The rain that commenced just as Duke had dropped me off magically ceases as soon as I catch sight of him rowing toward me, at about 3:30 p.m. By the time he makes landfall, Ruffle Bar is a subtropical idyll, making it even more difficult to explain how I’ve fallen afoul of my surroundings. My embarrassment is eclipsed by the feeling of relief that I am now just a few hours away from a meal, a hot shower, and clean linens.
“You okay, man?” he asks with genuine concern. “I brought something to warm you up.”
I expect a blanket, but instead, Riley produces a bottle of Irish whiskey. Yo-ho-ho and all that. I take a gulp and wince.
“I’m fine,” I say. “I just didn’t expect the weather to be quite like that.”
To ease my blushes, he says that he’d been thinking about how the weather might have been playing hell with my schemes. “I was having dinner last night and I heard the thunder and I was like, ‘Aww, man!’ But, hey, your shelter looks like it did the trick, looks wicked cozy.”
Everything in my body language screams for us to get back across the bay, but Duke is in no hurry. He stands on the shore drinking it all in (along with another snort from the bottle) as I examine the grime and grit that has infiltrated my every pore, and long to be hosed down and scrubbed hard. He collects fragments of thick, colorful glass bottles embossed with the names of the local distilleries and breweries.
“See those bits of purple on the clamshells?” he asks me. “The Canarsee Indians who lived all over here used to make beads out of it. That’s wampum.”
He’s transported: seeing the island as Giovanni de Verrazano had seen it in 1524. I, on the other hand, need to be transported to a McDonald’s, and soon enough, we are headed back.
“New York City has been sort of superimposed on a group of islands,” says Duke between effortful oar strokes that propel us slowly but surely toward Floyd Bennett Field. “But it’s designed in a way that the people who live here can totally be unaware of how fucking awesome it is.”