Location Brighton Beach
Rent $236.80 (government subsidized)
Square feet 450
Occupant Etta Sherez (retired; former hatmaker; supervising clerk, Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity)
You’re going away from here soon, from your apartment on the boardwalk where the Russian couples walk arm in arm and the air comes in from the sea. I notice you have an avocado velveteen couch, gold vertical blinds, and a framed photo of Einstein. When did you move here? I’m here about 19 years in this building. I’m from the Lower East Side, then Williamsburg. I came to visit in the ’20s. My family always went to the baths.
The Brighton Baths opened in 1907— swimming pool, knish-eating contests, mah-jongg. In later years, Milton Berle, Herman’s Hermits. Those were the days! I took a locker. I was always here. My sister Minnie came with me. She said, This is no-man’s-land. It’s all women. She was a big hit with the men. She married three times. My father went to yeshiva in Europe, Austria. He didn’t have a trade. In the yeshiva they told the boys they should go to the new country. He left my mother. She was angry. She came here to get a divorce but she decided not to. My father was a very handsome man and she thought she’d have
attractive children. I have two beautiful sisters who look like my father. I look like my mother. If it weren’t for Poppa coming here, we’d have been in Auschwitz. At first, he slept in the back of a shop. He didn’t have an apartment. He bought a house in Williamsburg. He said it was beneath him to live in somebody else’s house. Peter Luger’s was a few blocks from our house. I’ve never eaten there. Who comes to a neighborhood like that and pays those prices? We had this mortgage on the house. So I only went to school to 9-B. I took typing. It was the Depression.
You got a job in millinery? Arlé Hats, with embroidery, very expensive. I lived at home all the time. The others got married. I lost my mother in ’55. I moved out, to the Belleclaire, 77th and Broadway. My friends from millinery were there. These gals were like sisters to me. I hated the Belleclaire. My two girlfriends had a three-room apartment they shared. I had a room. I couldn’t live like that. My brother-in-law walked in and said, This place is going to be a hot box in the summer. I moved to Crown Heights in Brooklyn ’cause my brother lived there. Crown Heights changed. I moved to Flatbush, Garfield’s Cafeteria. Wherever I lived, I went to the Brighton Baths. When I worked for the city, I’d get off at four, ride to the baths instead of going home. Of course then I’d jump in the ocean and swim.
Did you always know you’d move to Brighton Beach? I was going to move to Kings Highway. I said, What am I doing? I’ll move here. One of the girls in millinery, her cousin lived here, in this building, which is for senior citizens. It’s only a block from the Baths. On the building’s 25th anniversary they made a beautiful party— unlimited liquor. There’s nothing here anymore. The Baths closed. Only Russian restaurants. I can’t go in the ocean— I get ear infections. I look out. I cry. I see them jump in the water. I can’t take one step on that sand. The sand shifts. I’m arthritic. I’m 90. I won’t be here very long. I don’t kid myself. I just want my last years to be comfortable. Where I’m going, they include one meal a day.
Seabrook in New Jersey— one of the new senior “campus style” communities. They have a lovely pool, classes. I’ll take computer. It’s $148,000 down for one bedroom but you get it back if you move, or it goes into your estate. Rent’s $1290 a month. For dinner they have a very nice restaurant.
There’s a photo in the Seabrook brochure of all these men wearing yachting caps and working on model
sailboats. The thing is, you don’t have to worry about the weather. You don’t have to worry is it raining or snowing. You never have to go out.