Posts Tagged ‘Lower East Side’

Reflections on the Cup and Saucer, Edward Hopper, Tom Waits and Community

February 21, 2015

cup and sacuer Unknown

Strange how sometimes the mere encounter of certain things – songs, aromas, buildings — can affect one so deeply, conjuring up right hook emotions, fueling locomotives of memory and desire, transporting you hither thither and yon toward all manner of known and unknown destinations. Even though I haven’t actually dined there for years and was never what you could call a habitué, I undergo some version or other of the above phenomena just about every time I stroll past the Cup and Saucer Luncheonette on Canal Street and see it still standing, still open, still operating much the same way it has been since before, well… punks roamed the earth.
The Cup and Saucer, you understand, is a greasy spoon, and one of the first order. It is not a faux greasy spoon designed by yuppies for other yuppies seeking the greasy spoon ascetic, but with food more suited to their sophisticated palettes and a cliental that looks, thinks, smells and earns like they do. No. The Cup and Saucer is the real deal, the thing-in itself, the noumenon, at once authentic and delightfully unconscious of its authenticity, frequented by people who tend to look as if they belong in an Edward Hopper painting or else walked off the set of one of those great and gritty 70’s New York movies like “The Panic In Needle Park.” (I, myself, found comfort there during my time doing graduate work at the Edgar Allen Poe School of Serious Drinking when, after a night of mystery and indulgence, paradise could be found in a plate of the Cup and Saucer’s greasy bacon and eggs. ) Such people are becoming increasingly hard to find in my neighborhood and such establishments, once as prevalent in Manhattan as a mailbox, are fast going the way of the woolly behemoth.
I understand I am witnessing a vanishing.


I have no idea how or why but somehow the Cup and Saucer has survived; no small thing in the uber -Darwinian world of Manhattan real estate. Of that I am glad, even as I know it is living on borrowed time, for the place has resonance for me as I suspect it has for many.
I cannot see the Cup and Saucer without thinking of both the paintings of Hopper and the songs of Tom Waits. I cannot, in turn, think of Hopper or Waits without thinking of my late and beloved eldest brother Eddie who, many years ago, introduced me to both and in doing so enlarged and deepened my adolescent universe. I cannot think of Eddie without often experiencing an oceanic sense of loss and a kind of vertigo of sorrow that finds me bumping into things or stepping in puddles or reaching for rosary beads which are no longer there. Finally, I cannot experience such sorrow without being reminded of how quickly our days here pass, how little we know of what we are doing here; of our sublime fragility; of how suddenly we leave, leaving others who love us and who we love behind as we enter into silence.

tome waits

So somehow, against my will, the Cup and Saucer has become important to me, which is to say, it has become symbolic to me, and symbols are very powerful and necessary things indeed.
That being so, I cannot pass the Cup and Saucer without wrestling with other more mundane but just as disturbing realities as well, none more so than the rapidity of change that has become an across-the –board-norm of 21st century urban existence – that much the more in NYC. With precious few exceptions – a tailor here, a pizzeria there – the Lower East Side neighborhood I moved into 14 years ago no longer exists except geographically. Quirky independent or family businesses and neighbors have almost all been driven out by ever more insane rents, or left in disgust when the place was given over to ephemeral restaurants catering to Wall Street big shots or bars catering to NYU frat boys who confuse our doorways for public urinals. Even more gone is the spirit of the artists of every conceivable medium who found cheap dwellings here that allowed them to pursue their muses and, whatever you thought of their work, added to our culture and made things interesting. God knows where they have gone, but gone they are, and such misfits and marchers to different drummers will not be back in my lifetime. And that is a loss that is incalculable.

None of this, of course, is new in New York and change is both necessary and healthy. Change, in point of fact, is the only constant of the city since Peter Minuet first swindled the Lenape out of their tree ridden island. “Expect poison from standing water,” wrote Blake. What is new is the speed and the scale and the dislocating effects of such upheaval as well as the uniformity of so much of what replaces it. Somewhere in his voluminous entries, 19th c New York diarist George Templeton Strong laments that New York neighborhoods change so utterly that every 40 years or so, a native could return and find one wholly unrecognizable.
The vanishing Strong lamented now seems to occur every four months or so and, sadly, tends to produce places and people that are all too easily recognizable. Such a situation has definite if difficult to locate side effects for those of us — and there are more and more of us all the time – who are forced to live under such conditions or flee.
Such conditions set a kind of guerilla war of environment against the psyche: a war of the primal human need for continuity and some level of stability and the post -postmodern super capitalistic culture that eviscerates both, even as apologists for the Efficiency Market Hypothesis (which brought the world to the brink of economic catastrophe in 2008) continue to preach it is all for the good.
And all is for the good if you happen to incarnate the abstraction called The Economy. All is very, very good, indeed. Fabulous even. If, on the other hand, you are but a lowly sensate human, such perpetual change can tend to leave you feeling invisible, utterly inconsequential, and meaningless. Indeed, it feels like an attack of the most impersonal kind by the most impersonal forces, and as such, is terrifying. What’s more, the human heart and psyche have demands of their own, impervious to the “hidden hand” of the free market, (or any other hand that is not human or divine for that matter) and when these demands are not met, life begins to feel…well, crazy.
As it happens, I was a boy when I first encountered the abject horror of human craziness. It came in the form of my best friend’s mother who, during our boyhood, was painfully, mercilessly, mentally ill. When things were very bad for her she hallucinated people changing shapes and forms and identities right in front of her eyes. In those horrible moments of everything and everyone shifting, the poor woman would sometimes scream.
It took me years to understand something of what she must have felt like; took me years to understand that we need stable markers in this life, be they psychological, spiritual, moral or geographical, or some combination of them all, which somehow reinforce each other. When they would start shifting, I’d feel like screaming.
I find myself remembering my friend’s poor pained mother all too often these days when I am walking through my neighborhood and it is not a pleasant feeling.

Nor is it easy to define. Whatever the feeling is, it is not nostalgia. I have no longing for some bullshit rosy past and even if I did, I might well be sated (with enough alcohol) by the post-post modern phenomenon of faux-reality-brand-new-very old-bar, often times of the faux-Irish-faux-lineage. You know, the bar that opened last week but is designed to look and feel like it’s been there for a century or so with a name (“The Fifth Ward”, perhaps) to conjure up the wild days and nights when Jimmy Walker ran Gotham.

Nor, alternatively, am I jonezing for the “convenience” of having a CVS or a 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank on my corner to save me the trouble of walking two blocks to the next CVS or 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank in a city that feels increasingly as interchangeable as any airport.
Not good.
Not good and, I fear, spiritually dangerous.
There is, I believe, something ineffable, immeasurable, profoundly human and absolutely necessary about forging or finding a connection, however subtle and tenuous, with the place where one lives. It is precisely that connection that allows for the formation of true community. Conversely, I cannot help but feel that there is a danger, also ineffable, immeasurable and profoundly human, when such connections are either not made or severed. Such changes change you and not, I fear, for the better. You cannot love what you do not know and you cannot know what you do not feel a connection to. And where there is no connection there can be no community.

Someday, and I suspect that day will come soon, I will stroll down Canal Street and find the Cup and Saucer to be no more. It will be replaced by either a bank or an enterprise that will have no interest whatsoever in its current clientele ( who will remind no one of Tom Waits or Edward Hopper ) or it will be a pile of rubble making way for luxury condos for the children of the mega rich as described in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty. The workers of the Cup and Saucer as well as the regulars they served will be scattered to the winds searching for a place to go.

That day will spell the end of the greasy spoons of the Lower East Side and almost certainly the last use of the word”luncheonette.” For me it will be one very poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of both time and our times and the pressing need to look elsewhere for a place to call home for me and mine.

cup interior images

Moskowitz Backs Down (For the time Being)

January 8, 2015


We have almost 2300 signatures on our petition with more coming in.
Now we need to stand strong and turn out for the hearing to let SACS, SUNY, and the DoE know that District One is strong, District One is united, and District One says NO THANKS!

Public speaker sign in starts at 5:30. Hearing begins at 6pm.


Rosie Mendez Addresses the forum at Anna Silver School.

Rosie Mendez Addresses the forum at Anna Silver School.

Twenty-four hours before a public meeting on yet another of charter entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz’s machinations — in this case switching districts in which to open up another unwanted Success Academy — the Department of Education (DOE) suddenly announced that the meeting was to be called off.

No reason was given.

Members of Community Education Council 1 simply received word that the meeting was not to be held.

Hard cheese old chap!

Insulted at such cavalier treatment, CEC 1’s fearless President Lisa Donlon decided to hold a public forum in its stead in which members of the Lower East Side community could speak their mind about Moskowitz and her ever expanding charter empire.
This they did. Fervently. Angrily. Passionately.

The forum began with a speech by Lower East Side Councilwoman Rosie Mendez , a fierce supporter of public school in her district. Later in the evening New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, also a strong supporter of public schools, arrived in support of the community.

Somewhere in the middle of the many speakers it was announced that some guy named Cohen from the DOE was there and wanted to explain what happened. He spoke very briefly and in a somewhat penitent tone stated that since the Moskowitz “ charter proposal had been withdrawn for August 2015”, the DOE saw no reason to hold the public meeting.
Cohen did not explain why they waited until twenty four hours before the meeting to announce that.

CEC 1 President Lisa Donlon was quick to point out to that Success Academy had not withdrawn its application.

Speaker after speaker told horror stories about dealing with Success Academy and while there was a sense of relief at the DOE’s announcement, there was no misunderstanding the fact that Moskowitz and her hedge fund backers would be back when they sensed the time was right.

The crowd of about 200 people included parents, principals, and teachers, including a contingent from MORE. It was refreshing to witness such a display of rebellious intelligence and community.


A City in Darkness

November 1, 2012

As I write downtown Manhattan, from 40th Street to the Battery, is in a state of almost total darkness. What illumination there is at all is comes from the passing   headlights of cars and trucks and by flashlights held by held by pedestrians rushing home from work and your occasional  dog walker.

As the sun went down I did something I will not do again: I cycled to midtown where there is a friend with electricity on a mission to recharge my daughter’s DVD player, so disappointed she was by the de facto cancellation of Halloween.  Allowing  her to watch a movie  — some semblance of normalcy amidst this primal existence — was   my way of trying to make things a little better for her.  Nearing Bellevue Hospital I begin to see the huge antennae of the media vans – ABC. NBC, CNN and a host of others.  Ambulances are doubled parked by the dozens in front of the hospital. Others are speeding off uptown somewhere. I stop and ask one of the media people why they are there.  Bellevue is being evacuated, she says.  Something about generators failing that I don’t quite catch, the wailing of the sirens deafening all.

It is an eerie sight and a chilling sound as ambulance after ambulance speeds past wailing into the distance, off to God knows where as NYU hospital was evacuated the day before.

I charge my girl’s DVD player and head by home.  It is only 7:00 pm but feels like midnight.  Time has become very, very bendy and the landscape of the city is nothing short of   surreal and spooky.  That much the more if you are trying to navigate your way home 40 odd blocks on a bicycle in a lightless world without traffic lights.  The traffic moves slowly, in fits and starts, with a great and welcome sense of hesitation.  At one point I pulled over to the sidewalk and took it in, this bizarre scene like something out of a horror movie of a city fleeing itself, a river of red taillights as far as the eye could see within the silhouette of towering buildings in a sea of blackness.

I have never seen anything like it.

Somehow, at least as far as I can see, it seems to work.  No one is plowing into each other and the infamous New York rage is held in check. But sirens wail constantly and fire trucks and cops cars are everywhere.  Vowing to not pull this stunt again, all I want to do is make it back to my family on the Lower East Side in one piece.

This I do but not before stopping off at the Catholic Worker to see if I might be able to peach some of their famous hearty soups ( and hearty it is ! ) as we are unable to cook and our bones are cold for lack of heat.

With more soup than any three people can possibly eat we enjoy a very welcome hot meal in our candle lit 19th century tenement abode, my daughter thrilled by the simple joy of being able to watch Scooby Doo.

I set out to walk our friend’s dog, a routine I normally enjoy, but in the complete darkness of the Lower East Side Streets, it is one fraught with unease and even fear. Even carrying a flashlight, the   darkness is, to say the least, un-nerving.  Here and there human forms move swiftly on the sidewalks, appearing seemingly out of nowhere.   I find myself walking in the middle of the road.  Everyone is keeping their distance and attempting, I suspect, not to appear afraid.  It is both fascinating and scary.  It occurs to me that this shadowy night world was the nocturnal reality for civilizations for all but the last hundred years or so.  It is a world of mystery and a world of mystery is a world of imagination.  Imagination and fear.

But we are habituated by electricity and are not accustomed to darkness  and are not about to be so anytime soon.  Something has changed down here in the last 24 hours.   The night before we three set out to take a walk and take in what Sandy had wrought and found hundreds of people doing the same.  There was almost a spirit of holiday in the air.  Not so tonight.  Unlike last night when one saw crowds of people out for a stroll taking in the novelty of a New York Unplugged, tonight one sees only shadows and dog walkers.   The novelty, it seems, has worn off and a definite spookiness that has nothing to do with Halloween seems to fill the air.

It is unlike anything I have ever experienced and one I am bound to re-experience for the next few days at least. Nothing to do but take it in.



Addendum:  Today as I passed Bellevue on my way to the Mid-Manhattan Library, the army of ambulances was still doubled parked out front.  The evacuation continues.

Occupy the Department of Education: Walcott Takes it On the Hop

October 26, 2011

Officially it was billed as the Chancellor’s Conversation On Raising Standards In the Classroom and Chancellor Dennis Walcott was to welcome the audience and Common Core Standards presenter and co–author David Coleman at the stroke at 6:00  PM at Seward Park High School in the Lower East Side.  Unofficially it was the first (of doubtless many) manifestations of Occupy the DOE.   By the time I arrived in the delightful company of  my unjustly fired former colleague  Jafar Smith and his son at about 6:15, neither Walcott nor Coleman were anywhere to be seen.  They and their entourage had already fled the auditorium leaving in their wake what struck me as a perfect image of their essence: a silent, empty stage surrounded by the police.

You know you have reached a strange moment in your history when someone bearing the title of   chancellor of education needs police protection.

The auditorium, on the other hand, remained packed with passionate, articulate and very, very angry parents and teachers who made no mystery of their disgust and fury at Bloomberg’s ever deepening corporate education reform blitzkrieg, its ever-deepening failures, and what these failures  are doing to their children, their children’s teachers and their communities.

Using the “people’s mic” made famous by the folks down the street a bit at Zuccotti Park, one speaker after another told all too familiar stories of their children being tossed out of charter schools because they were “too difficult, of ballooning class sizes, of having no books or supplies, of having to subject their students to constant test prep, of psycho or clueless administrators and of an overall degeneration of anything resembling a humane and serious education.

I can’t say I blame Walcott for fleeing. Herein was an audience that was going to demand that something billed as a “conversation” was, indeed, going to be a conversation and not the contemptuous ( if ever so civil ) monologue Walcott was doubtless meaning to present.  He would have been eaten alive and he knew it.    So too David Coleman, yet another shameless operative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose latest creation, the Common Core standards, are being rammed down teachers’ throats across the country without having any say whatsoever in the matter.   Why not?  He’s Bill Gates, after all.

People are no longer afraid.  They will no longer tolerate insanity in silence.  Not on Wall Street and not in their schools. Not with their future and not with their children.  Rest assured this Occupy the DOE was the first of many such gatherings.  As many, that is, as are needed to set things straight. As many, that is, that is takes to make the public schools truly schools and truly public.

A Murder On the Lower East Side: Aftermath Of An Unholy Act

July 2, 2011

For the past couple of days my entire apartment building has been enveloped in the eerie aftermath of murder. The murder took place four nights ago, two floors up from where I write. The proximity of the act not only removes the comfort of abstraction, it somehow makes all that was familiar – empty hallways, stairs, closed doors, the sound of one’s own footsteps  —  suddenly feel ominous.  One’s senses are simultaneously heightened and distorted. It’s unnerving to say the least.

The victim was a 49-year-old mother of two whom I have no memory of ever as much as seeing pass through our small 14 apartment 19th century building. What I do have is a very vivid memory of meeting what turned out to be her two sons and her 68 year old mother frantically searching for her on, it seems, the very night her life was so brutally stolen from her.  This was around 11:00 pm. Monday night when, almost asleep, I remembered that I had left my bicycle chained to the rail outside the front door of my building. Lest I wake to a bike with no wheels I roused myself out of bed and  went down to retrieve it when I encountered the three family members  anxiously peering through the glass in the front doorway.

Do you  know Miguel? the older son, perhaps 20, asked me when I opened the door.    Miguel in apartment two ? He is an older man.

There was   great urgency in his voice and eyes.

No, I know no Miguel, I told him.  And no one by that name lives in apartment two.

Are you sure, he asked.  How long have you lived here ?

I’ve lived here almost 10 years and, yes, I’m sure that no one by that name lives in apartment two.

These were clearly not the answers that the young man was looking for.    As he translated what I was saying into Spanish for  his grandmother he pulled out a cell phone and said  something about trying again to get  Miguel on the phone.

Figuring they had somehow wound up at the wrong address, I wished them luck and carried my bike through the door and up the stairs, oblivious to the fact that the boy’s  mother and the woman’s daughter lay dead or dying two flights above my bed in  apartment 14 shared by someone I knew as Ramon but whose real name was Miguel.

Miguel/ Ramon age,  58 or 59, arrested early Tuesday afternoon for murder, was a figure  I would pass, from time to time, in the hallway, acknowledge with a nod and a “hello” and not give another thought to.  He was tall and slender and had strong looking hands. He carried himself in a way that suggested that this was a man who did not hurry through this life.  There was something almost invisible about him.   He was from the Dominican Republic and shared a dwelling upstairs with other single men from that country who worked hard,  kept to themselves and minded their own business.  On two occasions he had sat silently and politely through building meetings that had taken place in my apartment concerning legal action we were taking against our landlord.  He knew no English to speak of and I did my best to translate what was going on and for this Miguel/ Ramon was grateful.

“Murderer” is not an appellation that welled up naturally in the mind when one looked at him. Not by a long shot. And there is something terrifying about that.

On Tuesday afternoon I check my email from work and find  the following message from a  neighbor:

“anybody home?

it is 2:20 –

i got home the whole building is full of police and detectives

they asked me some questions

someone has deceased upstairs

not sure where

last night

i guess

it will be all over the news, he said

i asked if it was murder

he was not clear

any other information, anybody?”

Soon thereafter another neighbor sends an email with a link from some news agency that states that some unnamed person has been murdered in a basement apartment in our building.

Problem: There are no basement apartments in our building.

I call my wife and ask her what on earth is going on.  She confirms that there are cops everywhere.  She’s been told that someone might be dead and that someone might have been murdered but whom and where, she does not know.  I ask about our six year old child who will be returning soon from school and she tells me that a friend has gone to fetch her and will keep her away from our building until the small army of police who have cordoned off the area and are demanding photo ID for anyone to enter the building leave.

But the small army of police does not leave and they are soon augmented by a small army of journalists, photographers and TV talking heads who in turn attract an ever-growing crowd of on lookers and the simply curious.

By the time I arrive home at, say, 6:30 pm, there are easily a hundred people standing in front of my building, waiting for …God knows what. I soon find out that they are waiting for the body of the deceased to be removed from wherever it is in the building. It’s an astounding sight, at once wholly ghoulish and wholly human.  There are more people on the sidewalk across the street and more still on the corner. Few are talking and if they are they  speak in low, hushed voices.   Most are  just staring at the front door of my building.  Mute. Waiting. Waiting for death to show it’s covered face.   The whole thing  has the air of a sick, silent  circus.

A cop stands sentry at the door.   To get to my apartment I need to show him ID. I ask him what is going on. He tells me there will be an announcement soon.   As I climb the stairs I hear the cackle of police radios.  The further I go up, the louder they become.    I speak to my wife  who tells me what she knows which is only that someone is dead and that our child is safe with a friend.   At this point I remember the encounter with the family the night before and, thinking it might have something to do with what ever it was that was happening, I climb the stairs  and tell one of the cops guarding what turned out to be the murder scene, that I wanted to speak with a detective.   Not two minutes later a detective knocked on our door.

He was soft-spoken and exceedingly civil.  I tell him about running into the people the night before, prefacing it by saying that this might have nothing to do with what ever happened here and why all these cops are here and why the street is cordoned off .  He sits down on the same couch Miguel/ Ramon sat down on, listens intently then scribbles into a thick black pad.  He then says, “ The people you met are the family of the deceased.   Her two sons and mother.”  He adds quickly as if to allay our fears, “ The suspect is in custody. “

The connection between the frightened little boy,   the anxious young man and the stoic  old woman feels first like a punch in the face, then, revealingly,  like a scene in a crime movie we somehow wandered into.   Before he leaves, I tell the detective that we have a small child who we are keeping all this from so that she does not have nightmares for the next ten years.  I ask him how long will it be before we can bring  her home.  He is sympathetic but answers that he does not know.  The medical examiner van arrived some time ago, he continues, but it could still be a while.

It is a while.

And in the meantime everyday reality and thought processes are suspended.  The murder has sucked everything and everyone around us  into its vortex. Police radio continues to cackle in the hall. We wait, babbling because somehow there is a need to babble.  I look out my window to the scene below and see that the crowd has grown even larger. There is no way to escort my child through that without a million questions. And, indeed, there is the medical examiner’s van parked in front of the door.  Waiting.

At some point, for reasons I do not understand, I leave my apartment, wander down the stairs and join the crowd staring at the door.   Journalists who saw me leave the building attempt to ask me questions I cannot answer and would not answer if I could.  They seem an insult to the  dead. Instead, I ask them questions:  what are you waiting for ?  They’re waiting for the body to be taken from the building.  Why ? So we can  get a picture. Standing in the crowd, suddenly ashamed of myself for  even being there, the answers seem at once perfectly logical and  perfectly insane.  How is this important to any one other than family and friends?

But somehow it is, it is.  And this is why they are gathered.   Such is the pull of   murder.

I felt that pull in myself sometime after I returned to my apartment to continue waiting.

The atmosphere was so unnerving all purposeful activity seemed not only impossible but somehow sacrilegious.  The ultimate unholy act had been committed.   This had to be acknowledged.  Somehow.  All things profane need be suspended, at least for the duration.

But the profane keeps banging its way back in.

From somewhere in the hall above me I hear a loud crack and, after an interval, another and then another.  I open my apartment door to investigate to find two medical examiner people and the body of “the deceased “ (as she is being called,) wrapped in black cloth from head to toe and tied to a gurney that is clunking its way down our narrow hallways.  I am familiar with death but not murder and somehow this scene is shocking:  and yet, somehow, despite myself I am compelled to look at it, to see it, to bear witness.   As if on automatic Catholic pilot, I begin to silently recite the Hail Mary, the moment my mind adjusts to what my eyes are seeing.  The clunking goes on, diminishing in sound as they descend the stairs until it is heard no more.

I wander to the window and see that the police have totally cordoned off the area in front of the building, forcing everyone, press included, away from the medical examiner’s van.

This seems the right thing to do for the family and for the sake of common decency.  Who would want a photo of someone you loved in a black body bag plastered all over the place?

The moment that everyone has been waiting for is over in about 30 seconds and conducted with brutally impersonal efficiency. The body is wheeled out. The side door of the van is opened.  The body is shoved in and the door slammed.   End of story.  She might as well have been a  bag of laundry.   The driver of the van starts the motor while a cop emerges from my building calling to his colleague holding up a small white piece of paper connected to a string.  The toe tag, known to all true lovers of TV cop shows and, sadly,  the closet thing to a ritual for the dead that is performed on this  day.

The van departs.  The crowds almost instantly disperses.  And suddenly it is over.

Except, of course, it isn’t.  The act is too large, too violent, and too unspeakable not to speak about it.   Over the next day or two, without even wanting to one hears of the poor woman’s bloodied, bludgeoned body being discovered wrapped in a plastic sheet; of the murderer’s insane attempt to hide her in the wall; of her elder son’s screams being heard down the block when he identified the body; of his leaving the building covered in his mother’s blood after he embraced her lifeless form.  One savage and heartbreaking reality after another.

I decide, for what its worth, that I do not want to know any details of what happened to this woman. This daughter.  This mother.  This human being.   Details in such a case seem suddenly to be a shocking and senseless invasion of privacy and a stripping of her humanity.   Why should her mutilation be public knowledge?

What is gained by this?

And what is lost?

Yesterday, my wife encountered a gentle middle aged couple from the neighborhood via the Dominican Republic, friends of  the dead woman, who asked her if she might  let them in the building.  My wife did, of course, and it was only later when they knocked on our door to speak with us that we realized the strangeness of their request.   The apartment in which their friend  was slain remains a crime scene. There is no entry and who would want to enter there if there was ?     What was it they were really looking for ?   I did not think it right to ask them.  Besides, I doubt they even knew themselves.  They were compelled to do something to mark the horrific occasion.  Somehow, perhaps, a physical proximity to her place of death would serve that purpose.

As they sat in our living room speaking to us about  their friend and their native country,  I thought of something I was told by  a beloved  aunt many years ago as I struggled to come to terms with my father’s death and all that came with it and all that  left with it.   I was 16 and   nothing about his death made sense.  Not the rituals, not the ceremonies, not the wake, not the reaction of some of my family, and, above all, not the silence. My aunt was driving at the time and, as if to add emphasis, she  pulled over to the side of the road and said: You must try and understand something. People are very strange about their dead because they don’t understand it. And what they don’t understand they fear. And when people are afraid they can get a little crazy and can do things  that don’t make a lot of sense.  But it’s just because no one understands death.

How true. How terrifyingly true.

And how much truer still when one encounters murder.

Yesterday, when I went out to buy some milk in the morning I saw that people had made a shrine at our doorstep.  There is a kind of a cardboard tombstone which contains the dates of the slain woman’s life and the words,” In Loving Memory.” There is her photo showing her looking happy and vivacious.  There are white roses and there are candles, which are glowing into the night as I write.  The shrine is there, of course, to honor the memory of the dead, as well it  should.  But it would be well too, if the shrine also served as a reminder to  all whom pass  of the fleeting nature of all  beings breathing in our precious,  unfathomable, all so fragile universe.