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Posts Tagged ‘Coney Island’

Now that summer’s here (in early April), what is there to do but dream of Coney . . .

As one commentator wrote ‘the eerie trippiness IS Coney Island’. With thanks to Amusing the Zillion who posted it first. By Sherwin Akbarzadeh. Keeping with the theme, some more memories of the dreamland wonder that was Coney Island . . .

Ain’t youtube amazing!

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Demon exhibit at Coney Island Hell HoleMy first association with Coney Island was a copy of ‘Coney Island of the Mind’ by Lawrence Ferlinghetti my parents had brought in a fit of youthful bohemia, long since abandoned to a top shelf. I was too young to have any grasp of poetry, much less Ferlinghetti’s free verse experimentalism, but I loved the black and white cover image of the fantastic lights, spreading  out for what seemed like miles. It seemed such an iconic place, embedded so deeply in the American psyche that everyone knew what it was to have a ‘Coney Island of the Mind’ (in that mid-70’s era of ‘Happy Days’, ‘American Graffiti’, everything I thought I knew about America seemed vastly more comfortable and inspiring and convivial than the spartan, parochial backwoods Canada where we lived.

Vulture biting dog at Coney Island Hell Hole

But when I  made it out nearly two decades later, it wasn’t Ferlinghetti I thought of, but the closing act of ‘The Warriors’ which I’d seen about nine times when I lived in a group home in my teens. The decrepit subway train clattering through the last bend of the elevated, the bedraggled, exhausted gang confronting a psychotic Sean Penn rattling coke bottles in his fingers while the trash blew past the graffiti shutters outside. The station was almost derelict, and panhandlers and drug dealers lurked around the station entrance, and the street outside the carny looked disheveled, half-abandoned.

As I noted in a previous feature, I’m a sucker for abandonment and Coney Island became a regular part of my NY itinerary. Who could not love the abandoned roller coaster, half-overgrown with vines, or the vista of the elevated elongating out behind the ferris wheel, and the Cyclone, or the old-time creepiness of the carny itself (what gives carnivals this slightly sinister quality? they have have given expression to some buried pagan mysticism, the allure – and power – of the outcast, the freak. The Disney version gets rid of this hint of sleaziness and danger, this hint of the subconcious, the dream).

Painted garbage cans on boardwalk Coney Island

I liked Coney best in winter, when everything was shut down, and the boardwalk was deserted but for a few forlorn Russians out on the pier, hauling in their traps. The fog made the carny, the projects at the end of the boardwalk almost otherworldly. An old guy from the area pushed a shopping cart up and down the boardwalk selling hot latkes wrapped in tin foil. Once, not long after the collapse of communism, he said, “I’m not going to say communism was a perfect system, far from it, but the world has lost something with the disappearance of a state built around the working man.”

The carny retained a few freak shows: a sign promising a ‘man-eating chicken’, a ‘flesh-devouring rat’. I paid one dollar to a very bored looking teenager to see the rat. The two black women behind me giggled nervously, and I wasn’t sure what to expect but the killer rat turned to be an oversized hamster, half-buried in straw next to a bowl of kibble.

I did go to the stage show once. I think it cost three bucks. The audience was mostly Puerto Rican teenagers, the performers a troop of very unhappy looking white people, some with piercings and neck tattoos. One guy hammered a nail through his (pierced) tongue, another guy put on a straitjacket, and had someone from the audience tighten it up then, after some struggle, broke free. Between acts, the emcee plugged whoopee cushions – I guess they had a shipment they needed to get rid of. The kids were amused enough but the performers obviously hated their show, their audience, and wanted the whole thing to be over. The seats and the stage were hammered together with uneven lengths of plywood, the floor littered with trash; in those moments Coney Island seemed a symbol of the decay of Brooklyn itself.

But even in its decay it was surreal. A friend told me once how she’d been on the ferris wheel, and the guard dog down below, a Rotweiller or maybe a pit bull, had gotten it’s head stuck in a trash can and for the whole length of her ride she’d watched the dog thrashing about, banging the can against some nearby posts while the ride supervisor looked on, oblivious.

Freak Show on the side of the Coney Island Film Festival

I didn’t go back for a long time, part of a general withdrawing from New York and the world I went through at the time. Friends told me it had become hip, with the Coney Island Museum, the Coney island Film Festival. When I did go back last year, I was shocked at how little of the old Coney remained. Gone the overgrown roller coaster, the derelict bath house, and the flesh-eating rat. Bloomberg plans to revitalize ‘the people’s playground’, but we’ll see if it will indeed be for the people or just another of the rich man developments Bloomberg seems to favor, whether the spirit of Ferlinghetti’s book cover, the Warriors, and that seedy old carney will live on.

Sunset on Boardwalk, Coney Island

More Coney Links:

Coney Island Freak Show in the 40’s

CO Moed’s ‘My Private Coney’

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Classic Coney Island Movie: Little Fugitive (thanks to CO Moed)

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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 . . .

Space Mermaid Mural across from Coney Island Subway Stop

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