Marian and I had high expectations. We were about to go to see a one-woman theatre piece calls “the Amish Project”. It referred to the tragic murder of thirteen school kids whose Amish classroom was invaded by an armed lunatic.
At first I refused to join Marian in reliving such a terror. But word came from several critics of its unique value. Travel plans were finalized, and I was nearly dressed when Marian called at the last moment to tell me that there was a long, steep flight of steps from the street entrance up to the theater.
I am too disabled to manage those damn steps.
Marian decided to go alone. This was another time I had been rebuffed by architecture. Suddenly my missed evening struck me harder than the play’s tragic subject. I moped regretfully the remainder of the afternoon.
Stepping outside on my terrace to relieve the blues, I was thrilled to see a dazzling rainbow its enormous arc embracing the sky from mid-Manhattan to north Brooklyn, I began shouting to the strollers eleven stories below to “look up, look up, a rainbow!” But no one heard me. I was the sole beneficiary of the splendor. I was Finian himself.
That street was normal to me. It's where folks crashed either from drugs, booze or too much fucking.
It's also where people went to get the drugs, the booze, the fucking from which to crash.
If those buildings were beautiful you couldn't tell because everything was, well, normal which meant real people lived there and there were florescent lights in the hallways and if there was graffiti I didn't notice because graffiti was all over the place so how could you notice anything different?
It was part of the world we owned, from Avenue A all the way to the Nedicks on Sixth Avenue, from Washington Square Park to the youth center on 12th Street, and sometimes 14th Street when the rich merchant marine, who lived with his aunt and had really good pot, was back in town.
This street was our through-way and it's where we sauntered and stomped. It's where, before there was any way to instantly call or write or text to find a friend or a boy or a boyfriend, we had to actually show up, hang out on a favorite stoop and hope to run into whoever it was we were hoping to run into. And sometimes we did and some weeks we just waited.
In this picture on this stoop is my second boyfriend (my first was in 7th grade like years earlier). He was homeless and a runaway and crashing at Gypsy's on 4th Street. He came to New York to become a famous folk song artist. The new Bob Dylan. He was peppy and sweet and voted seriously most ugly. One night he and his best friend (also in the picture) went to Club 82 on 4th street and he thought he was kissing a woman but really it was a man who just knew how to look prettier than any of the girls we knew. He and I were already going out but I didn't care.
Years later I saw him running down our through-way screaming as some drug deal went south.
There was a women's theater group I was beginning to get involved with, and sometimes they would hold meetings at De Robertis.
I was shocked. I had never met anywhere for anything unless it was the principal's office because I was in trouble or the bar (which was certainly a place to meet but not for meetings). So stepping both into the unknown of this group of women, none of them from here, and a bakery I somehow thought was against the family law to enter (the wonderful cake beyond our self-esteem and wallets), it all felt very foreign.
I got used to going in but it still took years to order a pastry.
Now it's a place I meet others at often. Old friends, former classmates, even blind dates. In this picture, I'm meeting with Robyn and Joyce whose writings and struggles to write urge me forward.
Last year, on September 30th and the first day of Rosh Hoshonah, my mother, Florence died. She was the inspiration and core spirit of this blog series and its sister video.
However, each year the date of Rosh Hoshonah changes as the Hebrew calendar is lunar. So, as was her life, Florence's death is equally complicated and multi-layered. This year, for Rosh Hoshonah, I've re-posted the three 2008 entries that my sister and I wrote for Florence. On September 30, I'll re-post the freezing cold day our community came out to celebrate her life.
Perhaps such writing is unusual to do in response to the death of a parent, but Florence lived art before she lived anything else. Writing these posts when she died was the most appropriate way we could honor her.
C.O. Moed, 2009
**** In The Still Of The Night
The call from Penny at 2:13 am. Something is more wrong than the usual wrong.
I scramble for clothes….no, not that tee-shirt! I like that one. I’ll always remember I wore it this night.
I throw on a shirt I hate.
The cab driver doesn’t realize Columbia stops going two-ways at Delancey. He tries to speed on the East River Drive service road but hits all the red lights on Grand.
Does running fast through an empty courtyard in the middle of the night - past the fountain I sat by, down the same stone walkway I played on as a child - does running fast slow down bad things?
Two years of opening Florence’s front door to a constantly changing, always different "normal" - from a woman who could walk to the supermarket on her own - to this moment, a fragile sparrow held together by ancient skin struggling to breathe, her only seeing eye already traveling to other places.
When I ask her “can I take you to the doctor” the sound "no" shoot out, not from parched lips unable to close for fear of suffocation, but from a gut clinging to home.
So I sing the sutras. She sips some water.
There is still too much distress, I tell Penny. Penny is silent. She knows she can’t say anything. It’s not her job, it never was.
I pull out the the wishes made ten years ago. What decision can I live with, what decision can I not, old papers, words scratched out, other neatly typed….I read them again….what decision can I live with, what decision can I not?
Penny listens, tilts her head, raises her eyebrows, nods, listens, tilts her head, raises her eyebrows, nods...
It is near 3am. Doctor Russia calls back immediately. He assures me if it is another flare-up then the hospital can treat it. He assures me if it is the end I can get her home. He assures me I can refuse intubations. He assures me.
It's win-win I say to Penny. I’m calling 911.
I turn back and murmur to Florence “you are in so much distress I want to take you to the doctor I promise you I'll bring you home I promise you I'll bring you back home I promise you I promise…
“O.K.” whispered back - her trust in me, her trust she raised me not to lie.
EMT appear suddenly. HE is tall huge like a redwood. SHE is officious. They both stomp around with many big FDNY emergency bags. Two more show up. Such heavy boots. The neighbors below must know something is happening. SHE orders everyone around.
Suddenly Florence, my mother, my mother is suddenly no longer mine. She is THEIRS and I cannot stop THEM or the massive amount of medical equipments flying out of boxes and bags or the law that says the form we didn't fill out means THEY get to do everything.
When I hear my mother cry out I snap "no more" or "stop that" or something that attempts to get back my mother back to me. One of THEM steps in front of me and keeps me from stopping THEM.
The stretcher doesn't fit in the elevator so THEY tip her up. If THEY went a bit higher she'd be on her own two feet for the first time in months.
SHE tries to put me in the second ambulance.
"No! I'm riding with my mother."
HE points to the front seat - I can only ride shotgun, not in the back holding my mother’s hand.
SHE says, "Stop taking pictures please."
"I'm not taking any of you, just my mother."
SHE says, ”It's breaking HIPAA patient confidentiality."
"She's my mother. I am her HIPAA person."
SHE says, “Ma'am, it's breaking confidentiality."
I mutter under my breath, "I'll take a picture of my mother if I want to." But I'm too tired, too tired, too tired. "I'll take a picture of the coffee cups instead."
HE grins. My camera malfunctions.
I hear a siren from a distance and then realize it is ours. The fundamental things apply As time goes by
"Do you understand what that means if we do that?"
"Ok honey, ok sweetheart, I'm sorry, we're almost done, it's a bit uncomfortable, we're almost done..."
"Your mother was biting the tubes.”
"Yes. She didn't want them."
"I'm glad she was biting them."
"Let's make her as comfortable as possible now."
"I want her home."
"This is Dr. Palliative Care."
"What seems to be happening is..."
"Should I call my sister or can we wait..."
"Call your sister, now. Tell her to get here as soon as she can."
"The lab result just came back. It looks like she had had a heart attack and that's why..."
"I'm on the train platform. I couldn't find any cash for a car service."
"Mom, she’s is on the train platform. You have to hang in there until she gets here. You have to. I know you can do it. Hang in there."
"You're looking at the machine to tell you how your mother is doing. I'm going to turn off the machines so that you can just be with her."
"I can't remember the Cole Porter song, You're the Top. I didn't bring her cassette player to play her old songs..."
"Do you know when your sister might get here?"
"My mother will wait. She's going to wait until my sister gets here."
"Here. I just downloaded Pandora on my I-Phone. It's not all Cole Porter but similar. Here, put it by her ear..."
"Mom! She’s is here!"
thank you thank you I love you thank you so much for giving me I'm so grateful for I love you music is the most important thing in my life I got so much from thank you for my passion I'm so sorry so grateful for this I love you thank you so much I love you I'm so sorry I love you thank you
Then softer than, a piper man - one day it called to you And I lost you, to the summer wind
Near 6:25am, on the first day of Rosh Hoshanna, while my sister and I were taking turns holding her hand, the two of us talking to each other in that allegro molto staccato of words that we've always done, Fred Astaire, Ela and Sinatra playing into her ear from of the I-Phone of Dr. ER, in some brief second of some brief exhale, Florence (Frances) Deutsch Moed died.
My sister and I offer profound gratitude to Pearline Edwards, Ghislaine Carrington, Dr. Portnoi, Nurse Peters, Dr. Pool, Dr. DeSandre and the incredible staff of Beth Israel on both the 5th Floor and in the ER, the many FDNY EMT we rode with, and our incredible friends and her students and neighbors and beloved family who loved, supported, and travel this road with Florence and with us these past two years.
Don't let your bullshit compromise either of the above.
Don't lie. Unless you're drunk. Then really don't lie.
Look fabulous in your own clothes. They may have started out as hand-me-downs but they're yours now. Proudly recount their lineage. Never feel ashamed about that.
Never take a taxi.
Don't wear a coat in winter.
Carry your own weight to the point of pathology. Better to err on independence than not.
Refuse to lose at the hands of cowardliness, mediocrity, stupidity, and the need to blend in.
Suffer aloneness at the risk of fitting in with any of the above.
Refuse to feel fear. If you do, ignore it and keep going. Just like Florence did that night during a World War II blackout under the Manhattan Bridge by the movie theater (now a Chinese market).
Always put your work first. Always do your work. Always put your work first. Always do your work.
Rage against the Machine. Even when it looks like it's related to you.
Risk being laughed at by morons when you do something no one else is doing. Just like when Florence put on those roller skates in 1972 and skated up and down Grand Street and all those people laughed at her and then a couple of years every one had disco skates.
Start your entire life over at 60 like you were a 14 year old. Because on some level, you still are.
Fight back just like Florence did all the times someone mugged her or tried to mug her during the 1970's.
Don't EVER quit.
Know that that beer, that sandwich, those shoes, that jacket, those pants, that avenue, that movie house, that proper grammar, that street, that bar, that woman, that dance, that etude, that sonata, that scale, that subway, that bus, that hotdog, that boardwalk, that beach, that ocean is Your New York.
"My mother, Florence Moed, died on Tuesday, September 30, at age 84. She had dementia and had been failing for a while. The immediate cause of death was a silent heart attack and her death was quick. My sister and I are relieved. She was quite uncomfortable and no longer herself.
My mother had a difficult and often unhappy life. She had little love or support growing up from her extremely dysfunctional parents. She dealt with that, in large measure, by focusing intensely on being a serious pianist and piano teacher. Parallel to her devotion to Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms was her love of the popular music of her era, sometimes referred to as the Great American Songbook. It drove her nuts that she was so emotionally attached to these songs whose lyrics she sometimes found insufferably sexist. She was a lifelong progressive and a contrarian, especially regarding anything she viewed as bourgeois, such as marriage, sleepaway camp, taxis, and boasting about the accomplishments of one's children or grandchildren. She was very hard-working, honest, both very thrifty and extremely generous, and humble to a fault. She could be extremely irrational and volatile about personal emotional issues that she couldn't handle. Childhood with her and my father was not easy. Nonetheless, despite her quirky and difficult characteristics, she was a great mother. My sister and I were very devoted to her and tried as hard as we could to make her feel better about the life she had lived."
A story from my colleague about how a building made for world peace succeeded in unexpected ways:
The rooms in which countries meet soar with beauty and the ceilings and tables and chairs and wood walls all sing the best of intentions.
But during the cold war nothing, including breathtaking architecture, stemmed the shouting between adversaries.
Except at the bar.
There, my colleague recounted, one country stood at one end of the bar and the other country stood at the other end and in between their respective allies lined up. The shouting from the meeting rooms would continue as the bartender, knowing the exact drink for each person, would pour and deliver. And the more he poured the more the shouting "at" turned into shouting "with." The evening would end with drunk enemies making sure each other got home OK.
"In those days, things were very bad. I can't prove it, but I believe the reason the world didn't get blown up was because they all went to the bar after their meetings... These days, nobody does that. Nobody talks outside of the meeting rooms."
And on that note my colleague went off to get a cup of coffee.
We both needed to go to the big big suburban store you once only could drive to but now with some strategic maneuvering actually visit without leaving the city.
Carola and I planned this meticulously - from the bags we'd carry to the bus we'd catch and the time we'd catch it to the specific ferry we'd rendezvous with to how we'd would attack the store to allow optimum and efficient use of shopping skills.
And once there we dove into the sweeping views from the cafeteria, the amazing coffee, the running into old friends, and soaring space found in cathedrals and places not New York.
This is Seymour. He's my father. He is sitting next to a picture of Bubby, his mother. My grandmother. They outlasted in both life and in photographs, Poppy, her husband. My father's father. A short man built like an ox and twice as strong and one I have no pictures of.
My father's fear of the rage he inherited from Poppy kept him locked behind many doors inside his apartment and inside his heart. Sometimes, even at the sacrifice of your own happiness, you do that. You lock yourself up so others don't suffer the reincarnation of your childhood. It's not like Dr. Spock or 12 Step Recovery or even eclectic therapies were available in those days. Doors with keys were. Still, regardless of whatever keyhole we lived through, a hot temper embodied by a determined warrior existed with mix results in siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. I often wondered about that particular fire within me, so different from the one inherited from Florence.
Then just the other day, I received an email from Art, my cousin who investigated our ancestors.
"...your grandfather Abraham...seems he was quite a "cut up" --besides beating the crap out of his kids."
Attached was an article from the New York Times August 7, 1919 edition.
BRT SYSTEM PARALYZED: OFFICIALS OUTGENERALED. MOBILE FORCES OF PICKETS ELUDE PATROLMEN AND BEAT AND INTIMIDATE LOYAL EMPLOYES.
A great crowd assembled in the morning at the East New York shops where they were joined by several hundred shopmen who quit work. From the Point, Superintendent Eagan at 9 o’clock in the morning, sent the following telephone message to Police Headquarters in Brooklyn:
"Gangs of men are molesting our men. Get the reserves in a hurry to Livonia Avenue and the Long Island tracks. One of our men has had his head broken down there and our special policemen cannot handle the situations alone.”
Reserves were posted at that point and the trouble was brought to an end. The first arrest growing out of the strike was that of Abraham Moed 32 years old, of 132 Allen Street, Manhattan, a striker who was accused by Arthur S. Cassidy of the BRT with creating a disturbance at the Atlantic Avenue Elevated Station where he was urging employes to strike.
When she was a teenager, Florence would walk across it to mail a letter in Brooklyn. It cost 2 cents to mail a letter in Manhattan, but only 1 cent from Brooklyn.
There was a bathhouse underneath it on Cannon Street and everyone in the neighborhood went to it.
We grew up across the street from it in one of the first buildings in the neighborhood to have elevators and bathrooms not in the halls. We'd would walk across it but never get off in Brooklyn. It had a concrete walkway with low railings and lots of broken things. Florence would panic if we leaned over too far.
During Christmas time, I'd look across it to the housing on the other side and count the holiday lights blinking in the windows. They were exotic promises of another kind of life. One definitely with more candy and presents.
It fell apart during the Koch administration.
They rebuilt it after to be prettier and stronger.
Adrian walked across it all the time.
I walked across it with Adrian and it was different from when I remembered - it was nice and pleasant, not the barren concrete but the comfort of a pedestrian walk welcoming strolls and bicycles. I don't think people even got mugged on it that often. Walking across this time, Adrian and I got off in Brooklyn and had a burger. Then we walked back.
And just the other day Dana insisted I go out on her balcony and take a picture of it and the moon. And I stood there wondering about all the bridges we have to cross to new lands and other points of view.
AMY FERRIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS I RETURNED TO WRITING!!! THIS IS HER BOOK !!!!!
GEORGE CLOONEY IS .... well, OUT!!!
Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From A Midlife Crisis - Amy Ferris (Seal Press, Sept., 2009)
Welcome to the wacky, brilliant and absolutely wonderful world of Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis.
Amy Ferris offers up her heart and soul -- sharing all her down and dirty, raw-to-the-bone, no holds-barred 3:00 AM musings. Along with fantasizing about marrying George Clooney, she spends time negotiating her Ambien intake, deals with her ever-expanding body, worries endlessly about her husband, contemplates her Jewish mother’s rapidly progressing dementia (along with her newfound love of Jesus Christ), and googles old boyfriends ... all in the middle of the night while her patient husband Ken sleeps soundly.
Ferris courageously and humorously takes readers along for the ride as she negotiates and struggles through her own midlife crisis - ultimately discovering that menopause is an opportunity to fall madly in love with yourself. This wonderful, and profound book will not only change how you feel about menopause, it will forever change how you feel about the world around you.
"Marrying George Clooney is a wonderful read - disarmingly candid and laugh out-loud funny." John Berendt, author, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
"Amy Ferris is the menopausal David Sedaris." Sean Strub, Editor, Founder of Poz Magazine
"The profundity sneaks up on you in Amy Ferris's irresistible memoir. Ultimately, Marrying George Clooney is so surprisingly radical, because it's so frickin' real. You can't help but see yourself in Amy's wanderings and wonderings, and even forgive yourself a little in the process." Courtney E. Martin, author, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters
Please, make sure to send to all your friends, all your co-workers, everyone on your e-mail lists! and to all family members (that you're still on speaking terms with) -- awakening them to this fabulous, brilliant and heartbreakingly beautiful laugh-out-loud book.
For more information about Marrying George Clooney check out the website at www.marryinggeorgeclooney.com, become a fan on Facebook or buy a copy from Amazon.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Ferris is an author, a screenwriter, and an editor. She is on the advisory board of the Women’s Media Center, the Executive Board of Directors at Peters Valley Arts Education & Craft Center, and the Advisory Board of The Women’s Educational Center. She is a passionate champion for any and all things women-related. She lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her delightful husband, Ken, and...yes, she is wide awake at 3:00 AM.
For more info on Amy, or the book, go to www.marryinggeorgeclooney.com.
The Steinway L series grand piano hadn't been played since the fall of 2006 when Florence was too sick to sit on the hard chair, too sick to read music, too sick to begin an 8th decade of being an interpreter of Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Beethoven, Bach...
This Steinway had been built in 1923. Florence bought it from someone at some point in the 1940's. How a girl, underweight from frugal eating and penny pinching, saved up to buy an instrument worth thousands of dollars still bewilders and puzzles my sister and me. But working as a waitress up in the Catskills at the Borscht Belt Hotel of all Borscht Belt Hotels, Grosingers', Florence saved every cent beyond the bare necessities. Coffee, cigarettes, an occasional sandwich, or according to one friend, sometimes just a piece of toast for breakfast.
This piano, with its sweet mellow embracing tone, followed her everywhere, from Knickerbocker Village to Lewis Street to finally the courtchyard. We think they brought the piano up six flights of stairs , the windows too small for them to hoist it up from the roof like how they do it in TV commercials or sitcoms. Sometime in the 1990's she had it rebuilt which meant the piano went down and up the stairs again after 30 years in the living room corner. Otherwise, its place in her world was as permanent as sky or sun or her fingers which until her last breath were ferocious and strong.
This recent day almost a year after her death, Walter came by as he had during Florence's last years and opened both his bag of tools and the hidden recesses of her Steinway, to clean out the dust and stray pens and too many paper clips and a ticker tape parade of the brittle corners of pieces of music. When he finished, after almost three years of silence and seven decades of belonging to her, Walter's jazz poured out, proving this Steinway's tone still sweet mellow and embracing. And I sat where I had always sat when that piano was being played.
Another one of Dana's short pieces. This really happened.
Note to Readers: You gotta know a little bit about the Village, the streets and the buses. If you have any questions, just drop a comment...
"Standing in a downpour on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, I boarded a limited bus that would at least take me to a few blocks near my destination. My hope was to end up on Sixth Avenue and Third Street by dismounting at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street. Not great. But doable.
It was 5pm and I needed to be at the movie theater by 5:20. The driver understood my anxiety and simply said, "Sit Down."
When the bus turned left on Eighth Street to Broadway, I was shocked. It had actually taken me even farther from my destination.
"Last stop!" he announced to all the passengers.
I was about to get off when again he said, "Sit Down."
Then he drove south on Broadway and turned right on Houston and right again on Sixth avenue heading north. I expected him to sail right past my movie. I stood up and again he ordered me to "Sit Down."
I gave up, wondering if maybe he was kidnapping me.
Then to my utter disbelief, he stopped illegally at Third and Sixth. He had taken me to a spot across the street from the movie theater!
"Bless you!" I said.
"Bless YOU! he replied. It was the one time he didn't say "Sit Down."
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.