|From Bayside Cemetery|
This story has a real surprise at the end. No kidding.
Last Sunday, I went out to Ozone Park, to lend a hand cleaning-up Bayside Cemetery. I first wrote about the place last August; it had caught my eye from the window of the A train, as I went to the airport.
There are more than 35,000 people buried there, and the place is overgrown like Angkor Wat. Worse, vandals and thieves have broken into crypts, coffins have been smashed open, the works.
There is litigation pending against the congregation that owns part of the cemetery, but I don’t know enough (yet), to say more than it looks like someone f*cked up. The place is actually a collection of small plots, that were sold to “burial societies”, a tradition that came from Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, these societies are almost all defunct due to death, indifference, and perhaps in some cases, malfeasance.
I found this group, CAJAC, which works on ‘rescuing’ Jewish cemeteries; I think this is by far their largest project. I’m just interested in getting the place into better shape; not so much because of the Jewish thing, but because, well, look at the friggin’ place.
So on Sunday, I took the train, and met up with six or so other guys. Most were from the Upper West Side, wearing yarmulkes, and had a weed whacker. Ron Herskovits, a dermatologist from Jamaica Estates, provided gloves, shears, and water. He's a cool guy. He showed me a grave he found of someone who served in the Civil War. He also knows how to spot poison ivy.
|From Bayside Cemetery|
I picked a plot, and after a couple of hours, got it into alright shape. In a way, the work is easy, because everything is a weed. If it’s not made of stone, you cut or yank it.
Even though I was no more than a few hundred yards from Liberty Avenue, and could hear the train when it passed, the place is otherwise quiet. The day was hot, but not so bad because of all the shade. Green anoles scamper around — something I’d never seen in New York.
I don’t think fixing this place is a Sisyphean task, but it’s a pretty darn big one, and that's ok by me. If you know me, or read this blog, you know I’m much more attracted to old and forgotten things, than shiny new ones.
Here’s a video I shot.
Now, here’s the Cracker Jack prize...
As I was pulling weeds off the Bayers, the guy working the plot next to me, asked my name. After introducing myself, I asked him his. He said,
“Moshe, Moshe Billet”.
I think I blinked, and said,
“I know you.”
Now he looked puzzled. I knew his face, because the day before, I had posted it in my blog; but I realized, he didn’t know mine. I said,
“You found a shoe.”
“You’re Peter Kaufman?”
My recollection at this point, is the guy with the kippah, standing in the Jewish graveyard, said,
It was a pretty amazing happenstance, running into him in a cemetery in Ozone Park . Or as someone else there said, in Yiddish,
“Kleine Welt” — Small world.