Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Was Here

I was prompted to write last night by the circumstance of hearing a woman scream angrily somewhere outside my kitchen window in rude and not completely comprehensible but English. Which was a strange sound to be coming from my neighborhood which is predominantly Russian. It's true, it's still summer when it's truly crowded here and tempers fray; no bars or "taverns" on the street but several nightclubs, lots of liquor, lots of louts of either sex and every nation. Drug addicts, menacing, Hummers, beggars, caviar kiosks, shop windows festooned with garlands of sausage and dried fish bouquets, panes of sunlight scattered by the elevated line, sand, sea, two Chase banks facing one another at an intersection, a Starbucks filled with teens--this completes the current picture.

I wanted to write about how Brighton Beach to Coney Island celebrated September 11th this year, a Saturday night by the sea--the answer is by dancing--under a hazy black sky; to the north, above the blocks of co-ops, the bandshell park, the New York Aquarium, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, were more or less distinctly visible the twin searchlight beams from Ground Zero. In front of the Russian restaurant at the end of my street, Jews who'd grown up in the Soviet Union were dancing in the middle of the boardwalk to schmaltz played on a tape machine by a guy providing live vocals (in Russian) and trumpet solos of some panache--and these sexy people in their sixties were showing off their ballroom moves, some polished, all executed with joy; one congestion-faced dancer let loose a big laughing shout from the belly on him.

I'd have liked to linger in the crowd encircling the Gulag Survivor Dancers but my sister craved a hot dog--that Indian mustard greens recipe, I should warn, even when served with pink rice from Madagascar, may not be found sufficient as a main course, even (especially?) by family members--so we were headed to Nathan's; posthaste. Just beyond the last illuminations of the Russian boardwalk restaurants, two banks of sound speakers and a DJ were blasting dance beats from beneath the concrete eaves of the resting bum shelter at a crowd that many newscasters today would describe as "sporadic," four or five couples gyrating and swaying and a little interracially grinding, in almost complete darkness, before a scattering of interested loners. Above them, looking city-ward, the two columns of light seemed at different points to have burst and leaked their substance into cloaking cloud sprays yet continued their ascent to the roof of the sky; all in silver. (It's lovely--once a year!) Maybe it was a bit seamy. We didn't linger at all here, so I can't tell.

On toward Coney Island we continued past the Russian weekend guy who sits shirtless on a particular bench facing the ocean with a portable speaker that blares execrable Russian pop music, possibly vintage, not necessarily, though, which he accompanies on his electric bass guitar. No one was dancing to his tunes. Did he resent this? I thought so. What, after all, was he doing so different from Mister Solo Trumpet up by Tatiana Grill? Uncourted, unfeted, unhired: he seemed morose. I didn't blame him.

Soon, extremely soon, if not already, we were within earshot of the greatest, the loudest, the writhing-est in the most darkness-est boardwalk dance circle on earth; just up the block and drowning the screams (no mean feat) from the Cyclone, it's The Coney Island Dancers, shattering the lower windows of the stratosphere from a gazebo flanked by a steriod-induced sound system for one full summer now. The packed crowd is in every way enormous. Hand drummers, settled in deck chairs, pound along to the amplified beat of dance classics, thankfully, and not the trance-y European sounding dreck the DJs were spinning in June and July--when I even asked some cops who were there in their little two-man Boardwalk scooter, "Isn't this breaking any laws?" They have a permit, I'm told. Who knows, maybe it was out of respect for September 11th that they turned it down a notch and played some oldies for the dancers at the hidden liquid center of the crowd and the crowd itself which sang along: "Oooh Oooh Oooh--Dance! Boogie Wonderlaa--and!" Dance, dance: from which--as from every dancing step we'd witnessed--it seemed natural to draw conclusions about New Yorkers, New York, Brooklyn...

I'm sorry--should I continue? I drifted off into how stale and tiresome actually drawing those conclusions sounded. I like Victor Hugo's addendum letter to that Italian publisher, where he's been told that Italians think Les Misérables is "about France" and he's writing to correct this once and for the globe.

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