I recently saw a painting by one of my favorite artists, Erna Partoll. The painting, called Doorways, spoke to me. Unlike the bright and vibrant colors in many of her other abstract paintings, the colors in Doorways are somewhat muted, pleasing pastel shades. The image of four doors and the sun shining over them is soothing. Doorways is a perfect name for this painting. Were I to give it another, I might call it Peaceful Transition.
Peaceful transition has been on my mind a lot these days. I am hoping, (and praying) for a peaceful transition in the United States to a kinder, more caring, more empathetic, environmentally conscious, humanitarian leadership. The fear mongering and hatred of these last few years feels worse than anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I haven’t been around for a zillion years, but I recently spoke to a bright, witty 94-year-old woman who felt very much the same.
Yes. I am hoping for a peaceful transition of power.
The pandemic has meant the closing of far too many doors: jobs lost, businesses closed, lives lost. The sadness, fear and anger over all these many closed doors is immeasurable. This is anything but a hoax. It has been a sad and harmful wave and must not be downplayed. But we also must find a way to survive all those doors closed and open some new ones.
I have been thinking about my friend David. He met his wife at a survivor party after 9/11. They both worked around the World Trade Center, each has their own 9/11 survivor story. They met at this party for those who came to close to death that terrible morning, and they fell in love. That love was a new doorway. They had a beautiful son who is now a teenager. Their family is something I like to think about on 9/11 when I am looking up at the two hauntingly beautiful beams of light. Something beautiful can come out of the worst sorrow.
What beautiful things might have been born out of the sadness of Coronavirus? Amid all the terrible loss, how many couples got closer from having been forced to stay at home? How many children got a deeper love from their parents than they had known from having home-schooled. And yes, I am sure a whole lot of people wanted to kill each other. But let’s focus on the good.
I think of the baby boomers. All those babies born between 1946 and 1964, the post-World War II babies. I just made the cut. The last year of baby boomers, 1964. All that fear and death and fury finally ended. The soldiers (who survived) came home, and lot of celebrating ensued. A lot of babies were born.
Sometimes I wonder how many children will be born because of this pandemic. All that time at home must have led to a lot of canoodling. Always loved that word. Will there be a generation Covid-boomer?
New doorways can be exciting, but they can also be scary. A lot of folks who know me will throw around B words to describe me like brave, ballsy, badass, maybe another B word, but that one I’ll skip. The truth is I’m more of a nester. I’ve been in uncomfortable situations for most of my life, so when I get comfy, I don’t like to leave. I even get separation anxiety from hotel rooms I’ve stayed in for more than a few days.
In the early ’80s, I got a job bartending on a faux Mississippi River boat in South Street Seaport called the Andrew Fletcher. The Seaport was different then than it is now. The Fulton Fish Market was thriving. Real fisherman, and lots of them worked in the seaport. The smell of rotting fish was overwhelming at times, but was a small price to pay for the feeling of really being a part of old New York. I loved the seaport back then. I got comfortable surrounded by my pals in the ship’s crew and my besties: the bartending ladies I worked with, three of whom I am still friends with today. With the deck hands, bar backs and the party-hearty motley crew of ship-loving volunteers and workers, we congregated at our favorite local watering hole in the Seaport: Macduffy’s.
The crew even forgave me for ordering white wine. A pint of Guinness and a shot of whiskey was the norm.
I was offered a job at a terrifyingly busy bar in Manhattan and turned it down to keep popping open cans of lager in the Seaport where I felt comfortable. On warm nights on the top deck looking at the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island as we floated by, I felt a serenity. The other bar babes moved on to brighter pastures. One became a lawyer, one took her painting career to new levels. I waved them on but felt too safe to jump ship. I let five years go by. I didn’t learn anything new really. There was no further part of the ladder to climb up. It was a dead end job. What finally pushed me out was corporate management. Seems I didn’t quite fit their yuppie/preppie mold. Must have been the zebra striped hair.
When the Seaport door closed, I was forced out of my safe cocoon. I was hurt and angry at first, but it forced me to open new doors. I marched into a giant commercial kitchen that fed thousands of people a day and demanded to be hired at an entry level position. Those very words “Entry Level” went against my grain. Head bartender had sounded a lot sexier than entry level cook, but it was a beginning.
Many times I think about what would have happened if I’d been allowed to keep my comfortable job. Would I never have become a chef? Would I never have written a book? Opened my business, now in its 32nd year? I’d like to think I would have strived for fulfillment, gone to school at night. But. Who knows?
I do miss the energy of the Seaport in 1981. It’s not the same now. It feels closer to a Banana Republic than a fish market these days.
My pal Charmaine introduced me to Red Hook, Brooklyn. Almost immediately I felt the feeling I had when I first walked into the South Street Seaport. The men I passed looked like they might have been off duty firemen, deck hands or cops. There were local beloved watering holes not unlike Macduffy’s. We walked along old brick warehouses turned into homes and businesses along the water. The people I met didn’t go into Manhattan for fun. They stayed right there in Red Hook. We had lunch overlooking the water. I didn’t feel like I was in Brooklyn but in a fishing village of days gone by. This was the New York I’ve been missing.
That day I planted the seed to start looking into moving to Red Hook. It’s crazy, really. Like I said, I’m a nester. I’ve been living in my fourth-floor-walk-up East Village apartment for 21 years. I love my apartment. I’m used to the stairs and the quirks of my building. I live a 12-block walk to my catering kitchen of 16 years now. I love my morning walk to work. I am very comfortable. Red Hook is a 22-minute walk to the nearest subway. I timed it. Not bad on a sunny day, but on a cold or rainy day? Locals either drive, take a bus to the train or commute by ferry. My 12-block walk would become an hour commute. Big price to pay for serenity. But the Manhattan I love is gone. It has become the Emerald City. Too expensive for mom and pop businesses to survive and for working class people to live in. Many of the businesses that managed to survive have not survived Corona.
Yes there are closed doors all around me and in my own life, but I do feel new ones opening. I feel the pull of new beginnings. What adventures await me? I don’t know, but it’s not adventure I seek. It’s the feeling of going home. I just needed to be brave enough to leave my home to find my new one.
What doorway waits for you?