You now that Cash song "25 Minutes to Go"? Well, I've got about fifteen minutes of battery life, so now I'm swinging and here I go, oh oh ohhhh
This last one is on the Sunday before Labor Day, when Olivia and I trekked down to Coney Island to see what that was all about (she'd already worked at the library down around there so knew what to expect, not so me, so she acted as my tour guide).
Now, I don't know about you, but me, when I think of da Coney, I think of old, old, party hangouts since gone to seed, this decrepit metal jangled twisted monstrosity of former splendor, all rusted out and a ghost of its festive self. I expected crusty old wizened men with slicked back hair and whiskers doing tattoos amid gutted out storefronts on a rotted out boardwalk. I expected a shadow from the cyclone's criss cross radio tower supports putting the old beach now dump in the shade of a bygone era when things weren't innocent but the merry go around had real horses walking around the pole int he middle. Federico Garcia Lorca came to New York back in the 20s and wrote this about Coney Island in a poem called "Lanscape of a Vomiting Multitude":
There were murmurings from the jungle of vomit
with the empty women, with hot wax children,
with fermented trees and tireless waiters
who serve platters of salt beneath harps of saliva.
There's no other way, my son, vomit! There's no other way.
It's not the vomit of hussars on the breasts of their whores,
nor the vomit of a cat choking down a frog,
but the dead who scratch with clay hands
on flint gates where clouds and desserts decay.
You can imagine my surprise when the subway terminal I walked out on was new, convenient, and actually felt good with the sea breeze blowing into it (it's above ground). Something was wrong. This felt current, this felt like it was happening right now, that this place was still here. I should have suspected my books, I should have wondered at the translation of Lorca, that his Spanish couldn't quite contain ALL of the spirit of the place, but I went on with lenses that sought decay.
Nuthin, folks. Sunshine. A beautiful day in the mid-eighties, few high wispy clouds. And PEOPLE! Man alive, people people people milling about--buggies, old men in canes and casts, young thugs, white people like me, and couples of all manner and variety and shade, strolling, in no hurry, the waves lapping at their heels.
I was mesmerized, but the first thing we did was leave the beach and go to Nathan's Famous, the world's oldest hot dog stand started in 1916 and about as much neon jingle jangling its storefront in electric tubing about a mile long, snaking around this, MASSIVE, hot dog stand (it's nearly a block square! with no doors!). Little hot dog men get ready to light up in the dusk with to go containers, chef's hats on their skinny furter heads, enticing fingers point you to HERE, the right place, for good times and good eatin', and everywhere the old-timey lettering and historical green of Nathan's. You can get fish and chips, clams on a half shell (lines upon lines of spanish speakers in stalls on the boardwalk with heaped ice burying clams and mussels, their feverish brown hands shucking like mad for customers ready to slurp), lemonade, damned good fries, and of course the dawg. I got some sauerkraut on mine, and the fries were so big we had to eat them with a special utensil that was halfway between an hors'd'ouevre sword and a regular plastic fork--kind of a mini-trident. It was pretty flippin sweet--we carried the food into the sand and plopped down and ate it, my pants rolled up and me wondering when the squalor would appear. All I saw was a clean (for the east coast) beach in front of me, all i heard was the screams of the cyclone behind me, and all i tasted was the goodness that only encased meat can provide.
I did see "shoot the freak," which was a dollar a round. I don't what the hell you shot the poor guy with, but the announcer was pretty ruthless--and the freak only had a few scrubby bushes to hide behind. Not good, folks.
Other than that, though, it was like a spread out Ocean city without all the i'm not as pot as you smoked my grass t-shirt stands, less trashy, more chill, with a great vibe to it. And the people!! Did I mention that?? Let's see--Olivia got some pictures, and she ever gets off her lazy puerto rican heinie to scan them I'll post as a "PS" to this, but here's a rundown:
I'm sitting on the everpresent jetties that pop up every hundred or so feet and tame the atlantic--that deep blue sea full of shells and living molluscs I'd forgotten all about after years of the cosmic raucous teal of the Pacific battering me--so I'm sitting on the wet worn down wood that's nearly black from brine, and just watching. Cause there's about a zillion kids with just these two old jewish ladies watching them. I can't figure out what the family configuration is--one lady''s got a little black kid sitting on her lap, peaceful, and she's barking for this holy terror of a runt white boy to get back here, and everywhere in between are asian girls of varying ages. One of them is making "meatballs" out of sand with a short fat black girl with pigtails napped out like TV rabbit ears, like she's trying to get the reception of the CBs on the boats in the horizon, shaping these big dark brown sandballs with care and frenetic energy (turns out it's an intricate process, sand meatball concocting: got a roll the wet sand, then coat with dry sand, which means tearing ass back up the beach before it slops away in your hands). The one asian girl has a one piece black looks like racing swimsuit on, and her body is completely straight, like a bullet or a torpedo, she's so scrawny, just lanky arms and legs and speed speed speed, dashing up and down the beach like a sandpiper racing the tidewaves, making these meatballs.
Then I hear the two ladies/caretakers/foster parents/who the hell knows hush a little like jaws has been spotted out in the waves. I follow their quick looks over my shoulder and almost drop in the ocean. She's Muslim, about as muslim as you can get, in a black burqa that covers every square inch of her body minus the feet, which are cloaked in all black nikes, and her hands, which, dig it, are covered in black like isotoner gloves! I look more closely--the shrieks of the descending cycloners fade out in the distance on a back turn--and see, damn, she's got a screen behind the eyeholes, a black mesh piece, to hide her eyes but so that she can still see. She's with a friend who's head and hands and stuff show and they're jabbering in some language I don't know. The old ladies cluck in amazement and confusion:
"Would you look at that?"
"I mean," short nervous laugh, "what's the point?"
I don't know either, but before I can begin to answer there's more activity--a polish or russian (ton of russians live here, here and brighton beach next door) fella in bright teal and yellow hibiscus speedos (they love the speedos!) in full on snorkel gear: goggles, fins, knife strapped to his ankle, the whole bit. He sets down his bucket on the jetty piling and fiddles with his speedos. Now, somehow, he's managed to unzip a pocket in them, sneaks a meaty finger in there and fishes out a pair of earplugs. He pops them in, and plods out like a pale pink duck into the surf.
Then there's the russian cowboy in jean shorts and a hawaiian shirt and suspenders really hoisting those shorts WAY up. He's got on a straw hat and is just meandering along with his lady, all old and white haired and, again, jabbering in some slavic language i can't make neither hide nor hair of.
I turn my head and little girls come screaming by; it's like the cyclone has jumped the track and gone straight into the sea. But, no, they're just burying a girl with perfect kinky curls shooting out of her head and making sandcastles. Teenage brown boys spout off in spanish as they try to scoop out armfuls of wet sand before the undertow can dumptruck it all back in again. And off up the sandhill a little ways, in the foreground of this tableau, stands another old Russian looking dude, smoking sourly in black speedos and picking at them with his opposite thumb. Ridiculous!
And I realize: west coast beaches have this enormous piers and tons of people all sprawled out, too, but they're all doing something in planned group activity: you're either totally still getting tan, or surfing, or playing volleyball, or shopping somewhere. Now there are a few renegade swimmers or little kids in the tide splashing it up, but nothing like the chaos of seagull chasing, full on tear ass running into the waves, alongside heads bobbing around in the calmer, easier to manage atlantic, that you see over here. You really have to respect and somehow usefully harness the pacific, otherwise, gah, it'll eat you alive, make your limbs numb and swallow you in the current. The atlantic has been tamed somewhat, you can live off its offering of life growing all around without deep sea fishing for marlin or something, and the result is an absolute whirligig mayhem of people.
We went to the aquarium. It was like any other, so I won't go on and on--I mean, it was FUN, and there were a pair of male and female walri (walruses?) that were gymungous, but other than that it's what you'd expect, and not as good as the baltimore aquarium. You know walruses just snuff along the oceanbottom like vacuums, slamming those massive whisker pads right into the floor? Crazy. And BIG. Like four hundred, five hundred pounds big. They were ROTUND.
But, yeah, let me get those pictures and I'll post.