Monday, August 23, 2010

"The Bungalows of Rockaway"

There was a movie premiere in Rockaway last night: the final cut of the documentary “The Bungalows of Rockaway” was shown at Fort Tilden. It rained torrentially, and I was late, so I didn’t stop at the cash machine, and to make the price of admission ($20, to benefit the Rockaway Music and Arts Council) I had to borrow ten dollars from the film’s director, Jennifer Callahan.

I’d seen two earlier cuts of the documentary, and I liked what they did with the final version. It has green-and-yellow illustrations that loosely impose the structure of a storybook, and lighthearted music that celebrates the word “bungalow.” (It means “in the Bengal style”; a bungalow has a pitched roof and a porch.) In addition to archival footage (including Uncle Julius, a.k.a. Groucho Marx, on the beach) and interviews with historians and residents, the movie has a villain (Robert Moses). What brought the audience to the point of hissing, though, was the announcement in mid-film that the management of the Breezy Point cooperative had refused to admit the filmmakers.

Jennifer and the producer, Elizabeth Logan Harris, came to my bungalow a few years ago with a cameraman. As a newcomer to Rockaway, I had no stories of olden days to tell, but I’ve never altered the appearance of the bungalow, so they shot some of its architectural details. Naturally, I watched for my home, which appeared for about three seconds: a shot of the auxiliary kitchen, panning from refrigerator to cathedral ceiling and down to the sink with the mirror over it that is too high for me to see anything in (it’s for tall guests). The narration at that point was about the simplicity of the bungalows.

There was a reception afterward, during which I tore off to the bank in the rain so I could repay the ten dollars I’d borrowed from Jennifer. The filmmakers are hoping that “The Bungalows of Rockaway” will be shown on Channel 13 on September 16th.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Class Reunion

“I saw the car!” said a fellow-alumna of Lourdes Academy at the anti-reunion in Cleveland. “It has so much character.” She was speaking of the Éclair, which had passed inspection at Bulloch’s ($37.50) and made it yet again all the way across Pennsylvania, and was parked in front of the Saucy Bistro, where a group had gathered in remembrance of Mary Beth, who did not make it to our fortieth-year high-school reunion. I was prepared to deliver a eulogy—a brief eulogy—but no one was in the mood. So we drank to her memory—her sister Cathy, Susan, Jayne, Mary and Dean, Mary and Patti, Meg, Nancy, Paula, Mary Lou, Aura and Tony—and then those of us who were going to the official reunion formed a caravan to a sports bar called Stampers.

What can I say about seeing what people look like forty years after high-school graduation? It was an all-girls Catholic school, and during our tenure there the nuns came out of their habits, and shortly after that most of them left the convent (and some of them left the Church) and the school closed. The people I’ve stayed in touch with look the same to me, and the people I haven’t stayed in touch with I wouldn’t have recognized without their nametags. One of my old friends kept going out to the parking lot to smoke, and I went along with her, out of force of habit. Tareytons, Doublemint gum, and Tab were our poison back then.

After one trip to the parking lot (and one too many pints of beer), I decided that I would not have composed a eulogy in vain. So I put on my cowboy hat and took the stage (such as it was), and I talked about how Mary Beth and Susan and I used to play Michigan rummy, in a version packaged as a board game with the characters from “Bonanza” on the cover. We each adopted the persona of a character from “Bonanza.” Mary Beth was Pa, Susan was Adam, and I was Little Joe (no one wanted to be Hoss), and for years Pa and Little Joe carried on a correspondence … But never mind. No one was listening. Everyone was busy reminiscing about the blue plaid school uniforms and the flamingo-pink (or was it tomato-soup red?) gym “costumes” we were compelled to wear. In the yearbook, our hair styles are as dated as those of our mothers when we laughed at them as kids.

In the end, I had such a good time that I left the Éclair in the sports-bar parking lot and accepted a ride home to a friend’s house, where I slept on a luxurious couch. In the morning, she drove me to my car. The Eclair may have plenty of character, but on this occasion her battery was dim unto death. I jumped back out of the car and stopped my friend from driving away. I don’t know which is worse: having a dead battery from some mysterious mechanical ailment or having a dead battery from the stupidity of leaving your lights on. In that caravan the day before, it had looked like it might rain, and so, as if in a funeral procession, I had turned on my lights, telling myself I’d be sure and remember to turn them off. But the evening brightened, and despite a trip back to the car for my camera and all those trips to keep the smoker company and to get stuff together for a night on my friend’s couch, all I noticed was that the automatic door locks weren’t working.

I have jumper cables (in fact, they were a gift from the late Mary Beth), but I’d never actually used them to jump-start my own car. My friend offered to call her husband; I thought about calling AAA. But it was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, and rude to disturb the peace. We could do this. The hardest part proved to be getting the hood of my friend’s car open. Fortunately, I have a little generator in the trunk, with instructions on it about which color clamp to attach to which battery terminal and in what order. I wish there were a mnemonic device for this. I attached first the red (positive), then the black (negative) onto the good battery, and then the red and the black onto the dead one, and tried starting my car. Nothing happened. “Doesn’t it have to touch the metal?” my friend said. I had been trying to cover as much territory with the clamps as possible, but I reattached them to the nuts—red, black, red, black—and this time my battery gave off a little spark, and when I opened the door, the car beeped to tell me the key was in the ignition: It was alive!

I drove off to see Dee, who helped me celebrate my name day. I’d almost forgotten, in the effort to resist the brunch and Mass that formed the centerpiece of the reunion weekend, that August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, is the day when all people named Mary celebrate (at least in Europe). The superstition is that if you go into a body of water on that day, you will enjoy good health for the rest of the year. So I took a dip in Lake Erie, my natal waters. The slime along the rim and the packed mud on the floor and the wavelets don’t have that health-giving salty tang you expect from water once you’ve gotten used to the ocean. Once, this water tasted not just fresh but sweet to me. Not this time.

Back in New York, on Tuesday morning I moved my car to a spot on a Thursday/Friday street, but when I went back to it on Wednesday, there was a ticket pinned under the windshield wiper. Damn. I had parked along a median strip, and it was hard to tell which sign applied to my side of the strip, an ambiguity that I plan to develop when, inevitably, I contest this ticket for parking in a No Standing zone.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


My New York State inspection sticker expires—or, rather, expired—on 08/08/10. It seemed so far away back in June, when I renewed my car registration. And there is no grace period. The police come around in the middle of the night, my neighbor T. says, and shine a flashlight on every car to read the stickers in its windshield. What’s more, 08/08/10 means midnight, Saturday, August 7, 2010, not Sunday, August 8, at 11:59 P.M. I don’t have till Monday. They take this stuff seriously.

I had been planning on driving into the city on Monday and doing various good deeds while my mechanic gave the car its emissions test, etc. But last Friday, when I called, they said Monday was too busy and that I should come in on Saturday. No way I was leaving the beach on Saturday.

So I called Bulloch, my Rockaway mechanic. Baby Bulloch said for a car as old as mine (1990) they couldn't do the test on weekends—something about the equipment being hooked up to the state. It was already too late in the day to get it done on Friday. I could bring the car in on Monday. Meanwhile, park it in a driveway.

(Do they make these things expire on Sunday on purpose?)

My neighbor T., who has been borrowing my car on a regular-enough basis that his two-year-old son can pick out the Éclair in a parking lot (granted, it has on its rear bumper a distinctive lineup of stickers for the fishermen’s parking lot), arranged for me to park behind his truck in the lot of the Getty station on the corner. The car could still get ticketed, the owner warned. But unless the cops really have been doing nighttime surveillance and knew the Éclair was due for inspection and were just waiting for me to fuck up, it shouldn’t attract any attention, except maybe to the wisdom of its owner in putting it in the lot, as our street is being torn up tomorrow. No Parking Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

There is so much commotion on the block. They are still working on the elevated station (once every hundred years, whether it needs it or not), which involves sprucing up the areas under the elevated that are owned by the M.T.A. A patch of broken concrete on our corner, under the El, separated only by a fence from T.’s deck, has been torn up (jackhammers, backhoes, rude awakenings). Right around the corner, a truck from the D.E.P. is pumping sewage from a manhole near the corner to one up the street. In between is a major sinkhole, caused by a blockage in the sewer line. This is what they are going to fix.

Yesterday, a man with the face of a villain in a Beatles movie came down the block with a camera. He was documenting conditions, he said, in case property owners complain of damage. Though his face could so easily have turned to a snarl, as he took pains to explain to me that he was completely neutral, that these pictures would show an impartial view of what had been here before the excavation and would be used to solve arguments between the contractor and the property owner after the excavation, his face mellowed, and I saw that he was not a villain but a nice man with a camera.

Much as I hate to see the summer end, there’s nothing like a sewer project to make a girl's fancy turn toward thoughts of fall in Manhattan.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


[From the archives]

Ship’s Log, September 6, 2003

Splendid day. Started out at high tide (around 4 P.M.) after bailing half a foot of water (and one dead fish) out of the boat. I had a vague plan to go around Broad Channel counterclockwise. Pete suggested an alternative route: up through the Wildlife Refuge and back via the airport channel. Angela, his wife, was in New England. An old friend of Pete’s named Brian had turned up at the marina, and before I left, Pete said that Brian wanted to take him and Angela out to dinner to celebrate their birthdays, which were within a day of each other, and he (Pete) was entitled to a substitute, so if I got back in time . . . It was a kind of round-about invitation to dinner. When I finally figured out what he was saying, I didn’t have the heart to tell Pete that I had already made dinner plans. I had accepted an invitation for seven o’clock from friends of a friend. The friend himself couldn’t make it, but I was stuck.

(I was struggling with whether or not I was part of a couple. I had met this friend—I’ll call him Dick—on the beach in late July, after an e-mail correspondence begun during the World Series the fall before. I’d taken him out in the boat, we’d gone to the Wharf together, he’d treated me to dinner at Popeye’s. We’d gone out in a big sailboat with a friend of his in Long Island Sound. We’d had bad sex, we’d had good sex. Our sex life was about three days old. When the invitation came from Michelle, his friend and my neighbor in Rockaway, I didn’t consult with him before accepting, because I wanted to be independent. I WAS independent, and though being with Pete and Angela had made me long to be part of a couple, I couldn’t assume that I was; I was afraid to. I didn’t know if Dick felt we were a couple. Anyway, I saw no reason not to accept the invitation, but I didn’t want to go if Dick wasn’t going. Michelle was HIS friend. As it turned out, he was busy that night with something he didn’t elaborate on, and he was trying to get Michelle to switch the day and time.)

I chose Pete’s course. They were dredging the Cow Path, a channel navigable only at high tide—and frankly not visible to me, on the chart or in the water, at high tide or low—so this was not the time to discover the Cow Path. A plume of dark clammy sand rose from the dredging equipment in the marshes. I went west, past the Wharf, to the buoys marking the channel at Ruffle Bar—Pumpkin Patch Channel. Watching the other boats, I found my way into Shad Creek, where I saw the backs of the houses on stilts that are visible from a car on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel. There was a tiny yacht club, some huge houses, lots of American flags, boats moored and docked.

I tried to find my way into the Wildlife Refuge by the route Pete had shown me on the chart (I’d learned not to call it a map), but all I could see was reeds, so I went back out to the channel and headed north, toward the skyline and the North Channel Bridge, to circle around by JFK. I was still alongside the Wildlife Refuge when the motor died. I got it started again, but it quit on me again after about three minutes or three hundred yards. I checked the gas line, checked the connections, made sure the throttle was at Start and the gear was in neutral. I got it started again, but it kept choking. I tried to sweet talk the engine, stroking it. By now I was under the North Channel Bridge, in water that was very shallow, according to the chart. I was very far from home and I was cutting corners. (This was the first sign of panic. I’d always been careful to stay in deep water even at high tide, but now, instead of observing the buoys, the channels—the lane markers of the sea—I was just heading straight for my objective. Not a good idea. If I were in a car, I'd be going offroad, cutting through fields.) I called Pete on my cell phone, which I had bought for precisely this purpose, but I didn’t have his cell-phone number, so I knew that my little SOS was sounding in the bungalow at the marina with no one there to hear it. Even when Pete came in from the boatyard, it was unlikely he would listen to his messages.

The motor conked out again under the bridge. I was drifting, between efforts to start the engine, and three guys who had been out fishing tried to help. They had a gaff hook and one of them came aboard. He got the engine started and said that maybe I had flooded it; it was idling O.K. They had just come from my home marina and didn’t much like the idea of towing me all the way back over there. Pete had often stated that beginners make the mistake, when something goes wrong, of thinking they have to get the boat home, which is not the most important thing and which is how motors get ruined. I could have asked to be towed to Howard Beach, on this side of the bay, but all my instincts were for going home.

My fishermen friends advised me to go full throttle across the bay. One of them gave me his cell-phone number and said that if I didn’t call he was going to assume I was safe and forget about me. Need I mention that three men on their way home from a day of fishing on Jamaica Bay were three sheets to the wind?

I managed two or three more spurts across the bay. Each time the motor died, I tried sweet-talking it, stroking it, crooning instead of cursing. It felt hot, feverish. At one point, I was so involved with the engine and ever so slightly panicked that I let go of the buoys: I lost track of them, like losing the count in a piece of music—it’s hard to find your way back in. I had been bobbing among some buoys that I knew marked the channel wide of the airport, but I couldn’t see the next buoy to line myself up with, and when I got the engine started again I headed directly for the smokestack on the peninsula. Basically, I set a course directly for home, with no regard for any obstacles in my way. When the motor died yet again, and I tried to restart it, I noticed it was smoking.

I started making phone calls. I called the fisherman and left a message and my vague location. By this time it was twenty to seven and I realized I wasn’t going to make my dinner date. I called my hostess, Michelle; she’d called me that afternoon to confirm, so her number was stored on the phone. “Hello, Michelle? Listen, I’m stuck out in Jamaica Bay and won’t be back in time for dinner.” “You can come late—we will wait for you.” “Oh, no, don’t do that.” Why wouldn’t she just let me cancel? “Unless you think it would be too much for you . . .” “That’s it, by the time I get home I will be . . .” I felt like a fraud. It was such an extreme excuse for getting out of a dinner date.

About Pete I realized that my only hope was to be in mid-message, sounding urgent, as he happened to be passing the phone. As I was prolonging my message—“Help! I’m out here off the airport and there’s about an hour of light left”—someone picked up the phone and said, “Mary?” “Oh Pete, thank God you’re there.” “No, it’s Pete’s friend Brian. Pete is upstairs in the shower.”

I was saved.

I explained to Pete, when he got out of the shower, that the motor was smoking, that I was alongside the airport, in the channel.

“Did you set the anchor?” (He pronounced it "ankuh.")

“No, I was trying to row.”

“Hah! I’ve seen you row. Set the anchor and relax. I’ve got to borrow a boat and we’ll come find you.”

I had in fact made a stab at rowing, but my oars had disappeared over the winter, and I was working with a pair of mismatched paddles. I wasn’t going anywhere. So I threw in the anchor. The phone rang while I was waiting. It was Dick, the man who couldn’t come to dinner, whose friends I was standing up. It sounded like he was at a party. “I’m stuck in the middle of Jamaica Bay,” I said. “Well, get out of there,” he said and hung up. No goodbye.

There was nothing to do now but enjoy the sunset. I had a camera with me (I’d taken a few shots of Shad Creek when it looked like that would be the high point of my adventure), so I used up the rest of the film on shots of airplanes taking off and the Manhattan skyline and the orange ripples on the water and the Rockaway skyline, with the trestle bridge I’d been heading for and the smokestack. When I ran out of film, I tried to write everything down. The buildings on the skyline were a deep, palpable gray. Gulls were shrieking all around me. Planes were taking off. Sunset was at 7:11. And now the moon was appearing. The water on the side of the boat away from the sun had a coat of purple over gray, all iridescent. On the side near the sun a network of gold veins formed by the wind or the current spread over the water, gold on black, weaving together into orange. Was it almost ugly?

I had only two light beers with me. I drank the last one.

Pete had given me his cell-phone number and I called him again.

“You’re not where you said you are,” he said. (No hello.) “Do you see any other boats where you are?”


“Do you see a runway?”

“Yes. It’s all pilings coming out from the airport.”

“Is it to your right or left?”

That was a hard question. Both. It was to my north, but Pete, for good reason, didn’t trust me to know the points of the compass. So he said, “Where is the moon, from where you are?”

“Southeast.” That was a trick question.

“And the control tower?”


“Now look at your chart. From where you are, is the water deep between you and the sunset?”

Between the cell phone, the chart, and the bifocals, I wasn’t sure I could manage in the waning light, but yes, the water was deep between me and the sunset. Pete needed to know, because he couldn’t risk ruining the boat he had borrowed by scraping it on the bottom.

He came out of the sunset in a flat white boat, with Brian in the bow. I was so glad to see them. I hauled up the anchor, and Pete tied the boat to a tow line. “Climb into this boat,” he said. “By the way, you need a lesson in reconnoitering.”

My job on the ride back was to make sure the little boat didn’t get caught in the wake of the tow boat and tip over. It did get caught at one point. In the marina, I climbed out, and Pete told me to row my boat into its slip while he and Brian returned the boat they’d borrowed. When they came down the dock, I was still in the same place, struggling. “What’s at the end of that line?” Pete asked, pointing behind me. “You’re snagged on something.” I drew it up: it was the anchor. It must have flipped out of the boat when it got caught in the wake.

I had told Pete about the three guys who told me to go full throttle across the bay, and he said there was a lesson in that: Don’t take advice from bozos. And another lesson: Don’t think you have to get the boat home. “And now we’re going to dinner, right?”

So we went to the Harbor Light, my second-favorite restaurant, after the Wharf, and I had Guinness and London broil. “No fish, right?” Pete said. I had told Michelle I’d call her when I got home. I didn’t mean to make anyone worry, and I did have the cell phone, but there were about four hours, from sunset to eleven, when I was incommunicado, sitting quite pleasantly, first in the boat and then in the bar with my rescuers. How was I going to account for this to Michelle and Dick? I decided simply to say that I had been kidnapped.

When I looked at the chart later, I saw that I was in a little back bay off Kennedy Airport, and if I had succeeded in going in the direction I’d been headed, I’d have gone up on a runway. A few weeks earlier, there had been a piece in the paper about some fishermen whose boat washed up on airport property, and they wandered the runways among jumbo jets before finding their way to the Port Authority Police. (That was point of the story: that in the age of the war against terrorism, the wayward fishermen at the airport had to find the police, not the other way around.) What would have happened if I hadn’t reached Pete? I probably would have tied up at the airport and sat there until the police came to arrest me.

Michelle rescheduled the dinner for the next day, and Dick went with me. We never did become a couple, though. Things started to unravel right after I referrred to him in public, twice, as my boyfriend, both times in a context of complaint. I think I knew that night that it wasn’t going to work out: him on his cell phone at a party in Manhattan, checking in; me riding at anchor in Jamaica Bay, ripe for other invitations.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Curb Cuts

For everything you ever wanted to know about curb cuts, see this article in yesterday's New York Times:

For a long-overdue three-part piece on boating, see below. If it's too long, read it one part at a time.

The Last Sunset

1. The Phone Call

With Angela and Pete, more than with anyone I know, I always call at the wrong time. I called last summer to ask how Angela’s mother was doing—she was very old, and had finally fallen and landed in the hospital—and they were just walking out the door to go to her funeral. There I was in Pete’s pocket. On Sunday, I was going to wait and call at about six, cocktail hour, but I called at four-thirty, determined to check one more thing off my list of things to do: See Buster about outboard (check). Call Angela and Pete (check). I needed to get the boat registered, which meant I needed the title, which meant I needed to get in touch with Angela, who had registered the boat to her and Pete’s business. I caught them in the car: they had just gotten into Rockaway with a load of plants that Angela’s sister the nun, out on Long Island, had gotten on sale at Lowe’s, and they were going back upstate to the farm in the morning. Pete handed me to Angela, who said in her mild voice, “Hi, Mary, how are you?” And then, after I gave her a hearty “I’m fine!” she said, “Mary, you just almost deafened me.” Pete had put me on speaker phone.

I was overjoyed to hear that they were in Rockaway. I invited them over for dinner—my friend Clancey and I were going to make chicken salad and grilled vegetables—but Angela griped about parking and also said that they were not comfortable leaving the dock once they were down there. Well, I blurted out, could we come to the dock for sunset?

One of the things I have always loved about the people on the dock was that, though they’d lived in those stilt houses on Jamaica Bay forever, they never got tired of the sunset. The night before, Clancey and I had gone to the Wharf for dinner and, failing to find a table outside, we were sitting just inside a window, rather forlornly. I went out to the car to get my cap and returned via the ladies’ room to be greeted at the bar by the Boss’s girlfriend, Sandra. The Boss was there, too, hiding behind his sunglasses. They had seen me dancing out the door. (The Beach Boys or something silly of my vintage were on the jukebox, and I guess I wasn’t that forlorn.) I was so relieved for having gone to the marina a week earlier and paid the Boss: $1,500, $500 for the remainder of last season (when I didn’t take the boat out at all) and $1,000 for this season. He and Sandra got a table outside, having left their name with the head waitress, and I was trying to do the same (though we’d already ordered) when Sandra relented and said, “Why don’t you sit with us?” I was elated to be at the Wharf watching the sunset with the Boss and his girlfriend. They are like Rockaway royalty. It was about eight o’clock, and sunset was at eight-twenty. The Boss complained that some guy who was waiting for a table was blocking his view.

So I was crowing about this on speaker phone when Angela said, “To be honest, Mary”—uh-oh, what was coming?—“I totally believe that the Boss stole everything over the years.”

2. The Message

Angela needed to get off the phone—Pete had gone into a deli, leaving her double-parked in the middle of the Boulevard—and she said she’d call me back. With one phone call, I had shattered the serenity of a Sunday afternoon. I started the coals and strung up some twine for the morning glories to climb on; if I was going to be in agony, I would at least be able to check one more thing off my list. So I missed the callback from Angela, but she left a message:

“You can come over for the sunset, but these are the ground rules: Bring a bag of ice. You can have two beers apiece. We can’t offer you anything else—all we have is some leftovers, just enough for ourselves. It’s a little embarrassing, but that’s the way it is.” She was almost inaudible, or maybe I didn’t want to hear anymore. For the boat, she told me I should bring the registration and a Xerox of my driver’s license. (Pete in the background: “Or she can fax it.”) “And there’s no water.” They hadn’t turned on the water in the bungalow since the start of last season, when they came home to find the place vandalized.

I couldn’t decide what to do. Clancey didn’t know Angela and Pete—they’d never met, though Clancey had been out in the boat with me—and she was disinclined to go. I decided to jump in the ocean before the lifeguards went off duty, at six. Actually, the last thing I wanted to squeeze into the hundred and forty minutes before sunset was a search for a photocopier on the peninsula. On the way down to the beach I had the idea of taking a picture of my driver’s license, downloading it to my computer, and printing it.

When I got back, Pete called, in his role as apologist for Angela. Really, my friend and I were welcome. “If you do come, we’d like to know what time, so we can be semi-prepared,” he said. So I told him I’d be there at eight: twenty minutes to sunset. I repeated all this to Clancey. She was more disinclined than ever to visit the dock. To her it was blazingly clear that Angela, at any rate, did not want company. Plus dinner was almost ready. “Could we take them some food?” I asked, knowing they would have already eaten. It was just too awkward. Not even my plan to take a digital picture of my license worked: the crucial information came out blurry. The ocean had solved nothing. Pete’s phone call had solved nothing.

While I stewed, Clancey grilled. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that this was all a Tom Sawyer-style ruse to get my guest to do the cooking. We had grilled-chicken salad with fresh dill and free mayonnaise that the girls in the deli had given us in packets (after telling us that a small jar of Hellman’s cost a shocking $5.49); potatoes, striped squash, eggplant, and a multicolored pepper—Clancey said it was called a chocolate pepper—from the organic farmstand; and a bottle of red wine, which I sipped just a little of. “I’m glad I ate before going over there,” I said. I had enough anxiety without adding hunger to it. “You sure you don’t wanna come with me?” I left, alone, at about seven-thirty.

I bought a bag of ice and called Pete on my way over. The gate to the marina was locked, no sign of Pete—I was a little early—so I showed how independent and resourceful I was by parking on the Drive. They had taught me to call it “the Drive,” instead of Beach Channel Drive, as they had taught me to call Rockaway Beach Boulevard “the Boulevard” (the neighborhood kids call it the Dirty Boulevard) and Ocean Parkway “the Parkway” and Rockaway Freeway “the Freeway.”

3. The Visit

The dead-end street from the Drive to the dock, High Tide Street, smelled of sewage. A few years ago, a developer put up apartment buildings here, on a street that floods regularly, twice a month. Who would choose to live on such a street? Did the agents arrange to show the apartments only at low tide? Many black children, including a toddler, were playing outside on the stoops and in the street. There’s a storm drain here, too. Between that and the tide and plumbing that obviously wasn’t adequate, the street had turned into Rockaway’s own cholera epidemic.

Angela had come out to dispose of one small plastic bag of household garbage. “I shouldn’t have said that about the Boss,” she said right away. “I can’t prove anything, and you don’t need to hear that.” She mentioned some things, like their dinghy, that had gone missing over the years. I hoped she didn’t suspect that he was the one who broke into their bungalow, that it was an inside job.

Pete had gone into the boatyard to wait for me at the gate—we had just missed each other. I gave Angela the bag of ice and went out to meet him. He made me go back up to the Drive and pull my car in the lot. “Otherwise,” he said, “you have to walk down that nasty street again.”

“So is this a hit-and-run or are you going to stay for a while?” Pete asked.

“One beer,” I replied. I had to get back to Clancey, and I knew they were busy—they were always busy. That’s why I hadn’t yet descended on them upstate, in the house they were fixing up to rent out to skiers. I was afraid they’d feel they had to drop everything and entertain me.

Pete was sorry that Clancey hadn't come with me. “See those clouds?” he said, pointing to a tiered arrangement of fluff to the north. “If the sun goes down right, those will light up beautifully.” But there was a bank of clouds at the horizon, and the sun might just plop behind it with no fireworks. “A nothing sunset,” Pete called it. A dud.

He showed me the plants they’d picked up from Angela's sister. The S.U.V. was crammed with them—hibiscus, phlox. The sister had gotten carried away—some of them cost only sixty cents. The plants surrounded an ancient pump that originally cost thousands of dollars; Pete had picked it up for a few hundred.

The Boss had mentioned the night before that Pete and Angela had auctioned off all their furniture, so I was semi-prepared for the empty bungalow. Pete stood outside sort of ruefully, almost ashamed, as I regarded the splintered railing and shuttered windows. The back windows were shuttered, too. Angela had set out the paperwork on a table against the back wall. “We’ll take care of business first,” she said. I signed where she told me to. I gave Pete an envelope with eighty-five dollars and the betting sheet from the Kentucky Derby. When I’d offered to pay for the boat, earlier in the summer, he refused, then said I could give him ten dollars. I wagered his ten dollars on a horse in the Kentucky Derby, choosing the horse on a hunch, but trying to channel Pete’s hunch: I picked Super Saver, and we won eighty-five dollars. It was not the fortune I imagined on my way back to the O.T.B., clutching the betting chit in my greedy little hands. Still, as Pete said, “It’s more than ten dollars.”

Pete offered me a beer. “We’ve got one Spaten and three Schaeffers,” he said. I took the Spaten. They had no bottle opener, so he had to perform the cigarette-lighter trick with a screwdriver.

“Pete, Mary brought us ice,” Angela said in her role as Pete’s etiquette coach.

“Thanks,” he said. Now I know: for people who are staying in a house on stilts without running water in the summer, ice is the perfect gift.

I had a few other little gifts for them: a package of artichoke seeds from Amsterdam and a box of matches from Greece. Pathetic, but it could have been worse: I’d almost grabbed an open bag of tortilla chips to share, but Clancey discouraged me. The matches now seemed ominous. I hoped they’d be used only to light a candle.

The Boss had been sweet to them lately, Pete said, and told me a story: The Boss had called about the sewage over the winter, and someone came out, but the guy said the building was in foreclosure, so there was nothing he could do. Then he asked the Boss, “Who owns this property?” They were outside the tumbledown bungalows, uninhabited for decades, that the Boss’s grandfather the bootlegger had owned. “I do,” said the Boss. So the guy gave him a ticket for a crack in the sidewalk. Pete shook his head disgustedly. “And they come after us for pooping in the bay.”

Somebody over at the other marina that Pete does business with was also giving up on Rockaway. “It’s Third World,” Pete said.

“When are you going to come visit us?” Angela said. “We’re happy up there.” They bragged that the deer hadn’t eaten any of their garden. “Every day, he pees the perimeter,” Angela said. Pete described the drive along the reservoir from Ellenville.

The next morning they were having the gas and electricity turned off in the bungalow. They'd had the phone turned off last summer. “That’s thirty dollars a month we’ll save,” Pete said.

So this was it. I had been keeping an eye out for the sun from the gloom at the back of the boarded-up bungalow, but it was north of the door. There was no movement to go outside and watch, and only one chair out there. It was a long way from the days we’d sit outside at cocktail hour—Pete called it his favorite meal of the day—and I’d practice knot-tying, and he and Angela made fun of me: “She’ll learn to tie a knot when she loses a boat in the bay.”

Anyway, it was a nothing sunset. “Well, at least I don’t have to be sad,” Angela said.

“I have to go,” I said. No one protested.

“Mary, would you like that sailboat?” Angela pointed to a round stained-glass object on the wall: a boat at sunset, its sail shaped like a smile and striped like a rainbow. “Margie gave it to me, and I’m sure she’d be glad to know you have it.”

“Did Margie make it?” Pete asked. Margie was a friend of theirs who had a potter's wheel in her basement and decorated tiles and could probably do stained-glass work if she felt like it.

“No. I think she found it somewhere.”

That made Pete start scouting around for something to give me. He grabbed another sailboat off the wall, a 3-D one, its sculpted sail swelling out of the frame.

Outside, Angela offered me a low collapsible table with the points of the compass in blue on white—very nautical. It had come off one of the boats they handled, and I had admired it—coveted it, in fact. I took it gladly. Pete opened the door to the storage space between the bungalows. “Can you use a vase?” he asked, handing me a dusty glass vase that looked vaguely familiar.

“O.K., I suppose so.” But that was it—I couldn’t hold any more.

“Come back tomorrow morning and I’ll give you the Egg Harbor,” Pete said, trying to sell me the last boat in his inventory. “Two thousand dollars. You can take it to work.” That made me smile. So what if the Rockaway ferry was no more? I could make my own run to Manhattan.

It was not the sunset I had been hoping for, but it was good to see with my own eyes that Angela and Pete really are done with Rockaway. I will always be grateful that they accepted me on the dock and put me in a boat and gave me memories (besides the ones of getting towed in): water lapping under the bungalow, the A train rumbling over the trestle bridge behind Angela’s kitchen curtains, the swallows darting from their nests among the pilings in the evening, the swans gliding up to the dock, and the drip of the tap that the Boss left open so that the swans would have fresh water.