Seaside memories


May 10, 1982


Seaside wears on my like a history of scars, the salt air eating at me like a metal tin man beginning to rust and flake away.

The ocean roars then whispers in an alternating rhythm I canít always predict, sometimes boasting like an exaggerated actor, and other times more subtle.

I came here in 1973, angry and alone, suffering from some kind of ego deflation that made me ask for the ocean to strike out at all the plastic people I saw around me.

A moment later, the city went black, every light extinguished, leaving people stranded on the rides.

But it isnít the people who are plastic, itís the social structure, drawing us in, making us fit molds.

Itís all hype, people used to call in it the sixties.

But itís really more than that. We all thought we were individuals back then, doing our best to stand out as something different from everybody else, when did exactly what everybody always does, and picked up whatever fashion happened to be popular, just as people do now.

Back then, we all tried to fit in by looking different. Now they try to fit in by looking the same.

But then and now, people fall into types, groups needing certain characteristic people to include as members. Sometimes, when I walk around, I see our little clan, the artistic type, the rebel type, the intellectual, and the comic.

We all need to feel happy and secure, even when we act as if we are neither.

Most people are consumed with pursuit of money, even when we profess that we are non-materialistic, knowing in the end that cash gives us options we donít have otherwise, even when we survive on very little.

This place lets people escape their real lives for a time Ė letting them play, acting out their lives in some other fashion for a week or two, different here in that this is mostly a place where teens meet, while more seditious in the complex adult play land of Atlantic City where men and women get to delve into even darker fantasies.

But it is all a fantasy, an illusion that people engage in, for brief moments before they get back to their real lives where they must earn their way in the world.

Some forget this, and linger in this limbo, like I did when I was 22 and seeking to regain something I had found here at 16.

Adults do come here but they come as parents mostly, reliving their earlier lives through their very young children, or giving their teens a little space where they might engender the other gender in a way far safer than what can be found in the adult world.

Those who forget that this is a fantasy lose themselves and their way back, assuming somehow that they can stretch this amusement out for a life time, thinking that the prizes they win either at the wheels of fortune or in the strip clubs, can become a way of life, when for real people, honest people, thoughtful people, it isnít.

While the masses come back again and again to spawn here like salmon each summer, few take it so seriously as to get trapped in the spinning wheels, and those that do become part of the amusement ride, not merely plastic, but mechanical.

Most of the people who live here year round oil the machine, making their living off the tourists, but understand that it is a job, not a fantasy, and they do not take it so seriously that they get caught in the spokes.

I come here more regularly than I used to but almost always off season like this, my family living a few miles away so that it is just a short jog down the highway and over the bridge to this place.

Iím drawn here when the rides are still silent and the hawkers still too busy setting up their little games to pay much attention to me.

Iím drawn to the sea and its endless cycle of whispering and screams, the seagulls calling over me in some song I still donít completely understand. I donít come here during the season, except for some specific reason, though sometimes, when I do, a little bit of the old magic still shows through, a glitter of the fantasy in some of the younger peopleís eyes, a little sadness in the faces of aging beach bums who couldnít give up the life they mistook at real, they, too, perhaps, listening to the song of the sea, seeking answers like I always do from this mystic place of mystery.

Today, the work shakes with waves not crowds. The music rises from the beach side instead of the boardwalk concessions. A handful of sunbathers take their place on the still uncrowded beach as the sun slants slowly casting shadows across their world and bringing them out with a chill. But it is an ordinary dark that comes, not a black out, and I stroll along the beach searching for myself and not some fantasy I left here at 16 or 22, carrying a notebook under my arm strange thoughts about the real and unreal, and just how any of us can possibly expect to tell which is which, when deep down we are drawn by something we cannot possibly understand, and ache for fantasy to relieve us of what is real, and in the end, if we choose fantasy, it becomes worse than the drudgery we thought we might escape.


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