Saltwater taps and other stories

I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Goldstein’s Wiretap podcast which is… kind of hard to describe. But you should definitely check it out if you like the sound of what the Toronto Star describes it as “[pitting] the absurd against the plausible. The sense is of a world not completely unlike our own that runs parallel… conversation, storytelling and introspection, culled from equal parts real-world experience and the warp of Goldstein’s imagination.”

Here’s an extract of a transcript from a recent episode called Forgotten History. You can listen to that episode (at the time of writing) right here.

During a recent visit to New York City, I did something I’ve always meant to do. I got on the 6 train and, at the last stop, after everyone got off, I stayed on board. As the train re-entered the subway tunnel to restart its route, I saw in the darkness a piece of forgotten history: the now defunct City Hall subway stop.

Built in 1904 to look like a miniature Grand Central, this ghost station was once the most beautiful stop in New York. It had brass fixtures, vaulted arches and skylights. But in 1945, deemed too expensive to renovate for modern trains, those skylights were boarded up.

The City Hall stop got me thinking about how glimpses of the past — signposts marking what once was, tombstones, monuments — are rare. What once was disappears without a trace making it easy to forget that it ever was. And so we forget that we’ve even forgotten.

I asked my father, who grew up in Brooklyn and would have been 11 when the station closed down, if he had any memories of it. He didn’t.

“We hardly left Coney Island,” he said.

My father grew up there in the 1940s. He’s told me stories about premature infant incubators lined up on the boardwalk that people visited for entertainment, and clowns who chased women around with air pumps to blow up their skirts.

But perhaps his most outrageous memory of all that — Google as I might, I’ve never been able to confirm it — is this: In the beachside apartment where his family lived, my father says that beside the bathtub’s hot and cold water taps was a third tap. And from this third tap flowed sea water. Directly from the ocean.

I’ve never seen such a tap represented in books, films or TV shows. It’s as though the culture as a whole has forgotten.

“Maybe you dreamt it,” I say when he brings it up.

“I did not!” he cries.

Although my father has a fine memory, like any son worth his salt, I doubted him. So to get to the bottom of it all, I enlisted the help of my friend Starlee who hosts a radio show where she solves small-scale mysteries. Together, she and I phoned my father.

“If the apartment was across the street from the ocean,” Starlee asked, “why would you need a saltwater tap.”

“What if you’re a shut-in?” my father responded. “This way you’d still have access to the ocean through your tap!”

And so it goes on.

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Saltwater taps and other stories