Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘new york’ Category

I really only wrote this post so I could use the word “Mamaroneck.”

061373

June 13, 1973. Mets and Yankees win. The Yanks are in first, but it’s a dogfight.

Some aficionados of New York City delight in the neighborhoods, nooks and crannies of the city proper. They can tell you exactly where Gerritsen Beach is, or the pleasures to be found in New Dorp, or the right combination of public transportation to take to get to Maspeth.

I’ve always been kinda ambivalent about New York City itself. Plus, I’ve had some of the happier times of my life in the suburbs of big cities — whether it was visiting Stamford as a kid, or living and working in the western suburbs of Boston as a young man.

(If you buy Rochester, N.Y., as a “big city,” you could say I spent my entire childhood pleasantly in that mode as well — identifying with the city, reading and watching its news, listening to its radio stations, but from a distance.)

So I’m not that attached to New York City proper.

No, my interest lies with that sweeping, humming, densely populated region called the Tri-State Area … all those bedroom communities whose names bespeak both a close attachment to the big city, and a certain separation from it.

They’re places that got blacked out in ’65. Places where people drive — or drove — station cars. Places where generations of fiction writers have set their comedies (or, perhaps more often, tragedies) of manners. Places sufficiently caught up in New York’s sprawl that their own names have attained a certain amount of familiarity as well.

Places like Secaucus, and Pound Ridge, and New Canaan, and Scarsdale (whose name I cannot hear without thinking, “Where the hell am Iiiii?”), and Englewood Cliffs, and Pelham, and Tenafly, and Massapequa …

… and, yes, Mamaroneck.

I don’t actually know anything about Mamaroneck; I’ve certainly never been there. I have a vague sense of how to pronounce it (heavy on the second syllable), and I know it’s in the Holy Sprawl someplace, and I figure there’s probably a commuter rail station there.

(There is, Wiki says. There’s also a well-known golf course. The town is in southern Westchester County, on the water, and Google Maps says it’s about 25 minutes from Stamford in Sunday-night traffic on Route 95.)

I’ve written before about the various painting and drawing classes my grandfather took, especially following his retirement in 1971.

Bob Calrow was a Connecticut-based watercolorist who taught a number of the painting classes my grandfather took. He was apparently very good: This August 1973 article from a Tri-State Area newspaper mentions that Calrow had won 50 prizes for his work in the previous four years. (You can see Calrow’s name mentioned in several of the images here.)

In October of that year, the New York Times noted that Calrow would be leading an educational painting trip to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas near year’s end. I can’t imagine my grandpa gave an expedition like that any serious thought, but I wonder if the idea tempted him at all.

Anyway, getting back to the calendar entry at hand, my grandpa probably headed out to Mamaroneck to check out his well-known teacher’s work in person and maybe mingle for a minute or two. Perhaps there were other artists on display whose work he found instructive as well.

Since my grandpa hadn’t even met his second grandson yet, he didn’t realize he was feeding his second grandson’s geography jones.

Sure was thoughtful of him, though.

Read Full Post »

Last week, I explored the roots of the Blumenau family’s summer cottage tradition. While I don’t have a calendar entry to go with this post, this seemed like a logical sequel.

A starter cottage, you could definitely call it.

The place on Keuka Lake my parents bought circa 1980-81 was a no-frills spiritual heir to the lake cottage in Becket, Massachusetts, that my dad visited for several summers during his boyhood.

According to lore, the place on Keuka had been built in a week — or was it a weekend? — by a bunch of like-minded, tool-handy amateurs, back in the days before building permits and zoning inspections. Its septic tank, befitting Keuka’s best-known industry, was said to be a repurposed wine barrel.

There was no heat, except for a space heater. Other operating systems were seasonal: The boat rails, the dock and the water pipe went into the lake every cold April and came back out every cold September.

Untitled17

The Blumenau brothers on maintenance duty, 1981, with the bluff of Keuka Lake’s “Y” in the background.

It might not have been quite as shacky as I make it sound. It never fell over, like a house of cards, and had to be rebuilt.

But it lives in my mind as a place of mothballs, must and mice — regular co-tenants that we would occasionally corner, our sneakers in our hands, and beat to death. A place with a secondhand utilitarian funk I’d never experienced and didn’t much like. A place where what was yellow was left to mellow.

(In fairness, it was also a place where I loved to row a rowboat, chill in an inner tube, clamber up hillsides in search of blackberries, burn marshmallows into blackened goo over a fire, and watch Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola call the Game of the Week on staticky Channel 3 from Syracuse.)

Despite the cottage’s isolated funk — or maybe because of it — my folks were glad to invite friends, relatives, and friends of relatives down to share their newfound getaway. They were never eager to get into the rental game, but guests were welcome.

And, in the summer of 1983, my grandparents and great-grandma joined the roster of guests making the trip down.

They were still living on Hope Street in Stamford then. I’m guessing they came to Rochester and then we drove them the rest of the way to Keuka, rather than force them to navigate the backroads of the Finger Lakes.

I didn’t appreciate the significance of their visit at the time. But now that I’ve thought and written about the rented cottage at Becket, it seems cool and appropriate that my dad would invite his folks (and his grandmother) to the lake.

Like a kind of repayment, or a returned favor … with an element of celebration, too.

You guys introduced me to rustic summer getaways, he might have thought. Now I’m fortunate enough to have one of my own, and I’d like you to come share it. Put your feet up and feel the breeze.

It took a little doing to get them there.

Specifically, you had to climb down a steep old set of concrete steps to get from the road to the cottage. My 96-year-old great-grandma was not denied; slowly, with escorts on all sides, she made it down (and up again).

Here, then, a gallery of pix — some my dad’s, some my grandpa’s — from the Hope Street Blumenaus’ trip to that first cottage on Keuka Lake.

Twenty-plus years past Becket, everyone discovered once again that escape from the world is sometimes the only frill you really need.

Untitled1.jpg

My great-grandma and grandma on the pitted concrete porch.

Untitled2.jpg

Still life with dock.

Untitled.jpg

Grandma gettin’ in deep. (Note the open toolbox next to the boat. This was a frequent sight.)

Untitled3.jpg

Me in the rowboat, dressed for the high seas. My brother fishing (illegally — shhh, don’t tell anybody.) Dad in the water.

Untitled10

View from the porch. Looks like a nice day for a sail.

Untitled1.jpg

Always looking for painterly inspiration, my grandpa took a bunch of landscape pix around the lake. Some others appeared in this long-ago post, if you want to see more.

Untitled8.jpg

Tom and Huck.

Read Full Post »

It’s still hotter than heck here in eastern Pennsylvania — forecast to reach 90 degrees all but one day this coming week.

As payback, perhaps, for our record-setting snow of January, we’re now getting plenty of summer. Summer enough for everyone.

Well, it says here that our visit to the beach last time around wasn’t nearly long enough. So, like Frankie and Annette, we’re going back.

Except we’re going back a few years earlier, and to a different beach. Perhaps you’ve been to this one. A lot of people have.

Jones Beach Trip

Note the two young ladies in the brochure trying their skill at archery. It is 1958, and Katniss Everdeen has not yet been imagined. Neither have the New York Mets, but the Yanks are sitting pretty in first place.

I’m not sure why the Hope Street Blumenaus went to Jones Beach State Park, on Long Island, when they could have gone to coastal beaches closer to home in Connecticut. (They could also have hitched a ride to Rockaway Beach … though that trip hadn’t been imagined in 1958, either.)

Jones Beach is a draw for people throughout the New York area. According to Wiki, it’s the most-visited beach on the East Coast. To me, that just screams mad crazy hassles with traffic and parking and finding towel-space.

But, sometimes, the biggest tourist spots seem more desirable because they’re so popular. It is only the sourest and most reticent of us (I am looking in the mirror here) who avoid going places because they draw crowds. To many, the place with all the people is the place to be.

Also, a check of the calendar reveals that Aug. 19, 1958, was a Tuesday. My grandpa might not have been quite so thrilled about going to Jones Beach on a summer Saturday. But Tuesday? Sure, that might be a little more manageable and a little less crazy.

So, off went the bridge-and-tunnel Blumenaus to the big city …

Jones Beach 2.jpg

See? The big city. (I’m too slack to figure out which bridge this is, but I’m sure it’s some span whose name lives in regional traffic-report infamy.)

Jones Beach 3

Jones Beach’s famous water tower, seen through the windshield of the Ford du jour.

Jones Beach 4

Compare this to what you’d wear to the beach today.

Jones Beach 5.jpg

My grandpa looks like Marcel Proust at a Parisian sidewalk cafe, not a dude at the freakin’ beach. My grandma’s conical sun hat (I said “conical,” not “comical”) is also smart and styled for the season, in adspeak.

Once the Blumenaus of Hope Street finished their travel and food, and finally got to the beach, it appears that they chose a pretty good day to go. Sunny and not too crowded at all.

Jones Beach 6

Jones Beach 8

The people at far left are fully dressed; everyone else is in beachwear. Maybe a dressing room sits somewhere between the two sides.

Jones Beach 10

The dude in the barrel is so charming, it’s easy to miss the wave and the “JB” set into the ironwork on the other side of the pole.

Jones Beach 12.jpg

A pic to prove that someone from the Blumenau family actually put on suits and went into the water. My aunt is at the center of the photo, in the yellow swim cap, and my dad is to her right.

Jones Beach 17.jpg

One of potential historic value: Wiki says there used to be two pools at Jones Beach (east and west). The west one is still in operation but the east one is closed. Wonder which one this is? It’s a little crowded at the right-hand side of the photo but it looks like things aren’t too nuts here either.

Jones Beach 16.jpg

One last from the big trip. Of course my grandma and great-grandma stayed clear of the water. My grandma’s smile indicates that she’s perfectly fine with that. They’re sharing a bench with strangers. The family-history buff in me wonders who they are; I wish I could find their grandson or granddaughter on the ‘Net and say, “Hey, you might like to see this picture.”

Read Full Post »

The second episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “One For The Angels,” tells the story of a salesman who outwits Death and saves a child by delivering the sales pitch of a lifetime.

It’s not the most incisive half-hour Rod Serling ever scripted, but it’s fondly remembered, largely due to Ed Wynn’s charming performance in the main role.

This week’s installment of Hope Street — starring my dad — makes me think of that long-ago episode. (There’s a Rod Serling connection in this tale, too, which we’ll get back to in a few hundred words.)

My father is not a salesman by trade, and I don’t expect he could tie up the Grim Reaper in knots of argument.

But 30 years ago, he dedicated himself to the biggest sales pitch of his life — convincing his elderly parents and grandmother to leave their home of 40-plus years and move to a wintry, unfamiliar region in a different state.

Damned if he didn’t pull it off.

Because my grandfather saved much of the correspondence, the story can be retold in detail. (It says something that my grandpa saved these letters. He must have been impressed. Touched, even.)

This week, then, we’ll open the envelope and revisit the sales pitch we’ll call the Rochester Letters.

SaveEnvelope

By the early ’80s, my grandparents’ home at 1107 Hope Street in Stamford, Connecticut, was showing its age. Bringing it up to date would have required more money than my grandparents could spend.

The residents of 1107 Hope were also starting to show their age. My grandpa was in his 70s and had had two heart attacks, while my great-grandmother was almost 100 and still climbing a steep flight of stairs to and from her room each day.

It couldn’t last as a living arrangement. And finally, the time came when it didn’t.

In the fall of 1984, my grandparents signed a sales agreement with a developer that had plans to demolish old single-family homes and build condos in their place.

In return for a good payout, they agreed to be out of the house by April 15 of the following year, so the builders could begin their work.

(A curious coincidence: April 15, 1985, was my family’s deadline to leave the house on Hope Street. As previously announced, the last post on the Hope Street blog will be the week of April 15, 2015 — exactly 30 years later. I had no idea about that when I picked the date. Cue the Twilight Zone music…)

My grandparents talked about moving elsewhere in Connecticut — to the nearby city of Danbury, or up the coast to the town of Clinton.

But as weeks passed, they didn’t seem to be coming to any decisions or taking any firm action. That concerned my dad.

Starting in November, his letters began to reflect a common thread: Move to Rochester, and we’ll find you a nice house and take care of you.

Consider these excerpts dated Nov. 16, 1984. My dad acknowledges my grandparents’ concerns, like weather, taxes and distance from friends and family …

Click any of these to read larger.

Click any of these images to read larger.

… and then tries to rebut them.

111684Pt2
That last theme — you cared for me; I’ll care for you — shows up a few times in the Rochester Letters. This angle was sentimental enough to hook my grandma, but logical enough to appeal to my grandpa’s German-American ideals of fair play and obligation.

I don’t know if my dad really felt that deeply in debt for his upbringing, but — speaking as a communications professional — I find it an effective piece of messaging.

0109852changeddiapersAs December passed — and my grandma fell on some ice and broke her wrist — my dad kept pushing back against the inevitable pushback.

1284NonIssues
And, to set the wheels in motion, my parents began working with a realtor to identify homes that might appeal to my grandparents. The Rochester area has a respectable stock of affordable small ranches and Capes, so it wasn’t hard to find suitable places.

122184

December 21, 1984.

Christmas ’84 was a pivotal point in the Rochester Letters. My grandparents still hadn’t been swayed to Rochester, but weren’t moving in any other direction either. Apparently, they were even starting to think that they might use my grandmother’s injury as an excuse to buy more time.

Some of the strongest-worded and most affecting messages of the Rochester Letters date to the final days of that year.

Dec26841Dec26842That approach must have lit at least some sort of fire under my grandparents, because the correspondence of January 1985 finds the push toward Rochester gaining some momentum.

My dad recapped his earlier statements that western New York is not the Arctic wasteland it’s sometimes thought to be …

"Winters up here are overstated."

“Winters up here are overstated.”

… and also repeated the notion that he and his family were ready to help in case of any emergency:

RochLetters010985

Health care was a major part of my dad’s argument — and it might have been around this time that he made a spoken faux pas that could have derailed all the work of the Rochester Letters.

During a phone call, my dad was reiterating the point that Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital has a well-regarded cardiac care department. Trying to bolster his argument, he cited a famous son of western New York who had come to Strong in his hour of greatest need.

“Oh, yeah, they’re famous for their heart care,” my dad said. Rod Serling died there.

I can still hear my mom’s appalled gasp at that one. But thankfully, one misstep didn’t quash the entire effort.

From my grandparents’ perspective, the fact that famous people went to Strong for heart care seems to have outweighed the fact that not all of them walked out afterward.

That might have helped the breakthrough in January, when my dad finally got my grandmother to fly to Rochester and see some houses. (It might have been her only plane trip. My grandfather, who stayed behind with my great-grandma, was never known to have flown.)

011785

January 17, 1985.

And, building on that breakthrough, my dad poured on the family messaging:

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

By my dad’s recollection, my grandma saw only a few houses during her quick trip to New York. It only took one to win her over — a small yellow house on Lynnwood Drive in the suburban town of Brighton.

She liked it enough to convince my grandpa to buy the place sight unseen. I was press-ganged into action, along with family and friends, to make all manner of improvements to the place in a hurry, from laying new insulation in the crawlspace to repainting the big central room.

In the spring of 1985, the sales pitch of the Rochester Letters came to a triumphant conclusion as my grandparents and great-grandma moved into a new home in a new town.

3434693884_5482b09f58_o

On the back deck in Brighton, summer 1991. My grandpa the keeper of the calendars is in the red shirt; his wife is in the red-blue-and-white shirt. The other older lady is my other grandma, who had also settled in Rochester by then … but that’s another story.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of '91. Winters up here are overstated.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of ’91. Winters up here are overstated.

My grandparents’ life in Brighton went just about as well as my dad predicted it would.

My grandparents were a regular presence in the lives of my brother and I as we were growing up. My folks’ social network welcomed them, giving them connections and opportunities to get out and mingle when they wanted to.

My family handled heavy lifting and home maintenance, while my grandpa got to plant his garden and do tinkering chores that kept him content.

I don’t know whether my grandpa was ever treated at Strong Memorial Hospital, or whether he benefited from the heart specialists there. But I think that being relieved of major housework, and knowing he had family nearby to help with any need, did his heart a lot of good.

The Rochester Letters did not beat the Reaper, then, but perhaps they bought a few years of his absence.

As sales pitches go, they don’t come much better than that … not outside the Twilight Zone, anyway.

Read Full Post »

There are a million stories in the naked city … like the time the Empire State Building “caught fire” in the middle of the Christmas season.

It was December 10, 1966, an unseasonably warm evening in New York City, with Saturday-night travelers and holiday shoppers thick on the streets.

One of them, in the area of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, pulled a fire alarm.

Shortly after 6 p.m., three fire engines, two hook-and-ladder trucks and a rescue squad came roaring into the area, ready to fight something all of the men aboard must have secretly dreaded — a fire on the upper stories of one of New York’s tallest landmarks.

The firemen dashed into the building, hauling equipment, as thousands of passers-by gathered, gawked and took pictures.

(This according to the New York Times, to whom this entire account is deeply indebted. Presumably the alert had not yet gone out to clear the sidewalks surrounding the building.)

A few minutes later, the all-clear sounded. There was no fire, just the illusion of smoke, created by a dense, swirling cloud of smog and the lights of the building’s upper stories.

And the city sighed with relief, for a moment, then moved on to the next of its million stories and momentary distractions.

My grandfather was not there, as far as I know.

He sure enough saw the smog, though:

December 9, 1966.

December 9, 1966.

I’ve written about environmental alerts showing up on my grandpa’s calendar. Those were a few years later, though. I don’t remember every one of his entries, but this is the earliest entry I can remember to make special notice of pollution or harmful environmental conditions.

Apparently this bout of smog and fog hung around for a few days — and got pretty serious before it finally cleared out.

The New York Times of Dec. 11 reported that Connecticut state health officials declared an air pollution alert due to “lingering stagnant air” over much of the state. Officials called a halt to open burning, and asked residents to stop other activities that could contribute to the smog.

(Unfortunately, it looks like my grandpa had a couple errands to attend to on the 10th that required him to burn some gasoline. A gentleman needs his trousers and a clean set of teeth, after all. Alas, I must blame my grandma — that looks like her writing — for transposing his dental appointment 12 hours ahead.)

The paper also reported that New York’s airports, as well as highways in northern New Jersey, were forced by fog to close for the morning of Dec. 10.

Temperatures were warm up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with cities from Hatteras, N.C., to Syracuse, N.Y., reporting record highs.

And the lead of the Times’ Page One weather story deserves reproduction here:

A perspiring Santa Claus outside Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue growled “Merry Christmas” to a staring youngster, and at the Weather Bureau office in Hangar 11 at Kennedy International Airport, the meteorologists “kept the door open to catch a breeze.” It was Dec. 10.

I wonder what the reporter would have written had he (or she) been assigned to follow Bill Blumenau around for the day.

A perspiring middle-aged man grumbled to himself in the dentist’s chair: He’d dressed for winter, and the office was unexpectedly stuffy. He shifted his position to keep from sticking to the seat. It was Dec. 10.

# # # # #

A couple of notes catching up from last week’s post, which featured some original music based on 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa playing piano:

– Thanks to those of you who took the chance and went to check out the sounds. (If you meant to do so, and it slipped your mind, the Hope’s Treat EP can still be heard here.)

– Thanks to your support, Hope’s Treat actually showed up on some of Bandcamp’s popularity rankings, based on the tags I used to label the EP.

I wrote about Bill Blumenau’s unlikely ascension to chart semi-stardom on my other blog; those posts are here and here, if you’d like to read them.

– Finally, some suggested that the good readers of Hope Street might be more interested in my grandpa’s original piano solos than my alterations of same.

For those who fit that description, here’s a short YouTube movie featuring my grandfather playing a medley of two songs.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »