Coffee Pot

I’ve been writing now for several years to bring to myself and others the memories of a West Side childhood in the 1950s and 60s.  I think there is certainly no more odiferous memory than the aluminum coffee pot perking on the stove every morning.

The pot on the stove was part of every morning that my dad was home.  If he was away on business everything was timed differently.  He drank only Savarin brand, in the red can.  The aroma when a new can was opened is one of those smells I can conjure, well sort of.

The coffee grounds were scooped into the basket which sat on the upright and then covered and placed in the pot which had already been filled with tap water.  The little glass bubble in the center of the lid placed on the pot came quickly to life and the kitchen filled with coffee, coffee, coffee.

Dad drank his black.  I remember a heavy white ceramic mug.

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The stove it sat on had four burners and five knobs.  This was the stove that had removed my sister’s eyebrows when she turned on the gas and then lit the match to stick in the little hole.  Those were the days when you applied butter to a burn.

For many many years the kitchen floor was linoleum but after a significant flood from the washing machine which stood as the centerpiece in the kitchen my mother determined the concrete floor should be painted a brick red and left otherwise uncovered.  I know that I broke more than one glass on that hard surface.

No, there was no dryer.  Well, except for the wooden contraption that was suspended from the ceiling and lowered by pulley.  Clothes which had been spun in the washer were hung from this wooden frame and dried on their own.  The rope broke more than once in my life.  One of the many things the building’s handyman was able to fix.

Outside the kitchen was the dining room.  The wallpaper was a bright red on the wall made of plywood that had been used to divide the space into dining room and dad’s study.  The floor here, like the living room and hallways was parquet.  In fact, the floors throughout the apartment were wood.

One of the other unsafe things about apartment 9E was that all the exits, that were not windows, were on one end of the apartment.  There was a backdoor in the kitchen, a front door next to the kitchen and a fire tower door in the hallway leading to the front door.  That fire tower was a nice touch.  An enclosed stairwell that ended in the lobby by the building’s front door provided safe exit if you could get to it.  If there had ever been a fire in the living room, the only exits would have been windows at the very edge of the extension of fire department ladders.  

My dad, the fire buff had thought about the extension ladder limits but apparently not about egress or maybe the 100 foot ladders of the FDNY made the exiting problem less important.  

We were never tested with a fire of any consequence in our building!

The Mugging

I left West 83rd Street many times before I was married, but always briefly.  Summer Camp, short stay on West 78th Street.  Never far, never long.

College was one of those times too.  I am a NYC educated boy:  PS9, JHS44, Stuyvesant HS, CCNY, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  From kindergarten through graduate school I never really left.  In fact I lived on West 83rd Street through all those years except for that time on 78th Street.

The City College years created many memories.  Some memories are unpleasant, some very New York of the time (1966-1971), others very pleasant.

The scary moments I remember most clearly were not during anti-war demonstrations, not the burning of the Aronow auditorium on CCNY’s south campus, not the resignation of Buell G. Gallagher, CCNY president and one of my personal heroes.  One of the scariest moments was the mugging.

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I don’t know why we were walking east on 125th Street to turn north and go to school.  I do know that there were two us, although I do not remember who he was.  (Maybe he’s a reader who will identify himself, maybe not.)  What I do remember is that there were six of them and two of us, that we were separated and I was shoved to the floor in a tenement hallway and that there was a small child watching.  

I remember that they demanded my wallet and that I gave it up.  They took the money out and when I asked for the wallet back, it was actually returned to me.  And then they were gone.

A frightening event;  I can’t see their faces.  I know there were six. And that small child quietly watching, like he had seen it before, with a blank look in that dirty stinking hallway.

We recovered and went to school. I’m pretty sure to tell our war story.  Not proudly, mind you, just another event in city life.