THE FINAL DAYS IN NYC, Part I
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
When Eunice and I moved to 28th Street and Lexington Avenue, the simple story of our lives no longer followed a straight line. It became divided, over time. Even though the two sides of our individual domains were only a short climb over a wall away, things were no longer quite the same as when we toiled together, side by side, in the Old Loft on 26th Street, in that secret humble paradise of modest make-believe, called Boutique Fantastique.
The big event of 1964 appeared to be the opening of New York World’s Fair. And we were there. Samantha had just turned four. This was an occasion for photography:
We loved the Vatican Pavilion. It managed to make Catholicism look fresh and dynamic. And I converted to their shopping bags. They were dramatically designed in fuchsia and black. We ended up with several dozen. If you look carefully at the above photograph, you might spot a shopping bag full of shopping bags in Samantha’s hand. They became wallpaper in the hall of the apartment on 28th Street. The entire tiny vestibule, from floor to ceiling, doors included, was papered with these dramatic carriers. In the middle of each central heart shape, I attached a small round mirror.
Disney animatronics dominated the World’s Fair that year, in the form of Dinosaurs, A Small World, and first and foremost , The Hall of Presidents. I studied all of these with interest, as I has first heard the term, “Audio Animatronics,” nine years before, when I interviewed at the Disney Studio. They suggested, at the time, that I might be suited to work in that newly forming, and still secret department. The Hall of Presidents was the most amazing thing I saw at the Fair that year, not because of Abe Lincoln, standing up with difficulty, and stiffly delivering the Gettysburg Address, but rather it was the sky background that impressed me. Largely, because it so successfully fooled me. As Lincoln spoke, the sun began to set, and little by little the clouds and sky combined in a glorious sunset that slowly and inconspicuously transformed into the American flag. Wow, that totally snuck up on me. I was so fixated on Animatronic Abe that I didn’t see it coming. And I was mightily impressed.
In the loft on Lexington Avenue, the final year of Boutique Fantastique continued. And three employees came in several days a week to fabricate stained glass ornaments. I worked beside them, cutting out the colored gelatins, while the girls glued them in place and spread the airplane cement that filled the air with toxic fumes.
My favorite employee was a young lady, named, Dorothy. She had a nine year old son, Rodney. The mention of her name always reminds me of the world’s worst kitty. I don’t know where Eunice got this beast, but she adopted him, so our cat, Tom would not be lonely, and she named him Gypsy Boots. Gypsy Boots was possibly possessed by an evil entity, for he spent his days, when he was not menacing Tom, thinking up new ways to attack the human race. He would often hide for hours, lying in wait for someone to walk by, and when they did, he would leap out, and bite them on the leg.
Finally, with the whole family nursing cat bites, we decided that it was time for those Boots to do some walking, so, we offered him to Dorothy, explaining that a male Calico was a rare commodity, as that look is ordinarily reserved for female felines. Dorothy embraced Gypsy Boots, gladly. In the weeks that followed, she kept me amused with a new story every day about the latest crazy thing that Gypsy Boots got up to: “Gypsy Boots bit Rodney on the nose.” “Gypsy Boots bit Rodney’s leg.” Gypsy boots bit Rodney in a different place, nearly every day. Finally, Dorothy gave up, and willingly gave Gypsy Boots away. The story had a happy ending. He was adopted by a couple who had no children, and according to Dorothy, they worshipped him. They got him his own four poster bed, complete with a satin canopy. Beside it, stood his picture in a gilded frame. And Gypsy Boots ended up, living like a king.
Early in 1965, Harry Kislevitz made his entrance, encouraging me to try my hand at toy invention. Thus, I stole some time away from Boutique Fantastique. The first idea I came up with was called the “Scary Light.” It was a simple hand held flashlight that projected shimmering images of skeletons and other ghostly apparitions that were actually quite convincing. A desperate last minute attempt to save this item from oblivion led me from toy invention to sculpting and package design, as well.
Meanwhile, Eunice was gallivanting gregariously, through the neighborhood, making friends. On her frequent outings, walking Samantha to school each day, mailing parcels, doing laundry, and grocery shopping she soon got to know everyone, within a mile wide radius. And, between the parents of Samantha’s classmates and local merchants she cobbled together a kind of social life for us. Here she is, looking rather pleased with herself, posing for the very first photograph, shot with her new camera.
The first couple that Eunice came up with ran a gift store, known as, “Ditz.” It was located next door to my favorite mouse shopping place, Michael Malce and Son. Ditz specialized in “Camp” merchandise. Its two proprietors, Mark Roth, and Stanly Stein, were about as camp as any two human beings could get. The two of them together were like a pair of comic characters. Mark, the more flamboyant of the pair, was slightly less than five foot three, and in both voice and demeanor could have passed for Liberace’s more effeminate younger brother. While Stanly Stein, whose real name turned out to be Steinwurtzel, towered above everyone I’d ever met, at six foot seven! To say that they resembled Mutt and Jeff would be an understatement. In fact, Eunice could never break the habit of referring to them as “Mark and Jeff.”
Before I knew what hit me, we were at their place for dinner. That was a visual experience. They lived in what appeared to be one enormous room, dominated by a huge four-poster canopy bed. Imagine the final scene of La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera, with sets co-designed by Franco Zeffirelli and Salvador Dali. The bed and its majestic canopy was framed flamboyantly by voluptuously flowing velvet curtains that poured beyond its borders, like the train of a princess’s wedding dress, and spread halfway across the floor. A banquet table stood in the middle of the chamber, with an enormous candelabra, the likes of which might have graced the dining table of an ancient king of France. An equally spectacular, though dimly lit, crystal chandelier was suspended from the ceiling, along with a dozen life-sized cupids, holding aloft a continuous garland of dramatically draped velvet. And everything in this phantasmagorical chamber was painted and coordinated in matching shades of lavender.
And so, with Eunice as my guide, I felt like I had tumbled down a rabbit hole into the heart of Fairyland. I tended to regard Mark and Stan as Eunice’s friends, but, before long, I, too, warmed up to them. And the following summer found us renting a house together for a weeklong vacation on Fire Island. Here we are about to embark on the ferry that would carry us across the bay to Cherry Grove, which Eunice and I would soon discover was anything but the G rated family friendly part of Fire Island.
And here is Samantha, looking adorable, with Tom in his custom made cat carrier. Tom was a good traveler, and seemed quite comfortable, looking out of his bewhiskered cat shaped window, lined with chicken wire.
Lest you think that I was exaggerating in regard to Stanly’s height, here he is standing next to me, easily towering over my modest six foot four, by three inches or more.
Cherry Grove turned out to be the gay equivalent of Pleasure Island, as seen in Disney’s Pinocchio. It was a place where everybody tried to stick their nose, which had a tendency to grow, in everyone’s business, but their own, and make asses of themselves, especially when the sun went down. Or, at least, that’s what we were told. But as mere observers to these activities we found them most amusing, and even educational. Mark, seen below with Eunice, proved to be an able tour guide as he described the ins and outs of what went on at night, in an area called “the meat rack,” which, mercifully, we only heard about, but did not see.
It seemed that, even in the light of day, few beach goers were able to jump into the wild turbulent waves, without losing their bathing suits. This appeared to be a recurring theme that later could be seen in every variation at an all too public event that purported to be a “fashion show.” And the house that we had rented turned out to have a closet full of ladies clothes that Mark found most amusing. But Stan and Mark behaved with restraint for our sake. And, all in all, it turned out to be a wonderful holiday; one, in which everybody had a ball, including Tom.
In fact, nobody had a better time than Tom. The mighty hunter and beach comber had the adventure of his nine lives, chasing mice, bugs and butterflies, and playing in the sand, all day. He hit the beach, beginning at first light, and only returned to the cabin for snacks, cat naps, and, ultimately, to spend the night. Tom had the right idea. Like him, I too tried to get our early to avoid the crowds. I was determined to get a tan, so early one morning, I set out, beach towel in hand, and laid it on the sand not far from our cabin. To my delight, the beach was empty. While lying on my tummy, I happened to glance up, and spy two distant men, way down the deserted beach, heading towards me. They got closer and closer, until they were just a few feet away, and stopped. Then, they spread their towels, and parked themselves a few feet above me. Dammit, with miles and miles of empty beach, why the hell did they have to sit by me? I was determined to ignore them, and pretended to be asleep.
After about ten minutes, in which I nearly did fall asleep, it became clear that this lame tactic was not going to dissuade them from addressing me. I heard one of them say, "Mister!" Then, he said it louder: "Oh, Mister!" Then, both of them said it together: "HEY, MISTER!" I opened my eyes and looked at them just as they pointed over my shoulder in the direction of the water, and exclaimed: "WATCH OUT!" Suddenly, before I could turn around to see what they were pointing at, an enormous wave washed over me, drenching my towel and body in ice cold salt water, and depositing vast quantities of sand all over me! Talk about embarrassing! While I was pretending to be asleep, I hadn’t noticed that the tide was rising. So much for sunbathing inconspicuously on Fire Island!
Sunbathing inconspicuously was not what Eunice had in mind.
Here Samantha and I do our imitation of King Kong and Cheetah.
Here are Mark and I together. We became good friends, and later went on several hunting expeditions together to the old toy jobbers on Canal Street. There, the most amazing treasure trove of tin windup toys could be found for half a dollar apiece; I bought one of each, and Mark acquired all the rest. He sold these at Ditz, for the seemingly expensive sum of four dollars each. Mark and Stan did not remain together. Marked moved to Texas, years ago, and recently got married. He and Eunice have kept in touch. They chat together on the phone for hours, several times a week.
The following Christmas, 1965, we visited my Mother in Detroit for the second time. We had visited one time before when Samantha was still a baby. By now, I felt that I was finally making a living, and proud of it. It was an awkward visit, and a sad one. For we no sooner got there than I learned of the death, the day before, of my beloved high school art teacher and mentor, James Siddall, in time to attend his funeral and the events and reunions of former classmates that followed. This was a melancholy Christmas.
In an ill-fated attempt to generate a vestige of Yueltide spirit, Eunice and I went out and purchased a large live Christmas tree. We dragged it into Leila’s pristine blue and white apartment, where it turned out to be unwelcome. Nonetheless, the deed was done, so, we added a few strings of simple white Italian lights, and made some modest decorations from popcorn and pictures cut out of magazines. “Oh, those Kids!” She hated it! She was also not enchanted by Samantha.
Ironically, and somewhat awkwardly, in light of the heavy atmosphere, that Christmas morning, my mother handed us a Christmas card with a note and a check for $300 in it. She explained, [at last], that my father didn't really intend to leave me “nothing.” Therefore, she had decided to give us the proceeds of a small building that was sold sometime before, for which she still held the remaining mortgage. She indicated that she would send us $300 every month, until the mortgage was paid up in 12 to 15 years. We were surprised, grateful and mystified by the sudden and unexpected appearance of this gesture of generosity, at a time when we no longer desperately needed money.
And yet this gift, as it turned out, proved to be essential. It had been a year since Harry Kislevitz and Colorforms had entered our lives. Now he wanted me to invest all my time on designing and inventing toys for him, on a royalty basis. The extra money my mother began to send certainly helped to make this possible. But I still had a business and employees to maintain. Thus, Harry offered me $200 a week as an advance toward royalties if I would drop my business, and speculate on toys for him, full time. I had two rents to pay by then, and I could barely make ends meet on that, but I believed I could just manage it, thanks to the extra $300 that Leila was to send us every month.
Harry was a skillful wizard. He knew just how to weave a dream, a dream of hitting something big, like he had done with Colorforms, and hoped to do again. And I believed in taking risks. The choice between a wild fanciful gamble and a mediocre mundane sure thing was an easy one for me to make. There was no way I could refuse his offer. Therefore, I slowly dropped Boutique Fantastique, and began to design and invent toys, full time. This was a crossroads in my life. I wonder where the journey would have led, had I remained on the course that I, myself, had set, and continued with Boutique Fantastique?
This rare moment in time, when the last straggling orders from our abandoned business and this sudden onrush of new income overlapped, enabled me to momentarily have the cash to replace my long lost childhood obsession and most cherished possession, the glorious Klipsch Corner Horn with a spectacular new stereo. And so, the loft on Lexington was suddenly awash in music, and I was in Seventh Heaven. Better still, my neighbor, Haig Adishian, began hosting weekly life drawing sessions in his loft, one flight upstairs, and I was drawing, once again. Meanwhile, next door in the apartment, life continued.
One event that I cannot remember was a trip back to Crawfordsville Indiana to see my grandmother, for what would prove to be the final time. Only this photograph remains as evidence that the journey took place. I assume that it was summer, and this must have been shot in our room in a motel that had a pool. Samantha, radiating happiness, was growing up.
Here is Samantha on the porch at 28th Street, so sweetly dressed up. This fragment of a photograph for which no negative exists, is framed by a bouquet of roses, evoking pleasent memories.
While all of this was taking place, I began discovering, and seriously collecting Comic Characters. Thus, I was forever broke. Soon, the apartment on 28th Street became a sort of Comic Character Collector Central, the gathering place for the growing handful of comic character collectors, living in, or visiting New York City. They seemed to congregate there, dropping in at any hour of the day or night to worship the growing crowd of Comic Deities whose effigies adorned the glowing cubicles of the Great Wall in our living room. Collectors and dealers, who were often one in the same, would drop in to talk about their latest finds, and mine, and sit before the growing wall, in awe, as if it were some kind of shrine.
That is how I met Ted Hake, who was already on the way to becoming the foremost expert, author, and collectibles dealer in America. Ted literally created the mail order auction category, and remains its premier practitioner. One day in 1965, when he might still have been in college, he just dropped in and introduced himself. That was fifty years ago. We still remain good friends today.
With him was the fabulously successful artist, Ernie Trova. This was the first and only time we met in person. But we remained friends for several years, until there was an understandable falling out, between us, due to the Bambergers Show in 1973. But this was 1965, and I was collecting comic characters impartially, dolls, toys, and figurines. They were all the same to me. I was amassing and basking in every aspect of their imagery, and had no preference for any particular category. But Ernie’s visit to 28th Street proved to be a revelation to him. He was seeing vintage tin windup toys for the first time. A few days later, he wrote me to say: “Thank you for turning me on to comic windup toys!” Oy Vey!
A week after that, the first of an endless stream of ads began to appear in Collectors News, and later, in the Antique Trader. They read: “Wanted: Comic Character Windup Toys!” And, suddenly, a whole new category of hitherto unnoticed collectibles was created. And Comic Character Windup Toys, that I could once obtain affordably, became expensive. That was how I learned the hard way that letting folks see my collection, might result in creating my own Frankenstein monsters, who like Ernie had more money than me, and would soon get first priority at gobbling up the treasures that I once collected secretly, and affordably.
Most of the Collectors that were mentioned, a few pages back, in the site about Collecting Comic Characters were frequent visitors at 28th Street. Al Horen from Philadelphia never came to NYC without dropping in. Richard Merkin and Kenny Kneitel visited every other week, for a unique event they would never miss.
That summer, my mother happened to visit NYC for a romantic weekend, with her latest boyfriend. And she took some time out to drop in. Samantha was glad to see her grandmother. Much had been happening in Leila's life. Later, in 1966, she left Detroit, and moved to Florida, where she purchased a condominium on Miami Beach, in an area called, Bal Harbor, halfway between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. This move was not as daring as it may seem, for most of her friends, the whole Detroit canasta club, except the few who were not widowed yet, moved there with her. Therefore, she never had to miss a game. She and the “girls” could continue to play canasta, night and day, until, one by one, they passed away.
My mother’s condo was amazing, located on what was called the penthouse floor, atop a twenty story structure that stood alone on a peninsula in Biscayne Bay, adjacent to the ocean. It featured two enormous sliding doors that looked out onto a veranda that offered a spectacular panorama of the full sweep of Miami Beach. Its modest, but ample, balcony overlooked a popular nude beach, a sight that did not fail to interest me, along the ocean to the left. Biscayne Bay lay straight ahead, and continued past the condo on the right. Looking down into its murky depths from my mother’s high balcony, one could frequently see huge manatees frolicking just beneath the surface of the Bay. Spread across the far horizon was the majestic City of Miami. With no obstructions in between, the view was postcard perfect.
From Leila's lofty perch in paradise, one could survey the sun and clouds by day, and marvel at the mercurial spectacle of ever-changing weather. At night the view was even better. Against a deep blue sky, studded with a million stars, and alive with an endless parade of planes that filled the firmament with moving lights, my mother had a front row seat, from which to track and follow the transformations and nightly travels of the fabled Moon over Miami.
Meanwhile, in NYC, through a curious twist of fate, an Italian movie company filmed a scene for a detective movie in our apartment on 28th Street. They nearly destroyed the place in the process! Early on the morning of the filming, three huge trucks pulled up and parked beneath our veranda. One was the mobile electric generator. Another was the mobile kitchen and the caterers, and the third carried the cast and crew, technicians, camera men, actors, speaking Italian, and the director, “Piero Zuffi,” all of whom used our black and white linoleum as an ashtray. And snuffed their burning butts out with their feet. But they paid us handsomely! And, in the end, it was a Godsend. In the process, the carpenters erected a huge black tent on the roof outside the rear windows, as the scene in which a murderer creeps through the window, and slits a hapless hippie’s throat, while he is watching our TV, was intended to take place at night. He bled vast quantities of fake blood all over our upholstered chair. The film was called, “Colpo Rovente,” which literally translates as “Red-Hot Shot!” Our talented cat, Tom landed a starring cameo role in the movie, and purrformed his small part purrrfectly!
While all of this was going on, Eunice was pregnant with our second daughter, “Alexandra Toots.” Alexandra was born, three days after Christmas, on December 28th, 1967. She was named after Eunice’s father, Alexander; just as Samantha was named after my own dad, Sam. Samantha came up with the name Toots, which is what she called her favorite doll. This became Alexandra’s middle name.
Harry offered me the opportunity to earn extra money to pay for the delivery by designing a Colorforms stick-on toy, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” This would be my first attempt to do an actual Colorforms Stick-On Set. It came out really awful. Although, he never did produce the toy, Harry, who was an exceedingly kind man, and a true friend, gave me the $1,000, anyway. That was what it cost to have a baby at NYU hospital, in those days.
Christmas and the new baby were predicted to arrive at the same time. Therefore, my mother came to New York City to be there for both occasions. Thank God! I don’t know what we would have done without her. Two days after Christmas, Eunice went to The University Hospital in labor. I, of course, was with her. Samantha was at home with her Grandmother. The days that followed turned out to be a nightmare. Eunice remained in labor for 24 hours. Meanwhile, I waited in the empty waiting room. At one point during that time, a doctor came out and informed that the baby, a girl, was fine, but it looked like Eunice wasn’t going to make it. She was hemorrhaging profusely, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding. I remember sitting there, wracked with grief and lack of sleep, staring at the Al Horen Mickey Mouse pocket watch strapped to my wrist, and thinking, what an idiot I am. A grown man, wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, while his wife is dying. I did not wear it again. Meanwhile, Eunice was in the operating room, fighting for her life, and having, as she later informed me, an out of body experience. She watched the doctors frantically trying to save her, and saw everything they did, from a vantage point, hovering above them, near the ceiling.
Several hours, and numerous transfusions later, the doctor came out and said that she was going to survive. I have no memory of going in to see her, or the baby. I dragged myself home with a 104 fever, and collapsed into the bed. That was where I remained for the next week. I had contracted what was called the Asian Flu. Because it was contagious, Eunice was kept in the hospital several extra days. Throughout this near catastrophe, my mother cared for both Samantha and me, heroically. And so, this touch and go blessed event turned out to be a miracle in the end, but one that came and went, without photography.
In the months and years that followed, we made up for that omission, with lots of photographs of Toots, the name that stuck, throughout the years when she was growing up.
Alexandra was a cute and funny baby, and full of personality, a trait that has continued to characterize her, to this day. And her son, our grandson, Sammy has inherited her winning personality.
Among the first known photos were these simple Polaroids of Samantha and her new sister. For years, Samantha said she wanted a baby sister, now that she had one, she was not so sure. As the expression goes, "Be careful what you wish for!"
Our task, on these occasions, was to view a foot high stack of movies that were hot off the griddle, and help Morris rate them on a scale of one to four. Morris used these films as gifts to art supply buyers, to gently encourage them to purchase art supplies. The brothers who owned the art store down the street, Sam Flax, were among his most enthusiastic fans. Once the screenings began, Eunice would discreetly retire to the back room, and the four of us would review the films. Most of them were simply awful. Of the hundreds that we saw, only one or two deserved a four. The films were beyond comical, blurry, inept, and amateurish. Nonetheless, in spite of their shortcomings, or perhaps, because of them, these primitive attempts at pornography exuded an aura of innocence that, combined with the thrill of the forbidden, added up to deliciously naughty entertainment. Morris, who knew many of the young ladies personally, would relate their stories, as we watched them in the movie.
I’ll never forget one totally surreal evening. On this occasion, we were in the middle of our biweekly film festival, when a knock came on the door. It was Bob Lesser, the watch collector, who had never been to our place before. And he had with him an extremely attractive young woman, nearly twice his height. This was quite a shock, because, although, Bob was always boasting about his success with the ladies, no one had ever seen or heard any evidence that the throngs of girlfriends who, according to him, flocked around him by the dozens, lusting for his Mickey Mouse watches, might exist.
Bob, who was beaming, introduced her as, “his latest.” Clearly, the purpose of this unprecedented visit was to show her off, which he did with all the enthusiasm that he might show off a rare watch. After a few pleasantries we explained that we were: "Umm, just watching some movies." The young lady who bore an uncanny resemblance to Barbie, said,”Oh goodie! I love movies!” And so with Bob sitting on a chair with his back towards the screen, and her still standing in the hall talking to Eunice, who was suggesting to her that she might prefer to join her in the other room, the show resumed. Bob's latest conquest momentarily turned her head towards the screen, let out a yelp, and blushed bright red! Then, she and Eunice quickly fled.
Bob, facing away from the projected image, began to talk incessantly, never glancing at the movie, but clearly competing with it for attention, proceeded to weave a most outrageous tale of his supposed visit to what he referred to as a “midget whorehouse in New Jersey.” According to his story, it was a house of ill repute, run and staffed entirely by midgets. The patrons were little people, too, although all sizes were permitted, including Bob, who was a full head taller than the average dwarf. He related this story with such gusto and colorful detail that if we didn’t know him all too well, we might have found his tale believable.
Meanwhile, in the other room, his lady friend was beyond upset. She explained to Eunice that she had just arrived in town that evening. At the bus station, she was just disembarking from the bus, when, there was Bob, a total stranger. Although, she didn’t know him, he came up to her and offered to help her get a hotel room. And the next thing she knew he brought her to our apartment. She was starting to panic, and said, “What am I doing here? I don’t even know this man!” Eunice came into the room and summoned Bob. She, told him that his friend wanted to leave, and so, with Bob, doing his most dramatic impersonation of a gallant gentleman, they did.
Samantha, like her dad, was a great fan of Soupy Sales. Here she is, doing “The Mouse”
On these occasions, which took place, at least, twice a month, one of the regulars from Haig’s life drawing class, Morris Huzarski came to our apartment with knapsack full of 8 mm movies. These were freshly filmed pornography, or what passed for it, back then. Richard and Kenny were faithful attendees at these scintillating soirees. Richard, who apart from being a painter, was a notable scholar and connoisseur of all things erotic, had, in fact, written several impressive art books on the subject, including what has become the definitive volume on the notorious 8 page comics, known as Tijuana bibles.
To this Olympian condominium, my mother transported her blue and pink furniture from Detroit, destined to fade in the Florida sun. She set it upon a wall to wall cloud of snow-white carpeting, two inches deep. And in a nod to her artistic son, she adorned the walls with some of the worst art he ever did, which he had abandoned in her Detroit storage bin, and she had framed at great expense. When all the decorating was done, her condo resembled nothing quite as much as the weird final scene in Stanley Kubrick's "2001." And, because the central air conditioner ran night and day, for the next thirty years, it stayed that way, eternally pristine.
Leila’s life became a bacchanal of early bird specials, continuous canasta games, and twice weekly nights of Bingo, a game at which she was so adept that she could play a two dozen cards at once. And contrary to the the popular belief that verile viable men were few and far between in Miami Beach, my mother, who clearly radiated a certain suntanned sex appeal, managed to find several.
Alexandra’s big photo debut took place, a few months later, in the middle of the summer, when we all flew down to Miami Beach to visit my mother in her new condo. The other “Girl's” children and grandchildren all came on down to Florida to visit their mothers. So, Leila thought that she wanted the same thing. She told everyone that the "KIDS" were coming, weeks ahead of time. When we got there, she paraded us around to show us off. It was embarrassing. She would even talk to strangers in the elevator in a cutesy little girl voice, like Shirley Temple on the Good Ship Lollypop: "This is my darling little daughter-in-law, and my son, Melvyn. The ‘kids’ have come down to visit me from New York City." And, here they are, now, Leila’s “Kids,” bright eyed, bushytailed, and trying, as hard as they know how, not to “get her goat!”
Growing up, I discovered, early on, that the way I could best please my mother, perhaps, the only way, was if I played the role of little Melvyn, ten years old. Fortunately, that is a role I had practiced all my life with her, and I was highly skilled at it. So skilled, that, sometimes, others didn't even notice. Eunice, who got to know Leila well, intuitively understood, and played along with it. We had all learned to walk on eggshells, trying to keep my mother happy. Nonetheless, after a few days, she was unconsciously wishing we would go away, so she could get back to her canasta games, and watching reruns, never realizing they were reruns, of old westerns on TV. Her favorite was Bonanza. She didn’t know that in that foreign land, sometimes, referred to as, “reality,” Hoss had, long ago, passed away. And as for what was happening, from day to day, on the Nightly News, or even who the current President of the United States might be, she didn’t have a clue.
Cute funny little Alexandra, was so good natured and outgoing, she completely won my mother over. And as Toots grew older, the physical resemblance she bore to old photographs of her grandmother as a little girl was uncannily incredible. But, for now, she was just an adorable little baby and her charms were irresistible.
Another chance to take some photos was when Toots made her big outdoors debut, down by the pool. Her mother and her grandmother were only too glad to show her off.
Alexandra’s adorable funny little face was always smiling, always happy, and always ready for a close up!
Her proud Papa was glad to show her off as well.
Who would have ever guessed that Miami Beach, in 1968, would prove to be an Art Center? This was a fact, of which many people were not aware. But, to a person with a keen perceptive eye, such as, for instance, me, exquisite art could be found in great profusion there. Take, for instance, this amazing primitive Polynesian idol. Clearly, it represents an all-powerful Hawaiian deity. This provocative effigy proudly stood erect, beside the entrance to a luau restaurant, where we took Samantha to celebrate her eighth birthday. Leila posed beside it willingly, in close proximity to, but unaware of, and little appreciating the awesome weapon that this plaster of Paris Pagan Priapus held in his hands.
Pristine white plaster and weather proof concrete appeared to be a popular art medium, on the island of Miami Beach. Below, an unknown artist used it to great effect to bring to life the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, on the half shell, times three, rising from the sea.
This little-known masterpiece was one of a multitude that adorned the facades of an endless chain of motels and hotels, each one with a unique visual theme. These lined both sides of Collins Avenue, the main road that ran along the Atlantic Ocean, all the way from South Beach, through Hollywood to Fort Lauderdale.
And so, with the sun setting over Miami Beach, we came to the end of what had been a lovely holiday. We would not return to Florida again, for many years. In fact, the next occasion would be nineteen years later, when Alexandra, on a whim, decided that she wanted to leave SUNY, New Paltz in her second year of school there, and transfer to the University of Miami. During the eighteen years that passed, in between these visits, Leila had been happily married to a dapper catsup salesman, named Devit Law. Once she married him, our presence was no longer welcome, or required in Miami, at least, not until after Devit died, and Leila became a widow again, for the third time.
Samantha, too, was radiant, as her birthday approached. She would be eight on the day after the Fourth of July,1968. Here, in my mother’s world, every day was a holiday, and every day was just the same. They say that Maimi Beach is God’s waiting room. Leila had twenty-eight more years to wait, while living in the lap of luxury. Alas, Samantha’s remaining years would not be as easy; and she had only thirty-three.
So here we are, after a week in Miami Beach, seven days older, seven pounds fatter, and considerably tanner. Being ever the collector, I gathered all the sunshine I could get. I had been aided in this quest by secret suntan pills I talked our family doctor into giving me. They had previously been tested on prison inmates. As you can see, they were effective. Apparently, they have since been outlawed. Now you tell me!
This page has rambled on, beyond where I originally intended. More photographs, and more memories, just kept appearing. Now the web building device is fighting me. So I will end the page, right here. I added the words “Part I” to the title. The next page, which is about Life Drawing was already created, so, I will add it next. Then. The Final Days in NYC will continue, with a page that will be called, “Part II.”