The Laundrymat on 13th Street, now an expensive dessert place of cereal flavored milk, was packed with cheap, big machines in a small crowded concrete storefront. It was run mostly by the Russian wife, and occasionally by her husband but never by her son who looked like her in sideburns. Tons of quarters were poured into plastic dishes for the machines and little boxes of soap were for sale under the always-on TV.
Just like an old bar, it was packed every day with its regulars. All the Chinese extended families from 12th Street, the differently-able adults from the residence on 2nd Avenue, a couple of former drinking buddies of mine from 13th Street, and the growing post NYU market-rate tenants who more often than not dropped their bags of dirty clothes off to be done for them.
Keeping my clothes clean and pristine hid the fact they were old or third-hand or that I couldn't afford new ones. So that laundrymat was important to me. I nodded to the same folks every week, jockeyed with frenemies for a dryer or a washer, caught up on my People Magazine reading and commended my favorite young man from the residence on his detergent pouring technique. (He was most proud he could do his own laundry.)
And then disaster struck. Someone's ballpoint pen stuck in a machine ruined most of my carefully preserved clothes. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened. But when I complained to the son he told me it hadn't happened, even while staring at Jasper John-like streaks on a beige windbreaker.
Then almost immediately after that, Aunt Ruth died and left me some money - just enough to buy my own washer-dryer unit.
Suddenly, like a few of my better off neighbors, I had the means to put myself in the realm of utter rich luxury. I was going to be able to cross over into a comfort of living I never could have imagined ever.
The minute my washer-dryer combo unit was installed I immediately started doing all the laundry I could gather, load after load after load. I forced myself to stop only because a friend was doing a reading at the Astor Place Barnes and Noble, now a luxury, upscale gym. The minute the reading was over I rushed back to do more laundry.
In the next 15 years, I loved that combo washer-dryer more than I loved several boyfriends. There was only one I loved as much and we happily did each others' laundry until the day he left.
Then some years ago, something broke and the washer tub tilted and groaned and scarcely swirled.
The repair guy, warning me never to leave the house while doing a load, quoted a number that was beyond my budget. Still, even half turned on its side and barely rotating, the washer kept my still modest collection of clothes pristine for a couple of more years. I thought it, like laundry with that man I had loved, would go on forever, regardless of broken pieces and limited abilities.
Until tonight. A simple load thrown in produced a flood from the insides. There was no more denying. My beloved little washer was tired. I coaxed another load on a gentler cycle but I could tell there was nothing left it could do.
For friends who grew up with such an appliance in their homes, my attachment to this has been a bit odd. But perhaps it is similar to say a kid in the suburbs getting his or her driver's license or their first car. It is a mark of coming of age. For other than that time of laundry and love, it has been my greatest success at bringing comfort and care into my home.
Goodbyr old friend My old friend There's somethin' I must let you know I haven't said it much I guess I've lost my touch But, my old girl, I love you so
Why my Jewish parents did this or what they were thinking will forever remain a mystery.
Every year when the blinking lights went up and the store windows filled with moving animals, toys and people, my mother and father, my sister and me would leave the lower east side where nary a Christmas tree could be found and head to Macy's to look at all the Christmas decorations.
In those days, the corner window squeezed in between the Nedicks doors had a special Santa throne. We would wait in the freezing cold and then he'd suddenly appear out of the chimney or a beautifully wrapped box and the crowd would go wild as he waved through thick glass that blocked the sound of our cheering or his 'ho ho ho's.
He also lived on the 8th or 9th floor in Santaland. We may have visited him on more than one occasion but I only remember this one time.
I was in fifth grade and it was not going well. Especially math. I was worried. My father, I think, brought me up to Santaland which for some strange reason was almost deserted. I didn't quite get the "ask Santa for presents" deal. I knew it was my dad or my mom who produced the eight days of Chanukah presents. And our God which we never discussed was busy with plagues and lion dens and Israel.
I was kinda big to be climbing onto Santa's lap, but desperate times call for desperate acts. There was only one thing I really wanted that couldn't be gotten anywhere except from someone who made happy dreams come true.
I perched my ten year old self on his knee, and when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him. I want to pass math.
It recently occurred to me, 40 plus years later, that maybe he didn't hear many requests like that. At the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable. Passing math was beyond my own abilities, asking my parents for help was beyond theirs and our God was busy with more important things. It was going to have to be up to Santa.
As if it had already happened, he decreed, "You'll pass math."
And so it came to pass that when fifth grade ended many months later, I had passed math.
The West Side Train Yards - soon to be luxury high rises.
Before the rare purchase of that car, it used to be trains, subways or a Greyhound were the only way out, that is if we had to leave.
Airplanes were as exotic as suddenly living in a Hollywood movie. Beyond imagination. So we didn't imagine. Unless there was a death in the family in a very far away place like California and then only one of us got to go only once.
But besides death, the annual trip to Philadelphia to see aunts, uncles and cousins was about it.
After reading that Bach had lived and died within 60 miles of his birthplace I swore to my mother or my sister or my dad that I would never do that. I was going to go far and away and die some place that proved I had left.
Those train yards and those trains look like what my feet could do if I had kept my promise.
That section of the subway had always been a tunnel, rough concrete, bleak light and often empty except for those not lucky to have a home or another way to make the connection between the BMT and the IRT or IND. If you could get to the Port Authority another way you usually did.
Then they made Times Square pretty and that meant the subway too. Beautiful tile and picturesque murals. Even the bands got upgraded.
Saturday night, I had heard the strains of a band banging out Beatles drift down to the platform on my way uptown to another attempt of joviality.
On the way back down, I found myself in the now pretty tiled and brightly lit tunnel. There at the mouth was a motley crew of men and one woman crowded together, her in a Santa hat doing bass lines like nobody's business as the Beatles' A Day In The Life poured into space once too dismal to walk.
The words of suicide and desire and then that last chord never ending of both feelings followed all of us rushing to the BMT line.
On our side of the Williamsburg Bridge there were barely any electric menorahs in our windows. Our menorahs, old brass or faux silver with blue inlays to represent Israel, lived on tables and had old melted candles of muted colors, candles bought in the same blue box made by the same company from any store on the Lower East Side.
So it was the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge that every year as it got colder and colder I would watch carefully. There, the tall projects would burst, window by window, into brilliant colored lights rarely seen in the homes I knew. I counted them, like counting flowers in a garden.
It was more than a year and a half ago, but it seems like just yesterday he was chewing on envelopes almost as big as him.
Today Jupiter is now 15.9 pounds.*
And just like that first week he moved in when I heard myself laugh again for the first time in years, this year with all its new days and weeks, I've watched myself love again for the first time in years.
*Us waiting for Dr. G. to break the news Jupiter needs to eat a bit less.
It had been years because the menorah had been up in a closet and Dana couldn't reach it. This year Ping brought it down. The miracle of a helping hand.
Dana couldn't remember if there were candles but Ping found the two boxes Dana had tucked away years ago. Another miracle.
I was able, after weeks of work, to come visit. Miracle!
And then Dana sang the bruchas and for the first time in years, miracles of miracles I got to celebrate the Miracle of Lights.
Of course neither of us could remember the words to Rock Of Ages but the miracle of joy at sharing the holiday together unfolded instead.
Rock Of Ages
Rock of Ages let our song, Praise thy saving power; Thou amidst the raging foes, Wast our shelt'rng tower.
Furious they assailed us, But Thine arm availed us, And Thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us. And Thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.
The Eight Days Of Miracles
Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.
In the trenches, everyone had to figure out how they were going to pray. This being New York, there were many versions to pick from just in case you couldn't do the old white guy with the white beard up on a white cloud.
For a while mine was a hand on a doorknob. Somehow that seemed to opened me up to hope that the war, both within and without, would end.
This guy said his was always the Chrysler Building. He could always look up and see a beauty of lights.
Decades later, the hand on the doorknob often got dimmed by worry and fear. But with so many glass building crowding the sidewalk, I found myself catching glimpses of a beauty of lights, remembering that however I understand it, there was a greater expanse awaiting me. I just had to look up.
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.