Monday, April 4, 2011

Making Something Out of Nothing

I took a step back in time this weekend. My wife and I took my son over to the Jersey Shore, with the intent of walking around Belmar. Our recent move puts us within an easy hour drive of the shore and my wife was excited to be so close (used to be about two hours, depending on where we were headed). The day was sunny, breezy, and warm enough that a light coat sufficed. We glanced at a map and headed out. It's not an area we're afraid of getting lost in, and we figured it would be a fairly straight shot to the boardwalk...or we'd see a sign...or something. So, when it became clear that we'd missed a turn somewhere, we decided to go to Asbury Park instead.

Now, as a child, my mother used to chuck me in the car at least once every spring and fall and drive down to Asbury Park for the day. She hated crowds and the heat of summer, not to mention the traffic. To me, it was usually a lot of prep for something that didn't live up to the hype. A day at the beach with my mother usually meant it was too cold to swim...or just too cold in general, on an empty beach with a dilapidated, run down boardwalk. We went there because that was where she knew to go. It was a place she felt familiar with. But, eventually, the demise and ruination were too much even for her. Asbury Park in the mid-80s was no longer on anyone's radar as a summer destination. The boardwalk was deteriorating and the buildings that had once house the convention hall and the merry-go round were falling apart.

The last few trips taken to the shore with my mother were to Point Pleasant, slightly closer and much cleaner and active, even in the off season. So, I realized, when we pulled into a familiar parking lot just outside the older merry-go-round building in Asbury Park, that I was returning for the first time in probably 26 years. I had suddenly become one of those people I had always marveled at who said they hadn't been somewhere in 20 years. That had always seemed outlandish to me. To have taken so long between visiting a place. Now, I realize, it's not that hard to do. That's the trick with time, it accumulates whether you think about it or not...and especially when you don't.

I had heard good things about Asbury Park over the last ten years. How it was rebounding. How there had been an infusion of new growth in the town and how this had spread to the boardwalk. The signs of age are still there. The old casino building still looks as if it might fall over. But, there's an energy there that casts a glow of hopefulness on the area. The storefronts have been updated. There are several classy-looking restaurants along the boardwalk. A glass blowing shop lets you pay to blow your own paper weights, etc. There's mini golf and a small water park that looks like it'd be fun in the warm weather. A playground has been established in the sand. The convention hall has several shops and bar/restaurants. On the day we were there, the Garden State Film Festival was taking place, so there was a subtle sense of attempted glamour.

We went out to the beach. Despite the cool weather, my wife took her sandals off and walked at the edge of the surf. I watched as my son leapt precariously among the boulders of a rock jetty and tried to resist the urge to insert my own fears where he apparently had none. Yes, he could have fallen and cracked his head open…just as I could have done a thousand times at least as an unsupervised child running amok in the wilds of northwest Jersey. But, much to my relief, and through no help from me, his little legs and feet remained true. “I got it, Daddy.” I pointed out the safe way down. He purposely avoided that way and took the rockiest way. I might have done the same and a part of me is quietly happy that he ignored his old man’s guidance. For such a cautious child (and he is very cautious), it’s hard to interfere during those few moments when he isn’t holding back. For just a moment, he was fearless and I had become the parent that I had hoped to never admit being.

We wandered around and I tried to recall both things that were familiar and what seemed familiar, realizing that after so much time, memory just doesn't hold onto all of the details that separate what happened and what was remembered as having happened. The circular restaurant that I had eaten in several times as a child was still there. It was packed with an early lunch crowd. I couldn't recall what it had been as a child. I just remember having a not-so-crowded lunch there. It's good that parts have survived. There's nothing more crushing than returning to a place to find that it's been torn to the ground and completely replaced. The Asbury Park rebound appears to be more of the organic kind. Left to rot for so long, the ground has once again become fertile and good things are taking root again. And now that someone has taken a second look and given it some time and love, it's headed in the right direction. It's just a shame that it takes so long sometimes...and that sometimes we have to let things die instead of holding on to the remnants of what remains. It's probably the part of us that doesn't want to believe that death is necessary for renewal. That, without death, we'd be stagnant.

As a writer, I've learned to apply this sense of renewal to my story ideas. I presently have three different stories that are running strong in my head. One is my current project. One is the novel I finished in 2009. And , the third is a novel I never quite finished in 2008. Given all the time necessary, I would complete all of them. But, given the time I have, I try and dedicate as much time to one as possible. In a sense, it means that I have to let the others stagnate and rot for a bit. I can only do so much. I try and keep those ideas fresh in my mind, but as other ideas have faded in the past, so too may these. I hope that I can someday return to all of my ideas and give them the proper time and let them rebound. But, I know that some may simply die without having had a real chance. Such is life.

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