I moved to 5 East 63rd Street in early January 1976. Here’s an article from The Times with a picture of my old building in it.
While I didn’t think I belonged in this neighborhood, I spent fifteen amazing years there. An escaped murderer Buddy Jacobson owned two buildings. The police thought that he might be hiding out there. I forget the exact numbers of his buildings but they were dismal and badly in need of repair,
A psychic moved into number three and actually had a neon sign for awhile. That building put up a canopy that reminded me of a middling French restaurant with pretensions.
Diana Ross had her corporate headquaters further down the block. It was then that I developed my life long aversion to her, except in Lady Sings the Blues She was such a bitch. Just expected people to bow to her practically. And in that neighborhood, you bow to nobody because everybody almost is a “somebody.” My birthday was almost ruined by her infamous Central Park concert that she insisted on giving despite massive thunderstorms and unrest among young Black people.
A new and short lived word was used to describe the aftermath of her concert: “Wilding,” when kids tried to overturn tables and stuff in restaurants in the park.
Diana’s friend, the Mayor–Koch–allowed her to put no parking signs on a part of the block, so that her limo could always have a place to park. New York Magazine exposed that.
The store on the corner was an art gallery. Two never changing twin sisters who dressed identically, and wore their hair in buns, ran it. Their “bouncer” was bald and a fashion statement long before it really was.
The zoo was closed for most of the years. In the beginning, it was an abomination. When it reopened it was different and wonderful and almost time for me to move on.
People judged me, and not always nicely, because I lived there. They assumed that I had to be living in splendor and off my father, even when they worked with me and saw me work twice as hard. A lot of people thought I should work twice as hard. To make up for having an elegant address.
I began to look at people differently. I went from being a recovering hippie to somebody who could fit in anywhere. I no longer looked at people who chafed at and made fun or people who lived above 14th street, the dividing line then for downtown, as being brilliant seers.
Many were prejudiced against perceived wealth, and people with money. Money, as we all know now, is a good thing. it took me a long time to get away from my preconceived notions. But I met people who challenged my world view. I challenged my own prejudices.
I am so happy that this article really comes out on the last day of the year, because my book really tells the story of my transformation. It happened here.
I understand how hard it is for people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s to understand that there was a big counter culture that despised anybody and anything that had. I was embarrassed to have assets as I was embarrassed to have parents who gave a damn and who I actually liked. I did spend more time with my father than most 20 and 30somethings then who didn’t have their own children, and was often made fun of by my friends.
These friends now refer to their children’s schools as “my school,” something I used to take endless pleasure in teasing them over. I stopped because it’s endearing, and reminds me of my parents who were just a generation or so ahead of their time.
I wish I had seen my Mom more but we did talk every day, usually Once a close friend of mine had a problem. My Mom was so psychic about my life she thought I was in trouble. I haven’t told that story in Courting nor will I, as I haven’t introduced the character and can’t make poor Lucia stand in for every woman friend I have or have had.
If I ever complain about being bored, I have no right to as when I lived at 5 East 63rd I doubt I was bored for more than a half hour.
In fifteen years my rent went up from $300-$500. But the new building owners did a lot to make me leave without having to buy out my rent stabilization rights, including renting the apartment next to mine to very non-selective hookers/drug dealers.
I remember the 80’s as incredible fun filled decade. It was also the decade two-thirds of my friends died in before turning 35. That was the horror of the 80’s, and our country allowed this horrible disease called to run unchecked for years. Really I had two separate 80’s. I was also abused and stalked by my boyfriend Zachary at the beginning of the decade. The silver lining to that was how my relationship with my parents became truly adult. They were my friends no matter how much my friends made fun of it.
We thought we were too cool for thou. We thought we were the most incredible wonderful people:
“Hi, my name’s Pia. Let me give you a list of questions. If you answer them correctly, maybe we can become friendly.” Yes, I think I really thought this.
The recession of 87 hit New York hard and for a longer time than the rest of the country. I would follow a trail of Old English Ale bottles, the cheapest of the cheap, to the subway on the way to work. I would wake up bag people who were sleeping in my building’s foyer and vestibule. As I left the building first and was the only real tenant on the first floor, I was the official waker, though I would tell them to go back to sleep.
I did work in The Bronx then. Crack was rampant throughout the city. One day it hit me. I was waking up people who could potentially kill me.
Yes, I miss the edge. But not the crack filled edge. I do become nostalgic for everything but that. AIDS–could happen anywhere, and has.
For some reason this article, about my old block feels like a wonderful present. Memories are coming flooding out. Not just of the hood but about my parents. While my father lived to make fun of The New York Times he always read it. I was thinking about the actress Patricia Heaton the other day, I guess because Peter Boyle died and I adored him. I don’t like her politics but sense that I would like her. Here’s an article about her on that subject.
Frank Rich eulogizes another Wendy Wasserstein in the magazine section. There’s a great video, especially the Andre Bishop part. I’m not famous. Never will be Wendy Wasserstein but there’s a universality to her that I so relate to. We’re women who want but won’t settle. Much has to do with being economically independent, though I’m no Wasserstein.
When you don’t have to marry to raise your economic standing or your status, and it becomes a choice is that always a great thing? I don’t know anymore. I used to think so, but there were also times I wanted an arranged marriage. To take the work out of making a decision. One of Wasserstein’s early plays Isn’t this romantic? perfectly captured what I felt in my early 30’s.
I saw it with my parents and my sister who all changed one of the characters names to “Zachary,” though he was much much worse.
She wrote about us, and the world that we came from, and was growing into real adulthood in. When she died I understood something I should have understood 20 years ago. Life is short. Make your dreams come true, or try as hard as you can.
One year she was going to be a teacher at the Maui Writer’s Conference and I seriously thought about going just so I could have parked myself into the chaise next to hers. I’m not the most forward person, but damn I liked her and wanted to know her. Now, I never can…
Betty Friedan died the same time, and it was difficult for me to relate as I never had to be a bored house wife. Though I’m not one tenth as accomplished as Wasserstein, hers was the death that got to me. Maybe we were part of the first true post-feminist generation, though feminism hit strongly during our late teens. I was boy crazy, and married young but didn’t take his name though that meant we had to bring our marriage license many places. I never thought of keeping my name as a feminist gesture but as a homage to me. I had exsisted prior to getting married. Felt like it would have taken away some of my identity. But I was adopted and had another name first though I didn’t that name until I was 30.
I never thought of men as an enemy. A species that I didn’t understand, but the enemy no. I found women to be as competitive or more. There’s a certain type of woman who likes to put obstacles in other women’s way, and play subtle psychological games. Men are usually less devious. Least in my experience. Though I have had some great women mentors, I have usually found men to be more encouraging. Unlike me they usually don’t over analyze, and have more empathy. This is just my experience though my women friends have usually had similar experiences.
I couldn’t think about Wendy Wasserstein too much after her death except to reaffirm my ambitions. It was just too sad. She should have lived to become an old lady like her mother, Lola. She was a wonderful role model. Wendy that it is though she does make her mother sound amazing. Not astereotypical Jewish mother in the sense most people think of one, except for the exuberance which might or might not be a typical trait. I don’t know. My mother was more like hers.
My Mom did tell me that she learned about how to have great girl friends from me, and my mother was honest. Life’s complicated. I guess that’s supposed to be part of the fun.
When Wasserstein died I read blog posts disparaging her looks. I like her face. It has personality, depth and warmth. I always thought that I developed a personality just to bring some character to my face. Kind of knew it would come
Have a wonderful wonderful New Year. I’m planning on enjoying it. For some reason the article on my block made me feel okay, special, or something. The article on Wasserstein and the video especially made me too aware of how quickly life passes.
So I’m planning on enjoying it.