The Village Voice trucks would pull up at the kiosk at Astor Place on Tuesday night. We'd already be waiting on line, hoping the classifieds were full of better paying opportunities than the shitty jobs most of us had.
That was rarely the case. Instead, escort services, sales jobs that seriously challenged what was legal and office assistant jobs that were anything but.
Now it's a daily "getting on the internet line" every morning, be it Craig's List, Monster or the New York Times. And now it's illegal wire transfer scams and ponzi schemes and office assistant jobs that are anything but.
*** A series on job hunting and gainful employment.
It was mid-day and the bus was packed with walkers. Most of us sidled by or stepped gingerly over the wheels that couldn't help but protrude a bit into an already narrow aisle.
However, the lady with the cane was peeved and as she got off, complained loudly and directly to the several walker owners about how much space they took up.
I thought, well, how great it is that we live in a city where buses have these platforms that go down to the sidewalk and then rise you up like the Queen Mother on her way to christen a ship. How great it is we live in a city where people with walkers and canes and wheelchairs and just tired old legs still move through it as they always have, only now with a little extra spin.
How great it is we live in a city where it is still yours and mine and hers and his New York even when we get too old for just two legs.
Dany asks if Florence ever didn't know who we were or where she was.
There were plenty of times, but I recounted the two moments that stuck with me the most.
One was in the ER when she tried to comfort me and urge me forward but couldn't remember any of the words. So she tapped out rhythms, counted out beats and conducted a bit, her thoughts and ideas buried deep in the language of music theory she had taught me since I was three.
The other moment was one of the many days we sat together watching movies we had just seen a week ago. Her favorites were Singing In The Rain and Sister Act. On this particular day, I took a picture of her visiting with Whoopi, somehow knowing it was time to capture it because it was time that was running out.
On that day, I did what I occasionally did - ask a bunch of questions to see where her memory was or wasn't. I told myself I was just keeping track. But part of me still didn't believe she wasn't leaving and my asking was me trying to prove it was all a mistake and that she was in fact getting better.
So I asked what I usually asked. "Do you know who I am?"
This day, though, was just like the other times, only worse. Her face got that terrible look on it like a little kid who knew she was failing in front of Teacher but couldn't remember what the answer was and was trying not to cry in front of the class.
And just like the other times I felt terrible for trying to prove I was wrong about everything going wrong and right about her returning home to the way it used to be.
I don't know what got into me, but without thinking I asked, "Do you know who Louise is?"
She paused and for a brief moment looked as she always had when pondering something important. Then she turned to me and tentatively answered, "Our boss?"
Somewhere, deep inside her muddled brain, my mom was still home.
The accoutrements of love were bursting all over the city. Everywhere you looked something herald the day of true love.
There were cupcakes.
And many tough looking guys carrying bouquets of flowers.
But very few looked particularly happy and no one looked the slightest in love. In fact one guy after giving his girl gorgeous roses then spent the next 20 minutes berating her about something as she stood there more and more stiffly, becoming a statue with stone flowers chiseled in her arms.
Until this couple.
There were no flowers or balloons or any sign of hearts and overly-sweet sentiments. All there was was her head on his shoulder watching something on her phone as he listened to music and did the crossword puzzle. Nothing else. Just the look of love.
A whole lot of tired commuters and families and boyfriends and girlfriends and kids heading home filed onto the ferry. And there along side us was that familiar gunner boat, keeping us close as we crossed the harbor.
Day came and with it tourists taking pictures of the sun beaming upon working tankers and tugboats and barges. Not a gunner in sight.
She laughed. The same way Florence would when to answer directly would mean admitting to a lifetime of fucking things up.
One of the Chinese kitchen workers from the nearby restaurant offered instructions on how to make her more comfortable.
As I talked to the police operator, I propped her up against my legs, while many young people came and went from the Irish bar next door. A couple of them offered to call or get help and one even tried to give me a dollar.
They were a better dressed version of my youth. And leaning against my legs was what could have easily been my old age, for it was on Second Avenue during days of booze, that my wobbling feet would weave up and down with hopes of love and when that didn't work out, hopes for cupcakes and something good on TV.
The ambulance showed up and the bouncer came out. "I told her not to sit down but down she went. She wasn't sitting there a long time, maybe a couple of minutes before you showed up."
"Perfect timing," I said.
After a couple of questions and snapping blue gloves on, the EMS guys got Maureen up on her feet. The bouncer watched and then said to me, "She just needed a warm bed tonight."
Like committing a petty crime for two-hots-and-a-cot, maybe getting drunk for a warm bed wasn't that much different than getting drunk for different kinds of sweets.
As I watched Maureen, tiny between the two EMS guys, hobble to the gurney, I looked into her face. Beat-up, sagging, ravaged by whatever bottle she lived in, there it was - the unmistakable memory of a little girl who must have laughed with great hope for something, something better than this, maybe even a little warm or a little sweet.
Bill said the Board had never received a petition like that before, over 400 signatures bursting with personal notes and stories and pictures and passion and love, commemorating and celebrating Cornell and the Flower Stall.
And so now we will always have Cornell there, standing witness to what it means to be in His New York.
We all gathered at Ginger's Bar, unimaginable we would miss a chance to adore the friend who never wavered in her decades of love for any of us.
And in between drinks and cake, we also reveled at the years of knowing and remembering and held dear to one another because 60 used to be old and now it was us soon or us a while ago.
In those long ago times, we had woven tender ties with one another, making family out of friends and surviving a world that didn't recognize the complexity of who we were and what we did. (Because of Pops, Joan and Judith, there was a place that demanded such acknowledgment and it still thrives today.)
And here we all were, with different alliances, different loves, different cities, and, in the case of Ruth, a different state.
I don't know all the stories each of us has about Morgan. I just know 11,000 days multiplied by a bar full of fierce friends is what I hope for when I'm lucky enough to have another birthday.
What the "I-wish-he-was-my-boyfriend" 20 years my senior, alcoholic, eye-opening, life changing, insufferable, insane, fanatically honest, painter, writer and drinking buddy said to me in 1980. And who, in his generous way, invited me to understand I was not a disco barfly girl, but in fact someone who sought to express a perception of the nature I saw around me.
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.