Randy Coxwain

Hunting on Coney Island: A Saga of the Fifties

You might think this narrative is dated. Old-fashioned. Of course, it is. After all, I’m 112 years old, I think. Maybe. Might be a little less. Who knows. I was never issued a birth certificate; they didn’t bother with that kind of nonsense back then, and back there where I was born. Back there and back then, they all were convinced babies came from men kissing women. I must have been twenty-eight when I found out the truth: storks brought them from Santa’s lair at the North Pole. 

But returning to the question of my birth, I assure you, I have been born. Definitely. If you see me and hear me, you can take for granted I have been born. Right? So, what’s this nonsense about birth certificates?  Anyway, this incident happened in my youth. Young men and women were more modest then, somewhat naïve. So, yeah, maybe it is a bit old-fashioned.  Sue me. Consider it history, history of a time and place in a lost civilization. Okay, here we go.

You might wonder why my pal Roscoe and I would drag ourselves out of bed at seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday or a Sunday, after working all week and being able to sleep in on the weekend. (I’m aware it’s more fashionable nowadays to have said, “drag our asses out of bed,” but I’m old school, and refuse to be vulgar.)  We didn’t live near each other, only twenty miles apart, but without either of us owning a car, it was a challenge. 

I’d take a bus from the suburban wasteland of Bergen County, New Jersey, which would land me at the Port of New York Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan a half hour later.  Roscoe would take a bus from Union City, New Jersey and meet me at the Port Authority.  From there we would ride the subway to lower Manhattan and switch to a train on the BMT, ride all through deepest Brooklyn from one end to the other until finally crossing a bay with cattails in it and coming to Coney Island at about eleven thirty.  That was a jaunt of at least two hours just to get there. Now, I realize you might think this paragraph is unnecessary and even boring. But it’s essential to show how eager we were. How desperate.

You might also wonder why anyone would travel two hours or more on buses and trains to go to a beach when there were swimming pools closer to home.  Okay, Coney Island had a great amusement park, but so did Palisades Park in nearby New Jersey, where there was a humongous saltwater pool with mechanically created waves.  And New Jersey has a long coastline with sandy beaches commonly referred to as “the Jersey Shore.” True, but you couldn’t get there easily without a car. So, why, you may ask, did we invest so much time and effort in making the trek to Coney Island just to go swimming.

Good question.  First off, It wasn’t just  to go swimming. You see, we did enjoy the beach and the ocean, but it wasn’t just sun tans and the surf we were after. We were going fishing, so to speak.  No, not for fish. Maybe hunting is more like it. We were nineteen years old and, in the summer, needed to go hunting.  Didn’t have guns, either.  Didn’t need them for our kind of hunting.  Our hunting grounds were on Coney Island. It was an excellent place to pick up girls. (So, maybe our hunting weapons should have been broadswords.)  Now, I realize this could be considered sexist. Hey, I’m an old geezer, and these events took place in a sexist era. Besides, why do guys today go to clubs and bars to meet women? And, now that I think of it, why do the women go to those places? C’mon, get real.  

Pardon my rude interruption of my own story. Anyway, we’d get out there on the beach, brimming over with excitement and optimism, loaded for a big game.  Just the salty sea breeze conveying the exhilarating smell of the Atlantic Ocean would fill us with a kind of thrilling anticipation.  It intoxicated us even while we were still on the boardwalk, before our feet even touched sand.  I felt the way a dog looks when it catches the scent of something interesting; it stops, stiffens and pricks up its ears and its snout quivers.  The dog is one bundle of excitement.  That’s the way I would feel.  There was a tingling in my chest, and I’d have an urge to run, jump, fly… Perchance to swim. Perchance to…  Well, you know.

Upon arriving at the beach we would place our towels on the sand just a few feet from the crashing waves.  We never brought a blanket because we liked to travel light.  Besides, whose blanket would it be, mine or Roscoe’s?  Two blankets would be ridiculous.  And traveling by bus and train with blankets would make us look like homeless people, which was not the look we wanted to project.  

There were other reasons, too:  we both felt –and we had discussed it—that we should end up on somebody else’s blanket.  We’d have to earn our blanket.  Girls always had blankets.  We would live off the land, you might say.  We felt we wouldn’t deserve a blanket unless we brought home the metaphorical bacon, picked up a couple of girls, that is.

As soon as we put our towels, shoes and socks on the burning sand, we’d go crashing headlong into the breakers to cool off, until we needed to warm up in the sun.  At that point we’d dry off a bit, put the towels around our necks, pick up the shoes and socks and take a hike along the beach, but we weren’t just hiking; we’d be scouting. For girls.  I guess you could call us girl scouts.  And Roscoe thought it was funny –I guess it was funny—because I would be there without my glasses, and I was practically as blind as a bat without them.  This was a problem, because I couldn’t tell if a girl was attractive or not at a distance of over ten yards.  Of course, it was essential to make a decision at no closer than that distance.  And it would be a fateful decision with possibly far-reaching ramifications.  

I was not going to come up to them within two feet, then pull out a magnifying glass and inspect them from head to toe.  They might think it somewhat odd.  I had to depend on Roscoe to give me his opinion of them at a distance.  They had to be nice-looking –I don’t mean Hollywood stars or beauty queens—but they had to be cute. Or at least not hideous. Yeah, I draw the line at hideous. But both of them had to be attractive. Is that sexist?   Otherwise, we’d be fighting over who would get the cute one.  It just wouldn’t work out if Roscoe weren’t conscientious about it.  Sometimes he’d get my goat, just kidding around, when we’d sight a couple of girls and when I’d ask him what they were like, he’d smirk and tell me, “Mine’s real cute, but yours is ugly,” or something like that.  I’d punch him in the arm and tell him to get serious because we were approaching the quarry.   

Anyway, we’d just walk along through the sand –and the sand could get very hot, the burning sands of the desert—and search for likely prospects. We were stalking our prey. We had been trying to be less timid than the two of us had been in high school.  We were trying to be bold and self-assured.  So, if we spotted a pair of girls –it had to be two girls, no more, no fewer—who were nice looking and who looked about our age, we’d sort of amble along till we were fairly close to them, close enough to hear what they were saying, depending on wind conditions.  We would then nonchalantly lay our towels down, looking as if we didn’t even know they were there.  We’d stand there looking up and down the beach, at the sky, the boardwalk, the ocean, as though we had decided that this particular patch of sand was the best spot for miles around due to weather conditions, wind direction, tidal currents, proximity to the ocean and to the boardwalk behind us…  Anything but the real reason: it was near them.  

We would lie down directly on the sand as though the most important thing in the world at that moment was to relax and get a tan.  But we’d look out of the corner of our eyes to see if they noticed us.  And if they did, we’d check to see if they were looking at us with burning desire (highly unlikely), great interest (hey, anything is possible), mild appreciation (you never know), keen curiosity, mild curiosity, disdain, utter disgust, or nausea.  Any of the above was preferable to not noticing us at all.  We had to exercise great sensitivity and cunning, because even if they were interested, they would try to act as though they weren’t, just as we were doing.  Not like today. It was a game of skill.  It was hunting in the forest wearing camouflage while the quarry had natural camouflage.  Maybe. By the end of that summer, we were becoming experts.  

The first week of the summer was the worst, because we’d be out there with a winter-white skin, stay a whole day under the merciless sun and go home red as boiled lobsters and in agony.  Sunblock had not yet been invented. There was suntan oil, but using it was akin to putting butter in the frying pan before frying the eggs. We didn’t know about skin cancer in those days, either. But it was worth it, the pain of sunburn, that is. I don’t mean to say we were always successful hunters, because we weren’t.  I mean the thrill of the chase, as they say, was worth it.  And we learned a lot about girls that summer.  That made it a worthwhile experience.  And there were those times when we were successful, to varying degrees.  No, I don’t want to spell it out any more clearly than that.  Nothing personal; it’s just that a true gentleman obeys certain rules of decorum and honor.

Sometimes the signs weren’t promising, so we’d just pick up our towels –fold our tents, so to speak—and trudge along to the next oasis to try again.  Sometimes we’d really mess up.  There was one time, early in the summer, when we seemed right on target, only to go down in flames through our own fault.  Or the fault of one of us. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t my fault.

On one Saturday we started a conversation with these two excellent specimens of feminine pulchritude.  Let’s call them Mary Brown and Jane Doe, just to protect the guilty.  We started discussing fascinating subjects like the weather, articles we had read in the newspaper, current events.  And, of course, where they lived.  It turned out they lived in New Jersey, too.  And had just graduated from Weequahic High School in the suburbs of Newark.  Later, we got to more serious matters, like their future plans, how they felt about life, things like that.  Finally, they invited us over to their blanket so we wouldn’t have to yell at each other over several feet of sand and over the wind and the roar of the surf. That was very encouraging.

Roscoe and I introduced them to the game of Black Magic, in which I’d let one of the girls put her hands over my eyes.  While I was unable to see, they silently would point to an object.  Once my eyes were uncovered, Roscoe would point to various items, one at a time, and ask if it was the one they had selected.  When he’d point to something that was black or had black in it, like a comb or the print on a newspaper, I knew that the very next object he’d point to would be the chosen one.  The girls were supposed to attempt to discover how I could possibly identify the correct item.  At first, they thought it had to do with tone of voice, or the exact words used to ask, “Is it this?”  (Earlier that summer, with a different pair of girls, one of them was convinced she had the clue.  She said, “Easy.  It’s always the very last object.”  Roscoe and I had a tough time not cracking up with laughter.)  But these girls, the ones from Weequahic High, were highly intelligent and after about five tries, caught on.

At one point Roscoe and I went to buy ice-cream cones for ourselves and the girls.  As we all were sitting on the blanket, eating our cones and chatting, the top half of my ice-cream fell out of the cone and onto Jane’s beautiful thigh.  Embarrassing.  I told her not to worry, I would take care of it.  To her surprise and amusement, I ate it off her thigh.  (Look, Ma, no hands!) I was a daredevil.

I don’t remember what we were talking about, but things were getting nice and friendly.  Roscoe’s girl, Mary, was pretty and dark haired, suntanned and wore a red bathing suit.  Mine, Jane, also suntanned, had chestnut hair and wore a green suit.  At one point I had my head resting on her lap and we were talking about who knows what.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw that Roscoe was playing cards with Mary.  They were talking very quietly and smiling warm smiles at each other.  

As I said, I had my head on her lap and was looking to my left, up at her face –actually, her mountainous breasts, which obscured her features—as we chatted.  Or I would look to my right down the length of her shapely legs, and pretend to be looking at the ocean.  I could feel her full thigh under my head and the nape of my neck, and I began to get excited.  It was a case of close encounters of the stimulating kind.  It certainly was pleasurable, but at the same time was burdensome.  I mean, there I was, lying face up in the middle of a public beach, jammed with people, with this tremendous, uncontrollable erection which throbbed back and forth in time with my pulse while I tried to act nonchalant and make sparkling conversation.

At age nineteen I would experience these irrepressible woodies just thinking about girls, or merely from riding a bus in a seat that was over the wheels and feeling the vibrations through the seat.  Embarrassing, let me tell you!  And here I was in flesh-to-flesh contact with a beautiful girl.  The same used to happen when I was dancing cheek to cheek with a girl.  I’d be pressed up against her for a slow dance when, zoom…!  Old Faithful would rear its ugly head.  So, there I was, on a public beach, or a pubic beach, people all around, and yours truly with this big throbbing periscope.  I’m sure Jane noticed it –how could she not notice it? –but didn’t show any signs of recognition.  

She maintained a steady-paced brilliant repartee accompanied by philosophical observations.  But she had this kind of half-amused, half-self-satisfied smile on her lips when she looked at me.  Frankly, I didn’t know what to do.  I was genuinely embarrassed, no, ashamed, really, but not enough to change position.  I felt like turning over and burying the damn thing in the sand, except that would put me in a prone position, my face in her lap, which would be even more embarrassing and might even have scared her, especially in public.  You have to remember: all this was on a crowded public beach.  Oh, the agony and the ecstasy!

I thought of running down to the ocean and plunging into the cold briny to cool the offending instrument, the way a blacksmith plunges a length of white-hot metal into cold water, making it hiss and send steam into the air. But I could just see myself charging along the beach, threading in and out of knots of adults and children, husbands, wives, teenagers of both sexes with this wild barbarian erection.  People would be frightened.  Men would shield their wives.  Mothers would put towels over their children’s eyes.  I mean, can you picture it?  I’d look like Don Quixote charging a windmill with his lance, except that I’d be charging the Atlantic Ocean with my glans.  

Anyway, there I was with my head in Jane’s lap, my other head coyly peeking out of the bottom of my trunks. Yeah, it was actually showing, the very tip, that is.  It showed with every throb of my pulse.  It was bobbing up and down with my heartbeat and you could actually see the head sticking out, pink against the light green trunks, with every throb.  A bob a throb.  All she had to do was to reach over and grab it.  Good grief, it was too much.  Well, of course she didn’t try to grab it.  Maybe only because we were in a public place.  But she certainly saw it, watched it, yet she didn’t stand up and scream and call me a dirty, disgusting sex maniac.  She didn’t lean over and throw up, either. A good sign, I thought.

She just kept talking, in those sweet musical tones that added fuel to the fire of my passion, glancing at my glans and smiling that Mona Lisa smile.  This led me to believe that perhaps she wouldn’t mind grabbing it if we weren’t on a public beach, if we were somewhere private (private parts in private places).  Keep in mind, she was intelligent and interesting in addition to having a terrific figure.  I thought at the very least I might actually get myself a girlfriend.  

You can see, then, that I was counting on getting together with her after we had finished with the beach.  We’d have to go to the lockers at the bath house, shower and put on our street clothes.  I figured Roscoe and I could take a walk on the boardwalk with the girls, go on some of the rides at the amusement park, maybe have some hot dogs at Nathan’s, a few beers, back to the boardwalk (I was thinking it could be called the broadwalk) in the evening, then who knew what…  But at least I would get her phone number and be able to see her later.  

I was thinking all this when Jane and Mary went for a dip.  I didn’t join them because I didn’t think I could make it.  That is, I couldn’t see myself strolling down to the water’s edge with my lance at the ready, like Sir Lancelot, for the entire world to see.  So, Roscoe and I draped our towels around our necks and waited for the girls to come back.  Meanwhile, I strained not to look at the girls, not to think about how they looked, by concentrating on other things: baseball, old hags stark naked, ice water, ice cubes placed on the nape of my neck.  I finally managed to lower the flag, or at least lower it to half-mast so that it was safe to stand up.  For me to get to my feet, that is.

I told Roscoe that as soon as they came out of the water, we should make a date to take them out after we had changed into street clothes.  We could ask them to meet us right outside the bathhouse. It was called a bathhouse, but it was just a building with lockers rented for sixty-five cents a day.  Remember, this was long, long ago.  But Roscoe said it would make us look too anxious, too needy.  “We are anxious.  We are needy,” I said.  He said of course we were, but didn’t have to let them know it.  He said it would be more suave if we could get changed fast — and added that it was notorious that girls took forever to change– and we could just kind of hang around outside the entrance. They wouldn’t have to know we had been waiting for them.  Whenever they made their appearance, we could just say, “Fancy meeting you here” or something similar.  That would be really debonair or as they say nowadays, cool.  And when we “accidentally” ran into them we could casually suggest going somewhere with them.  

I was kind of leery.  I thought they might take a different exit.  Roscoe said there was only one entrance to the place, but I wasn’t so sure.  The building occupied a whole square block.  Well, he finally convinced me.  Sort of.  I mean I had my reservations, but I went along with him.  As we finished our discussion and made our decision, the two girls came out of the ocean and dried off.  We all walked back to the bath house and told them we had a great time with them and were glad to have met them and said goodbye.  Oh, I thought, I don’t think this is right.  My heart was beating furiously, an inner voice was telling me, What are you doing, you idiot? Strike while the iron is hot.  But I had agreed to go along with Roscoe’s plan, and we’d already said goodbye.  

Long story short: (too late, you say?) We waited on the street for a whole freaking hour before we would admit defeat.  We had taken no more than fifteen minutes to go to our lockers, shower, change and get back on the street.  The girls couldn’t have done it any faster than we did.  Plus, it turned out there was another exit on the other side of the building.  I was angry, no, furious!  That’s putting it mildly.  That was the only time I was really angry with Roscoe.  After I bitched and told him what a complete A-hole he was for the fifth time, we hardly said a word to each other during the whole two-freaking-hour trip to the Port Authority.  I didn’t get in touch with him for three weeks.  I went home and abused myself all night, picturing her in her green bathing suit, until I ran dry.  Luckily, I didn’t do myself any permanent injury.  I thought about her for weeks.  Hell, here I am thinking about her right now.


Randy Coxwain was born in the first half of the 20th Century (he has no birth certificate, but insists he actually was born) in a brothel on the outskirts of an English city whose name he does not wish to remember. Adopted at the age of twenty five by a wealthy and titled British heiress, he attended Oxford University for two years until expelled for seducing the wife of his dean.  He has had work published in literary journals on five continents. He teaches Creative Writing at the Royal University of Chad, Campus at Jebel Saghro

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