One day in the winter of 1958 Flora decided to visit her son Evan and his girlfriend Joannie, who were living in a cold water flat in “Hell’s Kitchen” in New York. They had dropped out of college and were planning to start a utopian community in northern British Columbia. First they needed to save up enough money for a truck, tools, and supplies for one full year. Worrying how Evan, who had been ill as a child, would fare living in the wilderness with no doctor nearby, Flora left her apartment filled with art on Central Park West and traveled down to West 45th Street and Tenth Avenue.
Flora had never seen Evan and Joannie’s apartment before, though she’d heard descriptions of apartments like this when she was a girl and her father worked in HIAS to help new immigrants. The young couple paid $16.10 per month, and there was only a cold water tap—no hot. It was also a railroad flat, with several, mostly windowless rooms laid out in a straight line. Flora, Joannie, and Evan sat in the front room on what had once been chairs, though they now had no backs. Evan had painted them in bright splotchy designs. He was enthusiastic about how he had set off a bomb that finally got rid of the bedbugs. Flora said that was a good thing.
Joannie was a Quaker, though even if she’d been a Jewish girl, she would not have been type of person Flora wanted her son to marry. She sat on her splotchy backless chair wearing dungarees and a plaid men’s shirt. Flora felt effete in her knit skirt and sweater. How had this unattractive young woman seduced her son into a possibly fatal adventure? Joannie told her how a friend from college had arrived unexpectedly in New York and came to their address, though he didn’t know which apartment was theirs. When he asked around, all the neighbors swore they’d never seen anyone like Evan and Joannie. “Around here, if someone in a nice suit and tie is looking for you it means trouble. They were just protecting us!” Joannie seemed delighted.
Flora was a socialist and a Whitman scholar, and she was not unschooled in progressive thought. Yet she was left feeling as cold as the water that ran in the dingy kitchen’s pipes. Evan’s grandfather and father had worked hard for decades precisely so Evan would never have to live like this. Something calamitous had happened to the Feuerstein family, Flora felt. Thousands of years of history had been diverted and its streams were rushing in another direction to fill Evan and Joannie’s utopia.
Copyright © Leora Freedman 2016
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