Do you ever wonder what helped make you who you are today? I’ve been thinking about things that I brought to adulthood from West 83rd Street. There’s a lot. Who I am today grew out of that boy, teen, young adult. I am sort of all over the place in these thoughts.
The first thing that comes to mind about the street is the firehouse a block away between Amsterdam and Columbus and the fire alarm box we passed while walking there. Box 1138. So much of my dedication to community comes from watching these men (at that time there were no women) slide down the brass pole, step into their boots, put on their rubber coats and leather helmets, and jump on the back step of 56 Engine to ride into the unknown to serve my neighbors and me.
Not only did I learn service but I began to understand that there are different levels of bravery and they should all be respected. Dad never served in the armed forces because he had only one eye but he served in the Civil Defense and he served the FDNY through the Third Alarm Association and through his movie making.
I started early as a safety squad lieutenant helping younger children cross broadway and as library squad captain in sixth grade. I also served as president of a synagogue youth group (this was probably more fun than service).
The firemen gave as part of their job and Dad gave both professionally and voluntarily. I gravitated toward leadership positions.
In our group of boys living in 222 I don’t think there was a leader. We were an informal group of buddies who played together in the street and in each other’s apartments.
Did I become and Auxiliary Police Officer because, in part, of these examples? I am sure.
Did I become active in the school district on Long Island in which we raised our family because of these examples? I am sure of this too.
My civic minded approach to life surely arose from the examples set on West 83rd Street.
Besides learning the way around firehouse and a fire engine my time in the dispatchers’ office in Central Park demonstrated a slightly broader understanding of the differences among men. Often the dispatchers were firemen on light duty, men with temporary disabilities doing the same job as full time dispatchers. There was also Russ, he was the only African American fire department member I ever met. But, at least on the surface, he was treated no differently than other dispatchers.
Russ, like Helen, was significant in my life as was the song from my father’s un-produced musical “Wonderful Three Horse Hitch” entitled “We Don’t Care” that talks about race and religion in the world of firefighting; we don’t care if you’re black or brown, we don’t care whether you worship beneath cross or star. These were defining words – what my father believed and what I learned.
I brought much more with me from West 83rd Street; perhaps for a future post.