He was already living across the hall from Florence the day we moved in in 1961. He never spoke to us kids and us kids never spoke to him but we knew to be respectful and silent as he came and went.
Later when Florence got sick, I bumped into him more. We started giving each other a slight nod at some point, but mostly it was still the Lower East Side gaze we all do from the corner of our eye, letting the person know “I-see-you-I-still-don’t-talk-to-you."
I was spending yet another sunny day unburying Florence’s life from all the papers she kept. Hit a wall, took a break, got a cafe con leche from the Dominican place that used to be the Giorgianni Brother's market. I needed to cry and caffeine makes it go faster.
There he was, pushing his shopping cart full of laundry to the lobby door. He pointed to a newly-posted death notice.
And then, for the first time, after not a word in fifty years - not a single word - we talked.
“Hannah’s brother?” he asked.
No it was Shia on the third floor who died.
Well, Shia had to be late 70's because he and his wife were younger than my parents.
"70's? That's young. I'm 91."
And after fifty years, and after our very first words, I finally got to meet Hyman.
He takes care of himself. Sure, his nephew out on Long Island keeps an eye on him. And sure, the Vet Administration gave him home aides but what for. He has LifeLine. "Just like having a person there." Still, the Vet Administration's been great to him. Full disability.
World War II I asked?
”Yeah. I got captured in France. Was a POW in Germany. Stalag 11B." After the war, all the guys would get together. He doesn’t go to the reunions anymore. "Most of these guys have checked out,” he said.
I reached down to help him get his cart up the five scattered steps to the lobby door - the same steps we needed two maintenance guys to get Florence in and out of the building.
"Nah. I got a system. I'm still pretty strong!" and before I knew it, he had bump-bump-bumped the big cart up each step.
The blond mommy and her little blond boy, dressed like Robin Hood, were coming out of the building. When I was growing up I could count on three fingers all the blond people in the neighborhood. Now it's normal.
Seeing the kid, Hyman lit up like a Ferris Wheel at night. “Whatcha got there, huh!?"
And then in the time honored Lower East Side act of loving family, he pulled out a $1 bill (25 cents in my day) and stuffed it in the little boy's hand. "Here! For Halloween!"
The mommy turned to her boy “What do you say?"
"Thank you!" Robin Hood answered promptly and he and Hyman grinned at each other before the kid and the mommy headed out to Sherwood Forest or maybe the Avenue A bus.
Hyman turned back to me. "I'm going on a cruise."
The nephew out on Long Island taking you some place warm? I asked.
“Nah.” A mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Guess where?! Europe! I'm flying into Rome and then taking a cruise all over Europe. Athens."
With your nephew? I asked.
"No. By myself."
I looked so shocked he got this big grin and I saw the young soldier who got grit and guts and verve and survived a POW camp.
"People see an old man alone, they're very helpful,” he said with a shrug but still with that wicked fun twinkle "I told them, don't give me no 6-months-from-now-deal because I don't know if I'm going to be around then. Gimme something now."
Both of us waiting for the old elevator, the day whirled around me with light and sun and crisp air and coffee and old newspapers and piles of paper and death notices and scattered steps and little boys in Robin Hood outfits and dollar bills appearing out of nowhere and a person’s life I had lived next to for years and years and years and finally met.
The elevator arrived. The old doors took their usual time to open.
"Gotta do this. This trip is my last hurrah. Then I'll go quietly,” Hyman said. And with that, he bump-bump-bumped his big laundry cart into the elevator.
As forty years of file boxes filled with letters and stabs at writing are culled through and shredded, a post of letters, originally posted November 11, 2008.
The family tradition of writing one another letters:
Louise said a curs word and so did I. Louise said a-s-s and and I said f-u-c-k. I'm sorry I said it. (Do not show daddy this note.) You'll find my homework in my note book. Please put back the books and do not forget any of the book. My homework (spelling and math) are the first ones in the first section. Do not mess up my paper. I changed my pantty.
Please do not throw this paper away!!!!!
Don't say I never wrote to you at camp
PS Whe you come home, I shall have a guest. You'll sleep on the couch Wed.
"Lend me your ears."
Please say to me that you "love me." Don't rip this up.
Love + xxxx
When you are stirred, out there in that beautiful country, to great heights of aspiring, or being inspired, cast your yearning thought to improving your spelling....
Wish you were here. Glad you are there.
She came to live with us almost a year ago, thin like a piece of paper. She'd cringe if we moved too fast around her and she ate the way panicked, hungry street cats do, hoping to get enough before something or one attacked.
Now, with a body like Sophie Loren, she romps around, lobbing herself into willing hands that scratch favorite spots. She still eats fast but often saunters away because she knows it will still be there, no matter what.
But on a walk home, looking up at the lone kitchen light in a quiet dark building...
... the sorrow and the pity...
Our house silenced by late hours and defeat, the lone florescent light would be left on in the kitchen, just in case someone needed to get up in the middle of the night and, surrounded by kitchen appliances, stand there, wondering if it was worth trying again when the sun came up.
We weren't the only ones who had those lights. Everyone had them. They were plentiful, affordable and functional and came with the apartments we all lived in. Apartments that were plentiful, affordable and functional.
Those lights and the apartments they used to be in have all but disappeared.
But, here or there, on a dark street, look up. What once always was, might still remain. An empty night kitchen with cold blue light beckoning another leap of faith.
Perhaps all those old lights in those old kitchens so many years ago was the sorrow. And perhaps their disappearance is the pity.
On top of its New York rescue operations, Social Tees also rescues small dogs from Los Angeles!
They are trying to bring 20 death row dogs that are in a high kill shelter to NY and their fundraising campaign is coming to a close and they are SO CLOSE to meeting their goal -- $185 left to raise!!! The deadline is NOW- FRIDAY!
She's a 4-month-old Treeing Walker Coonhound mix, 25 lbs.
Very well socialized with other dogs and gets along great with every person she meets. She's wee pad trained and well on her way to being housebroken! She's super playful and will grow to be a medium sized, active girl.
Her foster mom says: "Leona (we call her Fiona) has been a love. She is the sweetest, most fun loving puppy ever. She loves to snuggle and sleeps through the night. She is amazing with both our pitbull and our little pekingese. She is not a big barker, is very friendly on walks, and is in the midst of being house broken. She would make a great pet for anyone."
Liked the photo???
A big thank you to our newest volunteer photographer, Alan Perlman of Chey Dog Photography, for taking and sharing these incredibly gorgeous pics of our rescue dogs!!!!
Swooning over this stuff and want to see more? Visit his dog photography collection at www.cheydogphotography.com and/or shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He'd be psyched to hear form you!
It had only been a couple of weeks but those babies now looked huge, almost the size of their parents as they wandered about a patch.
I had been worried. First there had been no rain and the puddle I often saw them in dried up. Then there were all those NYC Environment trucks, which could have meant construction was going to start soon. Then there was just the wilds of New York, with possible idiots slipping down into the unintended wild life reserve and going after them.
Anything could go wrong.
On top of all that, there were a couple of weeks of taking the bus. But, each time it flew by the lot, I craned on tippy toes trying to see if anyone was still there.
Now, on foot, headed home, I had time to walk down to the highway and take another look at the family.
Two cab drivers strolling back to their cabs saw me leaning into the fence snapping pictures. They stopped. One whipped out his phone and joined me. We all grinned.
And then... perhaps without warning or maybe just spooked by all these snapping bodies leaning against the chain-linked fence...
... what had been just puffballs only a little while ago now stretched big, strong wings and began beating them as if to take flight.
Me and the two cab drivers all gasped and laughed and took more pictures as we watched them finish their unique pre-flight checks and then wander deeper into the grass after their folks.
Click here and have it all laid out, including information about coyote urine.
Funny, wasn't it? But, I bet you're a bit worried now.
Chairman Wheeler of the FCC, having received thousands and thousands (yes the site crashed several times) of emails, wanted to hear PERSONAL reasons why Net Neutrality is so fundamental to our freedom of speech being protected, preserved and kept democratic ( you know, like what that Constitution and Bill of Rights says).
So, I wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr. Wheeler:
I understand that you wanted PERSONAL stories from all us little non-corporate people about why Net Neutrality is so important to us. OK.
I'm a great writer - not mainstream. Don't do romance novels that both Republicans and Democrats can read. I write brief moments of New York City through the prism of the heart. And people all over the world read my little moments and get a sense of a human being living in a city in a country that isn't always very nice. It's how world peace starts: person to person. Oh this Jew-girl from NYC is just like me, someone living in Sudan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, China... Now, I don't have a lot of money or power but I have a great voice. The way the internet works now allows me equal play and opportunity just like the folks who get to have a staff. You know, like democracy and how I was always told as a kid that everyone has the chance to become their dreams in America and anyone can become a president in the United States stuff. NO, NOT anyone can become president. You got to be a Bush for that. But with how the internet works now, I'm equally seen and heard. And quite frankly, I am really good and my work deserves that level playing field. BTW if money wasn't involved, the big guys wouldn't be so gung-ho. And I don't think you asked THEM for personal stories about why they want to be paid to go fast while the rest of us will go slow and please do not give me that bull#$* about fast and faster. It will be slow-free and fast-expensive. BTW again: myprivateconey.blogspot.com I'm good. Andundoing the internet's democracy is barely America. So do your job and uphold America where everyone can make their dreams come true because the playing field is actually level. C.O. Moed
Tell him how, perhaps with a staff, or with barely a nickel in your pocket, the internet allows you to get to know everybody in the world, if you so choose and have the time, by reading their stories and telling your own.
Florence is 62 in this picture from the mid-1980s.
Now, 83, she is not only refusing to get out of bed, she is refusing visitors anything but her back.
K., the recreational therapist managed to get Florence to turn to her by playing a sonatina badly on her portable electric keyboard. Annoyed by sloppy playing, Florence rolled over to K., corrected her mistakes and then rolled back into her little corner. K. didn't give up. She began mispronouncing composers' names. It worked. Florence faced her and thus began a lesson in how one is required to speak.
A couple of days later, finished with my swimming lesson which actually went... swimmingly (in other words, I did not drown), I looked down from the glass balcony at the gym's pool filled with bodies going back and forth, and recalled a recent conversation with her former girlfriend who had loved her since they were teenagers ("Your mother was a great swimmer, your mother could swim anywhere, your mother....").
Years ago before we knew her memory had begun step behind closed doors to hide her accidents and mistakes, I got her to talk into a microphone about the place she loved more than her piano.
There's a reason Friday's Child is now a part of Her New York, if only to say thank you.
A two-month old Jupiter, then called Jimmy, when he was brought into the shelter with his five brothers and sisters. So sick, they were slotted to be put to death when a friend showed up 45 minutes before it was scheduled, brought them home and nursed them back to health.
Some folks say their pet saved their life. At least a guy on a PBS show said that.
I don't think Jupiter saved my life.
I think he saved me from frostbite seeping into my life and killing off bits and pieces. If it hadn't been for him, I probably would have lived on just fine for years, never noticing that parts of my heart no longer felt. The Book of Jupiter
How's Your Heart Doing?
STUDHUNK!!! This one-year-old lab/shepherd mix is about 60 lbs, and his handsomeness gets him swells of attention everywhere he goes. [TRANSLATION: BABE MAGNET!!]
He's very playful, and super sweet with everyone he meets. He's good with other dogs, loves long walks, and would make a good jogging partner. And if you have a great family, he'd be a great family dog.
His foster mom says: "Bailey is a playful and incredibly sweet mutt. He's a very quick learner! He walks along without pulling and only stops for other dogs when they are persistent. He's currently learning basic commands (sit, lay down, and stay) and is showing great enthusiasm.
He absolutely loves belly rubs and kisses, and is an expert snuggle buddy! He would do really well in an active home. He has gotten along well with all dogs and people he has met, but he may be a little too playful for most cats. Bailey will make a wonderful and loyal companion!"
What, You're A Cat Person?
Dashingly debonair cat seeks affectionate, low key human companion. Mochila is a big boy with whiskers for miles! He's four years old and a little shy at firs. But once you break the ice (HINT: CHICKEN), he'll be your companion for life.
Come meet him! 325 East 5th Street, NY, NY 10003; 5-7pm weeknights; 12-4pm weekends;
SOCIAL TEES SUCCESS STORY!!!!!
Spot, the little dude on the right, was adopted a few months ago shortly after traveling across the country to find his forever home via a recent LA Rescue Mission. He's an East Coast boy now, living it up with an extremely loving family and an extremely fluffy brother.
His mom says: "Spot is a great little dog and we love him madly. He and Buddy and my grand dogs get along so well, which is a blessing. He is the happiest little guy and is such fun. He loves his toys, which are numerous, and steals Buddy's, but he doesn't mind -- he just steals them back.
Spot is a fabulous little guy and the relationship between him and our Buddy is a match made in doggie heaven. They do everything together and there is no jealousy. Spot is so well behaved because he follows Buddy's behavior. We love him so much and he gives that love back. Buddy is 14 and acts like he's 2 when they play, Spot has made him a puppy again.
This is a success story and as good as it gets when matching two dogs and a family together. Thank you for what you do. So glad he is in our lives. Our precious little boy, love him to death. He's happy, healthy and loves his furever home. Thanks for saving our little guy. -- Dottie & Mike & Buddy & Spotty Boy
The old buildings are being scraped clean of poisonous particles and in the new building, the weather's unknown unless you are outside. Still in temporary walls and airport gray carpet, the idea of peace is attempted in between dreams of windows.
What if I hadn't turned to look to see if it was raining?
What if I had been more interested in listening to French colleagues speak French? You know anything they are saying (even if it is "gee, I hope there's mayo in the fridge") sounds better than any poem I could write.
What if I had been, as usual, staring at my cell phone, hoping for a message out of the blue that would change everything? (You ARE the winner of the obscure writer's lottery!!! Just click here!!)
But I did turn.
At the precise and brief moment a corridor, often packed with the world coming and going, had just emptied out.
And in a dark theatre, filled with either pretty much older than young, or younger than when it all happened, the second the Mariners and I heard those songs and saw the faces of JohnPaulGeorgeandRingo we were dancing in our seats. ** Related Posts:
The store might not look the same, but their faces still do, exactly like they did when they opened the Open Pantry 35 years ago.
Pete and Themis opened their shop shortly after I moved to Second Avenue. I thought they were too fancy for me, so I always went to the bodega on the corner, the one with the cupcakes and twinkies that had nothing natural in them.
Besides, I was always getting those man-made foods at 2 a.m. after the bar got boring. Open Pantry had civilized hours.
And very good food. Like Haagen Dazs ice cream - in those days the one and the only exotic real ice cream in a ten-block radius. More if you didn't count De Robertis's ice cream but for that you had to sit down. And a gallon of Breyers at FineFare or the A&P didn't count either.
Haagen Dazs was real ice cream and it only came in pints and Dany only liked Vanilla Swiss Almond and whoever had the most clothes on had to go get it from Open Pantry.
That led to some interesting talents and skills. Which is why I was the one who always ended up going to Open Pantry.
After the neighborhood got better, everyone had Haagen Dazs and then Ben and Jerry's and then micro-brewery ice cream and then soft serve and then...
There were too many unfamiliar pints filling too many unfamiliar non-bodega bodegas. But Open Pantry was familiar and when everything got more and more and more like another city my gramma couldn't have lived in, familiar became home...
It's not Haagen Dazs Swiss Almond anymore. Almonds make me sick and ice cream makes me fat. But, it's a treat of a latte after something hard. Or a gluten-free snack after something very hard. It's the benches outside to sit or to stop at and pet all the neighborhood dogs hanging about familiar neighbors. It's bumping into all the people I either know or recognize after almost four decades on the same block
It's Pete and Themis, those seemingly unchanging handsome faces, or the faces of their sons who now work the early morning shift and the faces of all the guys who have been working there for like forever.
And once in a while, when nothing can make something very, very hard any better, it's Haagen Dazs ice cream, only just not with any almonds.
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.