Sleepless on the Upper East Side
Back by popular demand, another piece from the cutting room floor: Sleepless on the Upper East Side . This had been the opening of the original 144,000 word manuscript, a part that did not make the final cut.
I wake in a sweat, squint at the clock. Six o’clock. Too early to get up, too early to hear the noises coming from the radiator. But the superintendent’s at it again, sending up too much heat—trying to show he’s on the job, up to the job.
My eyelashes rake the morning light—the bedroom yawns, the edges of the blackout shades brighten by degrees. From the street comes the thrum of city life, the ebb and flow as thousands slouch toward midtown. Time to get up, time to get a wiggle on. But what’s the hurry? I know the view from the window by heart—that finely woven tapestry of sharp-edged buildings, water towers standing like sentinels on the rooftops, and one magisterial wedge of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a canvas full of aloneness and suspense—downright moody on a rainy day.
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Something’s not right, something I can’t put a finger on—a feeling I’ve forgotten what I had wanted to remember. Of course, it could be nothing more than a hangover from the Benadryl I took last night for a sinus condition that kicks in around November, hangs on until spring. No, wait a second! It’s that dream, the one where my mother needed my help. That sort of thing, the dead contacting the living, may have happened thousands of years ago on Mount Olympus, but surely not in 21st century New York.
Sheesh! Sleep’s not happening. On the floor next to the bed lies an article I had been reading last night about long-standing memories. Researchers say that those memories that hang around for a lifetime are the work of the unconscious mind and are related to unresolved emotional issues and dysfunctional family dramas that may have played themselves out at a time when we, as children, lacked the mental and psychological constructs to understand their significance. The good news is that such memories are thought to contain the seeds of renewal and self-affirmation. Neuroscientists are peeling away the layers of the brain as easily as an Iron Chef peels a Spanish onion. And the research is chili pepper hot.
Another Ryer Avenue Story
Who knows? It might be worth my while to go up to the Bronx, see for myself the seedbed of my youth. But where is Ryer Avenue? Hopefully not in the notorious South Bronx—aka Fort Apache—an area riddled with rival gangs, the alleys awash in soggy cartons and plastic bags, with coils of razor wire topping cyclone fencing. Of course, that was back in the 70s so the neighborhood may have gentrified by now. I might find a Starbucks on every other block. Sidewalks clogged with Bug-a-Boo strollers. Fresh Direct delivering grass-fed beef and free-range free chickens to the neighbors.
Best of all would be if realtors had given the neighborhood a catchy acronym. Something along the lines of SOHO, NOHO and DUMBO. How about SOBRO?
The Forty- Sixth
Calling a police precinct on Ryer Avenue, a ragged voice coming off the night shift says: Forty-Sixth. You could scrape the tar off each syllable.
Good morning, Officer, could you tell me what’s the name of your neighborhood?
Waddaya’ mean? Listening to her, I find cigarette smoke snaking through the earpiece.
Officer, is the Forty-Sixth Precinct in the South Bronx?
Hold on, will ya?
Pen and pad at the ready, I drum my fingers on the counter-top, hum ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ But what's really on my mind is what therapists call ‘the mother-daughter connection’. Many women writers—Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sue Monk Kidd, to name a few—maintain there can be no satisfactory female journey in this lifetime without a mother to model the possibilities of being female. If so, where does that leave me?
A Clue in the Chrysanthemums
After my father’s death, I came by a few grainy photographs of a young Veronica, she with the heavy-lidded Bette Davis eyes. Poring over the photos, I searched for clues she may have left lying in clear sight. In the photo to the right, we see her as the maid-of-honor in a wedding party, the gentleman unknown. Judging by the chrysanthemums, it must have been an autumn wedding. And isn't this photo proof positive that Veronica had been a good friend of the bride?
With little more to go on other than a feverish imagination, a curious thing happened: the more I studied the photographs, the more ashamed I felt for having neglected her memory all these years.
Where in heaven's name is that desk officer?
Reaching for a bottle of nail polish to touch up my manicure, I jump out of my skin when the police officer—sighing, probably ticked at letting herself get roped into such an idiotic errand—says: Ma’am?
At which a bottle of 'Nearly Nude' skitters off the counter-top onto the floor, creating a not-so-nude puddle. Grabbing a sheet of Bounty, I manage to say: Yes, Officer?
They say it’s more Fordham than Tremont.
That’s it? More Fordham than Tremont?
Channeling My Nancy Drew
Masking my disappointment, I thank her, thinking that a neighborhood without a name is no neighborhood at all. Could be she’s reluctant to utter those two unnerving syllables: South Bronx, a name synonymous with inner-city collapse. So be it. I’m going to check out Ryer Avenue. This brain is one brazen hussy.
To be continued....
PS. The brother of a high school friend was once a detective assigned to the 46th Precinct on Ryer Avenue.
PPS: The cutie in the front row, third from the right in the Second Grade class photo, is not me. That's Jeryl Johnson who would go on to be a runner-up in a Miss Rheingold contest and have a highly successful modeling career, including that of being the face of Revlon on the Arthur Godfrey and Friends Show. I'm the cutie in the front row, far left, the one with the braids who did not go on to have a successful modeling career, but did become the face of TWA. (You''ll have to read the memoir for a fuller explanation.)
Remember, sharing is caring. Merci fois mille...