This is a story about a fire on the Lower East Side. You may have seen the video about it. It showed a fireball coming out of an eighteenth-story window along with smoke and an air conditioner. Somebody’s screaming, “Get the fuck out!” and it is pretty scary. I know all about this because that fire was my home. My husband and I were home asleep when this fire started and we got out. We got out before the fireball thing so it wasn’t as scary as the video, even though it was very scary.
Lots of people have seen the video and when they ask how we are I tell them that we are fine. They tell me that they saw the video, and when I say, “We got out,” they cry on me. They say, “I’m glad you’re alive,” and I say, “me too” and I cry on them.
We live in Seward Park Cooperative, which is a pretty big place and lots of us know each other by face. We’re around 5,000 people (I think) so it’s not such a large place that you wouldn’t recognize lots of neighbors but it’s not such a small place that you would know their names.
It’s kind of a funny thing because lots of times when something happens around here you hear about it and lots of times you’re told who was involved. Mostly, you probably don’t know the name so people describe who it is they’re talking about. And then you know.
The kinds of things that happen here happen in most places and mostly it’s regular stuff. A lot of it is nice stuff or stuff you’d like to know about, like who had a new baby, or a birthday, or who died, or whose dog died. And everyone talks about all of the famous people or creative people who live here so you get to hear, “Yeah, you know her, she’s that really pretty woman with the little girls, the red-headed one and the little blonde,” did you see her on television? And you hear about who wrote a book, who’s dancing in a ballet, whose album made the charts, and this stuff makes you feel good because you always hoped that you would know people like this and now you do.
People get described in other ways too. People say, “It’s that guy with the big red dog who stands on Grand Street, right by the 14A stop. People say lots of things and because it’s the Lower East Side, sometimes people get right to the point and say, “You see her all of the time, she’s that lady with the really dirty coat who smells awful,” and then they tell about how they once got in an elevator with her and about how she’s a real sad case and about how you shouldn’t get in an elevator with her or anything because you’ll surely throw up.
So, when people who you sorta know come up to you, ask you if you’re who they think you are, and you tell them yes, and then they throw their arms around you and cry on, well, you know for sure that someone described you and you have to wonder what they said. And you could probably find out but it’s probably better if you don’t.
A couple of years ago, I broke my toes and the only thing I could wear on my foot was this water shoe that said: “I heart Jamaica” on it and the heart was a big red graphic. No one ever said anything about it until I met a suburban friend. When she saw it, she said, “What the fuck do you have on your foot?” So I sort of know that that’s one way people might be telling other people who I am, but people are probably saying that I’m a little bit fat and probably other stuff that I don’t actually want to know. At the moment, I’m happy that I’m not crying anymore because I don’t want to be that person who’s described as that lady who cries on everyone and I hope that doesn’t happen. Mostly, because it could. And the randomness of what could happen here is what makes this place so very wonderful and so very awful. Sometimes, there’s a brutal honesty here where you get to know things about yourself that you never thought about because people say things to you about you that are obvious to everyone but yourself.
All that is sorta okay. I mean, it’s the Lower East Side after all, so, you have to expect people to have a shorthand about who you are … and if I found out what that shorthand was about me, I probably wouldn’t be too bothered about it but, because I might be, I haven’t checked out my own description.
I didn’t used to think about stuff like this. It began a couple of years ago when I was walking west on Grand Street and I saw a woman whose name I knew. I said, “Hi, Eleanor,” and she asked me how I knew her name and I had to tell her that I didn’t know. And that was really uncomfortable and I rattled my brain until I remembered that I had gone to a “Meet the Candidates Night” for shareholders to meet and talk to those running for a director position. And this woman gave a speech, introduced herself and solicited support for an upcoming election. When I remembered that I turned around and told her how I knew and then it was comfortable.
People down here are touchy about things you wouldn’t think they’d be so you have to be a little bit careful about things. It takes a while to know that stuff and sometimes they’re just going to be touchy in ways you’re never going to understand, so, it is what it is.
There’s a lot to tell about the fire and its aftermath and when I started writing this that was what this was going to be about but when I think about it it’s actually more about the Lower East Side.
This is part of a blog and if you’d like to read more about it, go to: http://fireonles.blogspot.com and I’ll try to regale you with stories about my wonderful neighbors, holidays, what’s it like to ride in an ambulance and other things. Thanks for reading.