Things That Linger

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.

Moving

I believe that moving is one of the most stressful things that humans do to themselves.  I haven’t done it too frequently, but I’ve done it.

Raised in apartment 9E at 222 West 83rd Street, I moved out of my parents’ place, briefly, while in college.  I went back.

I moved again in the early ‘70s but just up the block and across the street.  And again, I moved back to apartment 9E.

I finally left in late 1978 when I got married, and we moved twice after that.  It was thirty years after marriage before I moved again, on my own. And now, I’ve moved again.

Enough.

Thanks Unsplash & Kelli McClintock for the photo

That first move was because I was in distress living at home with my parents during the tumultuous years of my late adolescence.  Most of the guys from the building had already gone to college.

The next move was to express my independence as a working adult.  Moving back again was during unemployment.  Mom was the safety net having maintained 9E as her home with room for me.

They said it absolutely could not be done. There was no way that a 29-year-old who had been born and raised on the West Side of Manhattan could ever move to Long Island and be happy. Marriage or no marriage, it was absolutely impossible. The former officer of a block association, auxiliary police officer and general community activist could not possibly leave behind all that he had known for the suburbs.

I had not learned to drive until some friends insisted on giving me six driving lessons for my 21st birthday. After all, who needs to drive when you live in the heart of New York City? 

When I started dating my future wife, driving came in handy once I understood the difference between driving courtesy on Long Island and in the city.  They warn you in driving school in the city: “When the big red lights on the back of the bus go off, get out of the way; that bus is pulling out, over you or in front of you.” There were hardly any buses in the suburbs.

None of us knew for sure that I would make it, but I really wanted to try. My intended came from “there” and I had spent many pleasant hours “out there,” so, why not? It might be fun.

Anyway, we were moving into the top floor of a two-family house; that was something like living in an apartment house. It wasn’t 16 stories with more than 100 apartments, but it was not a single-family dwelling with a vast expanse of lawn, etc.

None of this lasted very long. Nine months later, we were looking for a house. Nothing lavish, just a place to live. Then we found it. A little more expensive than we had planned for, but just marvelous. I had been bought and so was this house. Three bedrooms, tremendous backyard and  a lawn to manicure, two-car garage, central air, in-ground sprinkler, finished basement and patio.

Who could ask for more? We couldn’t, and we didn’t. The deal was struck the same day. (You can take the boy out of the city but you cannot take the rushing out of the boy!)

Within the month, we were in.

No one could believe that we and, of course, the bank, owned a home on Long Island. The following summer, we had a vegetable garden and I was doing my own lawn, fixing most things with ease and actually finding time to sit in my backyard.

Two years later, to the month, along came our first child. Two winters later, and the second winter after that, the second and third arrived. Now the transplant was permanent. Though I had been raised and educated in the city, it was clear that things had changed and it was clear that my children would not be raised there – particularly after I had seen the alternative.

My old elementary school was designated for children who were supposedly unmanageable in the regular classroom. And the new building was not situated nearly as well.

My old junior high school was never safe – it was, however, where I learned to survive the West Side’s sometimes mean streets. To go to a good high school, I used the subway in the 60s. Subways were more dirty and more dangerous in the ‘80s. Who can think of the ‘90s without some doubts?

I remained a devotee of the city but did not go there except to work. When I did return, I found it dirty, smelly and loud – things I had never noticed before. That fire engine that I never heard now comes roaring down the block. The trees are scraggly, not the beautiful plantings of the block association – certainly not like the beautiful trees I owned.

The transplant from the city took. Although rejection seemed to threaten at the beginning, the anti-rejection drug – my new marriage – worked its magic.

When it came time to move as our marriage dissolved, the old neighborhood called to me but was just too expensive.  I landed in Forest Hills where I stayed for twelve years.  A wonderful building staff and some neighbors who became friends actually made it a little difficult to leave.

But I’ve moved again, back to Long Island, an apartment this time.  Closer to family and long time friends, it is where I built my adult life on the foundation provided by growing up on the West Side!

MOM

I have not written much about my mother and after writing a significant post about my father I feel guilty.  I can’t really write about a boy and his mom; we didn’t have a memorable relationship until her later years.  This was unfortunate because I came to know that mom was a very intelligent and strong person who most likely had a lot to share.

Mom lived on West 83rd Street from the early ‘40s until illness forced her into a nursing home over 45 years later.  She was ill with tuberculosis in 1950 forcing isolation from her newborn son.  When I discovered this isolation in my own therapy, the result was a focus of the effect that such a separation had on me.  Many, many years later I began to see the effects it had on her relationship with me.

A young Edith Schoolman Marion

Because of the lung damage mom always had an air conditioner in the bedroom to facilitate sleep.  She slept closer to the windows.

Ten years after the TB there came cancer.  She toughed it out through a radical mastectomy and radiation.  This was before reconstructive surgery made the scene so mom had a falsie inserted in her bra from 1960 until her death in 1993.  It was neither the cancer nor the TB that led to her passing.  It was the accident in the nursing home after suffering numerous strokes that resulted in her death.

Throughout my childhood my mother worked for a children’s dentist, running his office.  She translated an article of his into french, a language she shared with my sister.  I happily remember going to the dentist, my mom was in charge.  And I remember the chalk teeth and the real instruments that I was given.  I think they hoped I would become a dentist.  Sorry, mom.

Dr. A. died eight months after my father, leaving mom with the need for a new position to support me and her until I finished college (although I did have part time jobs along the way.)

First, she took on the position of executive secretary to the CEO of a not-for-profit and then moved with him when the agency was swallowed up by a huge insurance company and he became a vice president.

Before Dad died in 1970 she entertained in our apartment.  I recall that her parties were well attended and memorable.  They did not include neighbors but did include professional friends of both my parents.  That meant, writers, dentists, actors and others.

There was also the famous thumb incident.  Both my parents traveled around Manhattan exclusively by taxi.  It was late in the afternoon when mom slammed a cab door shut on her thumb.  It was brutal and it was purple.  Her recovery was complete.  She was a fighter.

I remember well that my mother was called upon, frequently, by my sister’s friends for personal and confidential advice.  She was well loved.

Mom had friends in the neighborhood and on the East Side.  She traveled and managed quite well for many years.  

My mother was generous with me as an adult, too, providing some much needed cash to produce Volunteer Firefighter, my children’s book.

Mom stayed in apartment 9E until the last possible moment, having fought me about leaving until the inevitable move occurred.

Before she was finally confined almost exclusively to bed, the three kids, Jean and I visited and one time we took Mom outside in a wheelchair and provided much desired Chinese food.  The choking incident and the displaced false teeth were scary and a bit funny to all of us; the youngest believed that eating Chinese food caused your teeth to fall out.

Mom’s passing was not gentle and the years before it were not pleasant for her.  She, my sister and I grew closer in the last year but it was uncomfortable for Mom and hard on my sister and my wife and children.  

The last Marion moving out of 222 West 83rd Street was Mom.  Emptying the apartment where I had lived for more than twenty-five years and she had lived for over forty-five was a sad task.  Some furniture made it our home on Long Island, the all important “secretary” moved to my sister’s in Washington.  Jewelry was divided up and my family’s life in 9E was brought to a close.

Comments are always welcome here or at Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

A Special One About Dad

This summer’s vacation from the blog included the date of the 51st anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve written much about him and he will probably be featured in the future as well. With some editing this was written for this anniversary.

***

My dad, Ira Marion, died in 1970 at the age of sixty, when I was just shy of twenty one years of age, living at 222 and going into my last year at his alma mater, The City College of New York.  I’m sorry he missed the last fifty plus years.

The summer of his passing was a difficult one: daily hospital visits, work and school.  And there was the brief period at home eating through a straw before returning to the hospital to die.  His funeral was big enough to make me gasp when I saw the crowd.  His obituary, in the NYTimes, was much smaller than he deserved.

My mother and sister went through the funeral as I did.  My sister had been living out of town for over five years when he got sick.

When I was young he and I rooted together for the baseball and football NY giants and for Navy during the traditional army/navy game.  We played baseball in riverside park and he directed me with the rest of my PS9 sixth grade class in the Mikado.

Dad was a writer, that’s how he made his living most of his life.  Some of the older among you will have heard a radio show called “Crime Does Not Pay.”  He wrote every episode.

A young Ira Marion

Early in his career he wrote theater and later, musical theatre.  In college he arced a large wattage spotlight and melted the grips of his pliers.  My son Seth now owns those; a gift through the generations.

His friends included writers, conductors and the outstanding voice of the Texaco Opera, Milton Cross.  All these people added to MY life.

In 1963 he programmed the music for the ABC Radio network for the weekend we mourned John Kennedy before his funeral.

And there was more, “Disaster” written for radio for the American Red Cross and “Meet the Professor” an ABC public affairs TV show.  

And all along he was a dedicated “fire buff,” making me one too. Serving the firefighters on the frontlines through the Third Alarm Association.

There were also films, often written directed and produced by Dad.  Among them were films for the NYC Fire Department, The US Navy and the Fresh Air Fund.

I have written a lot about my father in this blog.  Like many adolescents I spent much of the time denying that I could write because, after all, many of us did not want to be our fathers.

He was a character.  My friends were required to demonstrate their good manners in his presence and on the phone.  Once before disappearing with drinks when I had a girl friend over, he called me into the kitchen and said “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do”.

Like you imagine, as a writer, dad smoked and drank.  Both, too much.  I smoked like he and my mother and pay the price in my senior years.  I never took to drinking.  That was probably because that damage was so visible and inflicted on the family.

My children never got to meet my dad and he wasn’t at my graduation or my wedding.

Dad would have been proud of my children and the family Jean and I created: Seth with his involvement in theatre and Judaism, Alyse, a natural leader and athlete and Rachel, a teacher of children with special needs.

Today I miss him probably more than ever because I have watched some TV shows involving male characters and their fathers struggling as adults to communicate and find that special love.  My dad and I never got to do that.

Comments are always welcome here at WordPress or addressed to Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

VACATION

I don’t remember ever taking a vacation for the sake of vacationing with my parents.  I remember a working vacation when we drove throughout New England visiting small colleges for my father’s show about such institutions.

That was the summer I counted Chevrolet Impalas from the back seat.  I don’t know where we went, where we stayed or what we did while he worked.  In fact, I don’t recall how old I was.

Vacations came later in life.  My wife was an expert trip planner and we did some wonderful things in addition to the typical, like Disney.  The Four Corners and the Virgin River in Zion National Park have always stood out.  In that river, cut through a canyon, I took an amazing photograph of my younger daughter and after doing that, I looked up through the canyon walls and knew that there was a God.

Thanks to Stephen Roth and Unsplash.

There was also San Francisco and the visit to Alcatraz.  It was on that trip that Jean found a rare thing: a place where amateurs with children could go spelunking.

They made me go first and it was pretty scary.  The last cavern was discovered from a ledge high up, underground and you had to ride the rope from the ledge to the cavern floor; unforgettable.

The family trip to Israel was extraordinary: visiting family, some I’d never met; and exploring Jewish history and even some culture in the desert.  Very memorable was the airodium (probably misspelled) where our children literally FLEW over a giant fan.  That was something I hope they will never forget.

Summer camp I guess was my vacation.  Day camp, when I was old enough to appreciate what I was experiencing, served as a vacation from the city life during daytime.  If I had loved sleep away camp, and had pleasant memories, I’m sure that it would have served as a vacation for me rather than what I suspect was a vacation for my parents.

There are a lot of things going in my life now which suggest to me the need for a vacation for this blog.  I hope to be back in the Fall.  Until then my readers and friends, thank you for your loyalty and THANK YOU FOR READING!

Comments are always welcome. ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com 

OTHER MARCHING

The sixties and seventies sent us to the streets frequently.

Beginning for me in the late 1960s, the cause of the Soviet Jews became mine.  Slowly at first, but by the time of the first march on Fifth Avenue, fully mine.  I was a marshal at the first march; hoping that there would be no violence from the anti-semites.

It was a time when west siders who were traveling to the Soviet Union filled their suitcases with Levi jeans and books.  These were two very hot commodities in the Soviet bloc.  

We sent messages of support to the prisoners in the gulag and to ordinary citizens trapped behind the iron curtain in an anti-semitic, anti-Israel country.

We raised money to take in refugees and help support immigration to the Holy Land.

I was volunteering with the youth group at Rodeph Sholom.  We marched and we had educational programs.  It was an exciting time (in a sort of negative way). The eventual successes made it all worth while (and turned much of it positive.)

THANKS TO THE LIBARY OF CONGRESS FOR PRESERVING THIS STUDENT STRUGGLE FOR SOVIET JEWRY POSTER

There were also Israel marches I attended in those days, with and without my youth group.  Living in the City of New York made attendance easy and the importance of the State had been impressed upon us in religious school and at home.

Being Jewish on the West Side was, in fact, fairly easy.  Yes, there were epithets and pushing and shoving but for the most part we lived separately and at peace.

I look back at these days of marching, which for the most part came after my peace marching college days and I see myself trying to do the right thing and trying to encourage young Jews down the right paths.

My youth group days at B’nai Jeshurun included Israel parades and the teaching by United Synagogue Youth group leaders intended to instill a love of Israel in me and my cohort.

It was also the time of the JDL or Jewish Defense League.  Led by Meir Kahane, this was a tough group founded I believed to protect Jews who were being victimized in New York City.  As time passed, it, like Kahane, became more political.  

My one contact with Kahane was unfortunate.  There was an attempt to block an intersection, at a march, by lying in the street. As the police reached the group to move them along, picking up some bodily, out of a building across the avenue came their leader.  It was a display that distressed me greatly.

I never went to Israel or Russia as a teen; we could not afford such trips or even the programs offered with reduced costs.  I would go to Israel in my twenties and again in my thirties and to Russia as well, at fifty.

I will say this for sure, neither was like the West Side I grew up in.

ABOUT CEMETERIES

The first funeral in my memory is that of my pediatrician, that white haired man who came calling when I was sick, who had a fluroscope in his office, who was a neighborhood doc setting the pattern for my expectations throughout my life.  We didn’t go to the cemetery.  I don’t recall my first such trip.

The family cemetery is Rodeph Sholom’s Union Fields.  The plot number is 1001 purchased in 1910 to bury my father’s mother who died in childbirth.  I’ve been there to bury my father and bury my mother.  I’ve visited numerous times and learned how little I know about much of the family. 

There is one place left.  It’s for me, next to my parents.

Dad died when I was not quite 21, mom, more than twenty years later.  I know I went to other funerals, at least one in the same cemetery. I’m not sure where my graveyard sensitivity comes from but I do have one.

When I worked in Kings Park, I was employed at a state hospital with a long history.  Opened in 1885 as an extension of the Brooklyn Asylum, the Kings Park State Hospital was big, spread over 100s of acres, became a working farm and had it’s own railroad spur.  It also had cemeteries.

In  my time, the ‘90s, a rumor persisted that there were three cemeteries and that one had been disturbed/destroyed with the digging for the high school handball court.  This only made sense because the high school was built directly across the main road from the hospital. (It had probably always been the main road.)

The large cemetery, a very sad place, was on a hill in the middle of town.  The reckoning was that it held five thousand unmarked graves of hospital patients who died and were unclaimed by family.  The fenced in field was marked at the end far from the entrance by a large white cross.  I was told that this end was where the Catholics were buried.  

There were straight rows of depressions in the earth on either side of the path up the middle; a path made with power plant ash.

The next section, not actually marked contained the Protestants and the area nearest the front gate was for Jews.  The cemetery was closed in 1969, as full.  

When I was the public affairs and community education director at Kings Park I was often given unusual things to manage.  Regarding the cemeteries this included overseeing the visit of a woman who wanted to visit the grave of her mother who had been hospitalized and passed away there.  Of course, her passing dated back to the large cemetery of unmarked graves with no specific grave identifiable.  She had brought her daughter who carried a plant.  I led them to the general area in which the grounds department had estimated she would have been buried.

The daughter, looking for her grandmother, walked out among the depressions, stopped and placed the plant down and stood silently for a moment while her mother and I watched.  When she rejoined us we asked how she knew that was grandma’s grave?  She answered, “I know.”

The big burial ground was succeeded by a cemetery on the hospital property, opposite the ash dump.  These graves were marked with small numbered concrete blocks made in the hospital shop.  Each had a number and a religious symbol denoting the religion of the patient there interred.

Before my time at the hospital the Jewish chaplain arranged for the Jews to be disinterred and moved to a Jewish cemetery.  They had rested in a low lying corner down and to the left when you entered the gate.  When I explored the cemetery the concrete blocks with the Star of David were broken and scattered in this corner.

The on-campus cemetery was infrequently used right up to the closure of the hospital.  Before I left, the then Catholic chaplain asked me to accompany him to a burial there.  I had never attended hospital funeral before this. the deceased had only one possible family attendee and I was being asked by someone I respected.  As it turns out, He wanted me there for a specific reason.  He pointed to the pickup truck with tools and suggested I keep an obvious eye on the boxes in it.  You see, the hospital laboratory had recently been cleaned out and the boxes contained the specimen jars of a previous time: brains, limbs, fetus’, etc.  The grounds department wanted to bury them with the deceased.  This was not to be permitted and my presence was to block such activity along with the chaplain. Needless to say, the patient was buried alone as we stayed until the grave had been filled in.

These cemeteries hold the memory of one of the most important things I did in my professional life.

 

In the gateway of each of the two there sits a stone marking the ground as a cemetery. These were placed at my request, with my inscription, at the hospital’s expense, in the presence of my children, to mark these places in perpetuity.

I return when I can to see if the cemeteries are being maintained. At each visit chills and sadness run through my body, along, I admit, with pride for remembering them.

Comments are always welcome
Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

WRITING

Like any self-respecting adolescent I went through my teenage years on 83rd Street making sure I was not my father. At the time, the sentiment meant that I was not a writer, could not be a writer, did not want to be a writer.  After all, Dad made his living as a writer (25 years with ABC after the Blue Network and so much more.)  But this was untrue for me, even then.

The earliest writing I can recall was my report on the U-2 in sixth grade.  It was lengthy and quite complete.  I later wrote typical adolescent love poetry. There was the Jewish poetry period and the college columnist period.  There was the report writing for work and the essay writing in Newsday and the Op-Ed pieces in Newsday and The New York Times. Some of this was paid. Some of this was about things that happened on West 83rdStreet. Later, it was policy writing, a guide to doing the work honestly and a booklet on health care compliance for a national accrediting body.

I was, in fact, prolific.  Just like my Dad.

Csabi Elter via Unsplash

The one effort I have not yet found concrete evidence of was the column that appeared in the CCNY House Plan Association newspaper.  It was called, I believe, just “Thoughts”. One day I hope to be able to find this work in the Morris Raphael Cohen Library at City College. I do remember helping to put the paper to bed at the printers but I have no real recollection of my contribution to content.

For years my family turned to me to write letters of complaint to government and business.  And I was often called upon to consult about resumes and cover letters; even outside the family.  I seem to have written for a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons.

In the Jewish period I wrote this acrostic:

TORAH

Taught and cherished for centuries.

Overrun but not destroyed.

Reborn with every generation,

Against all manner of hatred

Have you survived and will you continue.

..

In the adolescent period, I wrote this:

UNNAMED

Aware,

always be aware

be aware of others

their needs

their desires

be aware of how they act

but importantly

be aware of how you act…….

And of course, love.  Here’s a piece of one:

What do you mean?

What is it that you symbolize?

Why do you stand out from amongst the rest?

You are a light, bright and shining,

A beacon, pointing the way,

A neon sign, flashing a message,

A reminder that life is to be lived.

You are yesterday and tomorrow,

But and most of all,

You Are Today.

..

I remember for whom I wrote that.  Maybe this is why she wasn’t interested?

I think I’ve progressed.  

And, I don’t write poetry any more.

COMPUTERS

I don’t know from where I got the interest or the skill but it started with my first job in 1972. In a back room in the office on 61st Street and Broadway there was a teletype machine. No one else in the research division at the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission knew how to use it. 

For whatever reason I began to explore what it was connected to and what one could do with it. I had never seen one outside of a Western Union office. I taught myself Basic computer programming. This was a primitive language but I figured out first how to do a 2×2 chi-square and after that a chi-square for  tables of any size.

At the time, I was the youngest member of the staff. I learned not only the programming but learned that the teletype was in fact connected to a computer in Detroit.

No one in the New York office had a clue.

My interest grew and I learned that there were additional computer languages that I could learn and use. First came Fortran, an algebraic language that was much more sophisticated than the basic language. I used IBM programmed learning books, I remember they were green, and was once again successful at self-teaching.

It wasn’t long before we moved to Number Two World Trade Center, the 67th floor. Now, instead of walking to work reading the NY Times, I hopped on the number one train and rode down to the Cortlandt Street station directly under the towers. From the lobby I had to take the express elevator to 44 and then change for a local. There was a cafeteria set up on that floor but it never served food. We sometimes used it as work space.  

My interest in programming and the expansion of the research division gave me access to learning tools for COBOL (the Common Business Oriented Language) and access to the statistical package for the social sciences known as SPSS.

I was still the youngest, even though we had expanded, and I was the only one who knew SPSS. It became one of my jobs to teach all this to other staff. Meanwhile, I went to a conference and met the woman U.S. naval commander who invented COBOL and soon expanded my abilities with SPSS to use it in my work on my master’s thesis.

Machines in the office on 67 included a counter sorter, a key punch and a verifier, eventually followed by a reader that communicated with the Sperry Univac mainframe in Albany.  The counter sorter literally counted and sorted IBM punch cards filled with data that were made on the key punch machine and confirmed on the verifier.  We thought we were quite sophisticated.

I was permitted to come in early, usually around 7:00 to punch and verify cards with my robbery data and to use SPSS to analyze the data for my Master’s thesis developed for my degree at John Jay.  The subject, dry to many, was the impact on the crime of robbery of the location of a police station house (the 20th precinct which moved from one end of the precinct to the other).

As my career progressed so did my use of computers but more and more so for documents and presentations.  

Early on, and at different times, I owned an Apple II, a Commodore 64 and an Apple IIc.  Today I use two screens on my MacBook and run an Apple Mini as my desktop.  Not long ago I operated in the Windows world.

I am often left in the dust by today’s technology but that’s what kids and grandkids are here to fix.

Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

Do Chinese Food and Alcohol Mix?

The Ho Sai Gai was the place where I learned to eat Chinese food.  Run by Henry and frequented for its bar, its food and camaraderie by my father, the restaurant was dimly lit with comfortable booths in addition to tables.

I learned to eat Chinese food at Henry’s but didn’t learn chop sticks until many, many years later.  I say learned to eat the food not because it was the first place I ate Chinese (it was) but because for many years I refused to try the food.  Thank goodness Henry was a kind soul and always had lamb chops he broiled for me.

The restaurant was located on the North side of West 80th Street just East of Broadway which made it very accessible to the residents of apartment 9E at 222 West 83rd. 

We ate Chinese frequently.  Dad always had shrimp in black bean sauce.  After several years, it became my dish too.  That sauce is still on my Chinese menu (just more likely to be a vegetable in black bean sauce).

Beside the booths  there were tables of various sizes.  The biggest table was a large round one right in front of the kitchen doors.  You could often find it in use by the kitchen and wait staff at their meal time.

Back there, you could also find a wood phone booth with the traditional pay phone.  In the front of the restaurant was a sizable wooden bar with old fashioned stools without backs.  One of the bars frequented by dad.

The Ho Sai Guy was directly across from the Food City supermarket, our shopping spot until our Schrafft’s closed and was replaced, later, with a Red Apple supermarket which is now Barnes & Noble.  I knew everybody in Food City just as I would later, as a homeowner on Long Island, know everyone in my local Foodtown.  I guess they trained me well on 80th Street. I think it may have been the place I learned to respect working people no matter what their trade or profession.

Another hangout was the Hungarian Rendezvous on Broadway between 82nd and 83rd.  Unlike the Chinese restaurant this was a small place owned and operated under the watchful gaze of Tom.  Here, I learned to eat cucumber salad (delicious) and various dishes.  Dad drank here too.

Downtown, there was The Headquarters Restaurant, an establishment founded and run by two veterans, the pictures of whom adorned the walls.  The bartender was Johnny.  I was not allowed to sit at the bar (too young under the law).  but dad sat and drank here too.  When I got my draft card dad took me to Headquarters and sat me on a stool.  Johnny looked at me and asked for proof of age. I proudly whipped out the little card.

Headquarters had a balcony seating area above the main floor.  I don’t recall ever eating up there but I do recall the night that someone eating up there popped a contact lens that landed in mom’s food.  It was mostly funny.

My other favorite, also downtown, was a restaurant called The Three Crowns.  It was a smorgasbord with a big round, multi-layered turntable at the back.  You walked up to the turntable and watched the food going around until you saw something you wanted and took it back to your seat.  Items were replaced as the giant platters turned through the kitchen.  I loved going there for dinner.  Dad drank there too.

Don’t get me wrong, mom was no slouch about drinks with dinner.  She was typically not on a seat at the bar but always with a gin and tonic at our table.

Comments are also welcome at Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com