Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hoboken: Back to the Past

May 29, 2008

Slezak has been sending me emails regularly since he discovered this blog. He likes to remember what Hoboken was like in the late 1940's and through the 1950's, and he describes it vividly. Here's a sample:

"My wife’s dad – what a nice guy he was...played with the big bands during the war. (His dad was an opera singer from Dublin who toured Europe with the Carl Rosa opera company ..he came to America in 1900...and started his own opera company, Joseph Sheehan Opera Company can look him up on the computer. In them days he was the greatest tenor English opera singer in the world. After he retired from that he worked for RKO Radio studios in NYC...and later it became NBC studios...he lived on Garden Street just across the street from me) My wife’s both grandmothers lived across the street from me when I was a kid. I have a picture of me and my wife in the same picture – she was 5. I was 9, not knowing I would marry her some day and spend the rest of my life with her. I got lucky and always had good luck...with every thing I did in life. On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando...well that’s another story – filmed in Hoboken. You must see it...some of my friends were in it, I was not. (I could have been a contender.)

"I’ve been looking for a picture or pictures of ABLE’S ice cream parlor that was across the street from the Acadamy of Sacred Heart on 7th and Washington Street, my wife’s old all girl school…plaid skirts, white blouses, and vest and beanies they had to wear. Only the rich girls went there. My old hangout in the 50s, the early rock and roll days ...BUT with no luck in looking for the add to my large photo album collection that I have . I call them albums The Adventures of Maureen and Bob. We all can’t live forever, BUT the photos will.

"I think in the early days of television, Dumont was the king of the tv airwaves. In the late 40s we had only three stations and an Emerson 7-inch tv. My mom said if you watch it too close YOU WILL GO BLIND.

"On Washington Street a store had a tv in their window...people would bring their folding chairs...and sit watching tv...a sight to behold...I must say."

Can't you just picture that? Another reader, planning a documentary on the old Grand Hotel, wrote me to ask if Slezak had any memories or pictures of that to share, and this is what he wrote back:

A grand hotel it was...I remember it as only as a place for the dine and stay...although my sister worked there for a few years, I was only in there once to visit her for a forgotten reason ...that's all the memory I have of the hotel ...Hoboken had another hotel called THE was next to the old FABIAN theater on Washington Street too. A flop house it was, 50 cents a nite. You slept with your shoes under your pillow, it was that kind of a place. The YMCA and a place on 14th street was the only hotels or places to stay in Hoboken. The unfortunate slept on the park benches or under the the HOBO camp they had there. I know I'm not much help with the GRAND HOTEL.

So he emailed a friend from Hoboken who now lives in California. This was the reply:

"The Grand was on Hudson Street and Marlon Brando plus the other actors stayed there when they made the picture On the Waterfront. Directly across the street was another hotel, but not as nice as the Grand. The Grand had outside tables in the summer and they served meals there. It also had a canopy to protect people from the sun.

"The one on 14th Street is still in business and I forget its name. The son that inherited it ran it. He was a oddball who tried to get involved in politics. I think he was a little before his time. He saw Hoboken for what it could be, and people laughed at him all the time. He helped out the less fortunate people such as the homeless.

"The bar part was a huge place and the beer was rotten most of the time. They
served the crappiest whiskey, such as Old Crow, which is a poor man's whiskey. He got caught one time trying to fill the bottles up with Shoprite whiskey."

There is something very delightful about these two and their memories. Hope nobody is offended by being called an "oddball," since he comes over as a very good guy in spite of the term. I'm sure no offense was meant, if the friend is anything like Slezak. Just keep an eye on that bartender.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Other Side of Sixty

May 28, 2008

Seventy isn't old any more.

Just look around you. There are young people and old people, but 70 isn't the cut-off point, as we once supposed it to be.

At some point, when put on my $14.95 glasses that I bought at the local supermarket, I noticed that the faces of my friends were covered with wrinkles. I couldn't help but wonder if they saw something similar when looking at me through theirs. Here’s the story behind those cheapo glasses – determined not to buy prescription glasses until I'm 70, I alternate between a low-voltage pair for viewing television and night driving and a high number pair for reading and seeing stuff up close. I don't wear them for lunch with friends, but I slip the high-number Ben Franklin pair onto my nose for reading the menu any time I’m in a restaurant.

A few years ago Oprah Winfrey noted on her talk show that she admired how Diane Sawyer, a few years her senior, was handling being 50. Oprah vowed before her viewers to do it as well. With characteristic determination and focus, she managed to look better at 50 than she had ten years earlier. If she maintains her commitment to staying young and attractive at the rate she's going, when she gets to her 70’s, she'll probably look about 20.

I am one who has done all she can to ward off oldness, and intend to continue even if I die trying. Don't remind me that I probably will; that's beside the point. The point is, although life is full of land mines and booby traps, its very complexity promises that it can be rewarding at any age.

This blog does not offer advice or rules of good living. It will reveal some situations you might encounter and some stories from which you might learn, but its main purpose is to explore, from the vantage point of one who is there and enjoying herself, how the other side of sixty is different and how it may be the same. I have changed my life by what is sometimes known as “The Geographical Cure” – I moved to a distant state and have begun to bloom where I planted myself.

I am well aware that at my age most people are half of a couple. Their decisions are made as a committee of two. Their investments (in time, energy and money) are also made jointly. I too have been part of a couple – three times – but have been a widow for over seven years now, and am by now beginning to enjoy my autonomy and freedom. Learning to live alone, however, is a lot like learning to live with somebody. For one thing, it's not as easy as it looks.

I had a perfectly wonderful year when I was 61. Because my birthday is in May, this spanned two calendar years – 2001 and 2002. The shattering horror that occurred during that period, said horror being when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on 9/11/01 was made bearable by the fact that personally, good things were happening to me that year. Up until that time I had always said that my favorite year was the one when I turned 11. My second favorite year -- at least as good and probably better -- was the one that came 50 years later. There is something astonishing in that.

There is much that is hopeful in this new life. Maybe it's because 50 is the new 30. Maybe 100 is the new 90. But very few people of normal good health seem really old at 70. It may be said that those of us pushing 70 are trying too hard, but it seems to work. I will try to tell, not necessarily how you might cope, but how I have. I wouldn't say my style would work for everyone – I tend to err on the side of risk, as you will see.

However it is, it's been a good life, and today is my birthday. I'm 68. And if you stick with me by checking out this blog occasionally, I just bet you’ll enjoy the trip.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fair Hope for Hoboken

May 26, 2008

My last post inspired a friend to write comparing Hoboken and its preoccupation with Sinatra to Fairhope, my last domain, and its preoccupation with the school that was at the center of the town’s attraction in generations past.

Probably the only similarity is me. I spent a lot of energy in Fairhope working to preserve its heritage – both at the Organic School and in the history of the little utopian colony itself. Now that I’m in strange surroundings I’m most comfortable around the town’s historical neighborhoods and learning of its favorite sons and its old institutions, some removed and some restored.

This correspondent sees it as basking in the glory of others, even though the others are long gone. Maybe so. I suspect it’s just a different type of brain at work -- mine, somewhat like Jill Price of whom I wrote in a post a week ago -- being surrounded with memories and sometimes all but drowning in them. My home town, Fairhope, is facing its future by destroying its past and building new monuments. Hoboken, on the other hand, has retained much of its past while being open to the new where there is a buck to be made. There’s a difference, and to me the difference is in Hoboken’s favor.

We all have to live in the present and work toward the future. I’m told there is a lot of turnover in the population of Hoboken, and there is rampant political controversy in its conversion from an immigrant community to a bedroom for Manhattan. I could get involved in some of that after having visited the Open House at the Neumann Leathers Warehouse, now a rabbit warren of artists’ studios down by the river. Neumann Leathers is slated to be taken over for development, and there are many, including me, who hope that won’t happen to this unique haven for real artists. A fair hope for Hoboken, but probably there is no stopping the project.

However, Hoboken is no more obsessed with Frank Sinatra than Fairhope is with the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. On the other hand, these are both pet projects of mine, and I enjoy sharing their good points with the world. Glorying in the past? I don’t see it that way. Certainly both locations are moving forward at a dizzying clip. It’s me who’s determined to keep the past alive.

“Maybe it's time for each of these locations to make their own glory; after all, ghosts don't last forever,” writes my friend. I counter with this – they are making their own glory on their own, and I am making mine in my own modest way. It just happens that one of my pleasures in life is poring over old pictures, talking to people about the way things were, and reflecting on what is good about the past and the present. The future will take care of itself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Many Moods of Sinatra

May 19, 2008

I realize my title sounds like an album from the 1950's, but that's the danger you run when you start to write about Frank Sinatra. I attended a book signing party for the new collection of poems Sinatra...but buddy, I'm a kind of poem, at the Hoboken Historical Museum yesterday and I'm still in kind of a 1950's album kind of orbit. The poetry ranges from wistful and smoke-filled to hard-edged and envious, and the talk was of what the many myths of the man mean to the many sides of all of us. The book is a great read, edited by Gilbert L. Gigliotti, and published by Entasis Press.

Frank had a big week. First, his stamp came out, and I hope you went to the nearest P.O. and picked up a page of them, although I can't imagine sticking one onto my next utility bill or the one to the exterminator for my house in Alabama. A stamp is a small, utilitarian object, and Sinatra was never that. A Sinatra stamp causes a dilemma. It is to be used on mail that has an other than prosaic purpose -- a letter to a grandmother, a thank you note, an invitation to a party for the ages. And my grandmother is dead. I'll have to think of something.

Hoboken is still occupied by, if not obsessed with the man. Frank Sinatra's picture is in just about every restaurant. His voice is piped into the boutiques and Italan delis. People of a certain age have stories.

My friend Slezak (he has asked me to dispense with the "Mr.") writes: "I met his dad once ...I knew Sinatra’s godfather, Frankie Garrick. We used to go to his candy store he had on 7th street...I was at his 90th birthday party in the Elks Club in Hoboken...Sinatra was invited...he did not come but sent a case of champagne...Sinatra was supposed to be named Martin after his dad but the priest did not like it at St. Frances church ..SO they named him after Frankie Garrick ...I seen Sinatra only once in my life in 1948 riding on the back of his dad’s fire truck on a drizzly night with about 50 bobby soxers running after the truck. Sinatra lived on the next block from me as a kid . I lived between 9th and 10th. Sinatra lived between 9th and 8th." As a matter of fact, that would have to have been in 1947, when Hoboken proclaimed Sinatra Day, some 20,000 fans crowded City Hall and Washington Street -- and Frank rode on his dad's fire truck in the rain.

I told Slezak that I had asked some women of approximately Sinatra's age what they remembered and one of them said, "Frank Sinatra hated Hoboken, and he hated the people in it."

My nephew, Frank Sinatra buff and writer of books on popular music Will Friedwald, responded to this saying that most people are ambivalent about the town they grew up in. Will, I know, seldom if ever visits his home town of Brooklyn.

But Slezak adds this: "You are right ...YES Sinatra did not like the people. His old friends, I mean – they haunted him for money and had no respect for him. He had enough of that and slammed the door on Hoboken, promising never to return...but he did, to receive an honorary degree at Stevens.

"As I said, he lived on the next block from me. In the 1940s he would always pass my wife’s house and stop to see my wife’s aunt, Dolly Protomastro...he was crazy for her, but she did not like him. He was too skinny but always well dressed. She did not even know he could even sing. He was not famous then, but in later years she would go to the RUSTIC CABIN in Fort Lee to see him sing. (Everybody in Hoboken has a story to tell about Sinatra. Most of them are not true.)"

I have posted about Sinatra here before. Browse the archive for posts from the past if you're interested. Or pick up a copy of Will's book Sinatra: The Song Is You , or Gil Gigliotti's collection of poems, or go to those albums you saved and play track or two from In the Wee Small Hours or Only the Lonely -- or, if you want to lighten the mood, A Swingin' Affair or Songs for Swingin' Lovers. Pick your mood; Sinatra can match it. I learned yesterday the first two are known as the Suicide Albums (I always thought they were known as the Teen-Aged Makeout Albums). And the upbeat ones, well, they just taught us all how to have fun.

And one more thing I learned yesterday. Although there was initially a lot of resentment of Frank Sinatra by the men returning home from World War II, they mellowed toward him over the years. The most interesting thing Gil Gigliotti said was that Sinatra sang love songs, and women loved that, but just as often he sang songs to men, about women. Think about that. His songs outlined his own complex and conflicted life and articulated it for all of us -- without preaching -- in an easygoing, easy listening kind of way.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Lions of Hudson Street

May 17, 2008

My correspondent from the previous post described the house Sinatra bought for his mother on Hudson Street -- the most prestigious address in Hoboken -- as having two lions in front of it. I live in the shabby middle of a block a bit down the street, but my eyes lit up anyway.There are two lions in front of the house next door! They have clearly seen better days, but they are good guard-cats, and even better as a One of the lions next door
landmark when I need to tell someone which house I live in.

And two other lions at the top of the stoop of the house one door up from that!

I set out to find Sinatra's house by seeking lions in front of a house on the 900 block of the street. Bobby said the house was on the east side -- where the mansions are -- yet somehow I wouldn't have thought Sinatra would have bought his mother a mansion, no matter how high in the chips he was. But I took Bobby's word for it and went lion hunting with my camera.
On the mansion side of the street, in the 900 block, the only house with lions was this one. It really looked a bit magnificent to have been the place in which a young band singer would have ensconced his maternal parental unit, but it did have a pair of fierce little lions guarding the front yard.

The post script of the lions' tale is that Bobby said, no, that wasn't the house. It was a plain brick one on the other side of the street. Ah, well, I had a safe little safari up Hudson Street, and bagged some game I'd never even noticed before.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Blast from Hoboken's Past

May 14, 2008

I got an email from a reader who really knows Hoboken. Here's what he wrote me:

I came from hoboken. I’m 69 now and I came across your site by mistake ...I’m glad .....YES hoboken has changed ...its not the quiet town it used to be back in the 1950s.

As a young boy there was some great hangouts to have fun in, BUT they are all gone now. I’m not talking about the bars...there was always plenty of them...I’m talking about the ice cream parlor hangouts...such as ABLE’S across from Sacred Heart Acadamy on Washington Street, JACK-O –DINE’S on the corner by Demarest H.S., JANETTE’S on First and Washington Street. Biggie’s I think is still there but it's not the same.

They were the fun centers of our youth. Famed deejay ALLEN FREED rock and roll shows at the Fabian Theater, destroyed, now a supermarket...the mood and values all vanished it seems...the girls were just lovely...I’m sure time has changed that, just a little…I still have my girl friend I met in ABLE’S in 1958...she was a Sacred Heart Acadamy grad …I was the black jacket greased haired hot rodder that you did not want your daughter to go out with ..BUT YOU CANT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...I was sweet and charming back then…and still am...THEN CAME THE VIET NAM WAR...WELL my girl friend married me in St. Ann’s Church and off we war together...looking back to Hoboken with fond memories...4 kids 12 grandchildren later...we still love Hoboken...its memories, that is.

Looking at the two pictures: The first one is in front of St. Matthew’s Church on 9th and Hudson Street. Not in the picture is the hill to the right leading up Stevens campus we used to call DEAD MAN’S HILL...sledding in the winter (just a guess) ...the other with the steps (we used to call a stoop) is either on Park Avenue or Hudson the same area...I only lived a few blocks from there 924 garden street. Stevens Forum and Girl Scouts were right next door to me, now it’s a parking garage.

He's right about the places he identified in the pictures. Hudson is the street and he even knew the block. Well, why wouldn't he? He has a pretty good memory, maybe not another . Jill Price, but probably as close as I am. I love his emails -- he's sent me more with a lot of interesting info about Frank Sinatra (whose The Tender Trap will be on Turner Classic Movies tonight, a real microcosm of the 1950's) pen pal's writing style is a little contagious...gotta watch that...but it's a great read anyway. Don't you agree?

I'll share more of his snapshots of Old Hoboken from time to time. I can see him now in his leather jacket with his greased hair, a boy that Mama wouldn't let near the house. Luckily for Mama my house was in Montrose, Alabama, and the wild ones from Hoboken didn't know how to find it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Pretty Day (Yesterday)

May 12, 2008

It's raining, and it's even cold on this mid-May day, and is predicted to get even worse. I'm going out tonight, come hell or high water, which may indeed come as it tends to do in Hoboken. Today I can stay in and look at pictures of the beautiful day we had yesterday.

That's Hudson Street, just north of here. The little front gardens are in bloom with azaleas and dogwood, both of which we have in abundance in Alabama where I just came from, but down there they would all be long gone by this time of year. With this cool snap and the rain, no telling what the street will look like next week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Living with Memories

May 10, 2008

I saw a brief interview with Jill Price on Good Morning America in which she described having total recall of her whole life, revealing that her brain was being studied by doctors in California. The spot was in fact a promo for a segment that would air last night on the 20/20 broadcast.

I had to see that show. I have had something like Jill's affliction all my life too, and suspect there are many others of us out there. She stands out because she is unable to turn off the flood of memories, sometimes emotional, so much so that she lives with something "like a split-screen" in her head as her life goes on.

Most of us who have a lesser degree of this affliction have a little more control of it. My friends say, "You have a great memory," but it's more than that. I can relive incidents -- that is, seemingly return to them -- at will; however, for survival I seldom do. In Mrs. Price's case, she can recall dates, times, and vividly, to the point of knowing what she was wearing, what furniture was in the room, all the people present, all the little details of every hour of every day of her life.

That this is a curse is putting it mildly. I have checked out comments on the Internet to the news stories about her, and they break about half and half of those who feel they have something like the same ability and those who think it's impossible and some sort of hoax.

In my case, I learned years ago how to be judicious in revealing the many useless nuggets that fill my mind. I do not have memory of dates, but incidents and scenes that I observed yet in which I was sometimes not even peripherally involved. I might run into someone I knew slightly as a child and remember his birthday. If there is any purpose, I might find a way to work that into the conversation -- knowing a fact like that about a person can be flattering. To me it's just one of many things I might remember about that person, some of which I know to keep to myself. I wrote a book of memories; several people said that what I had written never happened, because the incidents in which they were involved were so slight and inconsequential in their minds that they had long dropped out of memory's range. Why I remembered them I cannot know.

The only surprise to me is when my memory has it wrong. I feel I can remember every movie I ever saw, from beginning to end, but sometimes (as in The Planet of the Apes post of yesterday) I find that my mind had altered a scene or two somewhat, and there were huge chunks of the film that dropped out completely. Sometimes I'll have an old flick on the tv that I recall vaguely having seen before and suddenly a whole scene will happen in which I know all the upcoming dialogue in advance of hearing it, and can say it along with the actors.

Every once in a while somebody will remind me of an incident that has completely slipped my mind. My daughter surprised me a few months ago by saying, "Mom, do you remember Genroko Sushi?" Without hesitation, I said, "No." Then she said, "That's one of my treasured childhood memories, that restaurant with with conveyor belt," and it came back to me. I was a single mom in Manhattan, and she was a little girl. I found this unique restaurant, on Madison Avenue near the rear entrance of B. Altman's, that served Japanese food on at a counter, the customers picking up their order as it passed them on a moving belt. We had many delightful Saturday lunches there.

On one hand, it's a point of pride that I can remember at least almost everything. On the other, I'm always a little pleased when I don't remember something. It makes me feel more normal.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Revisiting an Old Planet

May 9, 2008

Last night I watched most of Planet of the Apes on The Movie Channel. I hadn't seen it since its original release, but I thought I remembered everything about it. The viewing showed me how memory can sometimes play tricks.

When Charlton Heston died, I was very shaken. That may sound strange, since I knew he was old and not well -- and his best work was long in the past. Yet there was something invincible about him in memory, and I vowed to keep him there, strong and virile, as long as I could. I didn't realize how many of his movies I'd seen, and that sense of being in good hands I got from his presence on the screen. He always delivered just what you wanted. Or, at least, just what I wanted.

Everybody who saw Planet of the Apes remembers that "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" scene. It is the apex of the movie; in fact, the picture is structured so that, with the restoration of his voice, Taylor is all of us, and at that moment he speaks for us at last. I couldn't help but reflect that, if the movie were to be remade, that line would have to be rewritten with more blasphemous words or phrases than "stinking" and "damned," but the scene still has full power in its original form, largely because of Heston's rendering of that line.

In the obituaries, it was remarked that this film featured his only onscreen nude scene. What flashed before my eyes was a long-tucked-away memory of Heston in the altogether, embracing a young beauty who has been provided him by his ape captors as a potential mate, and saying, "You're not as smart as Lt. Stewart, but you're the only girl in town." I wanted to see that scene to see if it actually happened that way.

As a matter of fact, it didn't. The nude scene is when he is before some kind of ape tribunal; and they are trying to humiliate him. The judge says, "Take those rags off him; they smell bad and are offensive," something like that, and his clothes are ripped off, leaving him naked before the court. The physique that is revealed is flawless and Greek god-like, but the man looks abashed and almost ashamed.

As for the "You're not as smart..." scene, it has already occured by this time. We have seen him embracing the primitive beauty, we feel there is a bond between them, and the heartless guards, planning to have him neutered, have run the firehose on them both to separate them into different cages. He is looking at her longingly from behind his bars, and is forced to reflect on his life before captivity. In his line, he is acknowledging that in some way he is coming to love her as he has never loved a woman before.

The movie was made 40 years ago. I was about the age of the young woman. Charlton Heston is saying to me, "You're the only girl in town," and I never forget the moment, although my mind reserves the right to shift the sequence a bit. I run the line over in my mind -- I'm not as smart as Lt. Stewart, but I'm the only girl in town.

Okay, I say. I can accept that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Smattering of Wisdom

May 7, 2008

I'm reading a book about how to face the fact that you're aging and how to make the most of it. I got it from the library a few weeks ago and am just finishing it up now.

The Art of Aging by Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D., is a much more pleasant book than it sounds. He provides anecdotes about some impressive people who are outright old, for example, Dr. Michael DeBakey, and who are still living productive and admirable lives. He has interviewed them and gotten some of their secrets, and he shares them with us as freely as they did with him. He tracked down the controversial Aubrey de Grey, the Brit who slaves tirelessly to find the science that will put an end to aging and increase mankind's lifespan to extreme degrees -- by centuries, in fact.

There is much in this book that I never heard of, but most of it is gently explained. Its purpose is to provide the impetus to examine our days carefully and to seek wisdom in all of our projects, making our age inconsequential in our ability to function.

Its final chapters -- which I am savoring slowly in hopes of prolonging the pleasure of reading this book, as well as hoping some of its mature attitude will actually rub off on me -- deal with wisdom itself.

Here's a paragraph or two to tickle your fancy:

"'Wisdom is the reward you get,'Mark Twain is reputed to have said, for once without tongue in cheek, 'for a lifetime of listening when you would rather have talked.' Though the unassailably perfect wise man does not exist, the continuum of wisdom is everywhere around us.

"The getting of wisdom is, of course, a process, and it has no end point. There is no recognizable peak on which the seeker may finally stand and say, 'Now I am wise.' The process is incomplete at any stage, and the outcome, like all good, is relative."

I hope you will read this book. It's out in paperback now, and I'm thinking of buying a dozen copies to give to everybody I can think of.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Real Nice Street Fair

May 5, 2008

Hoboken's Arts Fair yesterday, compared to Fairhope's yearly 3-day Arts and Crafts Festival, was simpler, smaller, and yet more manageable and easier to take -- for me, anyway. It took up about eight blocks of Washington Street and featured booths from the restaurants on the street, including Indian food from the Karma Kafé, lots of Greek and Italian, the traditional funnel cakes, but also Fried Oreos, handmade crafts and jewelry, info booths from theatre groups, the historical museum, and other local interest clubs. Best of all there was music. Hoboken is big on music. There were bands everywhere and Monkee Mickey Dolan was around somewhere. And happily it came to an end by 6 P.M.

I had trouble thinking about the fair because my mind was on an Open House at this building, which is just one block from where I live, and on the same street. The realtor was late getting there so I killed a little time at the street fair before checking out the building. It turns out that, as it looks from the front, this is an old Hoboken treasure, built in the 1880's, now owned by an architect who is upgrading the apartments as they come up for rent. Its halls and interiors of the apartments are full of dark wood paneling, the ceilings are high, and the rooms are big. Luckily there was nothing available in the configuration I would want so I didn't have to make a major decision about moving and freeing up money somewhere.

My house in Fairhope hasn't sold yet. From what I can tell it may take a year or two. But I'm tolerating life in a shabby third-floor walkup, and yearning to get somewhere I can be more comfortable. I have found two buildings -- including the one yesterday -- to keep in mind for when the day comes to move. The two buildings couldn't be more different. One is historic and stately, being revived from a period of neglect; the other is a renovated warehouse with contemporary touches and Manhattan views. Then there is also that reclaimed school building I blogged about a few months ago. These three venues are a cross-section of Hoboken life, and any one of them would suit me fine.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Hoboken Experience

May 1, 2001

The day started off in a mundane way. I took the laundry in my little rolling cart to the Wash on Wash, the laundromat around the corner on Washington Street and did a few minutes on the elliptical and the upper-body machines at the gym across the street while the clothes finished the cycle. After the dry cycle I folded the clothes, put them in the cart, brought all home and sorted.

It was such a beautiful day that I decided to get lunch at some place with tables outside, which means just about any joint on Washington Street. I chose Vito's for a sandwich and enjoyed the crowd of guys placing orders as much as I did the sandwich. A sandwich here is a whole experience -- you can create your own by choosing from an array of ingredients they don't have in other places, certainly not in Alabama.

"Next!" says the guy behind the counter, and someone says "Tuna fish, roasted peppers and mutz on jabatta," then another "Next!" and "What's in a Sinatra?" "Soprozut, sun dried tomatoes, provolone and mutz." "What's soprozut?" "Kind of meat." "I'll take it." The sandwich makers have on black tee shirts with the Vito's logo on the front and "Best mutz in Hoboken" on the back. You get to choose from an assortment of spreads at the counter: olive, sun dried tomato, pesto, artichoke, whatever.

Soprozut is actually Soprasatto, an Italian sausage. For more on mutz, scroll through this blog and see my post. Lunch was tasty and ordering it was even better. I got a "Lizzie," which is a grilled panini with ham, provolone, and a few sun dried tomatoes on chiabatta ("Jabatta" above). It was chilly, but I sat outside anyway and read the book I had just gotten from the library.

On my way home I stopped in the little post office to buy a book of stamps.

The phone rang, and it was my friend Cristina offering to take me to Shop-Rite, the huge supermarket so far away I can't actually walk there. This will be my first trip to the famed Shop-Rite, so I agree and she meets me in her car in 45 minutes.

The market is awesome. Almost as big as Hoboken itself, and full of all the little things like a bottle brush like the one I didn't bring from Alabama and I have not been able to find anywhere. I am filling my cart, deciding I'll pay by credit card, when I discover that my wallet with credit cards is not in my bag. I put half the stuff back and have the cash to cover the items I do take home. I tell Cristina I am not worried, surely I left the wallet in my other jacket pocket or on the coffee table.

It is not there. Okay, let me mentally retrace my steps. I cannot remember where I had it last, but I know I went to the post office on Washington Street. On the way there I am making a list of all my cards and planning to call every company, every bank, and get my cards cancelled. It has not yet occured to me that the wallet contains my Medicare card, essential for getting reduced fares on everything here as well as the obvious, all my insurance cards, all my discount fare cards for transportation. I get to the window and wait impatiently for assistance.

"I was here today, and I'm looking for my wallet," I say to the young woman behind the counter."

Her face lights up. "Oh -- Adshead?" she says.

Yes, she found the wallet plus the two checkbooks that I also left on the counter when paying for the stamps.

"I gave them to a postman to deliver to you," she says, and recites my home address. "I put them in a Postal Service envelope. If they're not there this afternoon, they will be by tomorrow morning."

I have never been happier to be in Hoboken than I was yesterday. The envelope was in my mailbox.