It was far, it was hard to reach, and if you were a young girl with nothing but cut off shorts, a tank top, a towel and bottle of Coppertone, plus one of those metal gatefold things that made you turn into a giant coco puff, it was really hard to hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach. I mean, it was easy, if you were OK about getting into a car with a child molester or killer or someone who might think you were the next Patty Hearst, man, didn’t she do well for herself in later years in those John Waters movies, but generally, it was not a good idea. You had a get a ride with your sister’s best friend’s friend, who had a car with the kind of roof that came down.
But it took forever to leave the apartment. They had to blow dry their hair. They had to take medicine, some of em. Me, for sure. Once I remember waiting for one of them to come out of the bathroom and we heard this almighty shriek. We said , hey, what’s wrong? And she bellowed, “Something brushed my knee, something alive” and we though ah, it’s just a roach, maybe a mouse, come on, we gotta get our suntans, getthefuckouttathebathroom. But she stayed and stayed and finally she wept “I know what brushed my knee.” and we asked her what. And she said, “My tits! Quick! Get a pencil. I think I will fail the pencil test.” I can’t recall if it was better for the pencil to drop if you placed it under your cleavage, or for it to stay in place, indicating a potential droop situation. We knew never to try the champagne glass test. It was for French girls with small cleavage. Chic tits. We heard urban myth stories about people showing up to A and E , or ER in America, with champagne glasses cleaved to their chests. They would say , “I just sort of fell on it.” But we’d heard nothing bad about pencils. They dropped, indicating firmness or flatness, or stayed put, indicating large breasts or, sadly, sometimes pendulous ones. Our “sisters” had burned their bras, but then gone out and bought new ones. You can still be a feminist without saggy tits.
Anyways we finally got yelling girl out of the bathroom and got into the car with all our “Let’s go to the beach white and come back black or at least Puerto Rican or be able to pass” condiments, our transistor radio , our cans of soda, and got into the car. This itself was an ordeal. The leather of the seats burned your bum , you had to ease into it, like a too hot bath.
If it was a Sunday I would always bring a copy of the Sunday New York Times, probably still less than a buck in those days and so dense with words, good words, it took all week to read properly. My favourite thing to read in the whole paper was the travel section, cos I was agoraphobic, so it was kinda like my porn. I could just about make it to the beach, Benzoed up, but never, I dunno, Cairo. As in, What’s happening in Cairo? That seemed exotic, lots of sand for sure.
I also liked the ads for summer camp for retarded kids. They seemed slightly cheaper than the ones for kids who had no learning problems. They usually ended in the suffix “mont” if it was something mont, you knew it was for retarded kids. Or meaunt, for French retarded kids. They could do anything at these camps: sailing, water skiing, caving, tennis, pottery, horseback riding. It gave me hope for those with learning disabilities. I was convinced I had one myself, though not enough to be retarded and go to a retarded summer camp. For a few summers I went to a regular camp and did all those things, but it probably made my already cashe strapped mother really poor.
We listened mainly to a radio station that played soul and disco, WBLS. I would shout from the back seat, why don’t they play Gil Scot Heron. And the girls would look at me like, cos it’s not disco, duh!!!!
We’d get to the beach, which smelled of cigarettes, hot dogs, salt, and sewage. Hey it was our beach. What’s a bit of dysentery
if you could get a great tan? We’d lay out all our stuff, this took forever, and have to take turns going in the water so no one would steal our bags. In my case, my Benzos. If I was not sufficiently sedated I’d be stuck on Rockaway Beach, in a panic attack, and would eventually be washed out into the sea of sewage.
Years later, when I tried hypnotherapy for my agoraphobia, the therapist would say in a sleepy voice, “Imagine you are on a beach, the waves gently washing….” and I would stop the therapist and say, hang on, does this beach have a taxi stand? In my fantasy can I have taxi money to get back home? Will I have drugs in my bag, in case there’s no taxi?”
So we would gently fry on the beach, guys would check out my gorgeous sister or her gorgeous friends, but never me. And that was OK. I had The Sunday Times. I had Russell Baker. I tanned very easily. I had a ride, I didn’t have to hitch.
But one day I didn’t have a ride. I was with my friend Judy, who knew of a special bus that took forever but it was cheap and got you there. So we got the special bus and it did take forever and there were no seats. Judy was wearing a football or basketball top that said 86. Some jerk kept calling out hey, 86, 86, you are hot.
Well, yes, we were hot, but that’s not what he meant. I was feeling hot and bus sick and sat myself down on the floor. I wished I could be in the car with the tit crisis girl. I wished we were at the beach. The guy said, with alarming frequency, hey 86, 86. Judy ignored him. I took a brief glance. He was cute in a short Springsteen meets fireman with ill advised mustache sort of way. A child molester for sure. Just the point where you could start to smell the sewage sea, I said, from my pre-vomiting sitting by the back door steps of the bus, “Why don’t you just fuck off. She’s not interested.”
And he went into this rant: It’s always the ugly friend who protests. It’ always the fucking dog who stops the cute girl from the cute guy.”
I had no answer to this. The heat and nausea had got the better of me, as was the affirmation that I was, and would always be, the ugly friend. I sat on the steps and waited til we got to the beach. Poor Judy was lost for words.
I was ugly. The Ramones had lied. And the bus ride took so long,by the time we got there, it was downright cool,and people were packing away the styrofoam picnic baskets, and Coppertone, and the transistors.
We didn’t stay too long.
I couldn’t listen to Rocket to Russia for years after that.