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Archive for August 26th, 2010

I’m always intrigued by the paintings of Reginald Marsh, who painted scenes depicting the urban world of New York City throughout the early part of the 20th century until his death in 1954.  His paintings always seemed densely packed with figures and movement, all rendered with easily recognizable linework and colors that were strong yet had a soft transparency.  Striking.

One of his favorite subjects was Coney Island, the famous part of Brooklyn with its beach, boardwalk and amusement park.  Whenever I see Marsh’s Coney Island paintings I am always reminded of the several trips I made there as a child in the late 1960’s.  My parents and I would go to NY to see Mets’ games, leaving my older, busier siblings at home, and would sometimes go to Coney Island on the day when the games were at night.  It was always like entering an exotic, much different world than my country home.  It was dirty with  trash strewn everywhere.  I remember the first time we swung into the parking lot at Astroland, the amusement park there, and thinking we’d entered a landfill as there were literally piles of paper and bottles over nearly the whole lot.  If you spent much time in NY at that time, it was not an unusual sight.

But it was great fun and over the few visits there I had many memories that burned indelibly into my memory bank.  My parents, and my aunt and uncle who sometimes were with us, would, after a while stop at one of the bars that opened to the boardwalk to have a cold one and I would wander alone.  It was a wonderland of colorful attractions and games, their facades faded by time and sun. I have sharp memories of standing at one bar’s doorway and watching a singer all dressed in cowboy regalia standing on the bar with his electric guitar singing out country songs in the middle of the afternoon.  I sometimes wonder if it might have been Jerry Jeff Walker. 

 I remember seeing the crowds down on the beach and suddenly seeing everyone there pointing out to the water and yelling.  Looking out, I saw two legs bobbing straight out of the water, almost comically so.  The lifeguards rushed out and dragged the body in.  Dead and, now that I think about it, had proabably been so for a while.

I also remember going into a baordwalk arcade and approaching an older man with a gray moustache and a coin changer on his belt.  I asked for change and handed him my dollar bill.  He made a couple of clicks on the changer and handed me a pile of nickels.  As I turned to go the machines, he put his hand on my shoulder.

“Hold on!” he exclaimed in a thick accent that sounded Greek to a terrified nine year old.  He started chastising me.

“You don’t know me! Don’t ever trust anyone you don’t know.  I give you money and you trust me and don’t count.  You should not trust me.  Now, count!”

I stood there petrifiied and counted out loud.  It was the right change, of course, and the man’s gruff demeanor suddenly changed and he beamed a smile at me.  “You understand? Now go.  Have fun,” he said as he gave me a pat on the shoulder.

A little life lesson along with the change on the boardwalk in 1969.

That moment is clear as yesterday and it always reappears when I see images from Marsh or images of Coney Island

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