In a search for that second room and the need to have some company while dredging up unwilling stories, Kosky and I found a cafe off the beaten path but with a full view of the passing world.
The morning deliveries to the bodega next door, the pizza guys coming in for good coffee, travelers dragging their suitcases, the regulars wanting a better-priced smoothie than the silly expensive place up the block...
Day in, day out sometimes interrupted with an occasional glimpse of a star ducking into the corner to make a call or a heroin addict nodding out as he dragged his shopping cart to his next stop.
Time passed uneventfully and storytelling got done.
But today was different.
A journalist from Tunisia with a camera guy lugging a big professional Sony suddenly appeared, ushering in a small woman with a soft face. The owner and the manager and the cook all waved them in, embracing, welcoming, bringing coffee, offering salutations of care and love and....
"He is a big journalist from Tunis," the owner told us.
Hello, hello welcome to New York, we said.
"He is here because she is going to see her daughter for the first time in many years. That is why she is crying."
The woman held up five fingers.
"Do you want to say anything?" the camera guy zoomed in.
What could be said of that kind of love? What well wishes could possibly honor the millions of minutes she had waited to see her child, always her child, no matter how old that child might be?
We wished her all the love we saw in her face to fill her reunion.
Several weeks ago, at the 6th Annual Queens World Film Festival I dove into a sea of dazzling works by many young and sometimes not so young women filmmakers daring the world to look them in the eye through their stories. The world is a wonderfully different place now, women of all ages stepping forward insisting the colors and shapes and shadows that sculpt their tales be seen and noted. So long ago, I only had Jutta and Lina Wertmuller. And now matter how much I watched men and women delve into sex in German, it was Jutta where a more important and quieter discussion took place.
** Originally Posted December 24, 2014
Sunday Memories Of Jutta's Kitchen:
This Is What The Journey Looks Like
Oh, let me take a picture of your hands, I beg Jutta.
No! They're so... Look at them, she says.
They're incredible. They're beautiful, I tell her. I've always loved taking pictures of them. They are the genesis, the beginning of everything...
Oh, well then, she says, giving the best girlish giggle in the world, they got this way from painting.
Times was flying by like the insides of a dryer on turbo speed - kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty...
So my favorite Poem and I took a break and strolled the long way into downtown, along the way nibbling Onigiri from a bakery and Fun with pork skins from a cart on the corner and finally a pile of fried dumplings for $1.
Then we went around the corner and got a lot of candy we grew up with but couldn't find at the local newspaper stand, like bitter licorice and dried sour lemons.
We wandered old streets we knew for as long as we knew our city. Time stopped being kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty-kerbumpikty...
And we remembered how much we loved and how much we were loved.
Flying back and forth on the R train to Queens all week, sometimes Astoria, mostly Jackson Heights, the trips felt like a soothing cocoon.
As the world whizzed by, for a second Gramma and Florence were almost next to me in that urgent rocking.
Some people talk about the whiff of their mother's perfume reminding them of her or the smell of a dish their grandmother made that helps them feel the loss a bit less.
Florence and Gramma were terrible cooks and indifferent perfume wearers. But it was the billions of trips I took with them on the subway, when we couldn't walk to where we were going, that held those intimate moments, not much said, all of us drifting in and out of next stop and closing doors - a brief reprieve from where ever it was we did not want to return to or arrive at.
The subway had been our home and during this week I miss them a little bit less.
This week the 6th Annual Queens World Film Festival was filled with dazzling works by many young and sometimes not so young women filmmakers daring the world to look them in the eye through their stories. The world is a wonderfully different place now, women of all ages stepping forward insisting the colors and shapes and shadows that sculpt their tales be seen and noted. So long ago, I only had Jutta and Lina Wertmuller. And now matter how much I watched men and women delve into sex in German, it was Jutta where a more important and quieter discussion took place.
The kitchen table pulled into the living room and the canvases carefully tucked away so that the Chinese food doesn't spill on them. Her son, sick with the flu, has left two good bottles of wine, one of which we drink.
The hearing aid, being what it is, doesn't always direct her to who is speaking. It has no subtlety. She has to ask at times, "Which one of you is speaking?"
But, in the long run, it doesn't matter. The ideas do.
And they don't flow out. They don't explode out. Its more like they burst out, like a ton of Christmas lights bursting out in the dark.
It gets later and later and soon it is just me, the Mariner and Jutta. The food is put away, the table returned to the kitchen, the chairs back in their spots so she doesn't bump into anything.
The long weeks have caught up with everyone and home beckons.
But wait, I say. We have to look at your paintings.
Suddenly, it is as if we had just arrived minutes ago.
Curiosity does that. Because we are all bouncing like baby goats, as Jutta starts pulling out canvases.
"This painting is just beginning," Jutta says.
She doesn't know what it is and where it is going, but she is following something here.
It's what writers are going through, what artists are going through, this return, she explains. Getting in touch with that root self, that primitive being within, that "caveman".
With sight now relegated to a corner of her right eye, she is no longer looking at a landscape outside her window or a still life on her table.
She is returning her gaze to her soul, that universe moving beyond the speed of light that was in her from the moment she emerged into the world.
This was not only or just or always luxury housing.
It is now. Because something this beautiful is now only afforded by lots of money.
Nowadays, you don't see this kind of place filled with the people I grew up with.
But back then, it was where the guys working at the post office lived. My neighbor's dad was the short-order cook at Kozy Korner and then a maintenance worker at one of the buildings (that's the guy who does all the dirty work the super tells him to do).
The two sisters on the other side of the courtyard were secretaries, not administrative assistants. Secretaries did everything too, just got paid less and were called "the girl" more.
My father, Seymour worked his way off the retail floor by getting a Masters in Business at"NY-Jew" night school. (Back then NYU was one of the few big universities to let Jews in so everyone called it NY-Jew.)
That Masters in Business, like the housing we lived in, was not a luxury item. That Masters was affordable too. My father did not spend the next 30 to 40 years paying off student loans. (I only have $25,000 to go!)
This was not an expensive view.
It is now.
But then, it was just my grade school. Florence would stick her head out the window and yell down to me when to cross Columbia Street. Depending on who you talk to, that school sucked (friends) or was normal (me). I was just glad I was taught how to read without switching up everything and that I survived every fist fight I found myself in the middle of. Honestly, I didn't think it was such a big deal. It was... just normal.
This is now a edgie view. Meaning that now that this comes with luxury housing, you also get a bit of industrial and street edge too. On the other side are the city projects. They are still not luxury housing.
I wonder how many new folks cross to the other side of the bridge and wander up Columbia Street. Maybe they do.
This is now a "Real New York!" photograph (as in "wow look at the authentic old man in the authentic law chair - only in New York!").
Didn't use to be. Used to be just.... normal. Because this is how everyone sat in the sunshine.
In fact, all the old ladies would drag out their lawn chairs and sit in front of their own buildings, talking about all the old ladies on the other side of the courtyard sitting in their lawn chairs in front of their buildings. It was like a turf war, only with lawn chairs.
Not sure why my family didn't have lawn chairs. Maybe because Florence was always practicing and Seymour was always reading. When I hung out with my friends, we sat on the steps.
Even when the steps were as far as Florence could go, we sat on the steps.
Then it became luxury housing and lawn chairs were banned.
Six decades of people sitting on the steps of their buildings or in lawn chairs and suddenly it was too low-class to have a lawn chair out in front of the building to enjoy the green grass and the fountain.
At that point Florence sat in a wheelchair.
Even the maintenance guys made sure no one fucked with us.
I miss sitting on stoops and running past old ladies in lawn chairs.
I miss it being normal for post office guys and secretaries to have beautiful gardens outside their front door and sky outside their windows.
These days listening to fucking assholes hate hard-working Americans like my parents and my grandparents who were immigrants I really miss my mother.
I miss normal. O.K. not the fist fights because they really did suck. But the normal where anyone who needs a good apartment is able to get a good apartment. I want the American Dream to not be a winning lottery ticket. I want it to be a great job that pays well, has real health insurance and allows whoever the fuck wants to to be able to go to college and not have to still be paying it off 30 years later.
The news came unexpectedly. Jutta was in the hospital and it did not look good. Pouring love into her exhausted hands praying for a reprieve did not bring a miracle.
But it did bring love.
So begins a series of past posts honoring beloved and so missed Jutta Filippelli.
** Originally posted July 8, 2008
Jutta's Kitchen - Part Two
Even after Jutta's 16 year old son Marc and 14 year old me stopped dating (if you call listening to Sibelius's violin concerto while holding hands "dating") I still found my way to her kitchen several times a week for years after.
Lots of times there was a gaggle around the small wooden table - me, Marc, the two Haitian brothers from down the street, the Korean prodigy alone in NY since he was like 12 and Chops the dog who had a blue eye and a brown eye. Whatever Jutta put on the table was a feast and the words and the laughter and the languages poured over meals and cigarettes and coffee and sometimes dessert.
I didn't know I was destined to live a life where nothing else matter except the attempt to tell a story with all my heart and soul. I didn't know until 35 years later that because her kitchen was a home for a bunch of motley baby artists, my surrender to my life was fueled by her example.
Throw my seashells back into the sea
Cool the sting of memory
Sift the silt from my ancient dreams
Toss my pebbles back into the streams
The past within me has danced its dance
Now's the time for Now's romance
But nothing quite matched the night she took a ride on a New York City Bus.
** Originally posted on September 3, 2009
BUS DRIVERS AND ME
This really happened.
Note to Readers: You gotta know a little bit about the Village, the streets and the buses. If you have any questions, just drop a comment...
"Standing in a downpour on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, I boarded a limited bus that would at least take me to a few blocks near my destination. My hope was to end up on Sixth Avenue and Third Street by dismounting at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street. Not great. But doable.
It was 5 p.m. and I needed to be at the movie theater by 5:20. The driver understood my anxiety and simply said, "Sit Down."
When the bus turned left on Eighth Street to Broadway, I was shocked.
It had actually taken me even farther from my destination.
"Last stop!" he announced to all the passengers.
I started to get up when again he said, "Sit Down."
Then he drove south on Broadway and turned right on Houston and right again on Sixth Avenue heading north.
I expected him to sail right past my movie. I stood up and again he ordered me to "Sit Down."
I gave up, wondering if maybe he was kidnapping me.
Then to my utter disbelief, he stopped illegally at Third and Sixth. He had taken me to a spot across the street from the movie theater!
"Bless you!" I said.
"Bless YOU! he replied. It was the one time he didn't say "Sit Down."
That's because she saw me raise my camera and then waited for the exact moment I snapped to stick her tongue out.
** Posted as an encore on March 12, 2013
There's a lot of waiting when it comes to writing and sometimes it can feel like full out avoidance. However, after a TV-watching-marathon of British women going into labor and giving birth to babies, perfect timing seemed to be more about allowing life to emerge on its own terms, rather than planning and making a schedule.
Sure, there's lots you can do to help, like bouncing on a ball or screaming or eating chocolate pudding - all strategies that work for both birthing and writing. But, mostly you gotta bow to the forces that be, because they're just going to do what they need to do.
So, while allowing words to emerge, an encore about what Perfect Timing sometimes looks like.
Originally posted Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Right before it all happened
The frame was too high on Dana's new bed. Getting up was like rock climbing and getting down was the Giant Salom but without the snow.
So we ordered a new one, thinking it would arrive in a couple of days.
But then the new computer system didn't work. So the frame arrived a week later.
We thought oh so we'll come down on that day.
But then Dana asked we come the next day.
I promised we'd be there at such and such a time, but of course we got there almost an hour later.
Then the Mariner couldn't get the frame to line up and I didn't help by insisting that one side was longer than the other when in fact it was just angled more like a trapezoid and he was trying to re-angle it in between me whipping out a 12 inch ruler once used in PS 110 by Dana's son to prove that in fact that side of the bed frame was longer.
Finally the bed fit perfectly and Dana could sit down on it without any athletic training.
She insisted we stay for lunch and have tea and kaiser rolls, herring and lox, cream cheese and butter, and lots and lots of rugelach. The apple pie we passed on.
There was no way we could use the frame that was too high. It was pointless to keep it. But it was a really good frame and no one wanted to throw it out. So the Mariner taped up and stuck a piece of paper on it that said "free bed frame! new!"
Before we headed down to the communal recycling room, Polly the cat needed love. "I want a picture of that!" Dana said. So the Mariner rummaged through my crowded bag of screwdrivers and shopping bags, found the camera case, pulled out the camera and took a picture. The second after he clicked the shutter, Polly had enough love and jumped down.
I forgot the right elevator was the shabbos elevator, stopping on every floor from 1 to 20. So we got off on the 14th floor and waited for the not-for-shabbos left elevator. The numbers let us know whoever had gotten on at the 12th floor was being detoured up to us.
We stepped in with our almost brand new but too high bed frame and there was an almost coordinated, neatly dressed, middle aged couple, laundry stuff in hands, annoyed their trip down had been interrupted with a brief trip up.
Until they saw the frame.
"Are you giving it away?" they both asked.
"Yes! Do you want it?" asked the Mariner.
"Yes! We need one!" and without much ado, he handed the couple the barely used, month old, too high bed frame.
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.