This photo might be meaningless to people who didn’t grow up in a housing project, so I will try to explain the various elements of the picture.
1 – Number one is me, not me now, but me about 30 years ago. I don’t look anything like this anymore. It was taken on a visit to my old apartment, in which my mother and father were still living. They moved in there in 1952 when I was one year old and died there. I’m seated at the dinette table, which was the only table in the house, though we generally ate in the living room in front of the the TV.
2 – Number two is a dish of Christmas cookies. We are Jewish but we always had Christmas cookies, and also bacon, ham, and shrimp. Notice I am eating a Christmas cookie. This is because my mother fed me continuously from the moment I walked in the door until I left. You can’t see the rest of the table in the photo, but it filled with boxes of pretzels, potato chips, crackers and probably more Christmas pastries. My mother had high blood pressure and my father had diabetes, and I ended up with my heart valve replaced and a by-pass. But at least we didn’t go hungry.
3 – Number three is a cup of coffee. It tasted as bad as it looks. The only kind of coffee we ever drank in the house was instant. Only after I moved out and got married did I learn that coffee was a bean and not a powder that came in a jar.
4 – Number four is a plastic bag. Plastic bags were the most important objects in our apartment. You didn’t go shopping for food so much as to get free plastic bags. The entire closet across from this dinette was filled with plastic bags of all shapes and sizes stuffed into each other, plastic bags for toting, for garbage, for storage, for covering food in the refrigerator. My parents single-handedly ruined the earth’s ecosystem with plastic bags.
5 – Number five is a pair of white molded swans kissing each other, also known as a chachkie. I don’t think it has a practical purpose. It’s too small to store plastic bags in. It’s probably meant to be decorative.
6. Number six is chachkie with a practical purpose. It holds some sort of leafy plant whose tendrils are taking over the apartment. During the springtime a squirrel snuck in through window and made a nest in the flower pot. My sister, on a visit to my parents, discovered the baby squirrels squirming around in the pot.
7. Number seven is the window which looks out on to the apartment building across the court. From the window you can see people across the court staring back at you. Sometimes they wave at you. It was important as a kid to be able to look out the window to see who was out playing in the court. You didn’t want to miss out on a punchball or stoop ball game. The bad thing was your parents could look out the window and see what mischief you were up to. One time I broke a window in a stickball game and my father witnessed the whole thing. I lied to him when I got back upstairs and I spent the rest of the night under the bed.
8. Number 8 is some kind of tropical plant, which felt right at home near the radiator.
9. Number nine is a painting. We were poor and couldn’t afford real paintings, so my father did his own paintings. The one hanging here behind me is an oil painting of more plants. If you didn’t know you were in a housing project, you’d think you were in a greenhouse. Another source of art were photos of famous paintings that my father tore out of magazines and put in frames. He also cut out pictures of pin-up girls from old calendars but my mother wouldn’t let him hang those in the dinette.
10. Number ten is something that my father invented. It is a strip of foam rubber wrapped in paper and plastic and glued to the wall. It’s purpose is to protect the wall from the back of the chair. I don’t why my father didn’t try to patent this invention.
11. Number eleven is a wicker basket, that you can’t see. You can, however, see what’s sticking out of the basket. One thing is a copy of the NY Daily News, which my father read every morning. He would look for an article that particularly annoyed him and then write a letter to the editor. His letters were often published, due to their vehemence. I’m surprised they never asked him to do a column. The other item sticking out the basket is the Racing Form. My father was a horse player all his life. When he got too old to travel to Aqueduct, he opened up an OTB account and watched the races on TV. He lost thousands on the horses and then passed his knowledge down to me, so that I could lose thousands.