Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Uncle "I"

This is my great Uncle Irving's 115th birthday. We called him Uncle "I" because it was easier than saying Irving when we were so small. But as we got older we took a secret delight in calling him Uncle "I" simply because it sounded like we were saying Uncle "Lie", in deference to some of the tall tales he told.

Irving lived alone in the "city", which meant Manhattan. He also lived in a hotel! This was so strange to me that it was almost shocking. He had lived with my Grandmother Dorothy (his sister) and their father, Max, along with my parents, until they got a place of their own. When Dorothy moved to California after Max passed away, Irving was left with no place to go. So he got a room in a hotel and lived that way for the next 25 years or so, until he passed away. It wasn't until years later, when I was bouncing around the world and staying in a lot of hotels myself, wishing that I were somewhere else, did I come to realize the singular loneliness of Uncle I's existence. He was kind of like a prisoner in a prison with no bars. He could roam at will, all over the city, but where did he will to roam?

Anyone who knows me, knows of Uncle "I". Some of my oldest friends actually knew him. He was 68 years old in this photo, which was taken at Idewild (later JFK) Airport in October 1963. In the original photo he is holding both my brother and I. I was 9 at the time. Uncle "I" colored every aspect of my life as a kid. I couldn't wait for him to come over every Friday night. I would pepper him with questions about the old days, and he would regale me with stories, some of which were true, about his youth on the Lower East Side, his exceptional athletic achievements and his wit and cunning in the Garment Industry.

And every Friday night would end the same way. We would walk together on Avenue R to East 16th Street and then to the Quentin Rd. entrance of the Kings Highway Station, where he would catch the BMT back to Manhattan and his little hotel room. Then he would belong to the rest of the world for another week. But each Friday, he always came back, and I was always waiting. Happy Birthday Uncle Irving...and thanks for everything you gave, asking nothing in return.

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