I grew up in the MacDougal-Sullivan gardens. It’s an historic part of Greenwich Village. Brownstones to the left of you, brownstones to the right. Everyone has their own little fenced in garden and in the center is the community garden. In May we had, “Digging Day,” where all the families dug up the ground and planted grass, painted the fences black, the benches and playhouse green, and shined up that jungle gym. In the winter, we stuck a tree in the spigot hole and sang Christmas Carols. All the kids memorized different parts and got nervous for their solos, “Five Golden Riiiinnngggss.” And then, when the carols were over, Santa would call, “Ho, ho, ho,” from the top of one of the brownstones and then a toy sleigh would power on a rope over the kids, from MacDougal Street to Sullivan, stop in the center, overturn and rain candy down on our heads.
When I was growing up, there were over twenty other kids and I knew their families and them, well. Most of those families (including mine), minus the kids, still live there. One of the families, the Schapiros, lived at the far end of the garden, next to where Bob Dylan lived. Seth was the papa Schapiro and he also played Santa. I’ve known him since I was circa two. He was a surrogate something to most everyone unrelated to him and he was also everyone’s emergency contact.
When I was around 4 or 5, my mother took us (my older brother and sister and I) to Lord & Taylors. While there, my brother broke his arm. He “walked into a wall,” while reading. That was his story and he was sticking to it. We went to the hospital where the doctors didn’t believe his story. I was too young to know the different between broke and dead, it was all the same shit to me, so when, at the hospital, I heard the word, “broken,” I wailed and wailed. This, apparently, didn’t help matters. And the matter was, the doctors didn’t believe my brother, and worse, they were looking suspiciously at our mother. At the height of a domino effect of panic, unsure of what to do, and where to do it, we watched as Seth Schapiro strode into the hospital and set it all straight. I’m not sure if Eddie ever got the chance to tell Seth that he hadn’t in fact “walked into a wall,” but had been playing on the escalator and was afraid he’d get in trouble if he’d admitted the truth.
Seth was a situation and experience man. He wanted to see it all, live it all. And from the sound of it, he did. He was also one of the funniest guys I knew. I loved spending time with him, banter sparring until the best wit won out (him, always). He died Thursday afternoon, leaving behind, well — himself. He was so central to so many people’s lives, that he actually became a part of other family’s lore. Ours included. At his funeral today, people told stories about Seth, that – like all great funerals – made you realize not just how much you would miss, but how much you actually did miss. He was an incredible wit: dark, sharp and complicated. I have a feeling that Seth Schapiro figures prominently in at least one story of everyone he’s ever met.
At the end, Barnaby Harris told a story that sums up Seth’s humor, best. Seth liked to smoke and drink. A lot. When Barnaby was 4 or 5, Seth and Barnaby’s dad were sitting in LA by the pool, smoking and drinking. B’s dad got up to go do something and B stood near Seth who looked at him without saying anything. For a few long minutes, Seth just watched little Barnaby without a word, until finally he leaned over and said to the boy, “I’m your real father.”
That’s Seth. He was my Homeboy.