Tuesday, July 28, 2015
CONEY ISLAND 1959 & NOW--FROM: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC--CHAPTER 3
Truly everything that is interesting goes on in the dark. One knows nothing of the inner history of people.
Journey To The End of Night
I didn’t have much to pack. I didn’t want to go. But go I had to, and go I did. If there was one benefit to the move, I now had a room to myself. I was becoming more secretive around my folks, and this fit very nicely....thank you very much. I’d become a recording instrument, extremely sensitive to each and every change that I could detect, or predict, in all my worlds.
Seagate is at the ass end of Brooklyn, on the tip of Coney Island. It’s “protected” by a high hurricane fence that runs from Surf Avenue at its southern most end, up and beyond Neptune Avenue on its northern, the entire length, stopping only at the beach and jetty beyond that. The other three sides are bounded by water. Seagate is a private community which has its own uniformed police and sanitation force and maintenance crew. The homeowners pay a tax for this privilege. Created or founded as an enclave for wealthy WASP businessmen and their families around the turn of the twentieth century, it was originally used as a summer respite. Because of these people’s wealth, it had a private ferry that ran them into Manhattan and back again. It was, and to some respects still is, a very pretty place, New Englandish actually. Streets named Lyme, Maple, Poplar and Surf reflected the ambiance and charm. Some of the homes were designed by Stanford White and still stand. Others reflected a similar architectural style, only now they house many families instead of the one they were designed for. As the Jews and Italians began their upward climb and began moving in full time, the wealthy Protestants moved out, and the ferry service stopped. Although the landscape has survived, the place now has the seedy air that many once wealthy, now middle class and poor, parts of New York have, weedy, and in some sections, decaying. Some sidewalks, made from cobblestone still survive. The lighthouses’ iris still turns its red beam.
Beyond “The Gate” is Coney Island, a wonderfully depraved and degenerate playground and carnival where poor and middle-class Jews and Italians with tattoos and shiny hoods’ hairdos (called a “ducks-ass”) roamed. Whole blocks, controlled by mobsters remained virtually white. Working class black families were scattered in two and three family dwellings and in the few public housing projects built in the early, to mid-1950’s. In summer, bus loads of blacks from all over the metropolitan region came to play and bathe in the polluted surf and sea. It was the most fascinating schizophrenic enclave I’ve ever had the pleasure of contending with. There was a romance about Coney Island that was not lost on women; the way memory and love are filaments spinning together like the making of cotton candy is marvelous to behold. If the teller of tales is also a weaver of seduction, then Coney was a perfect playground of myth, my own included.
Presently, Coney Island proper has the corrupt Federal housing glow about it; those cookie-cutter prefab homes line treeless blocks across from rubble-strewn lots. It is a depressed area and has been for a long time. If it still were a slum, it would have more character than it has now. Instead, it is an AIDS patient playing host to itself. Only a few blocks remain relatively unscathed and lifelike. The majority of small businesses are gone, as are the churches and synagogues with the exception of those of the Baptists and the Seventh Day Adventists. If it were simply neglect it might provoke anger. A geometric confluence of politics, bromides, and passivity are the skein upon which the disenfranchised crawl into their graves.
My mind secretes a Coney Island different and intoxicating. First, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, it was relatively safe, alive with peoples and commerce all year long. You could explore, and leisurely note, the different architecture, smells, colors, bars, schools, coffee shops, prostitutes, pool rooms, bowling alleys, games of chance, and chances taken. The flight of childhood into adolescence, always risky, was laced with opportunities for fancy beyond that which was the homogeneity of a single community. This was textured. And beckoning.
Each season on the eastern seaboard has its own definition; the seasons of Coney, especially summer and winter, had drama in no small measure because of each other’s opposites. The summer of course had sharp, rich colors, odors and multicolored invaders; hand held children lost or in flight; lovers above or below the boardwalk littered with food wrappers, condoms, bottles of wine and quarters; the pitch of hucksters and sucker moans; old thick yellow oil of Nathan’s French fries, bubbling vats of steam and huge metal baskets dripping, coming over the shoulder and down into tray tables; hundreds of frankfurters charring on grills, popping with juices hissing; three coasters rolling and rocking; parachute jumpers screaming; ferris wheel lovers spinning crazy into a firecrackered night; and the cops riding into the Mermaid Avenue Lounge on horseback, nightsticks swinging to break up and cause melees on hot humid summer nights as the El above ferried in and carted off those too alive to listen, or too dead to care.
Winter wrapped itself like a Hopper painting around Coney; light like scalpels exposed the solitude of form shuttered and bare; figures given the grace of anonymity for almost three-quarters of the year were violated by their own step; the red lit room in the transient whore’s hotel across from Nathan’s shone with a summer remnant; wool pea coats and beanies hung from store windows; fires burned in trash cans next to fruit stands; the fish counter at Nathan’s was a steam room of smells, and the residents had them all to themselves.
These dichotomies were seamless, like the ones that existed between the Seagate boys vs. the Coney Island boys, and the Coney Island girls vs. the Seagate girls. We were secretly envious of a raw masculinity and a quasi-street life (in this instance mob related), and they eyed a private world, albeit a pretty superficial one at this time, of education, status, and money--without strong-arming anyone. I made it a point to bridge that gap; the toughness I felt I (or more exactly, my body) lacked, the physicality that was subverted and denied to me, I made up for in the friends I cultivated and the life I tried to project. And, as time would prove, any of the most beautiful cock-teasing Jewish Seagate girl’ would jump over three circumcised dicks to get next to one tattoo that read, “Mom.”
pgs 16-18 From: JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Published by Norman Savage at Smashwords
Copyright Norman Savage 2010
Greenwich Village, 2015