REMEMBERING THE DAY

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.

“Turn on the television,” Owen said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.

“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.

Hitting the Tower

We watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.

“The tower is gone. Gone,” I whispered.

Then, the other tower fell.

Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but he said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later.

Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange.

We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much.

Firefighters-9.11

16 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability. Here was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Maybe the government knew, but it hadn’t trickled down to “the people.” We didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric.

This is a good day to remember who lived, who died. And how hatred still rules the world.

Has anything we have done, any fighting in which we have been engaged during the past 16 years made the world safer? Or better? No? Then we need to start fixing the reasons for war.

Terry Pratchett defined Peace as “that period of time during which nations prepare for the next war.” We need to change that. I do not claim to know how, but I’m not the President.

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation.” It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the special culture of this corner of New York. I was still a teenager, in college. I was with my first boyfriend who was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the Italian coffee shops that sold amazing coffee, and hot and cold chocolate, to the tiny, dark caverns where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. And it was just a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine. There’s a lot of good things to be said for growing up in the country, but it can’t compare with being young and having New York as ones playground.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

Greenwich Village in the 1960s was the stuff dreams are made of. Everyone was there. Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell and Leon Bibb and Harry Belafonte. Everyone. The famous, soon to be famous and a few who would be infamous. All young, making music, and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway from Queens. Get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was 30 cents for the round trip — and maybe, if I could scrounge it up, a dollar for a chocolate at Caffe Reggio. A dollar and a half would carry me a whole day into evening in the Village. Because hanging out was cheap.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you, or told you to buy something or leave.

This may be the only place I remember that's still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio -- the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

This may be the only place I remember that’s still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born. It’s now a protected landmark. Good thing, too.

You could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was a dozen years in my future.

People were friendly, funny, and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We certainly tried.

Out near Hofstra where I was going to school (and was a music major), my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there at the AbMaPHd? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

JERUSALEM OF GOLD AND THE BIG APPLE

TWO CITIES, TWO WORLDS

Once again, WordPress is offering to rehome us to not one, but the two cities of our choice. This is easy for me. I’ll take Jerusalem, golden Jerusalem of my heart … and my home town, New York, New York (it IS a wonderful town).

Where I used to live.

Where I used to live.

I assume you’ll be offering a package which includes  attractive housing options as well as first-class plane fare on demand. I expect appropriate home furnishings and a fashionable, yet comfortable wardrobe along with a generous stipend.

Jerusalem_old_city_panorama_5

That would work for me and my husband. You are paying his way too, correct? All my good friends and close family are coming too. Not leaving them behind a second time. Once was more than enough to last this entire lifetime.

Naturally, suitable transportation will be provided at each location. You know … cars, taxis, limos as needed? And support personnel? Cleaning staff, cooks, personal assistants? Dog walkers?

 (AP Photo/Preston Stroup)

(AP Photo/Preston Stroup)

This is going to be our reward for a long life of hard work and challenges no one should have to face, so I’m expecting great things.

new-york-city-housing

Thanks for your kind offer. I’m won’t bother to pack my bags. Your people will be in touch with my people. They can make all the necessary arrangements. Have a good day and thank you again.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

72-Bird-on-the-breeze-Ogunquit

As a passing thought, would you consider a third option? Perhaps a charming Caribbean Island state? St. Martin? Aruba? One of the Virgin Islands? Plus an occasional jaunt to Europe. I’m not greedy, but if you’re paying …

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

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It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York city, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends was inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

Three friends

October 1952

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and good will, there was neither.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other, thought each better off than ourself. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.

Where I was that day

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.

“Turn on the television,” Owen said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.

“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.

HittingTheTowerSandy and I just watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.

“Oh my God,” I whispered. “The tower is gone. Gone.”

Then, the other tower fell.

Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but Herb said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He had felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later in the day.

“God whispered in your ear,” I said, as did everyone else that day. “God whispered and you listened.”

Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange. Never stranger.

We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much. We didn’t know it would be forever.

Firefighters-9.11

12 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability, though surely Pearl Harbor should have done that years before … but that was a “real” war, somehow different. This was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric, a hatred so blinding it would exempt no one from the fire.

It’s 9/11 again. A good time to remember who lived, who died, and how the world has changed.

Hello? Can you hear me? — I love progress!

Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

iphone-whiteLet us travel together back in time to the halcyon days of yore. Not so long ago … the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s.

Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”

You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.

We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.

dining-room-21-512x384

The phone rings.

* * *

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?

* * *

The next day my friend called.

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

* * *

As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.

Watch Out for Pigeons!

Anyone who knows me at all knows I love roller coasters. I love them all … but for me, there’s nothing that comes near the Cyclone at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. Been riding it since I was 8 years. I’m ready to go again. Just say the word. But I think I’d have to go alone. My friends and husband have declared themselves too crotchety to do it again. Bah. Humbug.

CYCLONE-a

If a goose can bring down a 747, it is not irrational to believe a pigeon can derail a roller coaster. Just thought I’d mention it.

Here’s a crazy video of the coaster and nutty middle-aged people enjoying the last great legal high. How many of us leave this ride limping, wondering if we are as insane as we appear to be? I would say yes, we are insane. After last summer’s excursion to Busch Gardens, almost a year later … I’m still limping! But oh, that wonderful adrenaline rush as you look down the first drop, wondering if this time, the car really is going to hit a pigeon and you will go flying off into eternity. What a way to go, right?

Map of Coney Island in 1879

Map of Coney Island in 1879

This is still the best video I’ve seen to date.  Clean, almost sort of  like being there. Nah. Who am I kidding? There’s nothing like being there except being there. Garry says we’re too old, just because I can’t even stand up straight. He points out I can barely walk. But  you don’t have to walk on the Cyclone. You just sit and scream. I can do it. I can, really. Especially the screaming.

Well, we’ll always have 2009 in Brooklyn.

Ah, the refreshing sounds of joy mixed with terror! What a great thing it is to be safely scared to death. Just gotta go back … one last time. I hear the new rides are FANtastic. And here, a sentimental song and a look at those long ago days of doo wop and 1962 … beehive hairdo and mini skirts. Gee. I was the same age that my granddaughter is now … yikes.

Hey Brooklyn … how are you?

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