Coney Island’s Keyspan Park hosted the Great Irish Fair this weekend, an annual celebration of Irish culture, food, beer, music, and dancing to benefit Catholic Schools of Brooklyn and Queens. Yes, people wore green T-shirts, carried Styrofoam cups filled the brim with Bass Ale, and fingered Celtic necklaces with no intention to buy them. Did the local Irish band cover “Danny Boy?” You betcha.
But something vital was missing from the Fair this year. An indescribable emotion was lacking – maybe pure joy? Possibly. To put it simply, after the Fair, and after the inevitable trip to Nathan’s for replenishment, there was nothing else to do in Coney Island.
If you walked two blocks in the opposite direction, through the empty parking lot and vacant lane of what is left of Astroland Amusement Park, you would have met Pete. He’s been manning a water pistol game for 20 years. Decades of watching children and adults squeal as they try to aim their chained-down water pistols at the open mouths of a line of clown heads.
When I find him he’s scrubbing a clown’s head with a dirty rag, polishing its fire-red hair. He’s the only one left in a vacant alley that used to be teeming with palm readers, T-shirt makers, and balloon dart operators.
The day the papers announced that Astroland would close forever, the park experienced more business than usual. Everyone wanted to come down to Coney Island and win one more prize; enjoy one last ride. But business has been dismal these past couple of weeks and Pete isn’t sure he’ll be able to keep his stand open next summer.
“We just try our best.”
A little boy walks past, clutching a puppet – a fuzzy bird with auburn fur. He won the prize an hour ago at Pete’s water pistol game, the only player he’s had in a few hours.
“Hey, here’s the big winner!” Pete greets him.
The boy smiles and keeps walking.