The Superheroes of Henry Street

My mother had it in her head to send me to school in a summer dress in the winter time. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t have too many options in terms of wardrobe.  I was in first grade. The boys were relentless with their teasing. “Hey stupid aren’t you cold? Hey Stupid let me see your panties!” I was the least stupid of the class and won all of the spelling bees.

My father used to wear spats. My uncles on my mother’s side used to make fun of him and sing, “Take off your spats and let all the sh*% fall out!”. They weren’t very educated people. He just ignored them. My father was the odd person out but he was the smartest person in.

My mother’s family really felt education was out of their reach. My mother was unusually driven, but her brothers really did low paying jobs and never aspired to do more. My mother never got past junior high but she was known for getting jobs for other people in the neighborhood! No one ever made fun of my mother.

I hated my Grandmothers cooking, but I was too smart to make fun of her for it. Once I told her I didn’t like onions. She said, “Too bad! Eat them anyway”.  When I picked out the onions and put them on the side of my plate, my Grandmother would throw open the window and scream and curse .while biting her knuckle.

When I had fights with my Grandmother I’d go next door to my Aunt house, and believe me it took ALOT for me to go there, My Aunt used to make fun of my brother , my father and me! She made fun of my eyebrows and said I looked like Don L Lewis, the head of some union who had a unibrow.  Her daughter won a beauty contest. So as a result I felt it was even if I didn’t let her ride my bicycle. I liked my cousin, I just felt this made things even. This resulted in a drag out scratching fight between my mother and my Aunt. This seemed extreme to me because eventually I changed my mind and let my cousin use it.

Seeing people beating each other up was a common thing back then. Once we were driving to a cemetery and some man on the street was beating up some man who had a pregnant wife with him. Well my mother and my aunt looked at their brothers and they all got out of the car and beat him up! They were like a gang that beat up mean people. They were the superheroes of Henry Street. Except sometimes they beat each other up too.

Today I don’t see a lot of street fights or name calling, not in my neighborhood anyway. But when I see someone being unjust to somebody, like a homeless person, I feel very badly. I have to get a SuperWoman costume and walk the Upper West Side at night, I think. It’s the least I can do to keep up my family tradition.  I won’t wear a summer dress this time.

When a Critic Calls

There’s a critic around every corner. I’m noticing this even more now that I’m writing. When growing up I was always challenged about everything I did. As a result I felt like I’d done something wrong and I had to apologize for it. Today I feel like I’ve had a great life. But issues come up I want to write about. Like dating. I always thought I’d find someone easily after my husband died, but I haven’t. Also my roommate is very critical of what I eat. I’m not accustomed to someone telling me how to eat. I mean I’m almost 80 for crying out loud! I’m maybe 10 pounds overweight tops. If I wanna eat a chicken pot pie I’m going to! And I’ll eat the whole thing.

Last week I wrote what I though was a very honest story about not feeling well and how NYC came in an helped me. As soon as we published it the phone started ringing. People from my job were cautioning me that I could be fired for revealing I wasn’t feeling well in a public way. They thought my supervisors would read I was sick and then fire me! It’s absurd when you think about it and I imagine illegal. But to be honest, I got scared. I went back to my owl self and immediately felt like I’d done something wrong. So what did I do? I deleted it.

I believe in communication. I believe in exchanging ideas. There’s not always a thin line when people are being critical. Criticism is what people accuse teachers of doing. When you really look at a situation and try to  understand where they are coming from it leads you to a place of empowering that person to do well.  I think you can lead by example instead of criticizing. If you don’t understand something or feel afraid of something that’s uncomfortable, instead of shunning it try to talk about it with the person. My coworkers were clearly afraid when they read my story. They don’t like thinking of me going through such an awful and embarrassing experience but these things happen to all of us! Not acknowledging it doesn’t make these things go away and if my story made them feel something then mission accomplished.

I grew up in a family where there was a lot of competition. I was picked on a lot as a kid so I’m very sensitive to that and I have to know that. I have a tendency to want to please other people. But perhaps I’ve pleased enough people at 80 years old and the only person left to please is me.

My Trump Dump

There  are  a couple of reasons I’ve been hesitant to write about Trump. I’m a left-wing liberal and great fan of Bernie Sanders. In this election there were too many unknowns, and in the end the only person I felt confident in was Hillary.  And the second reason is because I’m in real estate. During the election brokers were inundated by the press for comment and to be honest, when I’m selling real estate that’s what I’m focused on. I’m not interested in giving Trump any more press than he already has.

Before the election even began, a guy that lived in my building ended up being super rich and managed the Intrepid which is docked on the West Side of Manhattan. He had a big party and invited me, but he also invited Hillary Clinton. Lucky me. She spoke for a bit – not too much – just the right amount. I felt very connected with her. I felt as though she could be a friend of mine and that her politics matched mine. She was in a pantsuit, of course, which is great! She spoke like an Upper West Sider. She wasn’t pushing her story at all, she was talking about NYC politics at the time. She was relaxed and on point. I was so happy to see her and so happy to be at that party. Sadly about a year after that party,  the man in my building was taking bribes, so he had to move out. He moved to a much small residence behind bars.

The most surprising thing about Donald Trump to me is his desire to decimate people who don’t agree with him. He ruins people reputations, he fires them, he makes fun of them, its endless.  He’s sort of like when you have a foot fungus and you can’t get rid of it. He lingers and the only way I think they will get rid of him is to fire him. There’s really no easy or graceful way out. Rip off that toe!

At least he’s consistent, I’ll give him that. Even before this Presidency he was the same way in NYC real estate. He built a slew of box like apartments on the Hudson River that overpopulated the Upper West Side and blocked the views of everyone who lived in a block of city housing next to Lincoln Center. He pushed out existing public schools to accommodate the children in all of the buildings. People fought against him, but they lost. Everyone looses when Trump wants something. He always gets what he wants. It’s frightening. And now that’s he’s the puppet master of American politics, who knows whats around the corner.

I was binge watching CNN yesterday because my back hurt. The more I watched the more my back hurt. Trumps ego is commanding becasue he’s so rich. I feel bad for the Republicans who are intelligent and smart. They are probably Republican because their parents were.

When Trump says fake media I think about Hitler who wouldn’t let negative press go out. I wonder if Hitler is one of his idols. Time will tell.

Between you and me, there’s a possibility I’ll get some negative feedback about this post. Especially from people at the office I work at. Up until now the most any of them know is I was a bit of a hippie back in the 60’s. But truthfully I’m a left-wing liberal. I’m a feminist. I’m a survivor. I’m a New Yorker. To me there is no advantage to not telling my views. It’s dishonest. To to be honest, now that you’re reading my blog you’re just like me!

I Need A Swift Kick in the Ass

I felt sad last week and I didn’t know why. When I was young my parents always supported me. After that I would have a boyfriend or a husband. I don’t have any of those things now. I have my brother and he is supportive, but he gives me too much advice about my health. He’s a doctor, so he knows a lot and I’m sure it’s helpful, but I have so many doctors in my life already I find what i need more is a brother.

My first boyfriend wasn’t Jewish, and at that time that wasn’t acceptable. In Bayside, where I lived at the time, I would stop at a candy store everyday after school. Bob Bird was a “soda jerk”. He was very good-looking and older than me.  He was in his 20’s. He made me a malted everyday, but when my grandmother cooked I was required to eat! I of course didn’t tell her I was drinking a malted everyday. Luckily being stick thin wasn’t in fashion back then.

Bob and I were together for about 2 or 3 years.   I had a great set up to hide I was dating a non-Jewish boy. Bob’s friend Howie, who was Jewish, would pick me up from my house and then take me to Bob. We even pretended to go to prom together! One night my mother followed me in her car and she waited in her Cadillac outside the candy store until she saw me leaving with Bob. We stopped dating not too long after that.

I’m almost 80. I wish I had the energy to not worry about not having a man in my life, and feel supported by the people I do have in my life. The willingness to get out of the house and go to a party or a class.  But when I think I want to go do something my mind becomes clouded and I would rather go home and watch TV with my dogs. I lack moxie without a man in my life. I feel like if there was a man around I wouldn’t long for it.  When Don was around he and I would talk about the stuff I was doing and he would support me to do it. I miss the emotional support to go out and do stuff. I’m my experience besides my mother  it was always men who supported me this way. And now I don’t have one.

I’d like to take an art class at the Arts Students League, so a year ago I picked up a catalogue. I never registered.  That makes me mad. I told some guy in my building I’d go to a reception at the Arts Students League and then I didn’t go! So you may ask what I’m gonna do about it, huh? Write about it.

I have to break out of this. Where’s that catalogue…

 

 

The Hunchback of St. Marks Place

Theres one weirdo who wait downstairs in front of my building when I walk my dogs. He just watches me. I never talk to him. I’ve had some weirdos in my life. When I was a teenager a couple of guys had a crush on me. One was a ding-a-ling. I some how attract weird people.

For example, years ago I went apartment hunting in the East Village. I was on St. Marks one day looking at a rent stabilized apartment some guy had. I met with him and he said how much the apartment was- like $50 a month.  Then he asked me to dinner. Then he wanted to have sex with me. I figured, hey why not? He has a hunchback and a weird leg, butIll get the apartment and boy did I! This was the first and last time I sold my body. It was worth it. You’d have to try and get an apartment in NYC to understand. This apartment was amazing.

I was robbed while I lived there. I was out for a half an hour. All they found was some tampons and my diaphragm. Oh and a suitcase my mother gave me. Not a lot, but it was very creepy living there after that. So I went to a place that built security gates for banks. It was a loft and the guys who worked there were brothers. They had a great reputation but it was clear from looking around their loft they did 2 things, build gates for windows and drink bottles of booze. They sold me gates with locks for my windows. They installed them too. I didn’t ask permission from anyone, I was frantic. So they sealed me in nice and safe.

So the guy I sold myself to came back looking to cash in again for generously giving me a cheap apartment. I owed him more money for the apartment. My boyfriend Billy was living with me by then, so cash was all I gave him that day.

 

I was robbed while I lived there.

A Brother Sometimes Knows

Of all people to come and search me out when I’d left my family, I would’ve least expected my brother. I got a call one day. It was a Saturday when my ex brother-in-law was helping lay carpet in the livingroom. I told my brother and he offered to come finish the job and help us move furniture around.

I was surprised he kept it cool and didn’t talk to me about the family. In fact the next week he invited me out to dinner with some of his friends and his girlfriend.  We went to a restaurant downtown on the pier. It was very fancy. I was so impressed the maitre de referred to my brother as Dr. Baraban. But it was clear he was focused on not spending much money. He said things like, “Oh I think I’ll just get an appetizer”. “I’ll just take the tap water”.

My brothers girlfriend was instantly angry when she met me. I felt the same way. She was very boyish in a way. Her name was Joanna. We shook hands and that began the war. We didn’t mesh and as it turns out she didn’t mesh with my brother either.

My brother has been married and divorced 3 times. My shrink said something very profound. “Most people go into therapy. Your brother keeps getting married”. My brother is 72 and is currently living with his girlfriend, though I suspect they got married and didn’t tell me.

My brother never liked to spend money. When I have money I spend it. When he has it he saves it. So of course I robbed his piggy bank when we were kids. I always felt guilty, but not that guilty.

When he was 13 I was 20, so we didn’t cross paths much. If we’d been closer in age I doubt we would’ve hung out. I was very social and he was very quiet. He was a “know it all” and I was a curious seeker of new experiences. Yet our bond and reason for being brother and sister came clear to me much later.

It’s amazing to me how he broke the spell of my estrangement with my family. Not long after the experience of dinner with his girlfriend, Don and I saw my parents. I was very happy to see them.  Don, in his way, made it a very friendly and good experience. It was his first time meeting them. I was nervous they were going to be very angry at me, but they weren’t.  I told them about my divorce from my first husband, whom they hated anyway. I also told them about my abortion, which upset my mother very much.  Luckily Don took over here and there with jokes. Thank goodness.

Today I talk to my brother every day, and we are close. I can tell him anything really, but I know there are still parameters of what I can or can’t tell him. Like my drug business. Or my time in the circus. Or my boyfriends. All seven of them.

Just kidding. Maybe.

My 2 Million Dollar Hole in the Wall

Buying real estate in New York in always interesting. It seems like it should be a straight forward process, but often it comes with a lot of creative compromise and favors.

My apartment today is probably worth 2 million dollars. I bought it for $175,000 back in 1989.  Sounds like a bargain for New York City, but you would not believe what I had to do besides pay for it!

It is 1100 sq. feet and it’s on the Upper West Side. The first time I was in this building was when I was working as an architect. I was redesigning the layouts of the apartments and breaking one bathroom into two bathrooms.  I was basically bringing up the value of all of the apartments.

So while this was happening I was trying to buy an apartment in another building. The owner ended up selling it out from under me to someone else. Of course, I had already agreed to sell the apartment I was in to someone else and had signed a contract! So I was in a pickle. My dear friend Margaret had her own real estate firm. She was the one who hired me to do all of the architectural work.  She felt very badly I’d lost the apartment, so she helped me find this one. It hadn’t been renovated yet.

The owner of the building said he would pay for the construction of my apartment in exchange for me designing 78 kitchens for him.It was a great deal from my perspective, but actually he got me for a song.

So then he said he wanted me to do his Rabbi’s Kosher kitchen in Great Neck. I said, “I don’t do Great Neck.” And he said he would have his chauffeur take me back and forth. So I got roped into doing that kitchen too.

Two years later, everything was done including the renovations in my apartment. Today I am faced with the ability to sell this apartment and maybe travel a bit with the money.  Find a smaller place to live in somewhere and have some fun! But it’s hard to leave a place where so much of my history in embedded in the walls.

Don lived here with me. He was a Brooklyn guy and used to say, “Uptown” quietly in my ear is something was happening he didn’t relate to or understand. He was uncomfortable for him to live in more affluent circumstances. But we made our second bedroom into his writing office, and he loved it there. There was more space in this apartment and we needed it. We loved each other but let’s face it, both had huge personalities and very specific needs. Don loved to shop in the local garbage piles. He would bring home books, art, lamps…anything he thought we could use or had value. So as fast as he would bring home this stuff I would negotiate sending it back out to the trash.

This reminds me of when my family moved from Henry Street and moved to Bayside Queens. It was very sad for me. I was so attached to my home, and I feel the same way about this apartment. My whole middle life was here.  I don’t think I’ll ever leave, but maybe I have 10 years left. So now what? I’ve never had to deal with my age before. It’s really crazy. It’s crazy when it should be exciting. So who knows?

New York City makes you work hard for it. To live here, you have to be string and resourceful. Everyone is attached to their apartments because they had to just through hoops to get them. And it ‘aint cheap!

So if you ever find yourself wanting to live in NYC, just keep in mind it’s a forever place and you will have a very hard time leaving.

 

 

Under the Skin

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which also happens to be my mothers birthday. It also makes me think of my husband, who was Irish. So it’s a double doozey of a day. My roommates left town this morning and I felt a loneliness I haven’t felt since Don died.

Last night, I took my friends Margaret and Wayne out to dinner because they have been inviting me over every other Thursday since Don died. Wayne and I had the same psychologist in the past. I’ve always thought of him like a brother. And I love Margaret like a good friend. They have always had a relationship that impressed me. My roommates are also an impressive couple. So back to back I was faced with couples, and I’m no longer in one. So the loneliness set in today.

I’ve been writing these blogs because I have had a very exciting and interesting life, but seeing these two couples, both the good and the bad, they are close and candid and have a great relationship. On the heels of today and all of my important people who associated with St. Patty’s day, I remember the journeys with the people. Like my mother and how we evolved. The most important people in your life are the relationships you work at to have.

Loneliness has to do with the relationships that you have or don’t have. I’m jealous I’m not in a relationship right now, yet I’m happy to see my friends happy in theirs. When I was growing up I had a couple of close friends. The Lower East Side was filled with change and transition at the time. Friends would come and go. Even we finally moved to Bayside Queens. You would think I was used to loss after all of that.

I never thought I was anything great. Part of it had to do with insecurities reinforced by people in my life when I was a kid. On the other hand, my parents were very complimentary of my looks but especially my brain. Also my sense of humor was one of my big-ticket items. I was always funny and it would counter any negative comments that came my way. I was a resilient kid. This past week when the installation of the tough little girl was put in from of the Wall Street Bull, it reminded me of me!

City kids have to grow up faster than the kids in the country. They are approached by so many more dangerous things in the city. When I was a kid there were stalkers, gang of mean city girls, bookies in the corridors of the buildings in the evenings. After school my mother had me go to afterschool programs until my parents were home from work. Keeping kids off of the streets is important in the cities.  Also in the city kids are expected to be more sophisticated and accepting. Kids also have to be more competitive. All of this contributes to loneliness. It makes a person very unique, which is a good thing but also can be very isolating.

I have been struggling with my loneliness. Instead of reaching out more I’ve been working from home, which is safe, but alone. When I was younger I was lonely and I would go to a movie. It would get me out of the house. Scary movies can get me out of my lonliness. The Hand did that for me, but also made me scared of bookshelves.

Today I’d rather go with a friend to the movies, but now my movie freind is very sick. I’ve been very consumed with architectural work. It’s a good way for me to avoid my upset. My upset is about missing some of the most important people in my life.

Seeing my friends who are in couple is good for me. Life goes on and I have to be reminded to live sometimes. So maybe I should go to the movies today. Maybe a scary movie.

 

 

My Brief Romance with Alcohol

I started drinking when I was in college and there were ski weekends we went on. One day I woke up with a hangover at a vacation place that had horses. We decided to go horseback riding and I was thrown in to a big mud puddle.

Another time, my brother was being honored at one of those round table men things in the Hampton’s. I couldn’t stand being there so I got drunk and climbed under the table to escape. My nieces had to coax me out with food.

Another time I was drunk was at my cousins sons Bar Mitzvah. I showed up in the same dress as my sister-in-law AND my cousin! It was a nightmare. So I got drunk on ginger-ale and rum.

Once i rented a horse and it was very hungry. As we went along the house would take long weeds and pull them. One time he tripped on the weed and threw me off of him. I gave up on horses after that.  They named that horse Judy after that.

So now I don’t drink because of acid reflux and migraines. I don’t miss alcohol at all becauseIm crazy anyway, I don’t need any help in that department. Drinking worked for me when I was more insecure.

 

 

The Other Judy

The director of the Department of Design and Construction for NYC interviewed me. It was a time when everyone was wearing short skits so I looked very cute that day. I was in my late 30’s and the man interviewing me was very flirtatious. I got the job and was in charge of supervising various construction sites. Some days Id walk by various construction sites in my mini skirt and everyone would hoot and I’d get annoyed! At work Id bend over the blueprints and the men would stand behind me to get a look up my skirt. Its hilarious really because I was wearing a mini skirt. I mean I would’ve changed my outfit but I liked it!

I became very good friends with another woman who worked with me there. She was a painter. She sat in front of my and was also named Judy. She would often go out to lunch alone and come back drunk and fall asleep at her board.

But anyway we both joined a group called women in architecture. Once a week we would all get together and share our experiences as women in our profession. It was a very supportive group. Judy was really brilliant and managed to pass a very difficult 7 day licensing test while she was drunk.

There was a party at one of the women’s houses and Judy got very drunk there. There were a lot of men there too. I came in after she got looped. Someone came over to me and said Judy was in the bathroom and asked if Id go in and see if she’s ok. I went it and she was hanging onto the pipes under the sink. “I’m so embarrassed…” she kept repeating. I took her downstairs and put her in a cab.

When I went to the Hampton’s in the summers back then, some of the women in my architecture group wanted to share a house. Judy was one of them. On Saturday nights she would get totally smashed and start arguing about politics and get very emotional. She was very talented and smart and good-looking. She did the Times crossword for fun.

One Sunday morning after a party when Judy got really loud, the other women went out to the beach.  I saw Judy at the beach and she was sitting alone. I asked her why she was alone. She said she didn’t think the other women wanted to be with her. I said, “Judy lets walk”.I told her about what happened the night before. She was very upset. I recommended she see my psychiatrist. So she did! Judy joined AA and quit smoking too. She was really amazing.

I guess she really trusted me. It’s amazing really.

She died in her 50’s.