When I was just 18 I got a summer job managing an arcade game room on the boardwalk in Rye, New York—a part of Playland amusement park. The job wasn’t much. Mainly I was hired because I’m 6’2”, large enough, my bosses assumed, to keep the bad element at the park in check.
Mostly I just had to make change, clear coin slots when they got jammed and scowl at kids when it looked like they might start acting up. For these tasks, I got paid $2.30 an hour, and that wasn’t all that bad, back in those days. In fact, if I worked all summer, I’d make enough to pay my college expenses for the next year.
It's not nostos-algia--a sickness for home that drives me back to the spot in which I spent my youth. The fact is, my old game room, the old boardwalk, the old wooden amusement park sits alongside one of the few dog-friendly beaches in the New York environs. So, every weekend, I load Whiskey in my 1966 Simca 1600 (I have a tarp over the back seat to keep out the sand) and drive the twenty miles up to the sea.
For 90 minutes or two hours, we play with Whiskey. We toss a duck decoy in the waves and out she swims, thanks to 50-generations or so of instincts. She bounds through the surf then paddles like a torpedo to subdue the decoy in her maw.
Then she one-eighties and heads back in to drop the duck at my feet. We do this to exhaustion. Whiskey circles and lays down in the sand, or my shoulder--the one with the torn rotator--says enough.
Then my wife and I walk the mile-long boardwalk out to the fishing pier that juts into the Long Island Sound, from whence the Puerto Rican and Mexican pescadors seldom go home empty-bucket.
There is nothing like an amusement park, closed for the winter, on a winter's day. The ferris wheel looks like the skeleton of an old, angry man. The ribs of the ancient wooden roller-coaster are scarcely obscured by the spindly branches of the still-empty trees.
The missing laughter of kids not yet arrived bounces off the concession stands, and the carousel booth, and the topsy-turvy and the flume ride that sends a log-shaped metal-tube into four-inches of water.
The leaves from autumn dance at our feet, and other winter walkers smile and admire Whiskey, still carrying her duck like it is a map to the riches of El Dorado.
We head back to a lonely parking lot of suburban behemoth trucks and take an old towel out of the trunk and dry Whiskey as best we can. By the time we ourselves are fastened in for our 30 minute ride back to the city (it would be quicker, save for the invariable traffic at Conner Avenue in the Bronx) she is immobile and asleep, her head near her water bowl.
As happy as a dog with a duck can be.