by philip scott wikel
Then there was the Jersey Shore in the summer of his eighth year. His parents rented a cottage at Seaside. The air was always heavy with the sweetest smell of brine and his dad’s friend showed him how you could make squeaking noises with your feet on the sand. Deep, thick, sultry air.
The landlord of the cottage, which was part of a group of cottages, offered Dylan his first real paying job; other than what he did for his allowance. There was a big ashtray that everyone used that was filled with sand and it was Dylan’s job to clean it using a big spoon with holes in it. The landlord was a crusty old guy who smoked cigars but he was nice and he gave Dylan a dollar at the end of their week there.
There was also miniature golf, and cannolis, and the boardwalk, and waves that slapped you down like pins in the bowling alley. Dylan liked the roughness of the ocean and loved its challenge. He’d stand rigid, knee-deep, and defy the ocean to knock him over. Crash and sploosh, the water would run up his chest and over his head. And Dylan thought how cool it would be to have a big brother or sister to golf with but they’d probably be mean to him if they didn’t get their way. His friend’s brother had even swung his club at him once.
The cannolis came from Angelo’s. After a long day at the beach the sweetness of a cannoli was like cool mouthwash that swept away the salt, and left a creamy, well, sweetness that served as a segue into the evening. His dad would set crab traps during the day and dinner would come from a big pot of boiling water and the crabs that turned bright red when cooked. Dad would use pieces of chicken set at the bottom of “crab cages” to catch them. The cages would collapse when they hit the bottom of the ocean and leave the salty chicken as open game. Crabs, he thought, must be good smellers under water. A lot of times dad would catch two or three at a time, simple and quick. Just by pulling the string the cage would close and dad would haul them in. He’d keep them alive in salt water until he’d caught as many as he needed. Then he’d take them back to the cottage and start a pot of water.
The “Boardwalk;” tarred and briney. He liked the first few steps on the way up when he could smell the combination of the wood with the tar and seaweed. It grew faint once you were on top but soon after you would come upon Seaside Park and there were new smells. Popcorn, saltwater taffy and funnel cake; the ferris wheel spinning and, smoke flowing from the hot dog cart. His dad took him by the hand and led him to the shooting gallery.
“You know that cotton candy’ll rot your teeth.”
“I know dad, I’ll brush my teeth when we get back.”
“You’ve had some practice with your BB gun. Let’s see if you can win something.”
“I know I can dad. I want one of those big Ninja Turtles. Michelangelo.
“Here’s a buck. Give it your best shot.”
Dylan aimed and closed one eye like a hunter surrounded by carnies. Pow, bullseye, his dad smiled.
“Right on, that’s my boy. One shot.”
A grizzly-looking holdout from the hairy 70s handed the toy to Dylan regretfully.
“Smile man,” his dad said, “the kid just won.”
“You’ll put me out of business like that,” said the hairy guy.
“Have a wonderful day,” said Morgan, “let’s go kid, the surf’s coming up, we should go get wet.”
They walked slowly back down the boardwalk and Dylan admired the wooden fences and the dunes and the way the beach seemed to flow toward the ocean. The cottages and hotels stopped abruptly and gave way to the natural movement of the wind on the sand. The wind was blowing straight toward the sea now, making the waves feathery and more beautiful. Morning was passing toward afternoon, the fog had lifted, and Dylan had a sense that everything was right with the world.
“Yeah, let’s hit it dad. I can’t wait to try out my new boogie board.”
“Let’s hit it… listen to you little man… you’re starting to sound like a stoked little grem.”
“Let’s hit it,” Dylan said again smiling. And his father walked proudly, aware that his son was on his way to becoming a man.
Dylan remembered the first time he’d seen people surfing at Seaside. There was a large hotel behind the boardwalk called the “Surf Hotel.” One night he and his parents had gone for a walk after dinner. It was getting dark but there was a bright light down by the beach. As they drew closer they saw that someone had placed floodlights on the sand. Beyond the shoreline the waves were coming in consistently. A surfer popped up on a longboard and Dylan was fascinated by how they’d turned the night into day. Other surfers began popping up as if it was morning.
“Cheating Mother Nature out of a night’s sleep,” said his mother.
“Maximizing time with the swell I’d say,” replied his father, “good on ‘em,” he continued, affecting an Australian accent.
“Yeah, good on ‘em dad.” said Dylan.
* Paraphrased from the Orange County, New York website.