Gypsies of Coney Island ~ the Mood Seers.


Angel Snake GirlMy chiefest Coney Island thrill was the characters around every corner, off any curb, or smack in front of you demanding explanations,  spare change,  a kiss, or a shot at their gaming booths for 2 bits.  I flesh them out in my novel NOISE….Satellite Bob, the loony tunes ice cream thrower. Oklahoma Mary and Just Plain Mary at the ticket booths. Louisa running the carousel weepy redeyed at the chance her husband wasn’t coming back (a mafia hit-man, she never knew). Jazz and his Penny Arcade, his dreams of Circus Circus Vegas. Nelson who did stand up ballet on speeding Go Karts steering with his knees at 25 mph. People at the end of their rope who didn’t know it, or did too keenly and wore a dangerous edge.  Bums and heroes, the shifty and hallucinating, hard workers at the start of something big, romance in the air.  And the hopeless souls given up on endless tries, embracing failure.

And then there were the gypsies.  Brooklyn born but east Europe swathed in brocades and satins and velvets and fringes, wheels and deals, alert to every shift in the breeze, and combat ready.  They occupied four trailers at the far reaches, the empty lot at the border of the amusement park.  There was one well heeled, oiled up, Hollywood camera ready gorgeous guy who strutted his stuff in black satin shirts and slacks, embroidered cowboy boots, in charge of myriad women and children under his protective wing and not concealed .45 on his hip. He ran the store fronts where fortunes were told and taken in equal measure. 

One day he called me over to paint a sign on their window.  He told me what he wanted, I quoted a price, he said go to it, and I laid on.  The door was open to hot summers.  Inside, curtains were strung uneasily across parts of the room, saturated in incense.   Costly consultations got you into a private back space of more curtains, a candle or two,  a card table covered with a tapestry, a crystal ball, and one of the highly made up, bejeweled, ebony tressed, black-eyed fortune teller women.  I tried not to listen. Curiosity got the better of me. 

After two days of painting I heard a pattern in the soft-spoken low down that filled the room with hope, warnings, and tales of unimaginable prosperity. Change. Change was afoot.  Change was guaranteed.

Which is why I thought to write this out today.  I’ve been in a mood, not yet putting the finger on what’s off in me.  So…..We all go through ups and downs and varying miasma in a life.  I don’t much believe in the trendy business of attention deficit or polar stuff.  To me, that’s the human experience and if we get used to that as normal we can better handle the rises and falls of being alive one day to the next day. 

Back to Brooklyn.  I’d be painting the front window, dodging busy foot traffic along the sidewalk.  I’d hear through the open door, past the thick curtains, those steamy summer days.  I’d hear the gypsy seers absolutely nail the visitor’s travails.  Not by knowing what was wrong with the individual on the opposite chair so much, but by having figured out what was wrong with mankind. 

It went like this.

“You are having trouble with your job.” 

“Someone at work is trying to hurt you.” 

“The person you love has been distant, for the last three days….looking at you funny…making you afraid.”

“You have a terrible pain, right there, for a week now….”

“You want to find new work but nothing seems to be working out right, so much bad luck.” 

“Your landlord is being unkind, threatening.”

“Something is wrong with your car but you don’t know what.” 

“You need money.”


“Good fortune is headed your way….on Tuesday!”  and

“Play the numbers 6 and 17.  You will have good luck.” and

“Tonight…tell her you love her!”

It didn’t hit me til later in my own life that what I overheard in the fortune teller’s decisive proclamations were the universal truths of the trouble with living. The fortune tellers were never wrong. The visitor nodded:  Spot-on ~~~ all of it!  Yes!  You’re right!  Yes!!  How did you know! 

It applies, in varying degrees, to every one of us. 

Whatever we’re facing with waking up or by the time we hit the bed, it’s likely on the gypsy list of prognosis, prospects, and cures.  If we go ahead and solve the car, landlord, job, sweetheart, and pain problems,  well, I guarantee we’ll all have good fortune starting Tuesday.  It’s the way of the world.  Chin up. Damn the torpedoes.


Postscript:  When I was almost through painting the window sign and pictures for the gypsies I was starting to wonder if I’d get cash for my labor.  Indeed, 3 letters short of HAVE YOUR FORTUNE R…., everything else completed and looking rather spectacular, the patriarch appeared, brought out, proudly held up for inspection 2 chickens (alive and squawking)  as my pay. I declined.  I want cash, right now, uh, in case I can’t find you later, thanks ever so.  Possibly not wishing himself bad luck from the unknown powers of the itinerant street painter, he paid me in full and even smiled.  I smiled too.  I not only held the deal, but had the cure to the human condition illustrated before me.  Not bad.  Ah, Coney Island.  Amusement is only a part of you.

top ‘Snake Girl’ photo credit:  Louis Tracciola;

Click here ~ fabulous Tracciola website of old & new NY

16 thoughts on “Gypsies of Coney Island ~ the Mood Seers.

  1. Oh, Barbara, such prose. I have told you over and over again how much I relate to your writings, and this is another fine example. Gandy Dancer was brilliant, your Van Gogh manuscript is priceless, even if waiting for completion. As are your children’s stories. Please set pen to paper immediately and never stop. You have lived a life like none other, and you need to recount it NOW. Memory is all we have to stave off death, I think Proust said.


    • You are a very kind, good friend John. Your opinion counts high with me. And you’re right, our various adventures have overlapped some, our ideas of a good time, our searching resonates. Your writing is, to me, both thrill and comfort. Familiar and new. I think I’m getting into a kind of internal ‘go ahead’ with writing at last. Your encouragement does wonders. I’ve been really delighted that so many people have liked this story, which kind of just flowed out in one breath. I do seem to have had a lot of peculiar experiences!
      Though Proust certainly had it in him to turn a phrase and produce intellectual delight, I believe he was morose. Living really has nothing to do with death. That said, I wonder if it’s a lesson I’ve learned from animals.


  2. A mesmerizing story you told ! It fits me at this moment, it fits me to a T.
    Thank you for a distant but real ray of hope for my future.


    • I’m so pleased, Vera. There’s always change. Sometimes it comes upon us and sometimes we make it. I am never so miserable as when I feel there are no options. Then after the tears it turns out there may be, and then, Look! Yes there are! and the once dark path stretches out in front turned all shining and bright.


    • Thank you so much, Bruce! I’m so pleased you like it. I confess, my hand at writing really makes my day beamish.
      I have a collection published 10 years ago, The Gandy Dancer & Other Short Stories, it’s on Amazon etc, and everyone seems to enjoy it. Thanks again.


  3. Oh how I needed your sparkling prose today, Barbara. You painted up such a vivid portrait of the people and places of your New York past. Makes me want to find a troop of Gypsies to get my fortune read, then sit around with them for tea, or rum.


    • I’ll save you the bus fare. Kate, you’ve got everything under control and life is fabulous. That one thing, you know what I mean, well that’s about to be sorted out and you’re going to have good fortune for the rest of your long life. Have a glass rum.
      Five dollars, please. Tuck it in the gold box by the door. For another $2.50 I’ll give you the winning lotto numbers.


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