Mike, age 49,
went for his diver certification the summer he turned 15, lugging
60 pounds of scuba gear on the bus to class in the evenings, after
working all day as a launch operator at the City Island Yacht
Club. He now owns his own diving school on City Island, after
retiring from the NYPD Scuba Team.
the youngest of nine, with seven older sisters and one brother,
and we all grew up playing on the beach where we lived in the
Throggs Neck section of the Bronx.
For many years my father wouldn't let me have a mask and snorkel,
because he was afraid that at some point I'd have trouble clearing
the snorkel, swallow water and drown. He'd always say, "When
you get a little older..."
But a lot of kids had the masks. We used to play a game, where
you'd take a soda can or a bottle and you'd sink it, and everybody
would dive down and see who could get it first. And even without
a mask, I used to come up with it first, most of the time.
When I was 14 or 15, I used to spear fish to sell to one of
the local restaurants, so we'd have money for gas for our boats
to go waterskiing. Back then, a six-gallon can of gas with oil
was $3, so I only needed six eels.
Back then in the East River, there was lots of debris. The boats
used to throw their trash overboard, and you had the sewers
and the street run-offs. But you just pushed the stuff out of
your way. You learned to watch the tides. You knew, "This
is the tide that's gonna push the stuff out of the way,"
and when it came the other way, you were like, "Ohh, we're
gonna have a lot of stuff!"
From '83 to '93, I was on the NYPD scuba team, and it was a
thrill. It was also a tough, dirty, nasty job. We had an expression,
"We dive in shit and look for dead things." Most of
the time you were probing around in dirty mud, in an underwater
junkyard of broken bottles and debris. And we'd have to look
for a gun in between all this stuff.
Now I have my diving school up here on City Island, and I still
enjoy spearing fish and catching lobsters and wreck diving and
finding artifacts. And teaching! Taking somebody that started
out couldn't even clear his snorkel, couldn't clear a mask,
and bring him all the way through it. That feels really good.
Diving in New York, in the Coney Island area, the Rockaways...there's
so many shipwrecks out there and artifacts; I've got a collection
of bottles I've found from the 1750 era! You may be diving and
you'll find a wreck; you just don't know what you're going to