A DayBook in a Life: Elderly Neighbor Excerpts

Topographical map of the City of New York : showing original water courses and made land New York : Ferd. Mayer & Co., c1865. Via Library of Congress, Geography and Map DivisionPrologue

My second apartment in NYC was a 5th floor walk-up on 91st and Lexington. It was nice – a living room, a small kitchen, a bedroom.  The bathroom was nicely tiled with, ironically enough, American Olean Tile and featured an authentic stain glass window.  The living area overlooked the 92nd Street Y.   The apartment was rent stabilized—which was great.  Initially the rent was under $300 and only modest increases were allowed throughout my tenancy.

On the fourth floor, below my apartment and that of my next door neighbor, in a six-room flat, boasting two fireplaces, a kitchen and a pantry, overlooking both 91st and Lex,  lived Mrs. Graham.  Mrs. Graham could not remember when she moved in, it was after the War, but she wasn’t sure which war, could have been WWI, may have been WWII.  I didn’t pursue it.   Her rent was $104 throughout her tenancy.  She was convinced the landlords were trying to kill her.  They weren’t.

Mrs. Graham and I became fast acquaintances.  When I introduced myself to her the first time I pronounced my name phonetically Mac.EL.fresh.   I was used to talking to the elderly; my grandmother back home was hard of hearing–pronunciation and pitch were important.    Shortly thereafter there was a timid knock at the door and Mrs. Graham queried me about my name.  She had picked up a package, brought it up to me and saw the name McElfresh spelled out.  Puzzled she said, “I have relatives in Maryland.  They have the same name, but they pronounce it McElfresh.”

Her pronunciation was the same as our pronunciation – we were somehow distantly related.

Mrs. Graham was old and needed help.   I found myself frequently changing light bulbs, feeding her cats, running errands, typing her angry memos to the landlord, letters to the editor, and other diverse correspondence.  I agreed to type a poem that she had written, “Home”.   Needless to say it was an epic poem.

In return she baked me things.  I saw her kitchen, the cats on the table, the milk sitting out, and then there was the rattling I heard one day.  I glanced around and under the table was an open coffee can—the rattling was the mass of cockroaches crawling around it in.  So when baked goods were offered, I very politely thanked her and tossed the delectables out—living in NYC in the 70’ and 80’s a good sense of self-preservation was necessary.

My grandmother loved my selected Mrs. Graham stories—and there always one to relay to her.  Even after Mrs. Graham passed away, for my Grandmother’s sake, I kept her alive and continued to pass along stories.

Select Mrs. Graham Entries

Thursday, Jan 5, 1984—New York City—Mrs. Graham is downtown in court today–her malpractice suit against Lenox Hill Hospital.  She used my credit card last night to order a Fugazy Limousine.

Tuesday July 3, 1984—New York City–Incidentally, Mrs. Graham has been having difficulties and I was supposed to take care of her cats if anything went wrong or if she had to go to the hospital.  She said on the telephone, after a visit to her doctor, that she is in trouble.  We whispered a small prayer.

Wed. Nov. 28, 1984—New York City—Mrs. Graham called first thing in the morning to say that she was having a coronary.  I got down there and found her weak as a kitten and panting.  Sat her down in her chair where she leaned back, tears streaming down her face and breathing strenuously.  I called her doctor and got her nurse who telephoned for an ambulance.  When it arrived fifteen minutes – in between the police came and went and Mrs. Graham gave me instructions in a very weak voice to have the cats killed and herself cremated—the crew said, “Where’s the emergency?” and indicated that Mrs. Graham was fine.  I was a bit flustered, truly.  I had to deny that I called 911.  Anyway, I called her niece K.R. and another ambulance came and things ended up all right.

Mon. Dec. 3, 1984—New York City—Had a phone call from Mrs. Graham.  She sounded fine.   Took an abbreviated walk.  Dad bought 32 acres, including a quarter-mile of shoreline in Vinalhaven, off Maine.

Map:   Topographical map of the City of New York : showing original water courses and made land
New York : Ferd. Mayer & Co., c1865.
Via Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

A Daybook in a Life — Day 200

A Map of the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike Road

THE SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

Sat. July 21, 1984—New York–M.H.and I headed off to Princeton in a pouring rain.  She brought along a bag of cherries and we drove slowly down Rte. 1 in New Jersey with cherry pits shooting out from first one side of the car, then the other.

At Princeton we visited the Art Gallery and ate 2 eggs and toast each at Harry’s.  I don’t suppose I care to live there.  It reminded me of a prosperous stock broker town in Westchester.  Oh well.  It was only ever an idea anyway.

We stopped in Little Falls and telephoned Zach.  Back in NY we got Chinese to go at Egg Foks or something.  Zach arrived and ate one egg roll and off we went to see a suspension.  Some man hanging by meat hooks on a wire over 11th Street.  I was quite hoping that the police would arrive in time to do a suspension of their own but they didn’t. M.H. was up in the window—she was on hold in case they—can you believe it!—needed somebody to put the hooks in.

It happened and got over with by maybe 8 o’clock.  Some Puerto Rican super was extremely impressed when I explained to him what the mechanics of this thing were going to consist of.  We took M.H. home then went to see Ghostbusters.  It was all right.  There were plans to go to Mystic in the morning so I went right to sleep.

###

Note:  More on the suspension:  It really did happen and you can learn more at the Art Gallery NSW.  The artist was Stelarc, the suspension was organized by the Mo Gallery.  He was suspended from the fourth floor on a cable between two buildings on East 11th Street. The suspension lasted 12 minutes.  I did witness it and was appalled at such a macabre, useless presentation of what?  Was it uplifting? Was it inspiring? Or was it just a disturbing spectacle in a strange period of time full of them?

Map of the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike Road:  Via the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

A Daybook in the Life–Days 180-183

McElfresh Family Yacht<br /> Tammy Norie <br /> Whiskey Delta 6553

McElfresh Family Yacht
Tammy Norie
Whiskey Delta 6553

Prologue: Tammy Norie is the name of a small Scottish bird, a puffin.

Timeframe:  Mid-1960’s

The Boat:  The first Tammy Norie was built in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England by Whisstock’s Boat Yard, situated on the Deben River, several miles upriver from the English Channel.  It was sailed solo across the Atlantic Ocean by a British doctor, William McCurdy.  The voyage was a personal challenge which Dr. McCurdy set for himself.  Satisfied, he put his boat up for sale in Essex, CT. and flew home.

Bus McElfresh from landlocked Olean in upstate New York, had served in World War II in the Pacific Theater.  He captained a PT (Patrol Torpedo) Boat and fell in love with boats and the ocean.  Twenty dry years later, a successful business and family man, he got back on the water.  He took his family for a week  on a chartered sailboat.  That didn’t settle his sea-faring spirit, it only stirred it all the more.

An avid reader of Yachting magazine, he saw an ad for a sailboat in Essex, CT.  He loaded the family into the station wagon and set off to take a look.  It wasn’t quite what he was looking for—but another boat was.  A beautiful British built 40 foot ketch.  Dark blue wooden hull.  Dark reddish sails  Bowsprit.  A stunning vessel–Dr. McCurdy’s Tammy Norie.

Mr. McElfresh made an offer and the family spent a couple of years sailing the Tammy Norie on Long Island Sound and along the Atlantic Coast of New England.  The Tammy Norie spent winters in storage in Essex, Ct.  Mid winter 1968, a fire roared through the winter boat storage barn in Essex destroying a number of boats—the Tammy Norie was one of them

It was decided to rebuild the Tammy Norie at the same yard in Woodbridge that had built the original beloved vessel.  The boat was built. The family now owned a brand new Tammy Norie.  Difficulty: it was in England and they had to get the 40 foot sailboat to Essex, CT.  Quick solution—fly to England and sail the Tammy Norie home.    The four member McElfresh family (parents and college age daughter and son) and a recruited crewman sailed the Tammy Norie from Woodbridge down the English Channel  through the  Bay of Biscay  to the Portuguese island of Madeira off the coast of Africa.  Powered by the trade winds, the same wind that brought Columbus to America in 1492, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Bermuda and finally on to Essex, CT.

The trip was successful. The crewmen married the captain’s daughter and Bus McElfresh’s family sailed the new Tammy Norie along the New England coast until his death in 1991. During those years, the boat was harbored in Essex, CT, Camden, ME and finally in Stonington, CT.

Fast forward to 1984–the boat after being based in Camden for more than a decade had to be sailed to a new home port in Connecticutt. The first segment of the journey as documented in the daybook:

Thursday, June 28, 1984—New York City to Camden, ME—Zach and I picked up M.H. at 8:00 and Jay at 8:15.  Breakfast at Sherwood Diner in Saugatuck, or someplace, Conn.  Arrived Camden at 6:00.  Dinner at the Sail Loft with the Eddy’s and McClellen’s.  Overnight on the boat.

Friday, June 29, 1984—Sailing—Left Camden at 10:45.  Foggy and cold.  Wind off the bow.  By midnight entire crew has been violently sick except Jay.  A long day.  M.H. looking pale and big-eyed and very curly hair.

Saturday  June 30, 1984—Sailing—Mom’s Birthday.  Foggy day at sea.  Saw a whale or two in Cape Cod Bay.  A lovely dinner in the Canal though fog hugged the entrance like an old horror movie. Arrived Quissett at 12 midnight.  A grateful crew.  Jay, Zack and I stayed aboard.  M.H. and Dad retired to the Hamilton residence with Mom.

Sunday, July 1, 1984—Falmouth, MA to New York City—Got up at 7:30.  Paddled around the harbor a bit.  Dad arrived and we all went to the house for showers and breakfast.  The McClellen’s arrived with my car.  Drove down to check in with Dad then to Curtis Food Shop and bought a box of Michael Jackson cards with Amy, a pack of “Nerds” for Carrie.  All went swimming at Wood Neck Beach then took off about 4:30 for Mystic.  Went to see the house then a very pleasant dinner at the Seaman’s Inn.  Dropped M.H. off first, then Jay.  Zach staying the night.  Home by 12:30.

A Daybook in a Life — St. Patrick’s Day 1984

Sat. March 17—New York City—St. Patrick’s Day.  Woke up, got out of bed, worked at my play for a couple of hours and then bundled up and headed downtown, to 9th Ave and 42nd Street to buy tickets to Fool for Love, the Sam Shepard play.  I stopped by Brooks Brothers on the way to buy a new coat and with the St. Patrick’s crowd milling around and my shamrock tie and pretty dreary looking coat, the 2nd floor guy didn’t hardly give me the time to say what I was looking for before he told me categorically that they didn’t have any such thing and then ushered me out the door.

I fought my way back uptown and watched the parade for quite a while from in front of Gimbel’s then came home and ate apple, cheese and a bagel then out again.  It was quite cold really, with periods of bright sun, but it was blustery and grey most of the time.  The parade this year seemed kind of subdued emotionally.  I think politics is creeping in to a damaging degree. I was appalled at the make-up of the Irish Northern Aid committees. I thought to myself they’ll need more help than that.

A Daybook in a Life–Days 168 &169

Civil War Battlefield Journey Continues….

Monticello, Photographed by Rufus W Holsinger via the Library of Congress.TMore

 

Sun.  June 17. 1984—Virginia–Had the best grits of my Southern trips.  We drove up to Monticello and did a fairly thorough tour.  The area surrounding reminded me, for some reason, of Olean though the vegetation was thicker, clustered certainly closer to the road and more “viney” than  W. New York. None-the-less,  that was an impression I got.  It was a beautiful day.  Hot, heavy sun.  I got a kick out of looking in the mirrors Jefferson looked in.  Mirrors have, after all, some spirit and image correlation.  It was interesting too, knowing Jefferson’s intense feelings about Monticello to try and imagine how peaceful and proprietary it would feel to have all that – the long terrace of gardens, the Mulberry Row of shops, the walks of flowers, the sense of satisfaction the Presidency would give.

I got a crush on a chubby little blonde girl who took tickets outside the east entrance and when she and her little skinny sister walked off down the path, something little placed in my heart sighed and will wonder forever.

We packed up and headed for Ashland, Monroe’s house, just two miles and visible from Monticello.  It had nothing of the “consequence” about it that Monticello does, but was interesting in a general way.  Peacocks (and pea hens) roamed the grounds.

Then on the road again North, via Rte. 64W and then to Staunton and Rte.11 North, the old Valley Pike.  I saw the wooden mill in Edenburg that Sheridan spared because it was the town’s only livelihood.  We stopped just short of Winchester and I took a long walk to determine the situation vis-a-vis the Battle of Kernstown.  I believe I have succeeded and will put my conclusions to test in the morning.

**Also on Rte. 64 we drove up the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountain in a gushing rain storm, and as we were just coming out of it, there galloping beside the road and alongside a “falling rock” fence was a baby fawn.  Disposition not known.

Sketch of the Battle of Kernstown, Sunday, March 23d 1862, Jedediah Hotchkiss. Via the Library of Congress Georgraphy and Maps Division.

Mon.  June 19, 1984—Virginia, Maryland and New York–Zach slept and slept while I read and wrote–a beautiful foggy morning in the Shenandoah Valley.  The very nice motherly Oriental woman who seems to own the place signaled me over for a cup of coffee and then couldn’t get the dispenser to work.  She thought Zach was my wife.  Two nights before a Pakistani motel keeper thought he was my father.

We drove a mile or so up Route 11 to the middle Road and then drove Southwest for app. 1 mile.  A ready row of trees went diagonally NW across the field.  I selected this as the sight of the stone wall of the Battle of Kernstown.  We drove the car up a farm path alongside the extended clump of trees and stopped where there was a break through.  Some older fella drove up in a station wagon. His son owned the property.  Later a real pretty lady came by named Kooce.  The owner was her husband.  She said that they were of the opinion that this was the place too and that reenactments had taken place here as well.

So we hit the road pretty well pleased and headed for Sharpsburg.  A few wrong turns later we were there, had lunch at the Red Byrd and headed out to hunt for property.  It had gotten very humid and hot.  I wasn’t feeling to extremely earnest about finding a place so after some desultory looking around, we headed back to NY.  Dropped Zach off and made it to the apartment by 8:15.  Took and abbreviated walk and made some phone calls:  Lee, Wade, Marta, Liza, Mom & Dad, read a bit and to bed.

Photos:

Holsinger, Rufus W., Copyright Claimant. Monticello Cirkut. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2007663557/>.

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Sketch of the Battle of Kernstown, Sunday, March 23d. 1861. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2005625007/>.

 

A Daybook in the Life — Days 166 and 167

One of Many–A Journey to Civil War Battlefields

Seat of the War in America, Bacon & Co. — via Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Fri. June 15, 1984—New York and headed south—In the car at 7a.m. Down Fifth Avenue to 34th Street without a stoplight.  One of those new morning—old routine days in Manhattan.  Zach and I underway for the south at 8:30 or so.  A nice, cool, sunny day.  Gettysburg at 12 noon.  Hiked the battlefield, bought some books, watched the electric map (in exactly the reverse order that I’ve described) and generally enjoyed the afternoon.  After going northwest of town to see Reynold’s statue, we headed down Rte. 15, having a bit to eat in Leesburg then stopping for the night in a genuine fleabag near Warrenton.

Sat. June 16, 1984—Virginia—A reasonable start in the rain for Richmond.  We found a nice diner in Culpeper.  I ordered “blueberry cakes” and got some pancakes, covered with a gruesome blue smelling paste.  I ate around it and did fine.  Couldn’t find Kelley’s Ford nor the road leading to Clark Mtn. but we made it to Richmond all right.  Some cute little blonde girl screamed “stupid” at me when I was looking at the map and trying to figure out where to go but otherwise, Richmond was a bit run down and quite placid.  The downtown looked like an extended Olean with a three and four-story building kind of fading in the sun, the signs turning the weary off-color of long exposure.

The Confederate Museum was great, full of artifacts and little bits of business that everybody had been using the moment they were shot.  The presentation was in a chronological sequence and finishing the exhibit you’d pretty well worked your way through the war,  There was a distinctly southern bias to the tone, most notable in the plaque describing the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia .

We drove around a bit.  The Confederate White House was lost, very much like Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home”, amid the glacial looking new buildings, including the Confederate Museum itself.

We went through some real “poor” white neighborhoods in our efforts to get to Hollywood Cemetery.  There was a beautiful, clear blue-eyed girl, tough as a savage, standing looking at us as we hunted up and down the run-down streets for the entrance to the cemetery.  The cemetery itself was impressive in a lush, Southern Victorian way.  It reminded me of a swimming pool emptied out with heavy rock walls and huge Eucalyptus trees towering over the mass of grave stones and mausoleums.  We saw JEB Stuart’s, John Pegram’s, John Tyler’s , James Monroe’s, Jeff Davis’s, Geo. Pickett’s, Fitzhugh Lee’s, and a few other graves—Southall Freeman’s.

Unable to contact Tommy K..  We left Richmond and headed for Charlottesville along Rte 250.  Long straight and rolling ride to the White House Motel.

Stay tuned–the trip continues……

A Daybook in the Life Days 160 & 161

Best Man on the Job

Fri., June 8—New York—I intended to spend the day gazing around but I ended up all morning on the telephone.  A hot, muggy day–sunny and steamy–but very nice.  I picked up J. at 3:10 pm and we drove in heavy slow traffic up 3rd Avenue, across 118th Street to First and out over the Willis Ave. Bridge and on to Greenwich.  I was told that a toast was in order for tonight and nearly collapsed but that turned out not to be true.  We went to the rehearsal and things went smoothly.  The rehearsal dinner was very nice and the toasts were very touching.  T. and I eventually G. went to Tumbledown Dicks and stayed until 2.  Mr. P. growled at us from the landing when we came in.  Top bunk J’s room.

Sat., Jun 9–Greenwich, CT—The wedding. Got up early enough and went out for a walk with T. and C.  I sat down in every available corner to work on my toast and try to come up with a whooping last line.  I sat out by the swimming pool in the steaming heat and, this time, finally boiling sun. We suited up and got to the church in plenty of time. There was a “hard feelings” other wedding in progress.  After it was over, the bride’s mother came charging up the aisle demanding to know where their flowers had gone.  We said , “The ushers took them,” and she said, “Whose ushers?” in a screech.

The ceremony began with only a slight delay at 2:05 and proceeded beautifully.  C. burst into tears at the end of her short walk up the aisle and things got underway.  The ceremony was short and sweet.

I drove with J. and C. R. to the reception. I was getting very nervous by this time but enjoyed myself nonetheless.  My toast, followed by a reading of a couple of telegrams and a short decent description of J. and of our life and times and the jumping on me story about Leslie.  My finale was:  May you always awake at the top of the morning, live in the best of days and sleep wherever the hell you like.

After J. and L. left, J, P. and I drove back to the P.’s house.  We took a swim, then went out to the Jardines and then I drove C. R. home to Khakum Wood and headed to NYC with a big cigar.

A DayBook in the Life — Day 156 through Day 158

Business and Bachelors

New York—Mon. June 4, 1984–Nice day.  Headed off early for Westchester, then over the Throgs Neck Bridge to Long Island.  Mom and Dad arrived at 7:00 p.m.  Preparations under way for J.’s bachelor party. Out to a small dinner and to bed at 12.

New York–Tuesday June 5, 1984–Set out with Dad for INA.  One of the first sunny, steamy days of the year.  Subway downtown, good meeting.  We had lunch in the INA cafeteria and headed home.  Mom had the apartment all cleaned-up.  Flowers in the windows, tables set up.  Very nice.  Dad and I bought two cases of beers for $50 which caused some soul-searching but I kept thinking: this is once in a lifetime stuff.  Everybody was up and down the stairs all afternoon.  Mrs. Graham’s refrigerator stayed in the hallway the entire time.

Liza came just after the parents took off — about 4:30.  J. arrived just as Liza was leaving, about 7:30.

The gang began arriving about 8:00.  Once the food came I started drinking beers and smoking Woody K.’s cigar and I had a very muddled and cheerful evening.

New York–Wed. Jun. 6, 1984–D-Day’s 40th Anniversary.   I woke up with a faint sense of unwell being—head aching and tired but generally okay.  Jeffersonville and Ellenville.  I cancelled my plans to go dancing with Cathy.   Marc C. arrived on my doorstep with a bottle of French white wine, ready for the bachelor party.  For some reason I’d half wondered if he’d show up a day late because I thought it was odd he hadn’t come or called.

Listened to a tape on the radio and sat in the living room with the table cleared and Franny and Zooey opened, looking for ideas for a toast.  Nothing conclusive yet.  D.B. called collect and we talked until 1.

A DayBook in a Life– Day 74, Day 133, and Day 140

Wedding Bells and Blues

New York—Wed. March 14, 1984—Stayed in town, mostly to meet J.P. at Brooks Bros. and pick up our wedding attire.  I guess L. knows what she’s doing after all since things look pretty nice.

I played my electric guitar for an hour or so and got down a rousing version of One After 909. 

The day’s most intese experience was a poor incredibly dirty heap of a man picking his toes on the subway while I was enroute to Brooklyn.

New York –Sat.  May 12, 1984—A strange, atmospheric day.  The sky was a half white blue the color of a baby’s cornea.  Clouds were sort of blooping out of it, forming a series of thick, doughy obscene shapes.  At the same time, looking west down the side streets, lights were gleaming sweetly against the clearing evening sky.

Early in the evening, it blackenend and yellowed and gave all indication of a violent storm, but only a brief, fairly heavy shower came of it.

I was downtown at Bloomingdales at the “Registry” buying wedding presents for K.H. and J.P. and L.  It’s on a computer and the “read-out” lists all the items desired and how many have already been bought.  And once you buy the items they are handled, wrapped and delivered without any further concern on the buyer’s part.

Zach came to town and we went to see Moscow on the Hudson.  T.B.’s movie.  It was good but not exactly great.  I also, with Zach’s expert assistance, bought a lottery ticket.  The prize which was being drawn was $22 million.  I did not win.

New York—Sat. May 19, 1984—K.H. got married today, with her hair cropped short and her little thin neck and her mother not bothering to come, she was such a pretty and individual looking bride that for the first time I felt a real twinge of regret that some girl was gone forever.

Met Jane and Steve at the wedding and went with them to the reception.  It was down in the lower east side across from the Strand.

I walked home and ate apples and cheese ravanously. Also, at the reception talked earnestly and nonsense with M.H. for about ten minutes and felt enormously relieved–don’t ask me why.

A Daybook in a Life–Day 126

How Easy it is to Spend Someone Else’s Money

Sat. May 5, 1984—New York—Zach arrived here at 9:30, Jo soon after.  We drove to Boo’s in Fairfield, left there at about 11:00, drove to Mystic, Conn. And stopped for ice cream then met J. C. at Pequot Properties at 1:30 p.m.  She drove us to the  house mom had liked but wasn’t able to see inside. It was just as well, probably that she didn’t. Somebody was home cooking hard-boiled eggs and the interior of the house was basically conducive to the odor. We drove out toward Stonington, Conn. to see the “daffodil house” which was very nice, a lot like Maine, but too close to Rte. 1. Then we  arranged to meet A. from Boyer Agency at 13 Grove Street.  A most beautiful house which looked as if the sun had shown in it and the breezes blown in it since the day it was built—1863.  I believe.  A half block away from the water on a nice almost college quadrangle style neighborhood. We went back to Pequoit and bought it. Boo had the only  blank check in the group and signed it over for $10,000. Our first offer of $220,000 was refused—a second one for $225,000 accepted from a telephone booth en route back in Essex.

We ate dinner in the Tumble Down Café and went to the Griswold to await the arrival of Alice with the changes.  Signed, sealed and delivered at the Griswold Inn at app. 9:00 p.m. Dropped Boo off in Fairfield, Jo at her car, Zach at the door and to bed.

Between offers, of course, I spoke with Mom and Dad, on the basis of one phone call, at the Williamsburg Inn, not knowing exactly where they were or if they would be in.  A good sign.  I thought.