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Saturday, September 30, 2006

EXPLORING MY NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD

SATURDAY, SEPT. 30/06

Well, it's not really a 'new' neighbourhood I'm living in as this part of town was once my teen-age stomping grounds. But it's 'new' for me now, living on the north side of Hastings Street in a beautiful bright, clean, quiet apartment. I'm having an enjoyable time 'exploring' the 'hood and reminiscing as I take trips down memory lane.

When we were teens we hung out on The Drag, which is what we called East Hastings Street. (It isn't too far from The Drive, which is the area I just moved from). At that time, there were lots of Italian immigrants who had moved here after the war and settled in this neighbourhood, opening shops and planting beautiful gardens in their back yards. There would be knots of handsome dark-haired boys on the corners and my girlfriends and I were totally entranced.

There was a coffee shop on Hastings called "The Jolly Joan". It's still there but now it's called "The Master Chef". It used to be owned by the mother of one of my friends. It's small, and there were booths on the side and a big juke box. All the kids gathered there to drink cokes and eat burgers and listen to the current hit tunes on the juke box. My girlfriend R. and I were both short-sighted and heaven forbid being seen wearing glasses. So we'd stand outside the window and both of us would squint -- I could see if I pulled the corners of my eyes and she'd peer through the small space made by her closed fist, and we'd figure out where everyone was sitting before we went in. That was the cafe where I met my first love, Jimmy, the young man I later wrote my play "The Street" about. He used to drive an old grey Chev and we kids would pile into it and drive around.

There are still some of the same shops on the street that existed back then including some Italian delis and one particular barber shop that used to be called "Nick's". I have to laugh every time I pass there. Nick was this smooth sauve Italian with Brill-creme slicked black hair. He used to stand in front of his shop and make passes at us girls, sometimes getting pretty fresh with us. These days it would be called 'sexual harassment'. One October day (it must have been around Hallowe'en) we'd pretty well got fed up with his advances so we decided to take revenge. In those days we wore long navy-blue overcoats. We set out with bars of Ivory Soap and wrote all over the barber shop windows "This guy ought to be D-peed" and other stuff. Then we went back to the Jolly Joan and were sitting in a booth drinking coke when a police officer came in. (I think in those days there were beat cops). He asked us why we had 'done it' and ordered us to go with him to clean off the graffiti. We played innocent, pretended we didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

"You wrote on the windows with soap!" he said. We denied it. Then, looking down we saw that the fronts of our navy-blue coats were covered with white soap flakes! The cafe owner stepped in then and defended our actions. She told the cop about the harassment we'd had from the barber and that he deserved to be 'punished' for what he'd been doing to us girls. In the end, the cop didn't make us go and wash the windows off. And the next morning when I was riding the bus to work, when the bus stopped at the light right in front of the barber shop I saw Nick out there with a pail and rag washing the graffiti off the windows. He never bothered us again!

There used to be a movie theatre on the corner where we'd go on weekends. I had my first 'date' there when I was in Junior High. During the movie the boy held my hand and kissed me. I was so embarassed I wouldn't go to school the next day as I didn't want to face him in class!
There was also a bowling alley across the street where my girlfriend met her future husband who worked there as a pin-boy.

My first job directing a pre-school was in this neighbourhood back in the early '70's. I spent four pleasant years as head supervisor of the St. David's Preschool which still exists. I left there because I was going on a trip to Europe -- the one that would take me to Turkey to be with my beautiful love, Hakki. I had met him while I worked at that preschool when he was here on a ship. I enjoyed that pre-school and have a lot of happy memories of times there. When I left the parents cried and presented me with a gold locket. Inside the locket I put some violets that Hakki gave me when I was in Istanbul. I still have it, and all those wonderful memories.

So every day when I go out browsing around my new 'hood, I am reminded of the past, and the good times my friends and I had. I think I'll start going to the water-fit over at the junior high which I attended when I first moved here from Ontario. I never cared for that school which was overwhelming and very prison-like to me, a small-town girl. And they didn't have the swimming pool back then. But now it's conveniently near at hand so I think I'll start going there instead of the other pool on the Drive.

I'm still close to the Drive though, and as that's where my social life is centered, it's nice to know I can walk over there or have a choice of buses to take. And the taxi fare isn't too expensive for those nights that I stay out too late to bus it home.

Yes, I'm very happy to be back here in this neighbouhood. My life once again has come full-circle and I hope I can stay here for a long, long time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

WHERE WERE YOU ON 9/11?

SEPTEMBER 11, 2006

Five years ago our world changed forever. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
I remember being woken up very early by my friend who said "Turn on the TV. Something terrible is happening in New York!" I tuned in just after the first plane had hit the tower and watched in horror the events unfold. It seemed unreal, like I was watching a disaster movie, not something that was actually happening. Later when I got the bus to work everyone seemed frozen in shock. Nobody was talking. It was all too unbelievable. All through the day, whenever we could at the daycare we checked to see what else was unfolding. Not only the two planes that hit the World Trade Centre towers, but one had dive-bombed into the Pentagon and another was taken down in a field killing all on board in spite of the valiant attempts by passengers to stop the terrorists. For days the pictures played and replayed and those images are now indelible in everyone's mind. I especially remember (still with horror) the couple, hand-in-hand plunging head first down from the top floors, the people waving white flags, the sight of those tall buildings crumbling like sand castles. Unbelievable!

That night I saw my friend Anibal. He too was stunned. But he also told me that it was a particular shock to him because on exactly that date in 1973 he recalled walking to work and seeing the war planes bomb the communications towers in Santiago Chile. They also bombed the Presidential Palace, killing Salvadore Allende, the socialist president who had been elected in a democratic vote by the people. Those planes were CIA/US sponsored war planes and Santiago was under seige by the military. As a result of the coup thousands of Chileans were raped, tortured, and murdered. My friend Anibal was on Pinochet's 'hit-list' and somehow managed to escape with his family to Argentina. I didn't know about 9/11 in Chile until that day and from then on I read all I could, watched videos, and got educated about what the U.S. role was in that military coup that resulted in so many deaths, family tragedies, and people like Anibal having to be exiled for years from the country they loved.

I grew up during the second World War as well, when thousands of people were killed every day and watched, horrified, the mushroom cloud rising over Hiroshima the day the Americans dropped the atom bomb.

War is a terrible thing. And this is the new 'war' -- terrorism. Those events that happened on September 11, 2001 have changed our world forever and changed the lives of those people who live in New York City.

I just experienced my third visit to that fabulous city. I noticed the change, not only in the security, the safeness, the cleanness of the City, but in the people. They seem quieter, kinder, more patient. I felt safe and happy there and felt it was a privilege to visit once again.
I had thought to go to Ground Zero, but decided not to because the City was filling up with others who had come specifically for the commemoration services and we knew that it would be very crowded at the site, and best left to those who had come to mourn loved ones or to pay their respects to those who died trying to save lives. Instead, we went on the round Manhattan boat cruise, and viewed Ground Zero from the River -- that huge gap between the skyscrapers.
When I first came to New York in 1968 they were just starting to build the World Trade Centre towers. I remember asking what the construction was. The next time I visited, the towers were there, rising like two massive glass sentinals overlooking the City. Now they are gone and that day will stay indelible in our minds. Those who died there will never be forgotten.
And we who live will carry on, try some way to find Peace in our World. Whatever happens, we must not let these evil terrorists defeat us or take away our freedom.