In the '70s and '80s, we owned the Jersey Shore. It was our playground, our education. Manasquan was Middle School. Seaside was High School. Belmar was College. Today, watching MTV's Jersey Shore is like running into a girl you were in love with in high school, only to find out she married an asshole.
I was down in Seaside over the summer when I came across an ice cream stand selling chocolate-covered bacon. My nephew, Dante, bought a strip for a dollar.
"I love it," he said.
I fear for our future.
But, then again...
In 1978 a group of us rented a house in Manasquan for a week in July, just a block from the ocean. Of course, we couldn't just go and enjoy the sun; being teenagers and being guys, we decided to have a drinking contest. Whoever drank the most beers by the end of the week would be the winner. There was no trophy, no cash prize; it was just that at the end of the week you could say you drank more beers in seven days then your friends.
To make it an even classier event, you had to save all your beer cans and bottles so there could be an official count. There would be no confusion about who the biggest idiot was at the end of seven days.
The shore house we rented actually lent itself to this endeavor. There were two floors separated by wood beams instead of a ceiling. There was a wooden rail, about chest high, which circled the living room and dining room, and an open, brick fireplace near the staircase. That was my spot; that's where the winning count was going to be enshrined.
To avoid further confusion, we each had to pick a different brand of beer. I chose Tuborg Gold (truthfully, I don't remember which brand I picked, but Tuborg Gold stands out in my memory, so we'll go with that). It was Saturday afternoon; we had each picked our corners (or beams, or rail, or fireplace).
The rules were set. Let the games begin.
It was uneventful for the first several days. The beams and rails filled with dead solders; the rooms looked like a giant game of RISK, our different colored armies staking out our own piece of the world. I noticed that my armies were growing faster than the others; I was on a record-setting pace (well, since we had never done this before, there were no records to actually break).
By Thursday night I had consumed 98 cans of Tuborg Gold beer in a little more than five days, well ahead of my closest competitor, George.
Around 2 a.m. Friday morning (or late Thursday night, I don't remember -- it was dark) I was sleeping (passed out) in one of the upstairs bedrooms when my eyes sprang open and, with barely time to spare, I leaped for the window and threw up on the roof of the front porch; God help whomever may have been standing on the sidewalk (is that rain?).
I slumped back down, white-knuckles on the window sill, a stabbing pain in my chest as my heart pounded trying to break free of my body (who can blame it?) but within seconds my head was out the window again; lather, rinse, repeat.
By now a small crowd had gathered both on the sidewalk, and in my room (no one seems to sleep down the shore). I couldn't breathe, I could barely talk, but I was able to mouth AM-BU-LANCE and out the window I went.
A short time later I was in a hospital bed, with a saline IV stuck in my arm, as the doctor checked my vital signs. Some friends had followed me to the hospital and were waiting outside. The doctor, whom I'm sure had much better things to do, walked out of my room and told my friends the news.
"Your friend has had a heart attack," he told them, then walked away.
Well, you can imagine their stunned silence after being told their 18-year-old friend just had a heart attack. Thank God this was pre-cell phones or that news would have instantaneously spread throughout the community, to all my friends and family, and they would all have been concerned for nothing.
I did not have a heart attack.
Sometimes, when there is a great deal of drinking, food becomes secondary; you may forget to eat. You wake up, you drink, you pass out. When we did eat, in order to save money (for more beer) we collectively bought chopped meat, hot dogs, and rolls and would cook for ourselves. We would fry up hamburgers in a small cast-iron pan in the kitchen. Day after day we would fry up hamburgers and hot dogs in that cast-iron pan. Over the course of several days a thick layer of grease appeared and would greet the hamburger or hot dog that was about to be fried (come on in, the water's fine). No one ever cleaned the pan so that by the fifth day you couldn't really tell where the hamburger ended and the grease began.
So, no, I didn't have a heart attack.
I had gas.
The next morning I found myself back at the house, sidelined from competition, with strict orders not to drink, eat greasy foods, or exert myself in any way. I watched, powerless, as George's army of beer cans slowly caught up, then inevitably passed, my boys to become the winner of the first (and only) Manasquan-Beer-Drinking-and-Rushing-Al-To-The-Hospital Competition.
George finished with 112 beers consumed. I could have beaten that number in my sleep (if I wasn't busy throwing up and passing out).
George will have the record but, much like Roger Maris, there will always be an asterisks (*) by his name.
*George won because Al was too much of a lightweight to finish the competition so f*ck you, Al.