The morning stunk of ammonia and beer and abandoned jockstraps, and the sky oozed pink like something infected you’d discoverered on your ass. Harry checked his watch: 7 AM.
The bus appeared on the horizon, ghostlike in some fog that reached out against the enveloping sickness. It pulled up and Harry got on. A thin, bald, jaundiced man of about a hundred and five sat at the wheel.
“Your ticket, Sonny,” he said. Harry handed it to him. “He’s back there.”
Harry began making his way through the otherwise empty bus. Or almost empty. He settled on a window seat towards the rear. Suddenly, a voice behind him.
“Hi Harry,” it hissed.
“I know you?”
“Oh yes, we’re big fans of each other.”
“So whatcha got for me?”
“I think you’re going to like what’s ahead.”
An e chord punctured the air. An e chord that came from a parlor guitar. For the first time in a long time, Harry felt himself smiling.
I took my soul
to the pawnbroker
but he said
“Forget it, there’s no market for these analog models.”
He opened up the
latch in the back
and pointed out that
was burnt out.
“Think about how great it’ll look there!” I screamed, pointing at the shop window.
But he just wasn’t having it.
I hefted my soul,
now drooping like some dirty thing,
and brought it to
one of those trendy
downtown thrift stores.
“Nothin’ doin!” said the girl behind the counter.
“Ya got anything with chrome dipped in leatherette?”
I nodded sadly.
“You’d think the scene kids would love one like this.”
She just laughed. “Maybe to puke on after a hard night.”
I went on my way,
looked up the item number
on the internet.
NO UPGRADE AVAILABLE.
There is a haunted and puncturing stillness among the denizens of Rockaway, and it seems to say “This is our home and it has been wounded.” So much silence, even from the FEMA guys taking inventory of the horror, even amongst the National Grid folks in their cherry-pickers. The boardwalk ebbs and flows along, its very vertebrae twisted and splintered in staccato patches. It’s like some morbid amusement park ride that leaves you regretting your own curiosity. And maybe you do, but it was you that bought the ticket.
Getting onto the beach itself is a tricky affair, what with the ramps either blasted to shards or pushed yards off the pier. Or both. I amble down awkwardly,leaving my backpack up top so its weight doesn’t send me crashing in a heap.Then as I break out my camera and start snapping away, a middle-aged, heavily bearded man shouts “Go ahead, take some pictures!” I merely nod, not at all certain if it’s in earnest or if it’s meant to say “That’s right jerk-off, document our pain so you can feel special.” I begin getting shots of a battered shack of sorts, its bricked innards spilling out and scrambled into the sand. Whatever its function had once been, it is impossible to decipher by looking at this pulped thing it has been reduced to.
Many yards ahead, there are the waves; they crest and break gently and far off-shore, behaving in that way a drunk husband might after he’s slept it off and begun realizing he’d gone too far the night before.
This place holds a mystical attraction for me, and has done so now for more than 20 years. It was here, in Rockaway Studios on 116th Street, that I made my first fumbling attempts at music, singing badly for a band called Oppressed Aggression – comprised of five guys much better at being awesome than at playing. I remember spending summer nights pleasantly drunk, watching the waves, telling myself “You can do this.”
And whether or not I could do it, there is no doubt that it was Rockaway, its real- ness and grit, that got me thinking it was possible. And it is still Rockaway that in part inspires me to continue my amateurish, often ill-advised creative endeavors, long past time I should have packed it in.
Rockaway, I don’t know how to quit and neither do you. I hope to see you again soon, and I will be me and you will be you, only better. As you once told me those 20 plus years ago, “You can do this.” And this time it’s beyond debate. But then again, I suspect, old friend, that you already know that.