Friday, December 29, 2000

Asbury Park

I rode out on my father's shoulders as he carried me into the ocean at Loch Arbour beach. I felt safe grabbing on to his hair as we jumped the waves. We were just north of the town he grew up in, Asbury Park, with its brick elementary schools and the grinning clown face on the Palace Amusements arcade at the end of the boardwalk. My father was born in Asbury Park, but his father and mother were from Slavic lands, and still he brought home pumpernickel and herring, ate sardines out of metal tins, and slurped down cold borscht from a jar.

In Asbury Park saddled steeds spun on carousels, and the Mixing Bowls turned round-and-round, tossing the contents of kids' stomachs. We unwrapped salt-water taffy that stuck to our fingers. We putted on the miniature golf course amidst the smell of roasting peanuts. Blue benches faced out to sea and Madame Marie's fortune-telling stand stood stalwart, its windows taped up against a coming hurricane.

When we were teenagers we would crawl underneath the boardwalk in the winter to smoke menthol lights under Convention Hall, which straddled the sand. We could hear the waves crashing as our lungs burned. We lived in the big houses in West Deal and shared our cigarettes with a guy from 5th Avenue trying to sell us some weed.

We were at the beach and I was scared of the waves, but with my father I went far out, so far it seemed as if were stepping over the horizon, to get to somewhere on the other side of the sea.