My favorite 9/11 image. Because of its truth, and because I have known the artist since I was a child. He and my father epitomized New York, before, to me.
Funny because some people said I epitomized New York to them.
Sometimes I think how disappointed my father would have been in me for leaving. He had many theories; one of the weirdest being that for every mile you moved further from Manhattan you lost a certain amount of brain cells. Never did say how many.
He was born in an apartment without a bathroom on the Lower East Side, and grew up in East Harlem. Though he had two college scholarships–one math, one basketball–it was the depression and he had to work during the day for the family’s one rich relative.
My father was an accountant, never a CPA though he passed the exams on his first try. Married my mother and they lived in Sunnyside—where you could walk to Manhattan over the 59th Street Bridge.
Finally I was adopted and then my sister was born to them. Eventually we ended up on Long Island.
But my father’s heart belonged in Manhattan. When he gave family and friends tours they included Tea Dance on Christopher Street (it was a Gay thing), a ride through Harlem, and often brunch at Windows on The World after walking through the Woolworth Building–one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere. I’m condensing this tour dramatically.
How did he know Blechman? My father played poker, and somehow he met a ton of artists and writers. He loved working for himself and getting to know interesting people. Blechman introduced him to his neighbor in the country, Remi, who introduced him to her friend, Misha, a dancer who had defected from the Soviet Union. And so my father learned all about ballet.
Blechman did a series of commercials for MTV. If you watched MTV in the 1980’s, and really that was the only time to watch it–you saw my father who “played” a middle-aged businessman holding an MTV sign. Though he refused to believe me when I explained that MTV was a station that only played rock videos.
The New York Times called him a middle-aged businessman in their review. G-d did he love that review as he was around 70. I teased him mercilessly because he had brought me up not to take anything in The Times at face value. The Times distortion of news was one of his biggest peeves.
We would meet for dinner once a week or so. The last time I saw my father was at Bloomingdales. I was coming from work for Social Security in Queens. The subways weren’t working, and he waited three hours. He did. We were meeting at 40 Carats, and fortunately there was a Ralph Lauren dressed bed just outside it. He was sitting on it. It was the first time I thought he looked old. Five days later he had a massive stroke and five or six days after that he died.
That was ten years before 9/11. That day I would have been glad he was dead but my mother was still alive. She had moved from Nassau County to the Queens/Nassau border. A month after 9/11 she died suddenly and fiercely.
I didn’t feel the unity, the patriotism, the wonder that we were a country united in grief and sadness.
I would go into the bank (Chase) and always the customer service person who wore the most amount of American flags pins on her jacket would treat me the worst. People actually told me not to grieve my mother; as if grief is finite, and if I grieved for her I couldn’t grieve for the people who died in the attacks.
I understand, I do, how crazed people were then. It took leaving New York for me to be able to forgive those people.
So I hope my parents understand that I left New York in order to fully live.
The New York I miss was sorta affordable. It welcomed artists, actors, writers, quirky people. It wasn’t the New York of Mad Men years or times–that was my father’s New York, but the New York of punk, city singer/songwriters, much beauty in the well-defined different neighborhoods. A raw beauty, often, of unrenovated buildings, streets, and maybe even people.
New York is ever evolving. I wish I could have evolved with it.