Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nighttime at My Private Coney

We never went at night. We went during the summer or on New Years Day.

However, Florence went at night (naked swimming).

This night wandering through I wondered if her nights were as alive as this one.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Memories -The Call of Nature

I realized too late that my previous decades-long acceptance of nature had been due to peer pressure from non-New Yorkers. The fact of the matter was that like Florence, I had no affinity for it. And in my case, as time went on, visits to the country or similar places were only tolerated if at the end there was a promise of food, sex or a train ride home.

A recent urging that I visit more pastoral settings to encourage some relaxation during a stressful time was met with a determined no until I was reassured it could happen in a near-by city park. Those trees counted.

However, wondering down Delancey Street I passed the parking lot where my father's Valiant four door green car named Charlie Brown had lived for years. And there I saw how nature was to me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Was This Still Here?

It was her annual trip...

...when in an elevator she had traveled in over half her life, she pointed to the worn patch of wood and said, "This is still here."

After dinner the missing of mothers drifted into words.

I looked up.

What was still here was how certain nights still felt like Florence if she were a New York evening.

So we wandered and looked at what was still here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Secret To A Long Life

"Laugh a lot and have a cat."


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Memories: Do You Know Where Your Memory Is?

There is no date on the picture, just a neatly written note from someone taught penmanship.

"this isn't a photograph, it's an illusion.


Who is he and why Florence kept this photo tucked away in other places than the photos she allowed to represent her life, we will never know. And it seems no one else does either.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Showdown

That pigeon knew what it was doing. Sort of like the stare across a school lunchroom when you knew there were a couple of teachers in between you and having to prove it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In The Still Of The Night The Sound Of Silence Revisited

In those days, only the fancy apartments or rich people uptown had air conditioners.  So, during hot summer days and nights, Florence, along with all the neighbors, would prop open her front door and hope for a breeze to waft in from the stairwell's window facing Columbia Street.

From all those many opened doors, all the different lives would  drift up and down filling the stairs with television commercials, occasional conversations shouted from one room to the next and the smells of a billion things cooking for shabbos or Sunday dinner - all of it weaving in and out of the village of thirty-five apartments.

One late night at home, during a heat wave that had gone on for days and with only a tiny air conditioner in the bedroom, I propped open my front door in hopes of relief.  A breeze blew in from the airshaft.  And as it did, the cat ran out, unable to resist the cool of 100 year old marble floors.  I tried to catch him until, feeling better for the first time in days, I realized he had a good point.

Soon after, like Florence, I began opening my front door into a cool deep night.  The cat and I wandered the stairs, listening to our neighbors sleep and humming along with all the air conditioners in the airshaft.  And after our stroll, the two of us sat in the still and the silence.

I miss the normalcy of open doors during hot days and sleepless nights, and when my door is closed because the neighbors are awake, I miss my mother.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Memories: a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 3

When the old people die in the old neighborhood, usually it's their kids who clean out the apartment.

But sometimes their kids send their kids who don't know what's what.   Or sometimes there are no kids so it's the niece or the nephew or their kids.  And sometimes it's even the kids of the neighbors next door  - complete strangers - who clean out the life of a person who has no kin and no connection except to the people in the photos they leave behind.

Which is how Laurel found all these old photos tossed in the garbage. She brought them home so that a discarded life and history could always have a home.
This is Delancy Street. The Delancy Street Florence roamed. The Loews Delancy in the background still looked like that when we went there on Saturday afternoons.

Laurel thinks this was taken on Orchard Street. The boy, the mother, and even if she was the sister, the young woman relegated to the back.  We all hoped the picture was taken when he was back for good. 

On the back of this, in beautiful fountain pen cursor, someone wrote "Herman. He played for the Czar." Since the only Russians who came to America in the early 1900 were Jews, all we could think was this was a Jew who played for the Czar. That was a big, big deal.

Did Herman ever make it here or did he die there, probably in a pogram or in the camps?

Me, Laurel and Joyce looked at this guy and we all said "He looks familiar. That place looks is familiar."

This picture, every inch of it, is a picture of one of those rare delicious moments I had as a kid - the evening dark, the clock early, the smells recognizable, the accent my own.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 2

Laurel and Joyce’s Uncle Joe and my Uncle George were friends.  They both played trombone. This was taken at the picture studio on Rivington Street.  Wittmyers. 157 Rivington. 

But after the war, both of them left New York and that was that. The only thing Uncle Joe wanted from New York was his trombone.  His mother mailed it to him.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

a) Inheritance b) Neighborhood c) Heritage d) All Of The Above: Part 1

Another on-going series of New York stories

Joyce and Laurel’s father and his family grew up next door to my father and his family in the tenements on Henry Street. Not the hip, over-priced, badly renovated, tons of cache, faux-street-cred tenements of today but the rat-filled, roach-saturated, filthy, over-crowded tenements of yesterday.

Their great-grandfather and grandfather had the stables down the street. They were the blacksmiths.  Laurel and Joyce say it like it is, no bullshit.  Maybe that came from the horses because you know you can’t bullshit a horse.

My grandfather taught himself English, showed up to whatever work he could get, despite suspected depression and was pro-union (although there's speculation it was just an excuse to be self-righteous and punch other people besides his wife and kids).  I think workers should be fairly paid for their work and I’ve shown up to every job I could get despite suspected depression.  Yeah, I got a temper but unlike my grandfather I keep it in check.

After the co-ops were built and the tenements disappeared, our families all got new fancy apartments near one another.  In our world fancy meant elevators, hot water, toilets inside the apartment, no rats and less roaches. Trees too.

(Dana's husband, George was one of the couple of men who got those co-ops built.)

Every once in a while, Dolly their mother would say "Let's go visit Florence" and they would come over and sit at the kitchen table, watching the trains going back and forth. Both of them knew the plaid "lumberjack" jacket from LL Bean and the Kedd sneakers Florence always wore.  No one in the neighborhood looked like her.  So it made sense they would remember.

They also knew we all walked everywhere.  Spending carfare was a very serious decision and if it wasn’t necessary then we didn’t.  And by necessary, I mean if the destination was less than an hour away by foot, the answer was no.  Even if it wasn’t, like Gramma’s, we had to walk back. 

Laurel and Joyce still live in the old neighborhood that was built on top of the old-old neighborhood.  I come downtown for tea and talk.  As I walked in the door, Laurel said, "Betcha walked here."  Of course I did. And although I’m not wearing plaid, it’s clear to see from my sneakers to my jacket, I got Florence’s fashion sense.

Both of them point out the window to a new, ugly, blue high-rise rising on the other side of Delancey.  “Blue Smurf dick,” they both chortle.  Like I said, no bullshit.

Joyce reminds me they played with my hair during those visits.  I don’t remember.  But something inside me remembers more than what they did with my braids.  I will probably get details wrong and forget about dates and lose track of which family did what, but I don't get wrong the neighborhood.   Because, sitting at Laurel’s kitchen table, my lower east side accent returns full force and I talk like I was six and home again.

Inheritance. Neighborhood. Heritage.  All of the above.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Memories - How My Sister Spent Her Summer Vacation

On Lewis and Grand you had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the now-luxurious-but then-barely-middle-class roof penthouse, a one bedroom affair quickly outgrown when I arrived and could no longer fit in a bureau's drawer.

But until my arrival, that penthouse was a sure fire way to beat the heat during the dog days of August. A metal bucket big enough for my sister and any breeze off the East River and stirred by the trains on the Williamsburg Bridge usually did the trick.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

...A Shadow In The City....

Those spots - where I dreamed something kinder than a hot summer and a silent family lived. Dragged by during long walks I swore if I could just get in there another kingdom would open before me.

Then I discovered bars.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why I Visit Dana - or - How I Keep Writing

"[Writing] makes me feel so close to my mind."

"Drag the brainless pen across the passive paper and see the result."

And on facing a blank canvas:

"The canvas is just four lines. What I put down is the fifth line. Let's see what the fifth line is."

Previous works by Dana:

The Gift That Kept On Giving

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Memories - And What Was Your First Job?

Her's was when she was 12.

It was the depression, they were all stuffed into that tenement on Henry Street, and school was a thing of the past because only her brothers, my father and my uncle, got to go on to the next grade.

So a relative who had some connections nobody talked about (and maybe still shouldn't) got her a job taking bets at the Armstrong News which was a racing sheet.

She got fired because she talked too much.

At her next job, age 13, she got a job at one of the Settlement Houses and went on to changed the world.