Monday, January 29
i would have returned home to nyc shortly
my good pal dror just told me
i spent the day and much of the night in jerusalem
i heard the beautiful mournful sounding cry of prayer
this city is so holy
such a holy city
and they also feel sadness for the palestinians
so do i
go in peace
Saturday, January 27
now i just got back to tel aviv
so im off
go in peace
Friday, January 12
im getting closer and closer to my trip to the land of milk and honey
its clear to me that going to this place
i will let you know what i discover
so dont expect another post until february
2006 was a long, hard, life changing- soul searching year
so starting 2007 off with a trip to the holy land
i have so much to feel
za ga zont
wish me luck
Sunday, January 7
They’d torn down the part of the old Casino building on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, that jetted out over the beach. It used to be an ice skating rink, but had been left neglected for decades. Entire trees grew inside the broken but beautiful structure. I heard homeless people and wild cats slept there.
I didn’t realize I’d held a secret dream to go inside the broken old rink, but when I walked out onto the boardwalk to see with horror its destruction, I realized my dream was gone too. A man sitting on a bench nearby saw my dismay.
“I was upset too, but they say they couldn’t save it. They’re gonna try to save the rest though.”
The rest being the majestic walk way that allows you to go from Asbury Park to Ocean Grove, the casino building and the old carousel building, all part of the grand Asbury of yesteryear.
I closed my eyes for a moment and remembered the Casino of my earliest years, the hundreds of old ladies caught up in a trance not alike the slot machine trance of Atlantic city as they played what I recall as poker machines, and a game I think was called Kino. I remember they held drinks with floating cherries in them and I wanted to play too, but my mother said this was only for adults.
It was raining just a bit and a fog was setting in, in the ghostly haze, I thought I could almost see the Asbury of my girlhood, the Palace with the mad magazine looking smiley face boy on the side. I learned in recent years that folks called him Tilly. They’d torn down the palace and with it a lot of hearts my own included. But no one could tear my memories of the kiddy wonderland inside. For many years of childhood growing up in nearby Bradley Beach, the Palace was my shrine, It was where I’d go to play skee ball until it felt like my arm was going to fall off all to acquire enough coupons to redeem at the sacred prize counter. ,I’d fallen in love with James Bond. I think the bad guy at the time was called Golden Eye or some such name. The prize counter had all the characters of the movie in miniature figurines. It took me a week of skeeball just to win one.
When we moved from Park Place to a smaller house with no sun and an embarrassment of a back yard on Main Street there were only two blessings, an aluminum siding store next door that left out extra siding which we would use as skies in the winter to slide along the back alley and a rough and tumble boy who lived around the corner named Ronny Howt. As a devout tomboy I’d long given up on having girl friends. Ronny became, to my parents horror, the robin to my batman. Then came the best of all jackpots, Ronny’s father, as it turned out, held the most glamorous job in kid land. He ran the huge carousel in the Palace. Ah the carousel, time after time, I tried to grab that brass ring, time after time the bigger kids got them all before me. But now, Ronny’s dad who let us ride for free. I thought I’d seen heaven but the best was yet to come. One day Ronny came over and gave me a wad of skeeball coupons! Enough to buy all the James Bond figurines!
It was like Christmas, Chanukah and a half dozen birthdays all at once. Were it not for the fact that I thought kissing boys was disgusting, I might have smooched Ronny proper.
There were things I didn’t understand as a kid, but that I’d lived through and absorbed into my fiber, the falling down of a city was one of them. Growing up we’d frequented Miami Beach. I remember the grand Dunes Hotel in the tail end of its hey day,which was the early 70’s I believe, then I remember the welfare hotels popping up all along the ocean, the lost broken faces sitting on chairs in porches and the paint the seemed to be peeling everywhere. But then in my adult years, in the 80’s I got to see the tiny deco hotels being painted in new neon colors and roller skaters filling the streets, bit by bit Miami climbed up and out, higher then ever before.
I watched Asbury fall too.
As a kid growing up minutes away, when my parents said, we were going to the city, we weren’t going to Manhattan, that was reserved for maybe four trips a year to the lower-east-side for some marathon bargaining in Yiddish by mom, no, the city was Asbury.
Asbury meant many things to me then. If it was Wednesday night it was when my sister, brother and I would be taken to the YMCA where we’d play basketball badly or mess around in the gym until my dad was done playing racquetball. I hated sports but liked the Y, maybe it was because this was one of the few things we did with Dad. Shopping meant a trip to the endlessly huge, majestic Steinbach’s. To me, Steinbach’s was Macy’s and Gimbels rolled into one. It seemed like the most glamorous place in the world. We would ride the escalator while old women in too much facial powder tried to spray my mom with perfume. There was counter after counter of every imaginable face product, high fashion clothing, jewelry, hats, glitter, it seemed like a store for millionaires. We never bought much at Steinbach’s, mom would leave with a small scarf that was on sale, but the experience was priceless.
Summers in Asbury meant only one thing; the rides. Oh the rides; bumper cars were my favorite, then there was a whole assortment of kiddy rides and after we’d ridden all of them, there was miniature golf.
We went to Howard Johnson’s where we always got the same thing, grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve never tasted anything better then a grilled cheese sandwich at Howard Johnson’s in the early 70’s.
I didn’t understand it at the time but all around me, things were deteriorating in Asbury; the peeling paint began to grow and fan out like cancer, businesses started to close, rough looking people filled the streets. On one of our last treks down Cookman Avenue towards Steinbach’s, several drunks harassed my mother for loose change. We never went back to Steinbach’s. I have no idea when they closed.
In 1975 my parents decided to move to Rumson. I think it was terror of where their kids were going to wind up going to high school which I recall would have been Asbury. Being from Bradley Beach to a Rumsonite, was sort of like saying you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Some of the kids I went to school with in Rumson were driven to school by their chauffeur. We had a nice upper middle class home with a yard and volleyball net. My mom drove a Nova. Dad had a Ford pick up truck. By Rumson standards, we were considered destitute.
By the time I entered Rumson-Fairhaven high school I’d begun to break out. No one in my family was ever going to conform to the Ivy League structure of Rumson with its alligator shirts, docksider shoes and private beach club ways so why try? By sophomore year I’d put pink highlights in my hair and embraced this thing called Punk Rock. I got a summer job running one of the booths at the now defunct Long Branch Amusement Pier. Those were the hey days of the Long Branch Pier. The Haunted Mansion had just opened and hoards of locals and tourists alike flocked to get scared out of their brains. My booth was across the street from the pier by the rib joint. First half of the summer I ran the quarter toss, then I got promoted to the squirt the water in the clowns face as the water makes the balloon blow up game. First to pop the balloon wins. It was fairly lame but they did give me a microphone.
The Haunted mansion had real actors working in it those first years. I met a slew of them when through a group of like-minded teens, the great Jenny amongst them, in Rumson I joined a theatre group that was working on a futuristic production of Cinderella, at the barn theatre in Rumson. “Cinderella Flash Fantasy.” It was Cindy’s story sung to the tunes of Bowie and the B52’s.
On the Jersey Shore in 1979, just knowing who the B52’s were was enough to classify you as well, edgy.
I met my first gay and bisexual friends at the Barn; my saviors from a life of feeling like the orange crayon in a sea of beige. The core members of the group; Matthew, Magdalena, Annie and Lauren formed a lip synching group that would perform dressed in space age punk ware as they lipsinked everything from Bowie to the punk opera singer Klaus Nomi. They called themselves PLO, for Punk Light Opera and mostly performed at the center stage behind the bar at the M&K club in Asbury Park.
At the grand old age of 15, Asbury Park became once again my Disney land. Loaded up into Magdalena’s car we would drive past the drunks, the druggies and the scattered homeless along Cookman and park in front of the Odyssey, the first disco I ever went to. As part of an entourage of VIP punk rockers I was never asked for ID. Truthfully back then, no one ever asked me for ID anyway. I was a little too bitter to be anything less then 18.
In the late 70’s on the Jersey shore there were two reasons someone might throw a beer bottle at you; one was for being gay, the other was for being a punk rocker. Asbury Park, having fallen from its tourist days into poverty and neglect embraced every kind of outsider. The two gay clubs in Asbury; the M&K and the Odyssey also embraced Punk which was quickly morphing into new wave.
Back then Ocean Avenue wasn’t cut off in Long Branch forcing you out to the highway. You could drive all along the ocean, from Seabrite through Long Branch, Deal then wing around a few turns into Asbury. But no further of course. Ocean Grove a proper, mostly senior citizen community at this time, did not want locals from Asbury walking or driving through their town. If you wanted to get into Ocean Grove you had to go out to Main Street and come through the gates. That part hasn’t changed much but as I recall, They still put the chains up back then to keep folks from driving on Sunday.
I loved the Ocean Avenue drive. I learned to drive on that drive and that last turn around a bend or two into Asbury always made me catch my breath. I could see the ruin and the abandoned buildings but Asbury’s beauty still shone through.
At the Odyssey and the M&K, Matthew and the gang would dress me up in 1940’s and 50’s vintage cocktail dresses and spin me around like I was Dorothy from the wizard of oz. The drag queens adored me and for the first time perhaps in my young life, I felt worthy of being adored.
The M&K is still there, its sign broken and its façade aged and rusted. It is awaiting I’m sure the condo-isation that is taking root in much of Asbury.
I knew that the rehabilitation of Asbury was really and truly happening the day they opened up the passage from the old Casino building so you could walk into Ocean Grove. There’s no way quiet, delicate, Ocean Grove no matter how many New Yorkers have transplated there would have let half of Asbury stroll into their town in rougher days.
Looking at Asbury today I can see why native New Yorkers or born again New Yorkers like myself who moved to the city 25 years ago, love it so. We recognize the edge of roughness and embrace it as character. We cherish the old industrial buildings and love to see them brought back to life,
We have lived through the high crime era of New York City and watched as neighborhoods like the East Village where I live were slowly turned around,first by the artists, the musicians, the gay community, the pioneers then by the business men. We love standing on the place nestled just between neglect and salvation and we all hope and pray that the edge and the character and the history and the beauty of this diamond in the rough getting more polished every day is not lost.
Looking at Asbury today I am four years old again on the kiddy rides, I am seven training to become skee-ball champion at the Palace, I am ten finally catching the ring in the carousel, I am 14 going to the professional wrestling matches at Convention Hall, or watching DEVO, I am 15 dancing the night away at the Odyssey, 1 am 24 playing pool at the Key West hotel with Anne Marie and wondering where everything went and I am 42 having just checked out of my favorite North East hotel, The Empress and walking past the old Metropolitan Hotel en route to the train back to Manhattan and hoping beyond hope that someone will save the grand old Metropolitan and wondering how many of my smiles and how many of my tears are etched into the fabric of this transitioning little city by the sea.
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