Uncle Eddie: One of a Kind

Rachel's5024

A little more than a year ago I wrote here about my Aunt Stella.  Today we laid my Uncle Eddie to rest beside her.  This is where the intellectual and the emotional collide.  He hasn't been well or happy, but we weren't prepared to let him go.  We wanted more time.

He was a wonderful husband and father.  My Dad's twin brother, younger brother to Esther and older brother to Mitzi.  And for all of the family the one
thing we agreed on…We loved  him as he loved
us…unconditionally.  We were lucky enough to spend summers in the mountains, weekends at resorts and one unforgettable vacation in Florida with him.  There were parties and brunches and dinners and he kept us laughing always.  He was a people magnet and he made friends almost literally by saying hello.  He could draw cartoon characters free hand and delight all of the children for hours on end.  He entered the room smiling and dropped everything when someone needed him.

I could go on for pages, but I really want those of us who were lucky enough to know him to share the joy that was Eddie.

When he was sitting Shiva for Aunt Stella in 2007 my mother, father and I went to visit.  Losing her was very hard on him and he seemed a little lost.  They were together almost 60 years.  He said to us…

"She was always there for me.  When I had cancer, she was there.  When I closed my business she was there.  When I had my first stroke AND my second stroke she was there.  When I had pneumonia she was there.  I'm telling you…that woman was a jinx!"

The delivery was with an absolute straight face.  Deadpan.  We were howling!  Vintage Eddie.

I'm sure over time I'll have more to add, but until then…anyone else want to share?

A “New” New York City

Map_subway_2 I’ve lived in New York for a long time.  I’ve worked uptown, midtown and downtown and I explore the city endlessly.  The thing is, I’ve never embraced the subway.  I’ve taken the train several times.  Literally, several times since I moved here.  But I never viewed it as a viable option to getting around.  From the first day in my first apartment I was a taxi girl.

Virtually everyone says it’s the easiest, most efficient way to get around town.  Intellectually I knew this was true.  And it’s not, by the way, that I don’t know how the system works.  Nor am I unable to read a map.  It is simply this…the act of going underground and relinquishing all control, even for a short while, terrifies me.  When the train stops between stations I start to look like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News.  (Rent it.  You’ll see what I mean.)  But now I am, as they say, between engagements.  Budget cuts are in order and this seemed a good place to start.

I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  There is one subway station on my corner, and another two blocks away.  I mean…seriously…no excuses.  It went well for a day.  Then an empty cab happened along as I was walking to the subway, and I jumped in, and I paid a ridiculous amount of money (relatively speaking) to travel 25 blocks.  (To be specific, $15 plus tip vs. $2 for the subway.)  I had to stop the madness!

I remembered something my friend Jackie told me a while back…That if you want to change  behavior you have to practice the new behavior for 30 consecutive days.  Several false starts later and I am traveling by subway every day! 

The New York Subway system has quite literally redefined my relationship with Manhattan.  Last week I went to a breakfast meeting in Soho.  18 minutes door to door.  Yesterday I had a meeting in midtown.   Traffic was at a standstill but I got to my appointment stress-free.  And when I make plans with friends I ‘m far more inclined to travel beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood to meet.  My perspective is different, and my attitude is different, and I really am loving this change!

On Second Thought…

Shortly after I first moved to Manhattan I was having breakfast at a diner on the west side with a friend.  Small place.  Maybe 12 tables.  I noticed an elderly man eating by himself.  He was well dressed.  Sunday best, so to speak.  He had spread one napkin on the table to use as a placemat, tucked another into his collar and was eating his meal.  I was overwhelmed.  I thought it was so incredibly sad that this man was by himself.  That at this stage of his life he had nobody to spend Sunday with.  Recent events in my life sparked this memory, and I have a new appreciation for how fortunate this man was.  He was mobile, self-sufficient and perfectly happy to sit at the diner and read the Sunday paper.  Not all of us will age as gracefully.

Remembering Aunt Stella

Stella My Aunt Stella passed away earlier this week.  (This is a picture of Aunt Stella, Aunt Mitzi, me, Aunt Esther.)

Growing up we were a family that traveled like a nomadic tribe.  Sundays in Brighton Beach.  Summers at Schimmels bungalow colony.  Camp Merrimac visiting days.  Miami.  London.

There were many years when we made the annual family trip to the Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains.  We traveled en mass.  Descending on some unsuspecting hotel like a swarm.  Back then Saturday night was a glamorous affair.  Friday night was, so to speak, more "casual".  My earliest memory of my Aunt Stella was at one of those hotels.  I think it was the Raleigh.  Friday night she came down to dinner in this elegant cocktail dress.  If I remember correctly it had spaghetti straps and marabou feathers at the hem.  I’m not sure about the color.  Maybe pink.  Saturday night, being formal, called for a gown.  Same dress. Black.  Floor length.

The Urban Dictionary defines a "fashionista" as a positive, powerful woman with a natural flair for style.  Stella was, without a doubt, a "fashionista" before Carrie Bradshaw and The Devil Wears Prada.  I don’t remember jeans.  Or sneakers.  Nothing less than a full ensemble.  Not a moment when she wasn’t impeccably dressed.  Always with flair.  She definitely had presence.

She was, though, much more than that.

My Aunt was generous.  Her home was always open to family and friends.  Everyone was welcome.  Uncle Eddie and Aunt Stella moved from Elmont to Jericho when I was starting high school.  Susan had gone to college already, but Marci and I were in the same grade.  We had the same friends.  We had parties and we invaded their house on Sutton Place on a regular basis.  While I’m sure we were a handful, I never heard a complaint.

You know, the things we remember are often random.  And then there are those moments that teach you the meaning of a word like generosity.  One day my mother and I were visiting.  Aunt Stella was showing us a slide necklace that she had picked up at an antique fair.  A long gold chain with a round sliding charm…diamonds in a circle and an opal in the middle.  It was the most beautiful thing, and when I told her how much I liked it she gave it to me.  Just like that.  On the front steps of her house.  It took me a long time to collect enough slides to make it a bracelet, but when look at the finished project it’s still the one round charm with the diamonds and the opal that is my focal point.

My Aunt was unfailingly loyal.  All families have their differences.  For our family, sometimes those differences resulted in rifts that lasted years.  Sides are taken and disagreements can take on a life of their own over time.  Aunt Stella never got in the middle of it.  Truly…I never heard her speak a bad word about a member of the family.  She knew that time heals and that eventually whatever it was would be resolved.  She was unwavering in her loyalty to the family and tried always to bring people together.  It was often difficult to do, but she pulled it off.  I learned a lot from her and try hard to follow her example. 

Most of all she was fiercely devoted to her daughters, Marci and Susan, their husbands, Lenny and Joel, and her  four wonderful grandsons.  And to my Uncle Eddie.  Last winter he was in the hospital.  He was quite sick and my parents were flying down to visit.  Aunt Stella called my cell and said, "Listen…you get hold of them before they come to the hospital.  I’ve told Eddie that your father has to come down here on business.  I do NOT want him to think he’s so sick that they had to fly down."  Fiercely protective and as wild for him then as the day they got married.

Stella was a special aunt, sister, grandmother, mother, and wife.  The family wouldn’t have been the same without her.  She’ll be missed and remembered always.

1967 Redux

Last night I saw Hair.  No, you are not having a flashback.  September 23, 2007.  Hair.  Performed live in New York at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  First time since the original Broadway run closed on July 1, 1972 after 1,742 performances.  It’s been 40 years.  A bit of triva…

In the original cast…Melba Moore, Shelley Plimpton, Paul Jabara and Diane Keaton!

My mother took my sister, Barbara, and I to see Hair during the original run.  We were in our early teens at the time and had front row seats.  The fact that there was full frontal nudity had been widely publicized.  No surprises (although it did scare my sister a little).  But seeing the show again as an adult was a transformational experience.

On a personal note, my mother was apparently far more hip than I gave her credit for.  I’m not sure I would have taken kids to see it.  Not because of the nudity.  Because at a point in time when adults were trying desperately to "protect" their kids from the evils of war and recreational sex, this theatrical event was a rallying cry. 

From a cultural perspective, you would expect it to be nostalgic, and it was.  It brought me right back to the 60s.  I could almost smell the pot in the school parking lot.  It’s also relevant…No more war!  And philosophical…Check out the lyrics to "Air" and consider how we allowed the environment to deteriorate this far.

Welcome! sulphur dioxide
Hello! carbon monoxide
The air, the air
Is everywhere
Breath deep, while you sleep
Breath deep

Bless you, alcohol bloodstream
Save me, nicotine lung steam
Incense, incense
Is in the air
Breath deep, while you sleep
Breath deep
Cataclysmic ectoplasm

Fallout atomic orgasm
Vapor and fume
At the stone of my tomb
Breathing like a sullen perfume
Eating at the stone of my tomb
Welcome! sulphur dioxide
Hello! carbon monoxide

The air, the air
Is everywhere
Breath deep, while you sleep
Breath deep

It was mind bending.  I hope the Public Theater brings it back to play to a whole new generation.  Maybe they can learn from our mistakes.

Six Years Ago Today

Towerlights091106hor I’m sitting on my terrace with open views of Manhattan looking south.  No matter how many times I see the skyline the absence of the World Trade Center Towers is unreal.  Tonight, as every year since 2001, there are two beams of light rising up from Ground Zero to honor those lost and those who tried to help.

Six years ago today I work up at 5 AM and boarded a 7 AM flight for San Diego, via Salt Lake City, to attend a wireless conference.  At 9 AM I dialed in to a conference call from my seat on the plane.  The system said the call had ended.  Strange, but stuff happens.  Within minutes the announcement came that we were landing.  There was, we were told, an air traffic situation and all planes in the area were being asked to set down. 

"Stay on the plane."  "Get off the plane."  "Stay in the boarding area."  "We’ll make announcements soon."

I got a call through to home and was getting the blow by blow on what was really happening.  At the same time the gate personnel were making an announcement.  The girl next to me was on the phone sobbing.  Then she collapsed into the arms of a fellow passenger.  Confusion.  Madness.  We finally convinced them to open the bar.  It was 9 AM in Omaha. 

The bar was silent.  Not a sound.  Five hours of total strangers transfixed by television.   I sat at the bar between a young girl en route home to Phoenix and a Pentagon employee.   I can’t remember their faces.  All I can remember was what everyone else remembers.  The dust from the collapse of the first tower.  The second tower crumbling.  The smoke pouring out of the Pentagon building. 

Eventually I made my way to a Red Lion Inn.  At that point I think we all believed the planes would be flying within a day or so.  The magnitude of what had happened still hadn’t sunk in.  When I woke up Wednesday morning, desperate to go home, I was determined to make my way east one way or the other.  Nine hours alone in a rental car to Chicago talking to friends and co-workers stranded all across the country.  On the outskirts of the city I met up with my boss and two colleagues for the drive to New York.  I was never so happy to see people in my life.  I’d been holding it in since the day before and when I saw them my knees went weak.  Another 22 hours driving to New York.  These were the longest couple of  days of my life.  But they attacked my city and I needed to be with my people.  My neighbors.  In my city.  I felt like I needed to wrap my arms around all of the people who had been there and tell them we would be all right.  Different, but we would get through it together.

As long as I live I will never forget the moment we got a look at the city that had been forever changed.  Coming across the George Washington Bridge and seeing a plume of smoke where the towers stood was like being punched in the stomach.  At the same time home was the only place I wanted to be.

I think I speak for many when I say that New Yorkers still stand together in grief and solidarity six years later.  We are more fragile than before.  We are stronger than before.  We are united in our love for this city.  It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than some crackpot in a turban and the sheep-people who hang on his every word to beat us down!