Monday, June 30, 2008

I stand corrected notes that the Mayfair will return to the Asbury Park boardwalk this summer. No word on Taylor ham and cheese sandwiches, though hope springs eternal.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Summer is here with a vengeance, with the classic New Jersey humidity. Since I didn't want to chance a sunburn with my physical scheduled for Tuesday, yesterday's jaunt wasn't to Sandy Hook, but to Asbury Park.

It's the weekend before July 4, and they're still working on the boardwalk concession buildings. Some shops have already opened, though you could barely tell from the boardwalk because the doors were closed and no shop signs are up yet. They do look nice, though, with stucco facings and energy-efficient tinted glass doors.

Not surprisingly, the building that's the nearest to complete is the one closest to Convention Hall. Formerly home to the last operating Howard
Johnson's restaurant in New Jersey, the flying-saucer-shaped restaurant building attached to the rest of the pavilion has been open the whole time. It appears that its upper floor, once HoJo's banquet room, is soon to reopen as a chichi supper club. Other storefronts in the building show 'opening soon' signs that seem to attest that their new occupants will appeal to a similar demographic.

Amid all of this, there's still a forlorn "Place orders here" sign on the outside wall of the next building over, a remnant of the Mayfair hot dog/hamburger/soft ice cream stand that once operated there. The joint always kinda skeeved me out -- and that's saying something, coming from me -- but it left me wondering. Once all of these shops are open, where on the boardwalk is a girl gonna be able to find a decent tube steak, a slice or a Taylor ham and cheese? Mesclun salads and fruit smoothies are nice, don't get me wrong, but to me, they don't quite jive with the Jersey shore.

In an effort to bring Asbury out of its doldrums, are they going too far in the other direction? I'm not advocating the cheap and tawdry honky-tonk atmosphere of Seaside Heights, but let's at least make it possible for a family who actually lives in AP (not in the condos) to go to the beach for the day without having to take out a bank loan. Granted, I'm talking here without a lot of information to go on, but it's not looking good.

Then again, we'll see what the market will bear. The downturn in the real estate market could put a dent in condo sales in the new buildings, and maybe the promised influx of the demographic will come a lot more slowly than originally hoped for.

Just before I drove out of town, I stopped by one of the new developments, with a thought of looking at one of the model properties. Once I walked in the lobby and assessed the decor, though, I turned to leave, walking past two men who sounded as if they were involved in the building's operations and maintenance. A classic Jersey guy, one of them called after me, "Arent'cha even gonna look?"

I was going to ignore him, knowing half the reason he asked was to flirt (those guys always do), but stopped to tell him, "Not my style. I'm a hot dog and fries kinda gal."

Smiling, he replied, "Now, that's what I like!" He and his companion laughed, and I was on my way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

R & R

Now that it's summertime, thoughts turn to vacation, even if you know your work schedule in August is going to be so busy you won't be able to leave the office a few hours early on a Friday afternoon.

The other day I was thinking: when you're a little kid, the cool places to go are theme parks where you can pretend to be an important adult. Maybe it's Cinderella or Batman, or even an Amazon steamboat captain, but in any event, you're not a kid. You're a grownup with a really cool job.

Then, when you get older, you've probably blown your shot at a cool job, so you want nothing more than to be a kid with no job at all. People pay good money to go to Club Getaway, which is just a giant summer camp that doesn't force you to play dodgeball. And think about it: what more is a spa but a nursery for giant newborns? They massage you and coo over you and wrap you up in cozy towels. All that's missing is being burped.

I think we should take it a few steps farther. Forget about being a kid again. Consider all the stuff you weren't allowed to do as a child that you swore that you would do once you grew up. That's what my theme park for adults would be all about. Here are just a few of the attractions:
  • You'll Put Your Eye Out Land -- for fans of A Christmas Story and everyone who was disappointed when lawn darts were taken off the market.
  • Run Up the Down Escalator -- the line would be really long for this one, and it wouldn't move very quickly. Bonus ride: sliding down the railing from the top.
  • Throw Pennies from the Balcony -- maybe you'll hit someone, maybe you won't, but you won't get yelled at.
  • And, of course, don't miss lunch at the Five Second Rule Food Court, where everything on the menu is dropped on the floor just moments before it reaches your table. Extra points for ordering the spaghetti.
Jump on the beds! Play in traffic! Slurp up at the public drinking fountain with your lips directly on the spout! It doesn't matter!

Needless to say, I'll have to find a somewhat less litigious country to build this park in, or the last attraction will be Get eaten by sharks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Getting rid of squirrels -- the Jersey way

For as long as I've known him, every summer my dad has planted enough salad vegetables to keep us and a few lucky neighbors in produce for much of the growing season. It's not unique to suburban New Jersey; in fact, many of us keep a small list of people we keep away from in August, just to avoid having to accept bushels of unwanted zucchini.

With gardens, of course, come pests. Dad has never been big on using chemicals or poisons in the garden, and over the years he's found his own ways of dealing with the random bugs, worms and small animals that come calling. One, though, is both persistent and perennial.

The organized crime syndicate of the suburban garden is the squirrel family. They hone their skills in the winter through attempts to steal from my mom's bird feeders. In the summer they escalate to eating the apples (only the ones on the trees, mind you, not the ones that have fallen to the ground). And of course, when they do get to their quarry, they take one bite of the fruit and move on to the next one. Needless to say, it's rather frustrating when you've been watching a particularly nice tomato grow to perfection, only to check the garden in the morning to find it's been sampled by a fluffy-tailed rodent.

Dad has tried many ways to address the problem. Chicken wire did nothing but make the garden look like some sort of detention camp. He set hav-a-heart traps and released the thief into the woods across the street, but it only returned (he swears it's the exact, same squirrel every time). He even went as far as to pull out his old slingshot, which the squirrel laughed at once he realized it would only knock him out for a bit. Dad's a really bright guy, totally sane, but the thought he put into some of the ideas left me wondering if there might be other projects that would benefit from his ingenuity more. Like solving the global warming problem, perhaps.

Then one day he told me he thought he had the solution to the one-squirrel crime wave. Yes, he was still using the trap, but he wasn't releasing the culprit across the street. He was bringing it to another, bigger county park about five miles away. That seemed like a sensible solution for a recidivist squirrel. But I started getting worried when he continued his account of the, uh, disposal.

"I put him and the trap into the trunk," Dad explained, sounding a little like Paulie Walnuts explaining how he and Chrissy got the Russian to the Pine Barrens. "Then I drove around for a bit before I headed to the park, so he'd get disoriented." Between that, the distance and the fact that the park is on the other side of a very busy highway, Dad was reasonably confident that the squirrel wouldn't come back. In fact, I think he even suggested that when the squirrel's family noticed he'd disappeared, they'd think twice about coming into the garden. Little would they know that the capo-di-capo of the Family was living in witness protection.

I guess I should have been relieved it only went that far. My parents do have 'connected' neighbors, and while they aren't the type to ask for favors, who knows what could have happened in exchange for some zucchini flowers and basil.

All I can say is, God forbid a deer gets in the yard.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

It's coming along ....

Another beautiful summery day, another trip to Asbury Park. I'd thought it would be a little too cool to hit the beach at Sandy Hook, so I figured I could head on down to the boardwalk if the Parkway traffic wasn't onerous.

I really should have packed for the beach. By the time I got down there, it was 80 degrees, beautiful sunshine, perfect for setting a towel on the sand and digging into a good book. There was lots of foot traffic on the boardwalk and a lot of cars parked nearby; I didn't realize it, but there was a big Gay Pride celebration going on a couple of blocks inland, so lots of people were coming in for that, too. On the boardwalk, one of the pavilions is nearly fully renovated, with signs saying the stores will open in a few weeks.

There's always a surprise for me when I head down there, and this time it was the Carousel Room of the Casino. Long boarded up, its intricate windows protected, it was always surrounded by a fence far enough away to allow me to get a decent photo. The photo to the left gives you an idea of the distance I had to contend with, even on my last visit just a few weeks ago. I could have gotten physically closer, but not by much, and my view would have been obstructed by chain link fencing.

This time, the temporary fencing was close enough to the building that I could walk right up. I've always liked the Medusa-like brass face medallions above the doorways, and now was my chance to get a closer look. The whole exterior is covered in intricate pressed metal designs -- seahorses, spiderwebs on the cornices.

As I walked around from the street-side toward a body of water on the other side, I noticed that the fencing stopped. I could walk right in if I wanted to.

For a moment, I hesitated, but then a cyclist zoomed past me and wheeled right in. Hey, I said, if he can do it, so can I. Nothing was stopping either of us -- no warning signs, no closed gates, no sawhorses, no alarms.

The cyclist told me that the room had been open like that since Friday, and that the plan was that there'd eventually be a food court of some type there. No carousel, I guess. That's a shame. Looking up at the vaulted circular ceiling, I could imagine old, Edison-style incandescent lightbulbs ringing the rafters, gaily illuminating the space, the song of a calliope livening up the room.

In any case, I was surprised to find that the creepy feeing I had had -- and sometimes still have -- when entering the Casino was entirely absent when I walked into the Carousel Room. Maybe it was the openness of light and air streaming in. Or maybe it was that so much of it was new -- the ceiling, the poured-concrete floor, a plaster wall not far away. In any case, it felt hopeful rather than eerie.

Later I found that there's to be an art show there next Saturday, as part of the monthly First Night downtown. It'll be the first real life there in a long time; the last use was as a flea market. I guess one can hope.