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Postcard from Long Island, summer 2010

by Brian Clarey

We took Highway 29 up from Greensboro, all the way to the Beltway of Washington DC, where we merged onto Interstate 95, riding it all the way through New Jersey. Only a fool thinks he can traverse Staten Island and brave the Belt Parkway unmolested, so we ran through the Bronx to cross over to the Island, giving us a glimpse of the brutal cliffs of the Palisades from the George Washington Bridge.

What can I say about Long Island, the place where I grew up? It’s crowded. It’s expensive. The culture is different. So are the people. But the place is home to me, and I will always carry a piece of it.

My wife had an epiphany as we sat on the beach, watching the salty, gray Atlantic waters crashing against jetties made of jagged granite boulders, laid every hundred yards or so down the line. She’s been to beaches in three states this summer, and this stretch of the Atlantic seems particularly turbulent as it narrows into the right angle created by Long Island and New Jersey. Like the people here, she said, like the place itself. Hard. Rough around the edges. Forceful. And, of course, beautiful.

Drive across the island, through villages bunched together, one after the other, like cigarettes in a pack — which, incidentally now cost upwards of $10 on Long Island — each one with its own pizza place, deli, train station and restaurants that have been there for 50 years or more.

And I can personally attest to the wondrous quality of Long Island’s outer reaches. Watercolor skies streaked with wispy clouds. A briny wind rattles the dry dunegrass as the susurrus of the surf rolls with a gentle roar. The sand, fine as sugar, pushes against the soles of your feet, whips against your ankles, infiltrates your bathing suit.

We spent most of the week in my parents’ cabana at the Atlantic Beach Club, a sort of members-only seaside country club peculiar to that corner of the world. My parents have been members since 1975 or so, and it is one of the last vestiges of the upper-middle-class lifestyle they were able to provide for my sisters and me.

I’ve been coming to this place every summer since I was five years old, and again there is something completely soothing about that. Here’s the pool where I learned to swim and competed in weekend meets. There’s the beach where I built castles, played stickball, dug holes big enough to bury dead cattle in. That’s the beach where I learned to catch waves and ride body boards, cut my feet on crabs and broken shells, understood to respect the power and majesty of the ocean as it ebbs and flows.

Watching my own children sample some of that youthful bliss — even if just for a few days — stirred something that was immensely satisfying. The little girl learned to jump off the side of the pool. The little boy made a lot of new friends and helped dig a giant pit. The big one caught a wave on a Boogie Board and rode it in to shore. They had ice cream every day.

Their time on Long Island has marked them, quite literally, with wisps of sun-streaked hair, deeply bronzed skin and red, sunburned crescents below their eyes. My oldest has achieved the far-off stare common to people who spend a lot of time near the water. He likes it here, and it’s possible he’ll return as an adult, I suppose. And if the kid toughens up a little, he’s got an even shot at making it.

It was easy to distract myself from my other life here in North Carolina with frozen drinks, seafood, beach walks, can-openers off the low dive and visits with friends and family that I don’t see nearly enough. But work made an intrusion when I got a Saturday afternoon text informing me that this paper, YES! Weekly, had been accepted into the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies at the group’s annual convention in Toronto. It wasn’t something I could shrug off — we’ve been trying to become members of the association since we started the paper in 2005.

Membership means that our paper’s RSS feed will run through the news feed at www.altweeklies.com, bringing our news and cultural coverage to an international audience. It means we are eligible for the Alt-weekly Awards, going up against papers like New York’s Village Voice, the Austin Chronicle, the Willamette Weekly and Las Vegas CityLife, a paper for which, incidentally, former YES! Weekly staffer Amy Kingsley just took First Place in the Format Buster category.

It also means the accomplishment of a longtime goal, and there’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction and release in that.

I took the news well, registering it with a moment of contentment, a wink of a smile. Then I sat down with my family and ate some lobsters before heading to the beachfront bar at the Atlantic Beach Club to revisit yet another part of my past.

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