and pushing at J.H.S. 56 together (she chased Willie Joe down Pitt Street after he sprayed her hair with Pledge. It was a fierce sight to behold.) And after that we went on to survived the High School of Performing Arts where the dancers and actresses ruled the boys and us musicians had to be inventive just to be seen. (I gave up and hid in the staircase during lunch for two years.) We ate, drank, and partied together and at some point in our late teens, maybe early early 20's, we were roommates in my first and only apartment. I still have her lamp, table and the dish, cup and bowl she left behind. She still looks like she lives here when she visits.
But what I remember most and always of Her New York was the day in 6th grade we got back our creative writing assignment. I don't remember what I wrote. But the moment I read hers my life changed. This, I remember thinking, is real writing. This is literature.
"What are you doing with your mother's stove? You going to sell it?"
(Actually it was more like "whatcha gonna do wit ya motha's stove ya gonna selit?")
Little Mitzi was finishing off a day of collecting signatures in front of Moishe's Bakery for I don’t know what. We were walking back to the building she and Florence had lived in as neighbors on different floors for 50 years. She had been a school aide at PS 110 when I went there.
Talking to Little Mitzi, punctuation didn’t exist. At least in the conventional way.
”I used to visit your mother we have the same stove a Welbit I lost some knobs she said here take one of mine I said NO! what are you going to do NO! keep your knobs NO! but if you're going to sell the apartment because they don't make those knobs anymore I called they said they don't make them anymore I love my Welbilt I used to visit your mother she was lonely she told me."
I promised to give her the knobs if we ever sold the apartment. When I asked to take her picture she said "No! I'm a very private person" and flounced out of the elevator.
What happened when in 1982 an ex-roommate from Holland told her best friend to come visit New York because we had a ton a space for guests:
January, 1982: Best Friend sits next to Strange Young Woman on plane and tells her "Oh I know a place you can crash at in New York."
Best Friend and Strange Young Woman show up at apartment after wild party. Beds made, pizza offered, party continues. Strange Young woman corners me as I make up guest beds and confesses she just met Best Friend. I think, "Oh God, we have a serial killer in our house.""
Strange Young Woman turns out to be funny and smart and a great gossip. We figure out a way to kick out Best Friend and keep Strange Young Woman.
We become great friends. I leave the United States for the first time and visit Strange Young Woman in Holland. I also find out they have toothpaste and toilet paper too.
Because of Strange Young Woman, I am introduced to Lesbian Nation, meet first, second, third girlfriends, get involved with Lesbian theater, become an actor, become a writer, go to graduate school, survive my return to dating men, become a film/video maker, go to another graduate school, visit Spain with Strange Young Woman, and together survive family weddings, gatherings, passages, memorials, heavy breakable ceramics we buy in whatever country we are in, drink, eat, gossip, grieve, walk, watch, consider, grow, bury, celebrate, survive break ups, break throughs, kittens, dogs, homes, ice cream, and shopping sprees of teeshirts...
One day it is not 1982 anymore. It is 2009. She is no longer the Strange Young Woman. She is family and it is 27 years later. From that one accidental meeting on a plane and her accidental stay at this home, my life became irrevacably changed and forced onto the road of its destiny.
Well, there were horses in fairy tales and history books. There were toy horses that raced across the bedroom floor. There were horses at the Metropolitan Museum although they just felt like blown up fairy tale horses. And although there were the $1 pony rides at the Central Park Zoo, I'm not counting them because they were just ponies the size of a big dog.
Then there were these horses, huge fierce powerful metal ones about to leap off the stone boxes and gallop into traffic. I didn't know the size of a real horse until later when I began to wander into neighborhoods that had mounted cops. And the first time I rode a horse, I was shocked. Those reins didn't feel like the handle bars of my bikes. So I returned to admiring the metal ones.
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.