Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy New Year 5769!

I have to admit that I returned to the city this fall with a certain degree of reluctance: instead of being on the Rockaway ferry, gazing out at New York Harbor, I would be sitting in the Éclair, looking at the back of an S.U.V. But a wise person said to me, “Once you cross that bridge”—meaning, in this case, the George Washington—“you’ll find you have inner resources.” And she was right. I found that beautiful spot in the Sanctuary.

Last week, I got an e-mail from the D.O.T. reminding me that alternate-side parking would be suspended for religious holidays Tuesday and Friday (Rosh Hashana and Id al-Fitr). The Sanctuary is a Monday/Thursday spot, a circumstance that has increased my religious feeling for those days of the week. I fully intended to use the car over the weekend and look for a Tuesday/Friday spot when I returned. But the weather was not such that it inspired me to go to Rockaway (I asked myself “Beach or boat?” and the answer came back: “Movie”). So I stayed in the Sanctuary, though I would have liked to observe the Jewish New Year and Id al-Fitr (I think this is the holiday when the Muslims get new clothes for the pilgrimage to Mecca, but I could be wrong).

Today I was inspired to pluck my Alternate-Side Parking Rules off the refrigerator and prepare for the new season. No wonder I draw inspiration from autumn in New York: Rosh Hashanah kicks off several months of good parking. Next Thursday (Oct. 9) is Yom Kippur, the following Monday is Columbus Day, followed immediately by Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simhat Torah (though this last falls on Wednesday and doesn’t do me any good); then comes Diwali, on Tuesday, October 28, and All Saints Day (this falls on Saturday, following what is sure to be a Sarah Palin Halloween—the streets will be littered with wigs); then Election Day (can it finally happen after this eternal campaign?) and Veterans Day, both Tuesdays, which brings us to Thanksgiving, the Immaculate Conception (Monday, Dec. 8th), overlapping with Il al-Adha (Monday-Wednesday, Dec. 8-10), and Christmas. What a whirl!

Many of these holidays fall on Tuesday, so I am going to have to adjust. I sat in the car yesterday (Monday) for a half hour, telling myself that even though I hadn’t scored a completely free pass for the week by finding a Tuesday/Friday spot, it wasn’t so bad to get out early and guzzle a latte in the car, and I was resigned to do the same on Thursday. But this morning I took another look at that e-mail from the Mayor: I had misread it. The Mayor’s missive says, “Alternate side parking (street cleaning) regulations will be suspended on Tuesday-Friday, September 30-October 3, for holiday observance of Rosh Hashanah (September 30-October 1) and Idul-Fitr (October 1-3).” So I don't have to sit in the car on Thursday—I am good in the Sanctuary for the rest of the week. What a difference a hyphen makes!

Friday, September 26, 2008


It has been so long since I found a spot in the Sanctuary that I forgot whether I had to be there from 8 to 8:30 or from 8:30 to 9 on Thursday morning. Naturally, it was better to be there at 8, and, also naturally, as I sat in the car and gradually noticed that no one was sitting in any of the other cars, I looked up and saw that the sign said 8:30-9. It’s almost too civilized.

So I took a walk to the drugstore, bought some things I needed (razor blades, shaving cream) and resisted some things I didn’t need (O, The Oprah Magazine; “Live your best life”—it depressed me), picked up the Times (which also depressed me, with its disastrous financial news), and stopped at a flea market that has sprung up in a pedestrian area, a sort of piazza, west of the Sanctuary. A woman was arranging items that she said had been used in catalogue shoots but were otherwise brand-new. For five dollars, I got a straw-colored linen top that I would change into at the first opportunity. Then I went and sat in the car. Again.

A week ago, I woke up in Millheim, Pennsylvania, at the Millheim Hotel. Millheim is about halfway through Pennsylvania, on Route 45, which is parallel to I-80. I had left New York on Wednesday afternoon, having decided to stretch the trip to Ohio over two days, and arrived at the Millheim just at dusk. You walk through the restaurant (which was packed) to the bar at the back and ask the bartender for a room. The Millheim, which is more than two hundred years old, is under new management, and the bartender must be new to innkeeping, because when he explained that the bathrooms were communal (I knew this) he added that I was the only guest. A seasoned innkeeper probably wouldn’t let you know that you were the only guest.

For fifty dollars, he gave me a room with windows onto the fine broad balcony over 45. Unfortunately, the windows didn’t open, but I could sit out on the balcony, even though it was under construction. In one corner of my room was a birdcage with a bird perched in it. I wasn’t sure whether it was a toy or a specimen of taxidermy, but it was certainly not a live bird. It was a Monty Python bird. I decided to put it out of sight, and as I lifted the cage off its stand to set it on the floor, the bird flipped and swung upside down from its perch, clinging by its tiny wired claws.

Before settling in, I took a walk. Parallel to Route 45 is a narrow road along a stream with a thriving population of ducks. A woman and a little boy were out there with a loaf of sliced bread feeding the ducks, trying to make sure the ducklings got their share before the big ducks swooped in.

There is always something going on at the Millheim Hotel. I had missed Lobster Night (every Tuesday), and regrettably would not be in town for the Goose Dinner (the following weekend). “It’s Pizza Night,” the bartender told me. “If you order a pizza, you get a free pitcher of beer.” I was just one person—what was I going to do with an entire pizza? One of the regional specialties, advertised over the bar, was a Cheese and Bologna Plate. One of that night's specials was the Pennsylania Dutch Pizza, which comes with steak and brown gravy.

When I'd had enough pizza (mushroom and pepper), the bartender let me take the pitcher upstairs and quaff beer on the balcony, and it was while sitting out there, with a waning but still substantial moon in the east, thinking about ducks and watching traffic come around the bend on 45—horse-and-buggies (there is a large Amish population in Penns Valley), a semi carrying a load of hay—and pondering the meaning of a sign across the street that said Hamper to Hanger (. . . oh, it was a laundromat), that it came to me: Millheim is not named after some eponymous founder, one Herr Millheim; its name is Pennsylvania Dutch for Home of the Mill.

In the morning, I went looking for a cup of coffee, and this is my only complaint about Millheim: no coffee. There was a café down the street, but it is for nightlife. The only store that was open was the butcher; it had a sign in the window advertising Homemade Bologna and a smokehouse in the back. I had a chance to look at the town’s new mural, which I’d noticed on the way in and read about in the local paper, the Bellefonte Gazette: “Millheim Celebrates Intersection of Art, History and Culture.” The mural, designed by Elody Gyekis and realized by her and a group of local volunteers, takes the form of a trompe-l’oeil quilt hanging on a trompe-l’oeil clothesline. It’s full of wonderful details: cows, local produce, elaborate church towers, Victorian porches—“icons of Millheim and Penns Valley.” Along the top border, as if rolling down Route 45, are a horse-and-buggy followed by a car followed by a skateboard. A millstream pours down onto the sidewalk.

I hit the road, and while negotiating a detour I found a country store. I asked a codger sitting out front if there was coffee inside, and he said he thought there was a fresh pot. The grocer greeted me with “Howdy-do.” He had only one size cup—50 cents. “I don't have any heavy coffee drinkers,” he said. “Only sippers.” I thought about taking two, but I wasn't sure I liked his emphasis on the word “heavy.”

That detour was short, but it led to a longer detour, and it was a while before I got back on I-80. And it was shortly after that that I got stopped by the state trooper and ticketed for my evil-eye worry beads.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Did you know it’s against the law in Pennsylvania to have worry beads hanging from your rearview mirror? It counts as a windshield obstruction. They won't stop you for worry beads, but if a state trooper happens to see you, say, speeding on I-80, he might, if you are lucky, write you up for worry beads instead, and save you $72 and points on your license. In gratitude, I kept it under 75 for the rest of the trip.

I also took a few detours on scenic routes. This was in on Route 6, in Ohio, alongside Lake Erie:

An alpaca looks like a cross between a sheep and a camel. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel, like those animals with seedpod wheels in "The Amber Spyglass," the third volume of the Philip Pullman trilogy.

Beyond the alpacas was a beautiful rose garden, and I doubled back to smell the roses. They were planted in a big round arrangement, like a mandala: red, yellow, white, coral, pink. This deep-pink rose was the sweetest, sweeter than Kool-Aid.

While smelling the roses, I heard mariachi music. I had stumbled onto the Lorain County Latino Celebration, in Lakeview Park. The singer, playing a guitarron (a jumbo guitar), was holding his high notes in shameless showoff fashion. Lorain, Ohio, calls itself "The International City," and between the mariachis and the alpacas, I was inclined to go along with it.

On the way home, back on I-80, just as I was getting into that part of Pennsylvania where traffic starts to build toward New York, there was a sign flashing the auspicious message “FAIR TRAFFIC.” I never thought of traffic in tidal terms before, but I guess the two rush hours are exactly that: the morning rush, or flood tide, starts at about 7:30; the ebb begins at perhaps 3:30 or 4. I was going against the tide, and with cars that is a good thing.

I arrived in Manhattan a little after 6 P.M. I can never decide, when I come back after a long trip, whether to go straight home and unload and worry about alternate side parking in the morning (once I get out of the car, I am not getting back in), or to cruise for a spot and carry my baggage several blocks. I decided to cruise, as K Street was not far out of the way (nothing), and then I might as well try the block where the good independent coffee shop used to be (nothing that wouldn’t make me feel like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to squeeze her big foot into a tiny glass slipper), and as long as I was fantasizing I visited the Sanctuary, where, lo and behold, even though the car in front of me turned into the cul-de-sac, with room for only seven cars, and paused as if to back up into a spot at the far end, miraculously it left the spot for me: the best possible parking place, good till eight o’clock on Thursday morning.

So I had to carry home a basket containing a rust-colored chrysanthemum with a crown of blossoms about a yard in diameter. It was worth it.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Clean, Shop, Park

I returned with the cats to Manhattan last Friday morning, and found a Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot outside the good independent coffee shop, which is now closed, gone, defunct, kaput. Then I rushed home (via the bank) to await the bathtub reglazers. The apartment was an unholy mess, having been uninhabited most of the summer: dusty, sticky, stale. I needed a cleaning lady.

I’d been hoping for a Portuguese cleaning lady, because I noticed how clean the Portuguese island of Flores, in the Azores, was (except for the beach: I guess Azorean women don’t swim). My last cleaning lady was Polish, and she was a pro, but somehow, perhaps deliberately, I lost her number. I may be destined never to employ the same cleaning lady twice: they clean once and they know too much.

I asked a neighbor whom I ran into last week on the elevator if she knew the name of the blond girl on my floor who had given me the Polish cleaning lady’s number, thinking I must face down this peculiarity. She didn’t know the girl’s name, but her own cleaning lady happened to be in her apartment just at that moment. “Do you want to meet her?” she asked. Her cleaning lady is Peruvian, the sister of a porter in our building, who died suddenly a few years back. I can still picture him in the basement, energetically breaking down cardboard boxes and bundling them for recycling. Maybe she had his clean gene.

She arrived on Saturday morning, late, with a sore big toe. I ran to the store for proper equipment: rubber gloves (size medium), Clorox cleaner in a spray bottle, scratchy sponges, paper towels. She started in the kitchen, while I sorted my clothes in the bedroom and did the laundry. More than an hour later, she was still in the kitchen. I began to feel anxious. The laundry was in the dryer, and I was running out of things to do. I had already removed the brown paper and masking tape from around the blindingly white, freshly reglazed bathtub, and told her not to touch it (I had to wait twenty-four hours before using it: plenty of time for the reglazers to disappear into Queens with my $335 before I noticed the little nubs on the surface). She knew my vacuum cleaner better than I did, which was heartening. But it looked as if she was never going to get to the part where she mopped. I began to think there might be a reason that I had never heard of a Peruvian cleaning lady.

Finally, after vacuuming the bedroom, she requested the mop, and then she was done. “So,” I said, broaching the mercenary topic, “you’ve been here about four hours—”

“I no work by hour,” she said. Ah! That would forgive a lot of moving at one’s own pace. She considered briefly, and then said, “Eighty, for you.” She had not bustled around, but somehow everything was clean. She had handled all my little treasures—the tile from the Alhambra, the chicken Christmas ornament, the two mosaic-glass candleholders—and arranged them prettily, as my mother would have done. It took me a while to realize that I no longer had to move around my apartment in a spirit of recoil.

On her way out, lying in the hall between her and the door was Norbert, sprawled on his back with his hind legs splayed, airing his prosperous white belly. She got out her cell phone and took his picture.

I think I have a cleaning lady.


Too much excitement attended my return to the alternate-side-parking circuit. This morning I put on a new dress that I bought yesterday, the pink of certain French geraniums. I was parked in an ordinary 8:30-10 Monday-Thursday spot. I drove home first, to unload the trunk, which was full of things I had brought back from the beach. In my absence this summer, the Muni Meters went up. I attempted to feed two quarters into one, realizing that I wouldn’t be able to leave the windows rolled down because someone might steal the little piece of paper off my dashboard. The Muni Meter refused to admit my coins. A doorman told me it wasn’t working and pointed me to one up the street. I started out for it, clutching my quarters, and then decided that I might as well take my bags out of the trunk and ride up the elevator and drop them off in my apartment, which, after all, was on the way to the Muni Meter. Then, of course, as I had not yet gotten a ticket when I came out, I couldn’t resist pushing it by going across the street for a cup of coffee from the guy with the cart, and by the time I got to my car, two—not one but two—cops were giving a ticket to the truck that had pulled in behind me.

Back on Penny Lane (Italian barber, Chinese laundry, Greek coffee shop), the Broom had just passed, and I pulled in behind an S.U.V. with vanity plates, which had not moved. (Later I saw that it had a permit on its dashboard from the D.O.T. The agencies that make the rules are always the first to flout them.) It was hot, sitting out there facing east, once the sun rose over the high-rises. I had with me the ticket for my winter coat, which I left at the Chinese laundry last June. Occasionally in the summer I thought about my winter coat, but not with longing. I never had the ticket with me when I was near the Chinese laundry, and I wasn’t about to make a special trip. Belatedly I noticed the warning on the ticket: “Not responsible for items left over 30 days.” I was almost in front of the Chinese laundry, so I went in to see if they still had my winter coat. Eureka! The cost was $14. I gave the man a twenty and said he should keep the change, to cover the cost of storage. “Thank you,” he said, accepting graciously.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Last April in Provincetown, the Ukulele Caravan made its climactic stop at a memorial, mit ukulele, for Frank D. Schaefer, the proprietor of the White Horse Inn, who died a year ago this weekend, on September 14, 2007. Frank’s wife, Mary J. Martin Schaefer, a.k.a. Uke Diva, told the crowd (and it was a crowd) that at first Frank said he didn’t want a memorial, but, when pressed, he said, Well, maybe something at the Arts Association, with ukulele.

It was good to remember Frank, and touching to realize that he drew many of his friends from among people who had originally been guests at his inn. One such guest who became a friend repeated a story that Frank had told (imitating Frank's enthusiastic German accent) about a Provincetown character who invited him for Thanksgiving and put popcorn in the turkey stuffing: “Popcorn flying out the ass!”

The music at the memorial mit ukulele was enough to win over the most hardened ukulele skeptic. John Kavanagh (above, with Mary), of Nova Scotia, played Bach and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Patsy Monteleone (right) played a sublime arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Sonic Uke, a.k.a. Jason Tagg (above, with cookies) and Ted Gottfried (below Jason), the duo who produced the Caravan and who dreamt up the annual New Year’s Eve Uke Drop in the Village, did something silly in platinum-blond wigs, and a young woman called Jamie Scandal (below), who had a kind of clownish Mae West shtick, said that, though she hadn’t known Frank Schaefer, she drew comfort from the knowledge that “normal people will find each other.”

Roni and Peter, guests who had become friends and doubled as uke buffs, baked ukulele-shaped cookies. There was good champagne, and when the memorial proper was over, everyone went back to the White Horse and played into the night.

Frank would have loved it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ship's Log

Sunday, 9/7/08. Bailed eight inches of rainwater, gift of Hurricane Hannah. She was a well-organized storm, even a compartmentalized one, dumping the rain in two installments and releasing her winds between them. Actually, after I’d bailed and even sponged, a puddle kept appearing near the transom. It turns out that the false chest, or whatever you’d call the hollow space under the seat in the stern, is full of water. Pete noticed before the storm, when we were battening down the hatches, that she is listing to starboard and suspected as much. I unscrewed the wooden seat and lifted it off: the water was seeping out of a tiny fissure where a screw had pierced the fiberglass. I added it to my list of things to worry about when the season is over.

I left the marina at about 5 P.M., heading up the bay on the outgoing tide, with the wind at my back. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go. I steered out toward a big red buoy, and suddenly there was a boat behind me. It was the Boss out on the bay, with a party of people in his boat, all grinning at me. He wanted to talk! I have trouble recognizing people I know out on the bay, basically because I can’t believe I’m out on the bay, much less that I know people who are out on the bay. Also, it’s not easy for me to hear over the sound of the engine, and I can't turn it down very far, either (that idle-speed-control gizmo again). Finally, I caught what the Boss was saying. “How long did it take you to bail out the boat?” he shouted. “About twenty minutes!” I shouted back (not counting the time I spent screwing around with the lid on the water trap).

The Boss asked where I was going, and I vaguely indicated north, toward Howard Beach, but I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. There’s the osprey nest in that direction. I turned in a circle, testing conditions. If I went very far east, up the bay, it was going to be a choppy ride home. I always hesitate to go west on the outgoing tide, for fear of being swept out to sea. So I headed south, into Vernam Basin, where there is a marina and a cement plant visited by a barge heaped with gravel or something. I figured it would be sheltered from the wind in there. I started from way back near a buoy and lined myself up with the middle of the channel, because the chart shows submerged pilings on either side.

I was going alongside the marina, trying to stay out of trouble, approaching the wall of old tires that the barge docks against, when some people in the marina started waving at me. I thought they were saying I shouldn’t go there, so I turned around. I took a closer look at them, and there was no doubt about it: they were waving me in. Oh my God, it was M. & D., the couple I saw on Labor Day, him on his bike on the boardwalk, her in the hot tub in her fabulous back yard. There were two other couples with them, and a pair of swans. “They’ll move,” D. said, when I hesitated to displace the swans. So I came alongside the dock, shifted into neutral, cut the motor, handed D. a rope, and I was at a hurricane party.

It was as if they'd been expecting me. D. handed me a Corona, offered me crackers and cheese, gave me a cooler to sit on, and introduced everybody. There were stories about Florida and the hurricane and someone's glasses falling overboard and waiting for low tide to dive for them. D. pointed out an osprey perched on a pole and gave me his binoculars for a closer look: it was a very raffish-looking bird. At one point we heard a blast from a horn: a boat called the Little Prince had returned to the marina and found me in its slip. The men moved my boat, not by getting in and starting up the engine but by using the rope to guide her into position and tying her up alongside another boat.

As the party wound down, I got ready to leave, in order to be back before sunset, at 7:17. The men looked over my boat as I got in. My chart of Jamaica Bay was lying on the seat. “This boat is missing two things,” one of them said. “A cooler and a G.P.S.” Actually, I have a cooler: I showed them the discreet silver quilted insulated bag that I’d salvaged as flotsam from the bay—flexible, room for a pack of blue ice, a bottle of water, and two beers. I think they were just kidding about the G.P.S.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Comfort Level

I couldn’t help but notice that the new pedestrian sanctuary on Broadway below Forty-second Street now sports one of those mobile surveillance towers that the NYPD placed just off the boardwalk in Rockaway. I asked a policeman stationed there what it was called. “A watchtower?” he said. That’s all? Didn’t the police have some slang term for it? “A surveillance tower?” he said. I guess I wasn’t making myself clear. He said I could call it whatever I wanted.

So the mobile surveillance tower has an I.D. number at the top, preceded by the letters MSTF, which I have doped out as “Mobile Security Task Force.” A new sign at the pedestrian level says “NYPD Security Camera.” I knew there was something about sitting out in the middle of Broadway that I didn’t like, but I thought it was just the hot sun. Now I know: it’s being under surveillance.

There is another one of these sanctuaries farther down Broadway, below Twenty-third Street, just east of the Flatiron Building. I tried it out this morning and found it slightly uncomfortable. For one thing, there’s an entire park (Madison Square Park) right across the street, and wouldn’t you rather sit over there, among the fountains and the hydrangeas, enjoying a fine view of the Flatiron Building, than outside the parfumerie Jo Malone, which is promoting a fragrance called Sweet Lime and Cedar? (Sounds like a clothes closet that someone has spilled margarita mix in.)

But what really bothered me, I think, was that I didn’t know how much I could afford to relax. Could I put my bag down on the birdseed paving and sit back in the chair? Or would that be an invitation to a purse snatcher? Has New York City gotten so safe that I don’t need to be wary of purse snatchers? I guess not, if the NYPD must focus its MSTF on Times Square. So the message is that you can sit out there, but no, you should not get too comfortable.

Jamaica Bay Photo Gallery

Here is Broad Channel. Any resemblance to Venice is in the reflections. Note the swans, dead center. (I knew there was a reason I took this picture.)

The Cow Path, meandering into the open bay. Those two knobs sticking up behind the marsh grass must be Bay Towers. (Not the reason I took this picture.)

Ah! Even the A train has its golden hour!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


The regulars must have all taken the three-thirty ferry home last Friday, because on the five-thirty boat, although the upper deck was fuller than I’ve ever seen it, I didn’t recognize anyone. There were a lot of kids with backpacks and duffelbags, bound for Breezy Point, I presume. They had already missed the Tour de Breeze, a bike ride from bar to bar, kicking off the weekend.

In Rockaway—or at least in Breezy Point and Broad Channel—Labor Day weekend is called Mardi Gras. I used to be scornful of this, as if they were all ignorant in Queens, as if they didn’t know that Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. But this year I got it: you hit more bars and restaurants and parties with friends over the course of four days, in an end-of-summer frenzy, that what else could you call it? Mardi Gras is basically a synonym for binge.

It was the last Friday night at Connolly’s, which closes for the season after Labor Day. I guess it’s good that it closes, because if it didn’t it wouldn’t be so special. I drank three pints of Guinness, played an execrable game of darts (Skid Row said I should have thrown the javelin for the Olympics), and sang the theme song of Mr. Jingaling, keeper of the keys to Santa’s toy shop (“Mr. Jingaling, How you tingaling, Keeper of the Keys”), which the master plumber said was obscene. We arrove home drunk.

On Saturday, my neighbor ACE threw himself a birthday party. In the morning, I had to clean my outdoor shower because I’d agreed to let his guests use it. I kept him company until his guests showed up, hours late. Then I went out to dinner with friends from the marina. Home again, with ACE’s party still raging next door, I tried to watch “Moby-Dick” on TV but kept falling asleep.

Sunday started with brunch at the Wharf and ended with a Nascar race and ribs at the Catwoman’s. Monday I intended to take a brisk walk along the boardwalk, ran into a friend on his bike, ran into another friend waiting for his beach crowd to turn up, lost momentum, and wound up having a fish taco with guacamole at this funky shack that has opened on Beach 96th Street. There are two guys working there, and they treat you as if you were their only customer, and consequently the service is extremely slow but refreshingly attentive. I kept telling myself, as I waited to place my order, that I should just go home and eat grapes, but I really was curious (and hungry), and it wasn't a waste of time, because, after all, it was on my list of things to do: Check out Mexican place.

Then I ran into some more friends, on their way to the beach or to Connolly’s, and I was tempted to join them. The serious partiers take Connolly’s along with them to the beach, in the form of big takeout jugs of piña coladas from the Slushy machine (Shhhh). But this time I stayed the course: I walked the walk, I swam the swim, and then I dropped in on a friend who has a hot tub and I soaked the soak.


Twice over the weekend I went out in the boat by myself, and both voyages were minor triumphs. On Sunday, I took a veritable sea hike, circumnavigating the bay counter-clockwise. Right at the outset, two huge birds flew by, and at first I thought they were egrets, but there was no mistaking the big orange bill on that neck stretched in flight: these were swans. Near the airport, there were speedboats pulling delighted children on inflatables. I didn’t like having to simultaneously stay out of their way and negotiate their wakes. On the Brooklyn side, in the North Channel, small boats had pulled up to the shore of the new garbage park: the topped-off landfill in Brooklyn, near Fresh Creek. The longest part of the trip was past Canarsie, where there is a big pier, and up along Barren Island. There was a big tub of a boat ahead of me that I thought was anchored, and wondered why I wasn’t getting any closer to it. It was a party boat (the Sheryl Princess?), moving very slowly, crowded with dancers, and with its bass turned up high and thrumming out over the water.

Gradually I am learning to look beyond the buoys (Red Nun No. 26, 24, 22 … 8) to the more distant landmarks, like the Verrazano Bridge and the blue dome of my local cloacal, or water-treatment plant. After three hours of putt-putting along between pols, I turned in to Broad Channel for a closer look at the aquatic alleys of houses on stilts with back-yard docks. “Dead Slow / No Wake” reads a sign. It’s not exactly Venice, but it is a tiny insular water world (and they do celebrate Mardi Gras). Kids were everywhere, on jet skis and in kayaks and even swimming in the bay. I thought I recognized the ones who’d been getting towed.

By now I had been out for almost an entire tide, or half a cycle. I’d left the marina at low tide and figured that now the tide might be high enough for me to go through the Cow Path and not have to go back the way I’d come, with the sun in my eyes, making it hard to see the buoys, much less make out whether they were red or green. The worst that could happen was that I’d run aground and have to sit in the weeds until the tide lifted me. Now two jet skis came shooting out of the marsh grass, showing me the way in. And once I was in, two geezers on jet skis came along, slow and stately, showing me where the turn was. Also, I figured out how to read the water: Where the water is rippling, it’s deeper, deep enough to move. Where it’s still, it’s just standing there, waiting to wrap vegetation around your propeller.

So I came out into the open water of the bay. There were black people on the tiny beach, fishing, camping. Others were up to their chests in the water. Nobody was at the marina when I got back. My whole left side was sore from gripping the throttle and feeling it vibrate up to my neck and down my back to the hard wooden seat. I was going to hang around the marina and enjoy the sunset, but I was attacked by mosquitoes and fled.


Monday my boat trip was easier—a stroll instead of a hike. I headed up the bay on the incoming tide, to the Bay House, in Meadowmere Park—I hadn’t been there all season. This time I saw planes instead of swans. The first that soared over was a TAM plane, from Brazil. A plane lands at J.F.K. every two minutes. Halfway to the Bay House, a little two-seater Skidoo passed, coming from the other direction, and the man at the controls gave me a big, lordly wave: It was the Boss! From the marina! I recognized his girlfriend, in the seat next to him, by her ponytail. I was thrilled to be going somewhere that the Boss had just come from, except that I didn't stop at the Bay House. By the time I got there, I had to turn around and come back, to get home by sunset.

On the way back, it seemed to me that the boat was going all by itself, rocking and leaping ahead, like a horse on its way back to the stable. I could even take my hand off the throttle. When I turned in to the marina, the Boss was on the dock and waved at me again. Actually, I don’t like to be conspicuous when I come in, in case I slam into the dock and hear myself yelling something anachronistic, something nobody has heard in years, like “Whoa, Nellie!” At the mouth of the marina, I pulled out the gas line. I slowed down as I approached my slip, but not so much that I stalled (remember, I have that broken idle-control gizmo), shifted into neutral as I turned into the slip, then quick shifted into reverse as I came alongside the dock and grabbed the line lying there: I was home. When I looked up, I was surprised to see that the boat in the neighboring slip had come into the marina right behind me (so maybe the Boss was waving to them?). It was piloted by a woman in a bathing suit, and both she and the older man with her, whom I took to be her father (an older woman, whom I took to be her mother, sat silently in the bow), complimented me on the skill of my landing.