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Skittish about Scaffolding

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

Manhattan scaffolding gives me the willies.

Ubiquitous urban eyesores scar

block after block of the Upper West Side

with threatening overhead wood platforms

and crisscrossing metal beams.

The facades

of apartments, drug stores, supermarkets

and medical office buildings

are forever being altered.

Added to.

Improved upon.

Urban infrastructure for the infrastructure!

My nervous reflexes get pumped dodging

dangerous sidewalk bikers,

skateboarders, strollers with babies and dogs,

not to mention

unbagged dog detritus.

Mostly I worry stuff will fall on my head.

Pre-pandemic pedestrians

threaded through scaffolding detours

and midtown tourist swarms

like running backs

sprinting for touchdown.

People have trod around

carved up sidewalks and makeshift walking lanes

five inches from oncoming traffic.

Dodging delivery dollies

teeming with boxes of online shopping

is my terrifying daily dance with death.

That is not an exaggeration.

Scaffolding can be up for years.

One Upper West Side neighborhood contingent of tenants

recently conducted

a mock 15th (!) anniversary for a sidewalk shed.

They chanted in unison:

“15 years is way too long

No excuse, it’s just plain wrong!”

Local politicians offered their two cents plain.

The shed remains.

These omnipresent, shaky hazards

have triggered me

for the past 11 years.

It’s not really about the scaffolding.

I was a fearful and worried kid.

Not of bugs or monsters under the bed.

But of the world collapsing.

Everything falling apart.

Not your typical kid concern.

My single mother of five moved us

in and out of

shoddy apartments seven or eight times

within the fancy Elkins Park suburb of


throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Sometimes at night.

Reasons for the mysterious moves

were vaguely money-related.

As in, she didn’t have enough

for the month’s rent.

But always had color television.


My mother expertly tap-danced her way out

of bill collector phone calls.

Or had one of us kids do it for pity points.

One time she coerced me into speaking

with the county sheriff,

pleading not to evict us.

I broke down in tears after hanging up.

Packing and moving so often unmoored me.

My mother would joke:

“We’re wandering Jews, right?”

It was never funny.

Abandonment worries were seeded

by experience.

Like the time I was seven and attended

free summer day camp at Wall Park.

Every weekday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Underprivileged Elkins Park kids gathered

in an expansive playground field

near the Yorktown movie theater.

All the art supplies I’d ever dreamed of were available.

Clay, markers, watercolors, plaster of Paris

for red rubber molds that would dry

in the July sun.

The playground had swings

near the creek

and a towering metal slide

that burned hot in the blazing sun.

Tennis courts beckoned and I learned how to play.

Sometimes a bus drove us

to Cheltenham High School’s indoor swimming pool,

where I learned how to swim.

The Friday my sister forgot to

get me

is a technicolor memory.

One by one my campmates were collected.

After an hour, I walked home.

I was seven.

Crossing a busy four-way intersection at Old York Road

spooked me.

I nearly lost my balance, but made it home

taking pride in my accomplishment.

Never fully trusted my sister again.

I tried not to get attached

to neighborhood friends,

but that was against my gregarious nature.

So close ties were fleeting until

school established a coveted routine.

Until the next move and a different school.

When we lived in Colonial Apartments,

across from the Elkins Park train station,

I was about eight.

The homely three-story brick structure

seemed out of place

in a neighborhood of obvious wealth.

Houses had massive porches and lush


The front door of Colonial Apartments

opened onto a cramped and pungent entryway.

Mailboxes lined the right side of the hall.

A built-in dumbwaiter hid behind

a squeaky wooden door.

It was hand-operated by pulling hard

on a thick rope.

Simultaneously mysterious and frightening.

Our apartment was a flight up.

The sprawling two-bedroom had

a front hallway that was

long, dark and cheaply carpeted.

Walls were so thin, I could almost smell

the alcoholic breath of the

violent middle-aged raging alcoholics

next door.

Sometimes we had no heat.

My mother would turn on the gas oven

and open its door for the warmth.

My sister and I shared a bedroom

off another long hallway.

A shelf above my bed held mysterious boxes.

They always worried me.

One night I startled awake,

pulse racing and heart beating fast,

convinced the overweight shelf would collapse

on me while I was asleep.

I was inconsolable

until my sister said nothing bad would happen

if I slept the other way around.

My feet would be under the shelf, not my head.

That’s where my habit

of sleeping curled up like a cat began.

I was a thumbsucker until I hit double digits.

I worried about the planet

and all the animals, then as now.

Stability was not a given in my family.

My mother’s latest boyfriend, Tony,

was a barber who played guitar.

His side hustle was hypnosis.

One time he read me a bedtime story.

Gnawing consistently was a gut feeling

the world was going to end

in fiery flame.

The world was going to implode.

My first panic attack!

Fortunately, my coping skills have improved

across the board.

I’ve conquered

my inner Chicken Little and can reflect

on negative memories

without feeling emotional.

The scaffolding doesn’t threaten me anymore.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including

1 comment

1 Kommentar

29. Okt. 2021

Out of the darkness emerged a beautiful accomplished you. ❤️

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