Six Years Is Way Too Long — Part 7

Is he really coming?

Is he really coming? That would be the story of the century, and you would hear about it first on these pages. That’s what the message from Uber said. JESUS IS COMING!  He is coming to pick you up at 10AM Wed. morning to take you to the airport. Wow! When we arrived the week before, a regular, run-of-the-mill young woman picked us up at the airport. Now, Jesus, himself. What a step up!

Meanwhile, I still had some mundane business to take care of – assuming that coffee should be considered a mundane matter, a dubious proposition at best. I was up at the crack of dawn – not my favorite time of day – heading up to the Farmers Market in Lincoln Park, past the guy with the signs in his window. Would the folks with the Kenyan coffee be there as they had been on Shabbat, and would I be able to find them? There they were, right where they were ‘supposed’ to be. Now, this early in the morning, I had to make a decision. On offer were two different kinds of their original blends, one a medium roast and the other a medium-to-dark roast. There was only one sensible thing to do: buy one bag of each. I would bring one back with me to The Land, and give one to my brother, whom we would be seeing in a few days. I know he has a coffee grinder. (I should know, I bought the Baratza for him myself a year or so ago. Unlike the different model I got for me, his still works.) For being such a good customer, they handed me a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee, which I held in one hand, cradling the two one-pound bags in the other arm, retracing my steps past the signs in the window. I had to let Power Coffeeworks know: there is some caffeinated competition out there, after all.

We were ready to be Uber-ed to the airport, but something perplexing had occurred.  The message about Jesus had disappeared from Barbara’s phone. In its place there was another message: somebody else would be coming to pick us up. Was this fellow one of Jesus’s disciples? And what happened to Jesus himself? Was he walking on Lake Michigan? Out of curiosity, the next day, we checked for any local information about his no-show. Nothing. Some would consider this lacuna as evidence that you-know-who controls the media, but I’m not convinced. Just for the record: our actual Uber guy may have been in deep cover; he spent his time while driving explaining the need to do serious research about pricing and availability if one is planning a vacation. If there was a theological message hidden in his spiel, I failed to find it.

Did we ever live here?

There’s nothing special about the United terminal at O’Hare Airport – except for the dinosaur on display. We bided our time, got on the plane, and arrived at LaGuardia, the ‘other airport’ in Queens. (Jackson Heights, Queens, that’s where we lived when we were first married in 1979, back when there was still a remnant of a Jewish community in that area.) One nice touch: there’s a free shuttle bus from LaGuardia to the subway station at 74 St.-Roosevelt Ave, which would take us through our old neighborhood.

Was this our old neighborhood? I know for a fact that we lived there, even though it was a while ago. But do I recognize anything? In the last year or two that we lived on the corner of 74 St. and 37th Ave, the stores on the block between us and the trains had mostly been taken over by Sam & Raj. If you were looking for electronics, luggage, or saris, this was the place to be, otherwise, no. But when the bus left us off under the elevated #7 line, I had to wonder: What country are in? The signs, the shop windows were a mélange of different languages, different cultures. Did we ever live here – really?

Let me put it this way: if were in charge of introducing out-of-towners to the Big Apple, I would not plop them down under the El. The only option for the weary travelers is to find their way into a small room with all the charm of a holding cell at Riker’s Island so they can deal with cantankerous machines that dispense Metrocards – what you need if you want to board any of the NYC trains.

It’s a good thing we had hard cash – American style – in our pockets, as none of my credit cards seemed to work. One wrinkle I’ve never seen before was being asked what my zip code was. Do they want my Israeli postal code (98350) or the zip code in

Teaneck where the card first goes to now that we’re not in The States? Would I do better off using my Citibank debit card? Good thing we had American money. That always works. Barbara asked the man who seemed to be working there if we could get a subway map. Silly question! You want a map, take a picture with your phone of the big map on the wall. I, of course, new better. Thanks to friend Ezra, I had the MTA app installed on my phone. I knew exactly where we had to go.

Let’s get started. Take the dilapidated elevator down one flight, carry our luggage down another flight, get on the train and head into Manhattan, where we would connect to the Q line, a/k/a, the Second Ave. subway.

We often bemoan the amount of time it takes to get things done here in The Land, especially construction. It seemed to take forever for them to build the Navon train station in Jerusalem and lay the tracks for the train that gets us to Ben-Gurion; and let’s not even get started discussing the delays in the light rail projects in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But consider the Second Ave. subway in NYC. It was first planned in 1920; it was opened for business – at least the first stage, up to 96 St. – in 2017, with the final stage projected for completion in the 24th century. Was that ever a lifesaver.  We were heading to 86 St. between First and York Aves., and the thought of dragging our stuff from Lexington Ave……

Joan and I go back several centuries to a time when we both duly employed by the NYC Bureau of Child Welfare. The Manhattan office where we worked was several blocks below Canal St., and on our lunch hour, we would head up to the galleries that had sprung up throughout SOHO. She and Norman, her late first husband (or perhaps, her first late husband?), had bought a brownstone in Park Slope (Brooklyn, if you don’t know), before the area became a big deal and no one could afford to live there.

Years passed, Norman became sick and died, and Jerry, who would then become her late second husband (or her second late husband), came into her life. Whenever Barbara and I went back to The States, the four of us would get together, the last time being six years ago, by which time, Jerry had suffered his terrible accident and was wheelchair bound.

Last winter, several years after Jerry’s passing, Joan sold her brownstone and moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a hi-rise building on 86 St. When you come to New York, you’ll stay with me, Joan announced on the phone, brooking no opposition – as if there would be any. Especially since Frank and Abby were encamped in Massachusetts, this was an offer way too good to refuse. You have to know how and when to say yes.

It’s nice walking into a fancy building and telling the guy guarding the premises, apt. xxx, we’re expected, and he looks you up and down, checks his list, and, sure enough, you’re expected. Go right up.I imagine there are places so fancy that there will be someone to take your bags for you, but, mind you, I’m not complaining. Joan was still in the process of getting settled, so there were still things to do, but there was the best company and a place for us to camp out for the two days we would be in town. Joan was watching a newscast about the day’s doing from the House Committee investigating the events relating to Jan 6, and I sat down – just happy to get off my feet – and watched with her. It’s amazing how a TV network can take twenty minutes of information and turn it into a non-stop telecast, but that’s how the world turns.

Didn’t they just move?

Our plans for the next day included a trip to the I.C.P. (that’s the International Center for Photography). That’s on the Bowery, I opined. But it says on their website that they’re on Essex St. Nothing to do but scratch my head. They just moved to the Bowery a few years ago. What are they doing, wandering through the desert?

Here’s as good a place as any to explain how the three of us would get around the city. Even though her vision is good enough to watch a TV screen or enjoy a museum, Joan is considered legally blind – as in, not able to navigate the buses and subways on her own. What the City has to offer for folks like her is a network of subsidized taxis. She makes a phone call, identifies herself, and arranges for a cab to take her from x to y. Plus two guests. The cost per person is $2.75, which is what you’d shell out for a bus or subway ride. (As I said, it’s subsidized.) No better way to get around town.

I remarked casually to the young woman at the desk at the museum that I remembered when the ICP was in the mansion on Fifth Ave. – part of Museum Row – prior to its first move to 6th Ave. and 44 St. (which was before they moved to the Bowery, which was before…)  She looked at me in awe, as if I had some special knowledge of a past so distant that only a select few would now remember what had happened. She, of course, had not yet been born when I was standing in the original gallery, soaking up the good vibes at the openings for each of the two exhibitions my teacher, colleague, and friend, Lou Bernstein was having there. Should I tell this young person that I was given the opportunity to take classes with photographic legends like Phillipe Halsman and Roman Vishniac? Those were the days.

Speaking of elevators that are not fully functional, the passenger elevator was on the fritz. Now I can bound up and down a flight of stairs with the best of them, but the two ladies with me are not so nimble. A young man who worked at the museum had to escort us out the back way and around the corner so we could use the freight elevator.

And there we were, in an enormous space on the second  floor, chock-a-block with the work of one photographer, William Klein. I hadn’t been the one to make the suggestion to come down to Essex St., but this would probably be the only opportunity I would have to see his photographs. I had heard about his work for decades; was he just smoke and mirrors like a lot of over-hyped artists, or was there some substance to what he had done?

I have to admire his energy, his get-up-and-go-ness, his ability to relate to people, his ability to network and make a career for himself. His work? Original, out-of-the-box, very appropriate in scale for a large industrial space – which is what we were in. But did it grab me by the kishkes? Let’s just say that his journey is very different from the path that Lou Bernstein had encouraged his students to take. That’s OK too.  Different strokes, even if your personal choice doesn’t tickle my fancy.

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