The house is quiet. A few days ago I got sick of the t.v. and went back to reading with my ebook. I got caught up in an Agatha Christie story I hadn’t read before and how tricky it was. I really was trying to figure it out as I went along, and the clues, when you look back, were there – right before my face. But the old lady did it again. When Hercule (what an odd name for the Belgium detective) explained whodidit – not only was I genuinely surprised but could see that it made perfect sense.
I can’t say that about all her stories. But this one worked.
And as I type this, the window is open a bit, and you can see and feel that summer is gone. The air drifting in from the back alley, while it may not be fresh, is at least brisk. Fresh air in New York is an oxymoron.
The cat is curled up in an impossible position in his cat house (the bottom half of the old cat carrying case). I lined the bottom of the case with my bright yellow rain slicker because he loves the strange feel of it. Curled up, as I say – and deep in REM sleep. With cats that stands for Rapid Ear Movements.
What do they dream about? Sometimes he lets out a whimper during his sleep, and I am sure he’s having a nightmare. I suppose he’s had a good life here, though lately he seems bored. I can’t blame him. I don’t play with him as much as I used to when he was younger. On the other hand, he doesn’t get fooled by things like he did when he was younger. What he enjoys most is curling up on my lap to be petted.
We’re both getting older. Here I am, reading another book, and trying not to fall asleep. True, I was up at 5:30, but if I fall asleep in the morning, the day will be shot, and besides I’m expecting two deliveries and if I don’t jump up the second the buzzer rings, the UPS guy either runs away, happy that he got out of carrying a heavy box of mats up the stairs (he leaves them downstairs by the mailboxes where they can be stolen if anyone can lift them); or he just darts back to the truck even if all he had was a small package because he doesn’t feel like walking up two flights of stairs.
I’ve had my two cups of espresso, but instead of keeping me awake, they are having a soporific effect.
I sleep on a futon. Now I’ve left the computer and am on the futon, looking up at the ceiling fan which is also hypnotic. I remember when I got that fan, they asked if I wanted a light fixture for it. How stupid of me to say, no. What was I thinking. The apartment doesn’t have any overhead lighting. That was so long ago.
I can measure time on the upper east side by how old my neice is minus two years which makes it about 14 years. Damn, that is a long time. For sure that’s the longest time I ever spent in an apartment, even compared to growing up. What I mean by that was that the second apartment I lived in as a kid on University Avenue in the Bronx, we moved out of when I was thirteen. And my first year on this planet, I was in a small apartment with the parents on Bedford Park Avenue or Street or Blvd.
Even those of you who know me well, can you remember the place on 208th street we moved to when I was 13? Ah, what a deal my parents got. They had three kids (I being the oldest) and they rented out the bottom floor of a private brick home on 208th street. Now, there was one problem, as I say there were three of us kids. Me and my two youngers sisters. So my sisters shared a bunk bed in a bedroom. My parents of course had the main bedroom. And now there was a question as to where I would sleep and live since there simply were only the two bedrooms.
My parents figured that out. When you came into the house, if you made a right hand turn, there was a wide hallway, directly across from the bathroom door, which lead down to my sisters bedroom. Somehow, they managed to squeeze a bed into that hallway, and that’s where I slept and lived for my second year in junior high.
So you see — I have great experience dwelling in small enclosed spaces known as home. In fact (that is a phrase that shouldn’t be used since this is all supposed to be fact) – but in fact I am not comfortable in large private houses or for that matter — wide open spaces.
No. It’s not an accident that I’ve been here for as long as I have (complain as I do). As my grandmother used to say in her broken English: you make your bed, you get a good lay.
Now, if I could only force this meandering into some form, but it’s like unset jello. But you begin them – if you are from the school of automatic writing – and sometimes they go somewhere and sometimes not.
Where would I like it to go, if I had any control over it? I never was much good at plotting. I suppose if it would magically turn itself into a story. What is a story anyway? A start, some stuff in the middle and an end. I always wondered about that. Of course it’s not enough to have that. It needs to twist here and there every so often to keep your attention. And this thing does not want to twist. It wants to go back to that hallway I slept in.
As I say, across from the bathroom door. You know what that meant. There was only the one bathroom in the house and for a year, anyone who wanted to go to the bathroom had to pass through my elongated room. Think about what that does to a teenager, or to anyone for that matter. Even the cheapest hotels where there is a shared bathroom, have the bathroom at the end of a hallway – not in the middle of someone’s room.
I can remember people (otherwise known as the family) trying to sneak into the bathroom without disturbing me in the middle of the night. And unfortunately, there was no way to do that as the bathroom door, when open practically swiped against my bed.
Yes, the house on 208th street. People who don’t know the Bronx figure that 208th street is only in Manhattan. But it’s not. The street numbers on one side of the river run pretty high while they are still in the Bronx. But that house had other reprocutions. For example, that’s how I ended up at one of the worst junior highs in the Bronx. I don’t know if there are junior highs any longer – but we had them. And I think that any one of them would have been terrible for me because when I started junior high I was only five-foot one inches tall. I wonder sometimes – and maybe that’s the twist in the story, if my growth was stunted by having to sleep in that hallway.
Because, and this is fact, the following year, we moved to a much larger house on Putnam Place (also the Bronx) where I had my own room which used to be the master bedroom, with it’s own bathroom, and with space to spare, and two large windows. And that same summer we moved there, I grew a foot, to my present size (six foot one). That’s true. You can ask anyone in the family.
Everyone that hadn’t seen me in a while wanted to know what they had been feeding me so that I sprouted up like that; and now I wonder whether it wasn’t that they had just finally given me room to grow.
My Bedroom, 1636 University, Age 2-13 . This was my bedroom (photographed by me around 2003). I had gone back to visit my old haunts and found that the 1636 place (not the building I write about above) was going to be painted. My last memory from that place was being unable to sleep because my father had dismantled his library that day and the place was crawling with roaches. My bed was near that radiator during the summer, and I could easily open the window and talk with friends walking by on University Avenue (we were on the first floor). Except for the roaches, and what would later become the crack epidemic, that wasn’t a bad place to grow up.
They say (Wolfe does anyway) that you can’t go home again. Of course whoever says that just means that the place and the people (not to mention yourself) will have changed. But you can visit the places where you grew up again. Assuming they still exist. And my commonplace reaction to seeing the old place was that it was very tiny. I just didn’t remember the bedroom being so small. I could see now that it was the size of one bed-length.
I have some pictures of the two other spots where I grew up in the Bronx… if I can dig them up…