165 W 66th Street, New York, New York
My mom lived in New York when I was a kid. I would visit her on winter breaks and in summers. Technically I didn’t live here, my mom did, but it felt more like home to me than my actual house, the house I grew up in.
The apartment was on the second floor. It had started out as one apartment but when the tenants in the studio moved out next door, she bought that apartment too. She knocked the wall down between them, gained a bathroom and a kitchen. She sold her original kitchen, bordering on the other side of the apartment, to her other neighbor so he could make a bedroom for his daughter, who was too old to share with her brother anymore. The daughter and her brother were my summer/winter break friends, as was the super’s daughter who lived down the hall.
We played barbie’s. The brother, who was a few years older than us, thought we should play hooker barbie, since we had the dream house and everything. So we turned Italian barbie into a pimp (her legs had fallen off too many times to make her a prostitute). I suppose the right term would have been madame, but he was only 12, so he probably go to that later. We would have the pretend phone ring, and Lucia the Italian pimp would answer it by saying “hooker agency,” and the brother freaked out and grabbed the phone and said: “No! You can’t say hooker agency, what if it’s the cops!” I had a crush on him, naturally, so did my friend from down the hall, but his sister thought he was gross.
I don’t think I knew what a hooker was, I think I knew it had something to do with sex, was lascivious in some way, but I didn’t know what that meant, either.
The apartment was above a Tower Records, and across from Lincoln Center, and next to the Chinese Embassy. We were right near the Park, and we rode the Sea Beach Line out to see my Nonna, great aunts, and cousins in Bensonhurst.
My Nonna, who was really my great gram, would tell me I was too thin and stuff me full of sausage and spaghetti and broccoli rabe. There was a ping-pong table downstairs where my cousins would play. I was the oldest, and they spent way more time here. It was their grandparent’s house, the house their mothers grew up in. I felt like an interloper, I felt like I didn’t belong. To be fair, five people can’t play ping-pong at once, fivesies isn’t a game. One time the second oldest and I found my great uncle’s Playboys in his sunny sitting room. It felt like we were on the same team then, the two oldest hiding it from the younger kids, and totally mesmerized by it. The expressions on our faces, unable to look at each other, the expressions on the women’s faces, what could make them look like that? They looked desperate, yet confident, and I didn’t know why. My Nonna caught us in there and shooed us out. We still didn’t figure out how to play fivesies after that, but I was able to get in a set of doubles or two.
I loved the subway trip, especially when the train ran above ground, but I especially loved coming back to the city, to my mom’s big, open apartment. I wonder how different things would have been if I’d lived with her full time. Being a parent now, I know the day to day is a far different matter from being a part time parent. The thing is she let me wear fluorescent socks, two different colors on each foot, and they didn’t even have to match. Sometimes we ate dessert first and called it backwards dinner. We ate “white food” when we were sad, which basically meant farina, or macaroni with butter and cheese. These were the essential foods at my moms. We held hands walking down the sidewalk. She made me feel good about myself. It was like she really valued spending time with me.
Even now I feel a familiar and sharp tug in my chest remembering how much I wanted to be with her. Why does it still hurt like that?
We wandered around the city, which to me was the only city in the world. In summers we’d nearly melt on the sidewalk, so we’d pop into shops to cool off. If I could bottle the smell of air conditioner spilling out of open shop doors in the heat of a New York City summer, I would do it. Favorite places were The Last Wind-Up, a store devoted to wind-up toys, the Doll Hospital, a second floor walk- up on 14th Street (maybe), that could fix any sick doll, and Utopia Diner on Columbus where I’d order breakfast no matter the time of day.
Eventually I felt like Thomas Moore and I were in on the same joke, and I still have an unnatural attachment to that book.
I had my own room but I liked best to sleep in my mom’s bed.
Whenever I had to leave and go home I would cry like crazy and be inconsolable for days. I learned to keep a tight lid on it, and got to the point where I didn’t cry quite so much, but I always felt like there was a steel door between the me who I could be at my mom’s house, in New York City, and the me who I was in Massachusetts, where I lived the rest of the year.
My mom sold the apartment I guess in ’87 or so, I remember thinking “nooooooooo!” And that I wanted to live in New York for the rest of my life.
I couldn’t get my hands on photos from this period, but if/when I do, I’ll post them in a follow-up. These photos are from when I was 15 (below) and 16 (above) at the house way out on the Sea Beach Line.
|This was me in the backyard at the picnic table when I was 15. This was an old sweater of my mom’s. I still have it.|