Sunshine morning, 9 am . . .
A dozen Mexican guys gathered around a pavillion. We say ‘Mexican’, but they could have come from Mexic0 or central America, or even Ecuador or Peru. Down the boardwalk, Russians, middle-aged and older, clustered around the benches, taking in the bright morning sun.
Two of the Mexicans on the sand, shadowboxing, while the others looked on. At first it looked they were playfighting, but one started yelling ‘Puta! Puta!’ at the other guy, taunting him and finally the first guy moved towards him, whipping off his belt with a heavy buckle and swinging it over his head as he chased the other guy who was still taunting him, down the boardwalk, the pair of them weaving between the groups of Russians. Who paid them no attention, until an older Hispanic guy, who had been sitting with a bunch of other older Hispanic guys grabbed the guy with the belt buckle and held him back. The guy with the belt buckle kept searching for his tormentor, trying to get at him while the older man admonished him, scolded him, and dragged him to a bench and sat him down. It was now obvious that the guy with the belt was very drunk, his eyes dulled by liquor and rage.
The other guy came back, swinging what looked like a walking cane. He seemed relaxed, laughing and joking with the others. The others welcomed him and I had the sense that this fight, or fights like it, went on all day.
A parks guy drove up. He was a tall, thin black guy, elegant and efficient in his movements like some black guys can be. He walked up to the Mexicans and they waved when they saw him: “You keepin’ good now,” he said, laughing. Reaching over to a guy sitting on a bench and pulling up his crutch. “Hey Juan, you had this thing three years now! Ain’t you ever going to walk again” Then, pointing to a guy weaving between the benches and holding a can in a paper bag. “Hey, a beer! You know there’s no drinking beer on the beach . . . ”
He didn’t take the guy’s beer but slipped between the Mexicans, sweeping up the trash around the men’s feet. “How come you guys come here every day? Don’t you go to work? What do you mean, there’s no work? You just got to LOOK!” Then, spotting a bunch of cans on the sand. “C’mon now. We gotta get this cleaned up.”
He did all this with authority and I guess all he had to do to get rid of the Mexicans was radio the cops. Nonetheless, the Mexican guys picked up around them, helping him put stuff in the trash can and one guy went around to the sand to pick up the bottles and even went up and down by the boardwalk, picking up random trash. Up close, he looked not only drunk, but worn down by disappointment, intense fatigue, cold nights on the beach and a lot of cheap booze. I wondered how those guys had ended up there – these guys were only the latest of a lot of Mexican-looking guys I’ve seen drinking or crashed out in parks and derelict areas around the city of late – maybe they’d been working on construction sites or restaurant kitchens before the recession kicked them onto the street, and they couldn’t go back to Mexico or wherever they were from, and found themselves stranded here on the Coney Island boardwalk . . .
I left and came back. The guy with the belt buckled still hadn’t come back. The guy with the walking stick ambled by. His ‘walking stick’ was a metal rod and his face was tough and hard and blank. An old Russian man in a blue cap was sitting at a table next to the Mexicans, staring out to sea. The Mexicans had broken into what sounded like a melancholy love ballad, singing in Spanish. I wondered what the Russians thought of these drunk Mexican guys singing on the boardwalk first thing in the mornings then realized that in the old country this would likely be nothing out of the ordinary . . .