Tuesday, July 1, 2014

DOWN THE SHORE

So I’m sitting on the boardwalk the other day with an old friend, a Soccer Dad who had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It’s 11 a.m., and we’re talking about the impossibility of raising kids. We have three kids a piece, all of whom made it to adulthood. 

“I’da shot Mikey,” he says casually, “But they have forensics now.  I’ve seen it on TV.”

He takes a long suck on his cigarette. God, I’m so happy to be back in Jersey.

Can’t say why, really.  It’s not easily definable. Down the shore there’s something fabulously real about folks. It’s probably that deep sense that we’re all gonna die pretty damn quick, so what are you worried about?  “Burning daylight” is what they call it out West when the herd is still all over the place and there’s work to be done.  But in Jersey no one’s gathering animals. We sit around, a lot, and just yap like a big fat Seinfeld episode.  I hear sitting is the new smoking.  In Dave’s case, he likes to sit , drink, AND smoke, quadrupling his chances of Death by several different diseases. 

But we’re just hanging in the sun, philosophizing about nothing. Well, about raising kids, which most days, is like being water-boarded.

"Having children,” Dave says while taking a deep drag and a sip, “Is like being pecked to death by chickens.”

“True that,” I said, “It’s kinda like standing in a pool of your own blood.”

“Got that right,” Dave stares into the distance.

Just moved back to Jersey after a decade in Colorado where I never once - not once - saw anyone smoke a cigarette and drink at the same time, let alone at 11 a.m. Why does it make me feel so good to see this guy doing like three bad things at once? I loved the phenomenal beauty of Colorado, the Olympic athletes who worked out next to me in the Steamboat fitness center, the Sunday morning triathlons, the health food stores on every corner. A robust and healthy lifestyle, and good friends who were always planning their next backpacking adventure.  Yet here I am, with Soccer Dave, nodding in agreement about not killing your kid for fear of being caught.

“So you screwed up another marriage,” Dave says. 

Not so much a question as a fact. In-your-face-honesty is a way of life here.

“Yeah,” I almost want a drag of his cigarette, “I rode a cowboy, but he bucked me off.”

Dave complains constantly about not having enough money but deep down he doesn’t really give a rat’s ass.  He lives at the beach and sells junk jewelry for a living. His shack of a store was flooded after Sandy and I asked him why he just kept going with it.  We love these pointless conversations. Dave took another big inhale and shook his head, blowing smoke to the heavens.

“I’m too stupid to stop and too lazy to move,” he said simply.

I guess I like the laziness here. It’s something I need to relearn, an acquired skill I left behind when I boldly moved out West to be a cowgirl.  And as much as I love the people and the beauty of Steamboat, Jesus with the exercising already! For the love of God those folks simply cannot stop seeking, seeking, seeking the next great trail, ski run, wilderness experience or mountain climb.  Have a beer, dude. Turn on the TV, put your feet up. Get to know each other a little bit.

It’s almost too much of knowing everyone here. The most densely packed state in the nation, it’s sort of hard not to be all up in everyone’s bidness. Everyone is, of course, a lot older than when I left but It’s like I have not missed a beat, coming home after ten years in the Wild West. I crossed the bridge into Ocean City and the toll taker looked at me.

“Where you been?” he demanded, like I’d gone to WaWa for milk instead of Colorado for adventure. For a decade.

Too stupid to stop, too lazy to move. I can again get used to walking barefoot down the street, riding my clunky old bike (no gears, no tricks - what an embarrassment I’d be back in the ‘Boat!), going nowhere and not even fast. I walk around Ocean City for hours, breathing in the damp sand smell and watching people. It’s a place of old family traditions, where generation after generation shows up in the summer for the same old rituals.  Pizza at Mack and Manko’s and then Khor Brothers Ice Cream. Watch the seagulls try and steal your fries, play cheesy mini-golf and take the kids to Wonderland for little rides. The other day, ambling down the street I passed a front porch filled with family (front porches are big here. There’s a lotta sitting on front porches).

“Hey Grandpa!” this freckly little boy said as the screen door slammed behind him, “I got my lucky fishing shoes on!”

An old lady stops me on the boardwalk and asks me to take a picture of her and her four grandsons. I do, and choke back the tears as I hand her the camera.  Thank you God, Buddha, Spirit, Universe for bringing me back to the shore. Okay, it took a divorce and breast cancer to get me here, but whatever.  I’m in the place I left a decade ago, back then climbing out of my skin with a need for adventure and a restlessness so deep it was like my soul was on fire. I did absolutely every little and big thing I had ever dreamed of: galloped on horses through the mountains, worked on a ranch, rafted the whitewater, lived in the wilderness for weeks; I hiked, biked, climbed, explored, ran, rowed, crowed, cried and about died with the beauty of it all. And now, fully blessed, I’m back down the shore.

All my life a wanderer. Turned 58 yesterday, and I’m thrilled to have the sand in my shoes again. I only remember a few things from college. Most of it was lost in a beer haze, but like plenty of things we learn or hear while young, stuff doesn’t always resonate until we’re old. And so, 38 years later, something finally makes sense:

“We shall not cease from exploration. And at the end of all our exploration, we will arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Elliott

Amen. True that. Put your feet up.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you're writing again!! And it's really great to know that after all your wild, wild west adventures, you can go home again, enjoying both the memories and your life ahead. The T.S. Elliott quote is perfect.

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