Independence Day in Coney Island
On the F to Coney Island. Next to me, Tony Soprano look-a-like in bright yellow reading the bible answers life’s big questions. A woman wearing a bedazzled blue hijab that flickers in the light. A latino family is decked out in red white blue beachwear. A black man carries a bag of Chinese food. Tony Soprano gets off at Church Ave. and throws the pamphlet away.
July 4th in Coney Island you can pretty much start a conversation with anyone — just ask about Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest. Joey Chestnut inhaled 72 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes this year: his 10th Mustard Belt. Carmen Cincotti came in second with 62. For a hot second I assume Carmen is a woman but I’m always looking for equality.
I make my way to the beach and step in some Nathan’s melted cheese, occupational hazard of observing the world through a smartphone. I resign to put my phone away and pull out my pen and notebook.
The sun’s out and the public beach is crowded. I criss cross through numerous beach umbrellas to wash the cheese off my feet among a sea of people. Clean feet, I make my way to the back of the beach between the ocean and the Wonder Wheel. What I get for arriving at 2:30 pm.
Bachata serenades and couples sparring in Spenglish. Asian men and women carrying big plastic bags collecting empty cans and bottles. A young woman smiles at me as she drags her stroller through the sand while carrying her old enough to walk toddler and baby / beach bag.
I sit behind a few young women in blonde cornrows sporting Ray Bans and periodically pulling Coors Light out of their Longchamp bags.
We all sway simultaneously when Despacito blares from neighboring speakers. Fonsi put a welcome spell on 2017.
The women are looking to save their beach spot while they go buy lunch and ask the owners of the Despacito speakers to please keep an eye out. Two latino men tell them in jest to take their wallets, smartphones and jewelry because you never know… (All they left was a white blanket and a plastic bag filled with empty beer cans.)
A black woman walks by selling colorful inexpensive beach umbrellas with blue skies, warm sunsets and palm trees on. She seems to have a loyal clientele as these are the exact umbrellas dotting the beach. I wonder if they break like the black umbrellas sold at every street corner in Manhattan.
My eye keeps catching curvy black and brown women sporting their natural curls wet — fresh out of the water — in their colorful bikinis set against the bright blue sky. I admire their boldness and texture. I’m also thankful that I’m a discrete writer and not a photographer observing the world through a literal lens.
A young man wearing a Class of 2015 t-shirt white tassles peaking out and head covered in kipah french kisses his girlfriend in a bathing suit and bike shorts — their bodies 2 feet apart next to a yellow stuffed minion won at the Carnival. After, they fold a grey fitted sheet for a bed they’re not sharing.
All of a sudden an unsolicited admirer plops down next to my round mandala blanket and tells me that he, too, journals. I pick up an accent and ask him where he’s from. If I tell you where I’m from you’re going to judge me… he says with chapped lips visibly trembling. He finally tells me he’s from Trinidad and I tell him I’m from Curaçao. No judgment from me, maybe we will have an interesting conversation. He knows Curaçao is Dutch but recently independent. I tell him no, not independent… it’s complicated and confusing. I ask him what he’s reading he shows me a Businessweek on Mindfulness. If I were more mindful maybe I wouldn’t have botched my opening with you. Then he starts practicing his Spanish Eres muy hermosa his toes inching closer, now touching my mandala. He wonders if I’ve written about him. The question and his still trembling body make me uncomfortable. I feel my heartrate pick up as my mind races to worst case scenarios. I put on my dress so as to reclaim my space. He sits staring at me in silence while I stare ahead at the beach. I finally tell him I’m just looking to chill by myself but that it was nice to meet him. He asks me the time. I purposefully don’t look away for my phone in my bag and guess 5. He leaves me alone.
I get up moments later — but not too soon to allow distance — as if this unsolicited caller was my cue to leave. I dust off my mandala and out of nowhere lock eyes with a caramel-colored curly haired Adonis approaching me. I keep dusting and folding. No big deal. He walks by. Moments later I turn around to double take. He does the same. I kid you not this doesn’t just happen in movies.
I walk the Coney Island boardwalk past $1 churros and a man or woman with a Live Free, Die Pretty tattoo on his/her back. Women too young and too skinny to be pregnant. A young man pushing his toddler in a shopping cart with speakers turned up. Tourists shelling out $15 for virgin daiquiries only for the instagrammable palm tree or pineapple cup.
It’s true; Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog tastes best on the 4th of July. But I get cornered by PETA signs with a sexy blonde star-spangled Uncle Sam(antha?) pointing her index finger at me We Want You.. to switch to veggie dogs! Give liberty and justice to animals, too, this 4th of July. Go vegan. The line is long. I decide to take the N back to Manhattan and get a square pepperoni pizza at Prince Street Pizza in Nolita. (I pee and wash my hands across the street in Oficina Latina where there’s no line to the bathroom and churros go for $11.)
Next to me on the N, a young latino with SEXSI in Pepsi’s red and blue logo on his cap hums the star-spangled banner. His mother sits across, next to her another son, her youngest daughter’s body draped across them covered by a yellow towel as she smiles from ear to ear as if she has had the best day of her life. Mother puts another towel under her cheek for extra comfort and holds her son’s neck in the palm of her hand as he dozes off. A Mariachi band enters the train serenading us Besame Besame Mucho. Sexsi strums his air guitar and blows his mother a kiss.
A black boy wearing the star-spangled banner on his chest fidget spins his way to me while his mother checks Facebook on her iphone.
We pass the Statue of Liberty and One World Trade erect and proud as ever.