Remember that day at the beach? That July day the sand scorched your feet, the seagulls snatched your lunch, competing radios blared Top 40 hits, and sun worshippers obediently turned over at Cousin Brucie’s command to “roll your bod”?
I may be dating myself with some of those images, but my point is, everybody has a story about the beach, their own Coppertone memories suffused with frozen custard flavors, the slam of the surf, the minty sheen of Noxema. (My latest beach story, a Hurricane Sandy-inspired novel called AT WAVE’S END, arrives August 15.)
And last week, on a balmy beach night at The Asbury Hotel, seven individuals from all walks of life bravely recounted their transformative seashore adventures during the Jersey Storytellers Project.
Jersey shore fixture and restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach kicked off this second installment, themed “A Day at the Beach.” Raised in Belmar in the “day-glo” eighties, Schlossbach described the terror of spotting a fin nearby while swimming in the ocean with a girlfriend. “It brings you to the vastness of the ocean, when you are paralyzed in that moment.”
The experience sparked a revelation for the woman who married a surfboard printer and whose cell phone summons her with the caw of seagulls. “I am just this little girl in this big ocean.”
In contrast, “Clerks” actor Brian O’Halloran’s vivid imagery drew laughs. “Baby oil was like jet fuel for sunning,” he recalled of his family’s early day trips to Orchard and Jones Beaches. “Our sunburn was warm enough to cook pancakes.”
Later, as a Rutgers University student, he would drive down to the Manasquan inlet at night and climb into a lifeguard chair to clear his head.
“I didn’t need to be rescued,” insisted Cynthia Sallinas, the Asbury Park Press storytelling coach who earlier in the evening confessed to me her terror of getting on stage. And, true to her word, Sallinas didn’t require any assistance as she fearlessly described the day she put some male surfers in their place as she swam off a Costa Rican beach, wowing them with her backstroke.
Sallinas did accept one piece of advice they offered, however: pee in your wetsuit to stay warm in cold water.
Self-described spoken word poet and hip-hop artist Chris Rockwell lamented the disruption of beach life once MTV’s “Jersey Shore” came along, clogging Seaside Heights with camera crews that limited parking and slowed traffic.
In particular, he recalled MTV’s treatment of a Seaside street musician, a veteran of the Iraqi war. Spotting a camera crew heading right toward the busker one night, Rockwell felt elated. “This is going to be his chance,” he thought, only to be crushed when the crew sailed right by the veteran. “I remember when MTV was about the music, but they didn’t even notice him.”
The snub saddened him, until, upon reflection, Rockwell realized he was projecting his own aspirations onto that moment. “How did I know that the best moment of [the veteran’s] life wasn’t right then, playing his music at the beach?”
As if to emphasize that point, Rockwell ended his story right there and broke into song.
The night’s storytellers also included Elizabeth “Boo” Trundle, MOTH StorySlam winner and author of Seventies Gold, and Earl Jones, a YouTube rapper.
But in my opinion, at least, the night’s story about a day at the beach belonged to Laura Burns, a Hazlet teacher and New Jersey Educator of the Year. Because who doesn’t remember falling in love at the shore? Laura’s day at the beach began in Lavallette the summer she was nineteen and about to start college.
“It was so early, I remember the sand still being cold.” She spotted a cute guy in the ocean, a guy so cute she decided to ditch a boyfriend arriving later that day. “I just met this guy and I’m going to marry him,” she told her mother before setting off on a stroll with him.
“We walked to Seaside, and talked about everything and nothing. I knew that was my guy.”
At one point during her story, Laura pointed to her “guy” Owen, who leaned against a back wall of the hotel conference space, listening.
Riding the perfect wave, flirting with a guy in the water, and falling in love.
If that’s not a perfect Jersey beach day, I don’t know what is.
Got a story to tell? The next installments of the Jersey Storytellers Project are scheduled for October 12 (On Love and Loss) and December 13 (Home for the Holidays) at 7 pm at The Asbury Hotel, 210 5th Avenue, Asbury Park.