Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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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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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.

 

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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.


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Another Nail in the Coffin- Trash and Vaudeville Moved

Front view of my "folded magazine" clutch from 1975. I still have it!

Front view of my “folded magazine” clutch from 1975. I still have it!

Back view. I used it last Monday!!!

Back view. I used it last Monday!!!

 

Inside view. My dear cousin Bob gave it to me for Christmas in the 1970's. He was a fashion stylist and was my fashion idol. (still is!)

Inside view. My dear cousin Bob gave it to me for Christmas in the 1970’s. He was a fashion stylist and was my fashion idol. (still is!)

I’m entering into the “I remember when” phase of life.  Sigh.  I remember going to The Roxy to roller disco, bowling after midnight at Bowlmor on University Place, pining away that I missed seeing Blondie at the Palladium  and standing at the red velvet ropes dressed like Grace Jones outside of Studio 54.  I remember going to The Bottom Line to see Warren Zevon, The Fillmore East to hear Tom Waits, being too scared to go to CBGB.  I have great memories of achieving my space age look by dying my hair indigo and going shopping at Fiorucci’s, Canal Jeans, Love Saves the Day and Trash and Vaudeville.   In those days I had friends who partied way too hard their own good and spent countless hours at the All Crafts Center on St Marks Place, across the street from T&V where they could hit a 12 step meeting for any kind of addiction in the spectrum.  There was even an addiction free ballroom for clean disco dancing, many of my friends partied safely there, but I think it was a little complicated for the sex addicts.  All but a few of these iconic shrines to my formative years as a disco queen- gone!  No trace of the Roxy is left; The Bottom Line and Palladium swallowed up by NYU (the Palladium a DORM, oh the humanity!)

 

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Brooches bought at Fiorucci in Milan. The real deal!

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My “Scottie” suitcase I got in Milan, summer of 1980.

The All Crafts Center was gutted, added to and transformed into retail and apartments.  The bathroom at CBGB has been recreated and memorialized in a museum (?!!)  Fiorucci’s just a sweet fond memory (its originator died last year)  Love Saves the Day gone, thankfully before the building blew up last year by a gas leak.  Canal Jeans closed in 2002 and sold off their inventory in a space behind a Target on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.  The last straw was reading in last Monday’s NY Times that Trash and Vaudeville was moving.  When I first saw the headline as I sat down with my cup of coffee my heart gave a lurch, but reading on it was moving from 41 St Mark’s Place to 96 East 7th Street.  PHEW!  Moving I can deal with.  Closing I can’t take.

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Treasured earrings from Love Saves the Day. I wore the ones on the left on Monday with my magazine clutch! Not pictured is the white tuxedo jacket I also got there in the early 80’s that I wore until it fell off sometime in the late 1990’s…

Trash and Vaudeville (T&V) was where, in 1979, I went and bought 2 pencil skirt suits circa 1950’s and a pair of killer black silk stiletto heels that I could use as a weapon then use to climb a chain link fence to make my getaway.  Those pencil skirt suits of light weight wool, 1 navy and 1 charcoal grey, and those shoes, spent a summer on me in Milan and went to the Venice Biennale in 1980, and were on my body for any job interview I had when I got back and then in continuous use when I was a receptionist all through college until they literally fell apart.  Sadly those stilettos (that I once stepped right out of one after the other as they got stuck in a sidewalk grate in Milan causing my companions to fall to the ground and roll in laughter) completely fell apart in the mid 1990’s.  I should have buried them or had some sort of ceremony, how thoughtless of me.  I remember going in T&V as a fresh faced, prep school educated, hay seed from Jersey, terrified I would get shooed out or worse assaulted, tattooed, pierced and tossed down the stairs for not being punk enough to be there.  I lusted after the motorcycle jackets and pointy black boots that could take out an eye with a well placed kick.  But oh those stilettos, they fit like they were hand made for my feet.  Ten bucks and they were mine.  The man in the accompanying picture in the Times article, identified as manager Jimmy Webb, looks exactly the same as the first day I entered the shop, maybe just a tad older.  All punkers looked prematurely aged back then.  It was part of the “look,”  like they had been around the block a few hundred times while the rest of us were all just white bread and milque toast living under rocks.

I still haunt St Marks Place and all the various hoods that were my stomping ground in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s.  A few places still have a faint whiff of the vibe I remember, mainly by being populated by young people, the age I was when it was my back yard.  Gone is the grit, the grime, the crime, the ever present dog crap, the sour smell of a City abandoned by politicians, rotting from neglect.  But rather than being cleaned and polished and touched up and given back to the masses, the City has become scrubbed a little too clean- sanitized and generalized within an inch of its life to attract tourists who want to see a version of it that never existed and billionaires looking for places they’ll never visit to park their money until the coast clears and they are distanced from the illegal ways they earned it.  I sound like my Grandmother.  Ah me.

On the bright side, T&V is still here and so is The Public Theater, once a rough and tumble performance space held together by duct tape and baling wire with bathrooms rivaling those of CBGB’s now transformed into a beautiful complex for theater, cabaret and dining spaces, but still retaining its edgy, alternative, experimental vibe.  I got a membership there and will hang onto it and all my memories of that great vibrant creative era known as the 80’s for dear life.  I also still have my gold lame Capezio jazz shoes (they’re still around too!) that I bought on sale at Beau Brummel in 1980 (was on West Broadway, now on Broome St!)  Still fit like a glove and are soft as butter and make it so easy to dance and slide and twirl just like when we did under the disco ball all those years ago.

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Jazz Capezios bought on sale at Beau Brummel in 1980. Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues! (r.i.p. David Bowie!)


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A Fond Christmas Memory

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Christmas gift cards with their holiday themed candy ready for distribution.

There are many many people who keep the West Orange Westheimers operating efficiently and they are all very much appreciated.  Every year we receive lists of names of employees of the NYC apartment building and our gated community.  Add to them there are the unsung heroes who do the heavy lifting to keep the house and grounds running- the garbage men, the handyman, the crew from the cleaning service, the apartment cleaning lady, the mail carrier, UPS man, paper delivery person, Fed Ex, the list seems endless!

But these people have a very special place in my heart.  They are on the job, every day, doing all the things no one in their right mind, given the choice, would want to do.  Their invisibility also is a sign of their efficiency, as really, the only way you would notice most of them if the garbage piled up, the mailbox was empty, no paper at the end of the driveway, the apartment and house robbed blind, the weeds out of control.

I have a tradition that started way before I had the means to implement it: candy with the card containing the tip.  It goes back to a very fond Christmas memory.  In honor of the occasion, as my little Christmas gift to you, please find the following:

When I was 19, I was in college, going to New York University’s Washington Square University College (called something else now, this was in 1981.)  I was living at home with my parents in New Jersey, trying to save up enough money to move to Greenwich Village.  It seemed at the time a remote possibility, but that was the goal (I did wind up moving there when I was 20.)  I had a part time job as a receptionist in an architectural firm in the Flatiron District.  The pay was decent and it was interesting, I liked my co-workers and in my down time at my desk I could study.  My job was mostly answering phones, processing mail and packages going in and out, scheduling meetings, filing, a little typing and greeting and ushering clients into the conference room.  There were 3 partners in the firm with fairly steady clients and I got to know each from their frequent visits.

My first Christmas working for the firm, one of the clients came in the week before Christmas and gave me, the secretary and the book keeper each a card and a 1/4 pound box of Godiva chocolate.  Godiva!  A 1/4 pound gold box tied with a red bow!  I had never had Godiva chocolate before.  This was major, the equivalent today for me would be getting an Hermes scarf, or a couple hundred pounds of clay.  I was so thrilled, so touched that this man would take the trouble to give me, the person who answered the phone, took his coat and fetched coffee something so nice.  I figured he must have been very rich to be handing out little gold boxes willy nilly like that!

I carried my treasure home to New Jersey.  My mother, father, grandmother and I sat around the dining room table with the box in the middle.  Their little girl, all grown up, working in the Big City, coming home with such luxury.  I ceremoniously opened it.  Inside was a sheet with pictures and descriptions of each piece!  This was so special, what a tremendous treat.  None of us had ever had any candy this nice before.  My father read the sheet, pointing to each piece.  How to choose?  We ended up each taking one at a time, taking a tiny bite and passing it along, so at the end we each got a taste of every single piece, discussing how utterly marvelous the flavors were as we went.  It was a moment in our Christmas that we shared that was something special, unexpected, magical.  A rare treat all of us could enjoy together with the same sense of wonder.  Having my family around the table with me enjoying my largess remains one of my fondest Christmas memories.  I’m sure that man never gave a second’s thought as to the impact of his small gesture.

From that moment on I vowed that if I ever had the means I would repeat the gesture.  When the list was short and the economy good there were the same 1/4 boxes of Godiva.  But when the list grew exponentially and the economy crashed and I wanted to support my local businesses I found Bromilow’s and their festive Santas, snowmen and little stocking purses filled with chocolate balls.  Now that Godiva is in every mall, their catalog in every mailbox, available on line with the click of a button,  and rival high quality chocolates abound, I doubt that any of the people I gift these items to feels the same way I did those many years ago.  But I hope to at least give them a glimmer of a smile when they get their card with the candy taped to it.  I would have loved to see the expression on Eric’s face when he got his.  He comes twice a month with the huge truck at the crack of dawn to empty the manure dumpster.  I put his in a zip lock bag and duct taped it to the lid.  😉

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!


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Adventures with Good Friends and Horses, NYC & NJ

It has been an amazing couple of weeks.  First off, Harriet came to spend the weekend, first time she’s been to our house, mainly so we could attend the Rolex Central Park Horse Show‘s dressage semi finals on Friday Sept. 24.  This date may stick in your mind as it was the same day as the meeting of the UN General Assembly and a visit by Pope Francis all in the same general area as the horse show.  We were mightily worried about ever getting in or out of the City on that auspicious day of Papal, Political and expensive horse flesh extravaganza convergence, but we took mass transit and got to and from just fine.

The weather was just perfect and we had a grand time.

We couldn't have asked for a prettier day and a more beautiful spot to be!

We couldn’t have asked for a prettier day and a more beautiful spot to be!

 

Harriet and I almost broke into a trot to get to the entrance to Wollman Rink in Central Park, which had been converted into an equitation arena complete with grandstands, dining area and retail venues.

Harriet and I almost broke into a trot to get to the entrance to Wollman Rink in Central Park, which had been converted into an equitation arena complete with grandstands, dining area and retail venues.

 

We couldn't have asked for better weather or a more amazing backdrop to the festivities.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather or a more amazing backdrop to the festivities.

A competitor strutting her stuff.

A competitor strutting her stuff.

In addition to viewing horses and riders we did a little of our own in a very big way:  We rode Clydesdale horses at Willow Grove Farm in Longvalley, NJ.  I rode Cade, my second time on him.  A 7 year old gelding, 19.1 hands and still growing!  Needed a 5 step mounting block to get on him but he is gentle and somewhat well behaved even though he doesn’t like to pick up his canter in a timely manner.  Harriet rode Molly, a spirited 5 year old mare who liked to race which put a damper on our visions of long controlled canters on the cinder bike path.  But we had a ball!

My trusty steed Cade, note his head is as long as my torso.

My trusty steed Cade, note his head is as long as my torso.

What could equal such a grand weekend?  Why, how about a visit by friends Christine and Harry McLaren, their Arabian Extreme and his Victorian driving cart to lead the children’s race on the grounds of Thomas Edison’s home Glenmont as part of the Llewellyn Park 5K footrace on Sunday October 4?  Harry and Chris keep their horse where Buddy and Missy winter, at Hunters Little Farm in Frankford, NJ.  Chris competes Extreme in driving competitions all over our area and as far as Virginia.  They are pretty good at it too, top 10 finishers in a couple of finals, very impressive.

Harry and Chris brought Extreme to spend the day, and after dressing him and ourselves up we headed off to the lawn of Glenmont to cheer in the adult finishers and lead the children’s race.  It was great fun!  Everyone got a mimosa after the festivities and we all repaired to the lovely home of race organizer Julie Song for a wonderful brunch.  Extreme stayed at our house and had a nice horsie visit with Buddy and Missy who seemed a little perplexed to find themselves together and not at Hunters Little Farm!

Christine dressing Extreme for his big event.

Christine dressing Extreme for his big event.

Harry preparing the wagon.

Harry preparing the wagon.

On the lawn of Glenmont feeling like a million bucks.

On the lawn of Glenmont feeling like a million bucks.

 

Post race mimosa in front of Mina Edison's greenhouse.

Post race mimosa in front of Mina Edison’s greenhouse.

Oh what a wonderful life I have full of amazing things to do with incredible friends.  I am very blessed indeed!