Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do You Remember Minky's Bike Shop?

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Rabbi Weiss' Mother Nods, Yes

Instantly, I'm 21 and reliving the Summer of '87. I'm in the storefront-shop, near the corner of Devon & Mozart, in the Jewish and Indian neighborhood of Chicago. Could Rabbi Weiss' mother and I be contemporaries, since her mother remembers Minky's?
Rabbi Weiss' age is a bit of a mystery, except I'm sure she's younger than I.

It's comforting to make a quick connection with the rabbi's mother, since Rabbi Weiss met mine when she officiated at our wedding, and since the Rabbi's name appears with our families' and ours in "The New York Times" announcement. The rabbi's mom and I know Minky's!

When I Was a Struggling Magazine Intern in West Rogers Park...

Minky's was tiny, and messily full of -- in my memory, anyhow -- mostly used bikes. I bought one of them for $25 from Minky himself; he was a white-haired, older guy with a sweet face and thick, bike-grease-painted hands. I'm pretty sure he, too, was Jewish, though not observant enough to wear a kippah. I bought the bike just days after moving three blocks away from the bike shop, into a tiny room on the top floor of a blond-brick three-flat, 6137 N. Mozart. I joined two female roommates, who needed a third. One had a fiancé, earning an MBA at Northwestern.

Even in 1987, $25 was cheap for a used bike; it was a cheerful blue, similar to the blue of the "Preview" button in, where this blog is made, only a bit less powdery, and brighter. It was the color that appealed to me. I don't think it had any speeds/gears to shift. During the first couple of weekends, I rode it down to the Rocks at Belmont Ave. and the Lake, and I'd sit with it among my people, but would not speak to anyone. And there was no way I was going to go to services at Or Chadash, the gay synagogue, where I would have found more of my people -- and where, three and a half years later, I found Pat -- because I was in a Judaism-has-no-room-for-me-as-a-lesbian phase and I was intent on proving myself right.

Through reading the gay newspapers, which I picked up for free at The Closet, a lesbian-owned bar near that part of the Lakefront, I learned where the gay and lesbian people hung out on the Lake. What I wanted to know culturally, I read, rather than speaking with anyone; they were just a bunch of strangers who made me feel lonelier in their friends-clusters and boyfriends and girlfriends-pairings.

My own girlfriend at the time was finishing her English Master's that summer in Ann Arbor, which was where we met at the start of my senior year of undergrad. She visited me just once that summer prior to our moving in to an apartment together in the fall...which we should not have done, as we weren't suited to each other, but I have digressed.

What I have digressed from: naming the experience of living in a brand new city, effectively alone, at 21, and the loneliness and insecurity that it inspired.

Fewer than 10 days after the purchase, my blue bike was stolen from the the three-flat's basement. The only other luxury I bought myself that summer was a cassette-tape-playing Walkman, which I would play during the six-block walk back and forth from my summer internship at "Inside Chicago" magazine.

Amy Feldman was the journalist who supervised me directly and tried to help me learn to write for the magazine. I must contact her. Probably, she was just a year or two older than I, and kind, but I was closeted, i.e., never declared myself; probably, she knew and simply was gentle with me. Our editor was Debbie Loeser, who was fun and generous, too.

How unfortunate that I couldn't let myself be myself; if I had, they might have gotten more than my little travel-piece on Ann Arbor, including much more useful help with the Dr. Lauren Berlant interview. Oh, boy, what a great article that could have been -- a U. of Chicago English professor, who chose to meet with me at the Randolph Street McDonald's, and who spoke for much of the time on Rap music as poetry. Sadly, I was so guarded and so full of pound-bags of nearby, gas-station-convenience-store cookies and Fluky's hotdogs that whole summer -- I ate to tranquilize myself in the face of my aloneness -- that I couldn't produce any more than I did.

I've written about this Devon Avenue moment a number of times, but during that lonely summer, it seemed all too apt when I passed a doorway in the Indian part of the neighborhood that was still wet with new paint and over which the painter had hung a sign: "FRESH PAIN."

Meanwhile, a Quarter of a Century Later...

On Friday night, in New York City, during the Summer of '11, my partner of 19 years -- and wife of 15 days -- and I find our favorite spot at services, right in the middle of the second row. A minute later, Rabbi Weiss brings over an attractive woman, who is closer to my age than Pat's, to sit in front of us and then the rabbi returns to the pulpit, where she prepares to begin the service a few minutes later. I wonder if the woman is her mom and after she has settled into her chair, I say, "Shabbat shalom," and introduce myself and Pat, and she responds, "I'm Marcie, the rabbi's mother."

When we establish that we had lived just two blocks away from each other in Chicago -- even though probably during different periods -- I time-travel to the neighborhood where Rabbi Weiss' mother grew up and where I spent my first summer out of college and become that lonely, young woman again. Pat brings me back when she tells Rabbi Weiss' mother how special our mother/mother-in-law, and we, think her daughter is, and how stellar Rabbi Weiss was as our officiant.

"I should have recognized you. You two were in Facebook; I saw it!" she says, perhaps because I had tagged Rabbi Weiss when I posted the NYT announcement-link in my profile. The rabbi's mother also acknowledges our kudos, saying that it's a special pleasure to visit our synagogue, to hear all of the nice things congregants say about her daughter.

The next day, while driving from Pat's & my house in Montclair to my mother's house in Stamford -- the same house, where I grew up -- I think of Rabbi Weiss' mother's role in healing my life; she gave birth to, and helped raise, the rabbi who sanctified Pat's & my long-time relationship.

In my car-ride-length fantasy, I imagine a five- or 10-year-old version of Rabbi Weiss, running around her neighborhood at the same time that I, during my 22nd summer (I turned 22 in mid-July), am learning how to live in the world [of West Rogers Park], as a college-grad without much else to claim. During my trip back to Stamford, where Pat & I also were married two weeks prior, I enjoy thinking that the rabbi's parents start out with her in West Rogers Park and then move to Evanston later, after the Summer of 1987.

In creating this blog-entry, I check my reality by researching Rabbi Weiss a bit and see that she is 11 years younger than I and a native of Evanston. In that case, Rabbi Weiss would have been 10 during my first summer in Chicago, and instead, was playing several miles north-east of West Rogers Park at the time. That's all right. It still was real that Rabbi Weiss' mom grew up just two blocks from where I got my post-college start, and still, I could feel healed, knowing that a girl from that mostly-Orthodox Jewish (and Indian) neighborhood gave birth to Rabbi Weiss, who gave birth to Pat's & my legal marriage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember this bike shop really well