Posts Tagged ‘Rego Park’

GOING HOME—MYTH AND REALITY

Carolyn and I went to New York last week to see Yosi and Hurray for the Riff Raff at Carnegie Hall’s sold-out Zankel Hall. New York is “home.” I grew up in Queens—Rego Park. But going home goes only so far. Time travel constitutes risky business.

On Friday, we took the subway to 63rd Drive and the Shalimar Diner, a location for the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street. My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts there. Accompanied by my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy, we had lunch with my sister Kay and brother-in-law Herb. My mother’s favorite waitress, Denise, still works there!

After, we walked to the apartment building where I grew up. Then we stopped in a supermarket for matzo meal to take back to San Francisco. Carolyn makes her matzo balls from scratch. At Ben’s Best deli on Queens Boulevard, we shared a potato knish. Last stop: the Rego Park Jewish Center where I was bar-mitzvahed in 1957, and Kay and Herb married in 1960.

Next day, Carolyn and I went to the West Village for lunch with Aaron and Jeremy, and their lovely friend Allison. Strolling back to our hotel, we stopped at 100 West 17th Street at 6th Avenue. My grandparents Sam and Kayla Perlstein lived there in 1914 when they and three of their children, including my father Morris, became American citizens. The site has been a parking lot for years. We’d been there before. No wistful expectations disappointed us.

I love visiting the old neighborhood and other familiar places. But they belong to the people who live there now. The only thing to which I can claim ownership is memories.

I reflected on that following Monday’s Iowa caucus. The top three Republican candidates—Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio—all appealed to voters who want to go home again. These folks, regardless of age, hold cherished memories of yesterday’s America—white, Christian and orderly—the last term meaning that people “knew their place.” Some of their memories ring true. Most are illusory. Think about slavery followed by segregation, hatred of Jews and other ethnic groups, the 60-hour workweek with no minimum wage, the lack of safety in factories and mines, old age without Social Security and Medicare, the Depression, the vicious McCarthy era in the 1950s and the painful waging of the struggle for civil rights.

Neither the candidates nor many caucus-goers understand that returning to the past is unwise and also impossible. Rego Park, for example, has changed dramatically for the simple reason that it’s a living neighborhood, not a museum. I can’t gripe. My grandparents helped change New York’s demographics when they arrived from Warsaw in 1906.

If we need inspiration to embrace change while still shaping it to America’s values, let’s look to the Middle East. Islamists seek to return to the 7th century—the time of the Prophet. In Israel, Palestinians long for the 12th century when Saladin defeated the Crusaders. The Jewish far right wants to retreat even further—3,000 years to the united monarchy of David and Solomon. History laughs.

The author Thomas Wolfe wrote the classic novel You Can’t Go Home Again. I suggest that we can—but only when we acknowledge that home can never be as it was.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

The blog will take a week off and return on February 19.

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STREET GAMES OF THE ‘50S

Unexpected memories pop up at odd times. Saturday afternoon, my mind drifted back to 1954 and the street games we played as kids in New York. While my apartment building in Rego Park fronted on 63rd Drive, the narrow side streets were only lightly trafficked. Disclosure: One, maybe two people were thrown off my building’s roof in mob-style murders some years after I left home. Second disclosure: The closing of Jack’s candy store affected me more.

In fall, we played touch football in the street. Winter brought sledding and snowball fights. Spring offered punchball and stickball with a pink Spaldeen or Penzy Pinky (Amazon sells high-bounce Pinky balls). They’re the size of a tennis ball but without the fuzz. We also played softball. A manhole cover served as home plate, parked cars as first and third bases, another manhole or a glove as second. As I remember, we never broke a windshield or even—maybe—dented metal.

We also played War. One kid was “It.” The rest each took the name of a country. We huddled together then scattered on the street as “It” counted to five. Everyone froze. “It” stated, “I declare war on…”—say, Russia. In the 1950s, the Cold War was a hot issue. “It” threw the ball at Russia, who could sway but not move his feet. If Russia got hit, he became “It.” If the ball sailed past, “It” stayed “It.” Risks were involved. Balls went down sewers.

We moved to the sidewalk to play Four-box Baseball and Box Ball. A small dirt patch allowed us to play Territory. We threw penknives to carve up smaller and smaller areas. Whoever couldn’t land his knife in the smallest territory lost.

We also went to the schoolyard at PS 174. Without parents! In addition to softball (as few as three kids on a side) and basketball, Johnny-on-the-Pony captivated us. One kid leaned up against the wall in a handball court. Another ran forward and jumped on his back. Then another and another until the “pony” collapsed. What was the point? Did we need one?

Then there was Moon’s Up. It involved Chinese Handball (you slapped the ball to the ground before it hit the wall). Each kid defended his space. If you couldn’t return the ball, you got a point and moved to the end of the line. When someone accumulated a given number of points—often because everyone else ganged up on him—we had a loser. The loser bent over at the wall with his backside up. Each winner got to throw the ball at him. What was the point? Did we need one?

We had indoor games for winter, like shoebox basketball played in a bedroom (which I kind of invented), but that’s another story. Urban life then placed a premium on imagination. Today’s kids, if they escape the pull of their video games, play ball in leagues with uniforms, schedules, adult coaches and cheering (sometimes fighting) parents. ESPN long has covered the Little League World Series. Ridiculous!

How did we turn out? My friends produced a New York State middle-school principal of the year, chemistry teacher/tech consultant, lawyer and neurosurgeon. There also was me. Four out of five ain’t bad.

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NEW YORK NOTES

Carolyn and I just spent five days in Manhattan. I’d like to share them with you.

In “The Scoop on San Francisco” (June 13), analyst Lynn Sedway stated that New York also is a hot real estate market. True that! We stayed at the Viceroy Hotel on West 57th Street. Across from us, a high-rise condo building for the super rich is being completed. It’s not the only such building on 57th either. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t walk anywhere in midtown without going through scaffolding as new buildings rise and older buildings undergo renovation.

Downtown, we walked the High Line, an elevated park running from 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues down to Gransvoort in the Meatpacking District. It’s way more crowded than a few years ago—a major tourist destination. The High Line offers a breath of fresh air and fabulous views of Manhattan streets, the Hudson River and New Jersey. Not surprisingly, developers are building condo and apartment projects alongside.

Before lunch, we rested overlooking 10th Avenue and 17th Street. In 1906, my father Morris came to America from Warsaw at age 2-1/2. When the Perlsteins became citizens in 1914, they lived four blocks to the east at 100 West 17th at 6th. (The site has been a parking lot for years.) August 25 marks the Perlstein citizenship centennial. For us and many tens of millions of others, the American dream has been real.

We held two small Finkle (my mother Blanche) family reunions starting on Saturday, August 2. First, we had a great lunch with our friend Teri at the Boathouse in Central Park. Then we met up with Israeli cousin Rachel Sela, her family and friends to hear Hurray for the Riff at SummerStage. The band provided a fabulous hour of Americana music rooted in blues, country and folk. Our son Yosi continues to amaze on fiddle, and we spent time with him the day before at… the Russian Tea Room. We also saw the family of Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s fabulous singer/songwriter. Side bar: Hurray for the Riff Raff opened for Dr. John and the Night Trippers, but Dr. John took ill and had to cancel. The Riff Raff couldn’t play any longer because they hurried off to the Johnstown Festival in Pennsylvania.

After the concert, we had dinner with Teri at the Bryant Park Café, one of our favorite places. Bryant Park, behind the Main Library, has been transformed into an activity-filled destination. Despite all the people enjoying themselves, it manages to be an oasis of peace.

On Sunday, we met Israeli cousin Lisa Bennett and her family, as well as my sister Kay and some of her family. We gathered for brunch at the Shalimar Diner on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (featured in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.) After, we walked three blocks to the apartment building Kay and I grew up in. Then back to Manhattan to see The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

More on theater: Our first night in offered When We Were Young and Unafraid with Cherry Jones. It’s a powerful play about abused women with an accomplished actress. We also saw Audra McDonald in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar. There’s a reason she won her unprecedented sixth Tony.

I love San Francisco. I also love reconnecting with my roots. Today, new generations from all over the world find a home and opportunity in New York. If I tear up whenever I see the Statue of Liberty—even on a stamp and even as I’m writing—you know why.

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I AM MY FATHER

There’s an old joke: When I graduated from high school, I thought my parents were ignorant and out of touch. When I graduated from college, I was amazed at how much they had learned.

I write this because Sunday is Father’s Day. My father, Morris, died on June 18, 1983 at eighty. It was a Saturday. We buried him the next day. It was Fathers Day. But after all these years, my father is very much alive. Because as it happens, I am him.

Not that we weren’t different people. My father grew up the son of immigrants. He himself arrived at Ellis Island as two-and-a-half year-old Moishe Chaim Perelstein (an “e” got dropped while he was still a teenager) in February 1906. He didn’t like to talk about his childhood in Manhattan, but he did respond to one of my questions: he thought his parents—Sam (Chaim Shliomah) and Kayleh—were greenhorns.

I grew up in Queens the son of middle-class Americans. My mother, Blanche, was born in New York. During my childhood in the ‘50s, the United States enjoyed incredible economic growth. While my father had to work after high school and needed eleven years of night classes to get a B.S. from NYU’s School of Commerce (’32), I went away to Alfred University, a small private school in Western New York State. My father contentedly wrote checks for each semester’s bill.

I always appreciated how my father built a good life for us. But unlike him, I didn’t smoke cigars. Or take after-dinner naps. Or think like someone who had lived through the Depression that working for Sears would provide valued lifetime security. (After the war, my father took a risk and moved out of the back office to sell springs to bedding and furniture manufacturers; he did extremely well thanks to uncommon integrity and a model work ethic.)

Moreover, the only places my parents ever traveled while I was a kid were to the Catskills and Florida. They added San Antonio, San Francisco and Las Vegas after Carolyn and I married but never left the country. Admittedly, I’m not adventurous. But post-college, I served three years in the Army, settled in Texas and drove with Carolyn across the country from San Antonio to California to New York in 17 days. After which we traversed Western Europe for three months. Moved back to San Antonio. And took vacations in Mexico. In 1974, we moved to San Francisco. I went to work for myself. Different generations. Different opportunities. Different lives.

But here’s the thing. Once Carolyn and I were in Rego Park on one of our many visits. At the time, Seth was our only child. My father and I went for a walk. Outside the apartment building, we started to cross 63rd Drive. A car approached. My father grasped my arm. In the past, I would have taken offense. Now I smiled and offered no resistance. I was a father, too. And at the deepest level, I appreciated that while I was no child, I was and always would be his child.

Tonight, closest to the secular date of my father’s death, I’ll say Kaddish in his memory. On the evening of June 26, coinciding with the date of his death on the Jewish calendar (7 Tammuz), I’ll light a yarzheit candle. And I’ll remember that in so many ways, he and I were very different—just the same.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.