Archive

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.

The Rescue by Asya Graf

The man took off his white t-shirt, then removed what looked like a gold chain from around his neck. Balancing on one leg, then the other, he pulled off his white sneakers and lined them up on the wooden boardwalk. Lastly, he laid aside his cell phone, on which he had just been talking, vaulted over the railing, and jumped. We heard the thud of his body hitting the water and the shouts that followed. No one looked prepared to jump in, but everyone had their phones out, ready to call 911. If the police had cared to ask, I would’ve said he was in his thirties, black, thin and wiry, and here the semi-certainties would have ended.

We had been sitting on the strip of grass running down the middle of Christopher Street Pier. The sun was descending onto the rooftops of Jersey City, spilling a russet patina over our faces and the sheen on the water. A woman was lying near us face down on her towel, her bikini top untied. A pair of teenage girls sprawled on their backs, schoolbags serving as pillows, absorbed in their phones. A sunset tango class was in session at the end of the pier, and we could hear fragments of music, the poignant plaint of violin and bandoneon. Even though we had noticed the man’s careful undressing some way down the pier, neither of us thought to interrupt the halfhearted argument we were having until several beats after the jump. The man’s methodical actions had seemed scripted and distant, right down to the moment when he slipped beyond the railing, as though we’d seen it already, on Law & Order perhaps.

“He jumped,” you said and squinted into the light reflected off the water. You were still holding my hand but you let go absentmindedly, and at a really bad time, I thought.

Read More