All said in one gulp– A treasured visit with “Laura,” an Oberlin classmate and NYC roommate who’s the sister I never had. In the Big Apple you can make friends for life on the ‘A’ train.
(The jazz favorite, played by Duke Ellington, pulsates with city life and it’s serendipitous events.)
My brother, recently betrothed in a Central Park West location, a mere 8 blocks from the 59th St. Columbus Circle A train stop, met his wife-to-be on the ‘A,’ rode to the last stop with her, and took it from there.
While I didn’t meet Laura through the subway system, the story of our first encounter and its twist of fate are worth recounting.
Flashback: Oberlin Conservatory in the late 60’s. The place was ringing off the roof with VESPERS. I didn’t know what hit me! A Bronx bred child who went to shule (Yiddish school) and had minimal exposure to churchly environments, I couldn’t easily acclimate to a place, where “Father, son and holy ghost” was the mandatory intro to sit-down meals at May Cottage. Saturated with prayers interspersed by tornado warnings, I went scampering down to the basement in hysteria.
Needing relief, and a dose of cultural kinship, at least, I made friends with a composition major named “Laura Jacobs,” whose father sent weekly care packages of lox and bagels plus other deli delights from Zabars, on W. 80th St. and Broadway (Laura had been raised on W. 86th off Riverside Drive. Like me, she was in a morbid state of culture shock) So the two of us, at our wit’s end regularly consoled each other in her dorm room amidst a stockpile of chocolate bars.
As conservatory life took its course, I found myself sauntering across campus to attend Theory Class, when suddenly I spotted “Laura” a few short steps ahead of me. “Hey Laura,” I called out, in my informal Big Apple style of greeting friends. She turned around instantly but was not whom I expected. The young woman facing me was a complete stranger, but owned the NAME, “Laura!”
Quickly, I learned that new found LAURA hailed from NYC—Central Park West and 103rd, and graduated the High School of Music and Art which merged with my alma mater, Performing Arts High to become Laguardia in the heart of Lincoln Center. And while she and I didn’t attend the same Jewish School in the North Bronx, we were both rooted at the piano and had a common secular upbringing with the usual exposure to Passover, Chanukah and other Jewish holidays.
Now with TWO urban Lauras to comfort me, I could survive my four years in the Midwest. (two in the company of L. Jacobs who finally ran away in desperation, hopped a plane and returned to the West Side)
Laura Goldberg, in the meantime, had more in common with me than Laura Jacobs who composed wildly orchestrated atonal compositions. In one, I winged it at the celesta, overwhelmed by complicated entrances between screeching brass, tremulous tympani rolls in poly-rhythms, and tubas droning deeper and deeper. A “Birds” selection of obscure origin had infinite sound effects. Bottom line, our performance crashed with the force of a tsunami! Con jury members looked aghast when I played an impromptu glissando after the composition ended. Laura J. had forgotten to cue me in at the final cadence. (but where was it?)
Laura G., meanwhile practiced piano in one of those claustrophobic white, stacked cubicles in the “Con,” hating every minute of it. I felt the same. We both couldn’t stand hearing our pieces played above and beside us, not to mention the grueling repeats of Schmitt five-finger exercises pumped out to dissonant levels!
As time passed, Laura G. left the Con, and found the COLLEGE, a redeeming educational sanctuary. For me, it was stick to the program– grin and bear it, no matter what it took.
Laura continued to study piano at the CON (where “connies” dwelt) in the studio of Freeman Koberstein, a Baroque ornament specialist, while I whizzed through 4 instructors, one being a violin teacher. At my peak point of despair, I’d switched my instrument major to keep my sanity, but managed to graduate the Conservatory as a born again pianist, to the delight of my mother-in-waiting former NYC teacher, Lillian Freundlich.
Fast forward to post Oberlin graduation: I was back in NYC, looking for a job and roommate and who should pop up, but Laura Goldberg! She’d been working at Columbia Artists Management, hobnobbing with snarky administrators that insulted the lowly employees while aggrandizing the big name, musical giants. My poor friend was in agony!
Meanwhile, I’d landed an assignment at the very earthy W. 90th Street Household Office of the NY State Employment Service, where I sent maids of color to lily white employers residing in plush apartments on either side of Central Park. To my surprise, complaints multiplied to skyrocketing levels! Bab-o and Comet soaked ladies came back from bourgeois locations wreaking of detergent. Some did a great job, others scrubbed the finish off mahogany tables and raided liquor cabinets. I never heard the end of it! “This is Mrs. Jason Robards Jr.–please don’t send Nellie, Lulu, Edna or Missy.” Give me a break!
In those days, conservatory grads took these meaningless, unmusical jobs to earn a buck while waiting for part-time piano students to show up. Or they prolonged their education, pursuing more degrees that had below zero value in the job market. My framed Master’s is gathering silverfish.
As life played out, Laura Goldberg and I roomed together in our one bedroom on W. 74th overlooking beautiful Needle Park, where I discovered drug dealers and addicts in window gazes through tree branches. Not a pretty sight.
(In a recent photo, you see me standing beside a bench in newly named “Verdi Square” that honors the composer) Boy, how they’ve cleaned up the neighborhood!
Laura left our West Side apartment after five nesting years in the hub of Amsterdam Avenue drug raids. She departed to wed Steve, the love of her life, while I stayed until my marriage sent me scampering off to California.
My East Coast exit ushered in an unprecedented three-thousand mile separation between Laura and me. Yet our ties in spirit remained permanent, as New Yorkers know, Friends are forever!
At my most recent reunion with Laura, we enjoyed her creative cuisine, sampled the amazing 1893 Steinway B that sits regally in her living room, and watched videos of my dear friend’s first grandchild. The little one played the piano from Laura’s lap, and cavorted around her nursery tapping a Schoenhut piano amidst screams of delight.
Judging by the quality of the toddler’s playing, she’s destined for a glittering piano career. After all, her grandmother is a fine pianist. Her physician mother, is an accomplished cellist, and the oncologist dad, played with the Berlin Philharmonic.
So face the music, it’s all in the family, and I’m glad to be part of it.