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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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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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!)