Ahead the lights of Coney Island drew us into a bigger crowd, a heaving, playfully boisterous crowd. “Hit the freak. HAHAHAHAHAHA!” The raspy-voiced recording looped over and over: “Hey lady. You in the tight pink shorts. C’mere. HAHAHAHAHAHA!” Shadowy figures bent over fake automatic weapons shooting paintballs at the darting figure in the pit below.
We were in Coney Island. A stop in Rudy’s Bar & Grill for an antidote of vodka was in order before the evening’s performance of Burlesque-By-the-Sea. Rudy’s is a twilight zone of memory and present with only a bit of the future lurking in some hipsters who sit quietly and warily at a table and have not yet claimed the place as theirs. Bikers and biker chicks abound. Grandmothers bustle past the teenage boys in the requisite low-slung baggy cargo shorts. A bottle-blonde muscleman is a dead ringer for Joe Pesci. Another man, small and dark-skinned, his lean arms roped with snakey veins, wanders through the bar crowd selling rosary beads. A father cradles his boy in his arms and dances with him, twirling him around while mother watches. Salsa music blares and a bald-headed woman shimmies alongside a multi-tattooed man. One customer’s request for piña coladas is met with a gruff response from the barman: “I don’t use the blender at night.” “Gimme a Bud—a big one,” gets a much speedier reaction. The Mister and I are treated to a free round by another barman because we never asked for it, as the hapless woman next to us mistakenly did. “But, I thought you were supposed to give me a free one on the third round, no?” He wasn’t having it and made sure she knew it was at the discretion of the bartender. And there up on the wall behind the bar, among the huge collection of photographs of vintage Coney, a moldy dust jacket from the book: Ruby. The Gem of Coney Island, neon beer signs and the obligatory warning to pregnant women is a faded color photo of Richard Nixon clasping a reluctant Pat to his side.