Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ozone Park, Queens

The name Ozone Park conjures the celestial, the open, the pure, recreation and boundlessness. But as I descend that last stair from the elevated subway platform, this place greets me with auto collision repair shops and barred-up furniture outlets. That, and the raucous outer-outer-borough-ness of the A train overhead.
Ozone Park: It’s a buffer between greater Brooklyn and Queens, and the ozone-blue skies and waters of Rockaway Beach.

An impulsive stroll down 92 Street reveals neat rows of gabled houses. For Ozone Park, this is cookie-cutter. And there’s room for more. Amid a seemingly endless zone of suburban housing stock is a new construction of three two-family homes, one after the other, each sharing its neighbor’s brick wall. A “for sale” sign hangs outside on the green lawn.
“This is kind of an impenetrable neighborhood—like a sprawl of houses,” my cohort says.
In one yard an orderly coy pond is alive with the bright oranges and yellows of its busy fish. And standing above the pond, so close she could jump in for a quick swim on this terribly hot day, is a whitewashed cement statue of the Virgin. The Ozone Virgin and her prostrate coy fish.
Then we hit Cross Bay Boulevard: A wide, rambunctious highway where the rattle of the A train, thumping car stereos, revving engines, and screeching brakes come together in a cacophonous opus unparalleled in this borough or that. Crossing Cross Bay in this heat is such an objectionable task. We backtrack a few blocks, cross Liberty Avenue, and head down Rockaway Boulevard. On this Sunday devotees, darkly and elegantly dressed, enter a tan-brick church with tall stained-glass windows. A man lifts a baby carriage up the front steps. A woman in a black dress follows. The door closes behind them and now there is only the occasional car on Rockaway Boulevard and the sun’s extreme strength as it lights up the church’s fa├žade.
A few blocks down, two floors up, two girls in saris sew and chat on a wrought-iron terrace. Loudly colored fabrics drape the railing and veil the seamstresses.
From yard to yard, street to street, we notice an ever-present feature of cement sculptures of lions guarding either side of many gates. These statues begin to characterize the neighborhood. Though we see the lions everywhere, any connection among them eludes us.

Two kids with scooters stand in the street as they lick at Italian ices. Large trees amply shade them. They’re breathing hard, and perspiration covers their foreheads.
Then there is the cornfield in an empty lot. Beside a red, boarded-up building grows a substantial cluster of corn stalks. They look tall and healthy; they look regularly tended. A lasting farm within the urban stretches of New York City.

A desolate alleyway gives access to parking spots behind homes. We walk down here. Two men sit on lawn chairs in an open garage, watching a baseball game on TV and drinking from beer cans.

The heat, the walking, and the indecipherable variety of scenes in Ozone Park fatigue us. We are hungry. We duck into a restaurant on 78 Street and 101 Avenue, called Tres Reynas Mexican Restaurant.

I order pineapple juice with my lunch; my cohort orders mango juice with his lunch. In a Manhattan restaurant when you order juice, that’s it: That one glass is what you paid for, and if you want more, you’ll pay for more. At Tres Reynas the waitress continually arrives with big pitchers of freshly blended pineapple and mango juice. She refills our glasses as if with water. When I do ask for a glass of water, the waitress thinks I’m crazy. She smiles, puts a fist on her hip, and says, “What then? You don’t want any more juice?”

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