Tag Archives: Manhattan

The Traveling Umbrella

My name is FiFi and I am a traveling umbrella.

I was born in a Totes factory 10 years ago. During that time I have traveled all over and have had many different owners, each with a different story.

When I came off the assembly line I was shipped to Macy’s with all the concomitant hopes of acquiring an upscale owner, preferably a liberal, since it was Manhattan. I figured this human would realize my quality and take good care of me. But since I was not the only umbrella on the shelf, it took many months for someone to notice me and to fall in love. It was such a sad and nerve wracking time for me and I thought it would never happen. Each time I saw someone perusing the isle I wanted to jump up and say, “Pick Me, Pick Me”, but I guess that was impossible. I probably would’ve caused a heart attack or stroke if I had done that.

But one day, when I had given up hope of ever getting a home, a fine young man named David recognized my intrinsic value and glow on my face and said, “That’s the one!” I was literally (at least in my mind) jumping for joy. But the joy was short lived because he didn’t really love me, no—he was gong to give me away. Not even one hour after rescuing me, I found myself practically smothered in giftwrap. With a heavy heart, I knew I would have a new owner. I could only hope and pray that she was responsible and would properly care for me. A few days later, I had a new owner named Camille, David’s girlfriend. She seemed very pleased at the time and in the beginning took me with her anytime there was rain or even a threat.  But one day, while riding the subway, she left me on the seat. I tried to call out to her, “Wait, wait, you forgot me,” but she couldn’t hear my silent scream. Suddenly, and without warning, I was alone again—on the subway, no less, with all kinds of undesirables and that dirt.

I sat there silently crying when another miracle happened—just the right person sat down and, seeing nobody claiming me, came to my aide. His name was Mark and he was an investment banker. Wow, I thought, I hit the jackpot. Yes I was broken up about losing Camille, but this guy was wealthy and I definitely could live with that. I had visions of a penthouse on Central Park West, with a doorman and a nicely furnished, well organized closet for my home. But, unfortunately this guy was a total slob, and I was carelessly thrown into a plastic tub at the bottom of the closet.  I felt hopeless, not knowing how I would get out of this predicament. Was there a foundation that dealt with abused umbrellas—I didn’t think so—and how would I even let anyone know. But luck shined on me again, when my captor decided to clean out his closet and donate junk to Goodwill. Now, although I was glad he was doing this, I was insulted that I was being categorized as junk. Nevertheless, it was a blessing because within a few days, Sara, who was planning on moving to Augusta, GA, paid $4.00 for me. Granted, that was ridiculous for a fine Totes umbrella like me to be sold for so little, I was happy that I seemed to have acquired a new home. In addition, I would be leaving Manhattan where I could easily be left on the Subway. No subway in Augusta.

Within a week I was in a nice warm climate, with my new owner. Her house was lovely and, for the first time in a while, I felt content. She usually kept me in her car for those sudden downpours. I was beginning to feel settled and, dare I say, relaxed, when she visited her favorite coffee spot, Starbucks. It happened to be raining that day and for some reason I felt uneasy. I knew it was predicted as intermittent showers so there was the risk of forgetting me if it became sunny. My fear came to fruition when one day, she left me on the seat. I was bereft and felt my life was over. Someone put me in the newspaper rack where I sat, feeling abandoned and alone, for weeks. I began to see a woman every day and I telepathically pleaded with her to please adopt me. So one day, Marilyn who had gotten my message, realized that nobody was going to claim me, and being the brash New Yorker that she is, took me home. That was three years ago, and we have been through so much. She is not perfect, but she loves me. She keeps me in her car and takes me into the gym periodically. The problem with her is that she has “lost” me so many times I cannot count, but somehow always finds me. It seems that we are meant for each other and maybe, just maybe, I have finally found my forever home.

Moon Tales

We were a real family that night—just like any other.

It was four days before my birthday, July 20, 1969, and my most wonderful memory of that famous day was that my crazy, dysfunctional family, came together as one.

We were a family in name and proximity only—four people who just happened to be living in the same apartment, never spinning in the same orbit.  It is something I never really noticed before until my first husband brought it to my attention once.  As an outside observer, he said, “You just live in the same space—like you were just thrown together—and you all don’t even seem related.” That was us—each one going our own separate way.  It seemed perfectly normal for everyone to eat at different times. Nobody waited for anyone else because we were on totally different schedules. My dad worked two jobs and had to eat early to go to his nighttime job at the post office. I would always try to avoid him when he came home about 5 pm. If it were the summer, I would deliberately stay outside until he left. On school days when I was home, a distinct feeling of dread would engulf me when I heard the key in the door and I would think, “Oh, he’s home” and would have to endure an hour of criticism about everything under the sun—nothing was off limits. When he left, I breathed a sigh of relief.  My mom, who worked full time as a legal secretary, would always come home later than anyone so she would leave little notes on the small kitchen counter telling us what was in the frig that we were supposed to heat up for dinner. It was always something different for each of us but we would know who the instructions were addressed to by the title: M (for Marilyn), S (for Sam—my dad), and G (for Gordon—my brother). Those monikers stuck because I still call my brother G and he still calls me M.

I guess I didn’t know any better because my best friend, Janet, had a very strange, dysfunctional family too. In fact there were many parallels. I think living in a large apartment complex in Manhattan did not foster closeness in families. So, I simply thought it was normal to have everyone doing their own thing.

But when I look back on that magical late afternoon on Sunday, I can still feel the excitement. The anticipation was palpable and all our petty differences, and our apartness, were forgotten. I remember not even believing that a man was actually going to walk on the moon and that we would be seeing this on TV—it seemed more like a dream than reality. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this bright mythical sphere in the sky would become real and tangible. That afternoon we gathered together in our living room in front of our black and white TV—a family, an honest to goodness family—sharing a moment in history—awestruck. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at that day and I am still in awe. After many visits to the moon, it became almost commonplace, but in 1969, for that one moment in time, we, and the entire world were united and I had a real family.

Misfit

I am a misfit. I do not fit into any particular group, nor do I even try anymore. I have never been a “click” person, preferring to be a loner, unless someone wants to engage me on a one-on-one basis. I really don’t like people all that much, although there are exceptions.

Growing up in Manhattan, I went to Stuyvesant Day Camp, out in Staten Island. Each day I would leave my house, stand on the corner of 14th Street and Avenue A with my canteen and lunch and wait for the bus to pick me up. Since all the counselors were liberal hippy types we’d sing Negro Spirituals all the way there.

I was always the person who somehow attracted the outcast, or oddball (you know that person that everyone basically rolls their eyes at, or ridicules behind their back). Although I was never the object of derision, the groups I was associated with engaged in it. All through my life, starting in day camp, I was somehow a person who the misfits looked to. I never understood why and whenever the poor person who was bullied by the popular kids, befriended me, I wanted to say to them, “Why me? Please leave me alone.” I believe that, although I didn’t speak up, I never took part in the actual bullying and what they saw was a person who was different from the others in the group—someone with a certain amount of, not only compassion but empathy. I believe I didn’t just feel sorry for them, I identified with them because I also felt like an outcast. I truly understood their plight, not because I was the nerd, but I was an outcast masquerading as “normal.” I just wanted to fit in. As children, any kid who is not white bread, any kid who is different, is in for a heartbreaking childhood.

When I was about 11 and in day camp, there was a girl named Lorelei who was the object of cruel jokes, mostly because she was different—a very free spirit—and did not wear undies. That was noted when we changed into our clothes after swimming and she was relentlessly teased by the other girls. Sadly one of the mothers even wrote a song about her that became a chant every day. Since I did not sing the song nor did I take part in the jokes, she gravitated to me. One day she asked me over to her house for a sleepover, which was mortifying to me. I didn’t want anyone to know lest I become the object of the popular girls’ wrath. I put her off for as long as I could and asked my mom who said, “Just go over there. It will be nice.” I was hoping she would tell me not to go, but she didn’t so I bit the bullet and said I would go. She was SO happy that she had a “friend” but I wanted to keep it a secret. The day came for my sleepover and I reluctantly went over with my mom. I discovered that Lorelei was very wealthy and lived in a gorgeous townhome in Manhattan. Her dad, an older gentleman with gray hair, was a widow so she had no mother to pattern her behavior after. He also walked with leg braces and was very debilitated, but very nice. I think he was over the moon that his daughter actually had a friend over for a sleepover. I was determined not to have a good time and kept wanting to call my mom to pick me up, but I figured I’d stick it out. But something interesting happened that evening—I began to actually enjoy myself. Lorelei was actually a fun person and I have a good memory of playing with her parakeet, putting him under the cover and watching him burrow himself out. In spite of myself, and against all odds, I gave in and laughed and enjoyed the night. I remember thinking, “Ok, I’ll go over and get it over with. Then I will make an excuse and never come back.” So, although I had a good time, I still figured this was a one-time thing. Then, the inevitable question was asked, “Can you come over again next week?” I wanted to say NO, but I just couldn’t hurt her feelings so I agreed. Again, the next time I went over, I had a fun time. But, somehow the popular girls got wind of my fraternizing with the enemy and their rebuke was swift. My friend Denise said, “You know if you continue to be friends with her, you will not have any more friends.” At that point I decided not to listen to her and basically ignored her warning. I don’t know what would’ve happened in the future, but I never had to make that decision. The problem was solved because one day Lorelei stopped coming to the day camp, and I literally never knew what became of her. But that taught me a lesson that you shouldn’t be so quick to try to fit in. As the years have gone by, and as I have gotten older, I don’t care anymore about fitting in or being popular. I am who I am, and I am not a social butterfly—I often have to force myself to be in groups and interact. Do I care?—sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t.

The Mahjong Girls

Growing up in Stuyvesant Town—a large apartment complex on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—was more like Peyton Place than you would think. It seemed that everyone knew each other. The complex stretched from 14th Street to 21st Street and consisted of a multitude of 13 story buildings. Stuyvesant Town was built in 1948, and was geared for returning vets and their growing families. My parents and other young families moved in, creating a common bond—something you don’t find today. There was a sense of camaraderie and belonging among the new residents who were often either Jewish or Catholic that is absent today. My mom and a few of the Jewish ladies formed a ladies group that met once a week at each other’s apartment, to play Mahjong (a Chinese tile game) and they became known to us as The Mahjong Girls. When it was my mom’s turn to host, we were always in a frenzy—frantically vacuuming and dusting, putting out hors d’oeuvres, nuts, chocolate, drinks, etc. When the first doorbell rang, my older brother and I were exiled to the bedrooms. Since I did not have a room of my own, the evening was particularly magical because I got to watch TV in my parents’ bedroom and eat the goodies my mom would bring into me during a break. Mahjong seemed to be the exclusive domain of Jewish ladies and I don’t think the Christians played it. Now, each Mahjong girl had a distinct personality—and where we didn’t know much more about them, my brother and I invented personalities. There was Ethyl, Anita, my mom, Shirley and Sarah. Anita was chubby, and had a gravely voice, so my brother and I imagined her as someone obsessed with cookies and imitated her voice asking, “Do you have any cookies?” She had two sons, Jay and Steven, who my brother (Gordon) and I played with. Their son Steven was odd, and nobody could really put their finger on what was wrong with him. But, years later Gordon and I came to the conclusion that he was probably autistic. My brother and I could sometimes be pretty cruel, not directly, but looking back I see that our funny games were born of jealousy. On the surface, Anita seemed to have a charmed life, but one day, we found out that her husband, Sydney, was “visiting” somewhere for an extended period of time. Since Stuy Town was somewhat Peyton Place like, we found out through the grapevine that he was actually in jail for perjury. So, from then on, my bro and I referred to him as “the criminal” in our conversations (again, just between us). Unfortunately, their son Steven inexplicably was found dead one day—a real tragedy. Now Shirley, who also lived in our building, was a very stylish and refined beauty whose husband, Bill, was a commercial artist. Their apartment was impeccably decorated and she was the height of fashion. She had blond tresses that she wore in a tasteful upswept hairdo, which never looked out of place. However, Gordon and I had a theory that her hair was not real, and was, in fact a wig—that underneath her golden faux locks, she actually had “black, kinky, greasy hair.”

My family’s circle of friends went beyond our building too. And, just like Peyton Place, gossip abounded in Stuyvesant Town. Since we considered our family so imperfect (and it was, but probably not much more than some other families), we hated seeing seemingly perfect families. One such family was headed by the matriarch, Marion. She was a pillar of the community, always traveling on vacation, head of this or that committee, beautiful apartment, and seemed to live a “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver” existence. But, one day, we heard through the gossip mill, that Marion and her husband were getting divorced. I remember sniggering with my brother about that, and being not so secretly thrilled that the perfect Marion was, indeed, human like the rest of us.

It’s so strange that although my memories of growing up in Stuy Town, with my very dysfunctional family, are not particularly great, I still have dreams every so often. I dream that I am somehow still living at 455 East 14th Street, in apartment MG, but I am my age now. Sometimes my parents are there too (the age they used to be) yet it seems perfectly natural. These dreams are never happy ones, but somehow I have them periodically—although less and less as I get older. My brother and friend Janet (who lived across from me) have these types of dreams too, which is so curious, since our childhoods were less than idealistic. But somehow, although there were many painful memories, there were actually some good ones too and, in spite of myself, I find reasons to laugh and reminisce about them. I guess these dreams somehow represent a time of innocence, although imperfect, innocence nevertheless.