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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Scooter, Newtown Creek by Wythe Marschall

OBJECT: Scooter

BODY OF WATER: Newtown Creek

 

Single white derelict technical individual seeks thrill-happy, no-frills speedy kid for lasting velociromance”

1975 – Barry Bossler purchases me second-hand/never-driven from a friend of his father. Barry tells his friends at school that I am a Vespa, and that I am BOSS. His dad concurs, gesturing senatorially: “That slick white wasp can really fly, Bare-Bear. Watch it.” Barry nods. We fly across the rain-slick streets of Bushwick. I am frightened because Barry is not made of metal. From the radio of a passing Skyhawk, someone Barry identifies as “the Captain” sings about love.

1985 – Barry’s cousin Lovely Tony curses at me. I am in need of a new clutch spring. He is holding a new gasket. My gasket is profoundly serene. A dude with shaggy black hair walks by, waving to Lovely Tony. He salutes back, then kicks me, hard, in the rear tire. The dude sings: “Money for nothing… / Kicks for free…”

1995 – Lovely Tony’s ex-wife Janet (Lovely Janet?) takes me out of storage only to dump me into Newtown Creek. She is sweating. “Tony never liked that thing,” she lies.  She calls the storage unit a “money black hole” and says the city can “eat her [buttocks]” if they thought she was going to pay to have a Vespa hauled off. As I sink into mud, I hear a kid sing along to a song about someone named Buddy Holly.

2005 – Rats examine my graying metal frame, deciding my skin of microflora and algae is not particularly appetizing. I pass my thirtieth birthday the way I did my twenty-ninth: pretending to be a rock. I listen for anything interesting. Nothing.

2015 – I am now thoroughly underwater. A transgenic walleye floats by, glowing. This is the first glowing fish I have seen. I am moved to excitement. The walleye floats on, neon flesh blinking behind a screen of buried objects—my fellow gravestones. “I like a tombstone cause it weathers well, / and if it stands or if it crumbles only time will tell.”

2075 – When I am pulled up from the water by a family of amphibious numans, I am so deep into the void of metal sleep that I do not at first register this “reality” as in anyway different from my “dream.” I do not thank them. I watch, disinterested, as the youngest daughter hauls me back to her sleeping pod and curls around me. In the morning, she polishes me. She has no clutch spring, but she has feet (such lovely feet!), and we go “biking” almost in the manner of my forebears, the velocipedes, with her feet kicking us forward and my bald tires obliging to rotate. Her name is unpronounceable, her songs alien. And yet her green-black hair flows in the wind not unlike Barry’s did. Her smile, punctuated by small fangs, reminds me of Barry’s. I cannot believe my luck.

As we round the great Newtown Bay, I sing (in my way) out over the water: “Will the wind ever remember / The names it has blown in the past?” Somewhere, perhaps beyond the island-spires of the drowned churches of Brooklyn, the wind answers, affirming.


Wythe Marschall is the co-author of Suspicious Anatomy, an illustrated book of fake science, and the co-founder of the Hollow Earth Society. He is also a member of Observatory, a prominent art-and-science gallery/events space in Brooklyn. His stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Ninth Letter, Salt Hill, 5_Trope, Knock, The Kennesaw Review, The Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere.