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.

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