In the summer of 2017 – feels like antiquity – my mother’s side of the family tree held a reunion in New York City. This Antolept gathering of the flock brought together the descendants of a Lithuanian-based Jewry who had dispersed to four continents due to war, anti-Semitism and hopes for a better life.
For a couple of days during the reunion, Jean and I stayed with sister Laurie and brother Robie in an Airbnb-rented brownstone walk-up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. We ate brisket, walked the Eastern Parkway border abutting the Chassid-dominated Crown Heights neighborhood, and strolled Prospect Park with our newly discovered cousin Rhona.
Rhona, a bright, professionally accomplished, energetic, and delightful early retiree, loved telling jokes. Not always great jokes… but jokes delivered with a joyousness that prompted smiles.
We just instantly felt close to Rhona and as we departed, she said with the utmost seriousness, “You know, I have a lovely apartment in Brooklyn Heights. I’m rarely there, as I spend most of my time in my home in Pennsylvania. You are welcome to stay at my apartment anytime you are in the city. Stay a night, a week, a month… whatever you want.”
“Are you serious?” I responded.
“Absolutely!” she quickly replied. “But I have only two conditions.”
“OK,” I said out loud, but thought, “here comes the catch.”
“Two conditions: First, is that you water the plants once a week. Second, is that you have fun.”
Rhona let out a big laugh and a bigger smile as I said, “we might just take you up on that.”
“You do that. But remember, you must have fun.”
Fast forward four years. Last summer I visited NYC and on the last night of my trip I stayed with Rhona in her 3rd floor apartment in the exquisitely precious and historic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. Upon our parting, Rhona reissued her offer and restated the same conditions.
And here we are now, March 2022, in the middle of one month in Brooklyn Heights. For Jean and I took Rhona up on her extraordinary offer and are endeavoring to meet our obligations. Jean is handling the plant watering duties. And we are both chasing bliss.
Having fun… this is always a sword tinged with guilt for me. My affluence, relative to the peoples of the world, allows for indulgences. Any problem with that? “Of course, there is!” says the ever-present gnarly little ethicist dangling from a live oak tree in my amygdala. But then my rational hippocampus counters with the reality that one’s joy does not need to reduce others, and in fact, can induce positive effects more broadly. You know. Fun breeds fun. Which is my guess as to Rhona’s view for her guests.
So, fun it is and fun it will be on the trip.
Our good friend Brian joined us for a few days. One afternoon we all took in the Whitney Art Museum then attended a taping of “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Hilarity ensued, but no pictures were permitted.
The next day, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge…
Across to downtown New York…
Down into the financial district…
Where we rubbed horns with Wall Street’s brass bull.
For the last couple of weeks, we have chowed down on delicacies from local delis and specialty ethnic restaurants.
Terrific baba ghanoush, hummus and tzatziki. Et cetera!
Our cousins Shirley and Dan will be joining us soon. The pace will pick up immediately. Museums to visit. Broadway shows to be wowed by. Coney Island demands a Nathan’s visit. Dan is looking into a train ride out to Montauk.
There is a pace to travels, when you have one or two weeks and you want to see stuff. Shirley and Dan are on that ride. Up to now, that hasn’t been our pace. We are reveling in doing nothing in the apartment. Maybe a short walk to take in the extraordinary skyline views from the Brooklyn Promenade first thing in the morning.
Or rounding the corner for a hot bagel. Or going no further than the living room and settling down for a long read with one of Rhona’s books.
One can, of course, enjoy a good book at home. But doing so in an historic and gracious apartment in Brooklyn Heights is just plain fun. And after all, that is our obligation.