On August 8th I suffer what can best be described as a complete physiological break. Among my peers, I am eager to write this off as a hangover – the ill effects of an 18-hour binge that included one bottle of Black Haus, imbibed against a running backdrop of whiskey and beer. Internally, however, I recognize this as being the culmination of 14 days’ worth of excess. I have been going to the bars without anyone. I have been drinking at the apartment by myself. My fingers tremble as I struggle through an average workday. I have attempted – and failed – to go 24 hours without ingesting a belt.
On that Tuesday, the 8th, I call out of work. I feel weak, and dehydrated. I have laryngitis. I throw up after eating a bowl of Trix. I keep attempting to ferret together the previous evening’s proceedings. I can picture a barbecue, and then getting thrown out of The Fairview. I can picture myself arguing with a bartender, even though I wasn’t able to talk. And then there was the water park. I was with that girl, and it was 3 AM. We were in the hot tub. We got kicked out
by the police.
I call out sick a second time on August 9th. My mother picks me up. She drives me to my parents’ house in Delaware County. Once there, I take a bath; I get some sleep. Whatever I am experiencing, it extends beyond the routine physical. I want to drink, and yet I am afraid of getting sicker. I want to return to Wildwood, and yet I am afraid of being alone. I feel unhinged, surreptitiously convinced that I have been exposed to something chemical, perhaps even toxic, inside of my apartment. I have a newfound fear of fainting. I think about it all day long.
I return to work on August 12th. I lie to my employers, maintaining that I have been to a doctor, and that he has written me a script for several antibiotics. I suffer through the afternoon. During my dinner break I watch an annual procession – The Blessing of the Ocean. Said procession culminates with an abbreviated ceremony along the beach. As we enter the responsorial, I turn and I notice that I have been boxed in by a bevy of tourists. This jars me. Lord, have mercy. I take a knee. Christ, have mercy. I cannot find an available pathway to breathe. Lord, have mercy.
I remain humbled until the congregation disperses. My lungs feel like a pair of bellows. I walk to Pine Avenue, where I am scheduled to work on a microphone from 8 – 11. I defer, delegating the responsibility to one of my employees instead. This is a breach, egregiously so given that the second Saturday in August is traditionally associated with being one the biggest money nights of the season. My refusal to emcee winds up costing The Doughertys a little over $700 during that 180-minute period alone.
I close the stand just after 1 AM. I beat a path to the Hill 16 where I order my first beer in several days. That first beer leads to a second, and then that second beer leads to a third. That third beer leads to me approaching a brown-haired British girl who is waving a $10 bill over her head. “Yoo-hoo,” that brown-haired British girl keeps saying. “Yooooo-hooooo.” She is draping her chest
over the bar.
“What are y’drinking?” My voice projects above the music.
“What’s that?” the British girl responds.
“What are y’drink-ing?”
The British girl steps back. She soaks me in. She corrals a friend who is standing next to her along the bar.
“That old guy’s trying to hit on me,” I overhear the British girl explain.
Her friend measures me, and then grimaces. She makes a joke about me being on my own.
I stare onto the dancefloor, and then my eyes breeze up the wall. There, illuminated by a kaleidoscope of colors, reside the shadows – a sea of bobbing heads and string-bean arms. It occurs to me that from a distance those fleeting shadows could belong to anyone, from any time; that those shadows could belong to all the bearded rockers who hung out here when this building housed The Playpen; that those shadows could belong to all the post-war brats who took their business way uptown. It occurs to me that those shadows could belong to all the pleated plaids who yucked it up with Cozy Morley; that those shadows could belong to all the social debs who danced the foxtrot to a four-four sound. It occurs to me that those shadows marked the passage from Benny Goodman into Chubby Checker, from New York Folk into the British Sound. It occurs to me that those shadows kept the pace from Punk & Disco into Mainstream Pop; from Thrash & Grunge into the Underground. It occurs to me that those shadows have remained ambivalent; that they have not changed despite the integration of east-coast Blacks, and then Latinos; of the British and the Irish, the J-1 Spanish and Chinese. It occurs to me that those shadows are both passé and urgent relevance, that they are both the 1990s and the now. The now. So much of what I have known is past. The first building I ever lived in on this island is being converted into a boarding house. The Maple Deli across the street has closed. A lot of the boardwalk games have begun transitioning from giving out stuffed animals into giving out cheap gadgetry. The Dime Pitch has been succeeded by a water-gun game. That game has 16 seats and rising poles. On a busy night that 16-seat behemoth can generate upwards of $1,000 an hour. And yet in reality, it doesn’t even come close. The boardwalk features far too many race games. The boardwalk features far too many swindlers selling sweet songs for a buck. The boardwalk features far too many price hikes. The boardwalk features far too many soft drinks costing 2 – or even $3 – a cup. My place amidst this madness keeps on shifting. I work as a barker in a 14-player water-gun game. I report to an ice cream parlor six days out of every week. That ice cream parlor occupies the exact location where I once worked as a barker in a seven-player water-gun game. I was poor and I was alone then. I was living out of a bag at the age of 18. 1992. Bill Clinton had just secured the Democratic nomination for President. Clinton was campaigning against George H.W. Bush, an incumbent who held a significant lead. 2000. Al Gore has just secured the Democratic nomination for President. Gore is campaigning against George W. Bush, a second-generation legacy who holds an insignificant lead. Eight years. I have gained and lost three waves of friends. I have become sick, nostalgically ill for the past. And it occurs to me that all of this nostalgia, all of this deep longing for being young and for falling in love and for being single and for getting drunk and for getting high and for getting laid and for breaking laws and for being tan, well, it occurs to me that mine is only one of a thousand driftwood stories, embowered by these streets of sand. There are nights – albeit few of them – when I still walk home past Meghan’s father’s house. I tend to do this when I am alone and I am intoxicated. I’ll turn the corner, and I will stare up at that gable in the dark. And I will do this not because I miss Meghan, but because that tiny one-story gable represents a time and a place where everything seemed at its start. I am 26 now, and I am drinking at a bar known as the Hill 16. I am by myself, and I am staring at a shadow in the dark.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)
©Copyright Bob Hill
Member, American Authors Guild