Friday, December 5, 2008

Brighton Beach

This is the earliest photo I have of myself. I'm in the carriage. Whenever I look at this picture, I admire the tips on my dad's flashy shoes (click on the picture, you'll see the details). I was born in December.

Dad has a compelling grin, but if you linger on the image, you'll see a very complicated man standing in the winter chill. Analytical and methodical, he quit his plans to become a chemist and went to community college to train as an accountant. His way of bonding with me during my adolescence was to lug me along to help him inventory--by hand--the thousands of ballpoint pens at the Lindy company.

Like all of my memories, the Brooklyn-Brighton Beach years are more a series of repeated narratives assembled by my mind to serve some emotional pattern. They're well-grooved tales that are as unrelated to The Moment as any story colored by perceptions, motives, and constant repetition. It's a catalog of show tunes--Gabby's Greatest Hits--with lyrics and a choreography of events, unalterable over time.

Several years ago, I returned to Brighton to find the Little Odessa of thousands of landed Russians. These were not the same Ukrainian Jews of the 1950s, who like my relatives sat in the cafes talking about Robeson and Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson. The lanes where dad might have wheeled my carriage, passing below the El train to shop for for warm knishes and potato kugel, were now choked with roiling crowds of immigrants bickering over the price of mp3 players--blonde-haired, ruddy-complected, Russian-mafia youth. Thugs.

Shop signs, which had been in that oddly mystical Hebrew lettering of my youth, were now printed in Cyrillic, a language I had associated with cosmonauts and evil people in black fedoras wielding hydrogen bombs. Unlike my static memories of the cold winter morning where my dad wheeled me out for fresh air, the neighborhood had changed its tune, as well as its book of lyrics. Nonetheless, the vision I retain of modern Brighton, too, is an assemblage of images that suits my sense of loss. The nugget of hope, of course, is that I know these things.


Brent said...

It's funny how context can bring everything to an image. An image WITH a thousand words yields meaning beyond measure. Memories are seared into us as images, fragrances, sounds--but mostly images I think. Peace, Gabby...and happy (soon to be) birthday.

michele said...

I hope you will write more about your Brighton Beach days -- I want to hear more about what is was like back then. Love the pram in the photo! Ah, the pre-stroller days...