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Coney Island: ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ and a beating sun

Editor’s note: MinnPost writer Jim Walsh is in New York City for the week, performing as part of his Mad Ripple Hootenanny seven-night stand at Banjo Jim’s in the East Village. He’ll be writing from New York all week; this is Part 2.

NEW YORK — It is 2:30 Monday afternoon, and I’m sitting on a bench in Coney Island. Old white men saunter by, sporting long-faded tattoos and stomachs the size of soccer and exercise balls. The speakers over the boardwalk are playing classic rock that wafts over Mermaid Avenue, the street made famous by Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg and Wilco. A young Russian woman in a slip of a dress and a pony tail is taking photographs of the garbage can art and everything else she can get her eyes around. A squat young Jewish girl strides up to the gyros stand, announces to the leather-faced Greek cook in the Green Day “American Idiot” T-shirt that she wants him to know that his gyros are amazing, but that she’s going with the falafel today.

The rides and roller coasters are dormant but not dead. The smell of the Atlantic Ocean is pickle-juice pungent, and everywhere you look there are in-the-flesh testaments to Springsteen’s “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.” A puddle jumper creases the horizon with a banner in tow: “George Michael July 22-23 Madison Square Garden.” A kid who could be Flavor Flav’s valet is barking into a headset mic “free water, free water,” and spraying anyone who needs it. The sun is high in the sky and beating down on the seafaring town like a solar-powered magnifying glass on ants.

A huge tired black man walks past, three or four kids in tow, a big happy domesticated cat or a former champ going down for the count, and it makes me feel for him and miss my wife and kids and brothers and dog all at once. A couple minutes later, a loud sprawling Italian family walks by. The black dad is well past them, but one of his kids got left behind and now the kid is crying and now the Italians start yelling at the kid and for the parents and when they locate the dad they keep yelling at him, three or four adults and four or five kids, all hovering over the kid and all yelling at this lolling lion of a man, whose blank face suggests he gets yelled at a lot. A car horn is going off behind me; so is a baseball game.

I walk down by the water and sit on the beach, which teems with citizens of No Worries Nation. The black girl next to me is reading Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl.” Her Indian neighbor is reading “The Secret.” The Mexican mom in front of us is simultaneously giving her two kids back scratches while their pit bull terrier pants under an umbrella. A man from Santa Marta, Mexico, walks the beach with a backpack and a cooler, selling Coronas.

“A Hard Day’s Night” comes on over the boardwalk speakers. I’m thinking about last night. I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking about having the falafel.

“‘Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.’ — John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ‘A Nation Of Immigrants’ (1958).” — Poster for the immigration reform group Legalize LA

“Another Irish-American for O’bama.” — Bumpersticker on a nearby delivery truck, Chinatown.

HOOT REPORT: Night three (Sunday) was a sweet U-turn from the Saturday night chaos. I’d been thinking earlier in the day about how, even with all the communication there is in the world these days, the best way to know someone is to hear their song, or the songs they like, and New Yorkers Liz Tormes and Lil Mo and Twin Citians Scott Schuler and Dean Maser proved me right at the Hoot.

Tormes’ break-up songs are understated gems that suggest a wounded lover on her way back; Lil Mo is a pro songstress and guitarist who indulged my request for her Wanda Jackson-y classic “Wait’ll I Get You Home,” and Schuler and Maser both uncorked heart-ripped acoustic anthems that could appeal to any and all huddled masses yearning to be free. More, please.

Part 1

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