Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Memories: Broadway of The East

Me and Tillie knew East Broadway. Each block had its own story, more often than not, several.

Depending on whether you came from the east or came from the west, Zafi's was the beginning or the end. Tillie came here during her daughter's music lessons or dance lessons or art lessons at Henry Street, and here is where I bought attempts at coaxing Florence to love food again.

The mikvah Cindy raised money for, a place I never entered, we didn't observe those laws. But someone, not Jewish, not from New York, someone I took down to show what my normal was, ran up those steps as if it was a tourist attraction and threw open the door to see what was inside. That display of entitlement and disregard is still something I envy and fume at.

Down the street, PS 134's playground that once housed my father's tenement home...

The pretty Henry Street Settlement buildings... Tillie thinks this is where she took piano lessons with a horrible lady.

I always thought it was where Florence tried to live when she was studying piano, still a teenager. Gramma lived nearby, maybe Brooklyn, maybe Hester Street, but Florence missed her too much and moved back home.

Across the street, once Dry Dock Bank, now Immigrant, where I saved up all the money I earned from being a mother's helper one summer ($75) and then blew it all and bought Florence a metal cellist and flute player.
The special Senior Citizen place lives there now on the 4th floor and when Florence still could hide all that was unraveling while attending the special old-lady-exercise-in-chair class, they let me know something was wrong.

The Bialystok nursing home on the corner of Clinton, the first place I ever volunteered at age 13 running the film projector, the place Tillie's Gramma attended Yom Kippur service. It was a traditional service, the women upstairs, the men downstairs and nobody under 70. The women complaining at one another, the men shouting up to the balcony, "Sha, sha!"

It's closed now. They're making it into luxury condominiums.

The remaining Jewish organizations not yet condominiums...

And a newly empty lot preparing for something...

In the midst of all this, Tillie takes me to the plaque where remembrance stays steady in bronze.

And her Gramma.

It was a circle of friends.

And Tillie, in her Gramma's accent, an accent no one has anymore, told me everything her Gramma thought about her friends.

Her Gramma was the first resident at the then-new Edgies senior housing. In those days, across the street were benches by the Seward Park library - a row on the left, a row on the right. All the old ladies sat on the left. And all the drug addicts sat on the right. It was East Broadway detente.

We walked past the Paperbag players, still there.

And the Forward which wasn't...

Tillie's Gramma did the Yiddish crossword puzzle everyday until they went weekly, her name published because she always got them right. Now, it's condominiums, briefly famous not because of what it once was but because one of its famous tenants got busted buying hard drugs around the corner.

At the corner of Rutgers... the bridge peering through a street so secretly pretty.

We paused at the Yeshiva, a place I always knew I was not welcomed. East Broadway detente allowed both the yeshive bokhers and me on the same sidewalk. However, Tillie, with no fear, took pictures. She's from Queens so she didn't care what they thought.

It was the plastic balloon the boys had made got me to ask for a picture. Tillie quickly snapped while I marveled at an old toy I loved - a tube of plastic and a little straw - we had played with this toy for years until we found bars, boys and drinking. I hadn't seen it in years, not since video games replaced everything.

And as we headed into Chinatown, an old tenement with laundry hanging to dry peaked from behind a new condominium.

A Hasidic man, behind the wheel of a SUV filled with bouncy little boys asking me where I was from....

...telling me about his father growing up on Stanton, all the streets near by rolling off his tongue - Suffolk, Ridge, Allen, Norfolk.... all songs of place all our parents and grandparents knew.

As we crossed Allen into Chinatown and walked under the bridge my Gramma lived next to...

...I showed Tillie the spot where once beautiful lettering in the sidewalk said The Florence Theater. Every Friday night my father would stop us on our way home from Gramma's and point out how Florence had her own piece of sidewalk.

Later I read the theater had secret passageways to buildings in the neighborhood so the gangsters could avoid enemies. It now is an entrance to an underground mall.

The food markets....

The shoe stores.....

the familiar wooden steps....
And the store that used to be the Chinatown 5&10 that the parents of Tillie's friend owned.

And then at the end of East Broadway...
...we headed back into what life is now.

Photos by both Tillie and C.O.

Special thanks to Tripping With Marty