NO CHICKENS IN THIS COOP

When my granddaughter was nine, Garry and I and her parents took her to Coney Island. Garry and I grew up in New York, so we loved it. Yes, we knew Coney Island was falling apart. It has since been significantly improved, especially the big wooden Cyclone which is now being preserved for future generations.

As a kid, though, watching parts of the  coaster fall while riding was part of the experience. Kids are fearless.

It’s about a four and a half hour drive to get there. We left early so we’d have a whole day before heading home. I expected Kaity to be awed by the entire experience. She was, after all, raised in Uxbridge, not exactly action central of the eastern. Thus we suggested some of the tamer “kiddie” rides, which Kaity eyed with one eyebrow up in the air. She gave a couple a quick tries and look bored.

Then, she stood next to the huge, white, wooden Cyclone. She looked at it. Walked around it. Looked at me and said: “I want THAT one.”

I said “Don’t you want to maybe work your up to that ride? It’s a really big ride.”

“Nope,” she said “THAT one! And YOU are going with me.”

Not that I objected to the Cyclone. I was her age, maybe a year younger, when I first rode it with my little neighborhood friends. Once, we rode it all afternoon and we all had whiplash for the week. But that was me, after all … and this was my granddaughter.

We rode the cyclone six times that day. Four times in the morning, then twice more in the middle of the afternoon. By then, my legs were wobbly and I just couldn’t do it again.

Kaitlin laughed the entire time. She had the biggest grin on her face. She giggled the entire way. Did I mention she also had a broken arm — in plaster — and I had to hang on to her so she wouldn’t fly out of the car?

I am grateful that her driving is less enthusiastic than her hysterical, laughing roller-coaster experience!

CONEY ISLAND BACK THEN – 2011 & 2012

Pictures of Coney Island – 2011 and 2012, the last years during which Astroland ran the rides. It was, of course, the last time I was able to take pictures. Sandy came in 2012 and a lot of Coney Island went underwater. Surprisingly little damage was done. The pictures right after the super-storm made it look worse than it turned out to be.

Astroland’s commission to run the rides had run out by 2012. New York hired a different company who installed new rides for adults and children … and there was a major restoration of the Cyclone. I have not ridden it since the fix up, but I have heard the first drop is not quite as steep.

It has all been redone since then and we haven’t been back. I don’t know if we’ll be down there again, but I’m grateful for the time we spent. At least my granddaughter will grow up and remember Coney Island.

There’s a lot of information about Coney Island. It was the place where roller coasters and carousels were invented, for example. If you’re interested, check out this LINK.

SURVIVAL VS. VALOR – A FEW THOUGHTS

We were watching a rerun of NCIS, an episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic. Fun and I don’t regret it, but there’s nothing heroic about riding the Cyclone — at least not these days since they repaired it.

Maybe it was braver — more like stupider — when I was a kid. Back then, pieces of it would fly off while you rode the rickety rails at 70 mph. But I digress.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived cancer and heart problems and a myriad other life-threatening ailments (so far, so good). As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all of that and have a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always a trip to the Cyclone and doesn’t require years of recovery and rehab.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship still alive but hardly deserving a medal. No one gives medals for surviving. Nor should they. Saving your own life (and occasionally, dragging others with you to safety) is your survival instinct at work. It’s not valor. N0t bravery.

Staying alive is hard-wired into the DNA of all living things. Otherwise, life on earth would have long since vanished. It may yet.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You make a willing and conscious choice to put yourself in peril for the sake of others. There must be a choice involved. Taking risks for fun, to make money, or because your imminent demise is the only other option isn’t courageous. It’s what we do to keep alive. Some of us are better at it than others, but that doesn’t change the essence of the experience.

Medal of honor from Obama

If you do it for fun, it’s entertainment. If you’re doing it for profit? It’s shrewd business sense.  If it’s choosing to live rather than die? That’s your survival instinct at work.

I have never done anything I would define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. I’ve gotten myself into tight corners — accidentally — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve occasionally put others ahead of me to help when I could. Never did I put myself in harm’s way to save another.

The best I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t the easiest choice. You don’t get medals for that, either.

SURVIVAL – THE DAILY POST

TAKE ME BACK – CONEY ISLAND, AS REMEMBERED

Take me back to Coney Island, the Coney Island I remember from when I was a child.

Boardwalk at Coney Island - Marilyn Armstrong

I want to be on the Boardwalk. I want to sniff the air full of the aroma of spicy exotic food, pop corn and hotdogs. I want to smell the salt air blowing off the ocean and shade my eyes from the gleam of bright sun on white sand.

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I want to hear the endless screams of riders on the Cyclone, the squeal of kids discovering how far they can see from the top of the Wonder Wheel.

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I want to watch the people, all the different people of every color from everywhere in the world as thy gape at the strange wonders along the boardwalk, hear the rumble of the elevated trains passing.

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I want it to be exactly how it was the first time I rode the big roller coasters and screamed in delighted terror. I want to be that child again for a single day, the little girl discovering fear and wonder on a hot summer day when the world and I were both young.

WHEN UMBRELLAS FLY

Although I ran this about a year ago, it definitely speaks to today’s prompt. It has the advantage of being true and funny, my favorite combination. Beware of flying umbrellas!


Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were, because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full-size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen.

He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

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“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to always be polite to grown-ups.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming in from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Beware of flying umbrellas at the seashore. They can turn you into compost. That’s bad, especially if your hands are full of hot dogs.

SCREAMING AND HOTDOGS

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I don’t like horror movies, except the old ones which are more funny than scary. I thought Jurassic Park and Jaws were scary enough. Life is plenty full of thrills and chills without seeking out more.

Then, there are roller coasters. Especially our hometown favorite — the Cyclone at Coney Island.

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WHAT’S A HERO?

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a couple of years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much any more. We communicate via the Internet, not in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

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Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I don’t deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people’s too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.