Forget far-out religions and fad therapies. If you want to get in touch with your inner child, arrange to "do some time" at an elite island community halfway between the Bronx and Queens in New York Citys' East River. Just a block of stone's throw from the Triborough Bridge, The Ramparts on Riker's® is New York's best-kept real estate secret, offering timeshares to only a select group. To qualify for consideration, you must first be sponsored by no less than a city magistrate and then undergo an extensive background check, including photographs and fingerprinting. But if you are among the fortunate few that are approved, the rewards are many.
This past summer, I had that pleasure of enjoying the quiet solitude that only island living can bring and it didn't cost me a cent! The Ramparts® features an on-site health facility, Olympic-size pool, well-stocked library, world-class gymnasium, and has one of the best security systems on the eastern seaboard. With its own police force, closed-circuit surveillance TV, and bars on every window, it's no surprise some of the residents facetiously refer to the individual units as "cells". But if you're looking for a sanctuary in which you can indulge in some serious introspection, The Ramparts® is worth breaking into.
My personal stress tolerance level was at an all-time low when I got the invitation to attend an orientation at the main building, (lovingly called the "Big House") and I made a point of being at the bus stop extra early the next morning. The island is accessible by motor vehicle only from the Queens neighborhood of Astoria, at the northern end of Hazen Street, where we encountered the first of several checkpoints. Once on the Riker's Island bridge, our group had a jailbird's-eye view of the Manhattan skyline behind us, LaGuardia Airport to our right and to our left, the infamous Hell Gate — that turbulent intersection of the East and the Harlem Rivers.
The activities began right away, when we stripped off our clothes and frolicked in the garden hoses, (a game I was later informed was called "delousing"). Next we were issued a smart new set of clothes and then a quick trip to the barber shop. Realizing that in order to look within oneself, one needs to be rid of all outward distractions of non-conformity, I boldly told the barber to shave it all off. The rest of the group must have picked up on my cue, for they all emerged similarly shorn. The president of the tenant's organization, a Mr. Warden, whose first name escapes me, reinforced this theme at a brief but direct welcoming ceremony: a Spartan lifestyle directs one's attention inward. How Zen-like.I was to bunk with a fellow named Shakey, who I soon discovered was cursed with a weakness for John Barleycorn, and woke me several times the first night with his often vocal meditations. At one point he became so boisterous, Mr. Warden suggested he move to the solitary isolation unit. He appeared much refreshed in the morning, although he seemed to have suffered a nasty fall. My own breakthrough came early in the second week of my utopian ruminations, when I became attuned to the symbiotic nature of the NYC Transit Authority's need of payment "for services rendered" and my own need for free transportation.