Sink, swim, or pull

Years ago, I was working as a projectionist on The Floating Cinema. The whole project was the brain child of Jon Rubin, who I had met when I was a film student at SUNY Purchase.  I had worked off and on with The Floating Cinema through the years, and it had gone through various incarnations. I wasn’t just a projectionist, I helped build the actual boats as well.

In the early days, we actually had 2 pontoon boats, both rigged with super 8 projectors and rear projection screens that we had built to jut out from the boats. The projectors ran in synch through a crude but effective wireless set up. Originally, the film that we showed was a film by Jon specifically made for The Floating Cinema. There was actually choreographed movement between the boats in specific parts of the film. About 6 of us would tour around in the summer, all in a beat up Chevy Suburban, with an overloaded trailer carrying the 2 boats. That last boat was always making sparks as we went over bumps, scraping along the ground. It was a nice seat of the pants rogue operation that was kept together with 6 packs and duct tape.

The Floating Cinema

Later on, The Floating Cinema grew to have a certain level of success, but it became streamlined for the (small) masses. It was down to one large boat. On the west coast, we ended up renting barges and constructing the projectionists booth and the rear projection screen right on the barge. But the following story took place on the East Coast, right on Staten Island, just over the Verranzano Bridge.

We were doing a show one summer night in Staten Island. This was during an elongated period of time in my life in which I was quite depressed and chemically imbalanced. I was young, and there is something about that state of being that must be attractive to women, or at least a certain type of woman. I was living with my girlfriend in a big old loft on Berry Street in Williamsburg (well before it became what it now is). I wasn’t doing a very good job of taking care of myself, so I figured I needed additional help, and got involved with another woman. She lived directly above us, just one floor above. It didn’t take long for the situation to become untenable. It continued for a while while they both knew what was going on. I think at one time I told them to work it out amongst themselves. Obviously, responsibility was not my strong point at that time.

But you may be saying, “what the hell does this have to do with the Floating Cinema?” Well, nothing directly. But this whole posting started as a memory that came up sometime in the last few days, which was really just a minute in time but was so powerful that it has continued to resonate through the years in my subconscious.

SO, I took this girl from upstairs with me to the Floating Cinema gig in Staten Island. Things were all falling apart at this point, the fuse has been lit a while ago, and the explosion was just starting, though it was all happening in painfully slow motion. We had to keep the Floating Cinema boat tied up in a marina just east of the Bridge. Part of the breakwater for the marina was this small tanker that was chained to the smaller existing breakwater jetty. Well, this girl and I got on to the tanker somehow and were exploring it. It was a really cool abandoned space. I’m still a complete sucker for exploring these spaces (used to also love wandering around the old abandoned  mental hospital on Roosevelt Island before it got torn down – you could only access it at low tide).

We ended up having sex in this vast interior room of the tanker. There was a huge pile of coal or stones in there that rose up about 20 feet, the ceiling of this room must’ve been 30 feet high. It was extremely exciting and eerie, a place that haunts. But somehow, after we both came, it hit me with a cruel clarity that our relationship was done. And it sickened me, depressed me, made me weak and sad. Everything seemed dark and very heavy.

And we realized that it was getting dark out, and that I was supposed to be ready for the show. We went back on the deck of the tanker, looked down and saw that we were a good 30 to 40 feet from the breakwater. What the fuck. Somehow the tide had changed, and the tanker had pulled far away from where we got on. Seemed like there was no way off. In desperation, I reached down and picked up the chain, tried to pull us toward the breakwater. And unbelievably, the tanker moved. Not much, but it moved. I kept at it, and was amazed. I was actually able to pull this tanker all the way in to the breakwater, and we were able to get off.

This feeling of might, pulling tones of steel, which seemed impossible, mixed with the sadness and desperation that I had just felt so strongly was such a strange emotional cocktail. I’ve never felt that again, but the ghost of that feeling has remained with me through many years.

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