Aisle Of Wit

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In a New York state of mind

So with Jeopardy-gate in a temporary (?) lull your author can tend to his own life again, and once again Leblang Across America is in airplane mode, this time the destination being his roots in New York.

Once again we are meeting the confluence of exciting present and troubling past, simply letting the fact we are still breathing be the beginning of resolution with the demons of our past.  Much of what we will write and do over the next two weeks will reflect those encounters of the mind, reconnecting personally with friends who are still comforable enough with science and me to share a meal, a ballgame or just a walk.  Yes, we do need to travel in order to get even that these days.

My first stop is an Airbnb I am renting in Queens.  These days I tend to prefer Airbnbs because they are both less expensive and inherently safer, at least to me.  People who invite you into their own homes seem to take have more control and care over their environments than do most hotels.   Even before coronavirus many hotels were stagnant and of questionable cleanliness standards to me.  Frequently I would travel to several cities a week to do work projects.  The cities were indistingushable.  The rooms often musty and reeking of smoke they otherwise shouldn’t have.  The coffeemakers outdated and the coffee far too strong.  The services increasingly nonexistant and, when they were supplied, soulless.

Last night I was personally greeted by my host, a genial Ecuadorian man named Santiago who lives in the bedroom adjacent to mine.  He handed me a key and assured me parking where I did–under an elevated subway track–was safe for my rental car; just be sure to move my car by 7:30 am.  My room is comfortable; the air conditioner works just fine even for a very humid night.

The neighborhood has changed markedly since my childhood days. Queens is largely an immigrant population where English is a secondary language.  Secular Jews like I was raised have largely moved or died off; the population is heavily of Spanish or Asian descent and their cultures rampant.  I stumbled upon a cute little bar with hookahs available as well as libations.  I had a perfectly enjoyable late meal while sharing a few tokes with folks I’d never met who were eager to share their joie de vivre with the strange guy with the Mets mask.

This morning I went for my staple walk and asked my phone to direct me to a 7-11 for my coffee and newspaper fix (yes, I am old school enough where I like actual newsprint).  I walked up a gently sloped hill and began to realize a sense of deja vu.  I reached my destination and when I did I realized I was half a block from what was my father’s temporary home for several years after my mom suddenly died.  And the memories came flooding in as quickly as the sun was heating up the morning.

Dad had tremendous difficulty tending for himself after mom died, eventually losing what little money he had to a neurotic would-be friend who convinced him he could sell songs if my dad would buy him and his equally insane girlfriend clothes attractive enough to go on auditions.  This man was far crazier than my dad was diagnosed as, yet it was my dad who was deemed unfit to live on his own.  So my sister and I relunctantly listened to doctors and moved him at age 60 to a new place.

His home from 1992-1995 was a senior citizen facility called The Homestead, where he was far and away the youngest and physically most capable resident.  He was quieted by medication and shyness, effectively exiled to a room away from his familiar apartment.  He struggled to speak Leblanguage, but when he did speak he spoke volumes.  His turning point was when he began to work with a proactive, younger counselor who ignored the “advice” of his family and asked my dad to answer a simple question–what do YOU want?  Dad’s equally simple answer: “I want to go home”.

The 7-11 that got my business this morning was steps from that senior citizen residence, still standing.  Across the street was a Dunkin’ Donuts, my other guilty pleasure when I’m on the East Coast, particularly in summer.  I ordered my late summer staple–large frozen coffee with pumpkin flavor, and stared at the porch where my dad sat silently with far older men whose better days were behind them.  Dad knew he had a lot more left in him.  So he recharged his batteries, got his priorities in order, found a caretaker at the Homestead who needed a home for her and her daughter and pitched the idea of being a live-in friend/caretaker that would keep him safe and solvent to my sister and I.  When we heard dad make his simple request, we relented.  We let him go home.

I find this confluence of geography and memory to be especially poignant as I suck on my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee this morning and write these thoughts in silence.  Santiago just knocked and said the bathroom is ready for me to use if I want to shower before I get out on the road today.  There’s fresh towels and hot water.  Who needs room service?  Who needs Manhattan?  I’m perfectly fine.  I’m healthy.  I’m home.  For now.

Until next time…