Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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It’s a Month Until the Election and My Stomach is in a Knot

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I’ve been thinking alot about a friend of mine lately, trying to take a page from her book.  She is one of those rare souls who is consistently serene and cheerful.  We had a conversation one day where she told me that when she can’t sleep she tunes into late-night call-in radio stations and listens to people she would never meet, who don’t share her same ideals and values.  Think truckers calling in on the topic of UFO’s or people focused on conspiracy theories and radical politics.  Personally, I would think that listening to a program that expounds values radically opposed to my own would give me insomnia or at least cause me to grind my teeth.  She, on the other hand, thinks of it more as a way to understand people different than her, which she finds interesting and calming.  Ok.

I’m sure most Americans my age will agree with me that this election cycle is one of the most tense and provocative in our lifetimes.  No matter which party we support and which candidate we have chosen to vote for, this is a process hard to watch, hard to wade through and hard to stomach.  Both sides feel they are making history by supporting their candidate and are vehemently opposed to the other as a person and as a politician.  Discourse has deteriorated into insult hurling matches; debates have devolved into manure slinging events.  There is very little informed policy substance being discussed.  Instead we listen to what awfulness can be dredged up from the past and accusations based on fuzzy facts.  Nothing seems to be discussed, it’s more disgust than discuss.

Which brings me back to my very serene and cheerful friend.  I want to be like her.  I want to be able to accept that people have opposite views than me and still be friends with them.  I want to have discussions with people who have opinions contrary to mine in a civilized manner.  I’m through screaming and turning purple when I hear someone repeat a “fact” about my candidate that they heard on the radio or read on Face Book that is not true.

I work with someone one day a week, I will refer to this person as “they.”  They will be voting in their very first election this November.  They are extremely passionate about the candidate running against mine.  They go to rallies and come back energized.  They pepper conversation with sound bites from this candidate.  At first I found this extremely provocative.  I felt like I had to counter every single thing they said in support of my candidate.  I must say I was not polite or serene about it either.  At one point I heard someone screaming and realized it was me.

Then I looked.  I looked at them and realized my words were hurting them.  I realized that this election, their first, was more than just any election, it was a huge turning point in life for them.  They said that by voting for this candidate they thought they were going to make history.  I told them that by voting for my candidate I thought I was making history too.  The light bulb went off.  We had something in common.  We just were coming about it from opposite ends of the spectrum.

What started as horrible weekly arguments now have turned into talks about how much we love our country and want the best for it.  That is our common ground.  This I suppose too, is my collective common ground with all Americans who are completely passionate about this election.  We are all Americans.  We all love our country.  We all want what’s best for it. We just have opposite ideas of what is best for it.  We all want to make history.  We just have different definitions of what history we are trying to make.  Things are now much better between us, and we can really talk about the candidates.  We ask each other questions and actually listen to what each other is saying.  There’s a large age difference between us and I think both of us are getting a better understanding of our perspectives and why we like the candidate we do.  As a result, they now show me pictures of the rallies they go to, and we enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon and SNL election skits together.

Maybe, maybe oh I hope and pray, we as American citizens, left to our own devices, will begin to feel united, will again try to work with each other, to listen, to accept.  Maybe someday all this anger will go away or at least get channeled into working together to find solutions, with or without politicians, that blend our values so that there are no winners or losers, there are just people compromising to make something that may even be better than they had hoped to begin with.

You can call me a fool or a dreamer, but I don’t care.  I’m just an American who loves her country.  On September 11, 2001, I jumped on the last train headed towards the disaster instead of the train that would have taken me home.  I realized at that moment, that I was like my father and my uncles, my grandfather and great-uncles, and my great-grandfathers.  I was an American patriot and my country needed me and I was going to do whatever I could to help because I love it so much.  Now it seems I need to have the same bravery I mustered on that day.  I will vote and I will be civilized about it, and I will be brave, for in this case being brave means reaching out to those who don’t agree with me to find common ground.


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15 Years On, In Memorium, September 11, 2001

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Inscriptions of the names of the dead, September 11 Memorial, Eagle Rock Reservation, West Orange, NJ

I think many can understand the delineation of life before September 11, 2001 and life after.  On September 10, 2001 life was very, very good.  On September 11, 2001(click on the link centered above my picture,) life was very, very bad.

It was a day where thousands of people left their homes for work in the morning and never came home; a day when the skyline and footprint of Lower Manhattan were violently ripped apart; a day when hopes and dreams were forever altered and the collective American psyche was thrown into deep shock and mourning.

I was on a NJ Transit train to my office in Greenwich Village when I looked out the window to see one tower burning and a passenger jetliner fly into the other one.  Once in Hoboken, I hopped on one of the last PATH trains to NYC before they were all shut down.  I never missed a day’s work after that.  I felt it was my American duty to keep going, to be with my City when it was on its knees, to help claw business back onto its feet when the local economy collapsed into a heap just as the towers did.

In the ensuing work days I walked like a ghost down streets draped with American flags.  I walked past our local fire houses where every single fireman was either confirmed dead or missing.  I thanked policemen from other cities and states patrolling the neighborhood who teared up when they looked at me and nodded.  I looked at walls plastered with handmade missing posters where instead of them being for dogs and cats they were for people.  I carried a little baggie containing a small flashlight, a kerchief and an energy bar that comprised my “emergency go bag,” and wore photo id around my neck so I could be identified if something happened to me.  For two months the air smelled acrid as the ruins smouldered; and I listened to the scream of sirens from emergency vehicles for weeks and weeks.

Until the City got on its feet again and life went about its new normal we spent our work days gathering supplies to take to donation centers, raising money for the Red Cross and filling out forms for monetary relief for the office as we were in ‘the red zone’ and qualified for assistance.  We worked as hard as we could on every project we still had, and spent alot of time on the phone keeping in touch with friends and colleagues we hadn’t heard from recently.

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At home, a pall hung over the neighborhood.  A commuter community, everyone knew a family who had lost a loved one that day.  Remains were not identified in a timely manner and many families went through unbearable days of unknowing.  Our next door neighbors as well as their relatives down the road lost 2 nephews.  A sense of mourning hung in the air- air that once held the happy sounds of kids playing basketball, lacrosse, swims in the pool,  now was cloaked in a heavy veil of sad silence.

Two things happened shortly after the attacks to make the cuts all the deeper:  the anthrax attacks, which further escalated the sense of already high anxiety; and the brutal murder of a colleague by her ex-boyfriend.  It was not a good time of life.

Details of the events left a lasting impression, some even to this day- for a few weeks after seeing the passenger jet slam into Tower 2, every time a plane flew over head (many since we live in a flight pattern) I would run outside and look up at it to make sure it wasn’t going to fall.  Sirens made me very jumpy and if one went very close by I’d cry.  The only time I ever felt safe from harm was lying in bed next to Bill with the dog and cats sleeping around me.  And to this day I HATE fireworks, not so much the sight of them, but their smell and sound.

It took awhile to get over these things.  There was a time when I decided enough was enough.  Mourning had to end, life had to go on.  It took almost a year, but I figured I had to do something symbolic to put an end to September 11 and get on with things.  So like any Jersey Girl would, I shut myself up in a room, put on Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and danced until I just about fell down.

On the first anniversary of the attacks there were signs of recovery.  9/11 is Bill’s birthday.  In the morning, a neighbor dropped off a birthday cake.  Later on that day a bunch of red white and blue birthday balloons arrived from a friend in California.  I called up friends to invite them to a birthday dinner and they all came.  It seemed we all needed something HAPPY to do that day and we all had a good time being together.  Best of all for me, shortly thereafter I heard a noise out the window.  It was the sound of a basketball being dribbled and shot through a rim.  Children were once again outside playing next door.  I breathed a sigh of relief, we were all going to be ok.

I would like to dedicate this post to neighbors Barbara, Sean, Sean Jr and Ryan Bailey and their family who lost loved ones Brent and Andrew in the attack.  And to Julie Song and her husband Nick Krenteras and their family.  Julie lost brother Daniel that day as well.

May we all never forget but never stop moving forward either.

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The Day I Met Mother Teresa

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“I want to give you a gift and I know you don’t want it,” my friend Father Peter said on the phone.  It was late January, 1994, and a blizzard was on its way.  I was living in Soho in NYC and a parishioner at The Catholic Center at NYU on Washington Square.  I had become good friends with Father Peter Cameron who was a pastor at the church.

In general, life was very very good for me.  I had a wonderful husband, was living in a loft in Soho, had a good job- I could have been Sarah Jessica Parker’s respectable friend in an episode of Sex in the City had it been on the air yet.  But at that time, life was a bit of a trial-  In the span of a week, had lost 4 friends very suddenly to various circumstances, and had to put my dog to sleep.  One of those friends was my best friend’s mother, who was like a second mother to me when I was a teen.  She died fairly young and suddenly, during a routine medical procedure.  Her funeral was the next day.  All of this had me questioning life, and my faith.  The night before that phone call from Fr Peter, I asked God why he took them instead of me, and wondered why in the scheme of things, I should keep going on this path he laid out for me.

“I want to introduce you to Mother Teresa,”  Father Peter said, “that’s my gift to you, I want you to meet her.”

“You’re right,”  I replied, “I don’t want to meet her.”

Meet Mother Teresa?  Me?!  What would I say to her?  What would I do?

“Besides,” he went on, “I have to say mass for her in Harlem, it’s going to snow and you’re the only one I know with 4 wheel drive.”

“Well in that case, ok,”  I said.  I hung up the phone, looked upward and said, “you could have come to me in a dream you know.”

So that is how I happened to be in my car at 6am, slogging up the west side of Manhattan in the driving snow with Father Peter riding shotgun, and in the back seat, another friend Mike, who was a professor at NYU and a boy Fr Peter was mentoring who was in the RCIA program, about to be baptized and confirmed into the church.  We swung by and picked up a Sister of Charity from their convent the West Village then made the trek up to Harlem.  Here we were, 5 pilgrims squeezed in my tiny tin can of a car plowing through the snow heading towards a day of spiritual reckoning.

From what he told me, Father Peter met Mother Teresa quite by accident on a flight from California to New York.  He was wearing his clerical collar, minding his own business in coach when a very nervous steward approached him.  He said that Mother Teresa was on the flight, they put her in first class, no one knew what to say or do with her and would Peter mind moving up and sitting next to her during the flight?  He did, and they spent the entire time talking, became great friends, and before deplaning she made him promise that whenever she was in town, that he’d say mass for her at the Sisters of Charity in Harlem.  Well here she was in town after cataract surgery and her flight back to Calcutta was cancelled due to the storm, so she was in Harlem and needed Fr Peter to say mass.

I figured mass would be in a cathedral, I’d sit in the back row and sneak out right after the blessing and go wait in the car while everyone else lined up and shook her hand.  Mother Teresa would be a little speck in the distance of the cavernous space, and no one would know I gave her the slip until it was too late.  This plan was thwarted when we arrived at a nondescript building in a shabby neighborhood.  We were ushered into a tiny room with a table for an altar and straw mats on the floor for pews with missals on them.

I suppose this is where in the story the readers get separated between the believers and the non believers. I had never felt this before and I don’t think I ever will again.  The minute I crossed the threshold, I knew I was in the presence of someone not of this world.  If someone had blind folded me I would have known exactly where Mother was in the room at all times.  In the corporal she was a tiny, bent over gnarled tree twig of a woman, but in the spiritual she radiated a white hot powerful energy, something that hit me in the chest and radiated to the tips of my toes and fingers.  It was a disturbing feeling.

We walked in and she immediately latched onto the boy who came with us.  She plunked him down on his knees next to her on her mat, picked up the missal and held it for him to follow along.  I thought he would keel over in a dead faint but he remained upright.  Father Peter got ready to say mass and Mike and I settled on mats behind Mother Teresa and the boy.  I was wearing my best Donna Karan go to meeting suit and, behind her radiance, felt like something smelly scraped off the bottom of a shoe.

After mass I got up and made a break for it.  “Please don’t leave,” one of the sisters serenely said touching my arm gently and steering me for the next room, “Mother wants to talk to you.”

Oh my God.

There she was standing next to Father Peter.  She had just talked to Mike.  She grabbed my hand and looked me straight in the eye.

“You must pray for me!”  she declared, squeezing my hand so my bones crunched together, “You must PRAY TO MARY!”  she commanded, “and you must NEVER INTERFERE WITH GOD’S WORK!”  This is about when everything became one big blur.  I don’t remember much about the exchange but Fr Peter laughed afterwards that I kept saying, “yes sister!” after everything she said.  She then said she would kiss miraculous medals for me, how many did I want?  Realizing I had been stricken mute at this point, Father Peter  said that he thought 8 would be enough, so she kissed them and pressed them into my hand and she let me go and I went into the next room.

Mike was there, literally jumping around the room in joy.  The experience transformed him.  The boy was with him looking bewildered.  “Don’t think you’re going to have a private audience with the Pope next,” I said to him, “just cause you met Mother Theresa before your first Holy Communion and all.”  He was still paralyzed by the experience.

So that is how I met Mother Teresa.  Shortly thereafter we all squeezed back into the car to head south in the snow where I would drop everyone off then head through the Holland Tunnel to my friend’s mother’s funeral.  I had 8 medals in my pocket and knew I’d give my friend one, keep one for myself and give one to my mother and grandmother.  Who would get the others?  They were to me like pills that cured cancer.  Who would you give them to if you only had 4?  That story is for another day, but I’ll tell you one thing.  I wear mine daily fastened to my bra over my heart.  It keeps me in good stead except when I forget to take it off before going through security in airports.  It makes for quite a story when the TSA agent wands me.

So you bet I pray to Mother Teresa, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  I pray to Mary, and I try really really hard not to interfere with God’s work, but I get confused sometimes.  I do everything Mother told me all those years ago.  Who am I to argue with a saint?

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On this day, Sunday, September 4, 2016, we celebrate with great joy the canonization of Mother Teresa, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, MC.

Hail Mary, full of grace

The Lord is with thee,

Blessed art thou among women

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God

Pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of our death, amen.

Blessed Teresa pray for us!


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Riki Tiki Riley: Rudyard Kipling Essex County Style

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The kitchen garden in all its spring glory. The boxwood in the foreground is where Bushy and Jerry nest every year. The one in the background to the right is where Robbie the robin is staking his claim.

It is now spring and love is in the air in our gardens.  All creatures of fur and feather seem to be mating, making nests, settling down as couples.  My kitchen garden seems to be the hot location for birds, our boxwoods prime real estate for nests.  There is a little grey bird that lives in our boxwood all year long.  I named her Bushy. She was very quiet until she got married to a similar grey bird I named Jerry, because when she calls to him she does so at the top of her lungs in her best Jerry Lewis imitation:  “Jehreeee! (pause)   JEhree!  (pause)  JEHREEE! (screech!)”  In keeping with the male gender of all species great and small, Jerry merely responds with Jersey accented bird-like grunts, sometimes they sound like a very tired “Yeah?”

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Bushy singing her little heart out on the top of her bush.

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Bushy and Jerry’s nest in the boxwood. Needs some spring cleaning and sprucing up.

2 years ago, Bushy and Jerry had a son who I named Eric, as Bushy calls to him in a slightly different way that sounds just like the name Eric:  “Errrrric!  Errrrrrrriiiiiiic!”  Being a kid, Eric would get in trouble from time to time.  One day I heard a great commotion outside, all the way inside the house.  Bushy was going crazy.  She was on top of her bush screaming Jerry’s name over and over.  I went outside to see what was the matter.  By the time I got out there, Jerry was perched on top of the garden fence, flapping his wings like mad, looking down on the ground.  Bushy looked at Jerry.  “JEHREEEEE!” she screeched.  Jerry did a dance and screamed “ERRRRRRIC!!!”  Bushy joined in horror, “ERRRIIIIIIICCCCC!!!”  I looked where they were both looking and there was Eric, pecking around in the impatiens, like all teenagers, oblivious to his parents’ aggitation.  Sneaking up on him was my cat Riley (cue the theme to the movie “Jaws.”)   Uh-oh.

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Riley, the villain of the story.

Jerry and Bushy were besides themselves, hopping on their perches, wings all a-flap, screaming Eric’s name over and over as Riley crept up on what else, but cat’s feet.  Just before things got out of hand I scooped Riley up and in a blur of flapping wings Eric flew inside the bush followed by Jerry and Bushy.  I can only assume a huge avian time-out was in order.

Bushy seems to be the only bird intrepid enough to remain in the boxwood for winter, as she leads a silent solitary existence bush-side, only emerging long enough to dust snow off the leaves.  Jerry is not cut from the same hardy cloth, he vacates to parts unknown (maybe he goes to Florida for winter or on the comedy circuit in Las Vegas.)  Eric must be in college as he flew the coop last year never to return, not even on Mother’s Day.

I know it’s spring now  because Jerry has returned.   Bushy is all happy about it.  For the past week I have been serenaded daily by her from sun up to sundown as she sits singing her little heart out on top of the bush.  Yesterday she sang a merry tune all the while adding leaves and twigs to her nest in the bush.  While this scene of happy domesticity is playing out, Jerry is on a mission- to thwart Robbie the robin who is building a nest in the bush next door from encroaching on his territory.  Robbie’s no slouch, he can dive bomb like the best of them and does so with gusto at Jerry.  That makes him nuts.

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Robbie on the attack, defending is nest in the boxwood next to Bushy and Jerry’s bush.

Soon enough things will settle down in more of a quiet routine.  Bushy will take to her nest, presumably to incubate eggs, the days will get longer, hot and languid.  Flowers will bloom and die, other plants will grow and bloom.  Bees will buzz and birds will sing at less volume and only in the cool of the early morning and late evening.  But for now I adore being serenaded from sun up to sundown by my kitchen garden dweller Bushy.

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Supervising the strawberry pot.


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All is Now Right with the World: Buddy and Missy Return

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The magical bond between a girl and her horse…

Every since I was 4 I wanted to be a cowgirl and a potter.   My grandmother used to dress me in a cowgirl outfit.  It was green and white fake leather with tooling and fringe, and I had a matching pair of white cowgirl boots, a little straw cowboy hat with elastic under the chin, even a matching white gun belt with little plastic six shooters.  I had a Mister Ed talking puppet and in the summer I had an inflatable ring in the shape of a horse to “ride” around the shallow end of the salt water pool in Spring Lake where my aunt and uncle had a membership.

Next to Mr. Ed, Gumby and Pokey was my second favorite TV show at the time, “He was once a little green ball of clay” was the opening line of the theme song AND Gumby’s side kick was Pokey, a HORSE!  I think it was watching those episodes that caused me to put an lp record on top of my mother’s juicer and try to use it as a pottery wheel (boy did I catch hell for THAT!)

Anyway, it took this Jersey Girl 43 years to live her dream of having a pottery studio on premises and a horse in the yard, but better late than never.  Aside from being perpetually sore, there’s something about having a horse on site I find very calming.  My husband says he likes me better when the horse is around.

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It doesn’t get better than this for me: raku firing next to the manure dumpster while the horses eat their breakfast

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Are you done firing yet Mom? I want to go for a ride!

I own neither Buddy nor Missy.  Both are on “free lease” which is sort of like leasing a car- I have to pay for everything in terms of their care and maintenance but my name isn’t on the title of either of them.  Acquiring Buddy is a story left to another post as it’s a long one.  In short form I got him when someone inherited him unexpectedly and didn’t have room for him.  I got Missy because I sent Buddy away for the winter the first year I had him and they put him with Missy and they are now so herd bound they are like an old married couple: they bicker all day long but go to pieces if separated.

When I first got Buddy I had more money than brains and could have been manager of the Clueless Department of Equine Care, but I managed.  We’ve been together 8 years now.  He and Missy split their time between here and Hunters Little Farm in Frankford, NJ, about 50 miles northwest of here.

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Missy with her “real” Mommy, Sheila Hunter of Hunter’s Little Farm in Frankford, NJ

It’s easy to decide when to send them to Sheila’s for winter:  when the water hose freezes.  I’m a Jersey Girl, not Gunga Din and it’s a long walk from the house to the barns, especially lugging a the 5 buckets full of water it takes to fill the horse tub.  It’s not hard on the horse to endure winter in my yard, but it sure is hard on this human.  I may be horse crazy, but I’m not stupid.

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Waiting a little too long to ship Buddy off. The look on my face says it all.

It’s hard to figure out exactly when it’s the right time for them to come home.  Too early and I might get caught out lugging water in a spring snow.  Too late and the summer’s half gone.  Then there’s mud season and it’s Siamese twin- shedding season to slog through.  The only thing worse than being rolled in mud is being rolled in mud then coated in horse hair.  Last year we traveled so much in spring they didn’t return until after the 4th of July.  THAT made the human stir crazy.

But this year the stars aligned enough for them to come home the first week of May- that sweet spot just after the mud/shed season and the hot noisy 4th of July.  I try to have them here so they’re settled in well before the 4th of July or just after, as it seems that every single town around our house is hell bent on blowing up the sky with fireworks that night in sequential order so they last for hours and seem to come from all directions.  The 2 of them have heart attacks and I’m out there in the paddocks having one with them as they run around.

But pyrotechnics aside, it’s lovely having them here.  I love to feed them, manage their care, clean up after them, brush them, graze them, and tinker around in the barn.  The barn seems to have taken the place of my office, I love organizing it.

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Step into my office where everything is neat and tidy

Riding him here is fantastic.  We go for rides in the field and bumble along over poles and jumps (neither of us are any good at it.)  On weekends we hack down the street and across the lawn of Thomas and Mina Edison’s home, Glenmont, to get to the woods.  Glenmont is part of the National Park Service.  We do a loop that takes about an hour, through the woods, around the pond, across a creek then a tiny canter up a steep hill (look out for the bush at the top!)  Along the way we meet many people.  Buddy is a self appointed ambassador of Glenmont, as he will always stop and bat his eyes charmingly, pose for photos and put his nose down (even through car windows!) for a pat.  I love this as many of the children who visit the park have never seen a horse up close and to see their faces light up when they touch his ultra soft nose delights me to no end.  Yes, life is good here at home, but even better now that Buddy and Missy are here.

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Buddy is a shameless poser

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Out for a hack on the road at Glenmont

 


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Reverie of a Mattress, a Fishing Pole, Pool Tables and a Pair of Dice: So Long Blatt Billiards

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Changes are a coming! Good bye Blatt, hello residential tower! 😦

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.

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I lived next door to Blatt Billiards since 1982 and all I got were these little dice…

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.

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This is very similar to THE cot except THE cot was not as nice and had wheels in the middle leg. To purchase this nice one, go to fellow Etsy shop FUNOLDSTUFF: https://www.etsy.com/listing/276755262

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.

 

62_3 oe gold hook comparison

Hook, line and sinker…

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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.

 


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Worshipping at the Altar of the Big Wong

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The aftermath of another fabulous meal at my favorite restaurant in Chinatown

As an unabashed chow hound, I collect memorable meals the way some people collect baseball cards.  I may not be able to tell you what day it is today, but I can tell you of every meal I ate on my first day in New Orleans in 1984 (breakfast:  beignets, orange juice and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in the French Market; Lunch:  oyster loaf, boiled crawfish and oysters on the half shell at the Acme, dinner:  blackened redfish and dirty rice washed down with a dirty martini at K Paul’s Kitchen followed by a Mississippi mud candy from Laura’s around the corner)

There are restaurants that serve meals and there are restaurants that evoke religious transcendence and The Big Wong is one of them.  Located on Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown it can be mistaken for a greasy spoon not worthy of a glance.  To those in the know, it is a greasy spoon never ever to be missed, even after consuming a 10 course meal.

I was first introduced to The Big Wong in the early 1980’s when I was working as an expediter and spent every day at The NYC Department of Buildings at 1 Centre Street.  This was in the days before computers, cell phones, central air conditioning and cubicles.  Think the set of the sitcom Barney Miller.  In the free wheeling days when David Koch was Mayor, long before Rudy Giuliani turned NYC into a police state, everyone on campus at the Building Department at lunch time went out to eat together- employees and public, bosses and secretaries, clerks and line standers.  And anyone with a brain in their head went out to lunch with the inspector who’s beat was Chinatown- a cheerful, chubby fellow who absolutely lived to eat.

Chinatown was a great lunch spot.  It was nearby.  Service was fast.  Food was cheap and plentiful and best of all tasted great.  Cheerful chubby inspector would round us all up and we’d follow him like lemmings to some of the best meals I’ve ever had.  His favorite spot was The Big Wong.  We would fill up the joint and order plate after plate:  twin lobsters in garlic ginger sauce, Peking pork chops, shrimp fried rice, congee, slices of cold bbq pork, silky skinless chicken and a fried duck egg draped over a bowl of rice.  I’m drooling as I type this.

The Big Wong is not for the feint of heart and not for someone who eats to live.  Don’t bother taking them there, they don’t deserve it.  The floor is slippery with the same oil that it was coated with back in the 1980’s.  The bathrooms rival those at CBGB’s in the 1970’s.  One washes their hands then pulls their sleeves down to cover them so as not to let them touch anything on their way back to the table.

But the food is absolutely divine.

Last year, 2 miracles occurred:  my best friend from high school, Leslie asked me if I wanted to go to The Big Wong for dinner and my riding buddy Val, swooned when she heard I was going, all in the same week.  I thought The Big Wong was just my own culinary fantasy, long gone from Chinatown.  Well.  Not only is it still there, and now there’s an excuse to go, but now I have company, so I can eat from 10 different dishes instead of just 2.

Let me tell you about my friend Leslie.  She and I go way back in our collective history of eating adventures and extravaganzas.  We literally cut our teeth in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Portuguese restaurants in the Ironbound and Italian dives in the North Ward of Newark.  Leslie’s father, Larry was our fearless leader.  Larry loved to eat, loved good food and loved to share good food in the company of his friends and family.  He would scour restaurant reviews, plot a course, make lists then tumble us all in a convoy of cars and vans and off we’d go.  One in his company did not order for themselves.  Larry had an agenda and he ordered family style.  I had the best cold noodles in sesame sauce in my life at one of his picks in the late 1970’s, somewhere near the arcade where the Tic-Tac-Toe and Dancing Chicken were.  None of this sticky peanut butter glop on wet mop strings you get now.  Handmade noodles blessed with a light coating of sesame with slivered fresh scallions and chopped peeled fresh cucumbers.  Sigh.

But I digress.

When Leslie calls and offers a chance to go to The Big Wong I pick up the phone.  We went last week.  She rounds up the people and orders for us all.  She is her father’s daughter.  Last week we went, accompanied by her husband JF, their sons Kip and Cole, Cole’s girlfriend and JF’s brother visiting from France.  The 8 of us sat down.  The waiter looked us over and decided we were a bunch of tourist rubes.  Little did he know.  Leslie ticked off  “the first round:”  Peking pork chops, 2 shrimp fried rice, twin lobsters (they were out last time we went, I was in tears.) Peking duck with all the trimmings, 1 whole soy sauce chicken, bbq pork, chicken and duck egg over rice bowl, 3 plates (not one) of garlic ginger sauce, broccoli in oyster sauce as the token green and 5 beers.  The waiter kept looking at the list and repeating, “You sure?  You know how much food this is?”  We all replied earnestly, “if it’s not enough we’ll get more.”

When I know I’m going to The Big Wong I go into fast mode.  I don’t eat all day and exercise like a fiend.  Like a prize fighter I want to be at fighting weight, and I have to mitigate the weight gain as  best I can.  Something about The Big Wong turns me into an eating machine.  I am a great white shark.  Do not get in between me and one of the dishes if I have a fork or chop stick in my hand, you’ll get hurt.  (I once chipped a tooth in an eating frenzy at the Peking Duck House but that’s another story.)

The first thing they give you when you arrive are tumblers of hot tea, a metal container full of forks, a pile of napkins and a large wrapped moist towelette, which is for the end of the meal, not the beginning, as we are literally covered in sauces and flecks of rice at the end of the adventure.  Food came out in huge platters.  Soon the table had not an inch to spare.  It was better to stand up and do a boarding house reach across the table than pass anything.  I ate almost the entire platter of Peking pork chops simply because it was in front of me and no one else could get to it.

All conversation ceased except frantic cries to pass the garlic ginger sauce.  I think JF’s brother was alittle scared, but he kept up, he is JF’s brother after all.  Cole’s girlfriend was enthusiastic and if we shocked her she was too polite to say.  In about 15 minutes all food except for 1/3 of the broccoli was gone.  We sat back and looked around wondering if that was enough.  The waiter stared goggle eyed.  Suddenly we were his best friends.  Deciding we were satisfied we paid and left.  No sense hanging around once the food was gone, it’s not that kind of place.

We figured it took us each an hour to get there, and there’d be another hour to get home.  We were at The Wong for less than an hour, but any more would have been too much.  We’re not gluttons you know.

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I love this guy.  He loves The Big Wong too.  😀

 

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Leslie, JF and company round out the table, Chinatown’s finest in the Eating Buddies department.