Friday, December 12, 2008
New York City Riviera
On a hot summer mid-afternoon, I walk down the boardwalk towards Beach 116. I'm wearing a new green bikini I bought at a local store out in Rockaway Park. Everything is on sale and I can't resist buying something there every time I get off the train from Manhattan. The bathing suit looks like something Jane Fonda might have worn in Barbarella. I have a Rollei Twin Lens Reflex (2.8 Zeiss) with a flash bracket strapped around my neck and about 10 lbs of camera equipment and 120 film in my backpack, braced to my waist. I feel more like a Marine than I will ever feel.
Nothing in sight to shoot, I bet my wages on 115th St. The stakes are high, I will surely find madness in-between the SRO's, boarding houses and empty lots lining the block.
A reddish-brown mastiff tied by a long rope is snoozing in the shade next to a beaten-up trailer, standing idle in a gravel lot. Several electrical cords connect the trailer to the SRO a few yards away. The windows are dusted over in layers of filth. "Honey" is printed on the side. Three beach lounge chairs sit empty in front. No, wheels; just perched on the ground like a bird who flew down to Florida for the winter and never returned home from the summer retreat.
"Hello, Hello," I holler. "Is anyone home?"
The dog wakes, charging me like a clumsy bull from a holding pen. I quickly shuffle backwards on my heels, cradling the dear Rollei in my hands before the imminent fall on my ass. With a quick tug of the rope, the collar chokes him before he can reach me. We stare at one another in a mutually pathetic standoff.
"Yeah, who is it?" A man appears from the busted door of his trailer home. "Eh, don't worry about him," he says as he pets the dog. "He's a big baby. See? Come and pet him." I'm wary, but I do.
"Have a seat. Would you like some water?"
"Can I take a photo of you and your dog?" I asked. When I begin to photograph, he begins a litany of the misdoings of Bush, every so often, saying, "Geesh, they are real assholes around here. They'll believe anything they hear."
"See, I went to Vietnam...." And it continued like that while I stood back and photographed him. Between, pressing down on the shutter and changing film, I could hear every sentence qualified with a whining "geesh". He rolled his eyes back behind tinted eye glasses circa 1978.
This is the day I met Bob or as I like to call him Trailer Bob. We became natural friends right away.
It was the summer of 2008. I was on the NYC Riviera. I put down my camera more often than I would like to admit and lay on the sand with the "tourists". I fearlessly jumped over shallow waves in the Atlantic Ocean and sneaked shots from a shared bottle of Jameson that I had bought in a local liquor store. I had a flawless tan. I became 16 years old. I had traveled to a far-away beach resort.
I met "him" in the most unlikeliest of places. He wasn't a native. He was just passing through until he found another cheap residence that was closer to his job. He was olive skinned, his eyelashes long, his Brooklyn accent undeniable and delectable. He was young and beautiful, ravished and vicious. I had lost all reason. I fell into a euphoric daze. I told him I was his Potato Chip Girl.
By mid-September, I was sitting on a bench with Trailer Bob, the salty wind blowing through our hair. The beach was empty, the boardwalk still. The summer was over. I stood at the railing, looking towards the ocean and dialed his number.
Answering machine again.
"I'm here", I said. "Ya' know, the Rockaways is just not the same without you."
I closed my cell and turned to Bob. "I really did care about him."
"Geesh!", he said.