eunion Fortnight, NYC
October 1 - 15, 2002
Our first two weeks in NYC are over, we are more or less established, and we are getting along just fine. Our one-bedroom apartment is on the top floor of a four-floor walk-up (that means no elevator). Since the building is somewhat old, the fixtures and fittings are not of the latest style, but everything is clean and tidy and the rooms are spacious with nice high ceilings. Our biggest problems so far have been electronic. We declined the cable TV because it cost $95/month so we have had to rig up an antenna that lets us see the broadcast channels; unfortunately the ghost signals are pretty strong. There is a phone but we can only make outgoing calls from our apartment; all incoming calls are forwarded to our landlady. She has her own business and can’t afford to do without the phone. We’ve been visiting mobile phone stores and trying to learn about plans and value versus cost for them. Some day soon we think we’ll get a cellphone, but for now we are without a contact phone number.
Our first day or so were spent getting adjusted to U.S. time, exploring our new neighborhood (55th and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan), and stocking our larder. We are within a 45-minute walk of about everything famous: the UN (10 minutes south); 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center (10 minutes west); Lincoln Center (35 minutes WNW), and 5th Avenue Museum Row(45 min NNW). Our immediate neighborhood is mostly residential and there are oodles of restaurants, maybe even half of the storefronts on 1st and 2nd Avenues. Just opposite the UN is Dag Hammerskold Plaza and on our second day by accident we discovered that every Wednesday there is a farmer’s market there with direct-from-the-farm produce.
On our first night we picked up the key at our friend Moshe’s apartment and got to meet his Brazilian fiancée, Cristhiane, and started to learn a few words in Brazilian Portuguese. Since then we have seen them several times. In the first few days we managed to say hello to Susan Marens and her six-year old daughter Jemma. Susan was instrumental in finding us our apartment so we are very grateful to her.
After much deliberation we decided to get a monthly pass on the "subway". Old timers will remember (or only know) that the subways used to take only tokens. The fare gradually went up over the years from the 25 cents Gerry paid in 1963 to the current $1.50. The bus was always paid in cash; annoyingly requiring exact change. But that changed with the introduction a few years ago of Metrocard, a credit-card sized piece of plastic with a magnetic strip. It can be used on the bus or subway. Because of the computer control they can be issued for single fare use($1.50), a day pass called "Fun Fare" ($4.00) or the 30-day pass (counting from first use) that we got for $63. On a daily basis that is pretty cheap; less than 1.5 ordinary fares. Our only regret is that unlike Hong Kong, the card is not a proximity card; there one can place a wallet containing the card near the sensor and all works well. Here the card must be "dipped" or swiped.
The weekend after our arrival, we took the train up to Scarsdale to see our friends Ann and Vic Spadafora. We spent a lovely fall Sunday with them, eating brunch in the sunshine and getting a very knowledgeable guided tour of Van Cortlandt Manor. We were also happy to get to say hello to Edith, Vic's mother, who celebrated her 90th birthday last year. The number of 90+ year-olds in our circle of acquaintances is starting to grow. Our ex-neighbor Florence will be 90 next spring and Gerry's Aunt Zelda is 88 already, as is his cousin Iosif . It is too bad that our own parents didn't make it to that great age.
Monday dawned bright and clear and brought our friend Virginia Daggett and daughter Sheri to New York. Sheri was home from Ethiopia where she works for a Christian organization on language studies that will lead to a translation of the bible into a little-used Ethiopian language. We were especially happy to see her after about three years. Sheri had kindly searched out an Ethiopian restaurant for us so we all had a great time learning how to eat Ethiopian style, i.e. scooping up food with a spongy kind of flat bread. After lunch we took a maddeningly slow bus down to Church Street to take a look at the now cleared World Trade Center Site.(The bus was slow because it picks up and puts down wheelchair riders; do that five times and you add a lot to a journey. What do daily riders think?) With all of the debris and bodies removed, the site is now much more visible to visitors. After an hour looking around, we said goodbye to Virginia and Sheri and walked along to a nearby computer store to begin a search for a new laptop. Jan abandoned her laptop to our niece Lindsay, who is just finishing up her teacher-training studies.
A week after arrival, a Tuesday brought the most exciting event, meeting a long-lost relative of Gerry’s, Iosif Stotland and his wife, Anna. While in Israel at the beginning of the year, Gerry renewed contact with his cousin Dvorah Komisar and her sister and brother and family. They unlocked for us the mystery of the village in Ukraine where Gerry’s and Dvorah’s mothers were born. They also told us that they had an uncle, Iosif, in New York. We found his number by searching web phonebooks. Our first call got us an answering machine with a message in Russian. Expecting that she would have to speak Russian, Jan had made preparations, and slowly enunciating her uncertain Russian, she said that Gerry was the grandson of Iosif’s aunt Ette, and that we would like to see him and would call back. Our second call reached Iosif and he was nothing short of astounded. Before we arrived we had no idea how warm the welcome would be and how much there would be to talk about. We thought given their ages and expected language difficulties we would stay an hour. Instead we were treated to a meal and they very reluctantly let us leave around 6 p.m. We shared the feeling; we only dragged ourselves off because we were very late for a dinner apointment with Susan and Jemma. Luckily for us, Susan is a good friend and quickly forgave us.
The next day, Wednesday, without having time to write out notes before beginning to lose them in memory’s sinkhole, we went to New Jersey to visit our former neighbors, Florence and Harold. Harold, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, was in as good shape as ever. Sadly, the last year has taken a toll on Florence, who is now 90. She doesn’t have the mental strength to participate as actively in a conversation or to go long without rest. They took us to lunch at one of our old haunts, the Grist Mill; before, after, and during we had very pleasant conversations with them. Toward the end of the day Harold asked Gerry to help with a computer problem; thus Gerry found himself in the surprising situation of again using FS, an MS-DOS program that we wrote years ago and had not touched in a long, long time.
The day turned out a very profitable one for us, in a peculiar aspect. As the family in England well know, Jan’s U.S. driver’s licence expired in February and Gerry’s was about to expire at the end of October. Jan was very concerned about getting a new licence without a bona fide address in the U.S. Suddenly it occured to Gerry to ask Harold to drive us to the DMV office in Eatontown, NJ, about five miles from our former and the Ryders home. We had a bit of anxiety or even pessimism before we went in: Would everything be simple? Probably not. But it was. The fact that we didn’t have any pre-printed renewal forms proved inconsequential. We were given new forms to fill out; stood in a line; paid our $18 each; waited again until we were called for our photos, and it was done. Jan felt as if she had had a personality implant. How wonderful to be an offical, whole person, allowed to conduct oneself in public on the public highways. Thanks, Harold, for taking us there and waiting patiently while the wheels of the bureaucracy turned.
The next two days were even more intense. We had in effect gone through an eye in the storm. On Thursday we spents lots and lots of time preparing for the Friday wedding of Moshe and Cristhiane (pronoucned Kris-chi-an-ay) and following celebration. The wedding was the smallest part of it all. In the morning we went with them to the City Clerk’s office, where they had a simple ceremony.
Immediately afterwards we all went to work preparing for that night: Cristhiane with the aid of her aunt Leonore spent the day getting decorated for the evening. Moshe and we went to Queens to get party supplies, in particular a helium canister. Afterwards Moshe and Gerry picked up a dozen pots of mums for table decorations and took them to the Beacon Hotel, the site of the party, and began blowing up balloons.(Incidentally, the marriage is truly a May-December marriage, as Cristhiane was born in May, Moshe in December, and he is considerably older than she.)
Saturday had the after effects of the wedding. We had volunteered to take the helium canister back and did so, in a way that expanded an hour task to nearly four. We made an unbelievable number of mistakes on the subway going and coming. The intermediate part of it, done by taxi, was the easiest. A nice side effect of our being semi-lost in Astoria was that we at last got a second wheeled luggage cart. We went into one shop where we found the perfect cart, except it was too heavy. The nice Chinese immigrant manager suggested we go around the corner and there we did find what we wanted. From there we made many more subway mistakes in going to J and R Computer World where Gerry studied and studied what might be our next notebook computer.
Sunday was a true day of rest. Or so it seemed, since housework can actually be relaxing compared to stuff that has deadlines. We managed to get our laundry done for the second time since arrival and the flat cleaned for the first time.
Monday October 14 officially celebrated Columbus Day, which until almost all American holidays were moved to Mondays was on October 12, the anniversary of Cristopher Columbus’s first landing in the New World. It should more properly be called “Italian-American Day” because the Italians and their ethnic supporters have a parade that day. We went and got to see a replica of the Niña, one of Columbus’s ships. It seemed that half of the marchers were either from the NY Fire Department or Police Department. Another major contigent represented various Italian town councils, most of which had names mysterious to us.
We shared the day with Sylvia Kuzmak, a friend from our AT&T days. She still works at AT&T but as an IBM employee; in early 2002 AT&T outsourced its computer operations and much software development to IBM. After the parade we took a nice walk with her in Central Park. That was our first visit there since we arrived here. The parade and park were all the better for three days of rain having come to an end. On the other hand, we experienced our first truly cold day. A taste of things to come in cold North America. In the evening we ate at a Thai restaurant; our first Thai meal since we left the comfort of our sister-in-law Jhap’s great care.
Late in the evening we walked her to the new (to us?) West Side Ferry terminal at 34th street where she caught a boat to Leonardo, New Jersey, just a five minute drive from her home. Maybe before we leave we'll know all about all forms of transport here.And thus ended our first two weeks as denizens of the Big McIntosh.
p.s. After this was written we did get a cell phone. USA 1-646-522-3697.