Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My advice is, always think twice before you sail your boat through anyplace named “Hellgate.” Especially if it’s a big, well-traveled waterway in a big, populous urban area. They probably had a reason to name it “Hellgate,” as in, “next stop hell!”

There’s a Hellgate in New York City. Most people don’t realize it, but New York is a city built almost entirely on islands, lots and lots of islands. There are twenty or thirty islands in New York. Brooklyn and Queens constitute the Western tip of Long Island, Manhattan is an island, and then there’s Staten Island, of course, even though most people have never heard of it. Only The Bronx is actually attached to anything more substantial than the ocean’s floor. Long Island is about one hundred miles long, hence the name, and where it meets Manhattan and The Bronx you’ll find Hellgate. The Triboro Bridge crosses it, as does the eponymous Hellgate Railroad Bridge. From the East: the Long Island Sound (which connects with the Atlantic Ocean); from the North: the Harlem River (which connects at the other end to the Hudson River); from the South: the misnamed “East River,” actually some kind of an estuary (which connects at the other end with the harbor of New York and the Atlantic Ocean). Where these powerful forces of aquatic nature come together there is a swirling, titanic mess of tidal energy that is a truly frightening thing to behold. “Hellgate.”

I grew up in Queens, in a place called College Point, which is indeed a point of land jutting into the, the what? the East River? The Long Island Sound? Anyway, it was about where those two things came together. If you know New York, it’s just East of La Guardia Airport. The town has lots of little boat yards, “yacht clubs,” where the working-class population keeps small pleasure craft, mostly very small. Many of the other boys had small speedboats, mostly very inexpensive, kind of old, and more or less unseaworthy. Some only wished they had boats, being motivated on occasion to "borrow" other people’s boats for joy-rides.

I was a cautious lad myself, so I was content to listen to other people’s stories of carefree days spent bailing out water from the bottom of the boats with old coffee cans, drinking beer, and coming home with girlfriends who had unexplainable full body sunburns. Some of the stories were about Hellgate. Boats being mysteriously sucked down in the water until only a few inches of freeboard where showing. Most people avoided it, unless they had a more substantial boat, or if they happened to be on a ship.

(What’s the difference between a ship and a boat? You can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat.)

Last week I heard a tragic story about someone who exhibited a cavalier attitude about sailing off into Hellgate in a craft that was not up to the challenge. I know the man, we had been boys together, he had always been fearless, he had been, in fact, one of the toughest boys in town. Lack of impulse control, perhaps, lots of fights, lots of drinking. On this occasion, as a man, with a little boy in tow, his nephew, he set out from a party at one of the so-called yacht clubs to take a ride in a small boat. Being fearless, and wanting sincerely to show his nephew a good time, he steered the boat for Hellgate, or Manhattan, which is beyond Hellgate, figuratively and literally. Well, the result was as bad as it could be. No life-jackets, I suppose, and the small boat started spinning in the whirlpools and finally it capsized, and the boy drowned.

I knew the boy’s father too. He could be a tough kid if he needed to be, it was an important skill in College Point, but he was much better known as a nice guy and a fine guitar player, a feature in local bands for many years. As boys, I was mostly afraid of the daredevil uncle but I really liked the boy’s dad. This boating accident happened many years ago, but I just heard about it last week. I’m still choking on the horror of it.

So, people, listen up! I you find out about a place named Hellgate, stay away! Don’t listen to me, but consider for a moment that it may have been named Hellgate for a very good reason.


Anonymous said...

Figures. What a stupid fucking dipshit that Lenny Denniker was.

fred c said...

I purposely left the names out of the post, but I guess everyone but me knew the story already.

Lenny was a rough-and-tumble guy but even as a teenager some of my more gentlemanly friends had normal relationships with him. I have it on good authority that he mellowed considerably after the Army (and Vietnam). I'm told, and I believe, that later on he stopped drinking and tried hard to become a better person. His family loved him, still do. He loved them.

This little bit of Hellgate trivia is a horrible story of good intentions gone wrong. It is bad form to use it as an excuse for name-calling.

At this point, I prefer to think of Lenny in heroic terms. He was certainly a larger-than-life presence in the 'Point. I can remember a couple of bad-news-bullies that Lenny put way back in their places with exterme prejudice.

And even with Lenny dead I notice that you choose to remain anonymous. So I guess that back in the day you wouldn't be telling Lenny to his face that he was a stupid fucking dipshit. Or maybe you are still afraid that Connie Wolf could find you? Or maybe, God forbid, the Guerino twins?

I was kind of a dipshit myself, might still be. It's not a crime. Get over it.

fred c said...

What just happened? I deleted my own comment. Technical expertise at it's finest.

Part of my dream world, I suppose, like forgetting that all of the names were down in the comments somewhere already.

Anonymous said...

But you, in your dipshitness, didn't kill anyone. It takes special assholery to go out in a boat with a kid without lifejackets, probably drunk, and drive straight into Hell's Gate. That *is* a crime.

fred c said...

Touche, anonymous. It wouldn't have happened to me, maybe not to you either. (Silent prayer for the boy, and for Tony and his wife.)

nanute said...

Anonymous has such a great sense of compassion, especially for the departed. (Did you attend Catholic school,anon)? You don't know the circumstances surronding this tragic incident, and are speculating at best, and being callously judgemental to say the least. That's "god's" job.

Rory Cripps said...

FRED: I was looking at some comments re. the BBs on the "Memories Of CP" site. I noticed that you mentioned Richie Booth. One of the most fun (and scariest) Saturday nights that I spent was driving around with Richie Booth in his souped-up orange Nova circa 1970. I think he had a "454" in that thing and the car may have been a '69 model. It was really foggy that night, and he was tearing around all over CP, Whitestone, Flushing, and Bayside, stopping occasionally to shoot some smack (he not I!). I, as his only company, was in the passenger's seat. HA! We both couldn't figure out where the hell everyone went that night (it seemed like the streets were dead).I'm pretty sure that we're talking about the same Richie here . . . ..

Rory Cripps said...

"Assholery" and "dipshitness"? JEEZ! Funny . . . "Asshole" was not a common word in CP--at least when I was growing up. However, "dip-shit" was a common word among those CPers that are now in their '60s. I've never heard the word "dipshitness" until now though . . . interesting. My conclusion is that the "anonymous" of April 9 is not an American, or is a relatively young American, or is a fraud, a fake, and a phony . . . .

Anonymous said...

fred c said...

I knew Richie of the famous Booths. Billie Booth, probably born in '47; Richie, '48; and Patrick, '52.

Richie was strong and tough. He went to Brooklyn Automotive HS. He weighed 175, could curl his own body weight, and press over 225. That's before he changed his focus to getting loaded.

I know that he went into the Marine Corps, maybe 1968, but he didn't last. He had a coffee can of Tuinals buried off base somewhere and the whole thing caught up with him.

He lived between Fifth and Sixth avenue, 126th street I think.

He was generally a good guy, and way on the tough side. He had a running feud with the Barrel Boys, and he did ok unless there were a few of them.

Anonymous said...

Fred, Yes you are correct we were or at least at one time or another "dipshits" But reading stuff like anonymous writes make me think that at the very least, this blog has made a coward come out of his closet! The crap that he writes really shoudn't be answered at all. It just makes the creep feel good. Guys like E.S. try and get attention by writing crap just like this anonymous creep!He knows that someone will read his crud and respond like some of us did. I grew up with some of these midgets who thought they were the smartest guy in the class. I felt sorry for them. I had hoped that they would grow up some day both in mind and size, but you can see by their thread it never happened! So here ya go Ms.anonymous fire away at me, my name is Joe Dunn. Just another kid from da Point! I still feel sorry for ya and I will prey for ya at Easter Mass this sunday.