Any comments questions about this site, please contact Bob Zolnerzak at





Coney Island

From a journal dated 1958.

     A relatively soundless train, seeming to skim on well-oiled tracks of sponge, permits the cars to careen madly to the right and to the left, tossing passengers from side to side like an ill-shaped roller coaster. The familiar names: Times Square, 34th Street, Union Square, 8th Street, pass in a jolting mass, and then an unknown: Prince Street. I am off into the unknown, uncharted wilderness, clasped in the worn rails of the Sea Beach Express (via Bridge) to Coney Island. Then a curve, veering dangerously close to a dirty concrete wall, and a stop at what used to be called Broadway, its grimy mosaics now overlaid with a black-rimmed white sign stating "Canal Street."
     Enormous dominoes on end, with square dots of light divided into rectangular panes, loom suddenly out of the darkness, reflected amorphously from the river below. Streams of bridge lights and a bright, white stucco castle proclaiming "Squibb Dental Cream" welcome us to Brooklyn. Then the dive, with a lurch, into blackness again. Huge orange columns, light-topped, emerge from the blackness like the displays in a monstrous funhouse---a funhouse in which the cars fill with chattering Spaniards, boys and girls talking of the nights' entertainments. Then a stop on Pacific Street; people on, people off, train passing on another track, then a neck-craning pull of the train into black. On and on, with the Spaniards whistling snatches of popular songs: "Silhouette, silhouette, silhouette; oh, oh, oh; Silhouette, silhouette, silhouette; oh, oh, oh"---over and over again. On with a frantic rush through station with a shoulder muscle-root jarring lurch that throws me against the wall or out into space at each alternation.
     Stations pass too swiftly to read the names on smeared-by-speed placards, and, at 36, the Spaniards get off. The girls cheerily shout, "Goodnight, Goodnight" at the car in general and wave to whomever would return the gesture.
     With the leaving, an empty seat is next to me, and I oscillate equally from side to side, no longer bringing bone and flesh against the sturdy, stolid wall. At 59 the young couple depart, object of overt and covert glances for so long. She looking small and dark-eyed like a woman of the streets with too little sleep; he looking a likeable high school tough with roll sweater, cloth jacket, too-small fedora pushed atop his head, his pimpled face gleaming in the car-light. And then---snow! The subway ascends to air, and the ground shows an inch or less covering of snow---wonderful. Now my Coney Island trip will be complete. Three-quarters moon that will set at 4:30AM: five hours away. A coating of snow, not enough to obscure anything, but just to add highlights and shadows---to cover SOME of the dirt, to give a further air of unreality to an abandoned amusement park. A stop at Fort Hamilton Pkwy, and a chill from the outside creeps into the car, making the heater at my feet most welcome. Resounding echoes, rather than an intense black, proclaim another enclosed stop, and then on. Another couple, on at Fort Hamilton, off at 78. He looking thin and schoolboy-like, she already possessing the amorphous midriff of a thrice-pregnant mother. The passengers take on a uniform air; men reading newspapers, seemingly having traveled the same route for years, nodding, staring, dozing, reading, enduring the ride from here to there. At each stop more get off, none get on. A strictly male car now, a sisterly pair getting off at 22nd Street, leaving the car to the possession of seven males. The local athlete, home from training of one sort or another, a blue parcel of laundry in hand, departs at King's Highway. Again a rim of snow along a ledge at window height, announcing the tracks are again open to the unseen sky. At Avenue U everyone leaves, and I check the wall map, only two stops to Stillwell Avenue, the end of the line.
     A mute opening of doors at 86, a pause, and off for the last port of call, and I bundle myself for the coming chill. Again, the subway graveyard: long rows of lit and unlit cars on sidings decorated with green and red lights, and the snow reveals itself in the unearthly green flashing of high voltages from the third rail. A slow, transferred ride, partly under glare of temporary light as switching after switching is made, guiding our string of metal beads into Stillwell Avenue. A slow, majestic upgrade proclaims the end of the ride, a tortured curve, and the doors glide open for the last time. A paper scuds before me as the sweep of air clears the platform. The descent, completely alone, from the station gives the wrong first impression as a "Fascination" sign, brightly lit, beckons people to lose their money. Cars fill the streets and many concessions are still open. Ice crackles underfoot as I pass row after row of boarded concessions that are fitfully lit by headlights from passing cars. The ice-snap gives way to a snow-crunch. Surprise at finding the boardwalk brilliantly lit is equalled by seeing many, many sets of footprints leading from beach to beach in the hours-old snow. The footprints extend out into the once-fresh snow, but gradually they fade---the tide is out, and the people had come just to this point. The wave patterns are emphasized by circlets of rime where the last-highest wave was; no footprints exist beyond that point. The ice extends to a line, and then is replaced by a line of frozen foam, still farther the untainted, smooth-washed sand stretches, and the waves come and lap at my feet.
     The moon reflects in sponge-wet sand, shining in my face, and I back away as an especially high wave batters up the shore. Fitfully lit by the clouded moon, the ocean sounds continuous, unabated. The posted sign "No lifeguards, swim at your own risk" seems unutterably unnecessary. The boundary of the coves lures me out on an icy strand of slippery wood. There I sit, crouched hidden from the wind in a cleft in the rocks, writing away. Waves washing up beside me go unnoticed, until a particularly strong one splashes up onto the paper on which I'm writing; the tide has evidently been rising. Folding a slightly limp notebook tenderly, I aim back across the posts. Higher water now, and just once the splash engulfed the top of the walk; I waited until a high wave passed, then crept forward. The movement of the water, emphasized by the white lace of comber, dizzies me, and the newly wetted boards seem to squirm underfoot. Breathless with fear, I see the sand beneath the waves, and the visions vanish of my being washed to sea after falling in and being weighted down by my clothes. A short glance at the sea, and then up to the Boardwalk. The wires of the Parachute Jump sing and clank in the wind: "Open in May."
     Fun-A-Rama with gray shutters and orange bars; Robin Hood Range with blue doors; Shooting Gallery with red on top and green below; Penny Arcade with gray; Iced Drinks 5ยข with gray; Gypsy Cabin with painted windows on an orange back; Souvenirs with a peppermint awning and gray-blue doors; a blue sign with white letters: Frankfurters, Cookies, Knishes, Potato Chips, Hot Corn and Pizza.
     Fighting, arching, humping dogs on a slippery street, barking into blackness and a stoplight.
     Crispy Carmel Popcorn; Candies and Novelties; Cotton Candy; Jelly Apples; Hot Buttered Popcorn and Salt Water Taffy; Italian Ices and Honey-Sweet California Corn on the Cob; French Fried Potatoes; Fried Shrimps; Fish and Chips; Knishes; Pastichellos; Shrimp Rolls and Ravioli and Fried Chicken and Ice-Cold Beer. Pure frozen desert, and the waves incessantly pounding in the background---the rush of wind up a completely deserted street.
     Some rides completely gone, others out entirely open to snow---snow on planes and fire engines and boats, all open. Bicycle tracks---tattered white flag waving from a Waffles and Ice Cream stand---lights on a "Pitch-till-U-win" board, and shoveled walk. Paper out of my pocket goes flying over snow. Corner of West 12th and Bowery completely deserted: 4-leaf Clover bar sports green shutters. "Sensational new Round-up will be here for '58"---and indeed it was, still there, no one had taken it. Ice cold watermelon; Orange, grape and beer.
     "Faster than ever," whatever it was---lights, life behind the facade. Dog silently following, standing just around corner that I last rounded---barking at first, then watching with quiet watchfulness.
     "Sun parlor" glows dimly under snow lining its top. Back out to ocean through underpass. Wind whips up and sound of whistle and clank and rumble of subway in back; constant defiant pointed crash of breakers in front. Wander across absolutely untrodden snow, but bumps in sand make a broken vista, not a FLAT stretch of snow in sight.
     Motorboat pool drained with nice even coat of snow over "sea-bottom."
     The Whirl-Away had gone, but the tilted circular track was still there. Luna Park boarded securely. "Ward's Kiddie Park now open. Every day---all year" was closed. Dogs barking beneath a dim light make me turn back. Wonderland fun house ride boarded---Entrance and Exit alike: Exit boarded low with ludicrous swinging doors, yellow outlined with blue against the gray of the doors. A 40' x 70' "Parcel" for sale---with lightless sockets forlornly outlining "7 shots."
     "Continuous entertainment" western bands---singing waiters---dancing---with a black iron wall over its front.
     I pass three teenagers and the big one looks back and shouts, "Hey, queer," before they climb over a fence out over the sand. I walk slowly on---west, and after a while I hear shouts of "Wait up," and "Stop," and "Hey, queer." They advance, I walk slowly, and the tall one is out front; talks to me. "Are you queer? Want to blow me?" I don't answer---we talk. Then I ask questions: "How old, how many laid, how many blown, what's a queer, what's a fairy, what's come and shoot---how often do you do it---jerk and jack off---and why, and how does it feel?" He continues to ask if I'm queer, friends disappear and he looks back and shouts for them. I admit I'm a queer who doesn't like to blow, and he leaves it at that. "What do you like?" He remarks about the cold up on the boardwalk---how about under? "Blow me?" "No." Are YOU queer?"---to him. "Oh, no." "What makes me queer and you not queer?" Silence. I summon enough courage to ask him if he wants me to jerk him off, since the front of his trousers states his excitement quite plainly. I give him my bit about liking to watch people come, since they're happy then, and I just like to see people happy. He keeps calling for friends, and we go below the stairs---friends start approaching. He takes it out and starts stroking and asks me for about the fifth time to blow him. I say no. He asks if I want to feel it, which I oblige him by doing, making a remark about my very cold hands on his very warm cock, but he doesn't seem to mind. I start applying the rhythm, watching his face as it is silhouetted against the whiteness of the sand outside the Boardwalk, gleaming in the light of the street lamps. His face expressionless up to the final instant, when he leans forward and spews all down the back of my hand, and, I'm sure, down the front of his levis. Ask him if he's had enough---also about what he was thinking---a girl. Other two come to shadow edge and watch, and he asks them to let me jerk them off too. No. Conversation starts. Ages of all three are 17---one guesses me to be 17-18, another 31 or older, the bright one: 22. Why do I look like a queer? They say isn't hooded jacket, not glasses, just my face. He asks me what I think of him, and I can only reply that he's well built. Would he like to come again---he says it depends on how a person is built, if he can or not. Discussion follows on my admission to queerness. They talk about their previous experiences, everyone jerks off everyone and fucks 11-year-old girls, and they all like it. Little one admits he's a virgin, to the disgust of the oldest one, who frowns that such things shouldn't be said. I lied and said I laid two girls, but simply liked boys better, since I found I didn't like girls below the waist. They talk about girls saying "Go ahead," and I say, "Thank goodness, it's never come to that"---they let it go by, and I cover by saying that anytime they DID ask, I'd done it. They didn't catch on.
     Fat one kept laughing about something or other, and little one seemed very nice---kept asking me where I was from before Columbia University. Discussion about bookworms and reading, which they don't like to do, although they concede the possibility of reading without being a bookworm.
     They talk about "the fire at 70", and the fire in the tarpaper shack and the fire at the lumberyard (?A stack of lumber and oily stuff on top and WHOOSH---three fire engines.?) And the child-built house in the vacant lot and the stupidity of kid who said, "Mom, I robbed---oh, I wasn't supposed to say that," or who pulls stolen goods out of pockets and says "Look what I got," after robbing a grocery store. They're from Astoria---ask if I have a car---disappointed when they find I don't. Ask what's down the other way---they don't know---they had never been as far west as I led them and not farther east than Brighton Beach. They took Brooklyn trains down: "Don't even have to come through the center of town." They---rather lamely---try to pick fight with me by asking if third fellow is fat. I say his face is rounder than the other two's---big one says "Hit him"---little one says "Why, it's true." They tell rather horrid puns and I remark about "lousy local jokes." Big one takes offense." "Am I lousy?" I laugh and refer to him as a "local joke." He momentarily angers, but little one again understands and laughs it off. They talk about their work and "truck? on 32nd Street, that's why he said that the Empire State Building is on 32nd St."
     Party gets affable; and they remark about queers who do them for two hours and then insist they're not queers. Laughs and some appreciation of a fact I admit what I am. Again it comes up that I handle little one, but he says he's in the mood for a girl. Lights cigarette after cigarette---says he has TB. Tell him to quit smoking---big one says, "You like to jerk off and fuck, he likes to smoke---they're all habits you can't break." They ask for time three times: 11:45, 12:10, we leave about 12:30. With them, talking all along, for one hour. At first he insists on knowing if I was queer, but I desist, saying I have to talk with him for a while before I say anything---this really worked. At end, he asks for a dollar for the use of him---I laugh and say he enjoyed it. He says "You get paid for WORK you enjoy doing," and he growls and the others laugh. Fat one even comes up with the brilliant suggestion that I make HIM pay ME. He says something about "He wasted energy---that might have been a kid." And I cracked back about that? "He's got more left!" I ask about patrolmen that they say cruise for sex in their cars and pick up boys. They momentarily panic at what they call a shadow on the Boardwalk. A secret passes between fat and tall one; I crack and they crack back. They leave and I follow behind, remarking, "Don't talk about others behind their backs," and he gets pseudo-mad and says he'll knock the shit out of me. He asks if I think he can---I do. Asks again for dollar and I again laugh. He admonishes me not to follow; I leave with a parting "Thanks." I doubt he really understands.
     Wander back up to the main street and into "Ma Kirsch's." Ma comes up and I order and ask for men's room, and she tells me about the little button so I don't have to pay. Ask her for pencil sharpener, and she volunteers that the Mister might sharpen it with a knife and he does. I eat and say---if you want me to move, tell me. She admonishes me to stay put---but I just may have to move. I volunteer booth to couple, who thank me profusely, and I finish on table in center room. Decide to leave her quarter tip---worth it. I get out, greatly warmed, fed and relaxed, into night again, while a coffee with cream and a coffee black seethes inside me. I think back on my story about fellow, 17, who jerked off for the first time, he was really triumphant. "Look what I done, and for the first time." They enjoyed it too.
     Moon hidden now by clouds, only dull glow reveals position. 2:10 AM. Tide definitely rising, boards on which I walked completely covered by each wave, entrance washed out by slushy murk that is unwalkable. Waves come pouring up on blown snow and frozen salt, creating bits of floating debris that litter the line of demarcation---each tenth or twentieth wave washing it higher. From wave to highest wash more than 20 feet. Highest wave seeming blacker and more mysterious than the rest, since its black water eats into a freshly frozen snow that really isn't snow but a complex of sand and ice and salt, whipped to a paste by the fury of the waves.
     No one on the entire length of the boardwalk, the coldness eating into me demonstrating the reason why. Leave at 2:35. Watermelon sandwiches?? Back into station and sitting down really feels good. On Brighton Beach local, so I see it all. Heat starts coming up from window seat and feels very good indeed. 2:40 and beginning to feel slightly tired---quite an evening---just coming from Dick Pasquale's and to 72nd Street station to Times Square and then to Coney. Almost an hour and a half to get down here. 2:50AM and away we go.
     Swinging out---level with the Cyclone and the top of a three-story building. Coney Island stop---across horrid tenements and byways and highways and passes, along the Boardwalk. Rows of black parked cars, stretching from directly beneath to the ramp to the Boardwalk---which allows cars, since I saw one police patrol car cruising along. Over a great grand parkway and beside a bus yard, each bus with a mantle of white, with red headlights looking like rubies in a white silk headscarf. Past tenement after tenement, one with red brick, another with gray brick, another with false brick, one with gray stone, another gray blocks; separated by scalloped iron fences, straight iron fences, and wooden fences. No fences or concrete walls. With porches, without porches; tenements. Mailboxes and steps and awnings and sloped roofs and flowers.
     "Jaret School of Business---Places on Graduation." Another scalloped fence, and it seems the subway floats, free-blown, over a road. Wood fence, scallop fence, concrete wall of station and "Delicious apple salad with Washington State Apples." New car lot, each looking alike under a snow mantle. A station with no billboard on one wall, but reflections in windows painted those on the opposite wall onto the featureless concrete.
     Now a wall rises up, lowers, rise again, a semi-echo and then a full echo: below ground again. Under at stop before Cortleyou. Lugubrious drunk sits next to me and mumbles about my writing, for long time---pulls out $2 and says, "That's MY money, not his." Picture of utter decay in stations along way, some not even having names, only initials high up on grimy scrolled tablets. Aloft again, far aloft to cross the river, the parkway looking like a road, with double lights resembling a row of cars waiting at a crossing. The drunk is mumbling continually, seemingly giving directions to the subway. Under again for stop at Canal Street. Familiar sight now: Prince Street. Then, once more, Times Square, and I transfer for home, which I reach at the prime hour of 3:45AM.