What ever made me think of this? The summer that I volunteered at St. Joseph's Hospital, I would ride my bicycle from my home in North Woodmere to some spot on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, lock up the bike, then take a bus to the end of the line in front of the Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Library, and then walk to the hospital on Beach 19th Street. Then, I finished my shift and reversed the trip, unless Bethe and I were heading back to her house first. Or we would walk around the block to Beach 20th Street, curious about the convent on the hospital grounds. At the end of our time together, she would walk me part of the way back to the bus stop.
Neither of us had a driver's license; I was fifteen, and she was a very precocious fourteen. Despite that, it was a summer of great independence for me. I was far from the stultifying sameness of North Woodmere and even better, far from my grandmother's sharp tongue and occasional fisticuffs. Those twice-weekly trips were great exercise, too. I was a klutz in the school gym, but a whiz on the bicycle. Good memories, except I can't imagine what triggered them ... they popped up while I was in my car, driving from Kissimmee to the juvenile court in Orlando (don't ask, I can't tell), and I passed the Children's Advocacy Center, where CPT (the Child Protection Team) is located. I can't count the number of times I have actually been in that building over the years, but it always makes me feel like I am getting caught in a drug-induced hallucination. (Let me make it clear that I am implying no criticism of the CAC or CPT or the marvelous work they do to protect children. I could not do my job as effectively or efficiently without them.) Bright clashing colors, cartoonish representations of various animals, fake trees sculpted out of metals and plastic, looking dangerous rather than cheerful. Even the pictures on the outside of the building continue that weird Alice-in-Wonderland-on LSD theme.
So when I got home, I buried myself in Kevin Walsh's Forgotten NY site and took various tours of the Rockaway Peninsula. Such interesting history, and I'm crazy about the roads, especially the way the Rockaway Freeway zooms under the elevated subway and between the concrete posts of the trestle supporting that structure. Plenty of times my Pop would take that road when we found ourselves in Rockaway heading to relatives in Arverne, having crossed over the Marine Park Bridge (now known as the Gil Hodges Bridge) after bumping over the cobblestones of Flatbush Avenue (yes, you read that correctly) before he somehow magically merged onto Beach Channel Drive, which morphed into Seagirt Boulevard. I'm a map freak, an architecture freak, and a New York City subway freak. The world is my classroom. And my oyster, at least according to Shakespeare.
This might be a good time for a recipe.
I never tasted oysters until I was in my early forties. For someone who practically grew up in Lundy's restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, that's pretty darn amazing. I ate steamed clams in enormous quantities, but nary an oyster, cooked or raw. Broiled scallops, steamed lobsters, mussels in wine sauce and an oceanful of shrimp, but no oysters. Forty years of unrestrained eating gone to waste. Imagine the vast quantities of oysters I could have consumed during my heyday, if I had only known how utterly delicious they are. The first oysters I ever ate were fried, but since then I've had them grilled, raw, Rockefellered, casseroled, Emerilized, and floating in a perfect stew. I have used them at home in gumbos and seafood stews, as well as in stuffing for turkey, which brings us full circle to my Thanksgiving recipes. I know, it's been a long trip from Far Rockaway, but it was all worth it.