This weekend I am spending Saturday in NYC and then heading to the Jersey shore for two days. That has me thinking about my friend Jon's place down in Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island; his family owns one of the beach front homes that made it through Hurricane Donna back in 1960. The storm surge was something like 6' and the island was literally split in half. Of course real estate values crashed so they were able to pick up their place for a song. They have since added a second floor though I liked the place just fine when it was a single story bungalow; the main level just high enough to peek over the dunes and watch the waves do their thing.
We had some great times down there in the summer. Jon and I had apartments in the same building on the Eastside of Manhattan after college, so we hung around together a lot. Our building was just a few blocks from Gracie Mansion, but be underwhelmed, it was a buzzer-less 19th century walk-up still sporting de-funk gas jets for lighting and bathtubs in the middle of the front room because that where the coal fireplace had been. My brother pioneered the neighborhood when he was attending Columbia's Journalism School in the early 80's. He passed the cheap lease onto a buddy of mine who later passed it on to me. Rent control was a beautiful thing. We were all sub-letters. Everyone was happy. The landlord, Matilda Skrapitz, didn't have to bring the apartments up to code and rent only increased by about 12% with each legal change of hands. But there were compromises.
For instance, one evening when I was visiting my brother we were sitting in the front room taking in the spectacular third floor view of First Avenue. Across the street on the southeast corner of 91st and 1st was the CAR WASH. It advertised itself with a two story roof top sign made of shimmering multi-colored enamel strips. Huge spot lights threw mega watts of illumination on their reflective surface and its seven immense letters lit up the neighborhood like a nuclear powered Christmas tree. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, the CAR WASH offered a hand done polish & dry provided by a squad of skinny Haitian and Jamaican illegals dressed in orange jumpsuits ordered straight from the laundry at Riker's Island. When a car would emerge from the automatic washing machine, this gang of willowy black men would fall on it like two NBA teams in a brawl. Moments latter the car would emerge sparkling, joyfully reflecting the holiday lights prismatic display of color as it banged over the curb and sped away up First Avenue.
So anyway, it was a warm September evening and my brother and I were enjoying the curb side hustle of the Pot Store across the street. Yes, the MARIJUANA Store; a bodega that sold nickel and dime bags of herb from a bank tellers window concealed behind a false wall constructed of floor to ceiling shelves stocked with tubes of Pringles potato chips. And a brisk business they conducted indeed! Young men from ever walk of life entered the store and moments later reappeared with a box of Brillo pads or an orange soda or bottle of Evian and then, eyes cast to the pavement, they would scurry quickly away into night. I was watching the bodega's security, a couple of black guys with a boom box and paper bag quarts of colt 45 when I felt a drop of water, like a single drop of refreshing rain, splash on my forearm. I wiped it off without thinking, but almost immediately another followed. Strange.
And so I looked up at the pock marked ceiling and followed one of the cracks to the light fixture directly over head which was encased in a slightly dusty smoked glass ball. I stared up at it for a few pregnant moments, and remember thinking how it looked a bit like the weird mercury filled sun lamp my father had purchased second hand from the YMCA mens club. And then it dawned on me, the light was filling with water! Then zap-crackle-pop, the light started to short and the bulb blew out and the water started gushing like a topical downpour. My brother was up and hopping from foot to foot freaking out screaming something about the ceiling caving in, so we both bee-lined down the narrow corridor that led to the back bedroom and the apartment entrance, and out we piled into the hall. There we could hear the water running and slashing; the sound resonating down the decrepit staircase from the floor above. So we double stepped the short flight of stairs to the next landing and pounded on the door of number 11, the unit directly above ours.
"O-kay... ju-uu-st -a- min-ute." came the slurry, staccato voice of a woman. We could see the shadow pass in front of the peep hole and hear the Medico deadbolt twisting and then the door was open.
"Yeeees..." she said "Wha-ah is it?"
"Do you have the water running?" My brother blurted out.
"Wa-ha-tar?" She said slowly if in a dream... and then a flicker of cognition, a connection somewhere deep in her memory, fired and lighten her eyes.
"Why yes... she said, snapping back to life. "I was running a bath."
Sure enough, in the front room directly above our ceiling lamp, her enamel white pedestal bathtub was over flowing and the wood floor was soaking up up like a sieve.
"Gee" she said "I guess I fell asleep."
Yes, little compromises were made to live on the cheap in the early days in NYC. So when ever Jon suggested we take a weekend at Long Beach Island, I was sure to second the motion!