The Town Mouse & the Country Mouse
East 5th Street in Brooklyn, NY. Photographed in the early 70s from my attic "sanctuary."
For Sunday Scribblings.
Tropical Storm Barry blows outside, a relatively calm wind compared to others we've experienced. A car engine revs up. Otherwise, our Saturday morning is quiet. Here in the lightning capital of the U.S. I know to unplug and give this computer and modem a rest if the thunder draws closer than the occasional rumble I've been hearing.
I remember sleeping on the front porch couch when I was seven, when the crutches after my accident made climbing to my second-floor bedroom impractical. From the porch I listened to the rock band rehearse across my Brooklyn street, and to the motorcycle revving repeatedly around the block.
We get revving around here, too, and boom-box sounds, though they are not so omnipresent. The most noise comes from lawn care vehicles: weed-whackers, riding mowers. Chainsaws, when the trees are trimmed prior to hurricane season or after storms that have downed limbs. Mostly I marvel at the ibis flock cruising the neighborhood, or the frog choruses in our retention ponds. Or the Milky Way stretching above me on a clear night.
I grew up a city girl. But even the city had its pockets of paradise....
Brooklyn, New York
I took the first photograph in this entry from the attic bedroom of the house where I grew up, about the same time as I took the shot directly above. My current style of decorating hasn't changed all that much.
Friends Field, about three blocks from where I lived, was my outdoor sanctuary. After high school I took my homework, my creative writing, and my transistor radio to a picnic table and wrote while catching glimpses of a Little League game. The field was bordered by the F train subway el, Washington Cemetery, and residential streets.
I took this photo back in the early 70s. I don't know who this boy was, but I thought it was pretty cool that he had climbed a tree.
East 5th Street, photographed with the next six shots during my visit to my old neighborhood in 1996. Except for the model of automobile this street looks no different from the way it had when I was growing up. Behind me is Avenue M; ahead is Avenue L. This was the first leg on my walk to elementary school.
Crossing Ocean Parkway formed the second part of my walk to school. This was the major thoroughfare in my childhood neighborhood. I rode my single-speed, foot-brake, purple bicycle down its bike path.
The path, lined with benches, drew large outdoor gatherings in the warm weather. My mother once told me the story of how the movie The Ziegfeld Follies had saved my life. She and other young mothers used to congregate, wheeling their baby carriages to one of those benches every Sunday. Same time, same bench.
Except for one particular Sunday, when The Ziegfeld Follies was being aired on TV. The mothers decided to all stay home that day -- having no clue until later that they and their babies escaped the wreck of a drunk driver who had spun off the road and climbed that very bench during the broadcast.
The corner of East 10th Street and Avenue L. This was my last turn on the way to school. P.S. 99 is the tall building in the background, just to the right of the foreground tree.
I was the second-tallest girl in my class. In warmer weather we lined up in the schoolyard before being marched inside.
P.S. 99 is now also called the Isaac Asimov School. I attended 99 from kindergarten through the eighth grade.
The first "major decision" in my life came in the sixth grade, when I had to choose whether to continue at 99 or attend an accelerated program at Huddy Junior High that would let me cover the seventh through ninth grade in two years. My best friend had chosen Huddy, which made my decision tougher, because I felt connected to my teachers at 99. I decided to stay where I was, though I ended up finishing high school in three years and graduating at age 16.
High school had me walking from home in the other direction, toward the elevated tracks of the F train.
This time I walked down Avenue M (shown here), toward McDonald Avenue. In the 1970s McDonald's old trolley tracks still came up through the macadam, though the trolley itself predated me. The storefronts here are little changed from back then. Gone, however, is the old Avenue M Bowl where my mother and I belonged to a league, and the corner store where I bought marbles for my collection and enjoyed the most heavenly egg creams I'd ever tasted.
This was my subway stop, Ave. N on the F train. From here I could look in one direction toward the Manhattan skyscrapers, and in the other direction toward the Verrazano Bridge leading to Staten Island. I also watched the World Trade Center go up as I stood on this platform waiting for the train I took to high school.
Subway pass, 1973. I started riding the subway solo at age 12, but I remember screaming as a toddler in my mother's arms as an enormous black train screeched to a halt on the Ave. N platform. Back then the seats were made of scratchy yellow-orange wicker alternating with soft red cushions, and the poles and handholds were covered in white ceramic. By the time I was in high school the trains were a graffiti-covered silver, with plastic seats and metal poles.
I wrote in my journal on the trains, keeping my arms loose so they could serve as shock absorbers. Between rush hours I learned to stand with feet widely planted and knees slightly bent, so that I didn't have to hold onto anything. I lived on the subways in both New York and Boston. I wouldn't get my driver's license until I was 31, and I wouldn't own a car until I was 44.
Photographed in the early 70s. I was the only female in a group of handball players who spent part of our free time smacking a hard black ball against the John Dewey HS back walls. The elevated tracks in the background belong to the B train. My journey from home had me taking the F train from Ave. N south to Stillwell Avenue, the terminal stop for several lines and the location of Coney Island. From Stillwell I took the B train one stop back, to Bay 50th Street.
Photographed in the early 70s. I received an extraordinary education at Dewey, for which this statue is an icon.
John Dewey High School was an experimental school begun in 1969, and run on the "learning by doing" philosophy of John Dewey. If 14 students wanted a class and a teacher was willing to teach it, that class was born. Students could take subjects on independent study; those ambitious and thorough enough could design their own courses. Extended hours gave students the choice of spending time at a resource center, where teachers were on hand to mentor. Alternatively, you could spend that extra time in the library, the labs, or the campus grounds. If you had a good chunk of time, you could scoot off to Coney Island a single subway stop away. A girl like myself could take Mechanical Drawing instead of Home Economics, and fulfill part of my phys. ed. requirement by taking Bowling. Creative arts reigned, along with a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. By the time I graduated in 1975, the first budget cuts were being lowered on the NYC Board of Education; two decades after Dewey fell victim to those cuts, local school boards across the country started reinventing the wheel with charter schools. They'd have done well to keep the original blueprint for a successful revolution in education. That blueprint, in my opinion, was and still is Dewey.
John Dewey High School's 30th anniversary reunion in 1999. Second from left is reunion coordinator Mike Lustig, who taught social studies at Dewey when I was a student there in the early 70s.
Woburn, Cambridge, and Dorchester (Boston), Massachusetts
This six-room rental house in Woburn was my first home after I started living on my own in 1983. My rent was $425 a month, unchanged to the day I moved to Cambridge in 1986.
I loved this place. Its only downside was the commute. Without a car I had to rely on public transportation. Local buses stopped running at 7 PM, and the subway didn't get out this far (about 15 miles northwest of Boston). The Commuter Rail, which stopped running at midnight, left me at the Winchester Depot about 2-1/2 miles from home. But if I really wanted to attend an event that ended after the cabs became unavailable (they usually closed shop around 11:30 PM), I walked -- including in multiple layers in frigid winter weather.
This house is the location of the entry, "Gang War on Centre Street".
Horn Pond was my outdoor sanctuary in Woburn, Massachusetts. In addition to the pond itself I loved walking its trails. This is the site of my entry, "The Shrine on Horn Pond Mountain".
I lived only a few blocks from the Woburn Public Library and the field next to it. I also hung out in Library Field -- my adult version of Brooklyn's Friends Field -- reading, writing, and watching the local baseball teams play.
After a brief residence in a studio apartment near Harvard Square I moved to North Cambridge, a block away from the next-door town of Arlington. Spy Pond in Arlington was located about a mile from my home. On warm days I walked to the pond with my "inflatable yacht," the Intrepid, folded in the duffle bag I'd slung across my back. Often I visited Elizabeth Island, located roughly in the center of the pond. Elizabeth Island is the location of the entry, "Hare's Grove."
The Whittemore Avenue Community Garden was located about a block from where I lived in North Cambridge. I belonged to it for five years, growing cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, green peppers, basil, and other vegetable crops. Mary added corn to our repertoire. Our plot was one of 60, and we enjoyed exchanging vegetables with our gardening neighbors and swapping caretaking duties when we or others went on vacation.
Here Mary and I also grew squash hybrids, letting our zucchinis cross-pollinate with canteloupe to produce "zukelopes" or "cantechinis." Further hybrids produced a kind of ridged "green football."
I trained for and did the first Boston-New York AIDS Ride in 1995. I took this shot while walking my bike (a 1983, 12-speed Univega touring bike) as part of the AIDS Ride contingent in my first Gay Pride parade.
This photo was taken on September 14, 1995, the night before I and thousands of others departed Boston's World Trade Center for a three-day, 261-mile journey to lower Manhattan. Behind me are bicycles waiting to be ridden out.
My adrenalin level was still so high after I'd completed the ride from my adopted to my native city that I went out dancing afterwards. "Pilgrimage," my series of articles on training for and doing the ride, appear here.
Mary and I moved from Cambridge to Dorchester (Boston) in 1998, renting the top floor of this house. From here I had a commute to work of at least an hour each way: walking 3/4 mile to the JFK-UMass subway station, taking an approximate half-hour ride, and then walking another 6/10 mile to my office. This was the last place we lived in Massachusetts before moving to Florida in March of 2003.
Mayfield Street in Dorchester, looking toward Pleasant Street. I walked this way en route to the JFK-UMass "T" stop for the commute to work.
JFK-UMass "T" stop, on the Red Line. Outside this station Mary found the snake that features in my entry, "The Snake in the Butter Dish."
Carson Beach on Dorchester Bay, about a mile from home, was my outdoor sanctuary when I lived in Boston. Often on weekends Mary and I walked out to Fort Independence on Castle Island and back, about 7-1/2 miles round-trip. On one occasion we took a 20-mile urban hike that included Franklin Park.
I also plucked broken crockery and sea-worn glass from Dorchester Bay at low tide and used them in mixed-media art.
Carson Beach is the location of my entry, "One Summer's Day in 1999", which can also be heard in this open mic performance.
Mayfield Street outside our apartment, looking toward Bakersfield Street. We headed this way to get to our neighborhood cafe, A Strong Cup of Coffee.
This was the scene as I packed and wheeled Media Mail boxes to the post office for delivery to Florida. I took this photo in February 2003, about a month before Mary and I traveled with our two cats down to our new home in a Penske rental van. Another blizzard delayed our loading, and we did not leave on the day of our intended departure.
It was just as well. On that day we heard of a 100+ car pile-up on I-95 in Attleboro. Had we left when we planned, we might have been part of that accident. "Why I Don't (Yet) Mind the Heat" has the story of our move.
Citrus County, Florida: "the other Beverly Hills"
I wondered if I could adjust from being a city girl to living here. As this blog attests, I've been thriving so far.
I took this photo in December 2002, during the second of three trips I made between Boston and Florida between the time of my father's death in November 2002 and the time of our move. This shot looks toward the retention pond (beyond the two flagpoles) where I'd heard a spirited concert of frogs and toads at 2 AM on June 13, 2006, before Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall.
The inset photo at upper left shows our home in April 2003, just after we'd had new plantings added to the yard. Prior to that, our only plant life was the front porch hedge and a lawn of mostly sand. Four years later our yard teems with a combination of bought and volunteer plants, plus rain barrels and compost bins. Here I've labeled the array.
We will soon enter our fifth summer as Floridians.