Explanatory note for all who don’t know New York: Duane Reade is a huge chain of everything stores that were named for two Manhattan cross streets. Duane Reade is always made fun of, but life was much more difficult before it.
I used to live on 63rd Street off Fifth Avenue; in a huge studio that had seen better days. I had been planning to move to the Upper West Side (UWS) where I fit in perfectly. My father found this apartment in The New York Times, and begged me to take it. I felt out of place until I realized most people on the side streets were more eccentric then me. Life was incredibly inconvenient then.
My first years were the heady ones of Ford to City: Drop Dead. Subway service was erratic, at best. For weeks there would be a 7:55 A. M. Double R train, and then it would no longer be in service. When I worked in downtown Brooklyn, and had to be at work, promptly at 8:30 A.M., my commute took almost an hour.
Con Ed and the phone company never took special circumstances into considerationâ€”such as walking around with the envelope for a month. A person paid her bill or didn’t. There were two ways to pay a bill by mail, or at a service center. It helped to be unemployed to do the later as the hours were 9-5, and the lines were long. I wasnâ€™t unemployed, but I was young and disorganized and many times would fear coming home to the dark without a phone.
There were no Duane Reade, and no Korean groceries. Back in the late 1970â€™s and early 1980’s I had my choice of an expensive Gristedes that stunk of roasted chicken, and the rip off store where they never got my phone orders right, but delivered what they thought I needed.
I was always standing on line. Lines were common at the pharmacy, and in those pre managed care days only certain pharmacies had lower cost prescriptions. Aspirin, Tampax and all the other necessities of life cost me more in 1985 than they I pay for them now. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to look for Liquid Plumber in a pharmacy. That belonged in WG Lemmon or Gracious Home, the two neighborhood hardware stores. I love movies, but they were a hassle. Standing, on long lines, in the ice cold or bitter heat, and praying for a good seat, was never my idea of fun.
I was always trying to modernize and improve my space. When I moved in it had a refrigerator that was one step up from an icebox. The kitchen floor hadnâ€™t been changed since 1950, nor did it look as if it had been cleaned too often. My electricity was always on the blink, and I lost the little light I had to the shadows of the (then) new ATT and IBM Buildings
The nearest laundry was at my nearest friends building. I wasn’t above taking a suitcase to my parent’s house on Long Island. No, my mom wouldn’t do it for me. I dreamed of owning a washer and dryer.
No matter how good the apartment cleaner was, it never seemed clean enough. I would paint, and then paint again. Still dust settled everywhere. I called it Trump White in honor of the person who was causing so much of the dust.
Whenever I bought something that had to be delivered from a store, I avoided giving my address until the end of the transaction. I had learned early that the price of linoleum, bought in Astoria, would be jacked up ten percent as soon as the sales person heard the names of the cross Avenues. The first time I saw a Home Depot I cried. It was inconvenient for city people, but Home Depot spelt equality to me.
I grew to hate all parades equally. It began with the St Patrickâ€™sâ€™ Day Parade. I lived a block from the grandstand. My block would always be cordoned off. Every old lady, in a lime green polyester pants suit, would be waved into the street by the police. My hair was usually one of forty shades of red. By birth Iâ€™m half Irish. I never wore orange, but I always wore black. I was your average American IRA terrorist, just waiting for the opportunity to bomb whoever the Cardinal was.
I would be asked for ID. My ID would never be good enough. Even a passport. I didn’t like being treated as an interloper on my own block, and would tell the police that. They would escort me to my building, to make sure, I really lived there. Once at my building things would go from bad to worse. Most of the people in my building had never learned to use the intercom and would buzz everyone in. Thatâ€™s when the police would smile and tell me that getting into my apartment was my problem.
During the worst years people would be in my building lobbyâ€”smoking anything, drinking beer, and peeing. Most of my neighbors were ineffectual characters who had learned years before that St. Patrick’s Day was an occasion to stay home and drink and drug themselves into even more of a coma than they were usually in.
When I brought up the idea of hiring a security guard for the day, they laughed. I lived on the lobby floor, they didn’t. My first-floor neighbors then were a crazy psychiatrist who later killed himself, and the first kept woman I had ever knowingly met.
One year a woman rang my door bell. Can we use your bathroom? We’re with the parade. Did I care? I looked out the hole and saw a woman with at least ten kids in full marching regalia. When I said sorry, the woman cursed me out.
I hated leaving my building during a parade. Every Sunday for about three months a year, I would walk out to my stoop which would be filled with people who really didn’t want to move for me. Then I would try to cross Fifth Avenue with my bike. Give up on the bike, bring it into the building, and then try to cross again. I would have to wait for at least three minutes as people in the parade took precedence over neighborhood residents. It sounds stupid, but I felt violated. This was my neighborhood, my house and I had fewer rights than people who didn’t live there. One year, at exactly noon, I woke up to hear Telly Salves sing God Bless America in Greek. I would have enjoyed that had I not been incredibly hung over and in need of much more sleep.
Don’t get me started on production shoots. It was my street, and some P.A. would stop me from entering my building. Usually I really had to go to the bathroom or was waiting for an important phone call Producers learned to never cross a woman who needs her bathroom.
I knew as soon as I saw my first Duane Reade that my life would be changed forever. Unfortunately, my Duane Reade was on 58th Street between Madison and Park. Leaving my quiet street for midtown was never one of my favorite things. The crowds grew larger and more obnoxious, every year, and each street seemed closer to midtown. Every man acted as if he had a direct link to Donald Trump; every woman acted as if she owned the street when it was obvious I did.
I learned the best time to go to Duane Reade was eight AM. Saturday morning as it wasn’t open 24/7 then. I couldn’t believe the things I bought before Duane Reade I would have to go to four stores to buy the necessities of life. And I would pay three times the amount.
Then Korean groceries opened. They were open 24/7. Madison and Lexington had been dead at night except for some restaurants. The brightly lit Korean groceries made the neighborhood feel safer. They sold fresh flowers, and other nice things. Life gradually became much easier in New York.
In many ways my ˜hood was extraordinarily convenient. I could walk almost anywhere in Manhattan within an hour. Nobody ever refused an invitation to my apartment. My womanâ€™s group would meet there every Saturday because it was equidistant to the Village, the Upper West Side and Queens. Biannually, I had huge parties. It was the perfect party apartment. Drinks in the kitchen, food in the large archway, and dancing in the big room.
The doormen at The Pierre would ask
me if I wanted to come in and make big money dating a resident. At the time I thought this was horrible. I never even asked how much money I would make, what type of resident I would date or what I would have to do. When they finally stopped asking me years later, I would spend hours at the mirror looking to see if I had suddenly gotten fat, and wrinkled.
My neighborhood was on a short downside when I moved. I was the first person to go to work in the morning and there would be people sleeping in the lobby. If I would wake them I would apologize and tell them to go back to sleep. One day I realized that they could have been crack addicts or just crazy and this could be dangerous. I would count the cheap ale bottles on my way to the Lexington Avenue Subway. I didnâ€™t leave because I was ready to leave.
I left because the new owners had succeeded in making it truly inconvenient. My new next-door neighbors presented themselves as models, but everyone thought they were cheap prostitutes. I thought that the doorbell rang too often for three women to actually have the time to begin and complete any act. Since then Iâ€™ve learned more about prostitution through films, ($10 hookers, Monsters Ball) and have come to realize they could have been prostitutes. Whatever they were this wasnâ€™t a healthy place for me to be living.
My hair cutter moved to 64th Street between Fifth and Madison less than a year after I left the neighborhood. I have watched my building become a showplace. I walk up the street and thinkâ€”I lived here, I really lived here for sixteen years.