Thursday, June 07, 2007

Downtown





For the last several years I’ve been teaching a sculpture, assemblage and collage workshop at the United Federation of Teachers retirement program in downtown Brooklyn. This is for retired schoolteachers from the New York City public schools. My classes are on Thursday. Mornings, and I have a small group of devoted students who have taken my classes since I began teaching here. I got the job through my friend Howard, who was taking some classes there (line dancing, Yiddish for beginners, intermediate bridge and several others) and told me that I should apply. I sent my resume to the co-coordinator and was hired immediately over the phone. No interview no nothing. The pay is good, but since its only 2 hours a week, It is really not that much moola but I’m grateful for the extra bit of cash that this gig brings in. Every Thursday Morning I take the subway to downtown Brooklyn which has changed a lot since I was a boy. This was the main shopping center for us Brooklynites and me and my mother would go there quite often. Our first stop would be Mays, where my mother would shop and shop usually for a new girdle. When she died me and my sister found drawer after drawer full of girdles. It was like a museum of modern girdles. I would get bored of course as she shopped, but for some reason the department store had these old fashioned movie machines next to the elevators and escalators, where I would carefully drop in a nickel press my little face to the viewer and watch old time Mickey Mouse cartoons over and over while my mother shopped for her girdles. She never had to worry about me getting lost, or of me wandering away as I was a lover of movies even then and stayed glued to the machine for so long that I would have the outline of the viewer across the bridge of my nose and forehead. After Mays we would sometimes go to A&S which was the high class department store with its Art Deco elevators and fancy displays, but my favorite store was McCrory’s with its long lunch counter, and Woolworth’s like atmosphere. My mother didn’t like having lunch there as she thought it was “crummy” and preferred us eating at The Burger Bin where we would order up pizza burgers and fries. We would sit at the 50’s Formica counter and my mother would smoke her Raleigh cigarettes and drink her black coffee, yakking it up with the blowsy waitresses and whoever was sitting next to her. Occasionally my mother would take me to some of the old used bookstores that were off Fulton Street and would buy me original editions of The Hardy Boys and movie magazines from the 1940s. She also bought me a series of miniature books of the “classics” that I still have somewhere and no doubt my love of books came from these outings to the musty old bookstores that use to be everywhere in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Perhaps these tiny books influenced my love of small scale and maybe some day an art historian not even born yet will point out that one of Haber’s earliest influences in his making of small scale sculpture were the tiny little books that his mother bought for him one Summer day in 1957 in a bookstore in Downtown Brooklyn. Everything is mostly now gone from the Downtown Brooklyn of my childhood. The Four movie palaces, The Paramount, The Albee, The Fox and The Metropolitan are long gone. The Paramount building itself still stands and is now part of Long Island University, with its huge auditorium now the place where young men play basketball. My UFT students are much different from the students that I taught at the universities. They are all my age, some a little older, a few a little younger, and there is a comfortable ease at play in these classes that I would never allow in my college classes. What I love about these classes are the amazing works that the “students” produce. Many of them have no art training but that does not stop them from producing stunning works. My friend Howard has been taking my classes, and is one of the people who have no art training at all. But in spite of this he has been doing lovely and strong work that amazes me at times. The classes take place in the UFT offices which are very close to Brooklyn Heights, and after class I sometimes walk down Montague street and stop off at a used bookstore or walk down to the Promenade which has a magnificent view of lower Manhattan. I can imagine the horror that people saw and felt from it on September 11th. Brooklyn Heights is of course one of the loveliest of all Brooklyn neighborhoods and one of the most expensive. There used to be a gay bar on Montague street. I know this because one Spring evening in the early 80’s, after getting drunk at an awards reception in Manhattan where I was given a small grant, me and Tom found ourselves in it. The gay bar is no longer there and neither is Tom. The small grant that I got on that spring evening in 1982 is also long gone along with the Downtown Brooklyn of my youth.

The pictures used in this post are Downtown Brooklyn in the 1950's and student work.

2 Comments:

Blogger AlexG said...

I always adore yr stories abt yr mother. the bit abt the gridles is priceless.

I feel honord to have been able to meet her.

12:26 PM  
Blogger AlexG said...

o dear..... it's GIRDLES. sorry for the typo.

12:27 PM  

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