Cream Cheese and Raisins
When I moved to my apartment in the East Village, it was 1989 and my mom, between hauling borrowed milk crates and rolled up Bauhaus posters, recollected her East Village experience some twenty-five years earlier. She spoke of Chock Full O’ Nuts and its cream cheese and raisin sandwiches. She lived in a sixth floor walk-up with a galley kitchen and she and her roommates threw fun parties so that they could personally invite the boys they liked. One year, she invited an entire marching band she met at the World’s Fair.
I was eighteen so I really didn’t pay attention. Her city was gone and in its place were the Unique Boutique and Tower Records. The C Squat was within walking distance and that’s where James lived. James was a guy I met at The Strand the month before when I took a train to the city. He told me he was thirty and I lied and told him I was twenty-five. He believed me because he gave me the number to the pay phone outside of the squat so that I may find him once I moved to my new apartment. My mom will never know how that relationship began and shortly thereafter, ended.
It was my city now so when my mom didn’t cry goodbye at the empty double-parked Hyundai, I was surprised at first but it made sense; she was trusting her city with me. If I didn’t find solace in cream cheese and raisin sandwiches, I would find it elsewhere. “Don’t forget to always carry extra dimes,” she said, “And don’t give your phone number to just anyone. Trust me.”
Years before my posters and James, and my mom’s parties in her galley kitchen, my grandparents owned a record store. It was on Eighth Street and it was long gone. In its place was an antique’s store in my 1989 version of the city. And while I knew very little about my grandparents and their version of the city, I knew they lived upstairs on the 9th floor so that they could just take an elevator to work. And that Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were regular customers. Sometimes, instead of money, struggling musicians and even theatre people, paid for records with barter. That’s how my grandmother was able to sneak away and see Carol Burnett’s dress rehearsal of Once Upon A Mattress.
It’s 2016 now and I don’t live in the East Village any more. I drive everywhere in my Ford Fiesta and my daughter sits, perched in her child safety seat behind me. Once in a while, I look in the mirror and watch her fiddle with her jacket’s zipper as she hums to her own made-up music. She wears a lot of purple.
Yesterday, while she was in school, I took a drive to where my former apartment was. There was Rite Aid in its place and across the street, where I used to eat Polish food at 2AM was a TD Bank. Around the corner, where my mom used to wait tables in a pink dress and white apron at a coffee shop was a discerning five-star Italian restaurant. And my grandparent’s record store was no longer an antique’s store; it was a newer incarnation. It was a Quiznos. The counter was exactly where my grandparent’s left their counter though. And exactly where a phone call once came from Harry Belafonte who called to ask if the store might be closed to the public so that he may be able to buy records in privacy.
Mr. Bellefonte was told, “Fat Chance.”