I am going to miss the Mermaid Parade tomorrow. In fact I’ll pass on every single parade this summer. The beach? Maybe I’ll do a few gigs out in Coney Island and smell the water, hear the surf as I arrive after dark. The midway is more my style…the sound of wooden balls knocking, air-rifles exploding, cheap carousel music, badly stuffed souvenirs of something that used to resonate of seediness. 42nd Street is a mall; Coney Island will soon be Trump Walk or something like Atlantic City. Small-time criminals will have to go back to muggings or move on. The nostalgia of boardwalk fear. Now we all know evil comes from the skies or the water supply, our bankers and politicians. We have to watch 70’s dvd re-releases to remember the innocence of neighborhood organized crime. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. He is busy texting Satan while bare-breasted girls are barely getting a look. Compared to his laptop this is nothing.
A few sad Christmasses ago, I dumped my boyfriend. Yeah, I could have waited. But if you do it on a holiday, it’s 50% more miserable. It was 10 degrees and I had to find Absolute Despair by New Year’s.
So a friend loaned me her house in a place called Point Lookout. Not the Hamptons, but not Asbury Park either …somewhere sort of middle class. Deserted. I made it out there on the last train to Long Beach, waited until dawn for a bus, arrived at an old wooden Victorian house—the only 3-story structure in town-- wearing my son’s discarded Gap flannels, an old football hoodie someone left in our laundry bag… with my guitar, ready to write my bleak anti-Yule anthem.
Unfortunately it was so cold in the house my fingers were useless. I piled up all the blankets I could, made a bed in the kitchen, turned on the stove and propped myself against the refrigerator. I could hear the surf not pounding but moving, always moving. So desperate I felt, I couldn’t bear to look out. I alternated between vodka and hot instant coffee. Nothing came. Day 2…no sleep except a few brief nods before the stab of emptiness jolted and the Sears compressor turning on and off. I was starving. I wrapped myself in blankets, still in the stale hoodie and flannels, scuffed up to the main drag in unmatched fleece mules. Never have I seen a more deserted town in daylight. Boxing Day. One lone delicatessen, open 11-3. I made it in time for a coffee and a tuna sandwich to go. The old unshaven manager asking me wordlessly what the fuck I was doing there. I looked like a homeless woman. I felt like one. So I’m chowing down on the sandwich, black coffee 3 sugars, letting the cheap mayonnaise drip down my face, my hair ratted and uncombed…and in walks a guy called Killer Joe. Used to do security for rockstars…a guy with biceps like small sedans and the required Long Island ponytail with the receding hairline. Shit, I think. But I’m invisible. I keep on stuffing my face, getting into the dysfunctional beach hobo head, and he actually spins my soda-fountain stool around… sticks his huge well-cologned wind-burned face in mine, and says…’Heyyyyy….aren’t you…?’
‘No’, I snapped, like an overstretched rubber band…’She’s about 10 years younger. And she’s happy’.
He bought a pack of Marlboros and a black coffee/3 sugars and split.
I’ve seen him a few times since…at gigs, doing security—whatever…and he gives me the roofed left eyebrow thing.
Anyway, I went back to my shed. 'Into the Wild' wasn’t released then, or I would have had an image to commune with. For 3 days I contemplated my cold grave at the shore. I even found a jigsaw puzzle and started it on an old bridge table, but somehow I knew in this well-used summer place, there’d be as many pieces missing as days in the skewed sequence of my life. Needed the cliche, there. I thought about memorizing each one. I thought about the tides. I listened. To the water, the wind, the occasional car, the cold gulls, the dial tone. I explored suicide. Day 4 I looked. I went up on the roofdeck and looked out…looked toward Coney Island, toward downtown Manhattan where the towers once were. Things are never as cool as when they’re gone. I tried not to turn my failed romance into a 9/11 tower. I refused to dramatize. I was unable to write.
When I couldn’t stand my own smell I waited for the bus back. I’d lost track of days but felt the New Year closing in. People avoided my seat on the train. It was cool. I was an outcast. At Penn Station the city rushed in on me like the sea hadn’t. I stood for what seemed like hours in my own shower. I erased messages, accepted a last-minute gig for New Year’s. Heard my voice like a stranger.
When I think about the beach now, I remember Point Lookout. I remember I am terrified of water, especially at night. I feel like I could suffocate with loneliness. Drown. My chest tightens up and my nose twitches.
Tonight my neighbors are packing their SUVs with surfboards and sandtoys. I am dressed in black on the warm sidewalk safely at sundown, having a coffee. Not waving. I can see Killer Joe at the Mermaid Parade, smoke curling out of the side of his thin lip, a girl with Pamela Anderson boobs hanging on his sweaty tattooed arm. The soundtrack is John Lee Hooker. The Veejay Hooker. Smells of women and fried fish. I miss him with my Point Lookout Heart. It’s as close to the beach as I dare. Someone else will write the song, realize in some cheap world, mermaid rhymes with parade.