When taking piano lessons on 57th street, for some crazy reason my mother used to let me go there alone. Maybe she hoped I’d get lost. There were very few kids that traveled alone because NYC was a place where one had to watch ones purse, but apparently not ones children. Even though the subway seats were a lovely wicker, they were beaten up a bit. The subways were starting to become a place for homeless people to beg. Its wasn’t safe, but my mother wasn’t worried about me. She raised me to be suspicious of people who approached me. I still am.
At the time, I was 11 or 12. My lessons were at the Steinway Building on West 57th street. At that time Delancey Street was uptown to me and going all the way to to 57th street may as well have been traveling to the moon. I felt very adult and it was a relief to be treated that way and not like a baby. But still it seemed a little strange to take the subway by myself. But I did.
The address was easy enough to find and I stepped into a very impressive lobby. On the wall was a huge glass encased sign with all of the names of the various people you could visit in the building. I ran my finger down the sign alphabetically to find the name my mother wrote on a scrap of paper: ALLEN, BARTHOLEMEW- SUITE 1501.
I stepped off of the elevator at the 15th floor. I knocked on a big wooden door and Mr. Allen answered. He looked like Woodey Allen. Maybe he was his father. He asked me to sit and wait while he finished up with another student.
I went to the closet to hang up my jacket. As I reached for a hangar my arm brushed against the most gorgeous grey coat. The cashmere felt like “budda” on my skin. I had never seen or felt a coat like that on the Lower East Side. I knew this coat meant money and I liked it. I realize looking back that this coat was a sign of the good things in life. My life was good, but cashmere was better, and I wanted more of it.
As far as I was concerned my day was complete. Touching that coat was enough of a reason to have traveled to 57th street and I could’ve gone home then and there, when suddenly I heard yelling from the next room. It was Mr. Allen yelling at his student, “No! No! No! Practice, practice practice at HOME!”. The door flew open and a small girl, my age but shorter, quietly tip-toed out of the office ready to burst into tears. She walked to the coat closet. I thought, how could anyone with a coat like that be scared of a piano teacher? I had simply touched the magic cashmere coat and I knew from that moment on nothing could get me!
“Come in Judy. It’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Allen stepped aside and I walked proudly into my first piano lesson.