With the passing of C.S.’s dad who was a revered teacher at Hunter College I am reminded of the passing of the rabbi who saved my life.
Back then I was still wrapped up in running with the DeCeps. Everyone would meet up at CyberTron (Printing H.S.) and decide what the day would entail. Running through West 4th Street or resolving some beef at one of the city’s high schools. I wasn’t aimless, but I was prA’li just shameless. I met the rabbi and his family indirectly and quite by accident. I went into the Metropolitan Lumber and Hardware store on 10th Ave that was up the block from Printing H.S. (Graphic Communications H.S. for those not from NYC). They had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign posted in their window I had spotted and since this put me close to the fools at Printing, plus what I considered an endless amount of tools like boxcutters and hammers I was always down to work.
I wasn’t going to high school anymore. I couldn’t go. That shit was boring. Sitting in a classroom was boring as all hell. The world outside was moving at 100mph with no brakes and that is what I wanted to be a part of. In the waiting area, as I was filling out the application a white in a suit asked me if I was looking for a job. I told him I was and he gave me his card. His business was looking for a mailroom clerk and he wondered if I would be intererested. I told him I was. I just had to go to his office which was in the area. 1841 Broadway. Across the street from the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle. The firm was called the Cutler Organization and I had met the owner DON CUTLER. They were a bunch of tool salesmen [ll].
The Cutler’s had a small family owned business where they sold brands of tools and work equipment to retailers throughout the Quad-State region(NY, NJ, CT, PA). I handled their mailroom tasks at the end of the day and some other small errands which took me around Manhattan almost daily. The Cutlers didn’t pay me a king’s ransom but they gave me the freedom to roam Manhattan all day long as long as I made sure I got the mail into the post office before 5pm everyday. Down the hall from the Cutler’s office were these architects who I occasionally picked up mail from. One afternoon I visited the architect’s office to pick up their mail and as I was chilling out in their waiting area the rabbi invited me inside of their workspace.
I had never been in a real architect’s office before then. The office was located on the Broadway corner of the building and it overlooked the Circle and the southwest part of Central Park. There were drawings laying around on desks that resembled some of the technical drawings I had been taught to make at Brooklyn Tech. Yeah these drawing were way more complex but I understood them and the concepts they were expressing. I told the rabbi that I knew how to make these plans and he laughed, like “Oh really now?” I watched as some of the architects were using the AutoCAD system to make their plans and details. Computer assisted drafting was the new-new and that was what I had learned in school.
Later that year the Cutler’s decided to relocate their business closer to their home in Long Island so my job there was going to be ending. By this time I was an uber-serious 17yr old who wanted to make some real money as opposed to running around Manhattan in a group of thirty-fifty kids wreaking havoc and the what not. I found a job as a surveyor’s assistant in Kew Gardens with a firm called Montrose Surveying Corp. For the few months I worked with these men I learned a tremendous amount about land surveying and how ancient the NYC elevation benchmarks were. The info we used was based upon calculations done by the Dutch way back when. Sure it would be updated, but the Dutch set it off and their numbers remained in place.
My time at the surveyor’s didn’t last for more than several months. My problem was that I was still an insolent kid who thought he knew everything he needed to know. Mr.Montrose called me into his office and told me that although he liked me he was given bad reports of me from the field staff. I knew just who too, this racist fat fuck who was always making me hold the point when we visited vacant lots. I hated holding the point because that meant I was the dude always in the muck or the weeds or the broken, burnt out bullshit. The was NYC in the late 1980’s mind you. Not the fabulous shit you see nowadays. This dude also made me the gopher since I was the youngest in the crew. I may have told dude to go fux himself. Yeah, I prA’li did.
I went for a couple of months without a job and I began to get ruthless again. More stolen cars and more stick-up capers were the result. I was descending down a path of selfishness and immorality when my mother told me it was time for me to leave. She was ultimately right about her decision too even though when you talk to her now she regrets that moment. I packed a large garbage bag of my shit and I put it in the trunk of a stolen car and I was gone. I didn’t come back to my parent’s home for exactly ten years but that is another drop. This drop is about my years in the wilderness and the man who protected me in order for me to return to my family in one peace (always intended).
I stayed in the car for almost two weeks. I showered at different friends houses and ThunderCracker, who was real cool with his mom told her about my situation. Mrs.Washington let me stay at her house for a couple of weeks. T.C. and I were up to no good though and I got arrested on some robbering shit. Mrs.Washington loved me dearly but she will tell you that I was the worst influence on my peers because I was the one with street and technical smarts. When I got out of jail I went to my grandmother’s house in Co-Op City. There was a full house up there with my great-grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and a bushel of cousins but my grandmother made it all work with the force of her personality. I decided to look for a job again.
I put on one of my grandfather’s blazers. My grandfather smoked a pipe so everything he owned smelled aromatic. I put on his blazer and drove a stolen into the city with my mind focused on going one place. The architect’s office. When I arrived I was greeted by his wife, ANN. T.C. and I would later agree that the rabbi’s wife was one of the finest women around. I told her that I was looking for a job and asked her if they migh need someone to work for them as a messenger or a friday. Back in those days you called your gopher a friday. I don’t know why, you just did. ANN went inside the office and broke out the rabbi. He told me that they didn’t need a messenger, but they could use a draftsman apprentice.
Dope. I told the rabbi I would be back to start on Monday. Since this was Wednesday I was ready to hit the streets and do some capers to celebrate. The rabbi cut me short. I didn’t start on Monday. I started TODAY. Gulp. The office seemed so much larger now. The rabbi introduced me to his son whom I had known from visiting previously as well as his other son who wasn’t in NY at the time but in Italy. There were two architects working for the rabbi. They loved to give me a hard time because they knew I had more charisma and swag then they did. There was an office within the office that an architect named MARVIN rented out. The rabbi gave me a drawing board for my desk. I remember how awesome it felt to have a swivel stool with a backrest. I was now an architect.
I was far from an architect. The rabbi taught me that the architect “knows a little about a lot”, while the engineer “knows a lot about a little”. This wasn’t to downgrade the engineers who worked with us and were very important but to help me understand that the architect’s responsibility was to the bigger picture. To make sure that all the trades and systems were seamlessly integrated with one another and to make the systems work for the end user. As complex as architecture is, the rabbi made it look simple and accessible. He wasn’t one of those artists that designs shit that no one uses or worse, never gets built. He designed buildings and spaces that hundreds of thousands of people used almost daily.
The rabbi gave me a great assignment early. He was contracted to do some minor remodeling at a former theater space turned discotheque called Palladium. Since he had done the conversion many years ago for the nightclub impresarios Steve Rubel and Ian Schrager they continued to call on him. The rabbi had me do the drafting for the plan and then bring the drawing down to the nightclub’s office for their review. The Palladium was an incredible expansive space when the lights were on. So was Studio 54, the Tunnel and Danceteria. I was so impressed when I learned that architects were responsible for creating these spaces. All I had done up to this point was hang out in nightclubs. The rabbi showed me the inside of these spaces like I had never seen them before. They were quite ornate and beautiful.
I was still young however and still into doing things that 18yr olds do like hanging out all night and occasionally getting arrested. This would upset the rabbi sometimes. I can remember him yelling at me several days after I had returned to work from being arrested. It wasn’t demoralizing either, but more impassioned and sincere. He pleaded with me not to throw away all the things I had just for bullshit. The next day the rabbi asked me if I knew anyone that needed a job. Since he had given me my own computer and I was now drafting projects the rabbi was willing to put someone else on to do the running and printmaking duties. I called up ThunderCracker instantly. For once Mrs.Washington could see that I wasn’t dragging her son down with me but I was uplifting him. This was one of the greatest moments of my life.
The rabbi consoled me through ThunderCracker’s passing, he pushed me to go to college to learn more about the world. The rabbi even paid my tuition so that I didn’t have to apply for loans. Basically, the rabbi became my parent when I was estranged from my actual family all the while he was showing me the lessons of the importance of family. The rabbi had three sons. Two followed him in the architecture business and the the third is an architect of sorts when you consider the adaption and integration of computer systems in our everyday lives. You can also catch him in a movie – ‘Pee Wee’s Big Top Adventure’. What the rabbi gave everyone was the knowledge and motivation to be your own person and he also had the most Herculean work ethic I can remember. The rabbi never got sick. I’m not even sure he slept.
In the latter years the rabbi fought with cancer. Since he was a former boxer he had the resolve and the reserve to go the distance. He never once conceded a round. I call this man the rabbi because he was my spiritual master. He taught me that God exists and I didn’t need to look anywhere other than myself to find the spirit. You have to look beyond the Talmud and current interpretations of the rabbi to understand what this term means. These men are the teachers for our civilization, they are the leaders whose words match their deeds. If I can take one sentence from him to sum up everything he taught me it would be this. “All I have that is mine is my word and when that is no longer the truth I have nothing.” Today I am giving thanks to the rabbi because without his teaching I don’t know where I would be right now.