It was where we changed out of wet bathsuits because there was "No Changing Clothes" in the ladies rooms. Or where we slipped away, tired of the hot blanket and familiar faces. Where when it was too sunny we went for a quick respite before jumping back into the waves. It's where I saw full body necking for the first time and felt I had just visited an exotic land, that kind of touch in our neighborhood only happening behind closed doors or in movies.
I once asked Florence if she went under there as a teenager but her tough smile response let me know it had not been good memories.
Now, it seems there is no way to go under anything except in certain spots and those places look official.
When it was a store front, the small theater had no air conditioning. Come summer the stage either went quiet or waited for deep night when the heat occasionally lifted a bit. The front door was always open.
The landlord raised the rent by a quatrillion gazillion percent and, after leaving a couple of tons of sand on the walls and in the basement, the theater traveled up four flights into another building. With no stoop to cool the stage, come the heat, the lights went dark.
Today, reaching for a phone, it dawned on me that with the exception of one person, I was surrounded by people who had always dialed 212 or 718 or 917 or 646, and that the experience of picking up a phone and just dialing seven numbers had gone the way of the dodo along with some of my favorite diners, bookstores, cinemas, neighborhoods, streets, cities, and a few people I loved.
*and now for the joke MAN ONE: Are you a man or a mouse? MAN TWO: Put a piece of cheese down and find out!
Quiet was the absence of words, music, radio, and later, when we all went our separate ways and had our own homes, TV.
A New York silence, in a still night, was (and still is) filled with the noise of other people's lives. And the silence and stillness was (and still is) a muteness that came from watching lives we couldn't figure out how to replicate.
They've cleaned up the brick and I hear they even have computers in the classrooms. In fact, one time a couple of years ago I met a little girl who was somehow related to one of my old classmates from the other side of the bridge and she sounded really smart which was definitely not the case when we were going there.
Today, walking down Cannon Street what I remembered was this spot by the side entrance. Where M.P., who I thought was my boyfriend, threw the first punch and I don't remember much except a teacher pulling us apart and then dragging me to the janitor sink to rinse off my bloody nose.
What I also don't remember is what happened after. If I was scared to go home or scared to go to school or if my heart was just broken.
An on-going series about my friend, Cindy. Because she is so much a part of the heart and soul of Her New York
The Official Meeting happened when I was three, but Cindy and I must have passed each other in our respective carriages for years since she lived on the third floor and we lived on the fifth of the A Building in the Courtchyard.
She had several older sisters and I had one but I'm sure, judging from the wide gap in lifestyle our sisters did not play together. We were one second away from being considered gentile weirdos and they were Orthodox and, well, normal like the rest of the neighborhood.
In those days, either you got splinters from the old wood floors that had been there since the 1930s or you put down carpet or linoleum over all the wood. We didn't cover the wood.
And that's how, one day when I was three we met. The splinter must have been so deep and so large and my screams must have been so blood curdling, that Florence must have made a rare, and perhaps panicked, phone call because suddenly through my screams, I saw Cindy's mother appear in the bedroom doorway.
There was no way I would let her near me, especially in light of the very large needle she held, and my screaming wasn't diminishing because the pain of the splinter was growing.
Then Cindy stepped forward and thrust something into my hands.
It was a doll. A large girl doll and she was beautiful. I had never seen anything that extraordinary in my life. That's not what our parents spent money on. Clutching that doll, I let Cindy's mom remove a very large splinter.
All the cooing and caressing that follows serious operations followed. But all I did was clutch that wonderful doll.
In other neighborhoods, Happy Endings happen here.
But this was the Lower East Side in the 1960s. Because once everything was all over, Cindy stepped forward and before I knew it she took back her doll.
Maybe I wanted another crack at that doll but from that moment on we were fast friends.
O. graduated from middle school last night. It was a nice atmosphere. All of the 100 8th graders were supportive of each other. They marched down the aisle into the auditorium one at a time. As each child crossed the stage they called out the child's name and cheered them on.
When one boy got on stage the entire 8th grade class stood and clapped for him. O. later told me that no one from his family came to the graduation so they were his family. When another boy came on stage they started clapping, stomping their feet and chanting - the boy started dancing freestyle.
Three of the boys that graduated were blind. They came into the auditorium, across the stage and back to their seat without assistance - no cane. Most of us didn't even know they were blind. Last night was a "good night".
My neighbor took O. and their daughter out to dinner at a sea food restaurant - they consider him family.
Still, some of us believe that when leaks appear in one place but not another and sometimes not even near a pipe, it's Schneller back from the grave to remind us we were all terrible tenants who flushed things we shouldn't have and broke the elevator with our bicyles.
In honor of a line in a prayer "I deserve the freedom to be all that I can be...."
July 2009 ...And Dancing In The Rain
It wasn't that I had forgotten. It's just that I hadn't had to remember. But there she was, a little girl jumping and giggling and running and shouting in Wednesday's downpour.
When I was young and it poured humongous cats and dogs, Florence would send me out in maybe rain boots, maybe sneakers to play in the storm. I'd race around the empty courtchyard and jump and dance and skip and stick my face up into thunder and wind.
As of her decline deepened, the months and months and months turned into years and years, and to pass the time we would watch Singing In The Rain over and over and over again. The blessing of dementia allowed it to be an exciting revisit, one she didn't realize had just happened the week before.
Today, quickly snapping a picture as I futilely raced against getting soaked and miserably wet, I wondered if her quirky idea of playtime came from that passionate dance Gene Kelly did when he realized he was in love.
You wait for the words. You wait for the structure. You wait for the edits. You wait for the characters to stop complaining about the words the structure the edits. You wait for the colleagues to read and comment. You wait to rewrite. You wait to stop hating it. You wait to stop loving it. You wait to be finished with it all. You wait to think you could read it. You wait to be invited to read it. You wait to go on. You wait until it's all over.
And while you're waiting for all this, you are working like the devil on every word structure edit and complaining character.
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.