It’s January! It’s cold! It’s warming up this week because Al Gore said it would!
Okay, I’ll admit I did not see, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Largely because I already believed that climate change was a real thing and didn’t want to get depressed at being right. It’s sort of the same reason I’ve never watched any of Michael Moore’s films: I already know that people, especially the Republican leadership, can be real asshats. I don’t need a liberal asshat to tell me that conservative asshats are asshats.
Now that that’s out of the way, Happy New Year! Let’s hope this one’s better than the last. Though, admittedly, 2011 had a lot going for it over 2010. I got new glasses, for example.
That said, I do, sadly, have to report that the year has not gotten itself off to a great start in my world. For one thing, I lost my leather jacket on New Year’s Eve. And by “lost” I mean, “hung it on a coat rack and had it taken by persons unknown.” Which means I also lost my mp3 player and a pair of sunglasses I really liked. I’m gonna miss those sunglasses.
The second, and decidedly worse, piece of news from 2012 came in the form of a phone call I got from my grandmother last night…. A phone call I’d been dreading for 6 months.
“You were born a girl,” she said.
No, I’m lying. “We sold the house,” she said.
It’s true. The family house in Beach Haven, NJ, is no more. Or, rather, it’s soon to be no more, as the nice man who bought it is – and rightfully so – tearing it down to put up something not built in 1969.
I say, “the family house,” but really, as my grandmother just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was not. It was always her house. Which is not a complaint, you understand. She had it built in 1969. She designed it with the builder. It was her house. To do with as she wished. And, without getting into the specifics, I understand why she sold it this year.
But I’m crushed.
Those of you who know me well, who grew up with me or went to college with me or found me travelling in a fighter company and eventually took me in and made me breakfast – you already know how much I loved going down the shore (yes, “down the shore”; it’s a Philly/South Jersey thing) every summer. How much I loved having friends join me, just to be able to share with them a little of the magic I felt with every single visit – the view from the deck, the laid-back atmosphere of the town, the friends my brother and I made down there, the liquor store that stopped carding me at age 18.
There was something truly special about going to my grandmother’s house down the shore and I’ll never be able to do it again. So in a lot of ways, I'm happy that the house is being torn down. I'd much rather say, "Our house used to be there," than "That used to be our house." I know it's an odd distinction, but there you have it. Right there. 2 Marine Street. LBI.
Truth is, I’ve been thinking about how I was going to tackle this situation in a column ever since I showed up at the house for a weekend this past July to see the ugly “For Sale” sign next to the driveway entrance. I’m about a third of the way through said column and I still don’t know.
I thought about filling a column with anecdotes culled from 37 years of summers there – of the time Jeff decided to repeat everything Christina said, only reversing the letters as he did it (“Stop!” “Pots!”); of the time Jamie, high as a kite, stopped dead in his tracks while walking into town, pointed to the amusement park, and reverently stated, “The Wheel’s doing different shit.”; of the time my brother and I had to explain his drunkenness (see: stopped carding me at 18) by making up the names of people he’d “been hanging out with,” and then having to keep a straight face when my mother forbade him from seeing them again; of the time when a friend from camp did a beautiful swan dive off the lifeguard stand only to face plant in the sand; of sleeping 14 people downstairs one weekend without any adults ever finding out (until now); of Trevor’s ugly shirt and the time Jeff and Nate got a noise violation because we were on the porch playing Trivial Pursuit too loudly at 5 p.m.; the time Dan got banned from Fantasy Island amusement park for a year because the Hungry Hungry Hippos machine had stolen his quarter.
Or, later, as we got older, of hanging out at Buckalew’s and the Ketch and the Shell and the Chicken or the Egg (the “Chegg”); of my friend Luke becoming a minor celebrity at Hudson House (the “Hud” – not really original with the nicknames) for being thanked in the acknowledgements of the book the bouncer was reading; of playing beer pong at the Baileys’ – originally for Kathleen and Gene’s birthdays and then in honor of what would have been Gene’s birthdays; of the many 5-mile walks I took alone or with Paul, Deb, Lisa, or Brandi to Beach Haven Inlet and back in the name of weight loss (it worked); of laughing so hard during family games of Ink Blotz that it took minutes before we could correctly breathe again; of protecting my niece Alex from the monsters on the deck (when she wasn’t pretending I was one of the monsters, of course); of Saturday happy hour at the Sea Shell Tiki Bar listening to Dog Voices or Monte and the All Stars or whatever they seemed to be calling themselves this past summer.
Heck, I could even go back to my formative years down there, running around the beach with Walter and Roz and Lydia and Bernie and Evy and Erv (yeah, we knew some Jewish people); of watching Bobby Sandler juggle (Bobby speaks in sentences); of my mom helping me and my brother make cardboard swords and shields one rainy afternoon and then using them to put on some sort of disjointed Masters of the Universe play featuring Josh Van Naarden as He-Man (Man-at-Arms, at your service); of my grandfather making sure to stop by the firehouse as I rode on his shoulders in order to see the shiny fire engines; of Maggie, our Westie, blending in perfectly with our white Flokati rug ("Flokati" courtesy of my father); of the wicker rocking duck (yes, duck); of waiting in the longest line at the original cement-walled water slide (the “Thundering Surf”) in order to take the fastest, wildest ride (not all that fast or wild, really); of the original Hartmann’s Amusements, the single-most low-rent, dangerous amusement park ever, with the stairs on its slide rusting and its haunted house constructed from three old cargo containers and half of its bumper cars never actually working; of watching my mom literally throw her fishing rod at my dad when her hook turned out to be attached to a fairly large stingray; of cutting through neighbors’ yards to get to my "Aunt" Lil’s house or visiting "Uncle" Eddie Zerkowski of EZ Automotive (both family friends); of the small dune fire we accidentally started when the coals fell through holes my dad hadn’t realized were rusting out on my grandfather’s old barbecue – and of my dad and our neighbor Joe having the whole thing under control by the time the fire company actually arrived; of my dad launching me and my brother over the waves, time and again, as we made sure to stay between the lifeguard flags; of seeing the “Muppet Movie” at the theater during a ridiculously violent thunderstorm (well, violent for a 5-year-old, anyway).
I even thought about doing a travelogue of our living room from memory, describing the objets d'art and antiques my grandmother (and, until their divorce, my grandfather) collected and with which the walls were festooned; the giant red boot bolted over the front door, part of an advertisement for an old circus; a sign from the original Steel Pier in Atlantic City; a real wooden barber pole, never repainted; Arnold Maxin’s white tennis sneakers, repainted red in homage to the "Red Shoes"; a topless binnacle (not as sexy as you’d think) my dad used to perch me on so I could work the cassette deck in the wall cabinet; the backgammon set with the marble pieces; the wicker couches, which replaced the original black-and-white-striped ones; the spots on the floor where my dad and grandfather had to bolt pieces of wood to reinforce the buckling front wall during a hurricane; the place where the rocking duck used to sit (yes, again, a duck); the horse mask created for my grandfather by the costume designer of the original Broadway production of Equus and its "mirror" across the lintel – an actual horse’s skull – the two separated by the sign for stables that my friend Paul bought my grandmother at some point; the powerful Prometheus Bound, sculpted (along with a couple other pieces in the living room) by a very unhappy man who, after years of therapy, found he was no longer suicidal, but also could no longer sculpt (my grandmother tells me he makes custom belt buckles these days); the brick fireplace, filled for many years now with a television and also featuring one of my grandmother’s masterpiece paintings; the green mirror; the wood carvings hanging on the wall, reading Rx and etc. etc. etc.; the brass snake horn, with the metal tongue that wagged, gone for years now; the wooden eagle, the sharks, the Dutch cabinet, the broken gumball machine, the occasionally useful ceiling fan, the bar that was never used, the Tiffany reproduction lamp, the shade with waves painted on it, the pretzel jar, and, of course, the hands.
Hell, I could fill a column just describing the hands.
But I won’t.
What I will do, in the end, is describe the very last moments before we drove away from the house, this past Thanksgiving weekend. We’d gone down that Friday to scavenge what was left of the art, furniture, and doo-dads that hadn’t already been picked over (who took the “etc.” carvings and the hand magnifying glass, by the way? I was hoping for those). I did manage to get some excellent bath towels, two great paintings, and the hand lamp, among other things.
My parents had already left, planning to meet up back in PA to help unload the U-Haul they’d rented. Brett and I were to drive back with Alex, while Aimee and Aria (their second daughter) followed in Aimee’s SUV. The vehicles were packed, the doo-dads and hoo-hah’s and whatnots packed away, everything else left behind to be picked over by family friends and children of family friends and quite possibly even the current buyer.
Standing downstairs, out in front of the door to the laundry room – wallpapered with magazine covers dating back to the early 1970s – I was struck with a profound sadness. I walked out onto the driveway and looked up at the house, its giant white 2 looking back at me (I once got a text out of the blue from Steve the bouncer that just read, “You’re right. That’s a giant freakin’ 2.”), and I had an idea.
I ran next door to Tony’s house – empty most weekends, so I was pretty sure it would be uninhabited at the end of November – and climbed up to the top deck on his house, facing our property. “I’ve never gotten shots of the house from here,” I thought. “Could be because Tony scares me.” I took about a dozen photos with my camera phone.
I then headed back to our place and up the side stairs to the deck to take one more panoramic video of the view. Though it was November, I remember thinking it was so nice out that it looked much warmer in the photos. I walked back down the stairs to where Brett and Aimee were doing their final checklists before loading up the girls into their child seats for the ride back.
I walked into “the apartment,” the illegal downstairs section my dad had designed and he and my grandfather built themselves from whitewashed wood paneling arranged around the concrete slab floor, where my family had slept every visit every summer since I was born. I did a once-more-around to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything; to make sure the windows were closed and the fridge turned off; to buy myself just one more minute before I would lose the house forever.
Determining we had packed everything important, I wandered back outside. Brett and Aimee were just about done getting the girls in their respective vehicles. I heard a seagull somewhere nearby. A kid was laughing on the next street over.
And I cried.
Also, I kinda miss my jacket.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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1.9.12 @ 11:15a
Note: photos TK.
1.9.12 @ 1:23p
Some shirts are just so ugly, they need to be shared.
1.9.12 @ 1:25p
I actually forgot to add that photo to the ones being uploaded.
1.9.12 @ 2:11p
I'm so mad at you for making me curious about Fantasy Island, then Googling it and hearing that awful, awful music that plays on the site. Just awful. But I forgive you because your article made me cry like a baby. I shoulda taken you up on the "down the shore" invite when I had the chance. *sigh*
dr. jay gross
1.9.12 @ 3:35p
The salt air and the rolling ocean have been part of my life for twice as many years as you've been around, Adam, and you now recall in your reminisings. I have lived many houses from Deal to Belmar and south - our houses go up and go away. I remember Asbury Park when it was 'The' resort to visit. I played in Lock Arbor finding my first tiny crabs and periwinkles in pristine tide pools. The tides and storms are in my blood. My Great Grandmother stayed in Belmar for many summers and I was treated (when I stayed with her) to 'real' custard ice cream that makes Rita's faux custard taste like cardboard. My memory is sharp about the fishing, swimming, and loving found on the sands of the Atlantic. I found LBI with a friend in 1959 when the corner drug store still had a soda fountain. The root beer drive-in was a magnet for the many hot rods that congregated with the assortment of thirsty, salty surfers at the end of a body and soul tanning day.
Our first house in Beach Haven was sold and another was built on a vacant piece of dune about 1/2 mile north. My memories are deeply ingrained in me from those years, and more new experiences will join those memories wherever the salt air is blowing through my hair and the sand is squeezed between my toes.