New York Days — Snippets

Snippet I

A day in NYC, when I was young, perhaps 1950

The day was bright and sunny. At least I think it was. It certainly wasn’t raining. Briskly I set off across town with a little trepidation at my boldness doing its best to keep up with me. My destination was somewhere around 28th street and 8th avenue, the exact spot still in fate’s hand. First only trucks and cars and people, but soon more promising signs. Pails set on the sidewalk with branches of denuded pussy willows, unopened forsythias and bunches of blueberry leaves. Inside in long flat rooms, amid scatterings of crumpled papers and green snippets from flower stems, were boxes layered with flowers like carpets of pink and red and the bright sun of daffodils. Men stood at long flat tables, or stood in corners talking, or just stood looking out of the window that I was looking into. They smiled and said come on in and look around. The roses are all in the back. So, I went in and stood among bunches of heather, the hard red tongues of (I can’t remember their names now), red and purple anemones and drooping white freesias a little too suggestive in their heavy languor. But even they had no fragrance. As if the acts of business, of thinking of the blossoms in terms of dollars and pennies, had taken away the spirit.

It was ten o’clock in the morning and already the main business of the day was finished. They were very polite, these people who worked with spring all their lives. 22 years one of them had been in the business. He’s studied to be an automobile mechanic but there had been no call for his trade when he got out of school. 1932 that had been. And the tall straw-haired man who seemed busier than the others, who seemed to be a sort of supervisor – he was pointed out to me as being a college man. In the back someone was trying to find out if the short earth-colored Italian wanted the flowers in boxes or bundles, which seem to be rather difficult since he spoke no English and they knew no Italian. They told me of their work. It started at 5:30 and closed at two o’clock. Someone pinned a camellia on my coat. Come back when you want another one, they said. The phone rang, someone came in to buy a few more flowers, and I decided it was time for me to go to work.


Snippet II

1950s? New York days

A gentle day, which in its self-effacing grayness, drew back and let humanity open its eyes, so that which lay around it did not blind them with the brilliance
of a sun’s reflection nor a hard blue sky. But at 10 it began to snow, the day now
trying to narrow down the lives of those who moved within its sphere. One was
not sure at first if it was rain or snow. The world outside the window slowly
paled, becoming ever fainter. I stood for half an hour looking down on the
garden, at the white birches against the white snow, at the trees reaching up
open arms to receive their handfuls of snow, which clung to and enveloped every stretching finger. Footsteps crossed the open courtyard, detoured to one statue or another, looped around a free-standing figure, lasso like, overlapping where feet had stamped to shake off snow, and crossed themselves where the man had returned to the door from which he had come.

Later in the day we slushed along through what had turned into thick clinging stuff, wet and cold at our feet. Everything becomes immediate and close. Light seems pushed back to its source, people have to be aware of the present, not of tomorrow. Our steps led us up a flight of steps to a warm restaurant, curiously Victorian with its fringed lamps. The tablecloths were the Indian print cloth, covered with an even spaced pattern of dark blues and black with perhaps some red or yellow on the tan ground. The walls were painted with pictures, figures from an Indian miniature, fat elephant gods sitting on crossed human legs. The waitress seemed out of place – blonde, wearing a stiff white uniform.  But she moved quietly and always remained outside the barriers of conversation each table erected around itself. 

It was fitting preparation for the evening’s entertainment for we had tickets for Uday Shankar and his Hindu Ballet. It is February 1950 and this is New York.  

And then there was Central Park

I also made some notes of an afternoon in Central Park. Sat at a cafe in the zoo. It was now spring. A couple of tables away they were speaking German. Two men sat down at the table next to me and were speaking Italian. Some Indians in saris wandered through. Was lovely in the park. In front, the lake on which children were sailing their little boats. To my right a statue of Hans Christian Anderson reading from a book on his lap with the Ugly Duckling at his feet. It was made for children and they were climbing all over him, sitting on his neck and shoulders and lap and on the duckling. A seven-year-old girl was showing a playmate some clay ashtrays she had made at school. The playmate exclaimed,  “These are wonderful. When your father dies you can make his tombstone for nothing.” Practical, no?

5 thoughts on “New York Days — Snippets

  1. Erika You are a virtual Time Machine. Your vignettes are as fresh as the flowers you described at the market. How much of this writing is from journals and notes and how much is from memory? I know my memory is as they say not what it used to be. Disturbingly close to frightening. Words retreating to the shadows of my mind and making me wait for them to come and finish my sentence.

    I don’t know if it is that I am just too lazy to write down these vignettes in real time – which is the only way I could do it because I do not have the memory you seem to have people in conversations. Even two nights ago when we had one of my MFA friends over for dinner and the conversations went on for 3 1/2 hours – and yes there was some marijuana involved – but I would have a difficult time recalling the exact conversation. The same problem I had trying to write a memoir. And I do not have that youthful energy to immediately put down journaling after the conversations.

    It was a record 92 degrees here and we were preparing and setting up the dinner down on our deck one story below the kitchen in our three story townhouse—when Linda tripped and almost fell down the stairs. I was in the kitchen and there was that terrible thundering thumping sound of someone falling. Fortunately Linda grabbed the rail and let go of a lazy man’s load she had put in a bus tub to bring down to the patio. It didn’t matter that there was broken wine bottles and glass everywhere along with other parts of the dinner. For a moment I thought I had lost her as i raced to the stairway.

    That is the problem with the three story townhouse. And while I know my limitations better in terms of balance and not trusting my feet which are partly numb– Linda is cocky and stubborn. But we now have a pact that we will hold the handrail with one hand and all times. And of course that’s why the doctor keeps advising us to sell this place and find a flat house!

    I’ll tell you that sound of someone tumbling down a dozen steps is an awful one. And a reminder of how fragile our lives really are.

    Well this was to be a reply to your latest snippet post. I guess I added my own. Let me know about my questions of how much of this is memory how much of this is contemporaneous journal and I guess how much of this “reconstructed narrative nonfiction.” Just curious and in awe of your work.

    Thinking of you always

    James

    iPhone. Sent from my iPhone

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  2. A different place, a different era: in fact, such a different world! It’s good that you can conjure up these memories so clearly and set them before us, Erika. Keep ’em coming please!

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  3. Erika, These snippets are wonderful. I feel like I’m there in New York with you. What a gift to be able to remember these moments in time. And, to be able to write about them with such immediacy. Please keep sending them my way. Hugs to you, Linda

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  4. It’s amazing, when you really consider how young you were when you were writing these entries with such beautiful imagery.

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