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Opinion

The boardwalk's end of the innocence

You never know what you'll see on the

You never know what you'll see on the boardwalk in Long Beach. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

There was a brisk chill in the air on the boardwalk in Long Beach. It was a clear, sunny, inviting afternoon with crowds eager to enjoy the end of winter. How exhilarating to see the world as it once was with ardent walkers pacing their steps, couples strolling hand in hand and bikers steering in their middle lane with the wind in their hair. Everyone in their own way saying goodbye to their lockdown year.

I came across two men with guitars. One was singing tunes written by Eric Clapton, then Don Henley. They were so entertaining I had to stop to listen. I couldn’t pull myself away. He sang from Henley’s "The End of the Innocence":

"Offer up your best defense

But this is the end

This is the end of the innocence."

I turned to a woman on my right, alone with a mask (most people were unmasked), and casually said the songs were great. No response. Then I turned to my left, toward a couple listening intently, and I remarked how terrific the entertainment was. They looked away. Surprisingly, people near me seemed as cold as the chill in the air.

After a while, a young girl came along riding a bike and called out to a group of her friends. She was wearing a woolen red cap with gold letters that spelled Make America Great Again. I stared at her for a moment but didn’t want to catch her attention. I tried to look again but couldn’t. Her hat startled me. I thought of myself at that age and how I wanted to only help everyone, not hurt them. Did she realize what her hat represents?

I was about her age during the years of the Vietnam War. We marched in lockstep with signs to stop war and dissension, not promote it. We were out to save the next generation, not destroy it. I turned away with the vision of the Jan. 6 insurrection still fresh in my mind. Walking past a few benches, farther down I spotted an elderly Asian couple. The woman was eating half of a cream-cheese-and-lox bagel. She appeared hunched over, close by her husband’s side, and looked upset when he stood up and walked away for a few moments. She sat alone, eating, looking from side to side, appearing to feel unsafe. What was she thinking?

Violent attacks on Asians have become more of a regularity since the pandemic. How do minorities in 2021 deal with racism day to day? Is there any way to enjoy a sunny afternoon and eat your lunch without fear in your heart? How does a minority — any minority — deal with racism and survive it?

So on one side of me was a MAGA gal and on the other side an elderly woman trying to eat her lunch, showing by her expression how tense she felt; I cannot know for sure.

I slowly walked back to the singers and thought of Henley’s words of wisdom:

"Offer up your best defense

This is the end . . .

This is the end of the innocence."

Reader Phyllis Weinberger lives in Valley Stream.

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