Memory Sketch #12
April 20, 2001
Hard as it may be to imagine, there was a time when we did without telephones. Well, not totally without. There was a telephone in the Candy store on Blake Avenue, but there were no phones in the house, not in ordinary people’s apartments. Rich people, I thought, probably did have private phones in their own house, just like in the movies. My Uncle Israel, Israel Lutsky, was one of those. He had his own telephone, sitting on a little table between the living room and the kitchen. This was in his big apartment on Central Park West.
The Central Park West apartment was huge, with large windows overlooking the Park from high up, very high up. It scared me to look down, it was so high. Everything in the apartment was large, the rooms were large, the furniture was large, there was a large dining room table with chairs bigger than I had ever seen. There were so many rooms, you could get lost, and if you had to go to the bathroom urgently, it was really important to remember just where it was.
When my sister, Linda, was old enough to visit Uncle Israel and Aunt Lilly, she returned with two amazing observations: first, that Uncle Israel had blankets on the floor; second, that whenever he was in the street and wanted to ride instead of walk, he would just hold up his hand and a car would come to him. Although short of stature, Uncle Israel was larger than life, and somewhat magical too.
As far as my corner of the block went, that is, for everyone I knew, the telephone was in the Candy store, which was why we took to hanging around there. My friends and I used to purposely play near the Candy store every evening because when a call came in for someone living in the nearby apartment buildings, the Candy man would come out and yell for one of us to run upstairs and tell the person that there was a call. Most of the time, we’d get three cents or a nickel for notifying them. When it came to someone who “forgot” to tip us a second time, the Candy man had to plead with us to go. Sometimes he would advise his customer to give us something if they wanted to be called to the phone, or else he wouldn’t be able to help them out. Then they would say, “OH, of course, I just forgot,” and out of their pocket would come some pennies or a nickel.
Speaking of embarrassment, I noticed that very often I felt embarrassed if I had to wait at the door while the person went to get some money. There was something about waiting, like holding out my hand, like begging, it just felt really bad. Since I never talked about it, I really don’t know what the others felt, and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up first.
We didn’t get our own telephone until after we had moved to 180 Chester Street, and once again we were on the third floor. I think we moved when I was about eight years old. When the apartment was first set up, we had a bit of a living room, with a couch and chair. Arnie slept in a single bed along the inner wall of the living room, and I had a very little room all to myself with a bed across the width of the room right next to the window, a bureau of drawers, and a fold down desk piece of furniture which had book shelves behind glass doors above and three drawers below. For a while, Linda slept in a crib in our parents bedroom. When she got a little older, it was good-bye living room because every room aside from the kitchen, became a bedroom. All in all, the Chester Street house and apartment wasn’t as nice as on Bristol Street, but there was more room, and there was the telephone, which was on a small table just inside the living room - bedroom.
We lived on Chester Street near Sutter Avenue for a really long time. There was a luncheonette called Mike and Harvey’s on the corner, where working people, like my Dad, would stop in after work to talk. In the evening and on the weekends the local flashy dressers hung out there. The grocery store, to which I had to go very often, despite the cat there which made my nose run and my eyes itch, was located just across Sutter Avenue. On the cross corner, there was a delicatessen that served pretty good food. What I really liked was that for along time, a Candy Store was located in my very own building. On the ground floor there was an interesting apartment in which some local young women, whenever they needed some money, would periodically entertain the flashy dresser guys from the neighborhood. When they were planning to entertain, the word went out the old fashioned whispering way, without the use of the telephone.