I was on the stage of the Sideshow at Coney Island and I was standing on the thighs of a woman who was lying on a bed of real nails. Her name was Princess Pat. I’ll get back to her.
I’m in New York City. We came for a few doctor appointments.
It was Tuesday morning. Mariam had to be at her office in Mount Sinai Hospital for a meeting. I had no appointments. I had already been to the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue. There was only one logical thing for me to do on this last full day in the City. I needed to go to Coney Island.
I took the #1 Local to 59th St. and changed to the D Train. The last stop on the line for the D was Coney Island/Surf Avenue. I bought a copy of the Daily News, found a seat by the window and settled in for the hour-long trip. “Wild West Gun Battle” screamed the headlines. I skipped to page 11 and began to devour the 19 1/2 line article about Susan Lucci selling her Hampton estate. That’s news that’s really fit to print.
I looked around at the other passengers in the same car with me. There were several baby strollers, a large green & orange shopping bag stuck out into the aisle. A few seats in front of me, a 30-something woman was listening to her iPod. She crossed her leg and I noticed a tattoo on her right leg, just above the ankle bone. From where I sat it looked like the image of a fat lady (pink) bending over to look at the bathroom scales (black). I think I need a new pair of glasses.
While crossing the East River I got a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Funny. I thought it had been destroyed in several Bond movies a few years ago.
Soon we were plunged into darkness. The train stopped. I’m always a little uneasy when that happens. In one movie, a monster chews through the train, car by car, while it sat in a tunnel. I played a quick solitaire game on my iPhone then opened my book to read while we sat in the dark tube. The train jolted…so hard I had to reread a sentence.
Daylight! We emerged between thick foliage, maple trees and stone walls. The large granite blocks, turned black by the decades of bad air, had a thick covering of ivy that nearly obscured the graffiti. Almost. Along the bottom of the chain-link fence were mounds of leaves, plastic bottles, glass bottles, cardboard boxes and styrofoam cups with Greek Deli logos on them. I spotted a perfectly good soccer ball.
Soon after the “9 Avenue” stop, we were a real El. I could look down on the gray painted tar on the roof tops of the three-story buildings. Small backyards held small blue plastic swimming pools large enough to hold two kids. I passed a business whose sign read: “Quality Used Police Cars.” So, that’s where they went.
As we slowed for a stop ahead, a building with worn-out bricks began to pass by. When the train stopped, I saw I was only about 40 feet away from a woman leaning out her window. The drapes behind her were deep red. A few wine bottles acted like vases and held a couple of flowers in each one. The woman looked forlorn. She looked bored. She looked lonely. Her eyes lifted from the street below and she looked at the train. She looked at the car opposite her. She looked at my window. She looked me in the eye. I held her gaze. We looked at each other until the train jerked into motion. I put my hand to the glass and wiggled my fingers in a slight wave. Her head turned as she watched me move away. Her right hand-made a hint of a motion. That was her wave to me saying “good-bye, mister, we’ll never ever meet or see each other again.”
We passed by schools with soccer fields that were as flat as a landing tarmac at JFK airport. They were faded green and plastic lawns of fake grass.
I saw the old and very tall Parachute Jump ride in the distance. We were almost at the last stop. Coney Island/Surf Avenue.
A few minutes later, I was buying tickets for the Sideshow at the Coney Island Museum. This is probably one of the last of the old-time “Freak Shows” in the country. I went in and sat on a bleacher seat next to a young couple. It was showtime. More people came in and took seats. Then the acts began. I’ll skip over the Little Person who pounded a nail into his nose. I’ll not mention the Electric Chair act when a member of the audience gets “zapped” and is able to light up a fluorescent build (I know how it’s done). No, I’ll skip by the man in the wheel chair, born with legs the size of my forearms, who could play the slide electric guitar as good as most metal bands I’ve heard. I’ll get to the real action now.
I was called to the stage (along with another man) to assist Princess Pat. Her act? She would lay down on a bed of nails and the other guy and I would stand on her. She asked if I would check the nature of the nails. They were real. She stretched out. An assistant told us that on the count of three, he would help us lift up to stand on her. The other guy stood on her rib cage. I stood on her thighs. She did it. I took a bow. Sat down and had a sip of water. The show ended. I headed for the beach.
At Ruby’s Bar on the Boardwalk (since 1934) I had a hot dog and sat inside to plan this very blog. The juke played:
“Oh, What a Night” followed by “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR, followed by Sinatra, “When I was 17, it was a very good year…”
Funny. I thought my 17th year was pretty good too. I was in love and I was innocent of nasty adult things. “…in the autumn of my years…” I thought about that too.
I went down to the sand and unrolled my mat. I lay back and looked at the scattered clouds. Children shouted. I gripped the sand and tried to feel the weight of the millions of bodies that used that very same patch of sand for decades or centuries. I remember seeing a photograph taken in the 1940’s showing the entire beach covered with people. You couldn’t see the sand. Only people. Even now, I think about a million bodies on this stretch of surf. I astounds me.
Back on the Boardwalk I began making my way back through the old Luna Park.
Just as I reached the ramp that led down from the Walk, I heard a woman yell “Eddie!”
I stopped. She yelled “Eddie” again. I began to go back in time and wondered how many women over the decades had stood up there and yelled for her “Eddie”. If it was 70 years ago, Eddie would probably be a GI back safe from Germany or France and his girl or wife perhaps had lost sight of him in the crowd…and didn’t want to lose him again. If it was 50 years ago, Eddie was a Viet Nam vet.
I looked around for this Eddie. I didn’t see anyone respond. I couldn’t wait to see the Eddie of July 29, 2014.
I had the D Train to catch.
On the sand…