Let’s face it, columnists are paid to gripe and moan. For eight years the Clintons were like rocket fuel spiraling us into orbits of indignation. Each morning brought bigger and better disasters, new angles on new conspiracies, fresher body counts, more disgusting things, and an endless supply of audacities, allegations and outrages. I woke up each day propelled to the keyboard even before I drank my Sumatra Blue Ling. It was a great time for spewing.
In an era of a thousand apologies, I was first in line to demand one (See “The White House Owes Us An Apology,” Human Events, August, 19, 1994) for their totalitarian health care plan and the fighting words they used to promote it. Now, with Clinton seemingly already gone and W. ascending, I sit at my laptop facing the blank screen with the blinking cursor, trying to work myself up into a froth of indignation about something, anything. There’s no one to kick around anymore. You know things are cooling down when the hottest argument going on in the Forum section of The Common Conservative.com is about the fine points of the movie “Tarzan.” I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll see it next week with my grandaughter, Sarah Rose. I did, however, run out last week and buy the soundtrack to Tarzan the first time I heard Phil Collins sing “You’ll Be In My Heart.” And to top things off, Bruce Bedsprings (as he was called by Pittsburgh’s former mayor Sophie) will be touring the Northeast this Fall! Musically, at least, everything is coming up roses.
Lulled into complacency by life at the Jersey shore, whether it be the Sea Isle beach at night with a billion stars in the black sky, or sitting on my deck listening to radio conversations between the lobster boats just offshore while smelling the aroma of wild dune roses, or our beach town by day where nearly everyone is committed to saving the turtles, it is a great time to be alive if you’re a columnist for a magazine like “Coastal Living.”
Too many of our ever-dwindling supply of turtles wind up as roadkill as they make their annual journey from the bay to lay their eggs in the sand. The other day I saw a big guy in a tank top pull his pickup truck to the side of the road and get out to carry a turtle across the highway. Random acts of kindness such as this surely somewhat offset the horrors of things like Columbine.
As we were driving on the road through the marshlands that connects Stone Harbor to Route 9 we saw two turtles craning their little necks at the side of the road, looking to avoid oncoming cars. We pulled over, picked them up and carried them to the marshes on the other side. A woman pulled off just behind us and yelled, “Thanks, more people should do that!” Really, almost everyone does do that. It’s just that sometimes the turtles are not easy to spot before it’s too late to stop. In the autumn, the baby turtles will hatch and try to make their way back to the bay. Their mamas have left them, never to return, and the sea gulls hover over them like vultures, picking them off before they reach water and have to do battle with the crabs. Nature is cruel and life isn’t fair, especially for baby turtles.
We called the Wetlands Institute to see when the turtle eggs will hatch. The timing of their emergence depends on the weather, as does the sex of the babies. There will be females if it’s a hot summer, and males if it’s cool.
Once, when we stopped too fast to move turtles we were almost slammed from behind by a beer truck. Talk about encroaching civilization! Sea Isle City is equally famous for its turtles and the trailer trucks of beer that roll into town to re-supply bars such as the Ocean Drive — advertised as the place where New York meets Philadelphia, but otherwise appropriately known to locals as the “O.D.” where partyers have been spotted lying unconscious on the sidewalk getting oxygen. Along with Sea Isle’s official “Save Sara the Sea Isle Turtle” T-shirts, I saw a Harley guy last week with an unofficial message on the back of his t-shirt: “If you can read this, the b—- fell off.”
The turtles are in trouble, but in the 80 years since our swimmers have been guarded by the lifeguards of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, there has never been a drowning while they were on duty. A few years ago, my niece Meghan tired of her cushy job lifeguarding at a hotel pool and tried out for the job of ocean lifeguard. I watched her swim far out into the rolling surf against rough waters propelled by a strong northeast wind, competing in a swimming race with about 100 others, most of them boys. Meghan made it back to shore, finishing ninth. She also had to run and row to qualify, and after much work, with no affirmative action points or special treatment for females, she made it and was a member of SICBP for three years. The other day I asked Brian Wilson, the 29-year-old Sea Isle lieutenant lifeguard who’s been guarding Sea Isle’s beaches for 13 years, how many girls made it this year. “About 8 or 9 out of 80,” he said, “We don’t think of them as girls, we think of them as athletes.”
It’s not always a day at the beach, and on rainy days we went to the movies. Despite all the hand-wringing about Hollywood leading us to ruin, we saw a lot of good films — “Analyze This” being the funniest and best, about a mobster (Robert DeNiro) who begins having panic attacks and makes the reluctant doctor (Billy Crystal) an offer to treat him that the doctor can’t refuse. “The Election,” “Notting Hill,” “Pleasantville” and “You’ve Got Mail” were also good.
On our deck on the Fourth of July, we grilled mako shark, which runs up the Jersey coast this time of year, and watched the fireworks that dot the beach towns — Atlantic City, Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon and Stone Harbor. As Keith Richards once said, “It’s good to be here. It’s good to be anywhere.”
Nice country this America. With outrage running on empty, I’d better dial up the editor at “Coastal Living.”