I made my first trip of the year out to Coney Island this past weekend.
I meant to write about it sooner, but certain distractions intervened, including what’s turning out to be a poorly-received movie review. Possibly a bad choice there.
I also meant to visit sooner. Perhaps write a post about how if you love something, you love it in all seasons. And I do love Coney in winter. It’s a completely different creature from its summertime self: empty and silent, blowing snow and blowing sand.
Without the music and noise and crowds, you can almost see the ghosts of a century of summers past. Come at the right time of day, in the right weather, and you can see the night rising in a wall of black over the Atlantic.
But this past winter was just too bitter. Standing on the shoreline exposed to the winds of this winter would have been just too much to bear. Perhaps Coney should question whether my heart is true.
It also occurs to me that I’ve never been to Coney in the fall. After visiting regularly all summer, it’s often a few months after Labor Day before I even think of going back.
Thoughts of Coney in all seasons. Perhaps I could make a year-long project of it: go back once each month and take pictures to capture Coney all year ‘round. Does that mean I would have to be present for those Coney Island Corners of The Year, July 4 and the Mermaid Parade? I’ve been to both in the past, and the memory of the crowds lives in my nightmares.
Something to consider.
But another time.
Coney in early spring is its own creature as well. Not as different from its summer-self as the winter is, but still uniquely its own. The crowds are thin (though they’re still sufficient to be called “crowds” on a day as nice as Saturday), very few are on the beach, and fewer still are down at the water. The water is cold enough to make your feet ache, but you get used to it before long. The white sand hasn’t been trucked in yet – oh, you didn’t know about that? Every spring – so below the tideline, you can see the hard, glittering black sand that is Coney Island’s true face. Endless millions of oyster shells shattered to fine powder by endless millions of years of rolling waves.
The tide was a long way out on Saturday, so all of the jetties were well above the waterline and you could walk almost 100 yards out under the belly of the pier. The new construction at the Aquarium isn’t finished, but it’s well along. About a third of the Boardwalk is torn up down at the Brighton Beach end – putting in more concrete. Replacing all that splintery wood is for the best in a lot of ways, but it’s still a bit sad. I hope they have it ready in time for summer, but I doubt it. A construction site has been set up around the Childs Building, but no actual work has begun on the “Seaside Park and Community Arts Center”. I guess there are still some issues being worked out in court. Still, I hope they have it ready by 2016, like they say they will. It would be nice to see that beautiful landmark be something other than a decaying ruin.
(Sorry I have no pictures of any of this. I couldn’t find an important piece for my camera, and the one on my phone sucks. Oh well, time to get a new one anyway.)
The thing is, visiting Coney isn’t just about fun for me. Not just. Not when I go alone. For me, walking the beach alone is a meditative act. For one thing, the beach is a place apart. From the waterline, I can’t even see the everyday world of Form 4’s and bank reports.
For another – and I’ve said this before, and I will probably say it many more times before I die – beaches are elemental places, where the Earth, wind and water all come together. Once you set your feet on such a place, it’s hard to think about the everyday and the bullshit. You can’t distract yourself anymore from the things that matter.
As a final touch, I like to put on my headphones and play songs about being young and being brave. In their own way, those songs are elemental, too.
Jim Steinman – of whom I shall speak further at another time – has this to say about children and teenagers:
“They’re closer to the things in life that are really important. They’re closer to the jugular, the feverish, the primal, the urgent, the intuitive aspects of being human.”
You probably can’t live in that place. Not even teenagers do all the time. And as you get older, you find – as another wise man once said – that just surviving is a noble fight. Still, it’s important to visit that place every once in a while. To lay down the accumulated baggage of twenty-odd years out of high school; to go back to that place where you spent all of your time asking the big questions – as those sufficiently-advanced aliens on Babylon 5 always did – “Who am I? What do I want?”; and tap into that energy that you used to tap into every day and take for granted that it would always be there.
It helps to make the important decisions.
For example, I have a project that I’ve been working on for some time now. It’s fun. It’s an easy little distraction when I sit down at the computer in the evening. And it’s doing nothing to get me where I want to be. Time to let it go.
No, not this blog. I thought about that, too. I’m not sure if I can continue to maintain it forever if my goal is to produce saleable fiction, but I’m also not sure I don’t have a few more things left to say.
Things like this spoken word album of a post, I suppose. You can draw your own conclusions about diminishing returns.