Annie, a Fulton Fish Market legend, has died. She had a far more interesting and complex life than I had ever known; my last memory of anything relating to her was when Nandria, our crazy neighbor from down the street, dressed up in a startlingly accurate costume of her for Halloween when I was probably no more than 8. I always thought she was just a famous homeless person, famous in the way that a character can be in a small neighborhood in New York. But I was too young to know better, and Dan Barry’s article is a beautiful reminder of everything that I remember about being a child in my neighborhood, with everything I didn’t know. Since I don’t have enough memories of her to share, below is the essay I wrote to get into UChicago, which I managed to dig up from my old Yahoo! account (a scary adventure, to say the least). I have not edited it, both for entertainment value and posterity’s sake, and perhaps to give us all some appreciation of what a few years of college can add (or not?) to an individual. There are many more memories about living in my neighborhood that are probably interesting enough for me to write down and share, and I realize I better do it sooner, rather than later. It seems likely I won’t remember them until someone reminds me again.
AP Lit, Pd. 3
Like all newborns, I was brought home from the hospital. But the sight that greeted me was not one of quiet streets and hushed hallways, ready to receive an infant child. It was dirty, fish-filled streets, and yelling men, beeping forklifts and early morning salt air. Because my home was not the average New York City apartment, on an average New York City street. My home was the only residental loft building in the middle of the Fulton Fish Market in downtown Manhattan.
Messing Fish Company occupied the first two floors of my building. And on that first day home, I met Harry, the kindest fish monger there. He was probably about sixty years old, a small, white-haired man with a booming voice and wide grin. As the story goes, he was estactic when my parents brought me home, and when I was older, he would give me a high-five every day on my way to school.
The thing about the fish market is that it is off the schedule that the city operates on. It opens late in the evening and ends late in the morning. So all night, while most of the city-that-never-sleeps is sleeping, these two blocks are filled with men buying and selling fish. The only really quiet time is the weekends, when the market is closed. But Sunday night, the big tractor-trailers from around the country start arriving, and it begins again.
There are so many things that I have lived with that I consider normal, that an average person in New York would find weird or unsettling. While other girls skipped along Park Ave off the bus after school, I’ve stepped over and around fish guts on the street, watching seagulls treat them as a delicacy. I’ve seen water wash through my front door because the East River had flooded, making it impossible for me to go to school, but the men in their high black boots just laughed at the water. I’ve seen burning scraps of wood shoved in old trash cans for warmth, the flames rising higher and higher in the cold morning air. I’ve dodged still-live crabs scuttling on the sidewalk.
Yet none of this ever occurred to me as being unusual. I couldn’t sleep when visiting friends upstate because, as my sister said, “The quiet is too loud.” I got used to asking men to please push aside tunas as large as me away from my front door so I could walk past. I went down to let my friends in because we didn’t have a buzzer, if my friends could even find the place. Supposedly, “look for a green door” is not a good enough description of the building you live in. But none of this bothered me, because once I stepped inside my loft, it was cozy and filled with light and the familar glow of my father’s paintings. And walking to and from my house was like an adventure. I got to step out into a part of a past New York that is missing from a lot of the city that my friends live in, and be a part of something that has been there for a long time, a life that other people lived.
My parents began to grumble about the constant light and noise outside our window every weeknight. I noticed that as I got older, the fish mongers got younger, and friendlier in a different way. Harry retired and then passed away. The storefront in our building emptied out. We got a new landlord, who asked my mom not to keep her bike in the entryway and installed a new-and-improved buzzer system. And for the past several years now, the fish market has been planning to move, up to Hunts Point in Queens. And yes, part of me will be glad to see it go. I’ve grown older, and quiet isn’t so loud anymore. I don’t like ruining new pants in dirty, sewage filled water.
But now, new people are going to move into the newly renovated loft spaces readily available on all sides of me. It’ll smell like sheetrock, not tuna. I recently saw a picture of Hunts Point in the newspaper. It’s indoors, and very clean. I can only hope that the new Fish Market lives up to the hustle and bustle its predecessor introduced to me. Its just too bad no one will get to live in the middle of it.