Posted by amybou on:
I spent the Martin Scorsese tribute in a reverie about a particular time during my seven-and-a-half years of living in New York—specifically, dating a Roman Catholic, Italian American New Yorker, M.B., who, like Scorsese, harbored the idea of priesthood, wore slacks, and, not unlike a Scorsese character, had a bit of a Madonna/whore thing going on in terms of the way he viewed women (though he wasn’t sociopathic—just conflicted).
He took me to Brooklyn for the first time (in a car—so thrilling to be in a car in the city!) and introduced me to the view of the skyline from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. We rode the ferry to Staten Island, where he grew up, and he took me to dinner at steakhouses, which somehow seemed terribly glamorous, as I was raised a vegetarian on the West Coast. We went to see the Mingus Big Band perform at Fez/Time Café on Lafayette Street. (He liked to strike up conversation with Charles Mingus’s widow, Sue, who seemed to occupy the same booth every Thursday night; he also lived in the same building on Central Park West as Charlie Parker’s widow, who he liked to chat with in the elevator). It was all very cinematic, as if my hair were constantly blowing in the wind, as if the first time I saw him were in slow motion, not unlike when women first enter the scene in Scorsese films.
We met at a bar on Amsterdam and 110th Street called 1020 on a warm October night after the Yankees had just won the World Series. It was the first time I’d entered a bar by myself, after quickly returning home to change into my boxy mid-1960s blue and green mod canvas-like sheath dress ($5 at the Chelsea flea market) and pick up a fedora that some guy, a trombonist from the Manhattan School of Music, had placed on my head at the bar the previous weekend, and which I now intended to return (but maybe never did). I’d spent the afternoon babysitting a five-year-old, Max, whose Marxist professor grandparents tipped well and sent me off with cab fare (which I saved, as I always did, and instead headed back to 116th Street on the 1/9 train). I still think of it as the 1/9, though it’s just the 1 train now.
It seemed that watching certain quintessential films about New York was a prerequisite to dating M.B.. There were important lessons about his grandfathers to be learned from “On the Waterfront” (which was “the key that turned everything,” as Scorsese said on the red carpet last night to reporters about his early influences, as I stood by and eavesdropped). Something about the Staten Island neighborhood M.B. grew up was supposed to be evident in “Mean Streets” (which I learned at the tribute was filmed mostly in Los Angeles, with the exception of 8 or 9 days shot in New York—as Scorsese said, when DeNiro shot a gun on the Empire State Building, a window crashed at a bar in Los Angeles, prompting interviewer Leonard Maltin to reflect on the illusions of cinema.) We didn’t end up finishing most of the films, so my cinematic education remains a bit fuzzy, though my education of New York does not.
He wasn’t the most significant of my loves in New York, but he was the one who first introduced me to parts of the city that would become important to me in all the years I lived there. (I would eventually move to an Italian part of Williamsburg, in a rent-stabilized brownstone owned by the formidable Z. family, with son Tony’s fish market and daughter Carmella’s hair salon around the corner, and the no-nonsense Philomena who collected the rent from Ozone Park, Queens and urged me to make as little noise as possible, since I was a “boarder” in her family home and her grandparents lived below me and would tap their ceiling with a broom when I walked too hard.)
In many ways, New York is like a first love—maybe the one that got away, easy to romanticize, even though you know you probably wouldn't have been compatible for the long-haul, but still able to make you ache a little.
Photo courtesy Robert Redfield.