Salt Water Tonic

by Bryan

I don’t know if this is a superstition, a home remedy, a theory, an axiom, a fact, bilged nonsense, hocus-pocus, or what, but I believe salt water cures almost everything. Poison Ivy, malaise, acne, you name it—if it’s not some sort of Major Medical Problem, I eschew the doctor’s office, and get to the beach. This is certainly related to my island upbringing. This doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Yesterday I went to Coney Island after work. It’s a straight shot from my office on 34th Street on the N or Q train, whichever comes first. I took the N. I wanted to get my feet in the water, and I knew if I stopped at my house to get shorts and a towel, I would never leave. Instead I would become a caricature: the businessman with the untucked shirt and rolled-up pant legs, falling downhill toward the ocean.

Some people get healed by the ocean just by looking at it. I’m finally reading Moby-Dick, which opens with scenes of “Manhattoes” eschewing the comforts of their homes to gaze longingly to sea:

Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.

And why would they do that?

We see ourselves in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantasm of life; and this is the key to it all.

Well jeepers, when you put it like that.

So here I was, grasping at the phantasm, keeping a watchful eye of my laptop onshore hidden snugly under my shirt, paranoia over potential stolen goods fading as the minutes ticked by, the sun set, the beach cleared, and my skin absorbed enough Vitamin D (and eventually, my blood enough Pacifico) to slow my internal clock down to something resembling normal. I never slowed it down completely: this is still Brooklyn, after all. But the reason Brooklyn is Brooklyn and Manhattan is Manhattan is that you can survive in Brooklyn by maintaining just a touch of self-awareness. I did it, and I was fine, and I got to enjoy the show.

What show? Well, how about the state park workers shooing people out of the water after 6 p.m.? Spaced about 100 yards apart, these teams of sentinels were tasked with enforcing an impossible rule: “The water is closed.” They’d get everyone out, and everyone would immediately fall back in behind them. From above, it would have looked like a sine curve steadily meandering its way toward Montauk. The water is closed. Ha. Call me when that works. I’ll even leave the ringer on.

Later on, at an outdoor bar that I chose to watch the sunset—actually, I chose it to steel myself for the ride home, and ended up enjoying the sunset—I was, finding myself head-bobbing uncomfortably to early Billy Joel (I was in the merely slightly boozy, not belligerently drunk state in which this is actually possible), trying to distract myself by looking around and sending text messages to Yankees fans. At some point, a couple came into the sparsely-crowded area at around the same time as a group of six guys who posted up with some Popeyes and ordered some beers. The couple was a conspicuously older man with a younger woman with whom he had only recently made an acquaintance; they sat in the table next to me. I thought I was the only one to notice when, as the group began to leave, two of the guys approached the table and, nearly brushing old dude’s hand off girl’s leg, slapped two condoms on the table to the delight of their themselves, their four friends, the old dude, and even his now slightly embarrassed special lady. Then they left, and life continued as if it never happened (for the time being, anyway).

All of this is a way of saying that I was right about the salt water. Outside of the fogginess of my head—two beers can do it to me now—it was a tonic for what ailed me.