Coney Island High
August 31st, 2015, 7pm in New York, United States
Twenty years ago to the day. Maybe fewer, maybe more. Close enough. This very spot I stood, or someone like me, as I was back then. Looking up and down for Coney Island High.
I don't remember the drive in. I could barely drive. Had just got my license. Wasn't supposed to be driving in NYC, but didn't know that. The rules, the official rules, being 18 and older. Wasn't there yet. Had music on the mind, not laws. A tiny Honda Civic my great uncle left to me, the Uncle who fought in World War II but bought a Japanese car in the fleeting twilight of his life. Power nothing, a blank panel where the radio was supposed to be, no A/C. But it worked, it hummed.
And so NYC it was. NYC bound. Show me the lights. But really, just show me a MapQuest map — down I-95 towards the music. A show. A Friday or Saturday night, I can't remember. I think back to those mid-90s East Village nights, me knowing nothing, knowing not, certainly, of the danger that lurked there. Or so it seems in hindsight, butting against Alphabet City, Thompson Square Park. Disney Land today compared to what was there then, or so they say and whisper, the long-arc East Villagers.
Twenty years ago, something like that. I stumbled — in clothes that did not match the venue, pimpled, maximally goofy, supremely white — into the marijuana soaked Cony Island High. Did I know what marijuana smelled like? Hardly. I was so unknowing, just there for the music. To play. Get me close to whatever was real — the heart of Rocksteady. Herculean in my lack of self-awareness, how completely and utterly unwelcome I was (or so I imagine thinking back now). Looked for the one dude I knew. The one guy who might validate my being. Found him. Awkward handshake. He laughs, teaches me how to really shake, to slap, to snap in the middle against the webbing of the other person's hand, a move I'd appropriate and deploy throughout my life. And he says welcome and I didn't think you'd come but of course, why would anyone think I'd come — me, living a few hundred miles away, composed of embarrassing moves, glances, stutters. I am the person who never arrives. Who certainly does not drive hundreds of miles and parks somewhere — where did I park? I do now know — and hunts with his tiny printout for this mysterious place which he thinks is a High School but is not, it's a building on a punk block, a kind of brownstone, and he walks up the stairs — it is no longer there, I cannot verify — and he walks in and it is entirely not what he expects.
A handshake. The music. Oh, god, the music. I must have been high from the smoke. Being urged on stage and playing and evoking some weird acceptance (pity? I don't think they did pity) in spite of the assumed entirety of my being and aura. Because I could play. I had that. That I knew. Contrasting all the more against my looks. And then leaving after a long night, soaked through from sweat, from dancing, from the certainly over crowed room, from the playing, the adrenalin of having pushed a little bit father out towards ... what? Something bigger than that small village from which I drove. A realization that you can go to places mythical and make some small mark. A big smile, one of those smiles that does not fade, that makes you drive more slowly. Never end, please. This is what you say into the dawn as you sail down I-95, back home. More of this.
Gone now, that Coney Island High. Twenty years later I stand here, across the street. And give a little wave — hello — to whoever that goofball was back then, to that place, to those memories, to snapping handshakes. And stick in the ground a little digital marker so that maybe others, too, can remember nights once had, long ago, in that overflowing little club.