Ron Rosenbaum

My Father, the Empire State Building and Me

You know, I enjoyed writing about the Chrysler Building (see previous post) and my connection to it and I thought maybe I could revisit a few more of my connections to some famous and some little known New York City landmarks and the memories they evoke. .

Maybe, since it’s Father’s Day I should start with Chrysler’s longtime rival The Empire State Building. It’s a famous landmark to everyone but a landmark to me in a personal way. My father worked there. For thirty years. On the 39th floor. He was a purchaisng agent for a liquor company, who bought printing material for labels and office supplies for, well, the office.

He didn’t live in the city. He was a commuter. Every morning he’d take a 7 o’clock train in to the city and getting back around 7. My sister and I would always drive tothe station with my mother to pick him up. He didn’t like the commute, but he did it because he grew up in a Brooklyn apartment building and always dreamed of having his own home and when he got out of the Army after WWII the G.I. Bill let him buy a house with a lawn in the suburbs which he loved to return to, and the boring job in the city paid for it.

Some of my earliest memories of growing up are riding the Long Island Railroad with him from Bay Shore to Penn Station, then walking cross town to Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, the Empire State building corner.

I loved the fact that he worked in the world’s tallest building, one King Kong couldn’t conquer. It gave me a sense of distinction (however illlusory) that I other- wise lacked as a kid. (well except for having red hair).

I’d go up to Empire State’s observation tower and, um, observe the whole wide world through the giganto-robotic like telescopes they had. Then I’d join him for lunch in a smoky grill in the basement of a building nearby that I’ve since come to believe was the one in Gatsby.

Some parts of his job were interesting. He used to take me to printing plants where he’d explain (and I’d never quite understand) the mechanics of color lithograhy, but I’d thrill to roar of the huge rotating printers. But mainly he just spent most of his life commuting to a job that didn’t challenge him and that he couldn’t improve upon, because he had to drop out of college during the Depression and without a degree never could make the transition from white-collar worker to executive.

But there was one quality he did have which no degree could confer and which I still treasure and feel was part of his gift to me, which was his sense of humor. He had an incredibly silly sense of humor, but one which had a sublime touch of the abusrd to its silliness. A philosophical silliness that was always skeptical fo Big Shots and Big Money and Big Mouths. And always receptive to bad puns.

I remember during my visits to his Empire State office how he’d send a lot of time hanging out with the secretaries and how they all cracked each other up with long running jokes that I sometimes couldn’t follow. But he had created his own little empire of laughter in the Empire State building, and one for his family at home. and I still feel his spirit–I still feel in-spired–every time I glimpse the Emire State spire.

I’ve never said this in print before. Maybe that’s one of things that makes having a blog worthwhile, you can say things like this: I miss you Dad.