Sherri Moshman-Paganos

It was the “fresh Jersey Eggs on Thursdays only” sign on the building next to Tom’s 5th floor walk up that intrigued me.

“Why only Thursdays?” I asked him.

“Maybe Wednesday’s the only day,” he said with no trace of a smile, “that the hens feel like laying eggs.”

We were standing in his kitchen. I had just lugged my green duffel bag up the five flights of stairs to his apartment. I set the bag down on the floor. He hesitated a moment, then gave me a quick hug.

When he let go, I took a good look around. It was startling; there were spirals on the wall behind the kitchen table, above the toaster, on the bedroom door, bathroom door and refrigerator. Swirls of red, yellow, blue, green. Rainbow paths leading nowhere.

“What’s with the spirals?” I asked.

“Don’t you know about mandalas?” he said.

“Um not really.”

“Well it’s the Sanskrit word for circle. A mandala shows the union of all opposites. It’s embedded between yin and yang, heaven and earth. A mandala is peace, calm, it shows the state of everlasting balance. So they’re very important to me.J ust look at them.”

“Oh I’m looking. But let me sit down, they’re making me dizzy.” I took a seat on his lumpy green flowered sofa, after moving over a pile of Village Voices to make room.

I had met Tom at a New Year’s eve party in D.C, and he told me he did some kind of work at Bellevue teaching video to kids. That sounded great to me. I was just out of college, working and bored, and he seemed so much older and more sophisticated. Here I was a few weeks later on a cold weekend with snow flurries, taking the Amtrak to Penn Station to visit him.  

The entrance to his place on East 7th between 1st and 2nd Avenue might have smelled like boiled cabbage and the fire escape stairs zigzagged left and right like a sadly deformed sculpture, but I loved the idea of visiting someone who lived in the East Village.

Now Tom stood, crossing his arms over his chest, and frowned.

“Well, why don’t you show me the rest of your place,” I said, though I could see the whole dark apartment from the doorway. A waterbed with a black frame was taking up all the bedroom space, and a small window opened to an air shaft which carried some discordant strains of a clarinet into the room.

Off the kitchen a door led to a shower and sink and another door to a toilet. Glaring down from the kitchen ceiling hung a bare light bulb. In the corner some bookshelves held an assortment of books on eastern philosophy, the Norton Anthology of American Literature, Ulysses and various film and videotape materials. I picked up Ulysses; the binding was stiff and pages stuck.

“Uhh, nice place.” I went over to the window and looked down to the darkness of East 7th. “So this is the East Village?” Tom nodded. “Where’s Washington Square?”

“That’s the West Village,” he said. “Not too far.”

“Let’s go over there. Or walk around St. Mark’s. At least see Fillmore East.” He sat down next to me on the couch.

“Fillmore East has been closed for five years,” he corrected me as if everyone knew that. “And we’ll go eat around here.” He yawned.

“As a matter of fact I’m pretty hungry.”

“Yeah sure. What about a smoke first?” He got up and opened a drawer where he had some smokes already rolled and lit one. “Want some?”

“Nah, I don’t really feel like it.” He set the joint in a plate pretending to be an ash tray. “Well if you want something now, there really isn’t anything but eggs,” he said opening the fridge.

I got up and peeked inside. Next to the dozen or so eggs, he had a gallon of near-finished Almaden Chablis, a quart of whole milk, a jar of wheat germ and a quart of yoghurt. There were also assorted B complex vitamins and megavitamin capsules, and on top of the fridge a two pound jar of honey and a bag of granola.

“Jersey eggs from next door?” I asked.

“Yeah, Jersey eggs,” he said with a faint smile. “I usually come home earlier on Thursdays and get my egg supply for the week.”

“Well what I’d really like,” I said, “is just some tea to warm up.”

“Yeah sure, I got herb teas, rose hips, chamomile, red zinger.”

“Some red zinger would be great.” My stomach was rumbling. “Should we go out soon?” I asked. “Where’s a good spot?”

“You like Indian? There are a bunch of places on East 6th, but around the corner is pretty good Chinese and on 2nd Avenue all the Ukrainian restaurants.”

We ended up going to the “pretty good Chinese,” but actually the moo shi veggies and the vegetable chow mein were tasteless. Not a great beginning to the weekend.

On Saturday Tom took me to Washington Square. A pianist in the park invited his audience to lie under the piano to get a perfect sound. I loved the old guys playing chess, guitar players, magicians, even the dope dealers (‘good stuff check it out’). In the evening he introduced me to the Ontological Hysteric Theater in Soho.

Exhausted the first night, I fell onto the waterbed. Oh what bliss, that rocking feeling. I was dimly aware that Tom was putting a record on the turntable and I could hear waves crashing onto the shore.

“Can’t we turn off the sounds,” I mumbled, half asleep.

“It’s great though isn’t it to hear the waves?”

“A little annoying.”

“Annoying? It helps me get in the mood along with a joint or two.”

Where was the union and balance of our opposites? For sure, we lingered apart outside the circle of harmony. We both knew that once I left on that cold Sunday in January that we wouldn’t see each other again. Tom’s mandalas, they were just too groovy for me.


Years before as a child walking around the city with my dad, I took a photo in Washington Square of a blond long-haired bearded guy sitting on a bench playing guitar to his long-haired girl. I wanted to be that couple, eternally playing and being serenaded on a park bench in the Village. “Beatnik playing to his girl” is what I wrote then in my photo album, and for many years that’s what I imagined New York City was like. Some day, I said, some day for sure I would live here.

And so it came to pass. Three years after traipsing down the five flights of stairs and out the door of Tom’s place, I found myself in my first apartment on the edge of the Village at 11th Street and 4th Avenue. I was advised to stay away from the crime and squalor in the East Village, to go out the door and go west young woman, never east.

My favorite place in the city though was neither east nor west, but in midtown. Like a mole, I would burrow underground in the Museum of Modern Art basement, and forget to surface. There at MOMA I discovered different film series: Italian neo realism, French new wave, silent films. My bicycle carried me everywhere from upper west side down to lower east side. Manhattan was mine, and I was in love with the city that I lived in for the next five years.

I loved the Indian restaurants on East 6th, that Tom had first mentioned. Here you could bring in a bottle of wine, as there was no liquor license, and where you listened to the whiny sound of the sitar. Soothed and serene, when I ate there I felt like I was on a calm spiritual journey, the mandala of my life.

Until suddenly the harmony was disturbed with muggings of friends, my losing apartments and jobs, bicycle thefts. My opposites were no longer in balance. Like so many who had come to Manhattan to make their home, the time came to say goodbye to the city that I passionately loved. Just like with a person, you might love someone but you know you just can’t live together. We respected each other but we both had to move on.

But that need to leave was years in the future from a bright sunshiny hopeful Thursday morning soon after moving to the city. Against all advice, I decided to walk east in the direction of 7th Street and 2nd Avenue.

There at the egg store, I joined a line of New Yorkers waiting for their fresh Jersey eggs. The elderly proprietor, his white coat matching his moustache, told me the eggs were still warm from the chickens that laid them.

I bought a dozen eggs, then stopped at an Italian deli on 2nd Avenue on the way back to my house, where they sang as they cut the mortadella and the pecorino. I made a super omelette thinking of Tom and his mandalas, his waves, his waterbed and groovy need for balance. But before I cracked the eggs, I took one out and held it up. There it was, that oval shape, perfection. Yin and yang, heaven and earth. A perfect symbol of oneness, my mandala of Manhattan.