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We were out at the Shore again recently. It felt quaintly pornographic to slip down the alley to our anonymous little otherworld. I hit the buzzer and an earth-colored man pokes his head out of the window overhead, looking a little perplexed, and buzzes us in. A piece of paper taped inside the door has the rates for four hours, twleve hours and overnight. On the second floor landing he asks with a Russian accent, “How long you stay?” We tell him, and begin to follow him up the next flight but he puts his hand out and says “Stay,” like to a dog. He peers up, and climbs the stairs cautiously. What he was looking out for we had no idea — guy slumped in the hall with a needle hanging out of his arm? Orgy? Weapons bazaar?
He returns, motions us up, and leads us down the dim green hall, past the bathroom, to room 27. There are no rooms towards the ocean. I gave him the room rate plus $20 deposit. It wasn’t a key deposit, because there was no outside lock on the door, just on the inside.
“Could we get a blanket?” asks my girlfriend. It was chilly and there was a wisp of a sheet on the bed. “No.”
“Then how about two more sheets?” I ask. He looks down at the floor, walks off, and returns with a sheet and velour bedspread with a huge print of a lion’s head. The last time a guy offered us a dirty movie, so I ask, “Hey, could we get a movie?” “No.” I sense a pattern.
“Really? Last time the guy offered us a movie.”
“I go see. Five dollars.
I lock the door and we fall on the bed. We dig it here, it’s got a little sink, the bed is big enough, and we have the car-bang clatter and shout of Surf Avenue one storey below for a soundtrack — all we’re missing is a flickering neon sign out the window. Our stingy friend knocks on the door, hands me a tape and leaves. “I guess that’s part of the service,” she says. “They even pick out the tape for you.” I turned it over. Just Black Cumshots.
You can only romanticize the photogenic decay of Coney Island for so long. Weed lots are neither economic development nor natural refuge, and most residents I talked to don’t harbor nostalgia for Coney’s recent past. But real estate scandal and misguided land use is as much of its history as fun and fires, and there’s an air of skepticism about the huge makeover plan announced not long ago by the Coney Island Development Corporation, a combination of city officials and “business and community leaders,” as it says on the site. Will those who toughed it out here for years be forced out to make way for a centrally planned tourist zone?
Coney, for most of its life, has been New York’s playground, done New York style, with an organic jumble of mom-and-pop businesses, fantastical projects from local eccentrics with big dreams, and an appeal to every whim and neurosis of the ultimate urban culture. The city’s “summer safety valve,” as Maxim Gorky once called it, thrived when it served the city’s need for stimulation both wholesome and otherwise, from the big players as well as the quirky small concessioners.