Coney Island, NY

When you cruise the Big Apple with a wild woman, you’d better know the proper places to frequent.

When I arrived in New York City on Friday to visit that girl, we promptly took the subway (terror threat be damned) to Coney Island, the quintessential spot for Wise Guys and Wild Women. Although it might seem odd to visit such a kitschy tourist spot on a drizzly Friday afternoon weeks after its Labor Day closure, the choice seemed somehow apt. I love New York City for its downtown rush of interesting people, but I also love it for its odd and off-cast places filled with quirks and corners. Off-season Coney Island on a gray afternoon is a perfect place for contemplation, your imagination sparked by the picture of how the place must look in summertime with people thronging its sand and boardwalk, or how it might have looked decades ago when folks now dead brought their friends, sweethearts, and children to enjoy an escape from the city.

Coney Island, NY

When in Coney Island, you do as the Coney Islanders do. Although the rest of the place was nearly abandoned, Nathan’s, home of the famous hot dog eating contest, was open. Given my penchant for famous hot dogs, it’s only natural that Nathan’s would be a bright spot on an otherwise overcast day. When I was growing up in Ohio, the term “Coney Island” was synonymous with chili dogs. Now that I’ve had the ultimate hot dog experience of eating a Coney Island at Coney Island, I can say with conviction that Nathan’s all-American dogs don’t hold a candle to Tony Packo’s Hungarian kind. Gustatory disappointments notwithstanding, Nathan’s open-air counter and free fries on Friday weren’t a bad way to get a taste of Coney Island’s quintessentially quirky flavor.

Even off-season, there are certain sights you must see when you wander Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk. The boardwalk itself is wide and well-weathered; it’s impossible to look at it without imagining it thronged with people, past and present:

Coney Island, NY

Along the boardwalk, you’ll see the usual assortment of sideshow diversions, emptied of both freaks and the tourists who shoot them:

Coney Island, NY

And for Inner Child in all of us, there are carnival rides, now motionless, for your summertime amusement.

Coney Island, NY

An empty October beach might seem like a lonely scene, but to my eye it’s the site of contemplation.

Coney Island, NY

I think I feel more at home with an almost empty Coney Island than I would with one choked with fun-seeking tourists, seeing how I don’t like carnival rides. Had I explored Coney Island on a busy summer day, my attention would have been pulled by the people; walking there instead on a drizzly October afternoon, I focused on the place itself with boardwalk and beach horizon stretched like a blank canvas before my imagining mind.

Coney Island, NY

Truth be told, I often feel the most alone when I’m unaccompanied in a large crowd: there’s something about the throng of anonymous faces that erases my own individuality, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Like a modern-day Thoreau or Muir, I feel unsettled in crowds; when I go to a fair or festival, I often go alone to watch others rather than joining the mixed and mingling crowds. I guess in that respect I’m a bit freakish myself, not minding being alone much less lonely. Most folks, I think, go to crowded spots to forget their intrinsic aloneness, but this is exactly the sensation I seek. Wandering as an unmarried and childless woman in a sea of couples and families, I’m reminded of the existential truth of it all: we’re all alone, but some of us distract and distance ourselves from that fact.

On Friday, though, I wasn’t alone, having another Wild Woman to accompany me. Although Wise Guys are feared for their big guns, I think Wild Women (or worse yet, Wise ones) are the real danger. Sometimes when I wander a fair or festival as an unaccompanied woman, I feel not merely freakish but downright dangerous, the future of civilization itself relying upon society’s ability to tame women, converting them into placid wives and mothers. As a willfully childless woman, I both consciously and conspicuously Don’t Fit into that system, and I sometimes feel that in the silent stares of husband- and kid-accompanied women who consider me with quiet eyes when they see me walking unattached at family-filled events. A woman walking alone isn’t merely threatened by the nefarious intent of those who would injure her; she herself is a threat to the larger social fabric, a Wild Woman who refuses to be tamed and contained by the very conventions that keep civilization afloat.

Coney Island, NY

At the end of the day, though, even a Wild & Wise Woman can’t live on philosophizing alone. One of the benefits (or downfalls) of sightseeing with a companion is the fact that they too might be Armed and Dangerous with an all-seeing digicam. Now that she’s posted her own photos of our Coney Island excursion, that girl might have to go into Witness Protection. She might not have been able to Shoot the Freak, but she did shoot this freak, and that’s probably about as Wild and Wise as it gets.

    On the flood front, my cellar is now drained and nearly dry, thanks to yesterday’s all-day efforts of my landlord and his parents. Already this morning, the furnace repairman arrived like a knight in a red van, repairing and re-lighting the oil furnace that provides me with both heat and hot water: this means a hot shower is in sight for yours truly, my first since New York. My street is now quiet after yesterday’s circus of sump pumps, electrical and sewer crews, construction contractors, and industrial pump-pulling National Guard humvees. Things are starting to get back to normal downstream from Beaver Brook, but…the forecast calls for nearly constant rain between now and the weekend, with estimated accumulations of 2 to 6 inches: enough to bring back the deluge if it falls fast and furious. So here in Mudville we’re hoping and praying for gray skies that weep short and slowly while we continue to spend these next few days getting back to what passes for normal.