June 18, 2003

(First order of biz: It appears that the great and awesome dave q's seemingly endless blogging hiatus is over, and to this I say FUCK YEAH.)

Moving on, then. Today I went back to the old neighborhood (right at the Coney Island/Brighton divide -- technically "West Brighton" if that's a real demarcation, but yeah, down by Lincoln High School, and that one shopping center on Neptune Ave where most of the stores are at least 25 years old and retain their original signage) to have a peek around. Haven't been there in a while; last summer I hit Coney for the Siren Festival, but I didn't get a chance to walk around, plus I had a sinus headache and I left early.

But this afternoon I went down there with a plan. Took the Q to Brighton Beach Ave. (the last stop), walked the eight-or-so blocks down to Ocean Parkway, turned right and hiked some more until I found my old building. I only had to hang chill for a couple of seconds before some people came up to the side entrance from the parking lot, and I followed them in -- no questions asked, not that I expected any (it's a huge building). The apartment complex seems to have changed a little (a LITTLE) since I moved out 12 years ago; the lawn looks particularly well-kept, and the lobby looks freshly painted (they've hung some pictures on the walls as well). Refurbished the elevators too. Other than that, mostly the same... went up to the 23rd floor (where I lived); same drab blue paint job with darker drab blue trim. Went up the stairwell to the roof landing, but didn't go outside (there was a small sign saying "if you open this door an alarm will sound" and although the sign's been there for decades and in my experience the warning's BULLSHIT cuz no alarm ever went off, I didn't want to risk getting caught trespassing, at least not for something as twee as "visiting my childhood home").

This building figures in my dreams a lot. I hardly ever dream about any of my subsequent dwellings; this one's made the biggest imprint/impact. In these dreams, I'm often being chased through the ground-floor corridors -- so today it was important for me to see these hallways again, to pass by the creepy dingy yellow laundry room, the meeting room where they'd set up voting booths during election season, the doorway leading out to the playground that separates the rear of our building from the next one in the complex, and another corridor, starting at the incinerator and making its way out to the edge of the parking lot on West Ave. I did the whole tour; when a groundskeeper spotted me peeking through exit-door windows and into service closets and asked if I was "lost," I figured I'd leave. Luckily I was right near the exit for the playground -- unluckily, it didn't exist anymore. The rows of benches, the lawn: still there. The jungle gym, the tire swing, the long metal slide, the basketball hoop, the sprinkler, the little coily springy animal rides: all gone, with only an empty slab of concrete left behind. I almost cried. I wonder what prompted the park's demise, whether someone maybe got killed there. Kind of a drastic move; you don't fuck with a kid's playspace.

OK, so through the concrete jungle and up Neptune, taking a right at I guess West 8th St, 'nother right at Surf Ave (by where the aquarium is, although the once-ornate aquarium footbridge is deteriorating and in disuse), past the junk stores and junky furniture shops, to the hub of Coney Islandness around Stillwell Ave. The area's experiencing a hipster renaissance; all the white kids come down on the weekends and see the sideshow and do the bumper cars 'n' shit. (Same kids wouldn't have been caught dead down there 15 years ago, but it's cool now that Time Out New York has given the art students permission to mingle with, like, poor black people.) But the neighborhood's still a slum. Half the buildings are abandoned and many of the businesses are barely hanging on at all. On the back fence behind one of Astroland's kiddie rides is a sign warning ne'er-do-wells of attack dogs. "What an interesting juxtaposition of images," I think as I peer past the sign at the pretty primary colors in the amusement park. Then I look down... there's a visibly malnourished guard dog sleeping behind the fence. Such an "interesting juxtaposition" that I'm gonna get the fuck outta there.

Did Nathan's (hot dog and fries... yeah I know you can get Nathan's ANYWHERE now, but you can only have it in Coney Island when you're IN Coney Island). Did the boardwalk (three games of skeeball for 75 cents... left the winning tickets behind for some lucky kid to find). Walked on the sand. Dug out my CD player and put on Steely Dan's "Blues Beach" (ah, when reclusive depressive beatniks discover summertime!) and drank lemonade on a bench while I tended to my aching feet. Nice day.

It's a shame they've demolished the gorgeous old facade at the Stillwell Ave. subway stop -- a shame because this peeling decaying mess was one of the most striking relics of New York transit history, and because the construction has caused a whole buncha trains to be rerouted, except for the W, which I'm still confused by (me and everyone else in NYC). Go figure though, I found the demolition very beautiful too, in that cool post-apocalyptic way.

Time to get The Warriors on DVD.