It was just about the time when That’s Alright, Mama and Rock Around the Clock were hitting the airwaves with sonic dynamite; Mick and I were nouveau-poor city boys and brand-new teens, a tough combination. The cool older guys with Luckies or Camels in their rolled-up t-shirt sleeves had suicide knobs with bathing-beauty pictures in them on the steering wheels of their souped-up late 40’s Fords, Chevies and Mercs; the world was a cool place and getting cooler, thanks to all of us. We were ready for anything, and of course it came along.
Being city boys, on city summer nights we’d just hang out on a stoop or a corner, now and then wander the streets looking for city girls, the world’s best pizza and whatever else new youth looked for on a balmy night back in those days. But when in one of those souped-up cars we headed out of the city and followed route 9J down along the Hudson River on visits to our cousins’ riverside house, we were happily out of our element; country kids do different things in their country nights.
So when one evening a bunch of us just ambled from our cousins’ house on down toward the river shore to where one of the country guys said he’d left a rowboat he’d ‘found,’ we had no idea what we were gladly getting into; we were just heading for the river at sunset, no particular reason, look at a boat, row around, something, anything is great fun at that age except school, and sure enough there was a real rowboat there, quite a big rowboat, and right where no rowboats ever were, which didn’t seem the least bit suspicious to me, anyway a hot rowboat is nothing like a hot car.
Besides, for me all such considerations were erased by the power of the moment: the river scene was like those sepia photos from Civil War days with the mist and the silver light, the calm of the water, and out there across that sheet of silver was the brown-black sliver of the southern end of the island looking like a hundred years ago or so, backed with the crazy-orange of sunset like the fading edge of a dream, the island I’d gazed at so many times as a kid growing up in summers here on this side of the river. I’d always wondered what was over there.
The four or five of us got in the boat and rowed out on the calm water for a while of splashy hijinx until, the island being the only tempting destination within miles, we pulled onto its shore at the very edge of darkness, got out as quietly as any band of night marauders, pushed through the undergrowth that edged the water and found ourselves on the edge of miles of the biggest cornfield this city boy had ever seen, all the more surreal for the starkly diminishing golden light. Absolutely silent. No one around. No one lived there. The workers had all gone home. What’s more, the rows and rows of rows were dotted here and there at regular intervals with quadruple-sized burlap bags of just-harvested corn where the big harvester combine had left them, dropped right there before us, as if from heaven, in the unattended silence. Giant bags full of fresh-picked corn all along the hundreds, thousands of corn rows…
You recall how it is in any diminishing light, when the ember of temptation emerges in a group of teenagers, moreso for new teenagers and especially guys, double-especially on their own – like we were on this mysterious, corn-rich island – how that ember ignites out of nowhere, flares up and wavers, then sometimes dies, but more often blooms into a solid flame that lights up the nights of early adolescence? Well in a matter of moments we were as dedicated as any well-paid laborers you ever saw, each shouldering one of those big bags of sweet-smelling corn to the boat, then going back for more until the water was up to the gunnels, but it was calm water, we were skinny; we could make it back across the placid river.
And so we did, quicker and quieter than we’d come. When we reached the home shore our fellow island raiders lugged their big bags off into the dark and home; we lugged ours back to the car trunk and back into the city, where we took what we could eat, then sold the rest to the happy-to-have-really-fresh-corn owner of the Busy Bee supermarket across the street from us on the corner of Hudson Avenue and South Swan Street, where the concrete western edge of Rocky’s Folly stands now. We had some food, we had some money, we made some history out of what we had, like memories out of sweet golden nights…