This, of course, has its element of danger – I guess?
People think it’s crazy to do this, but I think fear is largely unwarranted. So much of Manhattan is so incredibly bland and touristy that the odds are more likely in favor of me just ending up bored somewhere else rather than landing myself into any real danger.
The most bothersome confrontations are usually with pushy hippie girls trying to get me to join Greenpeace.
My own psychogeographic attempts in Manhattan usually result in a great deal of exercise, and that’s about it.
These ventures usually just amount to a rather dull and sanitized dérive that would have driven a bored Debord to a much earlier suicide.
The ongoing, socio-economic cleansing of the island – freeing commerce from the tyranny of the lower- and middle-class occupants – seems to be going favorably.
There are ongoing explosions of high-priced boutiques, high-end hotels and restaurants, and ghastly crowds of very peculiar, artificial faces with noses that maintain a position at about a 50 to 70 degree angle, upwards. (Perhaps this is to fully register the great many smells of such dense, urban living?)
Chinatown reveals itself to be nearly impossible to wipe out with gentrification, likely due to its being an essential provider of raw goods, equipment for every type of business as well as cheap labor.
I like it a lot, smell and all. (Lie: the smell is often dreadful.) One can get an occasional glimpse at a different kind of New York, perhaps from another, more exciting era. It’s a good place to get lost.
One of my very favorite places in all of the New York City area, however, is the tried and true Coney Island. I have to fight the urge nearly ever single week to impulsively hop on the train and make the rather lengthy trek to the remote edge of Brooklyn to sit on its dirty beaches, eat some fried fish, drink an absurdly large Killian’s Red and just watch the people.
I simply cannot understand why millions don’t flock there every single goddamn day! I love it so.
Of course, the obvious reason people don’t frequent Coney Island so much is that it is somewhat out of the way, being at the southern-most tip of Brooklyn. This doesn’t bother me at all, since I think the train is an excellent value and a forty-five minute ride is about the same as a great many of my typical walks.
Nothing is THAT remote in New York, really ….
Perhaps it is a certain type of person who values these locations most?
Outsiders? Weirdos? Outsider weirdos?
I may have stumbled onto something revealing in this regard, and very recently….
I had been walking around and taking photos for an hour or so when I passed the gift shop on Surf Avenue. There was a small crowd of young girls cackling and jabbering about something they saw in the window.
They seemed a little weirded out by about everything they were seeing, and I found that quite amusing. They eventually went inside and, though I have and had been in the gift shop a great many times, I decided to follow them in to at least continue this entertainment I was enjoying from a creepy, voyeuristic distance.
Well, they ceased to be any fun at all. They were just too straight to value the place at all and couldn’t understand the point of a great many items of merchandise within the shop. So I parted ways with my naïve, nubile explorers and looked around some more by myself.
I didn’t really need to spend any money but confession time here: I have a love affection with the acquisition of coffee mugs, one that is only surpassed by my love for coffee itself. I saw a Coney Island Freak Show coffee mug and decided it was the perfect mug for work. Entirely appropriate.
I went to the counter to be rung out and – perhaps it was the two or three giant Killian’s I had poured down at Nathan’s – I began to visit with the girl at the register.
She had an accent I couldn’t pin down and an even more exotic personality that was even more foreign to my own sheltered and simple disposition. I asked her how long she had worked at the shop, and she said she had for about three months and enjoyed it very much.
I think I had a non-clever response like “Oh, that’s cool.”
Rather quickly she abruptly suggested that I “need to meet …” and led me to the bar area without any more explanation.
We approached a gentleman who was already engaged in conversation with another person.
Our gift shop girl interrupted to conduct a quick introduction as the two of us looked at each other with the same, curious eye that one might use to examine a blind date in prison. The girl from Ipanema then excused herself promptly, and we were left to defuse the rationality behind this forced convergence of obviously cynical personalities.
I don’t actually recall how much was said before the guy next to him, resuming the oddly interrupted conversation, asked “So what about back in Oklahoma?”
Which set off a serious of twitchy, internal alarms.
“You’re from Oklahoma?” I asked.
“I am. Tulsa.”
Okies, in particular, have a tribal sort of acknowledgment when they (we) meet one another out in the “real world” that projects a respect for each other’s leaving. Not every Okie hates Oklahoma (I don’t) but there is something inescapable in escaping the place.
The conversation continued, and this gentleman – who turned out to be in the hierarchy at the Coney Island Sideshow, bar, gift shop, and ice cream establishment – pointed to another guy, explaining that he, too was from Oklahoma.
Then he picked up a bottle of Coney Island Craft Lager and pointed at the label. It featured the Human Blockhead, a joyous example of humanity, driving a nail into his nasal cavity.
“He’s also from Oklahoma.”
Of course, this is where I would find my people.
“We have a saying around here that you don’t have to be from Oklahoma to work at Coney Island, but it doesn’t hurt.”
(Unless you drive nails into your face, I would think ….)
He asked if I was interested in a job, which was likely the reason the gift shop girl led me there after I asked about her job.
He warned that this is the time of the year when things begin to slow down and lay-offs occur. I was excited to be given the application even though I knew – and know – my financial status is already too risky to gamble on such a thing. But I can’t help but dream that crazy dream.
Everybody I met there was super, super nice and seemingly happy with their unique and truly special place within this nearly nether-worldly spot within New York history.
Another time, Coney Island. Another time. It’s a promise.
A closing anecdote on crazy Okies in New York City:
Sometime last year I was coerced into meeting my dear ladyfriend at a bar in Midtown, in a notoriously lame area to hang out in any capacity. She promised this place was different.
We arrived and — dear god — she was right! It was my kind of place, completely frozen in time. Drinks weren’t obscenely priced, and most of the people there looked to be my caliber of loser and degenerate, with the occasional suit mixed in. (I think I was wearing my usual suit-like attire, to tell the truth.)
I volunteered to order drinks while the little lady took a seat. As I stood at the bar, I rolled up my long sleeves and, nearly instantly, the guy next to me spotted my Gonzo tattoo that occupies most of my inside, left forearm.
“Awesome tattoo! You a Hunter Thompson fan?”
This can be a difficult subject for me to navigate. I do love Hunter, his legacy, and I do think he is a hugely exciting and important cultural personality.
However, I am not too taken by a large percentage of his writing. What I do like, I love – but there is plenty I don’t care for, likely due to my lack of interest in sports. Maybe?
So, I chose words in my usual, inept way, and said something to the effect of, “I am, but I also lived in Louisville for 14 years or so. It’s as much a Louisville thing to me as it is anything.”
“That’s cool. So are you into psychedelics?”
I had to sort of take a step back and examine this very, very straight looking guy, asking this question. I was a tad confused and, of course, surprised to be asked something so provocative in such a direct way.
Again, my inept brain fired off an awkward phrase as it does oh so well:
“Uhh … I’m not against them, I guess. It’s just been a while.”
He probed further: “Acid? Mescaline?”
I probably looked a tad lost, as I do so well. Before I could stutter another response to this pleasant enough stranger, he interrupted.
“That’s cool. My name is Tex and I sell. I just thought that you would be interested.”
Well, I thought that was nice enough. I thanked him for the courteous offer of mind-melting chemicals to help cope with the grim facets of reality.
“So do you miss home, Kentucky?”
“I miss parts of it and many people but it’s not really home. I grew up in Oklahoma, actually.”
His eyes lit up.
“No shit??? I’M from Oklahoma! Tulsa!”
One couldn’t blame me for being presumptuous, for I had guessed him to be from Texas for some mysterious reason.
He quickly explained ….
“When I first moved to New York, I still had a pretty thick Okie accent, but people didn’t know what it was or where it was from so they called me Tex. It just stuck.”
We went on to have a really great talk about Okies in New York, leading to talks about Woody Guthrie, Karen Dalton and a few others. He was a perfect gentleman and seemingly very happy to talk to someone from “back home,” if only somewhat.
I introduced Tex to my girlfriend. I omitted his rather illegal side-job in the introduction as it just seemed bad form.
We shook hands and said our farewells. And he reminded me to look for him should I require his services.
(I do wish I could disclose the name of this great bar but, alas, I wouldn’t want to endanger good buddy, Tex.)