Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Memories Encore: Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Gloom of Night...Until Suddenly...


None of us really understood that things were changing for Florence.

She seemed as she always had been. Teaching cooking walking arguing fuming eating investigating practicing devouring life intrepidely sallying forth into the world as the force of nature that she was

The rare cracks were easy to ignore, more often than not camaflouged in the heart and soul of her New York.

This was the first crack I suddenly remembered ignoring.

A brief moment after a snowstorm on the corner of 6th street and Avenue A. Between her and the curb a pile of snow.

Suddenly she couldn't traverse it. Suddenly she didn't know what to do. Suddenly she was old.

Then suddenly some young men came up to her, picked her up, carried her over the mound and gently placed her on solid sidewalk before vanishing into the crowd.

She laughed and laughed and laughed about it because the sudden ride erased the sudden reality she could not longer climb her own mountains.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I wondered where she was at this age. My sister, doing the math, figured out Florence had just begun the life she had always wanted to live - on her own, practicing her art and dancing with girls.

There was nothing left to do but thank Florence for her labor 52 years ago, give gratitude for the day, and in the evening enjoy the company of friends and family who had witness my own journey to living as I had always wanted to.

Photo by E. Smith

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Meal

It had been a long while since this dinner had been attempted. More than time had to pass. The space for joy had to be carved out again and serenity and love had to be invited back in.

Along with the chicken, wine and cupcakes, a friend's cheese rice casserole was a new addition, perfect to herald in this next new year which, as the night flew by, was punctuated by a puzzled cat and talk around the table of Christianity in teen literature, the elections in Sudan, the eccentricities of certain writers, and the bravery of family who, during Jim Crow days, sat at Woolworth lunch counters to claim the right to eat at a table of their choosing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Memories: Tranformation

This is a room at the 14th Street Emanuel Y. Once it was the room we teenagers ruled just as the Vietnam War was ending and we were singing protest songs while shooting pool. The table was tilted and I ruled my advantage while eying the boy I liked.

Now on Friday nights, forty years later, a warm and intimate congregation does Shabbat services where, through the God of their understanding they call forth the spirits of justice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Little Men's Store on 14th Street That Could

It's the size of one of the bathrooms at the huge chains further west. But nobody carries what this store carries. Suave shirts, sharp pants, jewel colored sweaters and elegant shoes for clubs not listed in Time Out or websites catering to the hunt of hidden New York.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Light In The Darkness On A Federal Holiday

Chamber Street, New York City at 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Memories: More Traces of Love

Her chair for watching Her New York.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mi Butsadan Es Su Butsadan

It means the home of the Buddha.

And where else do any of us live but in a butsadan, for we are all a Buddha in our own way and right.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Aftermath of Revolution

Florence had once said of working one's art, "You have to train for that."

So today my comrade and my friend, Josslyn and I, as we have every year for 15 years, sat down to prepare another year of daily training.

One pot of espresso, one pot of drip coffee, two pots of tea, a huge salad, two chicken breasts, four kinds of dressing, one box of cookies, one orange, a bag of barbecue soy chips, and many glasses of water later, we chose new language never before used to describe our journey ahead.

We are, not will be.

We do now, not someday.

We demonstrate "I am" right here.

The revolution will not be televised. It happens with each breath we take.

The Disciples of Soul

The First Step


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Memories: Traces of Love

The Delegate's counter until recently.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It Was Her New York: The Angel of 14th Street

This is the Angel of 14th Street.

Her family came from Sicily to the East Village a long time ago. This was before it was the East Village.

Then it was just 14th Street or 12th Street or Avenue A. Then it was just the new home. But when they got finished with it, it was a neighborhood.

This is in the back of the building on 12th Street. This is her great great-grandmother holding her grand-uncle.

The great-grandfather owned the butcher shop on 11th and A. The great-grandmother worked in a dress factory on the lower east side. His money went to support the family. Her money went to savings. Soon they had enough to buy the butcher shop. And then after that, they bought 173 Avenue A (now a hip restaurant), moved the butcher shop there, expanded it into a little grocery store and opened a pizzeria next door. Everyone in the family worked in those and lived upstairs on the first floor.

Her uncle behind the counter at the butcher-grocery shop.

When he was five, the Angel's dad was put in the window of the pizzeria to toss the dough. Everybody knew everybody.

Her grandfather and her dad in front of the Automat when it was still on 14th Street.

Another great-grandfather, the cobbler on 13th Street also owned his own building. He went to all the other building owners and said "We need a church for our Sicilian order."

You know that church on Avenue A and 12th Street? Mary Help of Christians. That was the doings of the great-grandfathers of the Angel of 14th Street. Every uncle, aunt, parents, kids got baptized, married, everything there. Here her grandmother and grandfather are getting married.

But things change and the A&P came in and small grocery stores stores went out. The rents at 173 Avenue A didn't cover the expenses and soon the family sold, moved, disbursed. The Angel's family moved up and out. To Stuyvesant Town. She lives there still.

I asked, one New Yorker to another, what's one thing in this apartment you have lived in almost as long as I have lived in mine, that to you is New York?

"The step stool," and she pulled it out to show the life it had lived along side of her.

And then I asked, one New Yorker to another, where she'd go if she could go anywhere. "Get me off 14th Street! Life has got to be bigger than 14th Street."

And then we laughed because we knew we lived where the rest of the world wished it did.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Radical Acceptance

37th Street at 2:00 A.M.

What if, the book asked, you accepted life, right now, just as it is?

In all its emptiness and stillness, aloneness, and solitary rests, dark corners and brief pockets of light...

What if...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Memories: It Was...

City Hall R Train Stop, 2:00 A.M. New Years Day

After sidestepping puddles of proof teenagers shouldn't drink and avoiding the belligerent couple who, in their very un-New York style, complained there were no cabs to Astoria, we stood quietly on the platform, relieved that, just two hours ago, the last twelve months were finally a thing of the past and a history we could now leave behind.

It was the best of times, it was the worse of time...

It was now just memories.