Suburban Soliloquy #67

Ocean City, New Jersey

I love the rain and it has rained almost every day for the last month. For others this has become monotonous, a growing torment of too much gray and gloom. It was during one of those gray days with occasional sprinkles that I accompanied Ms Keogh, my more significant other, to Ocean City, New Jersey.

Ms Keogh had sold a painting. It is a long and narrow landscape, a view of the National Mall from the Abram Lerner Room at the Hirshhorn Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. She was reluctant to part with the painting. It had hung in a location in our kitchen that it suited perfectly. Being a spectacular procrastinator, Ms Keogh needed something to display at the Highwire Gallery in Philadelphia. Undecided until the last moment, she grabbed the painting off the wall assuring herself it probably wouldn't sell, but it did.

The transaction had the air of skullduggery, as if there were a sinister twist to the deal. We drove a distance of eighty-five miles to Ocean City, New Jersey, a place we've never been before. The arrangement was to meet the buyer at an intersection and complete the transaction in the street. The arrangement and the clandestine nature of the deal was fun for both of us.

I never much cared for the ocean. Reclining on a blanket, baking in the sun, is utterly boring; the resulting tan is of a dubious value. Then there is the persistent irritation of sand that accompanies you after leaving the beach. However, I love the water. I have always been a good swimmer and never thought about drowning. I spent a considerable portion of my childhood gliding along the bottom of the community pool enjoying the sensation that I was another species. In my long periods underwater, I felt a headiness; it was an altered state of mind that was very peaceful. (According to Ms Keogh, I was suffering oxygen deprivation.) Still a crystal clear pool is one thing, while the murky green ocean is another. With the ocean one is swimming in cold soup. Another point, in suburbia I am at the top of the food chain, but in the ocean I am a thrashing transient, out of my element and advertising my presence to any number of things that pinch, squeeze, or bite. I might only be the happenstance victim of an opportunistic Portuguese man-of-war. The thing is, ninety-nine percent of the ocean is under the surface where you can't see it or the approach of something as big as an angry Moby Dick.

Okay, for someone like me who drives too fast and eats fatty foods, I am more likely to die on land than during the occasional swim in the sea. And when I do go to the beach, I put aside my distaste for it and thoroughly enjoy getting bounced and tumbled by the waves. As soon as I was able to drive, I was making trips with friends to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, ostensibly for a young man's notion of romance. It happened for everyone else, but never for me, who was too shy, too finicky, and whom the opposite sex rarely found attractive.

Those drives across the southern part of New Jersey to Long Beach Island were across a remarkably flat region. The trip meant driving through the hellish Pine Barrens, a trackless region choked by a forest of tormented pygmy pines. From the raised roadway they stretched to either horizon, and legend has it the Jersey Devil haunts that bonsai forest, a creature that is half man and half goat. For many miles there are no hills or other obstacles to stem the advance of that half a mile high tsunami of my active imagination. How was I to outrun such a wave?

The drive to Ocean City was different. Using the Atlantic City Expressway to reach it, the expressway is lined on either side with tall trees. But then the old fear itched again when we crossed the bridge into Ocean City, New Jersey. It was hardly more than a sandbar crowded with middleclass summer homes. The entire community seemed merely inches above sea level (actually six feet above sea level). Ms Keogh could do little more than scoff disrespectfully at my unrealistic fear. (In 1821, in Cape May County, New Jersey, the ocean first withdrew and then a wall of water rushed back. It carried one man six miles inland.)

But I exaggerate. I didn't really allow my silly fear to spoil the adventure. Having sold the painting, and with fresh money in our pockets, we strolled the boardwalk from end to end. The bad weather had kept the crowds away. The only people in the water were hardcore surfers in wet suits.

The shops along the boardwalk were opened and we explored them buying nothing more than candy, especially saltwater taffy. We entered the seaside amusement park and took a ride on the 138 foot Ferris wheel. We could see the whole of the city and far out to sea, although on this overcast day there was no horizon, the sea and sky were seamlessly joined.

It was worth one visit, but Ocean City is dry, nowhere is alcohol sold. It makes for a better family community and spurns the rowdy behavior of some other seaside resorts. It is also the reason I probably will never go back.

Well, it is raining, again, as I write this. The office where I am employed to watch over AT&T's network through the night is surmounted by a glorious storm. It began as distant lightning. As it neared, the percussion from the thunder rattled the glass panes. Now the rain is loud and furious, drumming on the roof with shocking violence. It is wonderful, and I think of Ms Keogh.

I think about her alone in the dark house. We had lost the electricity earlier this night. Before I left for my job, we played five hundred rummy at the kitchen table using an array of candles. And now this same rogue thunderstorm is probably blasting through our opened windows, waking her from a sound sleep. How wonderful and refreshing it must be for her. I am able to imagine her in our bed, caressed and drowsed by the air, lullabied by the rain, the thunder serving to wake her so as to enjoy the moment, the comfort, and that particular pleasure of going back to sleep, repeatedly. I envy her. I wish I was there in that sudden influx of cooler air snuggled against her.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the number 67 in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"