Wednesday, July 29, 2015


The street as far as I could see, from Surf to Neptune, was one long rectangular sandbox. On the corner of Surf, there was a white Toyota SUV with its ass plopped on top of a mailbox. Bruno was shooting it from different angles.
“Amazing, right?”
Once we were apes with clubs in caves…and now we live in fishbowls…and got semi’s, I mused. Evolution. Nothing like destruction on a grand scale to bring out the Darwin in all of us. And nothing like those creepy-crawlies, razor-toothed rodents, vipers, vampires, and predators, that foundered, pioneered and settled this great land of plenty to capitalize on their nothingness to somethingness. If only for a second.
Coney Island might have been flayed by Mother Nature, but it was raped by the all too human nature of human nature: Just being alive is enough to bring it out, but being pressed?—brother, watch the fuck out!
The glare from even the slate gray sky, when I turned around to find Bruno, had me shield my eyes. I bumped into something that caught me belt-high. “Look where ya goin,” a woman’s voice underneath me said. I looked down. “Sorry,” I said. “Everybody’s sorry, but nobody looks,” another voice said, coming from next to the first voice. My eyes focused.
“You Angelina?” I said.
“What if I am?”
“I’m Mickey, Mickey Heller.”
“Yeah, so what? We gotta get home and get outta this zoo.”
“Go right ahead, girls.”
My eyes focused and there they were…or weren’t: two women, maybe four and half feet, of sisters, both humpbacked, both pushing shopping carts and both had these decals on the backs of their jackets that I read as they continued their journey home: "That’s Right—We’re Short And We’re Humpbacked—So the Hell What?"
“That’s Angelina and Mary, the Corso sisters,” I said to Bruno.
Bruno fumbled with her camera. “You can take your time, it’s gonna be awhile before they get outta range…Damn, I knew em when I was sixteen, their backs were always fucked-up, but they were funny, shit, were they funny. Don’t look like they’re so funny now, but they’re alive…in this hell hole…damn…maybe the fucked-up are better able to survive fucked-up situations? Shit.”
We trailed them up to Mermaid Avenue. There were more people out on the streets: whores and vampires. The women worked the stroll as they had when I was a teenager, finding the hiked up skirts and the make-up and the lure of a woman’s flesh just a ten dollar bill away. If I were “flush,” if I had another ten, I could rent a stall at The Terminal Hotel, down the block across from the trains and wouldn’t have to duck into a back alley. The vampires were looking for an unlocked car or a store that was already smashed to suck some blood.
“I’ve got an idea,” I said to Bruno, “c’mon, come with me.”
I took her by the hand and we walked back to the train station and to, “Always Available,” a gypsy taxi service. All their cars were practically junkers, and all their drivers had lived in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan. The only thing they were afraid of was going back there.
“How much to Sea Gate?” I inquired.
“Ten dollars.”
“That’s a five dollar trip.”
“No, no, no now. Ten dollars.”
“O.K.” I said and me and Bruno got into some kind of lumpy ride that looked as bad as it smelled. I wanted to cruise a little around the area, and for an extra five the driver didn’t protest. On Surf and Neptune Avenues, there wasn’t much to see: sand, driftwood, cars pointing in strange directions, folks trying to put themselves back together…and National Guard troops either patrolling the areas or in makeshift tents giving out food and other supplies. But on Mermaid Avenue though, the Avenue that sits in the middle of the other two, and the most commercial avenue, that’s where you saw the most damage: little stores were pillaged; bigger stores were torn apart, all were looted. People milled about, trying to dig their stores out, or trying to get some supplies from those stores, or trying to “cop” anything: loose cigarettes, a pint of booze, bottles of pills; a babbling old crone angrily worked her way through bags of weepy and brown-spotted onions thrown out from a Key Food store. Nobody bothered her.
On Surf Avenue past the arcades and the carnival, past the stadium where The Met’s farm system played, past the ice skating rink, it was an urban High Noon with the wide avenue pretty much deserted and The Marshals were dressed in camouflage fatigues. They were waiting for Tupac and Biggie to get off the train; it was where the city housing projects began, the Section Eight folks, The HUD housing, the welfare, the disability, the edge of Brooklyn’s own: Bad Guys territory. Black and brown and yellow and poor white trash, young and old and older, cold, hungry, and dazed…standing leaning holding onto others gripping hands of children or bars of strollers, on walkers, in wheelchairs, or on canes or somebody’s arm, they gripped the links of hurricane fences, shook off the sand, tipped a Poland Spring bottle to their lips let slip a Hershey wrapper, a Milky Way foil, threw a piece of gum into the gutter or stuck it to the fence, fingers wiping a grain of sand from their eye, or blotting a tear that fell because of it. They all walked in place and shuffled forward as the line moved an inch, no more. And stretched for blocks. The National Guard and FEMA were giving out water and field rations and blankets and pillows, a roll of toilet paper. They’d set-up shelters in the few schools and libraries that were left in the area, as well as churches. God was the Chief Financial Officer of every poor non-profit in the city and there was a hole in his pocket.
Sea Gate was at the very ass-end of Brooklyn’s Coney Island. It was settled at the turn of The Twentieth Century by rich Protestants, most of who worked as bankers or brokers on Wall Street. They made it private, their own charter, Board of Directors, private police force, private sanitation squad, private beaches, some homes designed by Sanford White, and so exclusive they had their very own private fucking ferry to take them to and from their jobs in Manhattan. It was a round oasis, quirky streets, red brick, herring-boned lined sidewalks, the ocean surrounding it, the cheap carnival and whores and slatterns and ne’er-do-wells, outside their gates.
Hard to know that all evolution contains its very own erosion. Brought about by the end of World War II, and a new middle-class push toward safety and respectability, Sea Gate began seeing an influx of Catholics: Italians and Irish and then a smattering of Jews. And then more Jews. The boroughs began to change and so did Sea Gate; the kids my age got married and moved away and the older folks moved to different deathbeds or coffins. Property which was once very valuable became less so and the community, without much new blood, began the slow decline that continues. A few hotels turned transient, a few apartment buildings turned SRO’s. Homes were razed and the vacant lots remained vacant. Weeds began sprouting through the herring-boned brick, streets remained pot-holed, challenging the transmissions and springs of cars, sanitation was cut to the bone, as the taxes that were once collected were collected no more. Then the Hasidic discovered it. They could afford to give less money for more valuable homes. Especially after turning their homes into synagogues and religious schools, beating the taxes. They came for the water and daily prayers. Now it’s they who want to keep everyone else out and doing more than just praying to make sure that happens.
Sea Gate had no “Gate” left; Sandy had seen to that. The little wooden booth that had windows facing the four sides of the tiny enclosure and that had allowed the one Sea Gate cop that manned it to raise and lower the wooden slat that ran across its entrance to allow residents and visitors in, were no more; they’d been destroyed, as had the police station adjacent to the entrance.
One lone cop stood at the mouth of Sea Gate, nakedly exposed to the elements, supposedly checking ID’s. He probably felt as silly as he looked.
The streets in Sea Gate, never good to begin with, were hardly what you’d call “streets” anymore; they were more like gravel tectonic plates that had shifted and broken-up in the storm, into smaller pieces lying in odd angles on top of or next to one another.
The Sea Gate Center, to my right, where I played basketball and tried to look up the dresses of girls to see a pair of panties…or a cunt hair…oh my God…when I wasn’t on the court, was boarded up and abandoned. Debris—sticks and beams and canvas wraps—had blown from the cabana club a hundred yards away, piled up across the front of the Center’s facade.
In the parking lot next to it—at one time our softball field—sat three FEMA trailers. I didn't see a person waiting to get anything they offered.
On that corner, a block from the Atlantic Ocean, a cheap aluminum lamppost was uprooted from its shoddy enclosure, its body and neck elongated to such an extent that it resembled a Brontosaurus, its tail on the corner nearest us while its head was less than a foot from the mud on the next corner, its one eye busted and vacant.
“They better get to Highway 61.”
“I got 40 red, white and blue shoe strings and a thousand telephones that don’t ring; do you know where I can get rid of these things…” Bruno nasally sang…
“Yes, I think it can be very easily done…” I concluded. “At some point they're gonna have to make some kind of sense about this shit—even if there’s no sense to be made—and go on.”
I decided not to make a decision about seeing my brother; there was some kind of stitch somewhere inside me that was telling me to hold off. So instead of making a right at Sea Gate Avenue we continued on Atlantic Avenue, walking parallel to Surf, the beach blocks. As we walked I saw sign after sign for “Chabad” or Lubavitch, a school of Judaism founded in the seventeen hundreds in Eastern Europe and now the best known Hasidic movement in the world. At first it was this intellectual-mystical sect led by a succession of “Rebbes” begun in Riga and Warsaw, but now centered here in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Its last Rebbe, who was and still is its most treasured Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson who’s been dead since the ’90’s, but no less revered and followed. However, it seemed that God wasn’t playing any favorites on that night: downed trees bisecting homes, cars sitting on cars, power lines dangling from branches and young and old Hasidic eyes looking at each and every foreigner with suspicion, as if they had brought Sandy into their lives.
We got to the corner of Highland and made a left, leading us to the beach. Sand swirled around the falling temperature. The day had begun to give up. There were some people standing in front of their homes with their clothes and other possessions on long picnic tables trying to get them to dry out. I saw table after table with stacks of Jewish Bibles and other Biblical tracts and prayer books, and a few Torahs as well, infused with sand and, for all I knew, God’s tears. If I were so inclined to poetry, I’d say it was a smorgasbord of pain.
Once on the beach, the ocean looked much further away than I remembered it being; perhaps it was just embarrassed? The blue-black waves seemed small from that distance, and foam capped as high as a sailor’s white hat. After all that had happened, and what I’d seen, I wasn’t surprised that the land I stood upon felt as if I’d never grown-up there, and was in this part of the world, any world, for the first time. It wouldn’t have thrown me if I saw dinosaur eggs scattered in the sand…or their bones…or fish walking…or heard jazz coming from the beaks of seagulls. "The Four Quartets" played in and around my head, "Little Gidding" and strings for the unrepentant.
I turned around to face the backs of homes that sat next to the sea, and realized that whatever it was that came up and out of the water was not literature. It was some force that went mad with a pair of scissors, some epileptic barber in the midst of a Gran Mal seizure who was cutting your hair; it was termites and locusts on bad acid; it was something that had been nursing a grudge for centuries. A schizophrenic denied medication, on a subway platform during rush hour, who feared and hated crowds; fingers epoxied on the triggers of Uzi’s, with no limit of rounds to fire, was turned and turned in a maddening gyre, before being given permission to squeeze; a bloodletting so old there was no language to record it. And I couldn't help feeling that whatever it was that came out of the depths, seemed to enjoy getting its rocks off.
It was like meeting a person and they’re nice and attractive and well-spoken and well-dressed and then they turn around and there’s no rest of them; a Hollywood lot where what you see, is not what you’re seeing; you can see what’s left of their organs, their viscera, their entrails. Each home was like one of those plastic toys your parents bought you that showed the front of a man, but in back you could open it and take apart the insides; it allowed you to see the guts of life. Insulation streamed out of the homes, pink or white or blue cotton candy streamers; the homes appeared to have been eaten through; some had everything ripped away, but others were gone in sections that made no sense: bookshelves were intact, holding books, showing their spines, but the desk that they sat above had fallen half into the floor below; closets showed us everything they contained, still on hangers on horizontal poles, the size of the wearer, the tastes of the wearer, the colors, the styles, but they hung in mid-air, teasing the person, if they dare, to come and get them. Kitchens were ransacked, coaches floated next to bathrooms, cars found their way into bedrooms, TV’s, DVD’s, amplifiers, CD’s, guitars, looked comatose on lawns, tacitly acknowledging the sea—which left just enough of each structure for the owner to mourn. Why did it do that?…did it eat enough?…bored?…maybe it had somewhere else to get to, like the Frost poem, and had to get on? Whatever it was, the inhabitants had a lifetime to digest it, and figure it out.
“This is Camus stuff, Auden stuff, that “benign indifference” shit,” I said to Bruno.
“Yeah,” she responded as she snapped away. “Almost surreal,” she began, “hard to believe that what you saw on TV or newspapers, is nothin compared to bein here, right?”
“‘Surrealism eventually becomes realism,’” I said into he wind, “No, it ain’t like bein here,” I offered and felt small even as I said it. “But this is your meat, Bruno…you’ll have a show around this shit, I’m sure.”
“C’mon,” Bruno said.
“C’mon yourself; you will.”
“You’ll be famous…and rich.”
“C’mon. Stop.”
“Bruno, you ‘c’mon.’ You’ll be able to support yourself…and any artist that supports themselves working their craft is rich…You’re gonna be rich.”
She didn’t answer. She kept taking pictures.
“You almost ready to split?” I asked Bruno, “there’s just so much of this shit you can take, and I’ve just about seen enough.” My words sounded as foul as my mood was.
“What about your brother?” she asked.
“No, not today. I’m almost sorry I came here and dragged you with me. Seeing him today, and dragging you with me to do that, would be a mistake.”
The waves just kept lapping in, breaking on the sand and leaving a foam. One after the other after the other.
“Typical. So fucking typical,” I said into the wind, “haven’t seen or spoke to him in a decade, and I bring you out here…It’s bad for him, bad for me, bad for you…Christ”…fucking weaknesses still astonished me.
I turned to look at her and saw her looking at me. “Sorry about this. At least you got some shots…Gimme your phone, wouldya? I’m gonna call him and ask him to come in and meet me in the city—if he needs or wants to see me that badly that’s what he’ll do— I shoulda done that to begin with, and that’s what I’m gonna do now.”
“If that’s what you think you should do,” she said, handing me her phone.
“Forget ‘thinking.’ ‘Thinking’ isn’t my strong suit,” I said, as I grabbed her phone.
“What are you going to say about being here now?” she asked.
“I’m going to lie. I fucking hate lying…but whatareyagonnado?” I punched in his numbers and waited.

pgs 237-246 of 539 From: The Departure Lounge
© 2015 Norman Savage

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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