Saturday, October 27, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Talent is everything. If you've got talent, nothing else matters. You can screw up your personal life something terrible. So what. If you've got talent, it's there in reserve. Anybody who has talent they know they have it and that's it. It's what makes you what you are. It tells you you're you. Talent is everything; sanity is nothing. I'm convinced of it." Don DeLillo "Americana.
Friday, October 12, 2007
My First Homosexual
I saw my first homosexual in 1957 on a warm Sunday in July. My mother had taken me, my sister, my cousin Danny’s girlfriend Gloria her girlfriend Sandy and Sandy’s mother for a spin in our new bright red Pontiac and we had wound up in Chinatown for a walk about and lunch. My cousin Danny who was movie star handsome had gotten hooked up with this hot babe Gloria who had bright red hair and slim hips. Danny’s parents my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Jack disliked her but my mother adored her, and encouraged Danny in his romance with her. My aunt Sylvia who was a good looking woman but a horror to be around was always on the phone with my mother berating and yelling at her for encouraging the romance between her beloved son and this “slut and whore.” My mother paid her no mind, having never cared one bit for her. “Anything to spite Sylvia,” she said to me one afternoon after hanging up the phone on her. My mother even went so far as to go with Gloria to pick out an engagement ring in the diamond district in Manhattan. Maybe my mother and Gloria were cut from the same mold I don’t know. I also liked Gloria. She was pretty in a cheap sort of way, cheery and bubbly and she was very affectionate towards me. Gloria and Daniel would hang out at my father’s luncheonette at night when my mother was on duty and eat dinner at the Formica counter. I would be all over Danny. He was big and handsome with a wide smile and a nice laugh. He was the same age as my brother and they were close but my brother had been drafted into the army in Dec. and Danny was 4-F for some reason so I put all my affection on him. I was ten years old when I saw my first homosexual on that warm Sunday in July of 1957 and it wasn’t in Chinatown. We all piled into the fire engine red brand new Pontiac and with my mother’s dyed raven black hair, Gloria’s dyed red hair, Sandy and her mother’s dyed yellow hair and my sister’s plain old mousy brown hair it looked like a fall day in the forest. Gloria’s perfume was strong and sweet, and her breasts were nice and perky, no wonder Danny loved her. The two of them dripped 1950’s sexuality all over my father’s luncheonette’s pink and green checked linoleum floor. They dripped 1950’s sexuality inside Danny’s big 1956 Oldsmobile that he drove hard and fast as if some cop was after his butt and they dripped 1950's sexuality on the Brooklyn sidewalks of my youth. Every other word out of his sensual mouth was pussy, fuck, laid, cunt and cock. Of course he never used these words in front of my mother, as she would have slapped his handsome face from ear to ear. But in front of me the curse words streamed from his mouth. I didn’t care because I idolized Danny and his equally beautiful younger brother Stan who was my sister’s age and was always getting into trouble. He was our own James Dean. My father was always calling him a juvenile delinquent much to my delight and red-hot imagination. He couldn’t stand my sister and they were always arguing also to my delight. His nickname for her was witch, and he would always come to my defense when she would tease me. “Why are you such a witch? He would ask her and I would crack up. But that afternoon in the car I was the only male as Danny and Stan would work hard long weekends helping out their parents who had stands in the outdoor markets in English Town Pa. selling schemata’s and other pieces of crap that made them a pretty nice living. During the week Jack drove a truck and Sylvia stayed at home, drove my two cousins nuts and made buckets of homemade applesauce. After Chinatown we went to Times Sq. to walk around and look at all the signs and take in the sights. I insisted on walking past every movie theatre so I could look at the displays and see what the next attractions would be. I stood for sometime in front of the Lavish Paramount Theatre where Band of Angels was playing and decided that I would have to see that one. “Let’s go already” my sister was belly aching as usual but Gloria just patted me on the head and smiled at me, her red hair piled high on her head was gleaming in the late afternoon sun. I was ten years old when I saw my first homosexual on that warm July Sunday in 1957 and it wasn’t in Times Square. “Let’s go to the village,” Gloria said and I asked what was the village? You’ll soon see Ira, she said as we got back in the car and my mother made for downtown and Greenwich Village. It was getting to be around 8 in the evening and although it was still light out the sun would soon be down and out. My mother found a parking spot and I found myself on 8th street for the first time. This is where I saw my first homosexual. All the women were giggling and starring at the very effeminate and strange looking young men who were passing in front of my eyes. “What are they I asked my mother.” They’re fairies Ira” Why were they called fairies? They didn’t have wings and they certainly weren’t tiny like the ones that were in my children’s books and in the Disney movie Peter Pan. These fairies were scary and strange. They were men but were wearing lipstick and makeup and they had tweezed eyebrows like my mother’s. On top of all of this they were wearing tight pants and fuzzy light summer sweaters. “I want to go home,” I said as I pulled on my mother’s arm. This was a troubling image for me and brought back memories of one Halloween when I was maybe 5 years old and my mother and sister tried to get me to go trick or treating dressed as a little girl. As my sister tried to put lipstick on my tiny mouth I socked her in her face and screamed that I would not wear a dress and ripped it off. “Ok honey” my mother said let’s get you up as a cowboy. All the way home, as I dozed on Gloria’s lap I thought that If I was going to be a homosexual I would never ever wear those fuzzy sweaters or tweeze my eyebrows.Pictures used in this post. 8th Street in the 1950's by the great photographer Fred W. McDarrah, The Paramount and The Loew's State Theatres in the 1950's and my cousin Stan, photo by me.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Friday, October 05, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The Old Neighborhood
A few months ago during our long hot August month here in New York I needed to go to a pain management specialist for my somewhat bothersome but minor arthritis. None of the specialists that my Manhattan orthopedic doctor recommended would accept my medical plan so I went on line to search for one that did take my plan and found one in my old neighborhood of Borough Park Brooklyn. Even though I live in Brooklyn, in order for me to get to Borough Park from my neighborhood of Bay Ridge I had to take the subway in a round about way. I had mixed feelings about returning to the place where I was born and lived until I was 18 and where my parents lived until they both died. The doctor’s office was only 2 blocks away from where my parents ended up living their final years in the apartment where my close teenage friend had lived. How to describe my old neighborhood? Well someone on line said that “Borough Park was never a distinguished neighborhood” and that is putting it mildly. But looking at the very old photos of the neighborhood some of which I’ve posted it looks bucolic. The building of the elevated subway of course changed all that. As I made my way to the doctor I had to walk through areas that I knew well as a kid, but now seemed strange and unknown to me. The huge medical center Maimonides Hospital (where I was born in 1947) has sprawled and swallowed its way through most of the neighborhood where my parents lived taking over whole blocks of houses to use as offices and treatment centers. The doctors office was in one of these converted houses and the small waiting room was cramped and filled with patients mostly orthodox and Hassidem Jews who have made Borough Park one of the major areas for their severe and restrictive sects of Judaism. But there were also some Latinos and African Americans waiting for their treatment. This was an unfriendly place ruled over by the head receptionist Iris an obese surly and rude young Latina. “Why is she so unpleasant” I thought to myself. Did I remind her of an abusive uncle, a boyfriend who dumped her, a teacher who flunked her or maybe it was because she weighed close to 300 pds. Not unpretty she had legs as thick as tree trunks and when she got up from her desk she could hardly walk. But wait, on one of her fat ankles was a thin sliver bracelet; did this monster actually find someone to love her? Or perhaps she just bought it herself to make her feel better. Was there a male counterpart to her waiting for her at home? The male technicians working there were no better. The somewhat cute gay Latino man was unsmiling and the very sexy young Jewish guy with the small yamake on his head was also sullen and and unsmiling. The doctor himself was ok, brisk but efficient and after this first visit (I would need 3 more treatments I decided to walk around the old neighborhood and see what was left. My walking tour started to depress me very shortly as I made my way down to 13th avenue which was our main shopping area when I was growing up. All the stores and shops were long gone replaced by ugly discount stores, fruit stands, unappealing restaurants and religious bookstores that I thought might be fun for a browse but decided otherwise. Where were the wonderful delis and Ebinger’s Bakery with their fantastic chocolate blackout cake so rich that just looking at it would cause me to break out. When I was a teenager my brother and sister in law would bribe me with one to get me to baby-sit for my infant nephew Stephen. When they came home after their night out they would find me passed out on the living room couch, the t.v still on, and my face covered with chocolate, an empty bag of pretzels and an empty quart of milk sitting on the coffee table. Gone were the old-fashioned candy stores and luncheonettes and Bob’s photo store where I would buy my darkroom supplies. The Envoy Cafeteria and the good pizza joints were also missing along with Henry’s custard stand. Everything was fucking gone. In the 50’s the neighborhood was a mixture of Jewish and Italian families and during the Christmas holidays the avenue was hung with Christmas lights. I would buy presents for my brother and sister in the Woolworth’s thatd now a bank. “What was I looking for?” Howard asked when I told him about my troubled walk through our old neighborhood. “I guess 1957” I replied. It got worse. My lovely neighborhood Loew’s 46th street movie theatre was now a cheap furniture store the façade covered in graffiti. I went inside to take a look and all the beautiful décor and decorations were torn out, the lobby filled with cheap and ugly furniture. I could still make out some of the colorful floor tiles that weren’t covered up with dirty old carpeting. The theatre was located on New Utrecht Ave, which had the Elevated Subway outside. Like a scar that never heals the elevated subway roared across the Avenue dropping dirt and grim over everything and blotting out the sun for all time. Most of the stores along this horrible stretch of the neighborhood were either in terrible shape or just boarded up. I then made my way to our neighborhood library, which was down the block from the apartment where I grew up. Grim and dirty like everything else and yes it did seem smaller than I remembered it. The Hassidems had done a good job on the neighborhood tearing down many of the old private one family houses that at least gave some character and charm to the area replacing them with ugly two and three story townhouses with small balconies extending out. With no sense of scale or taste they built these atrocities all over the place having no idea what they looked like (or so it seemed to me). Block after block was full of these horrors. This little voyage back was getting very difficult for me, but I couldn’t leave I had to go on, and go on I did. I walked to my old block where I grew up and that’s when the tears started. Never a nice block, it was now a disaster. The old prewar apartment houses were in terrible disrepair and dirty. I just stood there like some lost tourist in a foreign war torn country with my mouth open and tears rolling down my checks. Howard had told me that my old childhood upstairs neighbor still lived in the very apartment that she grew up in, staying on in this dump even after her parents had died. A lesbian and retired librarian or visa versa and a stereotype if ever there was one she had spent her entire life in this ghastly place going from her apartment to her job at the library down the block. Why didn’t she leave? I would ponder this question with Howard many times. “Well it must be have a very reasonable rent.” “That is not a good enough reason,” I said. Last year after nearly more than 30 years of not seeing her me and Howard had run into her while eating in a restaurant in Park Slope and I almost asked her why she was still living in that dump. There were a few other sights that I knew I had to visit and I made my way up to Fort Hamilton Parkway and past my old elementary school that was built in the early years of the 20th Century. It was still there, surrounded by more blight, desrepair and despair. I crossed the street to walk by the old Normandy Theatre that was closed in the 50’s and turned into a factory that made something. It was very hot so the large back doors were open and as I peered into the dark and canverous space. I could still make out some of the plaster decorations around the perimeter of the ceiling, now painted black The workers were staring at me so I went on to the most painful site, my father’s luncheonette. Located right under the Elevated subway, it too was boarded up like everything else on the block and even the el entrance was closed because it was now so underused. Riders would have to walk the two blocks south to the 45th street entrance to board the subway. I felt like I was visiting my parents graves. There was no indication at all that this was the place that my parents and Uncle Natie and my brother had worked so hard for so many years to make living. I wanted to leave flowers.When I thought I started to hear voices I knew it was time to go. I swore to myself that I would not take anymore tours through the neighborhood. I would walk straight to the doctor’s office from the El for my last 3 treatments and then return home immediately afterwards. As usual Iris the talking mountain was as rude and surley to me as could be, and I was getting pretty fed up with her. As I stood at the receptionists desk to sign in I was blocked from doing this by a very old man who was chatting her up so I wanted to wait until he was finished. “You can sign in” she said. “Well should I knock him out of the way.? With that she picked up the clip board with the sign in sheet attached and slammed it down in front of me. I started to wonder what charges could be brought against me if I slugged her. Well only one more visit to go and then I would never have to see her again. The next week I arrived on time, sat down and Iris asked, “do you have your new referal number?" “What referral number? this is my 4th visit and the referal was good for 4 visits.” ‘Yes but you had two different procedures last week and the second one counted as a 4th visit.” “Why didn’t you tell me that last week?” “Why didn’t you call me and let me know that I would be needing another referal?” “What am I a mind reader?” No apology came out of her fat mouth. “Well I can try to call your primary care doctor and see if I can get the referal number.” I was really getting angry but I held in my temper. “Your doctor’s office is closed.” “Now what I asked?” “Well you can sit here for an hour or so and maybe I can reach them later.” Yeah right. With that I stood up yelled “Good bye” and stormed out of the office. I knew what I would do when I got home. I wrote an angry letter to the doctor complaining about Iris, and her lack of civility and professionalism. I really let her have it. I felt better but still wanted her dead. A week or so later the phone rang “Hello this is Iris from the doctor K’s office and he would like you to make an appointment for your final treatment”. “I don’t think so Iris.” and banged down the receiver as hard as I could hoping that I at least damaged her ear drum. Now I felt better.
The photos used in this post are of The Loew's 46th Street Theatre as it looks today. All the other photos are of Borough Park in the 1900's including one of my elementary school P.S. 1 in 1913 and The Normandy Theatre which is from the late 1940's.