Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ocean City, Greasy Labyrinth Ocean City, Wherefore Art Thou, Ocean City?

Ocean City, Maryland, was the gauntlet of Overkill in my youth.  My breathing would grow shallow as soon as we passed Cambridge and when I would see the first billboard for what seemed to me a Ginormous Monster Hotel a half hour or so away my tiny Catholic private schoolboy yarbles would delicately draw up into my overworked esophagus that was frequently working on John Wayne and Jerry Lewis imitations in hopes of becoming the next Rich Little.

My first impression as we pulled up to the inlet proper was being thrust into a human pinball machine with cascading greasy lights everywhere and slick muscled teens and hot binkini girls way out of my league having adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

I have to admit that it would take a while to come down from the initial anxiety enough to let the sweet salty impact of the ocean air hit me.  Usually, first off, me and my brother Ralph would troll the boardwalk for Marvel comics.  It was the mid-'60s to the mid-70s and Iron Man and Captain America and Doctor Strange were taking their fresh plunges into the psyches of Young America.  Between the two of us and our older brother our amassed collection was eventually worth a fortune that could help us all put down payments on first cars. 

Except our mother threw them all away.

Then when I was starting college my fellow collector brother must have needed some cigarette and beer money because he rifled my closet for my teen collection of Jack Kirby's Fourth World series, including all the Mister Miracles, and sold them without speaking a word to me about it.

This is how treasured objects become collectables.  And how shrinks and pill makers still make very good livings.

I remember the beach of the Ocean City of my near blind youth as being a lubed up flesh traffic jam.  Weave through the densely packed blankets and shouting kids and teens acting tough and dive as quickly as possible into the crashing waves to get the instant full body shock.
The beach, especially when our aunt and uncle were along, was the best place for my parents to relax with us.  Especially with my fathers well stocked cooler of adult beverages, which at that time wasn't cracked down on. 

At night, after showering off the sand and salt to expose the new red flesh, we'd hit the boardwalk where it always was nice and freezing with the evening whipping winds.  Something thrilling about pulling on a sweatshirt only a few hours after broiling in sunlight.

Thrashers fries was a must, as was as much pinball in Playland as possible.  There were two different amusement parks, the dark and sleazy Purple Moose Saloon (about the only sleaze that still remains), a born old looking skinny hillbilly guy in a polyester suit holding a boombox blasting Elvis songs that he would dance (kind of) to, the guy who has been doing religious sand art forever, families of all walks of life, bikers, weedheads, beach bums, tacky t-shirts of every variety, hermit crabs, Dumsers ice cream, Fisher''s popcorn, salt water taffy and spin art. 

In my dotage -that started twenty or so years ago - when the sleaze on the boardwalk turned to redneck rage and frat boy hyper-drunkeness and I began to seek out the quieter more nature driven experience, I discovered the sacred Island of Chincoteague and the greasy vomit reak of the old Ocean City became a thing of the past.  Bike riding everywhere, cooking up fresh seafood - purchased at Gary Howard's -  in our rented cottage, swimmiing on a beach where the nearest blanket is usually a good twenty feet away or so and the people tend to be more laidback nature lovers who also come to bird watch at the nature reserve.

But a few weeks ago my wife Everly and I got invited to stay at my sister's beach place up around 70th St. in Ocean City.  Everly, being born and raised in some crazy far off planet named Alabama, had never been to OC.  I got excited relating to her what we'd see there and anticipating what the new breed of third generation biker ocean hippy would be like.

Imagine my surprise when I found a sea of anonymous beige architecture, what you now find in every strip mall, had supplanted a large portion of the old corny but entertaining beach businesses.  Playland still stands, the two amusement parks are hanging tough, sweating zit-riddled teens still labor in the main Thrashers selling product every bit as tasty as the old days, but I didn't see a single biker or fuzzy-haired beach bum or even anyone who looked like they might haven't gotten a wee bit buzzed too early that day. 

There were actually a fair amount of buskers with guitars, but they were all mediocre squeaky clean college khaki boys playing top 4o poorly.  Oh lost youth.  Oh displaced working class!  Where did the funky lower middle class and below middle class take their kids to the beach now?  This used to be the refuge of all who could scrape a few dollars together.  Is the Ocean now, like professional baseball and football, only for the well off? 
Perhaps it was just my imagination or the Limbo Period we had visited - the last week of August a week before Labor Day weekend. 

  The night was saved and capped, though, by my sister's last minute inspiration for us to hop on a ride before we left with our strips of Photo Booth pictures and bellies sloshing with grease and sugar.  Not usually a ride pirate, Everly was coerced onto the deceptively gentle looking Tilt-a-Whirl.  Every other little giant cup looking ride container contained one little 12 year old girl apiece, except for our cup jammed with three screaming and laughing and shrieking adults feeling the veins in their head swell and their aged eyes bulge like Big Daddy Roth drawings.

And as we spun and slid around in the sweet cool night, the middle aged balding, bored carny worker giving us a "come on, you have to be kidding me" look, I spotted a lone dad in plain white t-shirt with an old school camera beaming and waving at his little girl who rode alone in her cup with a shy, sweet smile and I figured sleaze was probably somewhere else and doing fine.

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