Mar 242012

16 June 2011


Acts of love


Coney Island.

Iconic Coney Island.

We’ve all been there in our imaginations, via the books and movies and creative expressions of others.

nd it’s exactly like you’d expect. Only smaller. I stopped and asked a souvenir man for a map. He looked at me incredulous.

‘Wha’dya need a map foi?’

‘Everythun yoi need is he-ere.’

And he waved his hand in a general direction and I followed.

And indeed the-ere it was.

New York accents – the classic version – ride seasonal currents, jostling with the squeals and peels of laughter of summer ghosts, long past.

Here’s an observation from a stranger about New York City, from a visitor who knows not very much at all: the city is a time warp. Everything built in the 50s still looks like the 50s, and so on. It’s like I imagine Cuba to be, only with the exception that in New York the cars are new.

At the time of my visit to Coney Island, there were only 18 days, 28 minutes and 51.7 seconds to go until Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest. It’s how they celebrate July 4 on Coney Island. Sonya Thomas won it last year for the women with 41 hot dogs. Joey Chestnut won it for the blokes with 68 hotdogs.

Interestingly, only blokes get to make it to the Wall of Fame. Why am I not surprised?

It was hot on Coney Island. I thought it was to be another rainy day in NYC. But no, the sunshine was out in splendour and I was roasting in jeans.

And so I wandered along the boardwalk, humming a certain tune and sweating it off.

I am ashamed to admit that yesterday that certain song finally made sense to me . . . under the boardwalk, down by the sea . . . now I know what the boardwalk is 🙂


It’s very long, you walk on it and it has lots of boards.

On my way back I forewent a famous Nathan’s hotdog (since 1916) for a fresh grapefruit juice and a peeled mango on a stick. Sitting in the shade on a plastic chair beneath a plastic umbrella, I tuned into the conversation beside me. Three old blokes sitting at their own plastic table, a fourth in a pineapple shirt stopping to yak as he walked on by.

Clearly they all had a long long past at Coney Island. They were classic working New Yorkers. One of the men seated was wearing a leather vest with a patch, not unlike the Hell’s Angels insignia – only his said Coney Island Dancers, with a scary picture in the middle.

And so they talked about the past.

Said the man in the pineapple shirt: ‘You seen the new food joint opened up on 3rd?

‘It’s a joke (joik)!!!

‘Dey sell sushi – who comes to Coney Island to eat sushi?’

Much as I appreciated my fresh grapefruit juice, I thought he had a point.

Maybe things are moivin’ at Coney Island after all.

But there’s something precious about ghosts.

As I sat on the white plastic chair in the shade listening and chuckling along with the old boys beside me, there was a sudden crash and ensuing fracas and a whole new scene played out before me.

Crash! I turned just in time for the second crash! A small Mexican man with a twisted spine and a heavy black pack on his back kicked over the hotdog man’s tin signs. Crash. One down. Crash, two down. Crash, three down.

The hotdog man, lord of his patch, runs over wavin’ his arms  ‘hey! hey! watcha doin’!!!’

Kick, crash, over goes another tin sign.

The hot dog lord shoos him over and he starts on the rubbish bins, crash! Crash!

A muscly young man in a white t-shirt races over bringing the language of the ages with him ‘motherfucker get outa here’. He stands over him with his rippling chest.

The Mexican takes a breath. Then decides he’s up for the fight. He puts up his fists. It’s comical. He looks like the Wizard of Oz’s cowardly lion, ‘c’mon, put ya dukes up, put ‘em uuup put ‘em uuup’ as he shuffles on his feet.

It was like watching a lame duck threaten a mighty wolf.

The wolf leaves it alone. The Mexican starts roaring and kicking over more garbage bins.

It’s fascinating watching this scene play out. A woman in uniform comes with a broom and pan to pick up the rubbish. She’s not sure whether to start work or not. The Mexican leaves and returns, roars leaves and returns. He shuffles off down the boardwalk and sits beside people who are clearly uncomfortable with his roaring angry way.

And as I watch I realise that every human being who was part of this show was acting from love. Every single human being did what they could – some stepped forward, others stayed still – everyone wanted it to end well.

Even the humans who shuffled uncomfortably when he sat beside them acted with love – they did their best not to reject him, they did their best to protect themselves without causing further pain to him.

He is among the unloved and the unlovable. We did our collective best, to protect ourselves and cause him no harm.

About 10 minutes later the police cruise by, the ones charged with the unenviable job of protecting us all. It will not end well for the Mexican. But then I wonder if he is looking for someone to stop him. To pay attention. I wonder if his roar, interpreted, is not a human being crying out ‘LOVE ME’.

Please, love me. The humans on the boardwalk did their best, to love him and themselves.

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