Photography

I did have a hobby for many years. Taking my camera places.  I think this must have come from my father too.  There is a picture of him, I cannot locate, leaning behind a 16mm camera making a movie for Cejwin Camps. (That name clearly came from the Central Jewish Institute located on West 86th Street.)*  He also made movies for the FDNY, the USN, the USAF and the Fresh Air Fund as well as others.  Still photography was certainly among his skills; in the hallway in 9E hung a color photo of a tree in silhouette which seemed to grow from solid rock, said to be the rim of the Grand Canyon.

I grew up with a Kodak Brownie box camera which became a Kodak Instamatic and after dad’s death, a Mamiya Sekor 35mm camera.  I was not permitted to own a Japanese camera when he was alive.  I later owned a very early Canon Rebel (film, folks) and took zillions of pictures of my children many of which reside in amazing scrapbooks assembled by their mother, one for each of us.

I had a darkroom at 222 after his death.  I remember it was fun to develop roll film, black and white, in the little metal developing tank and then to carefully cut the negative roll into strips and pick the good ones on my homemade light box for printing. It must have been quite a sight to see me carefully moving a sloshing tray from my darkroom, his former study and my former bedroom, into the bathroom to rinse my prints of chemical fixer in the bathtub. 

Looking back, my favorite subjects were women.  I took pictures on the street, out my office window on 61st Street and Broadway and at West 83rd Street Block Association events.  I don’t have anything left now, a shame.  I remember photos of children getting their faces painted and of a beautiful woman with a revealing cleavage. (Dirty old man when I was young.)

Beside my father’s FDNY filmography, the one I remember best was “The Friendly Town” a project dad did for the Fresh Air Fund, a program that got city kids time with families in small towns with open spaces.  I think I still have that one along with several other 16mm reels.

Family movies were, of course, done in 8mm. The camera had to be wound to get the film to move.  I will say that there are many more films of my sister, first born, like in so many other families. 

The next generation, my son anyway, spends a lot of time behind the camera.  He too owned a Rebel and still shoots with a Canon.  Even before he became a father, and had built in subjects, he was one of those young people who always seemed to have his camera.  I’d like to think I had some influence.

My Rebel sits today, unused, but every now and then I wonder if I can get film and if it would still work.  It was a wonderful machine. 

*“The Central Jewish Institute of New York City, for instance, established Cejwin Camps shortly after World War I. Bertha Schoolman (my mother’s aunt) was an instrumental figure in its operation. The camp was conceived as an “educational enterprise, not just a fresh-air place for poor children.” By 1961, thirteen hundred children attended Cejwin summer camps. They were divided by gender and age, a division which fostered a sense of independence in Cejwin’s female campers.”  Thanks to the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Ken can be reached directly for comments or questions Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

Sniffles The Dog and More

This is not about catching a cold.  It’s about my unique other West Side family, written about earlier, made up of five people and lots of critters.  There were cats, field mice, guinea pigs, even a snake.  The most important of the “pets” was Sniffles, a most kind and loving Lab.  There are many Sniffles tales.  They called him dark yellow, I always thought he was red.  He was one of the permanent residents while so many humans came and went over the decade I was close.

This unique family was only made more so by this labrador.  As one story goes, a guinea pig got loose in their West Side townhouse.  The poor frightened creature was found cowering in a corner on the second floor with Sniffles sitting guard between it and the cats.

In contrast, there was the time in the garage at their country house near Williamstown, Massachusetts that a porcupine found itself cornered by this protective animal who snapped its neck with one lunge.

There was no one in the family or amongst the friends who Sniffles did not get along with in all the years I spent with them.

Photo by Davide Pietralunga on Unsplash

Other animals were not always as accepted as he, but most of us were trained to be reasonably accepting of the menagerie; when the snake disappeared from its terrarium many of us found it troubling and others recognized this as unfortunate for the field mice who had similarly escaped and never returned.  The snake reappeared from its jaunt in the walls only to die on the floor.

Their Grandma lived on the top floor.  The last flight of stairs had an “inclinator,” one of those chairs that ran up a track on one side of the staircase.  We were all known to use it at one time or another.  It was fun.

It was not only a young fellow like me who frequently visited or stayed with this family.  More than one young woman was “adopted” over the years and it was not more than once that an attempt was made to fix me up.  

During one winter visit to the cabins in the country I was shuffled off with one such female adoptee to the second cabin.  She had the job of teaching me the ways of the world.  I was informed, a day or two later, that I was her first tickle fight seduction failure.

Another attempt to connect me eventually resulted in a young woman dating one of my best friends who frequently visited.  

I learned all sorts of things about NYC from my second family, like shopping for lighting on the Bowery or lumber on the East Side.  I learned to fix a lot of things without the benefit of youtube. I stripped paint from century old interior door frames using paint remover and a spoon. At the country house I learned about building a fire and the critters of the free space of that part of Massachusetts.

My acquired fixing skills were applied more broadly when I was recommended to another West 83rd Street townhouse owner who needed some work done.  The only thing that ever completely foiled me was the light with two switches (one at the top of the stairs, the other at the bottom), I could not get that wiring right.

That unique West 83rd Street family taught me much and helped me survive the complications of my own family, a home filled with alcohol and sadness.  These are people I will never forget.

Ken@leavingwesst83rdstreet.com

RAPE

In my college days, living at home at 222, I made friends of all kinds.  I did, in my freshman year, pledge a fraternity.  A friend with whom I had attended Jr. High and Stuyvesant also entered The City College of New York (CCNY), commonly referred to as City, with me. We’re still friends after 58 years.

We pretty much stuck together when we got to City in the Fall of 1966 and we were both asked to pledge after going to several rush parties.

I didn’t make it through pledging. No, I was not blackballed; I quit.  I did learn the Greek alphabet as required and remembered at all times that the last letter of said alphabet was “sir”, but for me pledging was pretty much a nightmare and I left.  At times I joined the guys but I was not a regular and don’t recall ever going to the fraternity house on Hamilton Terrace after departing my pledge class.

I turned to other pursuits and relationships.  

One of the friendships that was borne of the fraternity relationships was a young woman who did not live far from me.  There were gatherings we attended with our mutual friends and acquaintances and I know I found her attractive but I was not one to compete.  So, like with almost all the other young women in my life, friendship was the natural relationship.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

I’m not sure in what year the rape occurred but after she called the police and was taken to the 20th precinct to look at pictures, she called me.  Our relationship was not special except perhaps I was one of the few guys on the planet who had not hit on her and I was nearby and was becoming an auxiliary police officer.

After the mug shot books were exhausted we were taken back to her place which was in fact the scene of the sexual assault.  I don’t know what possessed me to agree to sleep next to her when she had a large kitchen knife under her pillow, but I did.  I don’t think I was smart enough to be scared, I was there to make a friend feel safer.

I knew nothing about rape or assault back then.  I knew nothing about how I was supposed to act.  Today I am filled with the material so widely available and I believe that it was the right thing at the right time and I look back with positive thoughts about my behavior.  Friendship and the caring that comes with that were my job that night.

I saw her many years later and, no surprise, that night was not mentioned. The warmth between us had not cooled. That is another friendship that lasted a long time.

A Unique West Side Family

In the fifties I didn’t cross Amsterdam Avenue.  All activities that I can recall were to the West from 222 which was on the East side of Broadway.  Forays were also to the North, not past 86th Street and to the South, not past 79th Street.  Life expanded to the South in the early sixties with the addition of William J. O’Shea Junior High School and friends from the lower 70s and just above 86th.  

True expansion to the East didn’t come until the summer of 1965.  That was the year I was a bus counselor for Silver Birch Ranch Day Camp and met a family that would bring new West Siders into my life.  I could write an entire book about my experiences here, but I won’t.

A family of five, three generations, and rarely only that, welcomed all kinds of people into their home for meals and celebrations.  I was one of the fortunate.  I even got to spend significant time and bring along some of my own friends. The last member of the family was Sniffles, the family dog.

It all started when the family couldn’t quite get the boys out on time for the camp bus.  I was invited to walk up from Broadway to the block between Columbus and Central Park and join the family for breakfast; thus assuring that the bus driver would wait for the kids accompanied by the bus counselor.

by Kacper Nowotka

Saturday breakfasts were always the same.  The standard fare was tuna fish with mayo, pickles, olives and onions on a toasted english muffin with a slice of Old English cheese melted on top.  I don’t think anyone that came to that breakfast didn’t turn their nose up and then wind up loving it.

Thanksgiving has remained a clear memory among the many joys of this relationship that I hold dear and important.  

Somewhat estranged from my own family this family became mine.  Using the Jewish Catalog for a guide I baked a huge challah which was used as the centerpiece.  At the table were family, clergy and friends, a unique blend of personalities, religious persuasions and ethnic groups.  It was a genuine West Side mixture.

There are many stories that became family lore.  These were people who accepted everyone, took in many over the years, and worked to better their neighborhood.  Famous among these stories was their relationship with a local street gang.  They took the guys to see West Side Story (the movie) and when the gang saw the sharks dancing down the alley they said, “those faggots are supposed to be us?” (Please accept my apology for the language, it was the 1960s.)

Some of the guys could be found around the house over the years and were always friendly on the streets.  I met the gang around the same time I met my friends. 

The gang is referred to in www.leavingwest83rdstreet.com/2017/08/25/pool

As I moved from high school to college our relationship strengthened.  Their house in the country was a place I frequented often and was allowed to bring friends.

My graduation from CCNY in 1971 helped inspire the boys’ mother to go to college for the first time in her life at 37.  She had come to NY to be an actress, met her future husband and turned to raising her family. She would go on to complete college, law school and a Ph.D. truly demonstrating the mind that had been hidden while dedicating its power to all of us.   She used that power and those credentials to work tirelessly for children’s rights at the United Nations and around the world.

I was part of that family for many years.  I made many friends and acquaintances in that house and always felt cared for and safe…

ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com will happily respond to your private questions and comments 

Death 2

This month, August 2020, marks fifty years since my father died. That number is overwhelming and has caused a deluge of tears.  I’ve written about his funeral and bits and pieces about his life and illness, but not enough.

I remember dad’s obituary in the New York Times.  It was about two and a half or three inches.  I was so disappointed that it was so short.  I knew even then, at twenty, that he deserved more.

He didn’t die at 222, he died at Mount Sinai Hospital, but he battled and suffered in 9E.  I can picture him sitting at the table eating through a straw as the throat cancer had swollen significantly and limited his swallowing.  He had been in the hospital for some time until they figured out what was wrong.

I traveled back and forth in his earlier hospitalization as well as the final one.  Getting to 98th Street and 5th Avenue from 83rd Street and Broadway involved two buses or the 86th Street Crosstown and a long walk up 5th Avenue to 98th Street.  Coming from school meant the number one train to 86th Street and then proceeding.

When dad went back to the hospital, the picture was gloomy and my final visit found him with tubes everywhere.  As I left he waved and we both understood that it was a final goodbye.  He died later that evening, leaving me with that image of the final wave.

It was a sad end to a life that, from 1942 to 1970 had been lived on West 83rd Street.  He had been the Civil Defense Warden with a key to the light box on West 82nd Street for turning off the lights along Amsterdam during air raid drills.  Here he had been based when he wrote for the Air Force and the Navy and the War Bonds program.  Here he lived while for 25 years he had been a staff writer for ABC after years at the Blue Network.  Here was the jumping off point for “Meet the Professor” and ABC public affairs show for which he traveled the country developing and telling the stories of remarkable educators.

Good Times

West 83rd Street had been his home when he wrote, produced and directed films for the FDNY, featuring me in a cameo appearance in the film F.D.N.Y. (see link below)  222 was the base from which he flew out the door to the Red Cross building on Amsterdam Avenue in the 60s to get out the canteen for the Third Alarm Association to provide coffee, soup and sandwiches to firefighters (then called firemen) at large fires.

This was the home from which he walked to PS9 to direct Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore for my sister’s 6th grade class and the Mikado for my class years later (my sister and I being a bit more than five and half years apart).  I don’t know if she had a part in her year but I played KoKo, The Lord High Executioner, with my little list.

In 1963, seven years before his death, we sat in the living room of apartment 9E and listened to the ABC network music, programmed by my dad, on that horrible weekend of the Kennedy assassination.  Here we sat to watch the funeral with the horse with the empty boots turned backward and the little John Jr. saluting his father’s casket.

In the late sixties, when the drinking won and dad lost his job at ABC he struggled and found a job with the NYC welfare department as a case worker.  He didn’t have to go far most days because the bulk of his caseload was in the Endicott Hotel which was converted in 1981 into what are now million dollar condos.  It was in this brief period of his life that I picked him up off the floor and bandaged his head wound.  Something I’ll never forget.

It was not until my adulthood that I began to understand the roots of his drinking.

My father’s childhood had been far from easy.  My grandmother died in childbirth and grandad ran off leaving little Ira to be raised by his maiden aunt, Betty.  He lost an eye to disease and wore a glass replacement for the rest of his life.  He had back surgery, I don’t know when, which because of an anterior entry and the rearrangement of intestines left him with a pot belly which he filled with beer (Miller High Life or Rheingold) as an adult drinker.  That of course was for lighter times, Teacher’s Scotch was his drink of choice.

It was the drinking and the three packs of chesterfield kings a day that were his undoing.  I was never much of a drinker, understandably, but I did smoke as both my parents did.

Years later a cousin said to me “we tolerated your father’s arrogance because of his brilliance.”  Did he feel himself, down deep, an unloved, less than perfect man?

Fifty years after his death there is a mixture of memories good and bad, like anyone else I guess.  As I grow older I see more and more of him in the mirror and in myself.

(email me at ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com for the dropbox link)

Death

Death came to 222 more than once during my lifetime.  After all, it was a building of over 100 apartments divided into two sides.  There were two apartments on the ground floor, entered from the lobby; both of these were on the east side of the building.  I only remember one passing clearly.

I was probably around ten.  It was awful, the smell.  The person who died I did not know; a part of apartment life in New York City. I remember coming down in the elevator and being confronted by what I would later learn was the odor of a lonely death.

When you entered the lobby from the street there were staircases on either side by the facing wall that went up.  On the west side of the building, my side (apartments E,F,G, and H) there was a large fan standing on the top visible step.  It was blowing the smell from the second floor into the lobby, and, I guess out the front door.  I would have put the fan in the apartment doorway and opened all the windows, particularly if there was one to the rear courtyard.  

The doormen and elevator operators knew everyone of course and could have shared information, but probably not with us kids.

The smell lasted for several days; a nauseating reminder of the event.  I was too young, I think, to get the picture.  I never knew my grandparents, who all died before I was aware of them or before I was born;  so, I never experienced what might have been the typical gateway to understanding this stage of life.  

I had a similar experience of not knowing the neighbor who died in my suburban life many years later.

Janet Place in North Woodmere was very different from 222 on West 83rd Street, houses not apartments, a block of maybe fifteen, big trees. In total we lived there about 25 years.  I remember only two deaths on the block. One was our next door neighbor.  The other was two houses down from us.

We saw the ambulance and the police cars. It happened just two doors down, and we didn’t even know a name to use to offer our condolences. After more than five years on the street, our neighbor was anonymous.

That was a Long Island-style tragedy. The death of a neighbor and you don’t even know his name. People came and went all week. We all knew the address, but not the name.

It was a street where privacy was treasured. We knew the people on either side, and the ones across the street and the ones with kids who played in the yard (a little), but the others were virtually invisible. An occasional “good morning” was possible, a nod or a smile, perhaps a wave as we drove by, but never more than those perfunctory greetings.

The reaction of one of our children was truly frightening: seeing the police cars and the ambulance, she, age 3, said, “Somebody died.” Just like that. She didn’t know the name either, but I bet she knew the neighbor’s smile. All the neighbors were pleasant with the children, a little less distant than from the adults. We allowed the children to intrude on our privacy.

Hurricane Gloria brought darkness to one side of the street, but not the other. We shared our freezer space with the ones we knew, but didn’t see anyone else to whom the offer could be made. They were invisible, as they chose to be.

When we first moved here, I thought winter was the cause. Everyone was indoors most of the time, but even in the spring there was a shade drawn between neighbors who should know one another better, if for no other reason than protection from a hostile world where little children speak of death.

We were not unfriendly or unneighborly, and I’m sure they were not either, just invisible. It was a Long Island syndrome. Perhaps the anonymity of the city is contagious, or was it brought here when the first city folk moved east to the suburbs?

It was shameful. I had not realized the shame of it until that person died, two doors down the street. I  lived on for almost seven years, and we didn’t know his name.

He had recently stopped and asked if I wanted a lawn tool that would otherwise go to the garbage men. I took it, gratefully, from his garage, but never knew his name. Another neighbor was no help, didn’t even know there had been a death; knew the family’s last name but nothing more.

I cannot speak for, or about, all of my neighbors, and certainly not for Long Islanders (no one person can), but it is a shame and an embarrassment that this situation persisted.

At 222 the anonymity was a result of sheer numbers. I knew all the kids, we went to the same school, and their parents too. I knew the neighbors on our floor. Together these two groups added up to nine families. 

Only a few less than on that Long Island street. When I think back, I realize that when people died in that building, unless they were part of one of those families, I never knew.

My wife and children canvassed for the American Cancer Society on our street. It is a very interesting experience, asking neighbors you don’t know for donations. After the exchange of receipt for cash, invisibility takes over again.

I am saved just a little from embarrassment of all this by learning that we were not at all unique. A friend told me she asked her husband about the residents of the house three doors down from her, only to find out that they had sold the house and moved, 18 months earlier.

But this was Long Island, suburbia, where my kids learned to live peacefully, without fear, among friends. The same Long Island where someone can die two doors down, and you don’t even know his name.

And I don’t suppose West 83rd Street has changed much.  There’s a bigger building across the street with more potential for not knowing your neighbors.  Lots of missed opportunities in elevators I am sure. Would be nice if the world changed.

*Silhouette credit to Creazilla.

JHS Typing

JHS 44, the William J. O’Shea Junior High School was, looking back, an interesting place.  Attending there was filled with fun and fear, learning and “loving”, trying and typing.  That last one was required.

I clearly remember a room full of typewriters, a teacher’s desk and blackboard at the front and nothing else.  I was twelve or thirteen.  There were boys and girls in the class.  The machines were basic manual, maybe Royal or Smith Corona.  When the keys got stuck you had to unstick them yourself.  Handling the ribbon made your fingers blacken with ink.

All of that might be completely unknown or at least alien to many readers.

Having looked through my copy of our yearbook, INKLINGS for 1963, I found neither a photo nor mention of typing class.

We developed a skill which helped all the way through college, “touch typing”.  Today that skill is “keyboarding”.  People of my generation are good keyboarders because the QWERTY keyboard is still the standard.  Through the Commodore 64 and the early Apples I owned I used my touch typing abilities.  I worked for an insurance company as a typist, briefly, and when I worked at NYU’s College of Dentistry I learned keypunching and verifying of computer punch cards (something else many of you will have to look up).  These latter skills were applied to my effort to calculate statistics for my Master’s Thesis in 1976.

My dad’s machine of choice, once electric was available and for as long as I can remember, was the IBM Model A. The first one was gray and the second one was green.  The machines, including the smith corona portable I once had, were all maintained by Mr. Osner in his typewriter repair shop, Osner Business Machines located at 393  Amsterdam Avenue, between 78th and 79th Streets.

When mom had TB, circa 1950, dad cranked out dime novels, one a night on his manual typewriter.  I’ve never seen one of his novels, would love to.  He wrote under the pseudonym Harold Kane.  So far, the Library of Congress and none of the old booksellers I’ve tried have anything in their collections.

Dad typed with four fingers, two index fingers for letters, numbers and shifts and thumbs for the space bar.  How he typed so fast, I don’t know.

When I was later tested, as to typing speed and accuracy, for some job, I tested at 55 words per minute with rarely an error.  At least one of my children types at almost twice that speed.

The study in 9E which later became my bedroom had housed the typewriter and a file cabinet, a desk and a studio couch (perhaps a day bed).  Dad’s workspace was moved into the dining room when I took over the study as my room and the dining room table moved into the living room.  The study always had the aroma of dad’s smoking because it was such a small room.  The smoking eventually helped kill him and no doubt contributed with my own smoking to my lung disease.

Today, almost 60 years later, I still use that skill taught at the William J. O’Shea Junior High School and I am thankful.

Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

Dear Reader 2

When I was in my late teens, walking on Broadway in the 80’s; that would be 50+ years ago, we stopped, foolishly, to watch cops chasing teens in our direction.  One cop caught up with one of these young black men, who was running with a shotgun in his hand, threw him against a store front and said, with gun to the young man’s head, “drop it or I’ll shoot you, black motherf**ker”.  I was not horrified.  The cop, in my mind, was trying to scare the “perp”.  He was successful and the incident ended.  Today I would feel differently about such behavior, the racial epithet was not necessary and I am embarrassed by my acceptance of it as a good control technique.  If the alleged thief were white, what would the officer have said? How about today?

This was the 20th precinct fifty years ago, I am long gone.  But the racism represented here was not isolated.

When I worked at my first job in the Rockefeller program (NYS’ misguided attempts at drug treatment, an early form of mass incarceration) I did not understand my role in the power structure. The job located on 61st and Broadway was part of the management of a statewide program to lock up drug addicts for treatment and then put them into a system to be monitored by armed Narcotic Parole Officers.

When I moved on to the VERA Institute of Justice further downtown, while still living on 83rd Street, I was again touching “the system” but this time in an effort to develop a fair, scientific furlough program for the NYS Department of Corrections.

(Did you know that NYS has 52 prisons in 2020? This is at least 20 less than 1980.)

The NYS mental health system was my workplace for many years.  I didn’t run head on into racism until the hospital in Suffolk County that was taking transfers from Brooklyn, who happened to be mostly black, was politically and socially attacked by locals.   

My job and my heart led me to defend against these angry frightened neighbors.

In Brooklyn, my work community changed.  Suddenly I was the minority. Staff throughout the facility were mostly black.  As part of the integrated senior staff I missed the seething dislike “below” until I criticized a black program manager and was immediately attacked as a “Jim Crow racist.”

I was so upset by the words of the worker that I called a former rabbi from Rodeph Sholom,  a man who had fought injustice, like his father, his whole career.  He talked me down off the ledge, it hurt so much, it was so unfair and incorrect.  

Today I can look back and see that although she was defending incompetent behavior she was speaking from a terrible history of oppression.

There is so much wrong.  We must start by listening and we each have to look

and see where we were, and are, part of the problem.

The West Side bred me reasonably well but not to action.  In the 60’s, for me, commuting daily from West 83rd Street into Harlem, it was the war in Vietnam before there was any personal knowledge of racism in NYC.  Maybe because the war was personal, maybe because I had been protected/segregated for so long.

My classes were almost exclusively white at PS9 and JHS44, my synagogues (all three: the SAJ, B’nai Jeshurun and Rodeph Sholom) were all white and the only people of color that I remember at 222 were household help. Helen helped raise me from age three to age sixteen and that may have helped build my current relationships. Today I understand that we never saw anyone but black women in such a job.  

The elevator operators, superintendent , handyman, doormen, and porters in 222 were all white.  The playground in Riverside Park was white children and household help or parents for supervision. Today I would question this but then it was invisible to me.

Unbeknownst, it was our little white enclave in what was billed as the greatest city in the world.

Dear Reader,

LeavingWest83rdStreet is important to me.  I hope that you are enjoying my work.  Our times lead me to say that there are much more important things to be written about and I hope that you will look at this effort as an opportunity to go beyond my story.

Thank you for sticking with me.  It is an honor to have you along.

I have been witness to many historical events and to many efforts directed at change.  I heard the words and laws of the sixties with the hopefulness of an adolescent.  I saw the murders of President Kennedy, Dr. King, and Robert Kennedy, among others, on TV.  I was afraid. Many times I thought change would come.  I watched the anger and fear and resulting riots from afar.

All those things shaped the man I became.  Raised in the relatively liberal community of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, raised in part by an African American housekeeper and having limited experience beyond that in my youth, my parents taught me well.  Other groups except our WWII opponents were never spoken of badly.  (In my late teens I strenuously though ineffectively argued with my father about German cars and Japanese cameras.  Eventually, I owned both.

I was disturbed but distant in the early and mid-sixties but by 1970 my level of action had changed.  Co-chairing a CCNY commission with a black woman was significant as was the takeover of part of the college’s campus by black students.  

I have had many black friends and colleagues over the years.  I hope I have not been part of the problem, although I must have been.  I recognize that in addition to white privilege I have also had Jewish privilege because I lived in NY where there were so many of us.  I see that we were segregated in elementary and junior high school, not because the neighborhood wasn’t home to many people with ancestors from many places, but because the board of education kept us separate or maybe it’s better said, “kept them separate”.

We won the right to vote at 18 in my lifetime.  We helped bring an end to Nixon and to the war in Vietnam.  But so little has staying power.  I can’t help thinking of the teens from Parkland who filled me with hope and then they were gone.

My kids are steadfastly supportive of the rights of others, we did well in raising them.  But, I hear and see so much that’s not working and I know that I didn’t do enough.  Yes, I called out racist and sexist remarks; I walked away from ethnic jokes, but I didn’t do enough.

And that’s where we are today, we have to listen to people and hear the pain they are coming from.  We must not allow ourselves to be diverted by the current administration or by those who are acting inappropriately.  We have to listen.

To my friend who woke up last week at 2am to CNN reporting from the Barclay Center, whose heart stopped as she ran to check on her boys, I am sorry, I did not do enough.

PARTIES

There were a lot of parties in my adolescence.  There were a lot of temple dances in those years too.  I could do most of the dances that did not require touching: twist, mashed potatoes, monster mash.  I could “slow dance”, so as long as my partner just wanted to stand and slowly move, no box step or anything.  I could barely cha cha; I would lose count. I was never, however, successful at the lindy, formally known as the Lindy Hop.  You see, I was and am uncoordinated.

Dances were on the East Side and the West Side.  Synagogues were home to the dances I attended: Rodeph Sholom, Park Avenue, B’nai Jeshurun were the biggest gatherings.  I really only remember the Rodeph Sholom layout, probably because I later spent several years active in that community.  We entered through the main entrance, under the awning up the steps into the lobby, down the grand staircase to the basement (never called that).  On this lower level there were multiple doors to the ballroom where the dances were held.  There was no theme, no decorations of note.  The band was on the stage.  That was it. Just hang out and dance, and perhaps find those quiet spots.

RodephSholom

I guess there were groups at PS9 before we were old enough for the temple dances.  The elementary school groups that were joined together at JHS 44 created new groups.  The system was intended to do this I am sure, but we were still mostly white and Jewish.

I had my girlfriend in fifth and sixth grade but branched out upon entering 7-8SP2.  There was even what might be called cross fertilization with 7-8SP1.  These two accelerated classes had the best and brightest, we were told.  The system wanted us out of junior high school as fast as possible.

The West Side parties, held almost weekly starting around sixth grade and picking up speed in 7th grade, featured music and dancing, low lights and small groups.  They also often featured “spin the bottle” and “post office”, the kissing games of the late 50s and early 60s.

I remember one party in my parents’ apartment at 222.  They were in their bedroom with the door closed.  Girls were in my room, boys in the living room.  The meet up was in dad’s study.  I think it was 1963.  The study was kept dark, as was the hallway. I don’t remember the rules. When you look it up in wikipedia it doesn’t sound familiar at all.

I remember the kissing and the frequently hurt feelings of the less popular kids.  There was always lots to talk after the mail was delivered.

We made out a lot through junior high and high school. Encouraged by the kissing games, we moved to school afternoons and weekend days.  We learned whatever we knew from each other.  This did not always lead to successful encounters.

 

*Credit to NYCAGO.ORG for the photo