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Posts tagged ‘Long Island’

Wheels Over Indian Trails

When my children remember being small, what images will come to their minds? Memory comes on like the pops of flashbulbs, one image, then another, until the light stays on to make a continuous picture. For me, Memory Number One is at age three, in my nursery room classroom, a dark room in the basement of a church. Cubbies and fingerpaints. The face on box of Munchkins. A set of stairs in the room that rose to a window, where we’d crawl out into the light, to the playground. Pop.

Next I’m in the car in the parking lot behind Miller’s Hardware in Lynbrook, New York, listening to “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tenille. Pop. “I will! I will!” Pop back to nursery school: the water table, plastic smocks, a Thanksgiving feast, a paper pilgrim bonnet, a turkey made out of an orange. Pop. There was a kid I dubbed “Ned the Head.” It was apt. He had a blond bowl cut. Where is he now? I think my mother knows but I won’t ask.

From when C was a baby we tried to take him on all sorts of adventures, thinking what he saw and did from birth would inform his character forever. He was eight months old when we took him to England, for a wedding, and we thought that though he’d never remember it, somehow the fact that he first saw the sea at the Jurassic Coast in Devon would always live within him. Maybe he’d grow up and crave ice cream cones with Flakes stuck in. Maybe he’d be a Hardy scholar. Maybe he’d buy his mother a retirement cottage in Lyme Regis. Nice thoughts.

C and his Dad at Beer, in Devon. Look over at the sea, C.

But subsequent, post-age-three trips to the beach in Long Island and Cape Cod have laid themselves over these first memories, and those trips pop into his head when now, at age 5, he thinks of the beach. Digging for something he calls “fish yolks” in the primordial ooze at the Brewster salt flats, throwing rocks into Gardiner’s Bay, or the surfside playground at Hither Hills. Pop.

The tide goes out in Brewster.

Now T is two, and we are on our own in the mornings before his nap, while C is at kindergarten. We trudge home after drop off. He plays trucks, blocks, looks at his books while I clean up breakfast, get started on the laundry. I think, I could take him to the farm/playground/Science Museum. But then, I think, ah, forget it, he won’t remember it anyway. The lot of the second child.

When we toured C’s kindergarten room before school started, it struck me how so many things hadn’t changed since I had been in kindergarten myself. I remembered the little colored plastic cubes they use to learn math. The calendar with numbered, changeable cards. Still the same. Pop. While C sat at a table and he and his new classmates stared shyly at each other, checking to see who would be the first to glue colored macaroni on a birthday crown, I chased T around the room while he took it upon himself to try out/destroy kindergarten. He grabbed at the calendar and I was brought back to that old room. Pop.

I heard the songs my teacher, Mrs Kurtzer, would bang out on the piano. “Abraham Lincoln kind and true. You did the best a man can do. Abraham Lincoln, we! Love! You!” I think she might have made it up on the spot. She did her best. There were the transparent, colored records she would play for holidays; an orange one for Halloween. Red for Valentine’s Day. The foods she would bring for each letter of the alphabet. Carob for C. It was the last gasp of the seventies. E was a tough one: “Edam Cheese.” I can still hear her say EEE-dam, and I think that’s the only time I have ever eaten it. Pop. Pop. The flashbulbs are getting closer together, and they must be for C now too. I must be careful what I say to him, I think. He’s going to start remembering it now.

That night I had a dream about going back to kindergarten. I was a parent this time, and I think I was supposed to be there for C, but it was definitely my classroom back in Oceanside, N.Y. In Mrs Kurtzer’s room there was a circle made out of black linoleum laid into the floor. We used to sit around the circle. In the dream, it was torn up; I could see where the circle had been, in an outline of crumbling, funny-shaped beige lino stuck in the old ruts. On top of the old circle was a big, colorful rectangular rug, like the kind we saw in C’s room. It made me sad to see that old circle, such an indelible image of school in my mind, carelessly ripped up and covered over. I had trouble falling back asleep after that; I had to go downstairs and watch a sitcom on TV at 3am.

Besides the typical flashes of school and home life, my early memories stem from our family’s frequent trips into New York City. It was probably then that I developed my abiding love for New York. Even now those first memories come back to me in a heady rush and make me miss the old place, more than usual. And for some reason I remember the journeys in and out more than I remember what we did when we got there, things like seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, going up to Columbia to see my aunt and uncle, or eating lemon gelato at Ferrara’s in Little Italy during the San Gennaro festival. Instead, it’s the Southern State, crossing into city limits on the Cross Island, a huge full moon over the Belt Parkway one night on a return trip from Brooklyn.

But most of all, it’s this -

English: John Fekner © 1979-1990 Wheels Over I...

By John Fekner. © 1979-1990 Long Island City, NY. Pulaski Bridge overpass at the Queens Midtown Tunnel.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The stenciling, in my memory, was more faded than it is in the image. When I see it in my mind the peeling paint is surrounded by a riot of traffic, grafitti, and slapped-up posters on the busy way into the city from the suburbs. On these trips, leaning back on blue leatherette in the back of a station wagon, I would anticipate this overpass and prepare myself to read this slogan. It filled me with dread. It couched my ever-present excitement to go into the city with sadness, and I went under the river feeling blue. But I guess if you love New York, that’s part of what you love; the melancholy, the ghosts of all the things that are lost, the dust heaps. The brutal passing of time, the bad dreams you have to live with if you want to press forward. Without that, the city could never be the continually changing fascination that it will always remain. And I’ll always mourn those indian trails, buried under a thousand levels of dust and asphalt, like I’ll mourn those palimpsests of early memories, my own and my children’s.

Right now, T is sweetly asleep. C is at school, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on a brightly colored rug, tracing letters and learning songs, his head filling up with all wondrous and new things, and out will go the old. Until recently, he could still recall moments from his toddler days, but now, like me, he can only reach back to three. And I can already see, when we talk about nursery school, his old memories are popping like bubbles. He can no longer remember a time before his brother, but that’s as it should be. Later, after school, the three of us will go to Lexington for haircuts and ice cream, and play ball on the Battle Green, a patch of grass where, years before, something very different happened. Pop. While they fill their days with childhood concerns I’ll watch and remember, and act as steward for their early years, so those memories can one day, unlike indian trails, rise to the surface again.

Some slapdash notes on cycling sideburns and ferry menaces while I have five…you know

“There are 104 days to summer vacation,” Gawd help us, and it’s been harder than usual to fit in time to write, what with all the no school for C and having to take the kids outside to do stuff, rather than just have them watch Phineas and Ferb dream up fun summer activities on TV. Never mind the fact that I’ve been spending any free time I have watching the Tour de France (Allez Jens! Allez Chava!). Hold on, I just need to go and examine some Droids fashioned from Duplo. [...] I’m back. They were nice.

T is sleeping, and C is busy playing “Cowboy Lasso,” a game he “downloaded to his brain” (AKA, is playing using actual, not electronic, toys while running around screaming). Actually, I stand corrected: he tells me it’s actually “Cowboy and Cowgirl Lasso.” Very good. That media training I bought him for his fourth birthday was totally worth it.

I just finished watching Stage 11 of the Tour on my phone whilst tidying up the kitchen, so here are a few notes on that and other things to keep my blog going while I am trying to find time to devise some more thoughtful posts. Which I’m afraid won’t come until camp starts again, and the cycling ends, and before the Olympics begin. So basically never. Priorities.

Tour Coiffures. I am no expert on professional cycling, and while there is a lot to say about this incredible Tour, I hardly feel qualified to say much at all online. But I am qualified to make smart-a*s remarks. So. Bradley Wiggins. Much respect. Allez Wiggo and all that. Every time I’ve seen him mount a bike this season my first thought is, “this guy is not kidding around, is he?” I really admire his intense determination to win; you can see all of the hard graft and careful preparation in his riding, and in Team Sky’s riding. Which brings me to my point. I know Wiggins makes every effort to be as aerodynamic as possible. The right gear, the right bike – every move he makes is calculated to the last detail to ensure he doesn’t lose a millisecond to his rivals. He, I assume, like all of the other riders, shaves his legs, just to get that last extra push through the breeze.

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France, sideburns intact. (Photo credit: robkingcameraman)

So why, Bradley, pray tell, don’t you shave those enormous sideburns you have been rocking. I kid, but not really. If you’re planning to duke it out with Vince Noir for the title of King of the Mods, I respect that. But those things on your face must, somehow, cost you a soupcon of time. Right now you’re doing all right, but as you head up the Pyrenees and into the last Time Trial you might want to rethink those face wings. They don’t help you fly. There, I’m done.

Candy Omaha. Here’s another bone I have to pick. We spent last week on vacation down in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and to get there we take a car ferry from New London, CT, to Orient Point, NY. Where, as we drive off the boat onto my native island, it is my prerogative to play a Billy Joel song as we celebrate my summer homecoming. Usually “The Downeaster Alexa.” That is, if the Spotify works, and it usually doesn’t. There ain’t no Island left for Islanders like me, indeed.

The Cross Sound Ferry runs a tight ship, as it were, and it is always fun to spend part of our journey on a ferry rather than in a car. And our favorite boat in their fleet is the Cape Henlopen. Mainly because it has an arcade where C and T can pretend that they are really awesome at Pac Man and some driving games.

The other reason that I like the Cape Henlopen is that it was built as a World War II landing craft, and participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, ferrying GIs to Omaha Beach. And now, in its dotage, it schlepps folks to more peaceful beaches, and Mohegan Sun. It was built for battle, not for the level of comfort of a pleasure cruise. There is some seating inside, and just a limited number of banquettes that seat at least six around a table. They’re big.

So why, lady traveling alone, and there are people like this on every passage, do you need an entire booth to yourself? So you can prop your Reeboked foot on the seat while you listen to your off-brand MP3 player (probably to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, I’m just guessing)? So you can stare smugly out the window, avoiding the glares of groups of four (or more) who are trying to eat lunch on chairs opposite you? You didn’t even eat! You weren’t even using the table to prop up your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray! You just looked over my head as I picked PB&J (and T) repeatedly up off the floor.

I know what you might say, lady (or gentleman, similarly accused). You’d say you got there first, so tough luck to me. That you deserve to sit there just as much as anyone else. That there is no rule against taking up seating for six for yourself. And this is the only complaint I have against an otherwise excellently-run ferry service. There should be a rule. Even two people in a booth, I can understand. But one? There were lots of comfortable single seats that could have accomodated her; it was just selfishness. And the downfall of Western Civilization.

And “Piano Man” was probably playing too loudly in her ear to hear my remark, accompanied by a gesture in her general direction, “I hope you’re enjoying your giant booth.” But the lady in the booth behind her did hear me, and she looked up from her little game of Uno she was playing with her husband and grown son. Which seems a perfectly reasonable use for a booth. Sorry, I didn’t mean you. Hope you didn’t fall victim to any Draw Fours.

Toward the end of the trip, the booth next to this woman freed up, and I slid T in so he could stand up against the window and eat this enormous lollipop, the long, twisting, rainbow kind stuck on a wooden dowel. I had saved that pop for this long, last leg of the journey. T had already won every video game, said hello to every human and dog on this ship, and said “bye” to every boat that passed. So I can call it only karma that while this woman was on her phone worrying about her lunch plans at the top of her lungs, T whipped that pop straight at her so hard that it rained down in shards all around her, and her special booth (it didn’t actually hit her, thankfully). It was as if the ghosts of GIs lost to Normandy long ago arose from deep within the ship to let the Cape Henlopen see battle once again, reenacting Omaha Beach in rainbow sugar.

To her credit, she wasn’t mad when I came over to apologize, but when I tried to go into her booth to clean up the wreckage she waved me away, saying, “Leave it, the crew will get it.” Well, la-di-da to you, lady. T just fired a warning shot across your bow; hopefully next time you’ll heed his warning. Draw four.

I can hear T stirring so it’s time to call a cease fire in the war against cyclists’ sideburns and single seat snobs. We’re headed out to the swimming hole. There are still six hours to fill with summer fun before bedtime, a glass of wine, and the Tour recap show.

Space travel uphill in the snow both ways

Last week, my New York relatives looked out their windows to see the space shuttle Enterprise take a farewell flight past the Manhattan skyline. It was headed for its new home (or final resting place) at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. They all declared it awesome, and I looked out my window in Greater Boston at some commuter cyclists and a dazed possum and was jealous.

C loves playing astronaut – I often find him loafing about dressed in a NASA shuttle commander’s uniform, mumbling something about rocket boosters. He also has a whole collection of space shuttles and rocket ship models he likes to zoom around the house. But it struck me –  every toy, every notion C has of the space program is now a thing of the past. Space was the promise of the future when I was young, now, it’s become nostalgia.

While C watched the farewell flight of the space shuttle on the evening news, I realized I was only a little older than he is when the first shuttle was launched in 1981. The whole enormous effort is gone and done in less than a lifetime. In that short time, it demonstrated to all of us, especially children, both elation and despair. In 1986, the Challenger disaster became a set-piece of memory – I can still smell the bleach they used to wipe cafeteria tables as I think back to when my friend came to tell us about it as lunch was ending. And I can remember the sick feeling I had as I looked in the newspaper at the plumes of smoke in the sky, and the faces of the astronauts that died. I still remember their names. Then there’s the poem I wrote to commemorate the event: “The very first teacher to go up in space/Many teachers wished they were in Christa’s place….” Thank you. It’s a gift.

Now, how does C connect to space, and its possibilities for greatness? Besides the fact that if you pass Level 20 of Angry Birds: Space (Yes! He did it, dear readers!), it provides you with a link to the NASA website if you want to learn more about space travel, beyond just how to kill a green pig with a purple bird at 3 g’s.

I know space is still a source of awe and fascination for him. There is a brand-new planetarium at the Museum of Science in Boston, and he, though offered admission on a weekly basis, refuses to go in and see the show. I think he thinks he’s really going to blast off, and he feels he hasn’t taken the proper astronomy classes to prepare. And there aren’t even as many planets to worry about as there used to be.

One of my favorite things to do with C, when we visit the ancestral home down in Long Island, is go to the Cradle of Aviation Museum. The museum is located in a row of former airplane hangars at Mitchel Field, in Garden City. Mitchel Field was a military training center going back to the American Revolution, and is adjacent to Roosevelt Field, an airfield used by Amelia Earhart, as well as Charles Lindbergh for his solo transatlantic flight in 1927. Roosevelt Field is now a mall.

The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, ...

The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in the row of hangars is the Nassau County Firefighters Museum (love it), the Long Island Children’s Museum (which we haven’t even made it to yet because we love the fire trucks and the airplanes so much), and the fulcrum of my childhood nostalgia, the old Nunley’s Amusement Park carousel, bedecked with images of old-timey, sea-breezy Long Island, and removed from its former site in Baldwin which is now a Pep Boys.

We go to the museum mainly to sit in the cockpits of old war planes and helicopters and play with the controls, which look more like typewriters than instruments to help you guide a flying machine across enemy lines. While C battles his imaginary Red Baron, I look at the exhibits, with yet more nostalgia: Long Island, home to the Grumman Corporation that built the F-14 Tomcat (featured so prominently in Top Gun) has an incredible history in aviation that, like the space shuttle, is gone. In addition to the F-14, Grumman built several World-War II Navy fighters, the common mail truck, and the Apollo Lunar Module.  You can see one, up close, at the museum, and many of the volunteer guides that work there were former engineers for Grumman. You ask them where the bathroom is and then they’re like, “It’s over there. Oh, by the way, I built that.” When my boys are a bit older, we are going to sit up and listen as these guides recall this Long Island, and this future, that has, for now, like the space shuttle on its way to the Intrepid, passed us by. Because Grumman is now called Northrup -Grumman, and is located in Virginia. In a mall. Next to a Pep Boys.

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