01 September 2008

Summer Ends With Coney Island?

Labor Day. Classes have already begun, so what does this day mark?

Well, according to our grandmothers' arbiters of fashion, we're not supposed to wear white again for another nine months--until Memorial Day. Then again, I don't wear white very often anyway. I must admit, though, that being the mischievous soul I am, I just might wear white if I get married so that the people who know me best will get a good laugh.

But now I'll be serious. (Seriously, now, you've never known me to do that? Right?) Tomorrow I return to classes, so there'll be no denying that I--and my students--are in school. That, of course, means "fall": no more summer. However, it's hard to think of this as the "fall semester" when the weather is, and will be, bright and sunny and tomorrow's temperatures will be like today's: near 90F.

However, going back to school always accentuates--at least for me--the reality of one phase of life ending and another beginning. And I feel it more acutely than in years past. As I've mentioned in previous posts, this is my last Labor Day, the end of my last summer, before my surgery. Also, today I took a ritual bike ride to Coney Island. I may not be able to do that next year. The doctor said that two weeks after the surgery, I could go back to work but could not engage in any heavy physical activity. So I may not be ready to pedal again by next Labor Day.

Now, you might accuse me of transposing my mental and emotional state on the world when I say what I'm about to say. But here it is: I also realized that Coney Island, at least as I know it, is also ending. However, it has nothing to do with my impending surgery. Rather, it has to do with changes that are happening, and are about to happen, to the place.

I've been reading and hearing that Astroland will close and the rides will be torn down. Someone who wants to build seaside condos or some such thing bought the park a couple of years ago, and is letting the owners of the rides stay until their lease expires, which will be this fall. Or something like that.

Of course, that means that Coney Island will look very different from the rather funky old amusement park and boardwalk I have always known. I guess this change was inevitable: If someone saw fit to build condos and co-ops in Far Rockaway, then any of this city's waterfront is fair game. That inevitability, however, does nothing to lessen my sadness over it.

More to the point, I sensed something in the air, if you will. For the first time I can remember, I saw throngs of young people of the kind you expect to find in the stores and clubs along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. The surliness they encountance is really just a pale imitation of misanthropy. I guess young people--I include myself, not so long ago--have always thought that saying "F*** You!" to the world, or seeming to, is somehow hip. But if you're really going to say "to hell with the human race," you had damned well better earn that right. I say this as one who never did--and now never wants to!

Of course, any realtor worth his or her license knows that when you see such young people--and the packs of German dudes with backpacks--that so-called gentrification is near. And, well, what can I say about gentrification? I love to see the sun rising and setting on the sea, and there are lots of people who can pay lots more money than I can for the privilege.

Then again, would I miss hearing bodies even more overweight than mine screaming curses at their kids because they had too many of them? Hmm....If I have to choose between them and the trust fund kids or German dudes...

All right. You probably think I'm being snotty and judgmental. You're probably right. But if you've been going to Coney Island for as long as I've been (more than 40 years), you'd see what I mean.

And you'd also notice this: You go to the candy/soda shoppes where they sell salt-water taffy, candied apples and such and ask for a cherry lime rickey.


If you grew up in Brooklyn, you know what I'm talking about. It's made with seltzer, cherry syrup and either a lime slice or a shot of lime flavoring. It's the perfect balance: fizz, sweetness and a little bit of tang. Hardly anyone makes them anymore. If you can't get one on Coney Island....

Might I have had my last cherry lime rickey--unless, of course, I start making them for myself? That wouldn't be difficult to do. But there's still nothing like getting one from an old-time Brooklyn soda fountain--especially one in Coney Island.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find one soon, and after my surgery. I wonder if I'll have cravings then, and if this sublime libation will be one of them.

Will it be one of the things I'll find in my first summer of my new life? I hope so.

Anyway, until then....

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