Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Memories: Loneliness

Over the olives before the dinner, she said, "wait say that again about loneliness..."

Loneliness wasn't like a top-40 song sung in the 60's by a waif-like boy walking along British puddles while every waif-like girl watching that little movie screeched forward profoundly sure she was the one who could make it all better, if only she could walk with him.  Besides, that boy was getting a lot of action being so forlorn, no way he'd give up that easy way to get laid.

No.   Loneliness was more like how Florence and I had both traversed our city the same way; walking through life, going from bed to job to dinner table to the familiar sidewalk towards the familiar brick apartment building, at each stop sparkling out charm and entertaining conversation, but in between visits all these tiny corners appearing out of darkness, offering space for everything we did not, could not say.

"Wait, explain that..." he said over meat and rice and salad and wine.

Well, breaking karmic chains was making sure Florence's grief would end, end with me and perhaps with the younger ones or maybe with anyone.  It didn't matter she was dead.  That never mattered.  So often we were just emotional sound loops of our parents' secrets.   Who were loops of theirs and theirs and theirs and...

It was like quitting smoking, quitting loneliness was.  Putting it down slowly, over and over again; each day, instead of a secret silence,  now filled with words said out loud in bed, at jobs, over dinner, on the familiar sidewalk towards the familiar brick apartment building until one day all those dark corners were just visual echos of everything we had not, could not have said and loneliness was just a memory.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ghosts of Christmas Past

When a friend got knifed to death, I got off the messengering bike, put on a skirt, a real bra, clean shirt, snappy beret and hit the many employment agencies on Fifth Avenue in the forties.  It was too hard to pedal  in midtown traffic when everything hurt so much inside.

It was 1977 and entry-level jobs could be found if you showed up to plastic chaired florescent testing rooms with battered typewriters and sharpened pencils.  I found out I was good at adding and subtracting, but sloppy on accuracy when retyping the paragraph about the brown fox that was quick.

An index card with a company's name got pulled out, a call got made and I entered these doors to be interviewed by a man whose eyes never left my breasts.

Finally, off the housekeeping-housecleaning-bikemessengering-babysitting route, I got to sit down and sit still in order to make money.

The other night, Christmas in full bloom, wandering during a work recess of a job I sit down for, weaving in and out ice skating and cute shops, the Mariner and I bumped into these doors, barely unchanged from almost forty years ago.

So hard to remember one day to the next, the word winter, or the fact I had seen one of my favorite documentaries with a good friend.  But standing at these doors, I remembered the 8 a.m. hustle of many girls in many heels, much perfume, tons of makeup and me waiting to enter elevators that rode us to jobs we sat down for.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012


While recovery begins from flus and jobs....originally posted December 19, 2010

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.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Encore-Sunday Memories: Visiting Santa

Originally posted on Sunday, December 26, 2010

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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Traces of Love

In the world we called our own, this is where we stood before heading off to Coney.

The Delancy Street stop is now all fancy and cleaned up.  But, East Broadway still looks like home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Miracle on Grand Street

It wasn't just the miracle of the 8th day, when the oil surprised everyone and didn't run out.

It was also the miracle of family, friends, neighbors and strangers who ran up and down 11 or 21 flights of stairs, bringing food and water during storm days and making sure light stayed the course, just like the oil did, all those years ago.


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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Memories: In Between the Cracks...

... stories were told...


...the elegant 80-something asking the drunk Santa-boys why weren't they doing something more valuable than standing online to get into a bar and drink more?  There were children in the world who needed help why weren't they helping...  The bouncer called "next 10!' and the drunk Santa-boys rushed in.

She asked me if the pierogi ladies were still there and did I remember Leshkos?  Everyone went there she said, everyone.  Limousines, homeless, everybody.  Everybody was welcomed.  Leshkos was gone but the pierogi ladies were still there.  I told her when the ladies tried to raise their prices the  neighborhood revolted.  They don't care if they raise our rent, but get upset about pierogis? she said as she headed in to eat.


...the woman selling her belongings outside her apartment. "We are moving to Edinborough.  We can't bear what's happening to New Yor..."  A drunk Santa with a drunk Santa girl wearing barely any Santa clothes staggered by.  "More drunk Santas," the woman sighed.  "Not too drunk," the young barely dressed Santa slurred.   Quality of life was better in Scotland, better for children, the woman went on, speaking Portuguese to her daughter to not interrupt or where was her book or no no more computer games.  Better for artists, too, I said.  Are you an artist, I asked the daughter.  Yes. And then the mother said, She's a good one.


...all of us, gathering as we always do once a year, unfurling stories of once upon a normal life on the Avenue we lived in between painters and writers and journalists and shoemakers and daily lives that  then became stories unheard of in between the drunken noise of screaming santas.


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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Festival of Lights

If you can't find candles, the city can become a menorah 

 found in corners that witness small miracles

coaxed forward through darkness 

and those unbearable unknowns that often travels with struggles

so you can finally see home and the delight of


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Memories Encore: A Table of Thanks

Originally post November 23, 2008, that dinner had been the first one given in years, those friends the first invited in after everything once considered permanent had left, either suddenly or very slowly or both.  

That November dinner heralded a personal spring - the beginning of new times and new adventures.  

Last night, still dancing through ideas and words at 2:30 a.m.,  even though the meal was almost identical, the delight of discovery was more wonderful than ever, as was the gratitude that, indeed, from the ashes, a flock of phoenixes always rise.

(Tonight's menu, besides the ubiquitous chicken, brown rice, salad and bread, included a spectacular guacamole, nuts, smoked mozzarella from Russo's, pastries from di Robertis, chips chips chips, and the Mariner's adventure, once again, into sweet potatoes.)

Over the last couple of decades the meal has pretty much stayed the same because I really can't cook anything else. Chicken, salad, bread, maybe some yams if I remember not to burn them, whatever dishes and dessert others contribute... (Tonight's menu: hard salami, cheese, ratatouille, fondue, snap peas, tiramisu, chocolate and better wine than the ones I got at Trader Joe's...)

But the saving grace of my bad cooking has been twenty-five years of the utter luck of having wonderful friends who come and sit and eat and laugh and talk and drink and share and argue and love and celebrate absolutely nothing except a rare night where all of the above can happen.


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Art Is Where The Home Is

It was on top of the garbage bags in front of a Lexington apartment building.

Not the interesting brownstone-ish kind or the super modern luxury glass towers that got tax breaks to get built, but you had to be filthy rich to live in.

It was one of those maybe 1960s white brick 12 or 16-story boxes where very well-paid people, who offered very expensive services to very rich people on the upper east side, once lived in.  Maybe still did.  Hard to tell.

Seemed like now there were lots of designer outfits flitting in and out and perhaps a lot of them were sharing three to a one bedroom just for the chance to live in Manhattan and work a low-paying job at a glamous office, like a PR firm for exciting hot new restaurants or the Met Museum.

Carolyn, who maybe painted this for a high school art class, had printed her name on the back. The Chair and the little chair with the real piece of frame around it and inside that a picture of an even  littlier chair and inside that...

I wondered if somewhere in this bland building stuffed with thin, young women and buff-young men, there was an apartment where Carolyn got to grow up and tall in and got to, one day, paint the sunny corner that welcomed someone to sit down and be home.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Returning To An Old Embrace, We Suddenly Gathered

Sharon Jane doesn't have a cell or a computer. 

No. She let us all know the old fashion way. She picked up her old landline and called all of our old landlines.

"Come celebrate Diana's life."

So, in the cool of a Monday evening - the night a theatre is dark - we gathered.

Faces still singing our selves from twenty-five, thirty years ago, we sat around pieces of the old willow tree from Avenue B and 6th Street, felled by Hurricane Sandy.

Took turns wearing chiffon arms from a beloved drag queen, and sent stories dancing around the circle, each one describing a part of the journey Diana - tall, strapping, big, strong, ferocious, independent - invited us on in brief moments and long months.

Mesmorizing us with wood chopping at a variety night,

Lending her truck, no questions asked.

Punching out the annoying wind chimes so she could hear a nature's night,

Dancing full out like she was the whole ballet. And she was.

That grin.

Then the accident and refusing refusing refusing her injuries she would push herself in that wheelchair backward down and up Second Avenue she would be who she was she would return the videos to Blockbusters on 9th Street she would.

And even though she wasn't supposed to, still driving her pickup, and even though she couldn't like she could before, driving her soul, her life, her story, her words, her determination and one night down 5th Street a big-ass truck, shouting to Sharon Jane I'm chucking my storage.

We gathered around the space she left in our heart.

Then, suddenly looking up, there she was, right in our midst.  Telling a story, driving her life, dancing full out.

That grin.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sunday Memories: Upstairs Downstairs

Florence worked at Grosingers, that we knew.  There was a story of her almost getting fired for bringing a glass of milk to a little girl in the meat dining room.  One version has Mr. Grosingers himself chasing her around the kitchen with a knife.  There was another story of her giving a New York taxicab driver her savings to bring to her mother on Hester Street.  Needless to say, it never got there.

She may have also worked at the Youngs Gap Hotel in Parksville and the Flagler in South Fallsburg - Flagler's postcard says it's a country club with a golf course and wooded trails to ride horses on.  I didn't meet people who rode horses until I was a teenager, hanging about a rich new age commune.  I didn't meet anyone who played golf until I was almost 30.

Working at these places Florence wore the starched white collar, black dress of a waitress, not a pianist,   That's her, left side, lower corner, her chin resting on her hand.

Did any of the people she served, did any of them see her? Did any of them know that, despite the dishonest cabdriver, she was able to save up enough to purchase her own Steinway?  Did any of them know her playing would one day be described as brilliant, presented in a vivid color and compelling rhythmic force, or that her Chopin demonstrated an affinity with the composer?

She never, to my knowledge, ever got to stay in places like this.