So I called up Paul and said, "I think we should go to Asbury Park on Sunday." "Why do you want to go there all of a sudden, biscuit?"
"Because...because I want to get out of the city before the summer ends."
"Let's do it."
"You mean it?"
"Of course I do, sweetbread."
Two days later we met at the Avis on 11th St. and sped toward Jersey in a spanking white midsize. The air conditioning was cool and the roads clear and in no time we were on the Garden State Pkwy. But when we got off at the Asbury Park exit we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
"I guess a lot of people are going to the beach today," I said dubiously, remembering how Francesca had described Asbury Park as a "ghost town."
I looked at some of the bumper stickers on the cars. They were for radio stations and bands and some said things like "Stoner Chicks Rule." At first I thought it was a Bruce gig, but then I looked out the window and saw that almost everyone driving was under 18. This was definitely not a Boss crowd. I had to find out what was up. But I didn't want to ask a teenager because I find them kind of scary. So when I spotted a middle-aged woman in an SUV to our right, I rolled down my window and said, "Excuse me. Do you know why there's all this traffic?"
"I have no idea," she said, shrugging. "I've never seen anything like this."
We drove for a few more minutes and finally I decided to bite the bullet and ask a teen. I spotted a car in the next lane with a teenage girl driving alone. She had a sweet, innocent look on her face and there was a stuffed green parrot toy perched on her steering wheel. What a cutie. Surely she'd give me the 411. I pushed my window button down but just as I turned to her I saw her begin talking to her parrot, poking it playfully and making expressive baby faces. I quickly rolled up the window and looked over to Paul.
"Uh huh," he said, laughing. "I don't think she would have been able to help us. I think she has some issues."
I looked out the window again and this time I spotted a bespectacled, goateed 17-year-old driving a car filled with teenaged girls. "Excuse me," I said, opening the window. "Do you know why all these people are going to Asbury Park?"
"Warped Tour," he answered, like I'd asked what decade it was.
"Oh!" I said. "What's that?"
"A punk and metal festival. Thirty bands."
I rolled up the window and wailed to Paul, "I can't believe this! Out of all the days we pick to go to Asbury Park we'd have to pick the day of the Warped Tour! Francesca went here with her boy and they didn't hit any bumps!"
"Is that why you wanted to come here? Because your friend did?"
"Not at all!" I shouted defensively. "I wanted to glimpse the collapse of quaint Americana!"
He nodded skeptically, and said, "Let's pull off and decide what to do." Then he deftly switched lanes and drove us into the parking lot of a ShopRite. When we got out of the car we saw two punk teens leaning on a car drinking beer. Definite Warped Tourers. One was short and scruffy, with dark hair, and the other was tall and bleached-blond.
"'Scuse me," I said, walking over. "But we're from New York"?Paul winced?"and we wanted to go to Asbury Park for the day, but then we found out about the Warped Tour. Do you know any other good places to go to the beach?"
"Seaside," said Brown.
"Seaside's skeezy," said Blond.
"What do you think Asbury Park is?" asked Brown, like his friend was a dope.
"Skeezy's just fine with us," I said eagerly. "We like skeezy." They told us how to get there and then we got in the car and headed back to the Garden State.
Half an hour later we crossed the bridge to the Jersey Shore and I immediately got this have-to-shit feeling in my ass. My grandparents used to have a place in Harvey Cedars they called "Maven Haven By the Bay" and my parents took me there every summer till I was 12. I always used to get excited when we crossed the bridge because I knew I'd get to see my cousins and play in sand. And even though this was different, to my sphincter it felt exactly the same.
The streets of Seaside Heights were packed with teens and kids and young couples. I could see a Ferris wheel in the distance and a boardwalk and I got so revved up I started bouncing up and down in my seat like an anxious dog. "Brooklyn's excited," said Paul. "Brooklyn's gonna get to go swimming in the ocean."
"She is! She is!" I screamed.
We parked the car and walked down the boardwalk into the amusement park. It was packed with kids in bathing suits and melanomic women in bikinis walking arm and arm with huge, muscular men. All the grown-ups seemed to be smoking and all the kids looked unpretentious and tan.
"What should we go on first?" asked Paul.
"How 'bout the Gravitron?" I said. (When I was 14 I went on a Gravitron in Rehoboth Beach, DE, and it gave me a spontaneous o.)
"Okay," said Paul.
We walked into the saucer, nodded at the DJ in the center and stood in two adjoining spots. No one else was on our ride. "Summer of '69" revved up, and as we began to spin and the floor dropped out from beneath us and gravity pinned us to the wall, I waited to jizz. Nothing happened. I looked at Paul for added erotic stimulation but he looked kind of spaced out, so it didn't really get me going. I started to move my hand toward my crotch but as soon as I lifted it, the machine's force snapped it down by my side. God was telling me not to mix onanism with amusement, but I didn't want to listen. I wrenched it up again and this time it landed on my left tit. I did a little nip pinch and started to get warm but then I saw the DJ looking at me funny, so I slid it to my stomach and gave him a weak smile.
When we got off Paul and I went into a photo booth and took two shots of ourselves in a frame that said "Living La Vida Loca" around the edges. As we emerged from the photo booth I noticed a climbing wall right next to it. I had first tried wall-climbing in Stockholm at a street fair and I'd made it to the top three times in a row and ever since then I'd been convinced this was a sport I could master.
There was a sign that said you got your five bucks back if you could press the bell at the top and suddenly I got antsy and eager. "Hold my purse," I said to Paul. He got that look on his face that all guys get when you ask them to hold your purse, and then he took it and held it away from his body like it was a bag of dogshit.
I took off my sandals, paid my dough and went up to the attendant. I got into the harness and he clamped me to the rope. I chose the shortest of the four walls you could climb, anxiously glancing up at the bell, and then I began my ascent to the sky. I chose each of my footholds carefully, never moving until I was sure I had a good strategy, and within three minutes I'd made it to the bell. I stuck my finger in, feeling like that kid with the dyke, and the bell rang gloriously and loudly so the whole park could hear. "I won! I won!" I shouted to Paul. The attendant lowered me down slowly and as soon as I was on the ground I said, "Give me my five bucks."
"You don't get five bucks," he said. "You climbed the women-and-kids wall. You only get five bucks if you can climb wall 8 or 11. Look at the sign." I walked toward the sign and read it again. He was right. It said very clearly "wall 8 or 11" and I had climbed wall 5. I was furious at the misleading advertising?why did they put a bell on the sissy wall if ringing it didn't get you anything? I wanted to give it another shot but Paul had an impatient, other-guys-are-thinking-I'm-fageau-with-this-handbag look on his face, so I put my shoes back on and grabbed my bag back. "That sucked," I said. "They should let you know you're climbing the sissy wall as soon as you start. And that 'women-and-kids' line was so offensive. The highest-ranking wall-climber in the world is a 14-year-old girl."
"You did a good job," he said. "I was very impressed. As soon as you started I thought, 'The muffin's gonna make it.'" I bit his cheek affectionately and we walked through the game section toward the boardwalk, passing some sort of target shoot where all the prizes were cigarette cartons. That's so New Jersey, I thought.
When we got to the boardwalk we headed toward the beach and spread our two towels on the sand. As I lay down I spotted a condom right next to the towel, but instead of freaking big-time I just threw sand at it till it was buried, then rolled over to face Paul.
I took off my shirt and shorts and revealed my brown J. Crew-outlet bikini, then ran down to the water and hopped waves for a few minutes. Then I went back to Paul and collapsed next to him. "Why don't you go in?" I said.
"I'm not much of a swimmer, but I'm thinking about it," he said. Then he took off his shirt and ran to the water and when it got to his ankles he turned to me and shook his head like I was crazy for having withstood the cold. I waved like a girlfriend on the beach waving to her boyfriend and then he stepped out a little further, picked up a rock, pitched it far out over the surface and watched it land. He seemed pensive. I thought how the ocean does that to people, clears their heads and not just their skin, and I was happy to be watching him, happy to be at the beach, even if it wasn't Asbury Park, even if it was skeezy. After a few minutes he came back and lay down on his towel and I put my nose next to his and breathed in so I could smell the salt on his face.
When we got hungry so we walked to a restaurant a few blocks from the boardwalk to get some dinner before we headed home. They didn't serve alcohol, so Paul went to a liquor store down the block and brought back a Bud for himself and a Bass for me. He loves Bud, but I don't hold it against him.
Our waitress was inept and the food was awful and when the check came I whispered, "Let's leave her a bad tip so she learns to treat her customers better."
"We're never gonna see her again, lug nut," said Paul. "She's a teenager and this is her summer job and she's only doing it so she can have spending money at night, so maybe it's better if we just be generous." Paul's roots are as upper crust as mine, but he's employed by the service industry and has great sympathy for his workingman cohorts, near and far. He always tips at least 20 and often 25 percent because he knows from experience what it feels like to be stiffed. I still thought it was wrong to tip for mediocre service but the day had been good and I liked the town, so I set down an extra fiver and we walked to the car.