I believe everyone who is able should go work in retail at some point to get that stamp on your life experience. You learn so much about how to treat people, how people treat you, and who you are as a communicator. Of course, I like many people eventually grew to dislike working retail, but I’m grateful for the two years I did it at the bottom of the map. I did temporary tattoos, ran the arcade, hustled beach items on the boardwalk, and sold souvenirs among other things.
Amusement park work requires a lot of stamina, especially in the hotter months. You have to be in tune with carnival etiquette, and when I reflect there’s so much I got out of that. I had to sell items I knew had little to no value, and get down with the art of persuasion and salesmanship in the most peculiar place. I was interacting with all types of people day in and day out, from Canarsie crips to tourists from Switzerland. Parents try to get over on you more than kids, so you have to stay on your toes. The staff is full of characters, but carny code goes in that you have to have each other’s back (especially when management were being brutes). I worked in the renovated, more formal Luna Park, so the interactions with the competing Deno’s (which hosts the Wonder Wheel) park were always interesting. The food from Deno’s vendors slapped better, by the way.
january 08, 2020
carny by the seaside
There’s a lot of stories to tell from my time by seaside. Academic self sabotage rendered community college in the neighboring Brighton Beach area the only option for me to keep pursuing school (I disliked college and dragged my feet through most of it). However, that humbling route had me spending more time in a Brooklyn that felt like a fever dream. Again, the commute from Bedstuy was long, so it often felt like I was escaping to elsewhere. Factor in my curious brain and overactive imagination, and you could find me wandering through that South Brooklyn cluster on breaks between classes on the daily. It charged my creativity for escaping the mundaneness of school.
Hurricane Sandy happened in my last year of community college, which turned some things upside down, literally. That period of initial recovery from fall through winter made the entire setting dystopian, and more difficult to navigate amid damage repairs. It was eerie, especially leaving from night classes. At worst, I’d be on higher alert heading home. Eventually the sunny haze popped back out, and in that very spring I graduated, I also started to work at the parks in Coney.
My foundation is all of Brooklyn, but it recently hit me how much of the impact comes from the bottom of its map. When Disney World or Six Flags seemed too faraway, strange thrills and down-home joys abound were close enough at the amusement parks in Coney Island, USA.
At times, the long train ride to Stillwell Avenue felt like you were heading to a new world. This world has been significant for several points in my life. I was a young boy in the last era of Astroland; the summer haze hovering over rides and attractions that rusted right in front of your eyes.
Eventually, witnessing things decay over time was saddening. For instance, there was this game called “Shoot the Freak”, a gruesome sight that felt appropriate for your beach boardwalk experience—in Brooklyn. Going down there one day to see no “Freak”, an unofficial mascot of the area vanish, and not too long after the whole lot demolished, it was just another reminder of sudden change lifting you from under your feet. I was already experiencing this growing up in central Brooklyn’s gentrification, and at this point it’s the narrative of virtually the entire borough. Those are stories for other times.
All in all, the carny life taught me a lot about performance. You got to be on point as much as you can with what you’re talking about, and who you’re talking to. Even as tasks grew mundane on the job, being in the Coney setting fueled my creativity, and thus served my foundation as an artist. The first year I worked there was also the summer the original Astro Tower got torn down, it was swaying harder than usual and deemed too dangerous, depending on who you ask. I saw it as another symbolic moment of how change comes at you hard.
That doesn’t mean nostalgia can’t be a tool for growth though. I feel it’s worthy paying homage to where you come on the way to where you’re going. It’s evident in a lot of the lyrics and song ideas I would jot down on the job. I’ve even made several visuals in Coney over the years. The latest one is live on my brand new single, “Dipset in Tha Basement.”
Coney Island is an interesting place all-year around, but I believe there’s always something wild and special for you to experience there in the summer. This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel’s existence. You should make a trip this summer. I’ll see you at the bottom of the map.