There are things that I don’t love about Long Island. It’s expensive. The native culture is…interesting. Aggressive. Abrasive. Extremely honest. Filled with weird acts of generosity and indignation. The local government is so corrupt that our DA regularly sends career politicians to jail. And did I mention that it’s expensive?
But I moved out here because it’s by the water. Long Island is sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Long Island Sound. I live on the south shore, which is the Atlantic side. I can have my feet in the water ten minutes after leaving home. My train rolls over a channel on the backside of a barrier island. When the doors open, I can smell the state of the tide.
My flood insurance is high. My summers are wonderful.
Last year we joined a local beach club with some friends, which has completely changed my life. My whole summer has restructured to surround the weekend. My house is falling apart. My garden is unplanted. I’ve had weeds growing in pots on my front doorstep all summer long. But who has time to take care of these things? There are sandcastles to be built.
The weather has been strange this year. For the first month of beach season, we got rained on or the wind made sandstorms that pelted our legs in a most unpleasant way. We went to the beach anyway.
We sat on our picnic table, eating snacks with the kids as the rain poured down around our sun umbrellas.
As the summer progressed, the weather got better, but now that we are coming to the end, I find that I feel cheated by that first month of missed opportunities. We had fun. We were there nearly every weekend. And we’re still going, for as long as we possibly can, even though the pools have closed and the lifeguards have gone home for the summer. The water is too cold to linger in, but it can still suck eddies around your shoes. The terns still scold if you get too near.
There’s just something about that place that’s magic. Hours pass before you realize it. Life gets refined down to surviving the heat and sun. We find sand crabs and feed the seagulls our rejected plums. We dig in the sand like children.
It is these moments in which life feels so simple, so clear. I don’t want the summer to end. I’m not ready to lose my escape from reality.
In 1992, my mother really liked Denzel Washington.
Like, really really liked him. She liked him enough that when a movie studio was recruiting for extras for a scene in The Pelican Brief, she signed herself right up. To our great amusement, she was assigned to be in a crowd protesting gun control.
I can’t quite tell, but I’m pretty sure that the lady in the lower right corner with the blue and yellow shirt is my Mom. Denzel Washington ran through this crowd. My Mom was only a few feet away, which absolutely made her month.
The scene was funny, of course, because my Mom was absolutely for gun control, long before it was an acceptable thing to say out loud. She was an Army veteran, raised in a county so rural that one of her chores was riding her bike to the farm next door to pick up milk bottles for her family. She knew a little bit about guns and counted the time she had to throw a grenade in basic training as the absolutely most frightening moment of her life. She certainly didn’t see a reason why just anyone should have access to weapons.
No doubt, her experiences as a special education teacher in inner city D.C. contributed to her feelings. She specialized in teaching emotionally disturbed children. These are the kids who had been kicked out of all of the other schools, but still needed an education. Given their behavior problems, it likely won’t surprise you to hear that their home lives were not the greatest. Many of the children had been abused. All of them had parents trapped in poverty and plenty of her students had parents in jail. Some of her students, by the age of twelve, thought of jail as a place where you could go to get three solid meals a day. I can’t remember exactly how many funerals for her students that she went to during her years in the city, but it was far, far too many. Guns were a big part of all of that.
It was also the nineties, when D.C. was commonly referred to as the murder capitol. I remember joking about that with my friends, as though we were somehow tougher because we were living in such a dangerous environment. The summer of 1994 really sticks out in my memory, because it began with a Romeo-and-Juliet style suicide between two twelve-year-olds that were forbidden to see each other. After that, it seemed as though there was a drive-by shooting at least once a week. It was the first time we’d heard the phrase road rage, where people were so angry at being cut off in traffic that they were pulling out their guns and shooting people. To this day, I still cringe whenever my Beloved loses his temper and shouts out the window at other drivers, because I presume that they will have a gun. It was that frightening to live through.
Right before I left D.C. for New York, the tri-state area was brought to its knees by a 17 year old with a rifle. Just reading through the Wikipedia article now, fourteen years later, leaves my heart pounding in my chest. The list of shootings read like a geography of my childhood. The first shot, through the window of a Michael’s store, is the store I used to walk to as a kid. I spent hours there, looking at all the craft items that I wanted to try but could not afford. Two of the victims were murdered on the streets where I grew up. Another was shot only a block and a half from where I was attending college at the time in Virginia. The management of the apartment complex that I lived in sent out a memo to the residents, urging extreme caution as we went about the neighborhood and recommending limiting our time outdoors. I remember people volunteering to pump gas wearing bulletproof vests, because folks were that scared. One morning I was over two hours late for work, because the police had stopped the eight-lane Beltway and were investigating every single car in their desperation to find the killer. When we learned that it was a teenager pulling the trigger, it was simply impossible to process. That is how a single gun ended sixteen lives and brought an entire city to its knees.
When another murderer walked into Pulse in Orlando last week, I was on a plane home from Ireland, where I’d just spent a week trying to answer the question of why Americans are so in love with their guns, because Irish people simply don’t understand it. Irish law is very restrictive with guns, while still allowing some shotguns for hunting. Most knives will get you in trouble, if you don’t have a really good explanation for having it, so the idea that we can walk in to a store and buy a gun that’s advertised to be able to shoot 13 bullets a second is simply incomprehensible to them. (I have since learned that pragmatically your finger really couldn’t fire 13 times a second, so the real rate would be more like 3 bullets a second. I remain in awe that this is what we’re talking about.)
I have watched the public mourning of the Pulse attack with no small amount of sadness, but mostly I have watched it with a deep and intense anger. Is it any surprise that we’ve had another shooting on this scale? Is it any surprise that eventually it would target LGBT folks, given a political climate where anti-trans bathroom bills are not only voted on, but actually passed? The mourning is proper. It is good. This is a national tragedy. It should be mourned loudly and publicly. But what bothers me most is that in the last 72 hours, as I write this, 56 people have been killed by guns, per the Gun Violence Archive, which syndicates and counts reported incidents of gun violence in the media. Over 6,000 people have died so far this year. 1,200 teenagers have been injured or killed, as have 262 children under the age of 11. 148 police officers have also lost their lives.
And it’s only June.
Where is the outrage? Where is the mourning?
We are in the middle of a rise in gun violence across this country. According to a recent DOJ study, homicide rates have jumped 17% in the nation’s 56 biggest cities. In my home town, after a decade of falling crime rates that almost created a sense of normalcy, violent crime has increased every year since 2011. That’s the just the crime rate. It doesn’t count suicides or accidents. Reported accidents accounted for nearly 2,000 incidents nationally last year. In April, one of those accidents injured two people right on the same floor of the same building as the pediatric office where I take Baba. Because, apparently, responsible gun ownership means bringing your gun into the same building as a pediatrician’s office. In talking to gun owners, I’ve heard a lot more stories about accidental discharges that weren’t reported. Accidental, that is, if you get over the intentionality of having a gun in your hands in the first place.
Forgive me if that sounds bitter. I am bitter. I am bitter because I’ve been watching people shrug their shoulders at gun violence for my entire life, as if it is some kind of natural force that we can do nothing about. It is not a hurricane or cancer, which, as it happens, are problems that we spend millions of dollars each year to address. It is a problem entirely of our own making.
And the worst part, of course, is that our Congress has enacted legislation to prohibit gun violence from even being studied. I laugh when I hear people talk about Hilary Clinton’s terrible complicity and corruption in giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, because that seems so trivial compared to such an outrageous law. Why aren’t we marching in the street and screaming about the incredible pull the NRA has on our politicians? It is literally killing our kids.
I am not a gun owner, nor will I ever allow guns to come into my home. You can undoubtedly tell me a million ways in which my understanding about guns is wrong. I know this, because I’ve been talking to gun owners endlessly to try to come up with some sort of meaningful change that would actually work. But without the ability to even study the problem, we are all making wild guesses at to what would actually help. Ban assault rifles? Sure. It seems like a reasonable step. Limit the number of bullets you can put in it at a time to ten? Sure. That would give the victims of mass shootings a greater opportunity to overpower their attacker. It just doesn’t address the bigger problem, where over 31,000 Americans are shot in an average year. A national database for background checks would have saved the eight lives in Charleston. National gun laws, rather than the regional hodge-podge that makes the stricter laws completely useless would also be a great step. D.C. has a handgun ban, after all, which means nothing when you can drive 10 miles in any direction and legally purchase one, then drive it right back over the border and into your home.
Even just instituting licensing and training, like we do with driving, would be a huge step in the right direction. And that’s something that most of the gun owners that I’ve spoken to can get completely behind. I know that I live in a democracy, and that compromise is the name of the game. That has to come from both sides. We seem to be stuck on the first step, which as any addict could tell you is recognizing that we even have a problem. When you start looking at how we compare to other countries, I don’t see how you can possibly deny it.
And maybe, when we’ve actually managed to get fewer guns on our streets, NYPD recruitment posters won’t have to look like this one any more:
There’s just got to be a better way than this. Doesn’t there?
In aquarium keeping, there’s a term for what happened to my fish during the power outage after Hurricane Sandy. They call it fish loss, which is a very technical term for the sad event. My fish have survived previous power outages, but we were out for twelve days through some freezing temperatures, so the temperature of the water in the aquarium fell below where the aquarium temperature meter begins to measure. I had four fish two weeks ago and now I have one. Last night I came home to the return of power and the bodies of my two gouramis, large, bloated, bleached of their beautiful blue pigment.
It is no one’s fault. In the scheme of things, the loss of my two gourami and tricolor shark is very little. I know people who still have no power, who have sent their kids away to live with relatives until conditions improve. There are people whose entire homes flooded. I heard of someone whose dog drowned during the storm, because the water came in so fast into the home. I know of many people whose houses were covered in raw sewage who still can’t go home, because it’s not sanitary. And there are the entire communities that our power company has removed from their numbers, because the power infrastructure is so damaged that it will take more than a month to repair.
All the same, these are small creatures whose entire well-being was in my hands and I couldn’t keep them safe. It’s a loss that lays heavy on my heart. It will probably be a while before we add any more fish to the tank, as sad as it is to look at the full containers of fish food that are no longer required, as the remaining fish is an algae eater.
Life is slowly getting back to normal here. Trash pick-up happened for me today, for the first time since the storm hit. My train line is out for the foreseeable future, but other than the two hour commute, my life is about to be much the same as it ever was. I wish that all of my neighbors and friends could say as much.
Is that really two blog posts in a row about the weather? Oh yes, yes it is.
Hurricane Irene hit this past weekend. I was too busy to blog about it because we were worrying about a possible mandatory evacuation, which we got sometime on Friday night. Unlike the majority of my neighbors, apparently, this means that we packed up and left and spent a really uncomfortable twenty-four hours in a hurricane shelter.
Of course, my neighbors didn’t have a tree drop on their car in Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but I did. Maybe it’s the Virginian in me, but I know what a hurricane can do. When the police tell you to leave, staying behind is asinine.
People are now screaming about the government and media overreacting, which is also asinine, as when the order was issued, there was a Category 2 hurricane due to hit us, which is not a joke. We got lucky in that it downgraded to a tropical storm just as it was leaving our area, but it could have been so much worse than it was. It’s likely to still be days until we have public transportation back up and running the way it normally does, since quite a lot of semaphores are damaged, so the trains can’t run.
My neighbor yesterday said to me, “What, you were scared or something? I mean, they said the police wouldn’t arrest you if you didn’t leave, so what was the problem?”
Long Island, my friends, Long Island in a nutshell.
We spent the day on a boat puttering around Jones Inlet, which was developed in the 20s to be one of the more famous bits of Long Island shoreline. There’s an ampitheater and miniature golf and all variety of entertainments that make a day at the beach where you’re stuck with your family a little more entertaining.
It is one of my more favorite places in the world. It is also where they do a huge Memorial Day show with lots of fighter planes. Unfortunately, getting good photography of fighter jets while on a bobbing boat is more or less impossible, as both move at a rather rapid pace. (There was Ginger Ale. Oh yes, there was. Puking was avoided.)
Still, there is something about being underneath a fighter jet. They move so much faster than the speed of sound that I kept getting confused and looking in the wrong place. We weren’t close enough to really appreciate their acrobatics the way that people on the beach undoubtedly did, but it was still pretty awesome.
After a while, we ran the boat over to a little island that’s mostly underwater at high tide and jumped off for a little wander. I took my camera, which is when we met these two fellas. The beach was covered in horseshoe crabs (two of which we interrupted in coitus, oops), many of who had landed the wrong side up. As seagulls rather enjoy the delicacy of horseshoe crab gills (perhaps it is the seagull version of goose paté?), we helped a few of them out by returning them to the sea.
It’s been an amazingly full weekend. On Friday, I started off right by reorganizing my office at work. I’ve long felt unproductive in there, because my desk was oriented towards the wall, leaving my back to the office. In order to see what was going on, I had to sit with my feet propped up on another chair (working for a dot com has perks) and ignore my desk completely. So I turned one of my tables and voila, I can do both, which will undoubtedly help resolve some backaches I’ve been having.
On Saturday, I took the train into Manhattan to take a professional test. Having passed that and acquired some new letters after my professional signature, I went over to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I made it there five minutes before noon, so snuck in through the gates for free, which was nice. It was a beautiful day and I snapped a lot of photos. My best one was of a bee landed on an ornamental onion, but now that I’ve looked at it on a computer, I can see some areas for improving. So I’m thinking about whether or not to go back this weekend and try again with a little more knowledge.
Sunday I took my new kayak out for her maiden voyage, which was a great deal of fun until the wind picked up. It was at this point where being on an inflatable boat wasn’t such a great thing. I paddled myself over to a beach and was resting (and waiting for the wind to die down) when another kayaker decided I needed rescuing. It was a little silly, since I could have easily deflated my kayak and walked back to the car from where I was (perhaps 300 feet away from where I’d parked), but I hitched a ride back and had some fun kayak conversation. I have blisters now, because I stupidly forgot my gloves, but the freedom of moving around on the water was just amazing. I think I’m addicted, which is unfortunate, because I’m meant to be training for a bike ride, not a paddling event.
They do have kayak races in my neighborhood, though…so it might be worth thinking about for next year. With a hard shell kayak!
New York has something called The Season, which I’d never experienced before moving here. It starts on Memorial Day, lasts until Labor Day, and means that you go to the beach as much as possible. You sip teas and take things slower. You go to your timeshare on Fire Island or in the Hamptons or Montauk. You wear white and walk the streets of Manhattan slowly, languorously, browsing sales and famers’ markets.
You smile a lot more.
But still, I think the thing I love best about The Season in the town where I live are little things like going out to fancy restaurants and finding that everyone is still in sandals and flip flops, because you just can’t bother to put on socks for any occasion.
It’s been a misty sort of day here, which translates into thick fog when I’m near home, since I’m so close to the ocean. We’ve been covered in fog for most of the last week, a very soft fog, the sort that covers you over like a soft blanket. You can see, but perhaps not much further than a block. Standing on the boardwalk, you can only hear the ocean.
It is the most comforting solitude I could imagine. You are alone, sequestered in fog, but not alone, since someone can be around every corner.
Tonight my walk home was absolutely lovely, as the fog caught the chirps of the birds that have returned and pushed the sound down and around my head. I wandered through my neighborhood, absently reading a book as I walk, as usual, but comforted by the presence of spring all around me.
This weekend was very busy, since I was entertaining a friend that was visiting from out of town. The highlight was seeing Patton Oswalt who is an absolutely brilliant comedian from Sterling, Virginia (Virginia pride, whoo!). You probably wouldn’t like him if crude language offends you, but he has some very smart things to say. It was cool to see him live.
Less cool was the opening comedian, who referred to all the women in his jokes as bitches, which was particularly depressing since most of the audience responded well to it. Apparently jokes about how completely stupid and useless women are are still in. I’m prefer smart comedy, not just meanness, so he was kind of a boring boor. But a boor with a very happy audience, which made me want to hide my head in the sand for the rest of my life. It made me drink far too much Shiraz, too.
Fortunately, we went to see Stomp before my hangover, which was pretty cool. The idea behind it is that you can make rhythm from the most ordinary objects. Once you have enough people involved, this becomes really cool. Rhythm is such an essential part of being alive and is absolutely everywhere when you stop to listen for it – in language, in the sounds of our vehicles, in the waves of the ocean. Being able to hear and respond to rhythm is so intrinsic to what makes us such amazing creatures — when we can manage to treat each other with respect, that is.