Friend and fan of Underwater New York Rich McGowan took our magnet on a waterfront tour. Here's a collection of his evocative work.
On Monday April 7th, Team UNY visited Professor (and UNY contributor) Steve Mentz's English class at St. John's University on "The Sea, The Sea." The students participated in a flash fiction exercise led by editor Nicole Haroutunian in which they drew an underwater object out of a hat and then wrote about that object. Sometimes sad, sometimes haunting, sometimes funny - but always unexpected - the stories were uniformly amazing. They share them with us here.
Object: Silver Baby Rattle
Bod of Water: Dead Horse Bay
Author: Jeremy Ashton
There has never been such a thing as a Good bye.
I was 17. I didn’t know.
She knew. She
threw me a baby shower, the spiteful bitch. The child was almost gone, I could feel
it yanking my veins, pooling blood,
taking, his father’s child,
The flood washed their house
By then I had run to Florida,
became a mermaid,
danced for no one, everyone.
My mermaid name was
No one one even asked me what happened
Body of Water: Coney Island
Author: Aimee Heath
Part One: The shacks, treats, prizes and other rides were all grand but the ferris wheel was my favorite. I can still feel the rhythm of the music, the warmth of the lights, the energy of the crowd. Many happy childhood memories of mine were formed there, in that magical place of my dreams. I guess the name was fitting then. “Dreamland, where a young girl’s dreams come true”…until they burn up in reality. It’s been exactly a year since the fire today. I can still feel the heat of the flames, the instability of the pier, the fear in our hears. But it really is gone. Can’t I still dream? Of course I can. I can dream that one day, someone will find that sunken pier. I can even dream that someone will rebuild that fascinating park, if not soon, then for younger generations. Because of Dreamland, I can dream.
Part Two: She's growing up too fast. She was such a happy sweet little girl, so full of life and energy. I really think that fire burned up something in her spirit. She’s reflective and somer, and I just don’t find that fitting for a girl her age; she should be giddy, and even silly, the way she was when she was up at the top of the old ferris wheel. I hate that she thinks they’ll rebuild that amusement park. Doesn’t she know anything about open water? What goes in it does not come out.
Object: Horse Trailer
Body of Water: Bronx River
Author: Faihaa Khan
A rich upperclass family was throwing a birthday party for their young bratty daughter. She demanded her parents get her a horse of the highest breed to be presented to her on her birthday. Her parents at first refused saying that it would be impossible for a horse to delivered, but the young girl persisted. Her parents gave in and decided to call and have a horse delivered. The breeder reassured them that the horse will be delivered to the young girl. The only problem was that the trailer in which the horse was supposed to travel in had loose brackets that attached to the vehicle. The breeder at first did question if it would las the journey. But then though “oh well,” this family seemed like they would pay up a lot of money so no way was he going to pass off on this offer after he had already promised to deliver. The journey for the first hour was not too bad, but then the brackets started making a rattling noise which struck the breeder with fear but thinning was going to stop him now. He took quick glances in the book to see if the trailer was still intact but kept his eyes on the road for the majority of the time to reach his destination. However he turned back one more time without realizing he was headings towards the wrong direction. He quickly realized this and took a sharp turn to the left unhinging the brackets off the trailer, causing it to fall into the water. However, the driver quickly grabbed a rope and key to unlock the trailer to get the hours out, but the trailer could not be saved and it proceeded to fall into the water. The breeder called his men back in the breed farm to come with another trailer. So at the end the horse was sved, the birthday girl was happy and the breeder got his money’s worth even tough the haas late. The only thing that got lost during this experience was the horse trailer, which eventually got found in the Bronx River.
Body of Water: Gowanus Canal
Author: Lynnae Freeman
“What kind of person can’t talk” they said, everyday they said they said. I tried to tell them that it was my body’s fault, not mine. I knew that I could speak because I could think, and because I could think I had a brain and if I had a brain it could make me speak. I knew it was possible but my body did not, and it humiliated me into submission. With every taunt grew another bar on my cage, and with every “hygulde” that was meant to be a “hello” clanked another lock. I was walking through the alley away from the square when I passed by a pet shop with a bird in the window. It hopped at the bottom of the container with its pale beige feet and its fiery feathers bandaged to its sides. “75% off” the sign read, in a blockish scrawl. I used my milk money for the next week to buy that landy bird, and I took it to the shore. We looked at the waves together and I listened to it chiming, both of us in our cages but only one able to be freed. I took up the cage in the hook of my finger and dropped it into the surf. “What kind of a bird can’t fly” I thought.
Object: 1968 Lincoln Continental
Body of Water: Coney Island
Author: Cathy Sheehan
From the moment the car rolled into sight, I knew that it had to be mine. My uncle’s ’68 Continental was like a tank, a beautiful mass of machinery that stole my heart. When my uncle drove up outside our apartment house I didn’t care to look at my cousins whom I hadn’t seen in years, or my aunt who seemed to never age. All that mattered was the car, and whether my uncle would let me drive it. I broached the topic at dinner the second night, warned he would laugh at a new driver asking to borrow his car. “Just for a short drive, I promise I will take good care of it.” He laughed and to my surprise reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys. “Not a scratch, you hear me?” HIs eyes twinkled as he tossed me the keys and I fled out the front door to freedom. From the street I could hear my mother protesting, my uncle telling her not to worry, I was a man with a license, what could possibly go wrong.
I sat on the ground facing the car glowing at the awe of my buddies. “He let you drive it? No questions asked?” I was the first of my friends to get a license, and the first to drive a car that wasn’t about to fall into a pile of rubble. Wind ruffled my hair as I sat content, facing the water. The pier seemed silent late at night, like a world in itself. Nick jumped on the hood of the car, doing a dance as he jumped to and fro. “The almighty king has taken his place in the dominion of the adults.” Stretching, I laid down against the cold wood of the pier, enjoying my first ast of true freedom. A crack exploded through the silent night like a gunshot. Time froze. When I looked up to see the beautiful Lincoln, that tank of excellence, roll of the pier.
When I returned home I told my parents we were robbed, a gang stole the car and I was marched to the police station to give a report of my fictional assaulters and the imaginary men in which the incident had taken place. No clues were ever found and y uncle returned homed without the beautiful tank. I never thought to put on the barking brake, that the would would be too much on the eroded planks of wood, or that the beloved car would slip backward into the water.
That beloved majestic tank.
Object: Heel & Key
Body of Water: Dead Horse Bay
Author: Veronika Rodriguez
She sits there almost slumped over, her heels retreating into the sand. She is the visual definition of despair. The once shiny onyx gloss of her body is fading, cracking, and her “roots” are starting to show. The key that once sparked romance in the hearts of ship passengers now lies there untouched, unloved. She sits there in ruins, looking out towards the bay in longing. She wants to be held, to be the center of the ball, the reason why everyone is there. She yearns to have someone brush their fingers against her body, to be able to sing her songs of passion. But there is water in her lungs and her voice can only barely be heard. She looks to the bay, lusting to be loved once more, but is unable to do anything. She is abandoned and alone with only the memories of her intense nights and the shipwreck to keep her company.
Object: Lost Submarine
Body of Water: Coney Island Creek
Author: Jisan Ali
A sawed-off school bus. An ugly behemoth of steel and human ingenuity. Full of people and hope and a yearning to visit another world. A world of water. A world where air is sucked in without breathing.
A bell nods as people crawl into the submarine. Excitement buzzes as the hull lightly parts the waves and makes a beeline for the bottom.
Excitement dies as red light floods the air and alarms scream bloody murder.
And slowly, the submarine falls into the embrace of gravity. On a journey from which it will never return.
Object: Two Shipwrecks On Top of Each Another
Body of Water: Hudson River
Author: Shawn Zasowski
My brother and I were out on the water one day when we saw this mashing of debris. I saw ripped tarps, wooden pillars, and a substantially sized anchor. My brother saw a motor, broken glass, and a much smaller motor. We decided to go check it out. The debris was astounding. We looked around to find anything valuable but all we could find was broken bottles. My brother got all excited and screamed “Shawn! Come! This is amazing!” I ran over and he found a message in a bottle abord the cabin cruiser. The message was about the other ship.
It read: “During the early 1800s a crew of 20 men decided to navigate the Hudson, just as George Washington had. They were sailing down the Hudson one day when out of nowhere it became foggy. A strong mist that the man on lookout called a quits for the day. A big storm came upon them and a wave toppled the whole crew vanished. It is now 1998 and I am interested in the sudden vanishing of the crew. I have decided to simulate the conditions they were under. When I saw the news about potentially the biggest storm we have ever experienced, I knew it was now or never. I have now set out on my journey and will write about my discovery.”
My brother and I kept looking around but there was no sign of any borns, bodies, or life around. We started seeing a slight fog build and got spooked by the story. We got in our boat and quickly got away.
Object: St. John's Guild Children’s Hospital
Body of Water: New Dorp Beach
Author: John Lodispoto
“I’m scared of dying,” Michael said to me as he ashed his cigarette. “We build and build but for what?”
I’m not sure,” I replied, kicking some rubble. “I guess I don’t really think about it.”
We had been friends for a while, Mike and I. He got into construction, I into some day job to pay the bills. I didn’t have to think about the purpose of things. I was already stressed and this was my only day off after a busy week. We took a walk on the beach and came across a piece of a building. A hospital, I later learned. I guess this sparked an existential crisis in him. I can never be sure. It’s always something with him. But I guess he’s right. What is the point? We’re racing against time and we can never win. Ash to ash. Dust to dust. I turn to Mike, ask for a cigarette. When I finish, I toss the butt to the rest of the trash.
Body of Water: Lower New York Bay
Author: Nicholas Natalie
Washed ashore, many objects. Each unique in its own right, with underlying implications. Diseased animals are transported across the water to the emergency veterinary hospital, where a giraffe is aboard. It becomes more and more apparent during the time the giraffe will not survive and is a danger to others. It dies a quiet, peaceful death. There is still a long way to travel, and not much room on the boat, the men decide to administer a sea burial. The sea burial was the only way to ensure the other animals did not get even more ill, as the giraffe was contagious. Perhaps the men here made a sacrifice: the giraffe was given an unorthodox, and some may view, immoral burial, at the stake of not infecting the other animals.
Object: 10mm Glock Handgun
Body of Water: Bronx River
Author: Sarah Guayante
Keep running, keep running. Get as far away from it as you can, as far away. As far away from the street. As far away from the apartment. As far away from the body lying in its own blood. As far away from that memory, still coursing the blood on his shirt and the gun in his hand. The blood on his shirt, zip your jacket up and it might disappear. Keep running home, the handgun still heavy in his grip. The handgun, surely they would know, because if he knew about the handgun, then they would know. The handgun had to go. And there the river was, black and still. Before he even realized what he was doing, the gun was flung from his hand. And he kept running. The gun was gone, but the weight remained. The blood was still on his shirt. And he was still running. Running with the blood on his shirt and the weight of the gun in his hand. Running away, running away.
Object: Dentures & Toothbrush
Body of Water: Dead Horse Bay
Author: Ella Leviyeva
Grandpa always misplaced his teeth. He’d spend days living off of soup until his replacements came in. At the end of the year, we found him trying to flush pieces of his dentures down the toilet. He said, “I just love your soup, Annie.”
Only a few days after his 85th birthday, Grandpa’s teeth misplaced him. We mourned and cried and drowned ourselves in black. We closed his bedroom, and for months we could not bring ourselves to enter it. As we healed and smiled and reintroduced pastels into our wardrobes, we explored his room. In a box buried behind boxes behind boxes, there was a stash of about a hundred old dentures with a note. “I really did love your soup, Annie.”
“Mommy, you said not to pick garbage from the beach.”
Twenty years have passed since I’ve heard my grandpa's voice, since I’ve held a pair o broken dentures in my hands.
“You’re right, Mikey. We should not pick up garbage… but this is not garbage. Let’s go home, I’ll make you some of mommy’s soup.”
“I love your soup, Mommy.”
Object: Formica dinette
Body of Water: East River
Author: Alyssa Strachan
As she looked out of her window hearing the jukebox sounds from the diner up the block, the deep blue water from the East River gave her chills as it moved by. She turned around to glance at her almost empty apartment. The only thing left in sight was their Formica dinette that held so many memories. Her memories of their first meal and first birthday cakes as a married couple made her smirk. Then she thought of eating alone and the many times a shaken table spilled a glass of wine on her dress, and her mind began to fill with rage. Her conflicting emotions gave her a headache and made her ears ring, the divorce was final and she had to move on, but why was it so hard? Deep in her thoughts, she almost didn’t hear the mover ask, “What should we do with this here table?” As she lit a cigarette, she said out of the side of her mouth, “Send it down the river.”
OBJECT: Mermaid Figurine
BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay
Tonight I walked
to where the sea topples
onto the bay.
Knuckle-deep in murky waters,
a porcelain figurine
in an ebbing tide.
Across its eroding surface,
against its hollow navel.
A licked finger
swabbed in the air
reveals the brokenness between
porcelain and flesh
is palpable, perhaps relatable,
but only at arm’s length
and in small occasional doses.
Hugo J. Quizhpi was born and raised in NYC. He served in the US Air Force Reserves, where he received recognition for duties rendered during 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His work is inspired by his experiences in the military and his indigenous Ecuadorian roots. His work has been published in Elohi Gadugi Journal, The Author's Voice, and in WLRN Public Radio.
Among the wonders exhibited at Elizabeth Albert's exhibition Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfronts at St. John's University were these two evocative objects: a single, elephantine baby doll leg and a whistle, found by diver Ed Fanuzzi--he thinks it once belonged to his uncle, a champion lifeguard.