Sunday, May 27, 2007

The first day of summer

Friday after work the time and temperature sign across from Brooklyn’s Borough Hall reads 93 degrees. Saturday morning, 6 a.m. I’m lying in the familiar pool of New York summer sweat. Before that, I hadn’t given two thoughts to the beach, but by 10 a.m. the umbrella is planted, the kid is playing in the surf and I’m enjoying the cool ocean breeze. It’s a little known fact, but Brooklyn is a city on an island and there are miles of nice beaches. Of course we rarely go to a nice beach. We go to Coney Island.

Coney Island is what I call a people’s beach. By that I mean that real people go there, unlike the French Riviera or Malibu where the rich and beautiful pose in and out of their skimpy swim wear. More flesh can be seen on just about anyone at Coney Island than you’ll find on three or four fashionable types at the Cote d’Azur. The typical Coney Island bathing suit could be cut up to make forty or fifty bikinis or briefs for the beautiful people. Not that you don’t see a bit of eye candy among the pork bellies, but you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled.

In general, I’m okay with all that, and the fact that it’s one of the few remaining places in the U.S. where you can unashamedly get drunk in public, but so far this year I’m just not into it, I want to hear the crashing of the surf and maybe the high pitched squeals of the young’uns splashing each other. So I get irritated when not long after I plant my umbrella, a large Latino family plops down behind us and starts fouling the air with an endless stream of niggers and motherfuckers. Almost their entire conversation consists of those words. When they address each other it’s either as nigger or motherfucker. Except sometimes they get creative and call each other motherfucking nigger, or nigger motherfucker.

I’m not the language police, okay, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that my kids hear those words. They’ve been raised in Brooklyn and they hear them pretty much every time they ride the subway, which is every day. So they’ve heard 10’s of thousands of niggers and motherfuckers yet have never used those words themselves, at least not around adults. My son, in fact, is very uncomfortable with that language and often asks to move to the other end of the train when a crowd of nigger and motherfucker spewing specimens sit next to us. Same thing at the beach. We picked up our umbrella and moved.

But there was nothing we could do. Soon, the lifeguards arrived and they were talking loudly among themselves, nigger this, motherfucker that, then another family sat down near us and it was nothing but nigger this and motherfucker that, and we could still hear the original problem people yelling periodically, nigger this, motherfucker that, and it all blended together into a pulsing cacophony, nigger, motherfucker, nigger, motherfucker, nigger, motherfucker.

But for the most part we tuned it out and had a good time. I think it’s important to get the kids into the outdoors, away from the tv and video games, and even their regular friends. I watch my son playing in the surf, see him using his imagination to occupy his time, catching sand crabs, collecting shells, moving his body, diving into the waves, doing cartwheels in the sand, socializing with strangers. These things are good. These things are healthy.

Then later, we’re at the neighborhood playground. Here, diversity is more of a good thing. The whitest little girl is being chased by the blackest little boy who eventually hits her in the back with a water balloon. It occurs to me that southern conservatives would have murdered the child if he had done that fifty years ago, and not felt even a pang of guilt. Jewish kids are playing with Palestinian and Iranian kids, as well as Indians and Pakistanis. None of them -- black, white, Jewish, Palestinian, Iranian, or the other assorted nationalities seems to be considering the larger political realities. They’re just kids, having fun.

But it does get a bit weird sometimes. I know the Palestinian kids because they live down the block, my son plays with them and my wife tutors one off and on. Three families live in one giant house. They have a total of twelve kids all my son’s age or younger. They are very wild and violent among themselves. They’ve never included my son in any of their fights. I suspect that their parents must constantly warn them against fighting with outsiders. Still, when my son’s Jewish friends are visiting, I don’t let them hang out with the Palestinians. I’m afraid that there could be social repercussions if they beat up a Jewish kid. If that were to happen, I doubt it would have anything to do with any kind of Jewish/Palestinian nonsense. It would just be boys being boys, but still... I feel like shit for making those kinds of decisions.

So the night ends, as Saturday nights usually do, with the family movie. We were going to watch Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, but were unable to find it, so since it's the first day of summer, I suggest we watch Do the Right Thing instead, since it’s about summer in Brooklyn. It’s a great movie and I could go on about its palette and/or the ambiguity of its message, but it’s the pitch perfect depiction of summer in Brooklyn that puts such an appropriate ending on the day. There are several parts in which multiple people are screaming at each other, motherfucker, motherfucker, motherfucker, motherfucker, coming from left, right, back and forth, transcending to surround sound, a cacophony of motherfucker, the sweltering heat, the motherfuckers, summertime. Motherfucker. Brooklyn.

Only three more months of summer. It's gonna be a motherfucker.