Sunday, August 31, 2008

In tatters ....

Spent some time at Fort Hancock / Sandy Hook today, noting the accelerating decay of the fort's buildings. Seems every time I stroll down Officer's Row, I see another sign of benign neglect. Allegedly there's a plan in place to restore many of the buildings and make them into offices, or hospitality centers, but whoever's doing it seems to be taking their own sweet time. Meanwhile, I grow more suspicious as I see broad swaths of tar paper on roofs where the shingles have blown off.

And wooden porches continue to deteriorate to the point where they give, dangerously, when you put weight into your step as you trod on them. Probably worst of all, I'm seeing more and more windows whose panes are missing, allowing who knows what to get inside. And the upper half of one double hung window has dropped, its counterweight probably having snapped in the frame.

Kinda makes you wonder if they'll let them rot to the point where more than half of them won't be salvageable. Then, oops, well they'll have to just tear them down. The development agency that redid New Brunswick took the same approach to a host of old buildings in what used to be the wharf area of the city. Dozens of buildings that had been there since Colonial days were just shut up and left to sit until they were too dangerous to enter. They got torn down, conveniently, in favor of new townhouses. Call me cynical, but...

Meanwhile, I continue to notice things I hadn't seen before, mostly window dressing. Who moved out and left the curtains behind? And 30 years later, they still hang, faded and filmy, but still intact. I've never felt them to be haunted, but as I walk between the houses to check them out, I think about some sort of spirit peering out from behind those curtains, watching me. Watching something.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Knocking a buzzard off the proverbial wagon...

Yesterday I made a huge mistake. It all started with this video, taken at the oyster (clam?) processing plant at the piers at Bivalve, gateway to Shellpile. Watch and listen...

Now, most of the people I mentioned in the video were either at the wholesale shellfish market, or taking their boats out to the Maurice River. And I realize now that the reason I hadn't seen anyone on previous trips was because it was the dead of winter. When, by the way, the smell wasn't quite as bad, but still present.

To reach the spot where I took this video, I drove down a road whose macadam pavement surrendered to finely crushed shell. I splashed through some watery potholes along the way. And thankfully, I never got out of the car.

From there, I drove back up to State Route 49, noticing as I went along, that the smell, though faint, seemed to permeate the area. Funny, but I hadn't noticed it on the way in. Gosh, I thought -- how awful must it be to live around there with that smell! Maybe one gets used to it over time...

Route 49 is about five miles from Shellpile, and I made my usual stop at the Wawa at the corner of the Mauricetown Bypass. Getting out of the car in the crowded parking lot, I observed the smell was still present. Oy. Don't these people notice it?

Taking back roads to the Parkway, it finally dawned on me: somehow I was bringing the smell of spoiled raw shellfish with me. A rogue oyster hitching on my catalytic converter? Hmm... And then it hit me: the potholes. I'd unwittingly splashed rancid bivalve leachate all over the undercarriage of the car. The stink followed me all the way home... made a temporary home in my garage... and finally departed at the car wash this afternoon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Living the faith

Earlier today I happened on a story on about missionaries who are refusing to leave a Chinese airport after being stopped for bringing Bibles into the country. It seems that while the Communists are okay with you bringing in scripture (Bible, Koran, Torah, what have you) for your personal use, they have a bit of a problem with you bringing in enough to share with 300 of your closest friends. The missionaries refuse to leave till their Bibles are returned to them.

In any case, this story reminded me of a conversation I had with an innkeeper when I stayed at a nice bed and breakfast called the White Egret, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's a small place -- just three guest rooms -- and it was off-season when I was there, so I was the only guest. That can be a little uncomfortable, as you don't know whether the innkeeper understands the boundary between friendly morning chat and being a total pest. Fortunately, Joanne knew just how much conversation was enough in the mornings.

Interestingly, in just a couple of days and a few brief conversations, I learned that Joanne is a woman of deep faith who lives by her beliefs. Very matter of factly, she mentioned that she and her husband were going to Guatemala in a few weeks to help build schools, something they and their fellow church members did often. Being a wary skeptic, I waited for what I thought would be the questions about whether I'd accepted Christ as my personal savior ... you know, the typical Bible-thumping spiel. But it didn't come. She just mentioned her good works the way you or I might mention that we went down the shore on a summer weekend. In fact, I think it came up after she expressed some wonderment that I'd drive to North Carolina all by myself, a young woman on my own.

What really threw me, though, was when she mentioned that she'd done some missionary work in China when she was younger. I'd say she was in her mid-fifties, so this would have put it back in the 60's or so. She and a friend packed some Bibles in their suitcases and somehow found their way to China. They were detained by guards at the border.

As matter-of-factly as she talked about China, she mentioned that she and her friend were beaten by the guards for daring to bring religious materials into the country. I can't remember how they got out, but I do recall the pure equanimity she displayed in relating the story. She clearly wasn't telling me for shock value or sympathy, and if she harbors any resentment, she sure didn't show it. Nor did she express any of that hyperbolic, holier-than-thou "oh, I pray for their heathen souls" crap. It seemed she'd made peace with the situation, and that's all she needed to do. It was just something that happened in her life, while she was following her calling.

Again, here was another regular person who does extraordinary acts and had suffered for doing the right thing, but you'd never know it. In a world where so many people demand a parade when they give a dollar to charity, it's always remarkable to meet someone who's done so much and asked nothing in return. I guess that's what true faith and true humanity really is.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Avon calling.....

Friday, August 08, 2008

The new bennies

There's a group organized on the Jersey Shore called Benny Go Home, Benny being the derogatory term for partying summer rental people in shore communities. The line is that the name comes from the initial letters of the cities they come from: Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York -- but the term has been pinned more loosely on anyone who lives north of the Raritan River.

The Benny Go Home people eschew the geographic qualifications in favor of assessing potential Benny-tude by attitude. In other words, the real Bennies are those who disrespect the shore communities and their residents by treating the towns like their own personal playpen -- and shitting all over it.

Ken Pringle, the mayor of shore town Belmar, recently got into trouble for profiling the unfortunate Benny subspecies, the Staten Island Guido, in his Belmar Summer Rental News. During his long tenure, Mayor Pringle has moved to turn the town from a raucous 24 hour party to a more family-oriented destination, and a nice place for year-rounders to live. It's a worthy goal, but he should know better than to use his own press to malign the only place on the East Coast that's more misunderstood than New Jersey. His wife was PR flack for Jim McGreevey, so maybe that says something.

All that said, I've been noticing my own form of Benny -- those coming from Manhattan on the Sandy Hook ferry. For a while, they only came for the clothing optional Gunnison Beach, so I never ran into any of them unless that beach was overcrowded and they deigned to keep their pants on. But now that more people have heard about the beach and the nice boat ride, they seem to be all over. Unfortunately, my favorite beach in the park is the one closest to the ferry landing, so I get an earful. You can see the Brooklyn skyline and the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, which I've heard referred to as Manhattan and the George Washington Bridge, respectively.

Now, I don't have anything against people coming from the city to ride their bikes or hang out on the beach (well, as long as they're not sitting too close to me). I do take issue with those who act as if the place didn't exist before they first heard of it. An apt analogue is the Ugly American who goes to another country and marvels when they find their hosts have running water, electricity and pizza.

Last week, I was treated to the prattling of two couples with kids, including an eight-year-old boy who was allowed to run around naked. They seemed surprised that there was a nice beach in New Jersey. I overheard one of the women telling the other adults, "Oh, there used to be medical waste washing onshore all the time. Then they cleaned it up and built all of this a few years ago, and started running the ferry from New York, and people started coming here." Typical hipster New York thinking -- everything was shit before you discovered it. The medical waste issue was for a few months something like 15 years ago. Gateway National Recreation Area was opened in 1974, thank you, and Sandy Hook was a state park before that.

Maybe I'm not being tolerant, but it seems to me that if you're at someone else's house, you treat it with respect and don't impose your ignorance and superiority on it. It led me to wonder if Pringle's Staten Island Bennies and the Manhattan Bennies were really all that different. Which, of course, would probably mortify the Manhattanites. Who don't realize there are some nice beaches in Staten Island, too, and the ferry to get there is free.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Huzzah! Blog the Blogger!

Every once in a while I check Google Analytics for a sense of the traffic Shellpile gets. I think we've topped out at about five or six hits on a given day, only a few that stay for more than a few seconds. It's fun to see we've gotten repeat visits from as far away as South Korea. Needless to say, I'm not in it for the traffic, but it's great to get the occasional affirmation from a stranger who stumbles on the site.

So, I just checked and found that my July 4 post on the Morristown celebration had gotten a few hits over the past few weeks. That's great, but I wondered why -- I hadn't promoted it or linked to any other sites. Doing a little detective work through Analytics, I discovered that the Morristown Green section of had quoted directly from that page! How cool is that?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Everybody's got a story ... but maybe not a home

Surely you've seen the 44 pound cat who made the news last week. Not only tragically obese but a victim of foreclosure, Powder the cat hit the media jackpot when he ended up in the animal shelter in Camden County, NJ. After CNN, NBC and a ton of other media outlets ran his story, hundreds of people contacted the shelter to adopt him. The shelter is now evaluating candidates and expects to have Powder in his new home in a week.

This is a common occurrence: a stray dog has an unusual experience, or a cat hoarder's home is raided, and people come out of the woodwork to adopt them. And, of course, the Katrina dogs and cats were a hot commodity for a while. The common theme is that it seems people are compelled to adopt that one dog or cat. Okay, maybe that's too cynical; perhaps they were truly moved by the circumstances and want to help that particular animal. In any case, you have to wonder if they'd be just as adamant about adopting one of the many anonymous cats and dogs who languish in our nation's shelters.

Each stray has his or her own story, their own little tragedy. The shelter where I volunteered was fortunate to have someone who wrote great profiles for each animal's page. Nonetheless, I sometimes wondered if it might do the animals some good if we, well, elaborated on their circumstances just a tad.

What about that litter of kittens? Maybe they're all named after cities because they were born in a FedEx truck on the Turnpike.

Or how about that pit bull in the corner crate? He stopped a bank robbery!

If it finds them a good home, what's the harm? What, after five years is the dog going to fess up that the war stories are all BS? It's not like he's going to run for president. And even if he did, it wouldn't make a difference.