You can take the boy out of Jersey, but you can’t take the shore out of the boy. I probably went to the beaches in New Jersey before my family moved to the Midwest, but the visits that made the most impression started when I was still in single digits and they required much longer drives from Ohio. My parents visited my maternal uncles who lived in Sea Girt or I would be favored with a drive to the shore by another relative. At least twice, I was brought by a cherished cousin for a few days respite from my parents and siblings while they languished doing whatever they did when I wasn’t underfoot.
And it was wonderful every single time. With my mind’s eye, I can see that youth in his resilience and patience, swimming in the water, basking in the sun, listening to the waves, and perching on jetties. The ocean always delivered the same message: the tide will return; no matter how large and overwhelming your thoughts, Poseidon is larger; you can be at peace.
The combined myth making of Bruce Springsteen and Jersey Shore have made fresh eyes a rarity on the beaches that I visited before either were carving their stories into public perception. Of course, Springsteen’s art should have the longer lasting impact, but his focus did portray a community struggling to survive more often than not. If you have never actually visited the New Jersey coastline, then your expectations probably skew toward deserted warehouses and rude teenagers. And you can find them… but isn’t that where things go pear-shaped? How can a place so thoroughly portrayed as a trip through the underbelly of America inspire so much?
The power of place can never be underestimated. The boardwalk in New Jersey has no kin anywhere else. The view is mighty fine, but the distance, my goodness, the distance as it seems to run the entire eastern stretch of the state (though, in truth, it was broken up at every inlet). I never saw an end of it no matter how far I went and it carried the eternal promise of amusement and more ocean just out of sight. Asbury Park had faded by the time I came along, but hushed descriptions of my elders of yesteryear pleasures paved the way for those songs that started invading national radios in the 70s. Seagirt was the nice community, planned in the 19th century and part of a row of towns governed by strange rules and blessed with a beautiful beach. Manasquan looked like one room bungalows had dropped from the skies to cover every available inch. And then there was Point Pleasant, with all the bright lights, games, rides, and junk food that could be crammed into a single night.
As the years pass, childhood objects end up in dustbins. Strangely (because I never before looked at it this way), I seem to have saved only three mementos: a radio, a snow globe, and a bobble-head. They were all bestowed on me by my relatives out of their winnings at Point Pleasant. People hover around us, but places haunt us.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 243 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.