Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Solange Lambert and Cosmo Salerno can't wait to take their love outside the walls of an adult home on Coney Island. But for now, they have to wait.

The decay continues. Solange and Cosmo say they recently waited 11 days for the sink in their room to be fixed—in the meantime, they brushed their teeth and drank water from the bathtub. The ceiling of their bathroom has fallen in from water damage several times. And the food, Solange says, "is really bad. A lot of times it makes me like physically nauseous."

"It ain't the best," Cosmo agrees. "I just hate to go into that dining room and eat sometimes." Solange and another resident, Frankie, both say separately that the food they've had in homeless shelters and hospitals was preferable to Surf Manor's. (Owner Lichtschein has been battling health problems, but his son Rafael says, "It's 600 meals a day. People have different wants and needs. It's very hard to make every single person happy." He adds that "everybody enjoyed" Surf Manor's Memorial Day barbecue. In general, Rafael says of his father's operation of Surf Manor, "That's his life—to help out people of different wants, different needs.")

"Sometimes it's like hell in here," a resident named Joseph adds. "But sometimes it ain't that bad."

Emily Berl
Love in bloom: Solange Lambert and Cosmo Salerno
Emily Berl
Love in bloom: Solange Lambert and Cosmo Salerno

And sometimes, it's just strange. Like Surf Manor's owners, its resident population is also substantially Jewish, according to Norman Bloomfield, president of the Residents' Council. But he adds that most residents aren't particularly observant and don't keep kosher, which can lead to some friction with the home management. "The number who observe dietary laws—it's maybe four or five, possibly less." He also says the kosher issue becomes especially heated during Passover. "There's an epidemic of constipation here," he says bluntly. "It's one of the main topics of conversation, talking to residents. They blame the matzoh, so much matzoh every day. Residents are being forced to observe these dietary laws, and the majority aren't even religious." He pauses for a long moment. "The whole thing is weird," he says finally.

Orthodox and Unorthodox

On a cold, bright Sunday in early spring, Solange stands smoking outside Surf Manor, adorned with mint-green eye shadow and a long black coat that she pulls close around her to block the wind. Joanne, a resident a little older than Solange, walks by, dressed in a dirt-spotted black hoodie, her brown hair pulled back unevenly with a large white plastic clip. "Pretty makeup," she calls to Solange, who smiles politely. She watches Joanne make her way inside. "Sometimes she loves me and sometimes she hates me," she says in a low voice, turning to make sure the other woman doesn't hear her. "She'll think I'm somebody named Jackie, and she'll yell at me. Then she remembers I'm not, and she tells me how pretty I am."

A lack of friends, she says, has been one of the hardest things about Surf Manor. "I have not one female friend here," she says regretfully. Friendships at an adult home are complicated. "Some people here, they change every day. You'll be talking to them and they're your friend, and then the next day they're like, 'Get away, I hate you.' Or you'll be talking, like a normal conversation, and then it'll just flip, like to outer space or very strange things. It's not their fault, and I feel sorry for them, but you can't have a regular friendship with someone who you don't know one day to the next what they're going to be like."

Solange watches until Joanne is out of sight, then stubs her cigarette out and turns to walk back into the lobby. A Purim party is happening in the rec room, and she doesn't want to be late. She isn't Jewish, but any break from the routine is welcome.

By the time she gets inside, the party is already under way, though it doesn't feel exactly festive. Two very young Chabad Lubavitch men are visiting from Crown Heights; Norman Bloomfield is there and frowns at them. He has been planning his own party and talent show for later, and is a little put out that it is being hijacked by interlopers. "I haven't seen these guys before," he says, although because of Surf Manor's management, Orthodox visitors are a fairly common sight around the home, especially on holidays. The two introduce themselves as Shalom and Yaakov and quickly unroll a megillah, the scroll containing the Book of Esther, which tells the Purim story.

They are surrounded by a semicircle of about 15 residents, mostly elderly, paying varying degrees of attention. One man hears a Hebrew word that sounds like "Australia" to him. "I was in Australia once," he yells toward the visitors. Yaakov looks up, startled. "Sit down and enjoy," Shalom suggests smoothly, raising his voice to make himself heard over a man shouting into a pay phone at the other end of the room. It is just after St. Patrick's Day, and paper shamrocks hang from the ceiling. Coloring-book pages with drawings of leprechauns are taped to the windows, along with a slightly battered-looking paper cutout of a menorah.

Yaakov chants quickly in Hebrew, with Shalom stopping him every few minutes to provide a meandering summary in English. As Yaakov reads, a kind of calm steals over the room. Being read to seems to have an almost narcotizing effect—a few people's eyes start to slide shut. The guy on the pay phone hangs up and quietly takes a seat. A tall young man in a kippah rushes in late, wearing thick, smeared glasses and two backpacks. His tzitzit dangles from under his shirt, and he leads a thin, young man with a high Afro and a long white cane by the hand. They sit down and listen raptly. When the reading ends, Shalom makes a beeline for the young man in the kippah, kneeling down beside his chair. "Are your Jewish needs being taken care of here?" he asks. The young man looks at him hesitantly. "Kind of?" he says.

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15 comments
Succlo
Succlo

These people need to get a job and move on from their personal problems. It's too easy to drug oneself and sit in a flophouse on SSI.

Solange
Solange like.author.displayName 1 Like

My name is Solange Lambert and this article was about my boyfriend Cosmoand myself. Your comments are extremely hurtful. You say we should get a joband move on with our lives. You have no idea how hard this is to do with no oneto help us in our lives. We both have no family and support.You cant talk about other peoples lives unless you have walked inthere shoes. Also someone who was abused in every way possible from the agesof two to seventeen like myself and just move on.Try living my life for 1 day and see how it feels

Kristin Wolke
Kristin Wolke

Solange - I just wanted to say that I think you + Cosmo are brave to have someone write a story about your lives... Have you looked into the federal program HPRP (Homelessness Prevention Rapid Rehousing)? I work at the Rescue Mission upstate but still have contacts in the Brooklyn area (I moved up here 3 years ago). Please feel free to contact me via facebook; I may have some info that you could use to get out of that place. The HPRP is a federal program that (once you find an apartment + show that you can afford it after they help you) will pay for your security deposit and up to 3 months rent in advance to your landlord. That will give you and Cosmo additional time to save a little nest egg for future rent, etc. The contact person in NYC is the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, City of NY. Her name is Eileen Lynch and her email is elynch@dhs.nyc.gov (212-361-7957). I hope this helps you to get out of that "adult home" ASAP. best wishes!!!

Lakotawinter
Lakotawinter

OFF OUR MEDS ON PARK AVENUE (True Story) Walked past a tall homeless man near Park Avenue one afternoon. Barefoot, hair like a porcupine, three inches of dirt on clothes. Took a closer look. He was yelling into his CELL PHONE! I stopped a few feet away in shock. HE has a CELL PHONE?! "Oh, hell yeah. Haven't seen my brother in three years. Right. Still lives in the Bronx. Yeah. What do I care about that?" He paced up and down yelling into the phone to the person on the other line. As I passed him I looked carefully at the cell phone. Put my hand over my mouth so he wouldn't see me laugh. It was a hair brush! Damn. It was a life lesson for me. Don't judge people by the way they appear! He was really hurting and obviously alone and scared. I was pissed 'cause he had a cell phone! He turned the mirror on me and made me look at myself. I love NYC! If you stay here long enough you can get a Masters in Life!

Spook
Spook

Why is it that people love New York for shit like this? A Masters in Life? Give me a f'en break. You get insights from mentally ill people on the streets so you love New York?WTF?

Boston2lalaland
Boston2lalaland

We never really do know a persons road. Thanks for sharing this. More so, thank you for having the compassion

Lucy
Lucy

Wow! What a compelling angle on the situation of adult homes. It's hard to consider what's best for the patient while also considering the humanity of the issue. Very illuminating piece.

JK
JK

Holy crap, are these people insane?!??!

Missboo42
Missboo42

True love is so hard to come by these days, it is refreshing to read a story about two people who love each other. I hate the term 'mental illness.' We are all mentally ill to one degree or another. Please don't reply, "Speak for yourself!" The people who think there is nothing wrong with them are the people who have the most problems in life. I do not know one person here in NYC who isn't fighting some sort of emotional trauma on a daily basis. 99% of them would be so much happier with someone in their life. Half their problem is not having someone to share things with. We can go to the Moon (?), build skyscrapers through the clouds, and create the Internet, but we haven't a clue how to make people better without tons of meds. There has to be a cure. If you calculated on a yearly basis how much money was spent on disability and mental health in this country and eliminated 80% of it, we wouldn't have the financial woes we currently suffer from. 'Mental illness' is a crutch for a lot of people. I've seen it my entire adult life. Come back to this couple 5 years from now and give us an update.

JK
JK

It appears you are getting your wish to severely cut federal spending on the mentally ill (http://www.nami.org/Template.c... however, it's not clear to me that cutting some single-digit number of billions is going to cure the financial woes we currently suffer from.

Furthermore, speak for yourself.

HaroldAMaio
HaroldAMaio

Since 2003, they have been in the middle of a huge legal battle between New York State, which supervises privately owned adult homes like Surf Manor, and advocates who say the adult-home system unfairly isolates "the mentally ill" from society

As entertaining as is your "the" mentally ill, it is inaccurate, imprecise. Please say what you mean, those words do not do it.

Harold A. Maiokhmaio@earthlink.net

JK
JK

I didn't find that entertaining at all, you insensitive clod!

HaroldAMaio
HaroldAMaio

"The" mentally ill is not entertaining, no resepectable journalist ought entertain it. As I wrote: "it is inaccurate, imprecise. Please say what you mean, those words do not do it."

Harold

HaroldAMaio
HaroldAMaio

Writers and editors are entertained by the form, or they wouuld not employ it, I am not.

JK
JK

You called it entertaining. I feel like you've stepped over a line here.

 
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