Sorry I’ve been uncommunicative the past week, but self-destructive, near-suicidal behavior can put one behind schedule.
If you should decide to take up body-surfing, don’t do it in a hurricane.
Looking at those two sentences together, they seem to make sense as the first line of a story and the last line of a story. So let me give you the middle part now.
Since I was 10 years old, growing up in (landlocked) Allentown, Pa., I’ve been taking summer vacations in Seaside Heights, N.J. Over the past year, the small beach town has gained notoriety via MTV’s Jersey Shore quasi-reality show. The place is nothing like MTV portrays it. Yes, there is a boozy subculture of twenty-somethings (referring either age or points on their drivers’ licenses), but there are also generations of families that have vacationed there since before the First World War. Now I’m the daddy, and I love taking my kids there. Seaside Heights has two amusement piers and a water park in addition to the boardwalk packed with bars, arcades, rigged carny games, bars and bars.
And it also has the waves.
Nobody is going to mistake Seaside Heights for Waikiki. Nowhere along the Atlantic coast are you going to find the topology to generate the kind of tubes that started the surfing craze. But at Seaside Heights, you do have the breakers that make body-surfing a fun way to spend a day or two.
Yeah, there was something on the news last week about a storm named Danielle way out in the ocean, but it looked to be a thousand miles away. But who pays attention to the news when you’re vacationing at the Jersey Shore?
Well, if I had paid attention, I’d have known that Danielle had strengthened and moved closer to the East Coast. It never made landfall, but it did cause a string of alerts and warnings about riptides and swells. And I’d have known not to go out into the ocean any deeper than my knees.
But I didn’t hear any of this and, like I said, I’ve been going to Seaside Heights since I was 10 and started body-surfing maybe as early as that first summer. I’d been pounded by waves before, gone into somersaults — never been injured, not even a scratch.
But my streak ended with a thud Thursday. I decided to ride a wave that must’ve measured about eight feet but, instead of taking me toward the shore, it took me straight to the bottom, right at the low-tide mark which was scattered with shells of all sizes and degrees of sharpness. Realizing I was going to get flipped, I’d curled myself into a tuck-and-roll. But I hit the deck with the base of my skull and heard cracks ripple through the vertebrae of my neck. A quick wiggle of my fingers and toes informed me that the worst that could happen didn’t happen, although a concussion was a distinct possibility. I got to my feet quickly, realized I had my balance, remembered my name, knew where I was and the day of the week. All good. I announced to those kids in our party who were with me in the water that I’d had enough and didn’t feel like going back for more.
I was weaving back to the parcel of beach where the rest of my family and friends were hunkered down when the pain and paralysis in the left side of my face became noticeable. As I looked around the beach, I saw children, teens and parents staring at me. Apparently, I had the kind of injury to the half my face that once ended the career of at least one Gotham City district attorney.
All you need to know about Seaside Heights lifeguards is that as I walked past the Sumner Avenue stand, one of those dimwits in red trunks asked me, “What happened?”
I know it’s politically incorrect, but I now refer to them as “lifetards”.
While one of the two lifetards, let’s call him Beavis, climbed down from his perch, hunted around for his first aid kit and put on his rubber gloves (I’ve got cuts on my face, not colorectal polyps), my youngest son John Liberty ran back to our blanket with the short version of this tale: “Mommy! I don’t know what happened to Daddy but there’s blood all over his face!”
Eileen helped mop the blood off my face (over Beavis’s objection) and escorted me back to the hotel room where I began a course of aspirin, cold compresses and beer. After a couple hours, I felt well enough to join family and friends as we had dinner, then (figuratively) hit the boardwalk and an amusement pier.
(While I was recouperating, eight-year-old Johnny — who was still angry at me because he believed I somehow interfered with his earlier round of miniature golf — updated his assessment of my condition: “Karma hit Daddy with a vengeance.”)
The thing about having injuries to your face is that, unless you’re looking in a mirror, you forget you look like you just stalemated a knife fight. Also, there may have been an issue with my short-term memory for those first few hours because I couldn’t keep it in my head why all these people — including some very large Muscle Beach type guys who were easily half a foot taller than me — were stepping out of my way. I guess I looked about as tough as a 47-year-old Jew is ever going to look.
The only hassle I got all night was from the wait staff at the restaurant. One thing you need to know about Jersey Shore cuisine: Unless it’s fried seafood, pizza or Chinese, it’s too exotic for Seaside Heights. We did, however, find one restaurant to break the monotony: The sign over the entranceway read, “The El Camino”. (Yeah, read that again. … That’s right.)
Someone at our table asked for bread and the waitress was taken aback — she seemed genuinely shocked. She stomped her food and said, “This is an authentic Mexican restaurant.”
So I replied, “¿Tienes el pan?”
She pretended not to hear that. She also pretended not to hear when I asked her for brown marijuana that tastes like dirt, a date with a 14-year-old one-legged hooker, or a seat at the cockfight that’s no doubt taking place in the back room. (Apologies to any Mexicans who might take offense. Rest assured, there’s a whole lot more at The El Camino that would offend you. Here’s their web site: http://theelcamino.com/index2.php.)
So what’s that scene at the Mexican restaurant have to do with my injury? Nothing, except that it suggests what I’m likely to say in public after a six-pack. Why do I feel the need to record it here? Who knows? Maybe I do have a concussion.