Yeah well New York City is a party town. I am talking about large parties like the World’s Fair 1964-1965 but also FREEDOMLAND! A very democratic showing of every country in the world plus rides and food it was HUGE. I should look it up on Wikipedia but I will use only my memories instead, even if a 9 year old’s memories might be incorrect. BTW Davey took us again and he had never smelled cumin in the Mexican Pavillion and he thought it smelled like armpits; Back to Shirley.
She had a minimal driving ability and less of a knowledge of where she might be going in her blue Valiant. But Michael and I begged and begged for her to take us to FREEDOMLAND and finally she did. Now there are over 2000 bridges in NYC connecting the 5 boroughs, major and minor. If I am remembering correctly, FREEDOMLAND was in Queens. So we got in Shirley’s beater and headed for the massive event. But Shirley got all confused. Picture Michael and I in the back seat, seatbelts have not been invented yet, rolling back and forth and screaming because Shirley has taken he wrong major bridge and she is screaming and crying and I think we are in the Bronx and honey there is no such thing as gentrification, and the whole sides of buildings are gone and you can see every floor and every apartment and people shooting up and gun shots (Funny, Bronx used to be a nice place to live, and from what I hear, is again) and Shirley has no idea how to get out of there.
So we rode from bridge to bridge we got on anything that said Bridge Entrance and somehow, by some miracle ended up in Queens and at FREEDOMLAND. Now that I think about it, I think they used the leftover World’s Fair stuff to make FREEDOMLAND. Waste not, want not. So that is why we had to go again with Davey. We were not in the mood for this particular New York Party. After that particular ride.
It was somewhere between 1965-9 and Shirley was gunning for a good long shop in her gum wrapper trashed blue Valiant. I had cut school again. I cut the whole year, actually, but my sister, the teacher, fixed the …records so that I could graduate. Same story everyday: I overslept, missed the Greenline bus, Davey drove me to school commenting that I was wearing too much mascara. I went down to the nurse around 11, said I was sick. They called Shirley, she came to pick me up and I was out of there.
First stop would be Hymie, the vegetable patty man with a secret that he said he would take to the grave, but that will be another story. Picked up some Limburger cheese. The closest store was Korvette’s. I don’t know if they have them in New York anymore, but it was a great place for bargains. Now if there was one thing Shirley loved, it was a good bargain: lots of bargains if possible, so many bargains that there was no time to make dinner, so we had to order in from Ming Choy. Now Davey would be “working late” so to speak, so when he called, we had to lie and say Shirley made something like stuffed cabbage, something really complex, like she spent the whole day in the kitchen while I was in school. He already knew she wasn’t doing laundry.
Sometimes I knew that this shopping would go on for so long that I would sit in the car and eat the stinky cheese. So Shirley would go to every department, or as a stylist I worked with used to say: Is there anything you can live without? But the best place was dresses. She would buy armloads of them. Here comes the sneaky part. For every dress she bought she took a belt from another but the same dress. Her thinking was that what if you lost the belt, then you couldn’t wear the dress. And she never got caught for shoplifting. Between Davey stealing the silverware at the Waldorff and Shirley and her shoplifting, maybe they really were made for each other?
Three times a year Shirley and Dave would go out fancy. Davey was at work, but it would take Shirley all day to get ready. First a trip to the beauty parlor to get a hairdoo. Then makeup. Took at least 2 hours. Lipstick: Roma Rose. Then the getting into the archaic underwear. Can’t remember what they were called even but there weren’t no spanx or pantyhose, F…irst on top this black bra silk with bones that went down to a little below the waist with 10,000 hooks to close it down the back, 1 full hour, tedious business. Then the girdle with slimming panels and snaps to attach the hose,as in stockings not the new usage of the word,So you had 4 snaps and somehow you had to twist like the exorcist girl to see the snaps in the back to hook up the hose. 1 hour,not including the hairdoo we have now spent 4 hours on makeup and underwear. Now to get dressed and it’s all too tight 1 hour to find something that fits. Black beaded tight fitting cocktail dress. Then shoes which had all been stolen and worn out by my evil sister. 5 hours now. Jewel time. 15 golden bangles up the arm and diamonds. everywhere.Politically incorrect fur coat? Stole? Mink? Silver fox? Running out of time now. Davey rounding the street in his oldsmobile, walks in, puts on his Tux and looks like a million dollars. 15 minutes. Not Fair.
So it was the Depression (the other one) and Anna and Shirley remembered that Shirley had saved up $5 at the Williamsburg Savings Bank in Brooklyn, NY. So they set off and walked at least 10 miles to withdraw the $. For their treat they went to the Woolworth’s lunch counter and had tuna sandwiches and coffee for 50 cents and walked back home with the balance. As long as there were Woolworth lunch counters, I would always stop and have that same meal.
Shirley was a very talented painter and decorator, but our family was a little short on cash, what with Davey’s 3 families . So Shirley’s favorite thing was to trundle around in her blue dodge dart, covered in Wrigley’s spearmint gum wrappers from thrift to thrift. Some of the haul included a real ostrich feather and tortoise fan, just like the the one in the picture, which I took apart piece by piece. A necklace that was platinum, a necklace that was amethyst 34” long,old silver and glazed china gravy boats , 18th century desks and credenzas, Warterford crystal lamps. A hand painted glass Limoges end table that I drove my bike into and books. O.M.G. the books. The old ones with beautiful illustrations and flyleaf. The original Oz books, all of them ,The original Water babies. The Little Prince. But the book jackpot was the Salvation Army.We had to get our books from the Salvation Army because they took away our library card from the public library for non payment of late fees. There was the book called Katrinka, about a little peasant girl who gets lost in Russia. When taken to the police station and asked who her mother is, she says: My Mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, The most beautiful women in the town come to the station, but none of them were her mother. Finally, a very plain woman arrived and Katrinka said Mommy Mommy I love you it’s you come to find me. Need I say more?
P.S. That is not what the book was about, it was a book about a little girl growing up in Russia. The story of the beautiful mother is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. Sounded good tho, huh?
War and Peace edition $5.00 estatewestgrand.com
Shirley leaves the kitchen for around 5 minutes. When she returns, Davey is working intensely at his cutting board mincing things (probably of an unspeakable nature). She goes over to her soup pot and takes a taste with her wooden spoon (which is not to be confused with her Holy Spoon, used for getting peas out of water and prayers.
S: DAVEY THE SOUP CHANGED TO CHINESE SOUP! STAY OUT OF MY SOUP OR I WILL OVERPOUR TRIPLE SEC INTO YOUR FRUIT SALAD.
Set: A medium sized old fashioned kitchen in Rockaway, NY in the 1960’s. A huge white chambers stove on one side, a snack bar on the other. A fridge leads to an old fashioned pantry with a chinning bar from which hang two chinese ducks and a kosher salami. To the left is Davey’s cutting board and his razor sharp knives. And a big window. Open. To the rest of the neighborhood. Sunday morning. Any Sunday morning. Characters: Wendy age 16 daughter, Shirley she’ll never tell,mother, Dave, father, timeless.
W it’s 11am and there’s nothing to eat. OMG what is that head floating in the big pot on the stove?
D I’m making fish stock for my fish chowder later. What are you talking about. There’s a side of sturgeon on the cutting board, a roast chicken from Nathan’s cones of fat french fries,everything flatbread isn’t that enough?
W But I’m on a diet and Ma didn’t get the cottage cheese. And that fish head is gross, and I won’t eat any soup made from that.
D You want sour creme and scallions?
W No way.
S ( coming out from the back room, a maid’s room converted into Shirley’s Den,with multiple TVs because picture within picture has not been invented)
Wendy , I made chocolate pudding, you can have the skin on top before your sister wakes up.
W What part of diet do you not understand. And do you have any extra diet pills?Did you at least make diet jello? And where did you put the NY times magazine section. You have the whole paper in there. And turn off Fred Astaire while Daddy has Symphony on. And why is there fruit everywhere. I’m going back upstairs. Call me when there is something to eat.
S Davey, you have to send her away to college or I am going to lose my mind.
D She’s an introvert. I told you once I’ll tell you again, an introvert. (Wendy is, in the meantime, up in her room smoking cigarettes and putting the butts in a sucrets box, listening to Janice Ian, one of two albums she has, the other being Simon&Garfunkle Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme on her sister’s hand me down HiFi and doing a pen and ink drawing.In today’s language, totally Goth.)
End of Act 1. Act 2 to follow shortly now that Shirley and Dave are alone in the kitchen
Oil by Ruby Barnes, price upon request.
By now, if you look on facebook, you will see pictures that my son took of Shirley’s house over thirty years since she left. Believe me when I tell you that, when she moved in and for a second time after a diet pill induced decorating frenzy, it did not look like the house that my son saw on his holy pilgrimage. The big tree that you see in front was a sapling that had been planted when Grampa Eddie, Davey’s dad passed. More importantly, a hurricane, probably Donna, had blown the back porch off onto the garage, and Shirley and Dave left it there. Davey planted two apple trees that didn’t fit in the backyard, so there was no way for Anna to get to the neighbors’ grapes that belonged to them but grew over aforementioned garage. She would steal them when she could to make wine, but the wine soured every year. Remember, she was the worst cook ever born, except for Renee Lowitz who created things that were unrecognizable as food except that they were red, which usually meant paprika. When the first Alien movie came out, I thought of Renee’s main course.
As usual, I digress.
There was a sign on Shirley’s front door that said “Bell Out of Order Please Knock”. It had been there 20 years. There was another sign on the door that led to the basement that said “Broken Glass, Be Careful”. That sign had been there around 15 years. Under normal circumstances one would sweep, but that was impossible due to the impossible amount of “out back”, as they say, that Shirley had accumulated in the basement. The empty trunks, old washing machines and discarded clothing reached the ceiling all the way to the top of the stairs. Shirley said that if she cleaned it out the house would tilt. One day she did and they say the garbage stretched around the block to the boulevard and onward. But that is another story called “When Shirley Moved to Florida”, and we will not discuss the mobsters they moved next to now. Nice people though, may they rest in peace.
So there were pathways through the basement. One led to a room that Davey had added but Uncle Michael blew up with his chemistry set. And one led to the laundry room. The laundry room had originally been made for an oil furnace, and I remember a fire always burning like in Harry Potter until they switched to gas.Throughout these old houses were things called laundry chutes where you would open the door and throw in your laundry, and they would all land in a pile . You could of course throw your baby sister in as well…
The problem was that Shirley never, ever went down there. Maybe if Davey started yelling that he had no clean shorts. And you were not allowed to use Shirley’s washing machine. I must admit that when she did a load of laundry, which happened maybe twice a year, her laundry was exquisite. So the pile under the chute kept getting bigger and taller until the whole floor was covered and it reached the mouth of the chute. So no biggie, if you needed sox and underwear you went and bought some. If you had no clothes for school, you stole your sister’s because she was allowed to use the pick up dry cleaner Tommy, who dressed like a cowboy down to his silver spurs. Until Shirley couldn’t pay him anymore and he couldn’t give us our clothes back. Come to think of it, our clothing was being held hostage in a multitude of places. The purpose of this story is to point out that there are many ways to hold on to possessions, but this way is not recommended. So when you come to Estate, think of what you see as the things that escaped.
I was 13 years old but evil even at that age. There was a family, The Rahrs, who were the richest family in my neighborhood. The husband, a very squirelly short guy, had sold drugs on the black market during WWII and all the cash was in the safe in the basement. And that was the story of Kinray Drugs, now a Fortune 500 company. Gert Rahr, his wife, was a statuesque women who would say things like “never leave home without the proper undergarments”. I don’t know if she is still alive and wearing Spanx. There were two sons , Elliot and Stuart. We will come to Stuart (the pervert) later. Well, Aunt Sheryl had her eye on Elliot. I remember them doing the nasty in her room. I did everything I could to ruin the relationship: Hang bras all over the house if I knew he was coming over, polish his nails with red polish and then tell him there was no way to get it off, it was permanent. Shirley loved him because he had the key to the locked cage at Kinray where all the good drugs were, so she could get her diet pills. She never got thin. Anyway, Aunt Sheryl snagged him and there had to be a wedding. Davey said “You marry a truck driver, you get a truck driver’s wedding. You marry a rich guy, you get a rich guy wedding.” So, in her Priscilla of Boston gown, with 400 of her closest friends she was married at the Essex House in New York.
What I did not know was that Davey had remortgaged the house to pay for all this. Aunt Sheryl got a whole set of Ginori China, Waterford Crystal glassware and sterling silver flatware. She also made Davey buy her a fur coat, as befitted people of her new stature. Grama Anna and Granpa Joe made it down the aisle although Grampa Joe almost didn’t make to the end as he was dying of Diabetes and had already lost some toes. Imagine dying of diabetes in todays drug addled world. Shirley had been on diet pills for 6 months to lose 50# as Mother of the Bride, and was a raving maniac. She didn’t even bother to lose weight for my wedding. Davey, of course, was as calm as the Godfather. Michael, age 5, had no idea what was happening. And I got a cheap dress from Korvettes (like today’s Walmart) with an illusion top and a strapless bra. Problem was I had nothing to fill the bra with except for cotton which kept falling out, so I spent most of the night under the dais stuffing the cotton back in. So she was married and we kinda never saw her again. She was jetting off to Acapulco shopping at the expensive stores, and then horror. Elliot did not come home very often. He was running around with a band called “Jay and the Americans”, probably supplying them with drugs. I forgot to mention that Gert Rahr had ordered my sister to have a child to keep Elliot out of the army (Vietnam) which she took care of promptly, and that would be my adored nephew Marc. Then she found out that Elliot was bisexual, and then he gave her gonnorhea. (She lost a tube.) Then baby Marc ate pills left on the floor and had to be rushed to the ER. Divorce was necessary. In the meantime perverted brother Stuart bought both Elliot and Gert out of the company and left them with not a lot, but more than any of us have. Stuart was also sleeping with his daughters friends. Stuart was also a serious coke addict. So Davey had Herb, stepsister Frances’ husband, handle the divorce. He hated us and got her totally screwed in the settlement, so she lived off of Marc’s childcare. She went to Davey for money and he said, “Either move home or get a job”. In my opinion appropriate after the amount of $ spent on her. So she got a job teaching. Did I metion that she hates me because she went to city college and I went to a private university to study art. So anyway, the point of all this is that money can’t buy love or happiness. Although truthfully in my opinion, it does help.
There is a photo of Shirley at the age of 3 in one of those long bathing suits with a matching hat playing in the water. She is fat. She was a fat baby, a fat kid, a fat radio star and a fat bride. And another one with Anna (who, in this photo, is also fat) and Irwin in front of a Bungalow practically in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. The Bungalow is brown shingled and the size of a small modern studio apartment in NYC today. Now, Joe might have been taking the picture or maybe not, because in those days in between wars, the women took the kids to the ocean for the summer, and the menfolk went to work. There were no highways, so it took a day to travel from Brooklyn to get out to Rockaway. (Now, it is 15-20 minutes on the Belt Parkway.) Anyway, Joe went to work as I previously mentioned in the Empire State Building with the amazing pneumatic tubes that were glass and you could put in letters at the top and see them hurling down on every floor to the bottom. And there he sold ladies pajamas, which I believe as we always had pajamas even if we lacked an extravagant wardrobe.
Actually if today were then, in as much as women wear underwear in public, we would be considered very well dressed. Shirley once took me to the top and I was so terrified I was glued to the wall and wouldn’t look through the telescope.
Anyway, back to Rockaway Beach. So this was how the summers were spent until Irwin died and Shirley grew up. After Shirley married Dave the cool thing was to summer in the Catskill Mountains and dump the kids at sleep away camp.Somehow Shirley talked Davey into buying a house one block from the beach in Rockaway which is where I grew up. At first it was a great place to be. Anna and Joe would come out on the Greenline bus every Saturday with presents from FAO Schwartz. Anna would cry as she peeled the onions for dinner, Joe would let me play with all the change in his pockets but then take it back (quarters and nickels had value then). Then they all would have coffee on the porch weather permitting and actually talk-have conversation! TV, internet, not invented. Joe would take me on a walk after dinner (people walked in those days as a means of enjoyment, not exercise) to the sundry store on 129th street (which is where the DC 10 crashed 2 weeks after 911, and trashed my favorite pizza parlor. We were all hoping Aunt Gertie was in the knitting shop on that street when the plane hit). The sundry store was next to the Rexall, where Shirley would send me to pick up cigarettes and paragoric for toothaches which, by the way, was tincture of opium. I was 5. And that was about it for drugs except for aspirin. No big drug companies inventing million of pills. No government saying I could not pick up adult products for my mom.
There was a boardwalk and a Kiddyland where Shirley would take us on rides if she had some extra money, which involved going through coat pockets looking for loose change.We suspect there would have been more money had Davey not had at least two other families that we knew of. And then Robert Moses, a famous City Planner(?) had this really great idea: tear down all the shanty bungalows and build low income skyscrapers all along the beach. And to this day, I have never understood the benefit of exchanging one shantytown for another at the cost of millions of dollars. Causing the demise of Kiddyland.
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