When I was 19, my girlfriend, Shirley, lived on Tiebout Ave, near 183rd and the Grand Concourse in the north Bronx. We spent so much time on the D Train that eventually we came to regard it as a sort of extension of Shirley’s living room. Lurching our way south toward Manhattan or to the deep south of distant Brooklyn, we spread out comfortably (if we were north of 125th St., when seating was roomy), eating Popeye’s chicken and playing cards.
Meanwhile, our huge platform shoes glittered like skyscrapers.
Essentially, we were proud of ourselves for being smart enough to be young and beautiful in the right place at the right time – and wearing the right shoes.
We had no idea that an afternoon at Coney Island, eating junk food on the boardwalk and taking off our gigantic shoes to wade in the dirty surf wasn’t everyone’s idea of great good fortune. We didn’t realize that our huge shabby beachfront was actually a slum.
Yes, it was rundown, but its dimensions remained glorious and, for us at least, gleamed with adventure and a kind of abundance. Even the scale of its decay was impressive, although I think the miles of South Bronx rubble we regularly passed through had enabled us to sort of look through decay.
At any rate, seagulls still circled in the bright sky, the air still smelled of salt, waves rolled in and ships passed on the horizon. People did spread blankets on the sand and win stuffed animals for their kids in the shooting galleries.
Above all, people ate. A lot. But nobody ever loved Coney Island food, or ate as much of it, as my girl Shirl and I.
In much the same way, we thought everyone would wander the north Bronx’s Concourse if they possibly could, checking out the stacks of cheap and desireable stuff piled high on the sidewalk and eating huge mounds of greasy noodles.
Shirley and I turned heads in a city that wasn’t inclined to turn its head for anyone: women, men, teenagers – suddenly, it seemed that the whole world wanted to dance with us.
This adolescent thinking may well have been a case of arrested development, but it turned out to be a good thing, since actually neither Shirley nor I was at all certain that we even belonged in the world. We tried to act stuck up, but we could never pull it off. Actually, we were immediately delighted to be almost anybody’s friend.
Looking back, I think of us fondly as Life’s Cheap Date