Alot of work is going on at the building that abuts our NYC apartment balcony. The building formerly known as Blatt Billiards is undergoing a big change. After decades of making pool tables on Broadway, Blatt has moved and sold the building to developers who are putting up a high rise. When I first saw the sign that they were moving, I quick as a bunny hopped into the store to buy a memento before, like everything else in our neighborhood, they moved on to greener (and cheaper) pastures. The man who helped me with my purchase (a pair of dice) told me the building has been sold and soon a luxury apartment building would take its place. I’d say “there goes the neighborhood,” but ever since the parking garage across the street from our building entrance was transformed into a luxury condo where it’s rumored Leonardo DiCaprio paid $25 million for a loft, the neighborhood has already went.
My little transaction sparked a memory that is filed under “the quirky things that could only happen to me” that I thought I’d share with you:
I moved into the apartment in 1982 while I attended NYU. At the time, the apartment building was a little on the dumpy side, and so was the area surrounding it. Comprised of a mix of dingy low and high rise buildings, the neighborhood was populated mostly by to the trade antique stores, light manufacturing, offices and a few illegal residents. Our building, originally a dry goods store, was one of the first conversions around. Converted way before the loft laws mandated a minimum square footage of 1200 s.f. and minimum requirements for light and air, the building was chopped up into small, oddly shaped apartments. Mine was dark with a very low ceiling. Instead of windows I had 1 sliding glass door which led to a steel grated fire balcony overlooking 4 brick walls. One of those walls was at the rear of Blatt Billiards. The windows along its wall had steel shutters that were usually partly open, just enough for pigeons to roost and have babies, their sonorous coos adding constant moaning notes to the urban traffic/street noise mix. Every now and then the wind would blow the shutters open enough for me to see inside and watch men make pool tables. It was kind of interesting.
I was going to have a high school chum stay for a visit and I needed a place for them to sleep. My apartment was tiny and I slept on a fold out couch big enough for just me. My Aunt Sue came to the rescue by loaning me a folding cot. If you recall the folding cots of yesteryear, they were metal framed with a wire grid in between with a thin vinyl coated mattress, thin enough for the sleeper to wake up with the imprint of the grid indented in their back, that is if they were lucky to sleep at all since the whole thing would fold up at unexpected intervals like a Venus fly trap. The entire thing folded up upon itself into a sandwich (crust up) and had 2 wheels to move around for easy storage.
In anticipation of my guest’s stay I decided to clean which included mopping the floor. I rolled the bed onto the balcony and set to work. It was a very windy day. After the floor dried I went to get the bed. Uh-oh, the mattress was g-o-n-e GONE! The wind had pushed it out of the very skinny space between the folded frames. Where in the world did it go?! This was not a very happy turn of events for me. Aunt Sue loaned me that bed under penalty of death to take very good care of it because she wanted it BACK in the SAME condition it arrived. Aunt Sue was not to be trifled with. Severe penalties would be imposed, being harangued daily for the rest of my life the least of it. Heart in my mouth I ran out onto the balcony and looked down. The apartment was on the 6th floor and the space between buildings was very narrow, dank, dirty and worst of all inaccessible. It wasn’t there. Where could it be?! Did it just fly away like a magic carpet? I looked to the right and there, 2 windows over and 1 floor down was my mattress, languishing on the rear fire escape of Blatt Billards.
With the spector of Aunt Sue’s wrath hanging over me I can get very resourceful. I thought and thought and came up with a brilliant idea: I would fish for it! Like any self respecting Jersey Girl I had a fishing pole and a tackle box in my NYC closet. I might not be able to fit a winter coat in there, but by gum I had my fishing gear. I am my father’s daughter. My Daddy was Navy all the way. He gave me my love of all things aquatic, especially fishing off party boats along the Jersey shore. It just so happened that Modell’s sporting goods store was conveniently located within walking distance to where I worked, and they were having a sale on fishing tackle. I cashed a paycheck and loaded up, and it was sitting in my closet waiting for me to hop the train to the Atlantic Highlands and go fluking.
The fire escape was a little to the left, about 20 feet down and the space in between the buildings only about 10 feet wide. I’d need a sinker to get it to go down far enough, but a small one so as not to overshoot the target. I’d need a hook big enough to snag the mattress, maybe blue fish sized. have to cast alittle to the right but not with too much spit and vinegar lest I break a window with the sinker. It didn’t take long for me to put a hook and sinker on the rod and set to work. I went on the balcony and tried my luck. On the 5th try I managed to land on the mattress but the hook didn’t snag it and instead got caught on the railing. Shit shit shit! Now what in the world do I do?! That line cost me hard earned bucks, no way was I cutting it and losing that, the hook AND the sinker! Sweating, trembling and swearing a blue streak there was only 1 thing left to do. The last resort, only to be implemented in case of dire emergency: I was going to got to Blatt and ask to get the mattress.
Any person in their early 20’s know that’s unthinkable. Walking purposely up to a stranger and asking for directions or assistance is just not done. For males, that behavior lasts until death, but for women it usually wears off after menopause, and here I was only 22. What in the world was I going to say, anyway, “hi, my mattress is on your fire escape can I go get it?” Besides, those men I’ve spied making the pool tables looked alittle rough around the edges. Would I get out of there intact? Would they let me get the mattress then throw me down on it and have their way with me? Oh boy, was I between a rock in a hard place! It all came down to weighing the risks: being ravished by horny pool table makers or suffer the wrath of Aunt Sue? Shiver me timbers. So I messed up my hair, dressed in my my most unflattering outfit and went to Blatt Billiards.
What seemed like an eternity later I was back in the apartment, cowering in a corner clutching the mattress to me and practically sucking my thumb. I did it! I asked for help! I got the mattress back! They only made a little fun of me. I survived. The whole ordeal lasted about 20 minutes but it was one of the longest 20 minutes of my life. I even managed to de-tangle my hook and reel it back up. The guys were kind of impressed by that. They waved to me when I reeled the line back in. My only thoughts were that I wouldn’t sleep a wink until I returned that cursed mattress back to Aunt Sue.
Now both Aunt Sue, my Daddy and Blatt are gone. So is the roof of the building, which now allows the sun to shine bright into my apartment like it never did before. But it the sun isn’t strong enough to brighten those fond memories of my dear Aunt Sue, fishing with my Daddy, and getting a glimpse of the guys making pool tables through the parted shutters at Blatt Billiards.