But Elisabeth's gaze, looking back or looking forward, is the same. A uncertain wonderment at a landscape that could become many things.
Will the hotel buy the building or will the lease be renewed? Will the block stay a working block of mom and pops or become another obituary in a vanishing New York? Will the studio survive or will it become another casualty to the diaspora of artists leaving for kinder land?
This guy I once dated said libraries were for poor people. I should have broken up with him then, but fear of loneliness can make one quite stupid. If only I had gone then to the library and taken out books on self-esteem....
The library was where Florence took us instead of synagogue or church. It was as cherished as Town Hall or Carnegie. It was as sacred as the Met Museum. It was as intimate as home.
The library was a haven from chaos and a secret passageway to knowing stuff stupid people didn't want us to know. I learned about where babies came from and where Nazis went to (not on the same day, though). I listened to music I had to hear but couldn't afford. And each time I took out a book, I felt like it was Christmas, Chanukah and my birthday all rolled up in one. I still feel that way.
These days trundling down to my neighborhood library or the one uptown, I see the 95 year old former Rocket still doing high kicks to the check-out guys and then scooping up her weekly stash of books.
I see tons of babies and little kids bursting like fireworks because they are headed into story-hour.
I see people who can't afford laptops have access to the world.
I see the elderly have company and a place to go to read the day's paper.
And when I can't bear another wall to my own words, I see a quiet, safe space where I can keep writing.
I see my city, my life and my home.
The library has made sure democracy is for all of us, not just those who can afford an education, a laptop, or literacy. And yet, a proposed $43 million budget cut is being introduced that would decimate what is already a beleaguered institution.
Click here and fight back. Fight back against stupidity and short-sightedness. Click here and fight for a world where, no matter how much you have in your pocket, you are entitled to knowledge.
I really couldn't tell time for... well ... like a really long time.
So, to marked the passing of what I couldn't read, I did like plants do or what my cat does now -- by time, by light, by sound, by wind and, in my case, by the leaves on the trees in Sheriff Park.
As the trees got greener and the smells in the air weren't of radiators and cold, wet wool, I knew, just knew there would be a knock on the door and our version of Santa Claus, the United States Postal Delivery Man would appear with the holy grail of wonderfulness - a Sears & Roebuck box.
And without fail, at the very last possible second of the very last possible day that demanded I wear a sweater and my sturdy, once-a-year oxfords from Kaplan's on Clinton Street, that knock would come.
Ilona came to New York from Hungary in the late twenties. As soon as she saw the city from the boat, she wanted to go back to the vineyards and mountains. She lived in Harlem with her brother, Herman and made paper flowers on the Lower East Side for $4 a week. This led to a career as a designer with a business card. Heady stuff for an immigrant single lady. Famous hat makers used her handmade flowers on hats and gowns. She was my mother.
She married, gave up her 34th Street studio and had me. Our little family moved to the Bronx where there were parks. I moved to the Village when I was seventeen.
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.
Gaby, a wonderful photographer and writer who works in television in Buenos Aires recently came to New York for a visit.
There's something exciting and expanding when a visitor observes the intimacy of one's home. Her postings of her trip can be seen here. This new blog, La Piel de Las Cosas, will also explore her own wonderful city, the only place I'd live outside of New York, allowing us to see her Buenos Aires and other glimpses of home.
The windows in the county clerk were high up and big and dirty and they looked out onto a little street I had never seen before.
The little street was filled with trees and a couple of big statues and no cars and on the other side were big windows on a hallway in a big building. The people walking from one window to another made it look like moving postcards. Chunks of square rocks lined the side by the big windows.
In a corner of the little street, an older lady did Tai Chi by her shopping bags, then put her baseball hat back on, picked up her bags and made a cell phone call. A couple leaned on the base of a statue and filled out paperwork while giving touches that only a couple together for a while gave - the fixing of a collar, the patting of a hand, the leaning in of heads over mundane information.
Birds flew in and out of branches.
Where was this place?
Once released from the clerk's office, I ran around the building looking for it. There it was, hidden from the main street, this small stretch of Pearl Street and those chunks of rocks weren't just rocks. They were four fountains.
Until Florence got sick, I hadn't been back to the playground since kid-ness.
It was now renovated. They had torn down the kindergarten building that had the public bathrooms we used during our kindergarten bathroom breaks, and put up a jungle gym instead. The baby swings were still there and so was the sprinkler, which, when I was little, had been my idea of heaven.
But the sandbox was no longer there because sand had been deemed unsanitary. The big swings were gone because they had been deemed too dangerous (and judging from a small scar on my chin, perhaps they were). And the Men's Park was still empty.
However, the Bridge still loomed above the playground. That constant song of train and car was the same as it always had been, from the very beginning of me playing there, sometimes by myself, sometimes with other kids, and when it was summer, sometimes in the summer camp program. Florence, five stories up, practicing, always a shout away if it was time for me to come up or if I had a question, like could I play outside a little bit longer. That Bridge never left even when I went off to discovered Washington Square Park.
When I moved "uptown", I would pass the playground, year after year, decade after decade, on my way to visit Florence or a friend sitting shiva or a rare reunion with friends still on Grand Street. But I don't recall ever entering it.
Then Florence got sick. Almost over night, she no longer could rush through her city and her life as ferociously as blood rushed through a body. Suddenly days were filled with constant care.
So our big excursion, outside of making it to the car service waiting on the corner, became a trek to one of the park benches that faced the sprinkler and was practically under the Bridge. We'd sit there for what felt like hours, but probably wasn't and listen to the only thing that hadn't changed, that song of train and car.
And then, Florence, with growing awareness that this was it for her day, her life, would ask to go home before she had to admit how heartbroken she was that the playground was now the limits of her world.
The test took the time it took and by the time it was over, it was time for lunch.
So me and the Mariner headed to our version of hospital food. Surrounded by every language in the book - Brooklyn, Long Island, French - we ate and kibbitz with the "maitre d'" (which I don't know how to say in Yiddish) and by the time the Mariner got back from the bathroom, said Maitre and me had found out we grew up down the street from one another and his friend still lived in the Quartchyard.
At his 70th birthday party, his wife-friend-comrade-in-arms, in her homage to Miles, sang his praises in a few perfect words that dropped pearls onto a single strand, and his daughter bantered back and forth with him on the merits of bands and musicians that only a few would know unless you were in the know and they were.
And the rest of us heralded his passion, the sound and the fury that insisted on music being understood as a pillar of our hearts and souls and thus our world, a passion that included everyone, be it neighbor or sibling, be it colleague or friend, or be it a kid from a small town writing to him decades before email and online and internet and click, requesting a copy of his top picks of the year and enclosing a dollar for the xerox, only to have a copy made and the dollar returned because in Bob's world everyone was welcomed to the table.
*from Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and what was written on the birthday cake
A series of photographs and favorite poems from Jacques, a Frenchman who wanders through Her New York, capturing little mysteries and secret corners.
You sit here now on the hard chair and think about these things and you don't know whether you are happy or sad. And you wonder if you'll ever think some day about now, and if then everything happening now will be nice to think about.
Alvin Levin, "Love is Like Park Avenue"
*** No photograph may be used without permission from Jacques. Please contact my private coney for more information.
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.