Sunday, November 11, 2012
Living and Dying in Billionaires' Heaven: New York City
Say Goodbye to: Valerie Eliot, T.S. Eliot's widow, his second wife after the crazy Vivien; Valerie, a major stockholder and editor at Faber and Faber, Eliot's publisher, was 38 years younger than T.S. when they married. It was said she gave him the happiest years of his life. That's why old men dig young girls. Valerie Eliot, 86, British editor, widow of T.S. Eliot.
Say Goodbye to General Betrayus (I'm sorry, that's my name for him)--here's a great piece on the B.S. general by Glenn Greenwald brought to my attention by L Hat on this day of so much ass-kissing of our loser (remember they are salaried) military volunteers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/10/petraeus-scandal-media-military
There was a time not too long ago in New York City, when people who lived in brownstones or row apartments or the older apartment buildings congregated on the stoop, the steps in front of these apartments. This was especially true before the advent of air-conditioners or condos or high-rise luxury buildings, or Baby Boomers buying up the brownstones and converting them into million-dollar properties. Though, yes, it is still true in certain neighborhoods like up in the high 100s where the Dominican Republicans live or in some of the Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the South Bronx or in certain parts of Queens. But here in Manhattan there are not so many buildings with active stoops on them left or if there are stoops, they've been gentrified and gated and locked up tight and camera secure.
My building, the oldest building left standing on old Broad Way, does have a stoop, and when I moved into this building 30 years ago, that stoop was every morning and afternoon filled with tenants of all types: those with jobs, those out of work, those retired, who gathered on the stoop to bullshit, or talk sports, or bitch about how expensive things were getting, or dishing out rumors about certain tenants in the building, but mostly bullshitting, particularly when it came to politics and landlords and oddball personalities.
One of the first people I met on our stoop was a gentleman who I called Jake. He and I took right off to each other since he like me was a transplanted Texan. Though Texans are miles apart in a Texas geographical sense, like Jake was from Pasadena, a suburb of Houston, maybe 400 miles south of my native West Texas, still all Texans feel related and are sensitive to being related and this was the case with Jake and me even though, too, he was Black and I am White.
Jake had lived in this building since 1969. When I moved in the building in 1982, Jake was 49 years old. That next year, Jake bought a pair of roller blades and you could often see him roller blading down Fifth Avenue from Central Park where he used to do his serious roller blading. That year of 1983, he turned 50 and started wearing a tee shirt, a bright red tee shirt, with bold white lettering that read: "I'm 50 years old, but I can still kick your ass."
It was around this same time that one day I'm out on the stoop talking trash and I asked Jake a question, to which he replied, "Why do you call me Jake?" I was stunned. "'Cause that's your name, isn't it?" "No, my name's Jay," he answered calmly. I stood corrected. This after calling him Jake for at least over a year.
Ironically, there was a Jake in the building, a guy most of us usually called Clem. One day this Jake came out on the stoop to brag about the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Chicago Bears and I called him Jake. Jay suddenly said, "Hey, Wolfie, how come you don't call him Jay?" We had a good long laugh over that. That was Jay's wit. From then on I knew him as Jay.
Around a year and a half ago, Jay woke up one morning and couldn't walk. He had been a strong union man, he had worked over 20 years as a short-order cook at a cafe on 8th Avenue just below 34th Street called Squires before he retired, so he carried good health insurance. He checked into New York Hospital and when he returned he was on a cane. He said they diagnosed him with arthritis in his hip. He was on the cane for a month or so and one day he showed up without the cane, but the ordeal had taken a lot out of him. He just didn't look like his old self. He looked haggard. Also his voice had changed. His voice had been cynically strong but now it was weak and raspy. Now that he was retired, he was on that stoop every day. He became the fixture on the stoop; in fact, it became Jay's stoop since he spent most of his daylight hours on the stoop. The rest of us stoopers were on it every now and then, but Jay was always out there.
One morning I came out to do a little stoopin' and there was no Jay. Curious, I asked Bobby the all-night doorman if he'd seen him that morning. "You didn't hear?" Bobby said. "Jay collapsed on the steps last night. He's back in New York Hospital."
Jay was in the hospital a week and a half before he was back on the stoop, except this time he really did look totally changed. And everybody else out there noticed it and commented on it behind his back. He was older looking, really older looking. He was also, and this is the only way I know to describe it, shriveled up...he was shorter, like he had collapsed a little bit. I asked Jay what had been wrong with him and he dodged answering the question. Bobby the doorman told me he'd heard the reason Jay had passed out, and he said he'd heard this when he had visited Jay in the hospital, was because he was dehydrated.
I thought no more about it. Jay was back on the stoop and back to his regular routines, complaining about how the nurses had taken most of his blood while he was in the hospital and how the doctor had put him on a diet that demanded he eat a lot of salads, which he said he hated. But then one morning there was Jay with a travel bag by him. He told me he wouldn't be there the next day because he was waiting for Pablo the cab driver to take him back over to New York Hospital because his doctor said he needed to do some tests on him.
When Jay came back this time, lord'a mercy he had really changed. He was poorly looking, as our Texas relatives would have described him. It was quite obvious that something was seriously wrong with my old friend Jay.
A little before this happened I had had my heart attack so I wasn't very concerned about Jay's problems, figuring he couldn't have a problem worse than I had.
About three weeks ago, I came down to get my breakfast and Bobby the doorman told me that Jay had blacked out again, this time in the street, up the block aways, and that the police had found him and he was back in New York Hospital. Several days passed and one morning, one of the stoop guys who had gone to see Jay in the hospital stopped me and said, "You know, man, Jay has cancer...kidney cancer...he's undergoing treatment now." "Chemotherapy...what?" "Yeah, chemo."
Just before Sandy hit us, the weekend before Sandy hit us in fact, the doorman said Jay had returned home but his niece from Texas was coming to New York to get him and take him back home to Texas, a place Jay told me he had not been back to for 40 years; in fact, he often said he had no desire to ever go back to Texas. I asked if anybody had seen Jay...like could I go to his apartment and see him, and I was told he was in bed and probably couldn't come to the door. Next time I checked on Jay, I was told he was in Texas, he had flown out the night before with his niece. Good, I said, it'll do him good to get back in that Texas heat; besides they had great hospitals in Houston, blah, blah, blah.
I came down to go to breakfast three days ago, right after Sandy had passed and left behind the massive problems, many of which still have not been resolved. Bobby the doorman stopped me. "You heard about Jay?" "No, what?" "He's no longer with us." "What?" "Yeah, he passed yesterday afternoon down in Texas."
Jay was dead. He was 78 years old.
And now our stoop is empty. There's no one out there any more. None of the old regulars...not a soul. As if Jay was the tribal leader of the stoop. And I suppose he was. We've got no reason to gang out there anymore. We've got no conversation leader, no bullshit leader, no philosopher, no instigator of rumors, no josher, the source of witty teasings. It's a sad place now. And it'll probably remain a sad empty place since the stoop regulars have no reason to gang up out there anymore, which is fine with the landlord who didn't like us stoopin' out there anyway, our bullshitting sometimes getting loud with laughter and jocularity, with all of us trying to outtalk the others and Jay urging us on to greater heights of jokin' and jivin'. No, it just ain't the same on our stoop anymore. Our leader's gone and it's too damn sad out there without him.
for The Daily Growler