Here I am sitting on a stool at the counter of the Laurel Luncheonette. It’s called the Laurel because of location, on the corner of Laurelton Blvd. and Park Avenue in Long Beach, New York. Ricky Pine is making me an ice cream sundae with hot fudge and wet walnuts, whipped cream and a cherry. Her husband Hy is at the cash register in front, chatting through his mustache, in a high whispery voice, with all the customers. There are a few booths, and two racks hold comics and paperback books. Sundaes are 35 cents and ice cream sodas 25. Located next to the Laurel Movie Theater (whose uniformed ushers walk you down the lighted aisles with their flashlights), it’s great for a hamburger, frosty malt, or Lime Rickey. Hy jokes that this flavorful soda pop drink, prominently featured in a sign above the counter, is named for his pretty wife, who wears her red hair in a Lucille Ball upsweep. Terre, my friend from my block, is Ricky and Hy’s daughter. Sometimes she wraps a white apron around her waist and pitches in at the counter.
Life here is easy. It’s an island; “The healthiest city in the world,” says the sign on a grassy mall threading through the center of town. The place is defined by the bay, beach, and boardwalk. The Long Island Railroad Station and City Hall are right in the middle of town. Gino’s Pizza, Laskas Florists, Tilben Records, and The Cozy Nook, the East Ender’s version of the Laurel, are main establishments. West is Atlantic Beach, further east is Lido Beach and then, Point Lookout. Sometimes the ‘summer people’ say with surprise: “You live here all year round?”
You go to the beach in the daytime, and the boardwalk at night, and to the rec center after school. Once in a while, you visit the municipal pool, whose chlorinated water turns your bathing suit white! Handsome lifeguards roam the beaches. Young policemen patrol Park Street. Local politicians eat lunch elbow to elbow at the Penguin, the Grenada, Mickey’s, the Laurel Luncheonette, or the Cozy Nook. Everyone knows everyone…kids, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. A highlight is the Memorial Day Parade, bringing out everyone in and around Park Street to watch all the school children, firemen, police, and politicians march to the school bands, all celebrating the holiday and the town.
You buy your shoes, clothes, and party dresses in town. The wooden-floored Five and Ten carries all the sundries. Deluxe Market has great meat and vegetables. Rita’s shop has a big sale every year and lots of housewives line up, waiting to get in for the best choice of slacks, sweaters, and dresses. Irving the milkman comes a few days a week and fills a wooden box outside the back door with milk, cottage cheese, juice, and butter. A soda truck comes rattling down the street once a month with cases of assorted soda (…black cherry, cream soda, seltzer in blue bottles…), for Mom and Dad’s ‘Cousin’s Club’ evening. These groups aren’t really cousins, but are kind of adopted by each other’s’ families because they all get along so well.
Everyone lives within walking distance of the beach. And every day is a ‘beach day’. If it rains you just walk back home, and go to the movies, the rec center, or the library which is another very popular meeting place. Fishing is great off the pier by the bay. Or, you might rent a rowboat and paddle around Reynolds Channel. And once in a while you can jump on the train and in about 50 minutes you are right in the middle of 34th Street in New York! You can head to Macy’s, or Chinatown, or Radio City, to Broadway for a matinee, or up to the Metropolitan Museum, for a great day of culture,food and fun.
But the most fun is the boardwalk! Overlooking the beach, it stretches two miles long. The main part is right in the center, with games, rides, miniature golf, and the most delicious food. Pizza, soft custard, knishes, cotton candy, jelly apples! What a choice! The games are amazing: Greyhound Races where you push down hard on a rubber lever, causing a black rubber ball to pop up into a box and then a sleek metal greyhound advances on a ‘grassy track’ above you. The faster you push, the further your greyhound races. Soon, you are winning tickets which you can redeem for really good prizes, such as sets of glasses, stuffed animals, or plastic toys. Skeeball, ‘Fascination’ – roll- the- ball poker (which seems to be populated by somewhat shady looking characters), a scary fortune teller lady with gnarled painted fingernails, reading her cards in a big glass box at the Penny Arcade, and the Shooting Range, are all there for pennies, five and ten cents.
At dusk the boardwalk lights up. Then the ferris wheel, right next to the cotton candy booth, is always noisy with screaming patrons. Walking on the boardwalk is about the best thing to do in Long Beach at night. In the daytime, old men feed pigeons with bags of dried peas or bread, and the sun reflects on your new metal bike. But at night the mysterious black surf, with its white churny foam, plays a backdrop of lulling music, as you sit on the benches or lean on the cool metal rails, and feel excitement in the air!