Beth and I had made yet another pilgrimage to Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade. This was back before the scumbag real estate developers had swooped in.
The insane carnival nature of the parade had swiped away the few mechanisms of self-control that Beth & I attempt to maintain. After the parade we had gotten sloppy hammered drunk at the Sideshow, and then stumbled down to the beach with big bottles of Coney Island Lager in our hands.
About an hour into our impromptu shore lounging, I discovered to my horror that the boardwalk restrooms had a line onto the beach. I stood there doing the pee pee shuffle surrounded by giggling body painted drag queens left over from the parade and nervous staring beach bound children and I knew I was in trouble.
The pee pee shuffle turned into a squirm, then into a full dance, then in to a frantic pogo bounce as I violently grabbed my crotch.
I wasn’t going to make it.
I could feel the warm spray of piss running down my jeans and I made a mad sprint towards the ocean and dove fully dressed into the surf. It was not one of my finest moments.
That’s when I saw him. Or at least I think I did. Usually when you encounter a public figure, there is a strange immediate moment of recognition that doesn’t feel real. You’ve never seen this person before, but you’ve seen him a million times.
I stumbled out of the surf looking like a wet cat and sitting in the sand directly in front of me was a beard & handlebar mastachioed man in white Victorian dress, white lacey gloves, holding a white parasol.
I collapsed to my knees like a shipwreck victim who just had a near death visit from an angel. I stared in disbelief maybe 20 feet from him. He stared back unflinching, expressionless.
After a minute, I slowly stood up with my mouth hanging open and then sprinted away like sugar high five year old. I came crashing over to Beth and excitedly began chattering and pointing at the man in the dress.
“Jesus, Robert, tell me you didn’t jump into that water.”
“Joe Coleman” I stammered, pointing again.
“You’re lucky you didn’t get poked by a syringe in there.”
Ok, she clearly didn’t understand the importance of what I was pointing to. I had to go back and investigate.
In my sopping wet clothes, covered in sand, I casually sauntered by and rubber necked the man in the white frilly dress with a giant grin on my face, never taking my eyes off him. His eyes followed mine, expressionless.
“Was it him? Shit, I don’t know. What the fuck? What the fuck do I do?”
I turned around and casually sauntered back by the man in the white frilly dress, again with a giant grin on my face. Again, his eyes followed me, expressionless.
Was it him? Was it him? Fuck, fuck, fuck, what do I do?”
For 15 minutes, Iike a beta runt hyena nervously circling a lion camped out at a carcass, I orbited the man I think may or may not have been Joe Coleman.
Beth finally had enough.
“You are going to have to ride home on the train in wet clothes. Do you have sand in your crotch? Where’s your phone?”
“But Joe Coleman…”
“I don’t know who that is. We have to go buy you a towel.”
As I was led off the beach, I kept staring back at the man in the white frilly dress and he stared back at me, expressionless.
That’s it. After years of cultivating a zero fucks given, never impressed attitude, I broke, choked and utterly failed when confronted by the man who may or may not have been one of my only heroes.