It’s vacation time! Time for me to put work worries behind, for lazy days staring at the surf, and for daydreaming about the day I can actually own one of these beautiful, overpriced monstrosities that sit upon the glorified sandbars just off the Jersey Coast.
…something like this would do…
It also has me thinking about all the wonderful horror movies that use vacation time as a backdrop or a plot element. I thought I’d share some of my favorites, after the break. (Warning, spoilers ahead!)
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There comes a point in every man’s life when he decides it’s time to let Mother Nature take her course and let the old face garden grow. To mimic the gods and heroes of old: Thor, Heracles, Kris Kristofferson. It’s a perilous journey, filled with misery, pain, and scornful comments, most of which involve reminding one to “wash that dirt” of ones face. This year, as I do every vacation, I attempted to follow this path. Unlike other years, I walked the journey to completion. This is my story.
K-squared – triple threat god of beards, country music, and 80s TV movies
Day 1: Packing for the shore. One day’s growth already shading my cheeks. I grab my razor and pause.
“Go ahead, Jim. Bring me along. You know you’re going to need me in three days when you start looking like Sea Isle’s only homeless man.”
“No way, razor,” I shout. “This is the year of the beard. I’ll never need you again!” (Yes, I talk to my razor just like I talk to my GPS)
I toss him back into the cabinet and flee the bathroom, the razor’s mocking laughter echoing in my ears.
“Who were you talking to in there,” my wife asks.
I debate telling her. She’s one more incident away from being able to sign the involuntary committal papers and I don’t want to provide any more ammunition, so I simply shrug. “no idea what you’re talking about.”
You’ll never leave me Jim. I’ll be scraping your face forever…bwahahahahaha
Day 3: Stumbling back from the Wawa, a woman throws coins into my open coffee cup.
“I hate seeing these guys wandering around here,” she tells her friend. “I feel so bad for them.”
“I’m not homeless,” I begin to yell while fishing coins out of my coffee. Before I finish, I think about my bank account, emptied by the rental fee, and realize I now almost have enough for a second cup of coffee. I camp out near the loading dock for another hour until I collect enough for a muffin and a morning paper too. It’s a much better gig than I thought it would be!
Just think – with a little foresight, this guy could have had a second career panhandling.
Day 4: I lean in to kiss my wife and and end up scraping off the first five levels of skin from her cheek.
“Keep that thing away from me, Brillo Boy.” she screeches, fleeing the bed, hand clutched to her bleeding face. I’ll spend the rest of the vacation sleeping on the floor. On the plus side, I now have an idea for Marvel’s newest mutant superhero.
He’s mine, Stan Lee. Well mine and someone at Gaia
Day 5: The day I have been dreading: The Colorless Ones have arrived. For as long as I’ve been producing face hair, the Colorless Ones have plagued me. I have discovered that my body contains a finite amount of melanin, and at a certain point each beard attempt, I start growing bristles completely devoid of color. My very first attempt at mimicking Magnum PI, resulted in a blonde monstrosity that haunts me still. As I’ve gotten older, the Colorless Ones have reduced in number, but my past attempts have been more calico cat then man. This year, I will remain strong. I drape a pillow case over the bathroom mirror and walk away.
Strap this to my chin….it looks about the same.
Day 6: Boy, this thing itches a little. I’m sure this gets better in time, right? My skin just needs to get acclimated to its new covering. No worse than a wool sweater for my face.
Day 7: Yeah…just a little itching…I’m sure those gouges I put in my face will heal eventually…and I don’t look silly at all with these socks over my hands.
Day 8: MY GOD! IT’S LIKE DEMON SPIDERS BURROWING IN MY FACE AND GNAWING AWAY AT MY IMMORTAL SOUL. PLEASE GILLETTE, PATRON SAINT OF THE FIVE BLADES AND LUBRICATING STRIPS, SAVE ME FROM THIS INFERNAL ITCHING!!!
Just imagine a few hundred of these, with bigger teeth.
Day 9: Phew…the itching has subsided to a waterboarding level of torture. Even better, I can now attach the Velcro tabs on my CPAP mask directly to my face. It makes for a much tighter fit.
Day 10: I wake up screaming…Caterpillars! Poisonous Caterpillars crawling all over my mouth! Oh wait, never mind…. that’s just the hairs foresting the divot above my chin brushing against my upper lip. Might need to do something about that.
Day 11: mmmmm…steak. I love me some steak. Wait a second …we had steak three days ago. My God, is that from my beard? I taste again….holy sustainable sirloin, batman! You mean I can still taste my steak three days after I eat it? AWESOME! I’m so glad I did this!
Day 13: It’s a cold, sunny morning down the shore. I don my hoodie and shades. Several minutes into my walk I start hearing words like “Una-something”. A few minutes later, I’m being followed by a non-descript sedan driven by a non-descript guy wearing a non-descript suit and non-descript sunglasses. I scurry back to the house. The next day a panel van appears outside. It says “”Flowers By Imogene” on the side, but I tell you, if that’s Imogene driving , she is easily the biggest, ugliest florist I’ve ever seen.
strangely enough, these pictures starting appearing in the SIC post office
Day 14: The beard is here. Whiskers curl and course down my face in manly streams. I’ve taken to stroking it thoughtfully while staring into the mirror and saying things like “I see your point, Manchester” and “Oh, you are so very droll” in an English accent made suddenly legitimate by my facial hair. I’ve done it, I look sophisticated and manly and…wait…what…is that? Is that grey? Grey …in my beard? What the Hell man, I’ve been trying for twenty-five years, I finally get there, and it’s turning grey! I wanted Thor,not Gandalf! I weep openly for several minutes, the moisture glittering mockingly at me in the wavering bathroom light.
I mean seriously, who wants to look like this guy?
Day 15: You know what? With these pudgy cheeks and extra chins, I think I have a real baby-faced appeal. Who needs a beard?
A carrot beard is all the facial hair I need.
So that’s it, my path defined, my journey complete. Maybe next year I’ll go for muttonchops.
If you need any more proof that I’m a man married to the places and routines of the past (as if the knowledge that I’m still living in my hometown in my grandparent’s house isn’t evidence enough), it’s the fact that I continue to return to Sea Isle City, this beautiful, often-times overcrowded, overgrown sand bar off the South Jersey coast. I’ve been coming here since I was thirteen. Our rental that year was a tiny bungalow that crammed six into the same square footage of your average one-car garage. That cottage has since disappeared under thirty year years of development and exists only in fogbanks of memory.
Bridge into Sea Isle – every year right before we reached the bridge, the smell of salt marsh would fill the car signalling our arrival ‘downdashore”.
The property I rented this year, up the street from the place we stayed three decades ago, housed a fraternity. I can still remember those mystical looking Greek letters hanging on the old asbestos siding, and the leering, drunken frat-boys who crowded the porch who would hoot and holler at my step-aunt – a young woman who was only two years older than me and the subject of my unknown affection that entire, painful summer. As our vacation progressed, I would quietly seethe at their comments, imagining all manners of revenge against these older boys with their pack confidence and knowing smiles.
This is where we stayed this year. Now imagine it without the new siding, the closed in porch up top, and filled to the brim with drunken douchebags and you can see what it looked like in 1982.
It’s the nature of these memories that most draw me. Because they happened only once a year, they remain frozen in a specific place and time like Polaroid snapshots. Snap. I’m thirteen, small and skinny, have yet to kiss a girl, and pine for love unrequited. Snap. I’m fifteen, older, more mature, not only have I kissed a girl (not my Aunt – don’t worry), I’ve passed one tentative hand across her chest and thought that I had nearly touched divinity itself. Snap. I’m seventeen and know everything about everything and can drive my old Plymouth Valiant down to sit on the rocks and stare at the sea whenever I feel melancholy and want to look like some tragic, romantic poet. Snap. I’m a young father and watching my babies as they joyously leap the waves and dig into the warm sand. Snap, I’m 43 and know now I never actually knew anything; my little girls are teenagers and able to go off and find their own fun, and I’m left with the quiet, constant sound of the ocean a few blocks away.
The Starfish – my stepfather would take me out every year. Caught the biggest fish of my life on this boat – a 21 inch bluefish. Twenty years later, I would take my daughters on the same boat.
The shore has been the backdrop for almost all the key moments in my life. The unceasing sea bore witness the first time Maureen said she loved me. I bent the knee and asked her to be my wife on the rocks in Cape May An old jetty in Sea Isle, winter waves crashing around me, was where I decided to drop out of college and strike out on my own at nineteen; and the never-ending, April beach in Wildwood was the setting when I decided it was time to return to school three years later.
Whenever I would get moody, which was approximately 75% of the time between 17 and 21, I would drive down and sit on these rocks and contemplate my place in the universe. Not sure why I didn’t get beat up more often!
And as much as the shore has provided memories of laughter and light, it’s also a place that harbors some regret. After I graduated High School, I had the opportunity to spend the summer working at my stepfather’s bike shop. An opportunity wasted putting unnecessary miles on my old Valiant visiting a girl I no longer loved, hung up on feelings of guilt and misplaced obligation. The outcome of that summer: hundreds of dollars in phone bills and a blistering case of ringworm from sleeping on the bike shop floor. It’s a huge wayback machine moment, second only to that damn elevator in Westchester.
twenty-five years ago, this was Jim’s Bike and Sport. To this date, the only shore store to be whined out of business. The new place has really good sticky buns though, so I guess it was worth it!
And a more general regret. Regret that I did not think to come down here more as a very young man with all the freedoms and joys that age offers. Regret for not understanding that youth is transient and those years disappear faster than the beach after a winter storm. I wish I had added to those mental snapshots, but hope that my girls will learn from me and be sure to live life to its fullest as they bloom into young adulthood.
Sea Isle Bars – just a few of the dozens of SIC hotspots I apparently forgot existed between the ages of 18 and 23!
Ultimately, the shore is a place of renewal, of change. The sea is timeless and holds no regret. The waves take away old sand and replace it with new just as the duplexes of one era come down to be replaced by the multiplexes of today, which will in turn be replaced by the MultiMegaPlexes of tomorrow. Memories grow softer around the edge like the sea turning glass into gems of wonder glowing in the summer light. It is a place where all times exist at once. I stand on my porch and suddenly it’s 1982 and I’m a frat boy laughing down at the skinny 13 year old protecting the honor of his aunt; I stop at the 7-11 on Landis and it’s 1986 and Mallons across the street becomes Jim’s Bike and Sport and I’m hanging onto the phone with my girlfriend, bemoaning the good fortune of living rent free in a young man’s paradise. I walk through the inlet and it’s 2006 and I’m watching my little ones excitedly gather shells and splash in the surf. It is today, and I’m hugging my oldest as she leaves to start her first day of college; and I hope that we will always come back here, to find renewal , to reflect, to dump the year’s regrets and petty little stresses into the ever-moving waves, and to build those mental snapshots that last a lifetime.
The Promenade in Sea Isle – I spent a good portion of my mid teens trying to meet girls here with the worst wingman ever (my 4 years younger cousin!)
Unfortunately, SuperStorm Sandy killed off this (the second) incarnation of the SIC Funland
The Colonnade Inn…..I plan on buying it with my first multi-million dollar book contract…I guess I should get working on that book!