Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Spectacles by Kristen Witucki




Toby is three, the age of inquisitiveness and inquisition.  His greatest aspiration is to become a pirate when he grows up.  Pointing out that life as a pirate sounds rather lonely, dangerous or whatever else I come up with does no good.  So I decided to take him on the Q35 out to Dead Horse Bay to entertain him for the afternoon.  But I told him that if he was going to be a pirate, he was going to be safe.  He had to wear gloves.  The bells were definitely staying on his sneakers so I could hear him at all times.  And if he found anything, I would touch it first to make sure it was safe to pick up.  I told him that I was sure pirates had accepted some 21st century conveniences.

The day was hot, and Toby began complaining about the gloves immediately upon setting foot outside the air-conditioned bus.  “Moooooom, it’s hooooooot!  I don’t want to wear these gloves!  I want to go barefoot!”

“Do you want to get gangrene?” I asked as I unfolded my cane.

“Gang green gang green!” he sang.

I told him I knew how to cross the street to wait for the bus that would take us back to civilized Brooklyn, and if he tried to take those bell shoes off, that’s just where he was going.  Home.  He shut up.  I wondered whether someday that sort of threat would no longer hold power over him.

We arrived at the bay, the dump, the wasteland, and Toby’s cheerfulness returned. He dashed off down the beach, his bells making him sound like a little court jester.  I listened to him kicking aside piles of junk and tried not to worry about whether his shoes were really protecting his feet.  I tapped the sand around me with the cane, dragged it in a brief, exploring circle around me, and all I could hear was debris.  Nature seemed not to exist.

All of a sudden Toby appeared at my side saying, “Mom look what I found!”

“Remember I don’t look?  And remember what I said about not picking up things?”

“But you NEED this!” he said and held it out to me.

Curiosity overcame me, and I took whatever it was, forgetting about the possibly impending tetanus shot.  As I took it, he said, “Mom, where are your gloves?”


But as I took the thing, I realized the little guy was not trying to play a trick on me.  It was a pair of eyeglasses—well, the frames of the glasses.  The gaps where the lenses should have been reminded me that someday Toby would smile through gaps in his mouth I would not see.  He would get bigger.

“If you just put them on and open your eyes,” he told me with the grave authority of a doctor, “your eyes will work.”

I thought, “Wait, I got him all the way here by myself, and now he wants me to see?”  I wanted to shake him.  I wanted to grind the frames into powder beneath my feet.  I wanted to cry.

Instead, I put on the frames, which were way too big and heavy, and started running off along the ground, tripping, stumbling, laughing, and I told Toby he had to catch me, and he started laughing and ran ringing behind me, and then he yelled, “Mom, watch out for the piano!” and I stopped running, even though there was no piano, and he laughed and laughed and laughed.


Kristen currently lives in West Virginia where she teaches English, creative writing and Braille to blind students. She lives with her husband, James, her young son, Langston, and her Seeing Eye dog, a black lab named Tad. “The Transcriber“ is Kristen’s first published book of fiction. Her nonfiction has appeared at the Huffington Post, the Momoir Project, Literary Mama and Brain, Child.