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Monday, April 24, 2006

Melina: the minor adventures (Fire Island)

Last week, when it hit 80 degrees and the sun was shining, I took the day off work to go to the beach. I picked Fire Island because it looked cool, and was far away from New York, yet it seemed you could get there on public transportation.

I went to Penn Station and stood in line with all the drones watching the electronic board obsessively, so that we would know the exact soonest second possible when the train would come.

While on the train, I finished my book too quickly and was forced to pass the time experimenting with face art.

Once you get to the correct railroad stop, it's a 20 minute walk to the ferry terminal. The ferry terminal, this early in the season, was filled with people trying to refurnish their second homes for the summer. Each family carried the things they considered the most indispensible for the beach season: the practical folks were toting giant packs of toilet paper; the ambitious were bringing garden plants and gallons of latex paint; and of course, many were just bringing enormous cases of beer.

You get on the ferry with all these people and ride over to the island. There are no roads between the "communities" of fire island, only footpaths; so you have to know which of the several ferry stops to take, and then you're pretty much stuck there. I got off at Ocean Beach, which was recommended to me by the ferryman because "They have public bathrooms there." I would only later learn what a significant statement this was.

The ride was beautiful.

About Ocean Beach itself, I have a mixed recommendation. The beach was stunning: pristine, empty. Couldn't be improved on. It inspired me to new heights of face art.

The town itself, though, sort of gave me the creeps. It reminded me of the prefab ye-olde-townes that proliferated in the New South suburbs where I grew up. You know, where all the artful wooden restaurants date to the exact same era (1997), and ye-olde-streetes are made wide enough for four lanes of SUVs, which gives you a sort of agoraphobic, windswept feeling when you cross the street from ye-olde-corner-store to ye-old-ice-cream-shoppe.

I'm actually fairly tolerant of this stuff in practice. No matter what kind of pre-fab siding they're wearing, ice cream shops are an unequivocal public good. But what made it so weird on Fire Island was that the town WASN'T SET UP YET for the season. It was ye-olde-in-progress. Day laborers were hard at work erecting the faux-antique facades and hammering together 2x4"s for ye-quainte-pier. There were about 30 people in the whole town: 2 leathery old ladies running the general store, 4 high school girls pretending to be comfortable in their teeny bikinis (ah, the bad old days...), and the rest in construction.

There wasn't even anywhere to pee, as the public bathrooms were not yet open for the season. (And yes, I considered the ocean, but it was too cold to even go in up to my ankles!) Lucky, some old guy took pity on me and showed me to a fully functioning bathroom inside a half-built building behind a protective security fence.

The other disturbing thing about the town was that there were are all these rich-white-totalitarian laws in effect - there are actually laws against eating outside in certain areas of the town. The signs say so. What the hell kind of a beach town *is* this? Whose idea of paradise excludes the eating of an ice cream cone on the street? I later read that it was only last year that they decided homeowners could barbecue in their own back yards.

I killed a solid few hours on the beach, in perfect blissful aloneness and peace. However, I did leave sooner than I thought I would - I was disturbed by the fact that I had no high school posse, nor a beach home to retreat into, nor a construction job. Thus I felt like a vagrant, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong, that ye-olde-Ocean-Beach policeman might be about to drive up and arrest me for something. Maybe taking pictures illicitly, or having untied shoes.

Anyway, ocean paradise is well and good, and I never thought I'd say this, but next time I'm going to a beach with more young vagrants, cigarette butts, and disorderly conduct. Oh yeah, and public bathrooms.


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At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Melina. You can find just such a vagrant beach right on Fire Island -- Cherry Grove. Take the ferry from Sayville, Long Island, and enjoy the vagrancy of it all.

-Anonymous Beach Vagrant

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Melina. You can find just such a vagrant beach right on Fire Island -- Cherry Grove. Take the ferry from Sayville, Long Island, and enjoy the vagrancy of it all.

-Anonymous Beach Vagrant


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