Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 14:01
After spending a few weeks in my New Jersey hometown during winter break, I was finally able to visit what is left of Pier Beach in Spring Lake, a frequent summer destination of mine while growing up. About five days a week, a designated parent would usher a flock of children into her massive Chevy Suburban with our towels and boogie boards piled in the back. Because the 20-minute trip seemed like an eternity when all we wanted to do was drop all of our stuff on the scorching sand and hightail it into the ocean, we amused ourselves in the car by splitting ourselves into teams and playing the alphabet game, or else listening to ’90s tunes, which are superior to the music of any other decade.
Once we got to the beach, sneaking past Dotty — the old curmudgeonly lady who checked to make sure that everyone was wearing an entrance badge — proved to be the most challenging feat of the day. Fortunately, my friend’s grandmother lived in Spring Lake and had an abundance of season badges to lend to us so that we didn’t have to pay the exorbitant price of a daily badge that day-trippers couldn’t really avoid. If we weren’t able to get our hands on a badge that day, my brother, our friends and I would be forced to make pleasant conversation with Dotty so that she would let us enter our paradise without the entitlement of a badge. Or if we were seeking a little more thrill, we would opt to saunter up onto the boardwalk, sit on the ledge by the railings for a few minutes as if we had no ulterior motives and jump onto the sand without paying.
It was always a plus when we had enough people in our posse to play running bases or capture the flag, but the greatest days were those in which we performed the dollar trick. It usually required two or three people — no more, no less — for optimal results. There was the person who hid underneath the boardwalk, holding the dollar bill and maintaining its position through one of the cracks between the wooden boards. Then there was the lookout, who indicated when a stranger walking on the boardwalk was naive enough to believe that it was his lucky day in his finding some cash. Everything came together when the lookout gave one last signal and the dollar-holder swiftly yanked the bill down, making it just out of the stranger’s reach. Sometimes, there was an extra person who helped pull off the prank by accompanying the lookout, but if there were too many kids lingering around the same spot near the boardwalk, it would have seemed suspicious. The best part, of course, was the reaction of the deceived. Most of the time, the victim realized that a few kids were behind the scheme, either laughing at our antics or walking away in a huff, but occasionally, there would be that guy who remained oblivious throughout the whole stunt and cursed himself for not being quick enough.
As if our lunches of cheese fries and candy from the snack stand hadn’t fulfilled our daily junk-food quota, we couldn’t consider the day a success unless we convinced our parent-chauffeur to take us to Hoffman’s, the best ice cream shop known to mankind.
So why is all of this important? Now that I think about it, I may have Dotty to thank for developing the cheerful, personable skills that have caused Leo’s workers to warm up to me; they would probably have despised me otherwise. In other words, I learned very early that being as friendly as possible goes a long way. I learned how to do cartwheels on the beach because I knew that I would be safe if I fell on its velvety surface. I learned that failing to put on sunscreen in 90-degree cloudless weather is really poor judgment.
Yet everything that stood with pride on Pier Beach is gone because all that Sandy left behind was some sand. Now, all I have left of that part of my childhood are some fabulous memories — and perhaps a few embarrassing home videos.