Writing As A Religion (Diversity, Celebrities & Falling In Love)

Out Of Africa
February 21, 2023
The Lost Year…or was it?
September 4, 2023
Show all

Writing As A Religion (Diversity, Celebrities & Falling In Love)

If Writing were a Religion, I would have paid a visit to my priest Confessor and acknowledged my guilt, “Bless me Father, it has been one month since my last blog.”

“One month?” queried the good cleric.

“Well to be honest…”

“Yes, my son…please be honest. That’s what confession is about.”

“OK Father…you’re on to me. It’s been at least two months, if not more, since I composed a story, a blog or just about anything.”

On the back foot and out of desperation I followed up with a question, “Father Carlos, does a Facebook post count as writing?”

“I’m afraid not my son. For your penance, I would like you to write a blog, any will do, and it must be done within a day or so. And lay off a bit on the Marketing…it seems to have consumed your very soul.”

So here I am trying to get back in the groove, attempting to put pen to paper….er… fingertip to keyboard and restore literary balance in my life.

Jacob Riis Park

Inspiration to write anew caught up with me the other day causing me to compose this short story–one where I would return to my early teens in a place called Jacob Riis Park, a seaside beach on the Rockaway Peninsula in the NYC borough of Queens.

In the early morning hour, my wife and I were walking through a deserted mall parking lot where a pair of seagulls oversaw the comings and goings of local birds and early risers. Our destination was a nearby, popular bagel shop. However, the peacefulness, the way the early morning sun fell upon the tarmac, the seagulls, swept me back in time…to 1970.

I was fourteen years old and gainfully employed for the first time in my life. It was a routine I embraced–walking half a mile to the Flatbush Avenue bus stop, riding the near empty Green Line bus past my father’s police precinct, over the Marine Parkway Bridge, and stepping off the bus into the enormous beach parking lot. I briskly walked to the weather-beaten one-story building called “The Fort” where I would punch the clock and change into my white uniform and barbershop quartet hat. The pay from my employer, Childs Restaurants, was a paltry $1.60 per hour but the chance to flirt with the older high school girls manning the window made the experience bearable. Then I was once again on the move making my way along the wooden boardwalk past the four faced “Wise Clock” to my duty station. Devoid of beach goers, this stretch of early morning golden sands was the most peaceful place I’d ever seen. It was as if I had the whole beach to myself!

NY Celebrities

That summer was unforgettable–Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a New York City native and rookie playing for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team arrived to the beach like ‘Black Moses’ leading his chosen people to the promised land–the less than regulation length basketball courts skirting the iconic Art Deco Bathhouse. Alcindor could be seen hanging on the rims and swatting away feeble shots from mere mortals to the delight of the crowd. I got to watch the seven-foot giant in several pickup games before my boss found me. Curiously, he stayed to watch while ordering me back to work.

In mid-August of that election year it was New York State’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s turn to visit the beach where he was seen playing an African drum (without any rhythm), going for a swim in the surf and building sand castles with children before hustling back with his aides on a private helicopter.

An Education on Diversity

That summer I grew up in a hurry. Temporarily assigned to one of our concession stands serving Bay 1 and Bay 2’s “LGBTQ” community (years before it would acquire that designation), it became my first encounter with ‘gay’ people. My co-worker, also gay, explained the variations within that community which I filed away for future reference. Weeks later found me seconded a few Bays over to the Main Building’s “Clam Bar” where I was taught how to make pizza and serve the black community. Bays 4, 5, and 6 drew black people from all over the NYC Metropolitan area–from Bed Stuy, East New York, Harlem and the Bronx. This was my first experience with another ethnic group, and it was both eye-opening and enjoyable. At times, and maybe because alcohol was served, it felt that as if I was part of one big party. I can still hear Freda Payne’s 1970 Motown hit song Band of Gold and Edwin Starr’s rocking counter-cultural hit War blaring from the portable radios–precursors to the “boom box.”

Yes, it was quite a summer. I could devour all the hamburgers and hot dogs, drink all the milkshakes I wanted…which I painfully learned was not such a good thing. There was a price to be paid for ‘on the job’ gluttony. Of course, our stern bosses, Mr. Puleo and Mr. Kent, would strike fear in our hearts riding around in their golf carts hoping to catch us ‘goofing off.’

Teeny Weeny Pink Bikini

There is a girl who remains forever young in my memory. It was another gorgeous beach day as this ‘angel’ came out of nowhere (they always do) to order some fast food. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen–tan with a smile that made me weak in the knees. Not to mention she was packaged just perfectly in her pink bikini. Smitten, falling head over heels for this upstate girl visiting relatives in the city, I never stood a chance. To a 14-year-old boy, upstate New York may well have been another country or planet. Giddily, we talked at length, traded addresses yet when I arrived home, I knew I would never see her again. Who said life is fair?

Unconditional Love

Allow me to share these final thoughts about that summer. Returning to my first day of work , the city bus was headed down Flatbush Avenue toward my new adventure when, who should I see standing at the flagpole outside his workplace, but my father. I can still see him these many years later, a simple wave to a moving bus–a gesture of familial support I have never forgotten. In dreams, I see this man waving, getting smaller and smaller as the bus puts distance between us.

I cede the last word to my mother. It had been the most grueling experience of that summer–I had just worked overtime for three straight days, twelve hours a day into the evening hours to accommodate the sudden surge of beachgoers. Each night my parents would come to the beach and take me home. The final night, they closed the Marine Parkway Bridge which prompted us to detour through the Rockaways–we must have arrived home at midnight. I was at a breaking point, exhausted beyond my limits and, as I sat listless at the top of the basement stairs, I began to cry. My mother sat next to me and putting her arm around my shoulder whispered, “I’m proud of you.” Although my parents are gone now, their gestures and words remain in my heart…have been passed down to my own children.

Leave a Reply