Tuesday, December 11, 2007

October 16, 1931

Dinner last night was the grandest time I’ve had in a good while. Sarah and I did walk east to the elevated Second Avenue line. The train itself was much like any other except higher in the air and more rickety. It stopped quite a bit and there was a great deal of rocking back and forth. This was all offset by a symphony of banging and clanging. It didn’t much seem to bother any one else, but at one point I did feel a little sick in my stomach.

Once we arrived downtown at a stop called Grand Street, we stepped off the train into a patchwork of tenements and brownstones. I’ve never seen streets so packed with people. From the languages I heard there was German, Yiddish, Italian, and even a little Spanish being flung through the air. The sidewalks were almost four or five people deep on both sides of the street. On the curbs were pushcarts full of wares being peddled. Meats, cheeses, and even barrels of pickled vegetables lined the streets. Sarah directed me toward Madison Street and we came upon the Schimberg Family Kosher Deli. The golden letters on the window were written in both English and Hebrew characters. When we walked in Sarah’s father, Ira, boisterously greeted us. He instantly hugged me and said he was so happy to meet me. It was a warm gesture even though his embrace had a smell of cured meats to it.

He promptly closed the deli and the three of us walked up a backset of stairs to the Schimberg’s apartment. I’m beginning to think that all of New York is a series of back staircases. The apartment was small and cluttered. There were piles of books strewn about in all corners. Apparently Mr. Schimberg is an avid reader. I instantly could smell something like a roast cooking on the stove.

“I made a brisket,” Mr. Schimberg said.

“Ewww brisket, pop. You went all out huh?” Sarah said.

“I figured what better way to introduce the Jews to a girl from Saratoga.” He laughed. I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“It smells delicious.” I said.

“Well it should. I’ve been cooking it for five hours.” He laughed again. It seemed that all his statements were punctuated with laughter. It put me at ease immediately.

Dinner was dressed with boiled potatoes and cole slaw. We stuffed ourselves while we discussed everything from horse racing to the Depression. Mr. Schimberg is a very educated man. He was telling me that his father came to New York from Germany in the 1870’s. He started his business out of a pushcart on Essex Street selling pickles and whatever meats he could get off the boats on South Street. From there his business grew and in 1909 he finally saved enough to buy the building that we were sitting in.

“That’s why I’ve been able to fair through this damn Depression. I didn’t have a bank breathing down my neck. My other tenants are giving me whatever they can. And who doesn’t need a good deli, right?”

Sarah offered, “And what about banks, pop?”

“Please, don’t get me started. They’re all a bunch of crooks, even before this crash. Never went to one. Never will. Why am I goin’ to let some grimy suit take my money when I can keep it here.”

“Pop keeps his entire life savings in his father’s old pickle barrels.”

“So when that house of cards fell, I was none the wiser,” he laughed.

After dinner, Sarah brought me to her room where she showed me photographs of her mother. It was then that she told me her mother died of stomach cancer when she was four years old. Sarah’s grandfather was a professional portrait photographer, which is why she had so many photographs of her. She confided in me that she wanted to become a photographer herself, even though her father was sending her to Barnard to be a teacher. She saved up some of the money she made in the deli to buy herself a camera. Under her bed she pulled a box of photos she’s taken and developed herself. Most of them were of her surrounding neighborhood and the people in it. Although I know nothing of photography she has a wonderful eye for people in natural situations.

I regretted having to leave but it was getting late and I had an early class. Mr. Schimberg was gracious enough to put me in a taxicab back to campus. What lovely people they were. So happy to have found them.

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