Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Cooling Off at the Shore When You Live in the City

Ah, one of those oxymorons.

Okay, here in Los Angeles, I live maybe five miles from the beach.   Ask me how many times I have actually gone there.  It's sort of like that old saying which talked of the fact that people who live in NY who have never visited the Empire State Building.

Well, as the age old photo above shows, I did go to the beach at least once.   Actually several times.   Despite the fact that I lived in the ultra-urban suburb of New York City.

Yeah, a lot of my friends today talk about their childhoods at the shore. Spending every day at the beach. Renting cabanas for the summer. Barbecuing on the sand at night as the sun went down and the ocean breezes kicked in.

Me? I lived in Mount Vernon, New York. With close proximity to the subway. If the train zoomed by you on the 233rd Street platform, the resulting wind was your summer refreshment for the day.

More specifically, we were landlocked. Getting to the beach was an ordeal. 

President Kennedy had pledged that, by the end of the 60s, Americans would be on the moon. He could have easily added that the goal was to get me to a beach more than twice any given summer.

Oh, don't get me wrong. We liked the beach. At least, my mother and I did. My father couldn't be bothered. I don't think he even owned a bathing suit. And, since he was the driver in the household and frequently working, we couldn't depend upon him for transportation to the shore. We were on our own.

And neither of the closest beaches were, well, close.

You had Glen Island Beach in New Rochelle. A neighboring city. The park there had a shoreline on an inlet from the Long Island Sound. Sea water twice removed. By the time it got to the Glen Island sand, there was barely a ripple. There were more waves in my mother's new permanent. When you dipped into the Glen Island waters, you might as well have been taking a bath in the tub at home.

Of course, to the south of our home, there was the Bronx where Orchard Beach beckoned to us. Or, as we often referred to it, "Horseshit Beach." Not only was the water there equally as tranquil, but it was incredibly dark. It could have easily been mistaken for a bottle of Guinness Ale. The folks on the sand were not much better. Oh, they seemed okay. It's just that most of them were speaking English as a twelfth language. We had traveled ten miles to the south, but we somehow landed on the shores of San Juan. If your ball landed on some stranger's blanket, you needed a United Nations interpreter to get it back.

As a beach resort, Orchard Beach was always our last resort.

Yeah, we preferred Glen Island Beach. But, the trick was how to get there.
Enter my mother's cache of girlfriends. A prerequisite for my non-driving mother was to know other women who could. With valid licenses and cars to boot. If it looked like it was going to be hot and humid for a few days, my mother immediately went to the Princess phone and commenced dialing. 
Usually, somebody got recruited with their kids and we were packing beach provisions in lickety-split fashion.

The only problem is that none of my mom's friends had children that were anything but...girls.

"We're going to the beach with Aunt Ronnie."

All my mother's girlfriends were aunts to me. And Aunt Ronnie had two girls---Susan and Nancy. Sweet? At that age, not.

But, there I was. An only child out with a couple of kids and I still had nobody to play with. To make matters worse, one of the other girls I was beach-teamed with was usually still young enough (and flat enough) to skip the traditional top of the bathing suit.

Can we go home yet?

Of course, we'd eat our packaged sandwiches for lunch and I would hate the taste of my favorite Taylor Ham sandwich when it was seasoned with mustard and sand. I'd sit there amidst four or five gabby women or girls and want the sun to bake me to death. And, naturally, lunch at the beach seemed like an eternity. Because...

"You have to wait an hour before you can go back in the water."


"You just wait."

Kill me now, please.

I'd sit on that blanket, drifting into a gossip-induced coma. Can you please make friends with somebody that has a boy for a kid? Please!!! I always wondered why my mom never suggested that I invite along one of my chums. Leo from up the block or maybe Russell from school. That would have solved everything.

If we were really desperate for a beach day and nobody was available with transportation, my mother would prevail upon our other in-house source for a ride to the shore. Grandpa. That would mean Horseshit Beach would be the day's destination as Grandpa knew the Bronx roads and little else. It was on one of those excursions that I realized Grandpa was at the end of his days. I've told the story here before.

We had gone to the Bronx Riviera and arranged for Grandpa to come and pick us up at an appointed afternoon time. For the ride home, there were two other passengers with me and Mom. One of her friends and her daughter, of course. Well, anyway, mucho chatter ensued and the car soon sounded like a chicken coop. It distracted Grandpa.

And, for some bizarre reason, he seemed to be a little unsure about the way home. And then he ran a stop sign.

And whacked a car coming the other direction.

I got knocked onto the floor of the back seat, but everybody was otherwise okay. And quiet for a change. Surprisingly, there was no damage to our car. And a medium-sized dent on the car we hit. But, the real trauma was etched on Grandpa's face. He was crestfallen. He had never been involved in an accident before. His demeanor showed the result of his epiphany. With his reflexes slowing down, he was encountering the inevitable.

His driving days were over.

As my family often did, we went into emergency lockdown mode. Grandpa whispered to me.

"Don't tell your grandmother."


My mother whispered to me.

"Don't tell your father."

Check again.

The secret didn't hold for long. Because my grandfather pretty much stopped driving anywhere after that.

And we never went to Horseshit Beach again.

After that, any beach days were over for good. Mom and most of her friends went back to work. And it would be years before I went to a beach again. By the end of high school and college, I broadened my shore line horizons to include Jones Beach on Long Island. And I would journey out there with my neighborhood buddy, Leo.

After all, he had a car.

Dinner last night:  Beer bratwurst and pickled beets.

No comments: