Friday, May 11, 2012
On nights when the breeze was just right, the smell of the bay filled the streets. It hung, like signs of high tide along the concrete wall that surrounded the water and skirted the southern edge of the neighborhood. The water came in from the Long Island sound, and before that, from the Atlantic, cold and greenish brown. It carried small fish, blue bellied crabs and odd collections of garbage that boat riders chucked overboard on lazy summer afternoons: pieces from styrophoam coolers, aluminum foil, and empty cans of Bud. A greasy gasoline film coated parts of the bay's skin, and if the sunlight hit just right, the oil slick made murky rainbow colors. When the tide went out it coated the retaining wall with a wave shaped outline of grime. The bay gave off a mixed scent of ocean, brine, fish guts, and sewage, but it had its own beauty, its own charm, especially on evenings in the summer. People strolled along Emmons, or stopped and rested their elbows on the rails of a pier or the East 27th street promenade or the wooden bridge that crossed the bay and connected Sheepshead to Manhattan Beach, hands clasped together in a lazy prayer position or cupped around a cigarette, staring out at the water. Crews from charter boats with names like "Dorothy B IV," "Brooklyn III," "Happy Ours," and "Fugetaboutit!" scrubbed down the decks while fishmongers hawked fresh Blues, Striped Bass, Flukes, and boys trolled the pillars with nets at the end of seven foot polls and white plastic buckets in search of crabs clinging to the wall or pier pillars. Smells of baked clams and fried shrimp and oysters mixed with the bay. Teenagers hung out. Nine-to-fivers walked briskly from the station at the Bay Road to attached homes and apartments. The large highrises at the edge of Coney Island dotted the western horizon. Manhattan Beach's mansions sat quietly to the South. The Sheepshead side, the Emmons Avenue side, was dotted with piers and restaurants and cafes and bars apartments and bungalows and the occasional empty lot. Beyond the Bay facing East loomed the Marine Parkway Bridge, Breezy Point, and Rockaway. Sheepshead was its boats and bay and stores, and a crusty mix of people that made a home in this southern edge of Brooklyn.