The sand blows sideways, silt-like, getting in my ears and lodging into my eyebrows. Surfers ride wind-battered waves in the cold Atlantic. Girls lie facedown, over-tanned and insecure, working on their wrinkles. Kids in crayon colors and gold chains. Boom boxes and Puerto Ricans. Rockaway beach on Memorial Day.
I give up on the beach early. I lie and say I’m going to take pictures along the wooden boardwalk, but I just want to find a windless piece of shade, of which there is none. I walk past apartment buildings that look like beachside projects. A boy yells behind me, “Hey, sexy. Have a nice day.” I do not turn or acknowledge. I scurry faster towards the CVS for a familiar name and the promise of air conditioning. Ridiculous white chick.
I meander the aisles, killing time, assimilating. Towards the back is a wall of products I have never heard of: Turtle Cream, Mother of Pearl, Placenta and Vitamin E Shampoo. There are at least three items advertising the benefits of cod liver oil, something I thought people stopped using back in the late nineteenth century.
While scanning the greeting card aisle, I note that African Americans are highly unrepresented. There are plenty of cartoons featuring white people making jokes about getting older, but none specifically marketed towards other ethnic communities. I suppose Hallmark assumes that bunnies and talking flowers represent all non-whites.
Forty-five minutes and I have chosen the perfect bag of trail mix. Whitney is heading back down Avenue 89 with Justin. We walk below the S Train overpass to his beach shack. Little girls play barefoot in the street under a fire hydrant waterfall, their shoes lying on the sidewalk. Music bumps from behind a bright green wall leading to a courtyard of sorts. The neighborhood has the potential to be Newport Beach, but it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
The beach shack is lined with stacks of surfboards. Its tiny bedrooms are filled with bunk beds. The kitchen is five-square-feet of pink walls and cabinetry. Astroturf covers the floors.
People filter in. Beers are cracked open. A giant slab of pork is thrown on the barbeque.
I’m sitting on a bench when I am offered a sloppy-looking blunt from a twitchy boy in a Grateful Dead shirt and a brown bandana over his forehead. I decline. “It’s just hash. But [taking a hit] … it gets me high.” He passes it to the older man next to me who’s been giving me the abridged version of his entire life for the last ten minutes.
The boy sits next to Whitney and immediately falls in love. Go figure. He’s still twitching and talking about how he’s been up for three days straight, tweaking on twenty hits of LSD. Currently he is coming down with the assistance of Xanax and Budweiser.
His name is Joe. Joe Farmer. Joe Farmer Shwag. He adds on nicknames as they come to him, never accompanied by an explanation. He looks like Corey Feldman playing the Karate Kid if the Karate Kid was part of the “Goonies.” He makes ridiculous expressions with the soft and malleable dough of his face. One day I suspect he will take on the appearance of Elmer Fudd.
Whitney asks if he knows Justin, the host. “Justin?” he repeats. He is confused. Whitney explains further who Justin is and Joe Farmer Shwag sort of plays along, but ultimately relays to me that he knows no one at this party and has just stumbled upon our group. “Seemed like you guys were having fun back here,” he explains in between gulps of beer.
When I tire of sunshine and grilled pineapple, I walk towards the subway on my own. The waiting area is populated with a strange mixture of hipsters talking about their new purses and Latin kids with faux hawks and pierced tongues. A girl makes out with a boy with boobs, which upon further assessment I establish that it is just a girl wearing a really convincing boy-outfit consisting of a backwards baseball hat, an XXL tee shirt in white, and a pair of gigantic jean shorts. She and her girlfriend have the same size feet, another subtle indication that the he is a she.
The train ride is loud and cramped and rambunctious. A Jersey girl with square fake nails types away on the phone resting on her “Las Vegas” knapsack. Girls the color and shape of uncooked gingerbread walk around the train like they own it; their rolls uncovered by shirts and their muffin-top torsos spilling over their jean shorts.
I sit, alone, watching. By the time I’ve reached my stop, the train has cleared of all signs of the beach. There are no girls in bikini tops, no boys yelling across the aisles. It only takes an hour to get back to my city that feels a life away from Rockaway.