Monday, July 21, 2008

Moon Tide

Last Friday, I took the ferry home and enjoyed a hazy view of the Verrazano, the light almost Aegean in its quality, transforming the hills of Staten Island into the Dodecanese. Maybe it was the Budweiser. The boat was more festive than ever, and when it pulled into Riis Landing, the big plastic garbage can behind the wheelhouse was overflowing with empties. On board, there was a table of people that seemed like royalty. They shared a pack of wine coolers and a bag of Milano cookies and were given a very attentive sendoff from the crew. I think it was their car that I was stuck behind in the parking lot, waiting for the light to turn: a retired Coast Guard with a home in Breezy Point.

Zodiacs were flashing their lights at the dock and sirens were wailing on land when the ferry came in. Several fire engines and emergency vehicles, one hauling a dinghy, came over the bridge from Brooklyn and up from Far Rockaway, heading in the direction of Breezy Point.

I came home to a call from the Catwoman, saying she and the Master Plumber were walking to Connolly’s and did I want to join them. I am way behind in my revels this year, what with traipsing around in the Azores and all, so I said I’d meet them there. But first I wanted to go down to the deli and buy a copy of the Wave, so it would be there to enjoy when I got home. And I remembered that it was my last chance to set my tide clock if it was going to be any use this summer.

You have to set the tide clock, with a fresh battery, at high tide during the full moon. The full moon was on Friday, July 18, at 3 A.M. High tide on Friday morning was at 10:50 A.M. in the Verrazano Narrows, according to the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book for 2008. I buy this book every year, and every year I have to start over again, learning about the tide, and see if anything has stuck from the year before and if I can absorb anything new. People who have spent their lives in Rockaway know things like: High tide occurs in midday at the full moon in August. How do they know that? How does it work? It doesn’t make sense that high tide arrives at the head of the bay before it arrives at the Rockway Inlet, but I guess the basin fills and starts to go out … I don’t know. I did determine that to find the time of Current Change (not to be confused with High Water) at the Rockway Inlet you have to subtract one hour and forty-five minutes from the time at the Verrazano Narrows.

To set the clock in the morning would have required carrying the clock in a canvas bag with a solid bottom, so as not to interfere with its hands. This was inconvenient, and besides, I forgot. On Friday evening, high tide, or, rather, change of current, occurred at the Verrazano Narrows at 11 PM. So I did the math: 11:00 minus 1:45 is 9:15, right? That seemed awfully late for me to be arriving at Connolly’s. So I checked another source.

The Rockaway Point News has a column headed Local Tides, with all kinds of excellent information about sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and percentage of the moon visible (it’s never a hundred). On Friday night, it gave high tide as 8:52. That was a little better. Perhaps it is earlier because they are farther out the peninsula and are measuring on the ocean side, or from the Breezy Point Surf Club or the boccie court.

The Wave gave high tide at 8:49 P.M. at Rockaway Inlet. That was the most convenient. I lined the battery up with the clock on the table, found things to do until 8:49, put the battery in the tide clock, and went to Connolly’s.

My friends were having a friendly game of darts when I arrived, and I was shanghaied into action as teammate of our neighbor D., known as Skid Row. I’m no good at darts, but the Master Plumber said, “Don’t worry, he’ll carry you.” Skid Row taught me to put my right foot forward (I'm right-handed), and the Catwoman told me to keep my eye on the wedge of the board that I needed to hit. I learned how to keep score (it’s not all about bull’s-eyes, though it does come down to that). It turned out I play better without my glasses. Some of my darts actually hit the dartboard. I learned to put my back into it, to hurl those suckers like I was mad at someone, though it was through sheer luck that I scored any points. And I did not build any muscle memory in my arm. We won, thanks to the Master Plumber's not examining more closely my partner's near-bull's-eye. By the time he confessed, the Catwoman had erased the scoreboard.

At one point, after our game, the Catwoman and I were both in the ladies’ room when the flush on one of the toilets broke. While the Catwoman fiddled with it, I ran out and got the Master Plumber. He rose to the occasion. He is Connolly’s official plumber, and has fixed the toilet in the ladies’ room on crowded nights with girls peeing in the stall next to him. “Hi, Ed,” they’d say when they came to the john and saw him in there. “Haven’t seen you in a long time.” Tonight it was just his wife and I who were in there while he fixed the toilet. Then Skid Row, tired of sitting alone in the booth, stuck his head in, too. “It’s stifling in here,” he said, and found a window at the back of the other stall and opened it. The Master Plumber grumbled about the age of the little chain he had to reattach, and pointed out the black residue on the inside of the lid, which he said was ancient mold. Then we went back to the booth and had another round.

We walked home along the boardwalk. The moon was still full. I read most of the Wave before going to bed, at around midnight.

The next day, I mentioned the emergency in Breezy Point and heard that a teenager had drowned: she and a friend were in the ocean at 116th Street, and they got caught in a rip tide. One girl was saved. She had tried to save her friend, but by the time the lifeguards rescued the one girl the other was gone, carried under and out. At first I didn't understand: the drowning was at 116th Street at three or four in the afternoon, I heard. So why were the ambulances going out to Breezy Point at seven? But it had to be the same incident; it would have been at low tide, and the current must have been running west.

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