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Travels with Dad, Part 4


[We stop in front of the Park Plaza Movie theater and Yiddish School -- both compeltely obliterated. The further back we go, the softer my father's voice becomes. Everything was such a struggle. I suspect that he feels a lot of the pain from those days.]

David

This was a very important corner for us.

Aaron

Sure. This is where the action was.

David

This is where the Park Plaza Theater was. You can still see the impint where the stairs, the fire-escape used to be. Remember how I begged you to let me see Sparticus?

Aaron

I didn't think you were old enough. But I guess eventually I gave in. This is where you took your Hebrew stuff... up there.

(Actually it was Yiddish. And I learned nothing in three years. My friend George and I had learned sign language and practiced sign language in the back of the class. At the end of three years, my father asked me to say something in Yiddish and all I could say was "What is your name? My name is David" At which point he pulled me out of the school.

David

(of course I'm still fixated on food.) I used to get french fries there. Greasy french-fries in a bag. We put ketchup and salt on it and shook it around and that was a big treat. The little place was always crowded with kids getting french fries. I don't think they sold anything else. There was a guy who made flat pizza for the first time on this street. They didn't call it Sicilian pizza, they called it square pizza and it was a nickel more than regular pizza.

(We're driving down University Avenue)

Aaron
(impressed)

Look how nice those buildings are. Unbelievable. They're cleaning everything up. Look at this. When we left it, everything was destroyed!

David
(matter of fact)

Everything was destroyed.

Aaron
(looking at the center strip on University)

They don't have park benches though. There used to be park benches.

(I convince him to park at a fire hydrant across from 1636 on the other side of University and we get out. He stands there, looking down the block, beginning to name stores.)

There was the drugstore -- over there on the corner. Then we had Ronai (that was the deli that was almost a second home to me).

David

Doesn't it look nice, though?

Aaron

It looks very nice.

Aaron

That would be our building. And we lived on the ground floor. (Sort of amazed to be standing there) Right up in front. Listen to this story... I don't know how it happened. I may have been in the house. And there's a scuffle going outside on the street. And there's a black guy on top of a white guy. And whatever the reason is, the black guy says to me, "Help me hold him down, I'm gonna get the police."

And I get on top of this white guy and I hold him down. There's people all around us. And they get a cop and the cop comes by and he sees the white guy and he says, "Scottie. " The cop knows the guy on the bottom. And he says, "Scottie. You're fuckin' drunk again. You're always drunk. " And I get off. And that's it. But it's a little nutsy on my part. But that's what I did.

* * * End of transciprtion from that day. We then go into 1636. * * *

Later I asked my father for stories about his mother. I remember my grandmother as a very old lady, although in pictures taken in her forties, she already looked old. She wore thick glasses, was stocky, and she frightened me a little. What frightened me was that no matter what I did, she seemed to find some chink in my ego. If I was a student, she wondered how I would ever find a job. If I had a job, she wondered if the work was steady, or would it lead anywhere. If I wasn't dating, she wondered why not. If I was dating, there was something wrong with the girl. If you got married, she wondered why you didn't have children. If you had children, she wondered how you were going to support them. In retrospect, she was a depressed, frightened woman -- but also possessing superhuman strength. She came to this country as an orphan in her teenage years. And she worked as a scrub woman, and later as an aide, emptying bedpans etc. in Jacobi Hospital.

The dishes she washed were caked with crud. We used to secretly go back into the kitchen behind her back and wash them again. Every glass in the house was from a jelly jar. Yet she could be a very giving person. We always left the house with bags filled with little hard cookies that had a shelf life of fifty years: lard and flour. I could live on these cookies for years when I was a student at Buffalo.

Aaron

You want to hear stories about your grandmother? I've got lots of them. One day, there's these... I don't know what they were... I think seven day adventists. And they're all black. And they're looking for a place to sleep. So they sleep in our house. This is Cleveland, and we're on the ground floor of the apartment. And the landlady comes down and says to us, "If you don't get those blacks out of here, your gonna go out." And either my mother or my father told her to get lost, and the blacks slept over for a couple of days.

There's one other story that you've got to tell. A woman knocks on the door and says, "I have a man... he's a stranger... I don't know anything about him. But he's constipated and he's in great pain. He needs an enema. Would you do it?"

Your grandmother says, "Yeah, but you gotta get me a towel. And you gotta get me a blanket for him. And everything, and I'll do it." So she goes over and she gives this strange man an enema. That was your grandmother.

* * *

 

 

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