Saturday, July 5, 2008
Florence, Atlantic City, 196something
Vacations were for other people. For us, summer was a stand-off between our need to have something to do during the day and our parents’ need to not have to think about it. Everything really worked much better when we were at school, he was at work and she was at the piano.
Time stops for no man or pianist for that matter and neither do the seasons. Summer came. Repeatedly.
I am not sure when it started and when it ended - it didn’t last long - but for a couple of years, Atlantic City became our Riviera. And with the recent purchase of a car needed to get my father to his job out on Long Island, it was suddenly accessible.
The exotic motel we stayed at had an ice machine - the push of a lever and a cascade of perfectly formed ice cubes tumbled down - not the bitterly small, thin ones we made in aluminum trays. And right below our small balcony was a real swimming pool - not the huge ocean of Pitt Street Pool, but small and shallow enough to paddle across and splash about. It even had a fancy swirling shape. It was DESIGNED like from out of a Jacque Tati movie.
Those few days in such a luxurious setting - whatever was or wasn’t happening in this family didn’t matter - there were things to delight in - the beautifulness of the old boarding houses and cheap motels pushing the battered boardwalk into the sea, all the salt-water taffy stands in every flavor in the world, all the magic peelers transforming radishes into flowers and sandy beaches that were without cigarette butts and empty beer cans and wonderful waves that didn’t smell bad. And the big seafood restaurant had fancy chowder crackers in beautiful little seashell shapes. Beat the penny pretzel we got on Delancey Street any day, hands down.
The four of us in one room, two beds, no memory of how my sister and I negotiated sudden close space but we slept not missing the familiar rumble of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Time stops for no man and no family either. We all moved out to other worlds, leaving Florence behind in the former home of the family. Not sure what my sister or my father did for their summer vacation, but Florence’s became day trips to Coney and, in between shit jobs, I worked for room and board in a fancy commune upstate.
And soon after, Atlantic City got torn down and shiny casino hotels we could have never afforded took the place of those old motels and boarding houses.
Still, there was an unexpected silver lining. Searching for compulsive visitors during those early days, the casinos sent buses to Chinatown with an offer hard to refuse - take our free bus to our fancy shiny casino hotel and we’ll give you $10 to gamble.
Surrounded by shabby men of all sizes, religions, races and cigarette brands, Florence, bathing suit under her jeans, beach towel in hand, grabbed that free trip to Atlantic City - $10 to splurge on a cold beer and a sandwich she didn’t have to cook? Now that was a vacation.
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