Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Reruns During Brutal Writing Blocks: A Labor Of Love

Originally posted September 8, 2009

Florence said you had to train to stay home and work at your art all day.

El said she felt passionate about mixing her CD.

Dana said the writing comes when it comes. Like a rash.

O'Keefe said he knew his paintings were good but it was too painful to discuss.

I said living with what was inside me - the images, the thoughts, the stories - while trying to stay human was like a vampire trying to keep his best friend from becoming a meal.

And De La Vega left reminders on a cardboard box toss to the trash man that art comes where it comes and comes when it comes and like birthing it can't be returned to hidden recesses.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On The Ferry Monday Morning

The sunshine was still there but the coils of wearing responsible socks and shoes had already begun their tightening.  That didn't stop tourists or languid commuters from staring into horizons hoping extra days of freedom appear.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

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

Originally posted August 15, 2010

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 Delancey Street. The Delancey Street Florence roamed. The Loews Delancey in the backbround 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 23, 2012

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

Originally posted August 12, 2010

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 21, 2012

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

Originally posted August 10, 2010

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 19, 2012

Sunday Memories: My First Date With Bond. James Bond.

Baby Jupiter watches a James Bond car chase

Although he went to public school, he was a good Jewish boy, which is why we had to wait until after Shabbos to go to the movies.

It was my first date ever and I suspect his too.  

There was a double feature of James Bond movies playing at the Grand Street Loews (pronounced LO-EASES).   Having been schooled in Gene Kelly musicals, the height of my relationship to action flicks stopped at In Like Flint and the Pink Panther movies.

I don't remember which Bond ones we saw.  I do remember B. and Cindy following me and the good Jewish boy down Grand Street, shouting-singing "the closer you get, the better you look!"  That was from a Clairol Hair Dye TV commercial and the sexiest song they knew.  After "we must, we must, we must increase our bust, the bigger the better, the tighter the...".

I also remember the good Jewish boy feeding me Certs during intermission and me accepting as many as he offered because Certs was considered candy and candy was hard to come by until I figured out how to steal dollar bills from my dad.

Our post date reunion happened at the doorway of 7th grade homeroom where he presented me his baby teeth.  We went our separate ways after that.

But it didn't matter.  Bond movies weren't in my immediate future in those days.  Florence had other plans and sent me off to the Elgin Theater on Eighth Avenue when Eighth was the refuge for hookers not good enough for Times Square.  The Elgin was on its way to becoming a porn palace before transforming into the Joyce, but in the brief moment of still being an art house, I became one with Fellini and Truffaut.  Their movies unfolded a picture of the constant world inside my brain - a world I did not know how to say out loud in English, let alone Italian or French, but a world I so desperately wanted to live in.

James Bond's adventures movies were watched in between the Naked Gun movies - something to marvel at and get lost in wild stunts and other locales.  It wasn't until today that I found out those old Bond movies meant as much to little boys as Guido in 8 1/2 meant to me.  The Mariner, sitting me through Goldfinger, glowed and delighted with every gadget and "technological" advancement Bond used to thwart the bad guys and girls.  It was the unfolding of the world inside his brain, one any boy would so desperately want to live in and certainly one that would inspire a gift of baby teeth.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Delight Of Being The Shoe On The Other Foot

There was once a contest series in New York Magazine or the Daily News or maybe it was the Village Voice when it still had a voice.

Because the internet wouldn't be invented for another twenty or thirty years, each week you mailed your answers in on an index card.

One week the question was:  What could New York use more of?

I wrote in:  Less tourists.

Little did I know what the future would bring.  I also did not win.

In the rare travels away from home - home now defined as a few blocks' radius and an apartment as rare as the dodo bird - activities have been kept to family care and visits.  And the amazing Goodwill store near my father's garden apartment.

But love is impossible to say no to and after a plane ride to a city, often considered in the same breath as New York and one of the only two places Florence ever flew to, we joined the crowds of tourists tromping from one pretty attraction to another.

And as rickety old cable cars threw themselves down hills that were straight out of ancient video games or some prehistoric comic book we all screamed and cheered and interrupted the peace and quiet of neighborhoods sick of people like us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Encore Memories: A River Runs Through It

While Her New York is on the road, a memory about a memory.

Originally posted Sunday, June 1, 2008

Starting at the door and ending up at the back wall the counter swirled like waterways you see on picture maps taken from far away ... like the moon. I sat there for years.

Open twenty-four hours a day, it was my refuge into illusion I belonged to a world outside my door. Today Starbucks and myspace does that for my predecessors. But then, no internet, just real living space offering real living bodies I recognized, a favorite spot where I could write or read or stare out the window hoping "he'd" see me, and come in to renew love (he did several times). That counter kept me going.

The two old ladies (the counter guy called them Jurassic Park) fed me coffee which is all I ever bought and once Zina even patted my hand when, staring at a finished love poem that didn't have a happy ending, I started to cry. At 3am, when I couldn't sleep or after a night of futile socializing was afraid to go back to an empty apartment, I was almost always the rare female there, surrounded by men talking non-stop into a personal darkness from the florescent safety of the formica counter -

*** the 4 foot 9 inches cop who insisted the Thompkin Square Park Riots was the fault of only one or two corrupt cops and the guys at the 5th Street Precinct were straight up and honest

*** the Robert Redford look-alike who loved astrology and whose daughter didn't talk to him and in five minutes you could tell why

*** the unshaven, slightly slovenly, plump "theater-something-or-other" with papers sticking out of his beat up portfolio who talked in ferocious whispers to the Robert Redford look-alike

*** the famous artist who sat and looked for who would be his next subjects in his next famous murals (never me even after 17 years of us facing each other)

*** the short-order cook who announced his marital problems while flipping late night food onto the grill and demanding explanation from the counter guy about why his new bride would get so upset after he locked her out by accident. Again. For the third time. And did any of us think he was trying to tell her something because he didn't think he was HE JUST FORGOT!?

Then the owner's son went to restaurant college, renovation came, light fixtures changed, new murals were put up and the counter was amputated into a brief moment of not worth sitting down. The Jurassic Park ladies insisted it would be the same, hugging me on the street, urging me to come back, and I did, briefly. But it wasn't same. The borscht was served in smaller more expensive bowls, the pierogis became Northern California inventions filled with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes and soon Jurassic Park was gone and in their stead were new waitresses who were young and tight and pretty and impatient to the many new diners who thought they had found an authentic East Village eatery because they were treated so rudely.

And soon after that I recognized only one face in the new Christmas mural - a tiny memorial to an old drinking buddy who died of a heart attack on the corner of 7th and B in 1979.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Memories Encore: The Corners Of My Mind

While Her New York is on the road, a memory about a memory.

Originally posted Sunday, June 8, 2008

The corner between our buildings and the barrel park had a special secret passage way wide enough for all of us to slip under until one day we were suddenly almost too big. And then shortly after that it was cemented up and we had to walk around to the gate like all the adults.

Before lobby doors were locked and kids were imprisoned inside their apartments for all their play dates, we ran wild from building to building a hide-n-seek game that spanned the entire housing project, almost peed on ourselves giggling as we hid under all the stairs.

And then one day this corner stopped us all when jumping rope B. called "leaders allowed!" and jumped in backwards on a Spay and I followed, not going to let her get the best of me I catapulted myself through the air to jump in on the "J" and when I hit the bricks they all thought I was laughing but the sound didn't stop and people came running from the other end of the courtyard and someone ran up to tell my parents who never ever got interrupted ever about our playing outside unless of course we did something really really wrong like go on the roof or make fun of A. until she cried. Even though Florence thought an ice pack would make my left arm better, finally my father realized it was serious enough not to take the bus but actually take a rare taxi ride to Beth Israel where they put my arm in a sling, and which I quickly slipped out of because I didn't want to ask anyone else to tie my shoes. So the following week they put me in a sling wrapped to my body and I spent the next two months looking like a one-armed lady with a big lopsided tit, being forced by Florence to practice all the right hand parts of my piano lessons, and made to learn cymbals for the stupid student orchestra performance of "Love of Three Oranges" which of course at the big concert I screwed up and just slammed the right cymbal into the left crash crash crash because I didn't know where we were but I knew it was the end and there were many cymbal crashes at the end and Mrs. K the conductor couldn't stop me for all the glaring she did.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Guest Artist: Gabriela - Every Time I Visit Granny

Gabriela lives in the only other city that feels as home as New York.   

Welcome to Her Buenos Aires

Every time I visit Granny, I visit not only her, but her past and all her  memories... when she was young and when I was a little girl.

There's a quote from Pasolini that says that the editing of a person's life (like a movie montage) never happens until that person is dead. Of course, others do that editing.   

So, every time I visit Granny, every story about me, heard a thousand times, changes every final cut of my own self and I find myself doing a tiny rough cut of my life.

I love that moment.  The Past is a big sea where the tide always changes, where pains and fears come up to the surface, but where hidden treasures emerge too.

Yet, like the sea, memory needs to rest so it can continue remembering.  Let the memory rest, let the memory be calm, so I can sail into present seas.  It's in there, when I allow myself to forget, that a feeling of freedom rises, a safe optimism about the future, where anything and everything is possible.

That lets me stay right here, right now, sailing through a sea that I cannot edit, as it transforms itself into the air of this present moment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Guest Artist: Paula - "My Pinano"

A old Jacob Brothers Piano Upright Grand

Paula had it shipped from her Grandma Emma & Great-Aunt Lee's in Philadelphia to Nassau County and then, finally, to her home in Suffolk County.  

After reading an article in the New York Times about the dumping of pianos into the trash, she sent this picture and some history.  

The Jacob Brothers Piano Company was established in 1878 as a large retailer in New York and Boston.   They described themselves as "one of the most progressive and successful concerns in the piano industry, with several retail stores in the city of New York and in other important cities of the east."   They also stated their pianos and player-pianos "durable instruments, their finish being exceptionally fine and the tone quality satisfying".

There is no mention of Jacob Brothers after about 1955.   And I wonder what shift and change in New York led to their disappearance.

However, Paula's "pinano" is still here.   "It is very damp here", she wrote me, "and it doesn’t stay in tune long but I love it dearly."
Paula, an old, dear friend is the twinkle in a witty observance and the soft of a breeze.  Born in New York City Sloane Hospital for Women, as it was called then, she lived in the Bronx until she was 12. Then she was dragged away to Nassau County - "very annoyed".  She has repeatedly dazzled and inspired me with emails filled with poems and photos from her life that sing the secret heart of soul, cat or others. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Memories: Television, Old School

Someone once told me my sister and I were part of the less than 1% of Americans, born after a certain year, who grew up without a TV.

Even with my sneaking into friends' houses to watch the Addams Family or other forbidden shows broadcasting on days not Friday, the bottom line was that there was so much more to look at in our city life and with way fewer interruptions. 



Sunday Memories - Our Other TV

Sunday Memories: Zing Zing Zing Went My Heartstrings

Sunday Memories: First Love

Thursday, August 2, 2012