Ferry Princess

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Unless you are five years old and miss having your daddy around to jump in the ocean or shoot water pistols with. Well, today I got a splash of cold water in my face. My whole life I thought that my first visit to New York City was on a school field trip in 1970, when I was a junior in high school. I discovered evidence to the contrary—an old box of slides taken by my paternal grandfather includes one with me on what appears to be a Circle Line ferry with my “Mammaw.”

Yep, that’s me—pixie cut and plaid dirndl skirt. Why do I have no memories of this? Didn’t I know right then and there that NYC was my destiny?

Mammaw and me NYC

*****

Circle Line schedule copy

 

Meanwhile, I had discovered something of interest right on the boat: a dazzling specimen of a human, Che Guevara only sweeter, with high cheekbones and windswept hair that lifted off and touched down on lithe shoulders enveloped in a dramatic Peruvian-looking cape. Tessa also got wise to his aura, and we nudged each other, giggling. The Brooklyn Bridge, the United Nations, Tudor City, Hell’s Gate, Harlem—all became a backdrop eclipsed by this alluring stranger as we tried to guess who or what he might be—surely a poet!

Or—maybe a drug dealer? Every once in a while, an imposing black man with a bald head and draped in a white shearling maxi-coat strode over and exchanged a few words with him. When the tour ended, the mysterious couple left the boat separately and then met up on the West Side Highway. Like two Nancy Drews, we followed them east. By the third corner, while waiting for the green light, the Isaac Hayes character arranged the cape around Mr. Exotica’s neck and shoulders a little snugger, nuzzling him with an air of possessive intimacy. Tessa and I looked at each other and groaned.

“Oh no! He’s gay!”
The nature of the relationship, previously in our collective hormonal blind spot, was now more obvious, cutting through all the intrigue. What a waste of male beauty was the provincial thought bubble that popped into my growing worldly consciousness.

We stopped in Smiler’s Deli to assuage our sorrows with Drake’s Cakes, and retreated with our bounty to our room at the Y.

Nov. 71
Dear D____ ,
It seems really weird hearing you talk about frats, etc. It’s so far away from my life up here. Tessa & I took a Circle Line Tour of Manhattan 2 Sundays ago. We discovered a beautiful, exotic-looking guy about half way around—dark, long hair, in a long cape, & alone. We physically were in no condition to attract his attention [referring to our fat shame, not our gender] , but we decided to keep our eyes on him. And we saw our first transvestite. He-she was definitely a male in face—complete with wig, make up, mini-skirt, nylons, boots, & pocketbook. Kind of a pity if you’re a “woman” trapped in a man’s body. —Hell’s Kitchen and Couture Dreams

copyright Sharon Watts

More from the Circle Line Tour chapter

“You Can’t Go Home Again” . . . (but we always try)

The holiday season is upon us. My knee jerk reaction to the first jarring jangle of a Christmas carol is always a groan, usually while running an errand in a dollar store, buying toilet paper or hydrogen peroxide.

I know I’ll eventually get with the program, even though I’ve strayed from my suburban shopping roots. I just like to keep things simple, stay out of malls, and no, I do not need to make a trek to Rockefeller Plaza to see the tree. (But I might, if the spirit moves me.)

I have no childhood memory of Black Friday, now with all its stampeding, guns-in-Walmart-parking-lots notoriety that we’ve come to expect. We bought Christmas gifts, but it wasn’t out of control. ( I feel every tipping point has been reached in my lifetime, for the worse, and so I’ve become more of a Gregorian chanting grinch this time of year. And I like it.)

So I look back on my first holiday after moving to New York City, in 1971. And I wish I could beam myself back there. One whiff of Lebanon “baloney” would do just that, but you can’t find Seltzers outside Pennsylvania, and ordering it online would defeat the purpose. Besides, by now I am nearly vegan.

mammaw-at-the-stove
Mammaw Watts at her stove top

The Thomas Wolfe quote “You can’t go home again” was starting to resonate when I returned to my hometown. It was the holiday season, and I brought exotic treats back for my family and friends to taste, wanting to share my world that had expanded beyond Sunbeam Bread and Lebanon “baloney,” Charles Chips and sticky buns.

I opened the fresh halvah divided into chunks—plain, with pistachios, and chocolate-covered—bought from the international food market vendor on Ninth Avenue. (“How much you want?” he asked with a vague accent. I held up my thumb and index finger to indicate how thick to slice, and savored a free sample melting on my tongue while my purchase was wrapped in opaque waxed paper.)

Eagerly awaiting their swoons, I received instead: “What exactly is it? It tastes like cold potatoes.” Middle Eastern candy made from sesame seeds? Our family tree didn’t extend to that neck of the woods; its taste buds apparently were quite comfortable squatting where they had been for several centuries, adjacent to Pennsylvania Dutch farmland and connected at the hip to the home of Hershey’s chocolate.

I pulled a chair up to my grandparents’ Formica table. Before me was a smorgasbord of beets and pickled eggs, coleslaw, apple butter, bread, lunch meat, sliced American cheese, and Pappaw’s homemade condiments: mayonnaise and ketchup. This was the part that I always could go home to again. Or so it felt.

Nov. 3rd, 1971
Dear Sharon,
You must be very busy with your work, keep it up. We are so glad you like it there, it’s a busy town. The goodies you were telling me about sound great.
We had a nice time on Sunday, I had your Mom and Dianne down for dinner. I had smoked pork chops, baked potatoes, aramatic vegetables, Jello that I made with the orange juice and pineapple juice, and one tablespoon of plain jelletin. I make my own that way there is nothing but the plain fruit juice, I also put carrots and pineapple in it.
I just made myself some Honey Tea, a tsp. of Honey and a cup of hot water. It’s good for your kidney’s.
I will write soon, be careful.
LOVE
Mammaw & Pappaw

—Hell’s Kitchen and Couture Dreams

copyright Sharon Watts

This memoir is finished. I will still post here while I work on a query letter and try to find an agent in 2017. The scrap-booking aspect continues, and that is the fun part for me. The writing was all cathartic, as well as my sincere effort to share New York City at a particular time. Meanwhile, I am entering a free memoir contest here: http://tinyurl.com/j4d3kqz, with Jennifer Wills of the Seymour Agency as judge. Wish me luck!