It is Monday night, and I am sitting here in New Jersey waiting for Hurricane Sandy to reach landfall. As I write this, the wind is rattling my windows and the leaves scurry down the street like frightened villagers chased by King Kong. As a parent, at times like these, your first concern is that your children are safe.
My youngest son, Danny, goes to school at Rowan University which is right in the hurricane's path. I called him on Sunday, before the hurricane was to hit, and told him I thought it best if he came home until this all passed. I drove down, picked up him and his roommate, and listened to Springsteen's album 'Greetings from Asbury Park' that includes the song, 'Lost in the Flood' (subtle) on the drive home.
I called my other son, Alexander, who goes to TCNJ, and told him the same thing. I had already received about a dozen emergency warning texts on my phone from the college. Within the hour he was also on his way home.
My daughter, Amanda, had gone to Florida on the Thursday before the storm with her boyfriend and a few other friends to a music festival that was going to last the weekend. Her plan was to fly home on Monday, just as the storm would hit. I called her Saturday afternoon to see if she would fly home a little early, to avoid the impending disaster. Her reply?
"But, Dad," she said, "the fest isn't over until Sunday night".
I guess we each have our own priorities.
I called my sister, Diane, to make sure she was okay and I mentioned what Amanda said when asked to come home early.
"C'mon, Al," she replied, "what do you think you'd be doing if you were twenty-two?"
Sometime in the early 80s a big storm was threatening the Jersey coast. Upon hearing the news that huge waves were pounding the beach, my friend Harry and I jumped into his red Toyota jeep and headed toward shore. The closer we got the deeper the water filled the streets. As we approached the boardwalk we could not see where the blacktop ended and the sidewalks began -- the jeep cut through water creating black and silver wings on either side of us. After driving around a few barricades we parked and walked up to the boardwalk as little fists of rain punched our faces.
The timbers of the boardwalk trembled beneath our feet as the wind tried to pick them up and toss them as darts at the houses along Ocean Ave. Everything was grey, except for the snow-capped waves that crossed each other in their race to die along the shoreline, only to be re-born again to replay their dance. Once our eyes adjusted to the wind and the rain, we noticed something. Peppered across the face of the waves were a handful of wet-suit clad surfers. Harry and I might have been stupid for driving through the storm to stand on the boardwalk, but these guys were idiots.
Also in the 80s, we had a house in Seaside, a few blocks from the beach. We were warned a big storm was coming and the smart thing to do was to leave before the time came that we couldn't. I don't think the town of Seaside (at least back then) had a sewer system -- the water had no place to go. Roads were quick to flood -- water rose mid-door in some house. We were far enough from the ocean that, although our street flooded, our house was in no danger. We sat on the porch and watched as the water level rose on our street.
I'm not sure who actually thought of it, but given the combination of beer, boredom, and (did I mention?) beer, a new game was born.
Six of use descended from the porch and slogged out into the water-filled street. Three on one side -- three on the other. A new bar of Ivory Soap was removed from its wrapper, and the game of Soap Bowl was born.
The rules were simple (actually, incredibly simple) it was football with a bar of soap. We started easy enough, running short routes, tossing the increasingly slippery football, your hands and arms cleaner than they have been in weeks. There is, however, an inherent danger to playing in a street filled with water to your knees -- it's called "the curb." In a few minutes your down-and-out became a down-and-down as your bare foot slammed into the submerged curb and sent you flying into the water. It wasn't just the curb. Any forgotten object left out on the sidewalk or street, become the "fourth man" on defense. Your cry of 'I think he's open!' became, 'I think he's dead!' as the receiver cleared the curb but then was destroyed by the tricycle that was lying in wait, who then high-fived the skateboard who fiercely cried, 'I had him, man!'
This went on for a while until the bar of soap eventually dissolved into the water of the street. We went back up on the porch, grabbed another beer and watched the lightning spark the ocean, waiting for the moment when someone would inevitably say:
"So, whadd'ya wanna' do now?"
I guess I can't fault my daughter for wanting for follow through with her plans for the weekend. As her father, I would have preferred that she took the early flight so I knew she'd be home before the storm hit. However twenty-two-year-old Al would have like to be with her on her adventure, just to go along for the ride
I wrote that last paragraph Monday night, shortly before Hurricane Sandy actually hit the Jersey shore, downed a few shots, screwed us, and then moved on (typical). A few minutes after that, around 8:45 p.m., I lost power. It is now Wednesday night. Still without electricity I am writing this as I watch the power bar on my laptop shrink like it was January and it just jumped into the ocean.
Both boys are back at school without loss of power, food, or friends to pass the time. Amanda is still on her adventure, making her way from Florida to Atlanta, Atlanta to Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia and home sometime later tonight.
I am not one of those people who heed warnings well -- when they told me to stock up, I went to the liquor store. The only news I have heard of the devastation is what I've heard on the radio. I can only hope that what I imagine from the radio newscast is worse than what actually happened. Entire sections of the Belmar boardwalk gone -- Seaside Pier swallowed by the sea, a Ferris wheel peering out like a single eye, confused, just wanting to go home.
We spent our youth there. We were stupid and crazy. In Seaside, on July 25th, we put a Christmas tree on the beach and celebrated half-way Christmas. At night, I made-out with girls under the overturned lifeguard's row boat (sorry, kids, but yeah). In Belmar, there were turtle races. I lost my voice screaming at my turtle to win the day before I started my first day at AT&T (I sounded like Tom Waits with strep). I feel in love, was rejected, and then fell in love again. I met the woman of my dreams (several times).
The Jersey Shore is its own world -- it will never be gone. Danny told me there are pictures on Facebook, iconic pictures, of the devastation. I haven't seen them yet even when the power comes back on, I don't know if I even want to look.