Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bleak seaside

January 16, 1977

They creak with age, each splintered board stretching out between sand dune and concession sand in testimony to some better life me and my family have floated between since all of us were kids.
My mother tells me she always loved the ocean. So there is some irony in the fact that she has moved so close to it and yet cannot get here unless I drive down from north Jersey to pick her up to drive the last few miles over the bay bridge to here.
This place is part of that tapestry of waves saved in our chromosomes so that we can never get the scene of sea out of us – and we come here to renew ourselves even ought the place has become a huckster’s paradise full of games only suckers will play, all of us losing even when we win. It is no surprise that the state picked Atlantic city to start up its gambling, since AC is so much like this place, the two sea side cities might be twins, and we’re used to losing ourselves in both, and somehow getting satisfaction out of it.
Snow sweeps across the boardwalk now, tapping against the shutters of the closed arcades, wind-driven snow that looks just like sand. So I half expect bare feet to appear despite the chill, though the dunes that pile up give this largely vacant world the feel of some alien landscape.
I walk here, shivering under several layers of clothes, and find myself missing the sounds that have always define the place for me – the blare of music, the click of gambling wheels, and the taunting, concessionaires, daring me to risk a quarter to win a prize.
I feel this strange sense of nostalgia even though in season I secretly mock those people who indulge, such as my best friend, Hank, who haunts each record counter here with the hopes of filling his collection with records he is too cheap to buy, pressing himself passed the kids and parents who take the whole seduction less seriously than he does.
As cold as I am, as alien as the place seems, I like this place better this way without the flood of thoughtless sun-worshipers who compulsively invade this shore each summer, jumping into water that is way over their heads, and into the social nightmare the way lemmings jump off a cliff.
But we all fall for such stuff at some point in our lives, and must learn somehow to resist the urge to leap when we know it means ill.
In the midst of such mass of humanity, it is difficult to feel human at all, and I prefer this lonely stroll down empty boardwalks where only the most hearty dear go, where the only music is the sound of cold waves and the forlorn cry of seagulls against the chill wind.
But even I am not sturdy enough to make my way out onto the sand where men (and one woman) with metal detectors sweep the sand in search of fortunes they never find, though the real treasure for me are the waves, rolling in with thundering voices only to wilt and whisper away as the sun glistens off their reflections.
I stop and watch the gulls struggle to make their living, too, off the remnants the waves leave behind, bits of food that barely sustain them until the tourists return.

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