|photograph by Asher Ovadiah|
One afternoon I dropped my quarters as I tried to insert them in the box for the paper, outside of Sal Reznick's Kosher Deli. Bending over to pick up my runaway coins, I saw what looked like hieroglyphics carved in the sidewalk.
A newsstand had rested on this place with the best yellow journalism in town for sale. The stand with its green fold up walls and the old guy with the change purse on his hip, had been replaced by a squadron gaily colored plastic and stamped steel newspaper racks.
Intrigued I walked back to Sal's and grabbed some napkins and a tall glass of Hudson River water to go, and began to clean the carefully chiseled words. At first they appeared as Cuneiform, or Hieratic script covered up in city soot and pyroclastic flows of chewed bubble gum. Confused signals of age in the epoch of acid rain.
Perplexed at first, I squatted before the dispensers of global knowledge as if I were some sort neo-savage from a dystopian future.Clarity came with careful applications of water sprinkled then wiped into the carved letters. Freeing up the microscopic flotsam and jetsam of time long since past.
I read: “On this corner I first saw you and fell in love.-Aug ‘47”
After ten minutes of careful digging more became visible. All the while the voices of college professors from classes long slept through, began screaming in my ear, " Need to be careful! Document everything!" or "You are destroying information!" rang like Mynabirds uselessly repeating the same lines over and over again, in my head, until it became a solid hum in between my ears.
In the same hand, I read the next line, “I proposed to you on this corner. Aug ‘49.”
The lettering appeared to fade downward like a beach meeting the sea. I had to go back inside to get more water and this time I grabbed a handful of toothpicks. Carefully I worked through a minute archaeological scale of accumulated junk, which had almost reconstituted itself into a new form of stone. I thought to myself, this must be what Schliemann must have felt like when digging up Troy.
Finally the poured stone revealed, “Isaac, Sarah and Jacob you gave to me.- ‘50, ‘53 and ‘59.”
Then what I thought was maybe age, palsy or grief etched the final lines into the pavement.
“You left me at this corner, to prepare a seat for me in the hall of our Lord.- ‘01. Let this be my Shem-Mem-Resh, I keep my commandments,."
A life lived in four lines. With all the world to fill in the blanks. I wondered what did the all the years between look like? Did their children grow and prosper? What about the birthdays, weddings, babies born or like any New Yorker did the writer see the end of the Twin Towers?
Then it hit me. Maybe the writer wrote down the pure essential highlights from his life. Then I thought I saw a line or an arrow pointing toward a new set of carvings. I was busy trying to wash the sidewalk when a police officer tapped me on my shoulder with his night stick.
"Hey buddy, wanna to explain to me why you are washing the sidewalk with them dirty napkins?" Officer Trujillo asked in perfect Brooklyn diction.
I said, I had found an interesting bit of urban history, a bit of local narrative sitting here in hidden in plain sight. I showed him the carved sidewalk, and he pushed his cap back on his head as leaned in and read what I had found. I told him I thought there was more but I couldn't tell as the sun was going down and I needed more light.
Officer Trujillo,-Marty as he introduced himself to me said, "This was Julius Myers News Stand for over fifty years. His wife had breast cancer. She fought it as long as she could. When I was a rookie he would always have cup of coffee waiting for me when I worked the graveyard shift, before Sal's would open he would be sitting in his stand reading a novel or playing a game of chess with someone he knew by mail. He closed down my second year walking my beat."
Marty shined his light on the carvings and indeed there was an arrow scratched into the concrete. We followed it, and it terminated underneath a New York Times box.
Officer Marty, pushed on the box and it moved over enough to where we could see the faint carved letters beneath the concrete pad the newspaper box was anchored to.
I started brushing off the dirt. Grabbed the last bit of water and poured it over the sidewalk. The final chapter was carved deeply into the sidewalk with a younger man's hand.
"West. 42nd Street is so much more than a boulevard of intersections. Fifty four years of marriage, three children with six grandchildren a family has carved their heart's history making their covenant to remember.”