Sunday, March 28, 2010
I sat in the microforms reading room in the Genealology Division of the New York Public Library. My obsession was old Brooklyn telephone directories. I surrounded myself with hordes of microfilm and I was determined to put myself in touch with the past. The year under my analysis was 1952. I noted with childish glee that Barbra Streisand had indeed lived on Newkirk Avenue. I moved on to discover the exact location of the old Garfield Cafeteria, and then I verified the addresses of my deceased grandparents.
The woman sitting next to me did not hesitate to reveal that she was adopted as a child and she was looking through material that might help identify her birth mother. Another lady searched through a roll of film that contained a list of the surviving soldiers of the Civil War. She was tracing history in order to compile a family tree. A man, who looked like Fyvush Finkel, was somberly looking through the Census records of 1920. All the visitors to the library were turning the wheels of the microfilm machines in complete unison! Oh, the fellowship of spirit! I felt we should all stand, hold hands, and sing a song!
Memories of summers filled with kiddie rides came flooding back to me. I remembered the miniature boat rides, the little car rides, and the small pony rides near the boardwalk. When I left the library, I longed with desperation to return to Brooklyn.
I wanted to walk down Flatbush Avenue in 1948, to go to old Steeplechase, to have lunch at the Famous on 86th Street... and most of all I wished I could visit my long deceased grandparents. But instead, I exited the library and found myself drenched in bright hot sunlight and walking down a long staircase covered in pigeon droppings. I limped down Fifth Avenue because my heel spur was killing me and all the way home I disgustedly dodged the rushed Manhattan congestion.
I entered my apartment and immediately took a short nap. When I awakened, I did not know if it was evening or morning. It was still light at dusk, and I got into my car. I drove south on the West Side Highway and the pink sun soon sizzled and set to my right over the Hudson River. I was numb, and I headed for Coney Island. By 9:00 PM, I realized that the cure for my nostalgia will always be the smell of sea air, the sight of the Parachute Jump in the distance, and... Nathan's.
I awakened and longed with desperation
To return to Brooklyn.
I wanted to ride until dawn on a creaky
Ferris wheel left behind by a carnival and
To visit the still standing luminous
Chartreuse home of my grandmother.
Memories behind stained glass windows
Beckoned like some naked amnesiac
Who struggles to reach home.
In the air, I could still smell the fullbodied scent
Of burnt potato pancakes that wafted through that
House and I often glimpsed the ghosts of ancestors
Lurking and sucking juice from the backyard peach tree.
I longed with desperation to return to old Brooklyn.
At 6 P.M. I slipped into my car
And drove south through Manhattan streets.
Streets at night eternally bathed
In disconsolate orange moonlight...
Trapped in an endless maze of mirrors.
The pink sun soon sizzled on the Hudson River
And set, to my right, in bright blazing Technicolor.
In the distance, one kittiwake
Seemed to have found the way.
I headed for the elixir of the spinning
Teacups: the kiddie rides at intoxicating
Coney Island...in, the most haunted and
Haunting of places: Brooklyn.
© 2004 Marjorie Levine, in "Naked Amnesiac"