my city of ruins

it sure feels that way this morning.

yeah, i know. on a week when we remember the tremendous shock and loss of life of 9/11; when flood waters are ravaging colorado; and when people the world over are being tortured and killed, you might think: boo-fucking hoo. seaside park businesses are on fire. so what?

sleazeside, as we townies affectionately call it, is an integral part of my childhood and my psyche. yeah, so all of america thinks we are snooki and the situation and spray-tanned, classless people like that. but those people aren’t even from the shore. those people are the bennies, the tourists who come to town and who make us locals often laugh and cry at the same time for their outrageous NY/North Jersey buffoonery. we loved them because they kept the shore alive with cash and spirit, but wow, they were brasher than we locals.

but we locals love the boards, too. as a very little girly, i loved riding the choo choo and the carousel. every year, one of the highlights of my day camp career was the day we were given our ticket book and had free reign (or so it felt) to ride rides, stuff ourselves full of kohrs custard, and lose our quarters playing the wheels. as i grew older, i spent so many nights with my oldest brother, getting some (at the time) cheap slices of pizza and some grape drink from the sawmill, then playing pinball for hours.  we also hit the waterslides — there was rainbow rapids, away from the boards and closer to the mathis bridge, which i didn’t like because my legs always got all cut up on the fiberglass. and there was another waterslide i loved, right off the boards, where you felt like one wrong slip and you’d end up on the pavement, a few stories below.

sometimes for me, it felt like a tiny taste of freedom. my parents would not allow me to work there, but they did let me go and breathe in the tar, the ocean, and the zeppoles. i remember endlessly walking up and down the boards, looking at all the people who seemed to have lives well underway. mine seemed like it would never begin. then again, there were lives getting destroyed there as well; people getting into fights, people getting into trouble underneath the boards in more ways than my teenaged brain could imagine. the most trouble i could get into was getting a gaggle of friends to line up at the game where you squirt water into the clown’s mouth and, when the bell went off to start the contest, everyone sprayed the poor guy or girl behind the counter. they never got too mad at you but you always felt a little deliciously evil afterwards.  it was the extent of my badgirl moment; i would hear the commotion coming from the chatterbox club but never have the moxie to step in while underage.

and the food. as a red sea pedestrian, i was never a fan of the sausages, though legions swear up and down they are the best. me, i always ended up with powdered sugar in my hair from chowing down on as many zeppoles as i could fathom. dinner would always be pizza for me, whether from the sawmill, three brothers, or some other place in a pinch. and kohrs custard? i think i can thank them for part of my fat tush. kohrs custard was always thicker and silkier than mere ice cream. i remember once, while driving outside of charlottesville, va, with my family — i saw a kohrs and begged to stop. my kids thought mom had lost the plot until they tasted the dream.

there is something about the heavy, heady smell of decades of tourists looking for a cheap, good time that has been lost.  hurricane sandy just exploded over seaside like a swampy h-bomb. the devastation from that storm ripped my heart out. the jetstar sat in the ocean, rusting out for months before it was taken out of the collective misery of our memories. and slowly, the boards began to rebuild.  they replaced some of the boards with something tougher than wood to withstand the pounding storm surf. the carousel was cleaned up. sure, the whole thing wasn’t really back to full steam, but there was a certain feeling of pride that the place was going to be back, stronger than ever.

and then, the fire.

and all these places that were lost to me have become lost to me again. i want to bring them back, and yet the only way i think i will is through my memories. sure, it looks like no one was killed, and thank goodness for that, as people are not replaceable. ever. but as time goes by, i’m beginning to wonder whether places were meant to be replaced.  the smells, the sights, the strange mix of earnest kids and flashy outsiders: it will never be the same.

and yet, there’s that part of me that wants to catch the wave of seaside’s next act.


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