A year ago today we were pouring on the coffee, shimmying into longjohns and sweatshirts and thick socks and rubber boots in the cold dark of the Brooklyn morning and heading out out out deserted Flatbush over the supposedly closed Marine Park Bridge to Rockaway. To Sweetheart’s childhood home with his dear Mama to see what Hurricane Sandy hath wrought. The masks and gloves and headlamps and axes and contractor bags and endless silty funk that covered everything like a fine dust came later, but today was a day for taking stock, and, in a way, every day since has been too. By now, everyone knows what we found out there, the grand scale of the devastation, the losses, tangible and intangible, but a year out my mind settles on the little things… Sweetheart’s grandmother’s handwritten recipes tucked on a low shelf with the love letters and yearbooks discovered with a gasp and plucked from the sodden pile and laid out to dry. Baseball gloves in the middle of the street as if they were left there in play, dropped at dinner time. The rainbows in all of the oil-slicked water eddying down each street. Books buried in the morass. The little moments of humanity in the face of the storm giving way to the big moments. A year out, we remember.
Sandy is coming and New York City has effectively shut down. No transportation, No work, everyone preparing for wine-soaked candlelit mid-day dinners. Soooo, is this the best thing ever? Not sure… Sweetheart’s dad sent us this quick snap from Rockaway this morning (mandatory evacuation be damned), storm surge already coming up and over Beach 134th and Cronston. Oh My. Us? We’re ok.
This Saturday, after knocking about the flea for a hot second and trying our hands at brunch, we decided we needed to get out. The city felt like it had a lid on it, and we needed to break away. We headed out to Rockaway, the world opening up for us, turning from grey and stifling still to open and cool the farther we got down Flatbush avenue. It was sweatshirt weather, jeans rolled up, swimsuits stuck into our bags as afterthoughts, hopeful necessities included by our road trip habit (swim every day, just in case). We headed to Fort Tilden, drove by the abandoned barracks and strange decaying outbuildings, and crested the dune to find the beach deserted, the sun slinking sideways, the wind whipping the sand low along in that autumn way that is at once beautiful and a little lonely. After a summer of sun, the water was warm, much warmer than the air, and we decided to go for it. Slipped our sandy feet through our skinny jeans, shimmied into our suits piecemeal, shucked our work shirts and infinite necklaces and went for the double-figure-8-high-five-run-in (if you’ve never done this it’s the best way to get into a chill ocean: start back to back, run half of a figure 8 back to your starting point, meet in the middle and high five, run the other half of the figure 8, meet, high five, and then sprint into the ocean). It was perfect. The air cool, the water warm, the wind blowing rainbow spray back from the ocean crests, the wheeling gulls, the JFK 747’s coming in every 10 minutes.
Getting out, goosebumps and shivers, heartbeats and the golden sun. When we got back home, the sun had gone down, the temperature dropped to 40 degrees. Just like that, it was over. We had gotten the last possible swim of the season, the end of Indian Summer, the start of whiskey weather. But we still had the feeling of wind in our hair and salt on our skin. Perfection.
What is the Rockaway Beach Big Dig, you ask? Well, to put it simply, every summer the men who were once boys who once rode beach cruisers with no hands (a slice in one hand and an orange soda in the other, of course) walk the beach blocks from their homes carrying gloves and shovels to band together with might and brawn and… dig a big hole. It starts simply enough, a few shovelfuls, maybe enough depth to bury someone… but by mid-day, fueled by many shave ices and the salty, sandy toil of men, women, and children, the hole is higher than a man’s head, with steps and shelves and maybe a WBFP. It’s such a simple set of pleasures, old friends come from far distances, mothers prepare the same foods they prepared last year (and every year before that), and from the absence that is the hole, the presence of something pretty American takes shape. Something majestically futile, perhaps, or something joyous simply for the sake of joy. Of course, at the end of the day, we fill it back in.