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

Stuyvesant #2

I said last year that there were many more Stuyvesant stories to tell.  Growing up in that old building over the course of three years would of course provide much fodder for a writer, and it did.  The Stuyvesant experience left me proud to have been there, but not always proud of my younger self.

The trip from the upper West Side, as you may recall, required three trains; the IRT #1, the BMT and the Canarsie line.  The latter two have different designations now.  The change at Times Square was always daunting and rushed and the steps for the last change at Union Square were steep but the most fun.  On pretty days we walked the last lap.  This trip could take 30 minutes or an hour.  Some things don’t change much.

Cutting classes was not a regular thing for me in high school but when I did in my junior and senior years I went to Julian’s, the pool hall upstairs on fourteenth street.  I saw it as dingier than Guys and Dolls on 79th Street and Broadway (also upstairs) and a bit more seedy.  Perhaps the weekday daytime crowd downtown was different from the late afternoon evening crowd I knew so well. 

I never got caught cutting class (I could not pass up the opportunity to be alliterative).  Teachers probably didn’t regret my absence.

The other times I could be found outside the building during class hours were in the last semester of my senior  year when I was gym class secretary.  Dismissal for me would have been 12:40 but given my attendance taking duties it was actually 12:10.  And off I went.  It was too early to go back to 222 so I hung at Danny’s luncheonette or out front or went to Julian’s.

These were little things.  So was the time I decided one semester to be the first to wear shorts.  My homeroom teacher Miss R. was petite and pretty and busty and eyed by most of the boys.  She taught English, although Russian by birth.  I zinged her only this one time that I recall when I stood up in homeroom and started to take off my pants.  Her eyes got very large and her face very red until she realized that I was wearing cutoffs to announce the arrival of spring.

She took it much better than the shop teacher.  Early in the spring several of us showed up for woodworking wearing shorts.  We loved the lack of a dress code.  But this was not welcomed in shop.  “If you show up in my shop wearing shorts again, I will shave yours legs with a dull plane blade” he shouted.  Needless to say, shorts never reappeared there.

Stuyvesant also gave me photography skills.  Our amazing teacher, with one hand, taught us darkroom technique after classes on such things as composition.  He showed us things about cameras using his 4”x5” Graflex.  You know what that is if you’ve ever watched an older film with any kind of photojournalist; the big camera with the big flash.

Stuyvesant followed me far beyond 83rd Street.  I’ve stayed a member of the Almuni Association and my oldest friend and I went there together and remain friends almost sixty years later.  Believe it or not, my physics teacher appeared in my Temple life almost fifty years after I sat in his class.  He was very young when he came to Stuyvesant and I don’t think any of us realized that a new teacher, young at that, must have somehow been special to have landed at our school.

Everybody, even the youngest teachers used Delaney Cards.  If you don’t know what those are, look it up.  Invented by Edward C. Delaney, they were the way seating charts and class attendance were supposed to be managed.

The building was old when we went there.  It was built with entrances on both 15th and 16th Streets between Second and First Avenues.  It was shaped like the letter “H”.  One of the interesting facets of the building was the track which was above the gymnasium.  

Located where it was, there was no field for sports.  Football was played at Randall’s Island Stadium.  I would later learn that the very old records of the NY Asylum had been placed in storage in the lower level of the stadium.  

Randall’s Island was connected to Ward’s Island by a small bridge, Ward’s held the institutions for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled.  Although the latter is gone, the psychiatric hospital where I later worked still stands.

(The bridge and one of the institutions was seen in the 1950’s policewoman show “DECOY”.  The islands also featured the FDNY fire academy and a NYC Sanitation facility.)

Stuyvesant boys have gone on to things: lots of PhDs, a few Nobel laureates, cabinet positions and so much more.  Me, I did my part, serving in State service for almost 25 years and in human services work for over 15 more.

Comments can also be sent to ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com 

#83

Writing LeavingWest83rd has been a journey of its own.  This being the 83rd post, I thought that I should make note of that fact and the number itself.  I have asked around among my readers for suggestions for this post and have had several: photo essay on the block; comparison of yesterday with today, structurally;  stories about some of the more colorful characters of the block; a reprise of one or more earlier posts; and what it all means to me.  It has been difficult to choose but before that I want to again acknowledge my editor Alyse Marion Black.  Alyse has helped immeasurably to bring LeavingWest83rdStreet to life.  Her grammatical corrections and reorganizational suggestions have contributed to every post, making what I hope has been an enjoyable journey for you as she has made it for me.

LeavingWest83rdStreet has been quite a trip down memory lane and more than that it has been a joy to receive comments, make and remake connections, stick with something for almost five years, and just to write.

What is it about West 83rd Street that won’t let go of me?  The fact that I grew up there?  The buildings?  The people?  The stores?  That part of the West Side?

Or, is this an opportunity to tell parts of my family story, father, mother, sister and maybe my friends too?

The boys of 222 were spread throughout the building, east side and west side, high floors like twelve and low floors like two.  Their names included another Kenny, David, Danny, Joel, Larry, Leonard.  Have I forgotten anyone?  Both Kennys and Danny had older sisters and there were a few younger brothers in the building mix as well.

Few moms worked like mine.  Dads had all types of jobs.  There was a dentist for sure and at least one lawyer and my dad the writer.

These things certainly had impact on who we were to become.  Events, past and present, clearly did too.

We lived in a building alongside of survivors of the horrors of World War II.  This was more significant to some than it was to others but we all knew about the atrocities because our parents had lived through the war in one way or another.  Some served, some volunteered state side, some served in the civil defense (like my dad.)

I don’t remember the war in Korea, we boys were all too young, but I’m sure it had it’s impact on our parents as did the “red menace”.  I know that my father was effected as president of the Radio Writers’ Guild.

And then came the decade of the assassinations.  Each of these molded the boys of 222.  First the President and then his brother, Malcolm X and Dr. King.  While I was already in my middle to late teens during the last three, the murder of JFK was the most profound as we had been taught about the presidency and about this president in school and at home.  So young, Catholic and with great ideas and oratory.

The riots of the sixties and the anti-war movement came when several of the guys had left 222 for colleges across the country.  I was home for all of it.

What we were taught about communism and the soviet union during those years for upheaval was biased and incomplete and sometimes deliberate misinformation I am sure.  American history left out the racism of our government regarding Japanese internment and particularly absent was anything about administration after administration and court after court institutionalizing racism in housing across the country.

In these turbulent times I hope that the boys of 222 and their children and their children’s children have learned a lot and will do their best to clean up the mess.

Comments can’t also be sent directly to

Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

Stuyvesant

Going to Stuyvesant High School was an honor I didn’t know I had achieved in 1963.  I knew it was a top school along with Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Hunter but I was not sophisticated enough to understand what it meant to be accepted and attend.

I chose Stuyvesant because even at thirteen going on fourteen I knew that girls would be a serious distraction in classes as they already were so in junior high.

I was not alone in going from JHS 44 to Stuyvesant.  I’m still good friends, almost sixty years later, with one of the guys.  

Stuyvesant did not bring out the best in me in many respects.  While I excelled in chemistry and biology, one of my english teachers had the chutzpah to tell my father, a writer, that his son could not write.  I did okay in math and physics.  I loved photography where I learned darkroom techniques.  

I did not hang out after school.  Hang time was at Danny’s, right next door on 15th Street, for breakfast in the morning and then outside Danny’s luncheonette until it was time to go in. 

I loved chemistry; I took as much as I could.  The lab was great place.  I even went on to start college as a chemistry major.

I became a sort of mascot for the football team.  I was small so I felt safe with the big guys and quickly became a bully.  It brought out the worst in me to hang with them.  I almost injured a lower classman on the stairs.  Lucky for us both he landed on his feet.

We had a pretty poor performing football team but a great cheer, “Retain it, retain it, retain the elliptical spheroid”.  Our cheerleaders came from Hunter College High School, our sister school on the East Side in the 60s..  As I recall we would have preferred Julia Richmond, an all girls high school not far from Hunter but not for the intellectually gifted.  The football rival was DeWitt Clinton, a team we never beat, but we tried. Clinton was a ruff and tumble typical NYC High School.

The Clinton game was scheduled for November 23rd, 1963.  We marched up Second Avenue (that would  be against traffic), the morning before, a rally turned “riot”.  We were showered with coffee cups from construction sites, and were photographed for the Daily News.  The game never happened, as events of that fateful November 22nd, 1963 in Dallas certainly took precedence.  Of course, that photo, which I was in (it was staged) also did not happen that Saturday.

The NYC Transit strike of January 1966 made getting to school on East 15th Street close to impossible.  The three train trek was unavailable for two weeks.  My friend Billy, a football player, drove a mustang, so I walked across central park from West 83rd Street and he picked me up on Fifth Avenue.  He was a chick magnet in that car.  Didn’t do me any good but the ride to school was important.

My social life was never better than when I was Stuyvesant.  I have always believed that  because I was going to an all boys school I had to work at it.  I only remember that there were gatherings with girls from Franklin (a West Side private school) but I’m sure there were other sources.

My academic success was nothing to write home about.  I graduated 507th in a class of 715 with an 87 average (or was it 83).  Almost anywhere else either average would have ranked much higher than the bottom third.  I was given a passing grade in calculus because I was senior.  I took it again in college and dropped it there too.

I loved Stuyvesant; I have been a member of the Stuyvesant Alumni Association for as long as I can remember; and that’s the only such association I have joined.  I went back to the building on numerous occasions and have visited the new building as an alum. (The escalators were such an improvement over those narrow stairwells.)

Although I have few fond memories, I cherish this “credential” more than any other.

Feel free to comment here: Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com or below

MOM

I’ve been bad about writing with my mother as a focus. I suppose that’s because I don’t think we had much of a relationship until later in her life and by then it was unwell mother and helper son. I may be denying stuff but I’m not so sure. As this week contains both the anniversary of her birth (12/1) and the anniversary of her death (12/5), I thought it was time to write this piece of life at 222.

Mom was one of “the three weird sisters:” Eleanor was the beautiful one, my mom, Edith was the smart one and Lillian was the youngest.  Aunt Lil always laughed as she told that.  I knew my aunt Lil as a professional success and a leader of a national Jewish organization.

Edith was actually mom’s middle name.  Irene was her first name but she switched them.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with my father’s mother’s name being Irene.

In the fifties and sixties a working mother was not typical.  Mom was the office manager of a very successful dental practice on Madison Avenue. When the senior dentist passed away in 1971, less than a year after my dad, she moved on. She became executive secretary to a vice president at Group Health Incorporated.

I don’t remember doing things alone with Mom while growing up, but I do remember things with the family.  Mom lit the shabbat candles and the four of us ate together; whether the table was in the dining room or in the living room depended on the year. 

I’m not even sure mom came to school plays and things.  I know that dad was at the Mikado in sixth grade at PS9 because he was the director but whether mom attended is unknown.

I remember going to the theater as a family.  I remember those parties around the Thanksgiving day parade on Central Park West in her boss’ friend’s apartment.

Liquor always flowed freely at home.  I remember living room gatherings where mom drank gin. Dad drank scotch. Mom smoked Kents.  Dad smoked Chesterfield Kings.

While dad did not believe in corporal punishment, mom felt differently.  I only remember being struck that one time when dad was in California on business in the 60s and she smacked me.  You may recall that I went directly to the phone and ratted her out.  The only other incident of physical violence that I recall occurred between mother and daughter at the dinner table.  It was over in a flash of anger.

I remember clearly in 1970 when Dad was in the hospital my mother and her boss took me out for dinner and taught me how to eat a lobster.  We were almost alone that time.

My parents had moved into apartment 9E at 222 in the very early 1940s. It was always home to her.  She was confined in the bedroom with TB in 1950 and from then on she always had an air conditioner. It was in fact the only room in the apartment that had one for a very long time!

My parents both used taxi cabs.  I don’t remember either saying they rode a bus or the subway. I don’t know how I learned mass transit.  Cabs were fine except for the time mom smashed her thumb in the door of one that had just delivered her home.

The engagement ring that Mom wore was the one that my father’s mother had worn. Grandma died in childbirth. It was always known in the family that this ring would go to the woman I chose to marry. 

I came home one day in 1978 and said, I’d like the ring now please. She was a bit surprised.  The diamond has now passed to the next generation, going to my son’s wife.

When she was discharged from a hospital stay in the early 90s mom insisted on going back to 9E. She really needed to be in structured care but she insisted. Mom always got her way. It didn’t last long, but I learned a lot about how to get Medicaid so that she could move into a nursing home which she then needed. I was married by then and had children, it was the early ’90s. She had lived in apartment 9E for close to 50 years.

Mom died in a nursing home accident.  It had been a sad journey for her and one I’ll never forget. I had been gone from 222 for fifteen years when she passed.

Comments are appreciated here at WordPress or I can be reached at Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com Thanks for reading.

Rabbi?

On November 3rd, 1962 I became a Bar Mitzvah. My practice has wavered over the almost 60 years since then. I have often been very active in synagogue communities and sometimes completely inactive. From youth group at B’nai Jeshurun, to youth committee co-chair at Rodeph Sholom, much of my youth and young adulthood was spent affiliated with West Side synagogues.  I was, years later, even an officer in my Lynbrook synagogue.  This is the story of one of those active periods.

Family folklore included an understanding that my father wanted to study to be a Rabbi but in his junior year of college at CCNY, 1928-29, he changed direction for financial reasons that were never specifically disclosed.  I think that it was the crash of ’29. He went on to the Federal Theatre in the technical side of theatre and then on to his work in documentary film, radio and television.

There was little evidence at 222 of his rabbinic interest when I became “sentient” in the 50’s.  I do know that my religious education at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ) on 86th Street was important to him, although my sister’s was not.

Here’s where it all started.

In 1975 after several years very involved at Rodeph Sholom, primarily but not exclusively with the youth program, I determined that I wanted to become a Rabbi.  How much my father’s interest played in this, I do not know.  I talked with several Rabbis during the decision making and was only discouraged by one, the admissions director at the seminary who said, “you’ll never get in here”.  

The Associate Rabbi studied with me Shabbat afternoons after services while his daughter played around us and his wife made lunch which the four of us enjoyed together in their West Side apartment.

The Senior Rabbi took me out for lunch, ordering a cheeseburger, which I found amusing even back then due to the subject of our conversation not that I expected kosher practice in the Reform setting.

One obstacle to admission was my standardized testing performance.  In sixth grade at PS9, we took the IOWAs (the IOWA Test of Basic Skills).  While my entire class performed at the 99th percentile, I was at the 93rd. 

When it came time to take the SATs, I performed well below my assumed potential.  So, when I was faced with taking the GREs for rabbinical school I attached to my application a letter explaining my history of less than stellar performance.

At my admissions interview the second question came from the student on the committee, it went something like this, you wrote us about your GREs and they were in fact pretty good, can you explain that?  My answer was simple, by writing that letter I lowered my test stress level, believing that you would consider my explanation when discussing my potential.

Money, of course, was also an issue.  After my acceptance, some resources were developed at a farewell celebration thrown by my mother before I left for Israel.  The most remarkable part of that event was the appearance of my cousin upon whom I had long had a crush.  Let’s just say that most of the party, held in 9E, was spent with her.

It was 1976 and the sailing of the tall ships in the Hudson River was also spent with my cousin.  My departure for the year in Israel followed shortly.  This was to be the first of five years of rabbinic study.  I was to be immersed in the land, history and language of Israel.

I found Israel very difficult.  My rabbinic ambition did not survive but a couple of weeks, and I was headed home to New York and unemployment.  Living at home with mom for a period, that included furniture building in the 9E living room, was also difficult.  Job searching in those days, sans internet, was very different from what it is now but I did land a job at the Vera Institute of Justice which sent me back to the skills and interests I had learned at CCNY and the tools I had developed at the Rockefeller Program (NYS’s drug program of the early 70s).

I was not well received by most at my former congregation.  I had failed their dreams for me; an important lesson I did not understand for many years.  My friend with whom I had studied on that apartment floor stuck by me throughout the difficult period and Jean (my cousin) and I were married by the Senior Rabbi at Rodeph Sholom on the first night of Chanukah in 1978.

I am often dragged back, kicking and screaming, to that significant life point.  My decision to return may have been hasty but the discomfort I felt in Israel is still palpable.  Two incidents remain imbedded near the surface, even now more than forty years later.  

I was walking down a Jerusalem street and the person in front of me stopped short.  His rifle barrel was in my nose.  My years as a 20th Precinct auxiliary police officer and my delving into robbery data for my master’s thesis as well as my father’s distaste for firearms all kicked in, leaving me quite shaken.

And then there was the errand I asked a fellow student to run to get coins for the phone, at the post office.  He came back empty-handed; there had been a team of sappers (bomb disposal experts) dismantling a car in front of the post office.

These events, coupled with missing home and Jean and my perceived difference from fellow students who were all younger and had never worked, sent me packing.  The college’s dean had no interest in turning me around saying, “if you’re not happy, go home.”

When I returned to NY I said that I was determined to be the thorn in the Rabbi’s side, wherever I landed, and I think that I succeeded for much of my life, asking questions, understanding much. 

That Jewish upbringing in multiple West Side synagogues helped guide me to leadership as an adult.  I served as a synagogue vice-president for four years and resigned in the first year of my presidency.  From youth group president to synagogue president, I believe I served reasonably well. 

It seems I was destined to not be rabbi or president.

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