Archive for September, 2011

The Bronx Is Burning… With Good Times!

I launched a bottle in the Bronx. Sounds like a dirty euphemism, “Launching a bottle in the Bronx.” I went to City Island with my friend Olivier. He’s a German reportage illustrator and we went to school together. He’s insanely talented. I know Germans have a reputation for not being funny, and for occasionally killing tons of people, but I can assure you that Oli is one of the funniest guys I know and that these days he hardly kills anyone. We’ve traveled for long periods of time together, a month around the US, a month through Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas, so I figured the Bronx wouldn’t be too difficult. Here’s one of his drawings from when we were in Cuba. I’m appropriately drinking a bottle of rum. Although it may have been gasoline.

I had wanted to go to City Island for a few reasons.
1. I had never been there.
2. I had yet to toss a bottle in the Bronx.
3. I wanted clam strips.
4. Hart Island.

Hart Island is the City’s potter’s field. Have you ever wondered where all the unclaimed dead of a metropolis of 8 million go? That’s where. The inmates from Riker’s Island do the work. There are so many little islands in New York, all with their own peculiar history. I guess I’m a bit sappy, maudlin, and sentimental, because I wanted to toss a bottle in the direction of an island full of ghosts.

We got stuck in some traffic on the way up, so when we got there we decided to eat first. The part about me wanting clam strips was no joke. I was picturing sidling up at some little shack at the end of a pier, making small talk with the Quint-looking proprietor, petting the resident cat.

What I got instead was a Soviet style prison cafeteria in a parking lot. Or as Oli put it, “This looks like something in the Ukraine.” Say that sentence in a deadpan German accent. On the bright side, there was a VERY healthy population of laughing gulls at said establishment. In fact, the place might be sustaining the entire population of laughing gulls in the Bronx. We all do our part…

After eating and explaining to Olivier what a “douchebag” was (3.5 years he lived in the States, and he didn’t know what “douchebag” was! “I thought it was maybe that hat you wear in the shower or something.”), we went looking for a spot to take a dip and toss a bottle.

This one has a Manx Shearwater in it.


Easier said than done. I had heard you can’t swim anywhere off of City Island, and it’s kind of true. Every street ends at the water, and they all have a fence there. And usually a homeowner gardening 15 feet away. I though all was lost until we stumbled upon a graveyard. Fitting. I liked the idea of tossing a bottle from an area of recognized dead to an island of unrecognized dead.

I had a feeling there might be a way in through the graveyard, and I was not disappointed. You only have to pretend to be paying your respects – or not pretending – and then make your way through some semi-dense brush.

What opens up before you is a scene not usually associated with the Bronx:

The water looked inviting and it was. I swam the bottle out in the direction of the boats and then gave it a toss. Then it started drifting right towards some nasty looking rocks so I swam it out further, into the midst of the boats, and it started drifting up toward Orchard Beach. All fine with me. The water wasn’t gross, by the way. I know you’re thinking that.

On the way back we took a stroll through Pelham Bay Park. Absolutely beautiful there.

What is this, the 19th century?! I feel like I should call up the Bronx borough president and pitch some new slogans. “Welcome to simpler times… the Bronx.” Or:

I used to do some work for the parks department and got the chance to see some really interesting parts of the city. The Bronx has very extensive parks, and they are more than worth checking out. The southern end of the typical New England rocky shorline is there. So is the last free flowing river of the city. Throw the Bronx a bone and go visit. There’s even tigers there.

Another Bottle Found!

Another bottle has been found! I received an email from a Ms. Maggie B asking for my address and letting me know that she had found a bottle. I wrote back spazzily wanting to know where and when. She wrote back letting me know that I’d just have to wait and see.

Well, imagine my delight, gentle readers, when I got this in the mail:

And inside!:

And inside that…:

She didn’t actually cram a tomato and a salt shaker in there, but in a beautifully written letter, Maggie told me that she and her boyfriend found the bottle at Ft Tilden. This particular bottle certainly didn’t set any distance records as I had tossed it at Ft Tilden the same day she found it. But I feel it found its rightful owner. Maggie had had sort of a crappy day earlier (keys forgot at home, burned feet, hot dog dropped in sand) so I think finding the bottle cheered her up.

It’s so nice to get an actual letter. You can see someone’s penmanship. We don’t even know most of our friends’ handwriting these days. And holding the physical object makes you feel more connected.

Maggie moved here from Florida and found the initial adjustment hard. She said she made a pact with herself to get to the beach once a week this summer. I used to live in Florida too and found both the adjustment moving there AND moving away hard. Florida is nuts, and I could go on and on about how much I love it and hate it, but I’ll just say that it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Mainly because we had Hurricane Irene sweep through the area. I’m just waiting for the swarm of locusts at this point. I moved to Miami for college about 12 hours before Hurricane Andrew struck and I know full well how bad it can be.

Everything was basically fine here. A tree fell on my parents’ house in Jersey, but they’re fine, as is the house. No power as of yet, but fine (My dad: “Yeah, well, your mother and I just go to bed at 8.” Me: “Why doesn’t mom just charge up the laptop at work so at least you guys could watch a movie or something?” My dad: “Ah, we don’t need to get involved in that.”)

When I first moved to New York I made a similar pact with myself as Maggie did. I wanted to make sure to go to the beach, and to swim in any available pools or bodies of water that weren’t too polluted. That’s how I initially found Ft Tilden. In the last ten years or so, what was once a blank spot on the map has now certainly been discovered. But I prefer it that way. It’s fun to look at people on the beach. Unlike the subway, pretty much everyone is in a good mood. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s beautiful. There’s birds. And interesting rubbish. And shells. It’s for everyone. And you may even find a message in a bottle from the guy playing Kadima 50 yards from you.