Years ago, I read a book, although I cannot for the life of me remember what book it was, in which one of the characters describes what it is like to live on an island. "When you live on an island," he said, "you can never get far enough away from water to stop thinking about it."
No doubt there is some truth in this for a small island, and yet . . . .
Back when I was in college, I worked for Estee Lauder at Macy's on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, Queens. Estee Lauder was the premier cosmetics company in those days, so our counter was at the foot of the escalator, the plum spot in the store. At the top of the escalator was a smaller Estee Lauder outpost, so that no matter which way customers went, the first thing they would see going up or down was Estee Lauder cosmetics. I worked downstairs at the main counter, and a funny, intelligent, beautiful girl named Gheeta worked upstairs.
Gheeta and I hit it off almost from the moment we met, and our friendship was sealed when we found out that we were both attending St. John's University. We became the best of friends, meeting all the time at school, studying together, and having fun. We were usually joined by a boy who had an enormous crush on Gheeta. I wish I could remember his name, because he is the hero of this little story, but alas it is lost forever in the recesses of my mind. For some reason, I think perhaps it was Tom, so that's what I will call him for now.
I lived in Woodside, and Gheeta lived in Elmhurst (both in Queens County), but Tom was from Long Island. In local parlance, "Long Island" is the term used to refer to Nassau and Suffolk Counties. If a person says he is from "Long Island," this never means Brooklyn or Queens. One day, Gheeta, Tom and I were studying in an empty classroom, and the subject of Tom "living on Long Island" came up. Somehow or other in the conversation, Tom realized that neither Gheeta nor I knew that we too lived on an island.
From here, things went something like this:
"You know you live on the same island, right?"
"What do you mean? You live on Long Island, we don't. We live in Queens."
"But it's the same island."
"What? No it isn't. Queens isn't on an island."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it's not."
"Oh, no? Well, when you drive to Long Island, what bridge do you cross to get there?"
"I don't know. I can't remember the last time I even went to Long Island." [At this point, a narrow shaft of light was beginning to penetrate the profound darkness.]
Then Tom drew a crude map on the white board. It looked something like this:
At this point, Gheeta and I both realized how enormous was this gap in our knowledge--that we had in fact lived on Long Island for two decades apiece without once suspecting it. We all three broke into gales of laughter. We streamed tears and rocked back and forth, hardly able to catch our breath. I had never felt more stupid or more thoroughly entertained.
This memory came back to me yesterday as I watched my children beach combing by the bay. We actually do live close enough to water never to really stop thinking about it. Unlike the landlocked Woodside girl their mother was, they know how to handle a sailboat and can tell you the names of the shore birds and the tiny creatures in the tide pool.
And I truly hope, but cannot guarantee, that somewhere along the line they noticed that you do not cross any bridge when you drive from here to Queens.