April 14, 2001
Happy Passover, Easter, Buddhist New Year, and all other holidays you may
be celebrating this holiday week. We've been blessed with some lovely
weather here in the Big Apple these past few days, and the streets have
been full of people celebrating the end of winter. This newsletter will be
a little different than usual, in honor of the holidays and of Spring.
Last night He Who Is The Light Of My Life and I went to Coney Island. For
those of you not familiar with this part of the U.S., it is, or was, a
fantasy amusement area of yesteryear, which has been down on its luck for
quite some time. We were officially visiting to say good-bye to Phillip's a
candy-making operation that is closing its doors tomorrow, after 70 years
in business, since the subway terminal in which it is housed will be torn
down next week to make room for a new and "improved" terminal building.
HWITLOML also had a corollary agenda - he hoped to purchase some of the
artifacts surrounding the area. Although they're mostly grungy and filthy,
they truly represent a time gone by. How can I describe them? Well, if you
look up "tawdry" in the dictionary, right under the picture of The Strip in
Las Vegas, you'll find a picture of Coney Island. So the artifacts picture
clowns who would frighten any child, and probably some adults too; fat
ladies; freakish snake charmers; tattooed persons; female bearded persons -
you get the idea.
We visited Nathan's (the one and only original Nathan's by the sea), a
shadow of its former self, and had a frighteningly ordinary and overpriced
meal. We walked past the line of people at Phillips, all there to say
good-bye and good luck to the proprietors. And then we reached the
carousel. Which was very important to me. You see, I thought it had been
torn down. Coney Island is in the midst of a "rebirth". A stadium to house
the Brooklyn Cyclones, the new NY Mets farm team has been built on Surf
Avenue. All the streets are in the midst of being paved (don't try chewing
gum while driving down one of them!). And some of the old things that
graced my childhood have disappeared. And I thought the carousel was one of
them. My heart stopped! But it turned out I was just on the wrong block.
What an immense relief!
We approached the carousel and the owner was standing there with a man and
a woman. We approached the man and asked if he was the one we should pay.
HWITLOML asked how much?, paid the man, and we climbed on, the only riders
in the race! I scrambled up on a horse on the perimeter of the carousel,
checking that it was one that went up and down (very important!), and Artie
chose one in the row in front of me, but away from the edge. He had either
forgotten that you need to be on the outside to reach the rings, or else he
did it on purpose, so I could have all the rings.
The carousel started up, and that amazing music began. I was young again!
If you've never experienced calliope music (and that means seeing it as
well as hearing it) you must! The calliope is a strange contraption that
simulates the sound of a big brass band. You can see the paper music rolls
as they wend their way through the machinery. You can see the drumsticks
pounding the big drum, you can see the cymbals clang together. And you can
even see this little pair of castanets as they come together, delivering an
elaborate pattern of sharp clicks. All the time you are seeing this, you
are revolving around the center, going up and down, listening to the music,
admiring the elaborate plaster decorations, and seeing yourself in the
mirrors that surround the carousel mechanism. So Artie and I were riding
around, alone on our magnificent steeds, watching the two children in the
mirror, the girl with the mass of curls, the boy with the rugby jacket,
riding around and around. Then the owner of the carousel took out the basket.
The basket contained the rings, the ultimate reason for riding the
carousel. The rings were loaded into a long metal arm. Inside the arm, they
slid down until just one ring protruded through a slot in the end. There it
sat, begging to be grabbed by a finger bent into a hook, after which it
would be replaced by the next ring. Around I came, reached out - and
missed! Darn! Of course, the great thing about the carousel is that you get
to come around and try again. And I had no competition. All the rings were
mine, no matter what. Second time around - missed again! All the while, I
was busy announcing to Artie the results of each attempt. On the third try
I realized this: you must lean way out, and it helps if you keep your eye
on the ring all the time. Aha! Success! Around we came again and, as I
grabbed each ring, I called the count out to Artie. "Seven", eight, nine!"
I had them all!
Around and around we went, on our private carousel, and the music played,
and the kids in the mirror smiled and enjoyed the ride. I noticed that the
man to whom Artie paid the money was standing at the controls, casually
smoking a cigarette, obviously bored and unimpressed by our fine riding
skills or my acumen in grabbing the metal rings
The carousel owner took out the big basket, which is, as every carousel
rider knows, the signal that the rings must be returned. There used to be
one brass ring and, if you got that one, you got a free ride on the
carousel. But the owner told me years ago that he'd stopped putting the
brass ring in the mix because they'd all been stolen. I had forgotten to
switch the rings from my left hand to my right, so I was unprepared to
throw them into the basket on the first go-around. The owner looked at me
as I went by and said, "It's okay - next time". On the next approach, I
tossed the rings and was proud to note that they all landed in the basket,
and none on the ground.
The carousel slowed, and finally came to a stop. The two loud bells that
signal the end of the ride clanged, and we climbed off. As we walked past
the owner, he looked up and said "Thanks". I touched his shoulder and said
,"Please, tell me you're not thinking of closing up!"
He smiled, shook his head and said, "I'm not thinking of closing up. Where
did you hear that?"
"Nowhere - it's just that so much of the place we loved is gone."
He looked me in the eyes and said, "Be well, and come back soon." I patted
his arm and answered, "You know I will".
I have known this carousel, and this man, all my life, although he doesn't
know me at all. HWITLOML and I are just two more customers in the millions,
young and old, who have passed this way through the years, climbed up on
the horses, and become adventurers for a moment, competitors for the rings,
and children in the mirrors.
Go on out there, Accumulators, and have fun with your life! Whatever you're
doing, do it with gusto. Enjoy yourself and those you love. I wish you a
great time, and I hope that whenever you look in the mirror, you see a
child there. Happy hunting!
© 2001 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.
Antiques and Collectibles Newsletter #145
U.S. Library of Congress
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