Fighting To Look Tough

Earring Series - Jeff with Black Swallowtail Earrings (Best shot), at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

This is the shot with the Eastern Black Swallowtails fully on my right ear.

I fought every kid I had to back on the streets of Brooklyn. Yes, I was good friends with a bunch of kids who’s family business was well, sort of organized crime. Sometimes I had to fight them too, that’s how it was.

I fought some in the Boys’ Club in Flatbush, and I did OK.

I fought some in high school, those who thought they would roll over me. That went just fine.

I joined the 2nd How 187th Artillery Guard unit in Brooklyn, friends were a couple of young Irish cops. I fit in just fine. They decided to go to Officers Candidate School, urged me to go too. Frieda A”H asked what does it benefit me with, and I told her better pay, live in the BOQ (Batchelor Officers Quarters), eat in the Officers Mess (better than 99% of Manhattan fine restaurants) and get a driver to drive me everywhere I go (the driver I got was a made Mob guy, and a very good driver). All that time I had to look tough, act tough . . . which was fine ’cause I already was kind of tough . . .

In John Adams High School, they made me a Dean for the Freshman Boys, and that meant disciplining the sons of many men in the John Gotti organization. That was fine, and there too I had to act . . . tough.

New York City Public Schools refused to promote me to Assistant Principal (they were not looking to promote a tough, young, OCS-grad Jew back then) so I eventually began managing small apartment buildings on very, very good Manhattan streets. There again I had to look tough, for my tenants, my office staff, my vendors and trades people, and the sometimes mob connected folks I sometimes had to deal with.

My whole life I’ve had to look tough and be tough. Men don’t cry, I had heard.

When Frieda finished her nearly 8 years of battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, the day the doctor told me, at her request, that there were no more new chemo- treatments for her, it was a Friday night. She first sent me home to prepare the Friday night Sabbath turkey for me and the kids (grown, they came because her fight was . . . ) She then sent them home, too. Moments after I put the Turkey on their plates, the telephone rang . . . . The nurse said we must come NOW, there was no time. I sped to Shadyside Hospital (part of enormous UPMC). Frieda had died some 5 minutes before we got there. I cried. I cried a lot. I forgot being/looking tough. I cried, loudly.

Sylbie was taking these images of this incredible Black Swallowtail visit, from my hat, shoulders and eventually to my ear. A pair of coupled magnificent black swallowtails, resting . . . on my ear. Sylbie was right there, and, I tried to shield tears, hide them, but I don’t know how well I did, for I cried. I forgot the need to look tough, to swagger, to fear nothing. I cried, for I had no doubt that Frieda was there, right then, and that she was responsible for those OMG! finest of butterflies, perching on my ear.

No, I stopped trying to look tough. Just long enough to . . .

Jeff

2 thoughts on “Fighting To Look Tough

  1. Jeffrey-that was an amazing out-picturing of emotions. So glad you shared that. I think from the start we all havw our own share of toughness and gentle humanity. Reading that touched me deeply!!!

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  2. Congrats on taking such a wonderful name. Yes, that’s the life I lived, beginning on E. 58th and all the way too Pittsburgh. G-d has been kind, for all the times that it could have gone differently. From no food in our house (well, we had salt!) to sending kids to the Ivies, it’s been something, no? Butterflies, they kept me steeped in beauty, for these decades . . . .

    Like

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