Under the Boardwalk
2005 was a rough year. Things were going pretty badly for me. I lost my job and I was drinking heavily, and hiding out at my beach house in Rockaway, which I was going to have to sell if I couldn’t find a new job, soon.
I was on the “A” train at Chambers Street when three old black guys got on. They were wearing matching red sequined shirts. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s Showtime!” one of them announced, and they started singing: “Oh, when the sun beats down and burns the tar up on the roof….”
One of them was holding a black hat with coins in it and when he shook the hat, the coins made a “ching, ching” sound and followed the rhythm of the music: “(Under the boardwalk) we'll be havin' some fun….”
Suddenly, one of them got angry, and said to the man with the hat, “You’re out of tune.”
“Not me,” the man with the hat said. “It’s you.”
The third man stopped singing and he swung around and said, “It’s y’all niggers. Neither one
of you can carry a tune in a bucket.” And he sat down in an empty seat. Just then, the
subway doors opened and the man with the hat exited, saying, “I’m going home, I don’t need
“Me too,” the third one said.
Wow, I thought, you know things are really bad when the old doo-wop guys start hating each other.
That year, every morning, I would get up, smoke a joint, and then start walking on the boardwalk. There’s a metal fence on 72nd Street and I don’t know why, but walkers and joggers perform a ritual there, where they tap the metal railing, then turn, and head back uptown along the boardwalk. Everyone does it: women pushing baby strollers, walkers, joggers, old and young– they all do it. A quick, satisfied tap, a turn, and then back uptown. They all seem so happy and look so healthy, with such a sense of purpose and worth– all the things I wanted to be. So, I started tapping the fence, too, every day. And every day, it would be the same: A few blocks later, the cold sweats would start, then the dry heaves. And I would start swearing, up and down, “I am never gonna drink again.” I would go “cold turkey.”
I would stop at every drinking fountain and splash water on my face. Then, at 116th Street, I would get off the boardwalk and go to Ms. Ping’s Chinese bodega. All the people from the halfway house next door hung out at Ping’s grocery. They’d be scratching Scratch- off lottery tickets or buying “Oodles of Noodles” single serve cups, or two-for-a-dollar loose cigarettes. I would grab a 12- pack of Budweiser and quickly leave the store, bursting through the lobby doors of my building, shaky hands fumbling with keys. Back in the kitchen, I would open my first beer of the day and it would be gone in three gulps. By noontime I would start to feel whole again; no more shakes, no more dry heaves.
I finally got my job back and with the help of my doctor, also got my drinking under control. Things were going well for me. I was on my way home from work, at West 4th Street on the “A” train. The subway doors opened and the three old black men in the red sequined shirts got on. “Ladies and gentlemen, Showtime!” one of the men announced. They started singing: “Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah… is where I’ll be….” The man with the black hat shook the hat and the coins made a “ching, ching” sound and seemed to follow the music like a tambourine, and the three men walked through the subway car, singing in perfect harmony. I tossed some coins into the hat. He nodded his head, and said, “Thank you, Brother, and continued to sing:
Under the boardwalk, down
by the sea, yeah
On a blanket with my baby is where I'll be*
*The Drifters. “Under the Boardwalk”. New York: Atlantic, 1964.
© Darryl Graff