I was so moved by those amasan photos I found that I decided to get my sea legs ASAP at the Boggsville Boatel, a hospitality experience / art experience happening at Marina 59 in Far Rockaway, Queens this summer.
Actually no, this wasn’t a spontaneous thing — it was kind of difficult to get a reservation after the NY Times article came out, and I was ridiculously excited when my time on the waiting list finally paid off with a night aboard The Crumb. It did not disappoint! We had a genuine seafaring adventure and the very next day we became big in Japan as a result.
It was raining when we arrived at the Boatel so there would be no movie or lecture at the boat-in theater that evening, but we had a terrific time hanging out in our boat.
It has a very cozy cabin (entered via a sweet little curtained door), a giraffe mascot, and some inspiring art.
(We’re pretty sure those tuff ladies were part of a sea-going rival gang to the Van Dykes).
We slept in that sleep-space there, in the bow. It’s dark, I know. There’s no electricity in these boats. We brought a lantern and a flashlight but didn’t use them — there were plenty of candles in our cabin, along with a battery-operated boombox and a handwritten note explaining that drunk guests would be sent to bed rather than fished out of the spaces between the boats. We had plenty of sheets and pillows and, most importantly, no leaks. It rained all night but the atmosphere at the Boatel was charming, lit with just the blue of the neon sign and the orange glow of candlelight in everyone’s cabins. We drank prosecco and my friend iPhone-DJed Northern Soul, and I took a terrible photo with my Blackberry.
At some point there was a liquor run with other guests. The neighborhood is what one might call seaside scuzzy — there are housing projects next to the marina on one side and a school bus parking lot on the other, or possibly a labor camp for kids who were really bad on the bus — but we went out in a group and nothing bad happened. To give you a feel for the surrounding environs, my friend and I wandered over to a pizza place we’d noticed on our way to the liquor store the following afternoon, and the pizza didn’t look so good so we stood by the window for a moment, wondering whether we ought to try the Chinese place across the street instead. We hadn’t been looking out the window for more than a few seconds before another pizza customer asked “what’s wrong, the police out there?”
It really is pretty amazing that there’s an incredibly cool marina with all sorts of fascinating arty stuff going on one block from the A train. It makes me very happy to live within a subway ride of this place. (A long ride, but still). It’s exciting in a way that very few parts of NYC are anymore, and Rockaway Beach is just a block away from the train in the opposite direction.
The next morning we awoke to a sky still peachy around the edges and promptly went out to sea in a rowboat.
No, no, it’s dumb to go to sea in a rowboat. We just went to have a look at a rusty old abandoned tugboat.
And to look at nature. Those are mussels there, and a crab way in the back. We didn’t get crabs in Queens because we’re entirely / mostly vegetarian, but we saw people getting crabs all day long. Note the oars for the boat are made from police barricades — an excellent use for them.
It’s Queens so the wildlife is all mixed up. In addition to mussels and crabs we saw beautiful shorebirds in the marina and at the beach, one big fat rat (which is sometimes reassuring to New Yorkers, being a reliable indicator one has not strayed far from home), one pet iguana on a leash (sunbathing atop a parked car near the beach), and, living in the marina, a family of goats. The baby one there was born at the marina in May and is already really good at doing goat stuff (i.e. eating trash). There’s a dad goat too; later on we walked past the goat family again and he ran over to stand next to the baby.
I’m leaving out an important part of our day here, which is that before we went out in the rowboat, Connie — artist Connie Hockaday, creator of the Boatel — told us a Japanese teevee crew would be coming by that afternoon to do a live broadcast, and we should stick around and meet them. OK yes!
In the meantime we went to Rockaway beach.
On our way back from the beach, after not getting in trouble with the law at the pizza place, we bought some sugarcane juice from this guy at a hefty white people-mark-up. I think. My friend is part Mexican but doesn’t look it and she thought this was a terrible injustice but I wanted some juice, and sort of didn’t mind contributing to the local economy.
Have you been wondering where did we go pee in this crazy place, this place WNYC referred to as a “floating flophouse”? Jesus. We weren’t roughing it that rough. Marina 59 has a really nice little building with very clean, very new-looking bathrooms and a shower. No fish-scaling allowed!
When we returned from the beach the teevee crew had arrived and were starting to set up for their broadcast. They were from NHK, which is the PBS of Japan. They were all really nice people. I think you have to be pretty good-natured to work in or on live television because all sorts of strange shit could go so wrong. We made like teevee starlets and retired to our trailer (CRUMB) to practice our lines and drink beers.
There’s the NHK presenter practicing her lines aboard the deck of the Ms. Nancy Boggs while we do the same in The Crumb.
We explored our boat a bit more thoroughly in the daylight. We think it’s probably from the 1970s because the sleeping area has what appears to be an authentic vintage 1970s sex strap. I’m not quite sure how it works but I bet one of you people will know. Is there an attachment?
We also found a bottle of Entertainer’s Secret, so we had everything we needed to become famous.
We toured the other boats too. Ours was our favorite but the Ms. Nancy Boggs is a close second. It’s got a cozy seating area, a spacious sleep area, and a sympathetic gazelle.
We did a couple of run-throughs with the NHK crew before the broadcast. It was an action-packed set-up: it would begin with the presenter sitting on the deck of the Ms. Nancy Boggs, follow her to an interview with Connie on the Zenobia, and end at the boat-in theater, where I was having an infinite BBQ. There the presenter would ask me how I liked the Boatel, and naturally I would say it is lovely, transporting, etc. My friend sat next to me having infinite beers as I piled BBQ goodies onto her plate. On my other side was Ari the marina owner and Milly the marina dog, who was exceptionally good about not snatching anything off the grill. Behind us a couple of kids from the neighborhood did infinite somersaults into the water, and on the other side there were some people doing an infinite rowboat tour.
I’ll update this post with a link to the NHK clip as soon as I can find one. Apparently it was seen by millions and millions of viewers! It’s got to turn up on the internet sooner or later.
If you have an interest in happenings on boats, you really ought to read Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine by Stanley Crawford. It’s one of my favorite books and I thought of it often while at the Boatel. It’s about a couple who spend forty years on a gigantic, impossible, heavily-customized barge, never once going ashore. They plant a garden on board their ship, build an enormous greenhouse around it, and, if my memory is correct, eventually replace all of the leaves on all of the plants with handmade glass ones, for some compelling reason or other. And so forth. It’s relentlessly inventive and beautifully written, and it also happens to be an accurate depiction, somehow, of what it’s like to be very close to someone — at sea with them and them alone — and not have any idea What Is Going On With Us / What Is Going On With You.
The Boatel is all booked up for the rest of the season but you don’t have to be an overnight guest to attend the boat-in theater, and there are tons of other interesting things happening at Marina 59 and elsewhere on the water this summer. Go!