Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Everyone wish my father a happy birthday
My father is rolling up here to celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law have something special planned for him. Moving to NYC has given me a chance to trace my father's footsteps. I had a great experience walking around his childhood haunts in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with him this year. He's originally from the Alphabet City area but spent his formative years in the Lower East and later in the South Bronx (he still has a very faint accent from those times) We toured the Tenement Museum, which features a perfectly preserved set of rooms that look almost exactly like the ones in which he grew up. For extra authenticity, they don't bother with such fripperies as air conditioning. The neighborhood has changed --- no more pushcarts, stickball, and nag horses pulling loads of shmattes. A half-century ago, Mayor LaGuardia had a huge chunk of this neighborhood pulled down in a slum clearance project. Now, 26-story projects have taken the place of his tenement. We couldn't even find the intersection on which he lived. There is a quite a disparity between hip wealth and old-style Lower East now. In certain sections of the Lower East you can buy $6 chocolate bars and $9 tubs of gelato from the storefronts on the street level of old brownstones --- but you can still see the zig-zagging fire escapes , the live poultry traders and the cheap-suit hawkers. Katz's is still there, they still glare at you when you order but give you free samples of pastrami. We ate huge corn beef sandwiches and had Brooklyn Lagers there a few months back. Katz's, when he was growing up, was an unimaginable luxury for him. "I was aware of it but never ate there,'' he said. Now he's getting a chance to see the world and enjoy his retirement. Father is a terrific raconteur, full of dramatic and funny stories. In spite of his urban background, he also introduced me to backcountry trekking in the mountains. I'm looking forward to some good wine and snacks with him tomorrow.