VENTNOR, N.J. - And so, with the approach of Memorial Day, that annual if-the-calendar-says-so, it-must-be-a-beach-day fantasy, my 12th as a local, these are the questions that I ask myself and that others ask me:
Am I happy it's almost summer? Well, kinda, sorta, yeah. Though this will be the second straight year I'll be missing in action on Memorial Day weekend, due to various family events up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But that's OK. Last year, when I returned on Memorial Day, it was amusing to see the town feel so spent all of a sudden. It still feels far off, maybe because Memorial Day is on the early side this year, and the weather's been not that great, and I'm still walking my dogs on a beach that resembles an empty planet, me as its only inhabitant, new trash barrels the only sign of higher life-forms. It always seems preposterous that these quiet stretches of sand will be transformed into your summer getaway. But every year, the same thing.
Am I looking forward to the drop-ins? Well, kinda, sorta, yeah. One thing about living at the beach is that people coming to town for the day or weekend like to announce their arrival to you (whereas people coming to actually stay with you somehow manage to show up without warning). I actually find this kind of charming. "We're here!" people say to us by phone, text or - in that persistently quaint way that may be lost elsewhere, but is still part of socially accepted behavior at the beach - by showing up at your door or, alternately, at your grill or hot tub. I do like that, actually. It makes me feel like Jerry Seinfeld with everyone dropping by.
Can you park in my driveway? Many are those who seek, few are those who know they can. I've extended these privileges to a lucky few, who know who they are. Why? Because we like you! As for the others, please don't block my ingress and egress, though I do really try to keep it bike-only on busy weekends.
Can you use my shower? When we moved into our house, we were told that showering lifeguards came with it. We thought that was cute the first year, and we did our best to uphold the tradition. But as this is our year-round house, and we had very young children, and the showers are in the basement not outside, we kinda, sorta felt the next year that we had to ease them out of the habit. Luckily, they installed showers on the boardwalk, and there didn't seem to be a great clamoring for our inside showers. Hose's always available. We love our lifeguards and serve them hamburgers from our grill at the end of the summer.
Do my kids hate the beach? They go through phases of that. We have weirdly headed for the neighbor's pool on some great beach days. But as they've gotten older, the beach has become a nice gathering spot for them and their friends. Better than the mall, needless to say. My kids are the ones practicing their cheerleading stunts in the water, or back by the hot sand, where any self-respecting tweener can be found. As for me, it never occurred to me that I'd end up living year-round in a beach town. The whole concept of a beach town was new to me. When I was a kid, we went to Jones Beach on Long Island, which was a series of beaches and a series of corresponding parking lots. If you were lucky, you got there early enough to get into Parking Lot 6, as I recall, a nice small beach. The beach-town charms have become more apparent to me as the years have passed, but you know, all in all, I'd still rather be in Philly. And then I could stay in someone else's beach house when I got the urge.
Why don't my kids surf? I don't know. Nature vs. nurture, I guess. My mother never really learned to swim, and my dad was a sneakers-and-socks guy on the beach toward the end, a retro shoobie from New York. I wish I could say I'm raising surfer girls, but they barely Boogie Board. They can hike out on a Hobie Cat, though, which puts you at like a 45-degree angle to the sailboat in a harness. It's cool. You can see this at the Hobie regatta on the Oxford Avenue beach in Ventnor, tentatively scheduled for July 19.
Can you sit with me on the beach? Please do. A few years back, I wrote a story that detailed where everyone sat on my beach, locals to the left, Philly to the right, and it really touched a nerve. I really do think we oughta mix it up a little, people. But I know we won't. Besides, as the years go on, I pretty much confine myself to the in-between-the-lifeguards beach, away from everyone but the people I prefer to sit with.
Can you dodge the need for a beach badge? Yes, but why? It's not such a bad thing. And where I live, if you get your beach badge before May 31, it's $7 apiece for the whole season. Stop complaining. We need your dough.
Do you feel like you can't justify leaving the beach during the summer? Used to, but not anymore. When we first moved to the Shore, it was like, it's summer, we're at the beach, how can we leave - ever? Now we realize we are people, too, and need a change of scenery. And so do our kids. And I'm really hoping that during their three weeks at camp in the Poconos this summer, maybe the girls will learn to surf.
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on the Jersey Shore at http://go.philly.com/downashore.