BEER MYSTIC Burp #5
Before Jersey Shore was a TV show, it was already a socio-anthropological phenomenon of some steroidal bonehead beach bum magnitude. Summers were and still are an excuse for so-called [or seemingly] normal people to act insane – a vicious, almost malicious letting go ritual – blame it on bad rock, questionable fashion decisions, steroids, cheap beer or drinks that rhyme with Draino.
When people ask you where you’re from you gotta say something. The advantage of answering Holland, Amsterdam, NJ, Upstate NY, the Midwest, NYC, Mars, depends on the interrogator and how you define “from”: place born, place of lost virginity, guzzled first Genessee Cream Aleor spent your formative years; formative here meaning where you had the most heartfelt induction into life’s disappointments and mysteries – i.e., age 6-13. I lived in Central Jersey, Edison to be exact, wedged between various toxic waste dumps about to happen – Pittsburgh Paints, Johnson & Johnson, a Ford plant, there were more… I remember the NYC papers in the mid-80s publishing a map of designated toxic waste dumps in the metropolitan area and my forefinger touching 3 or 4 of them in areas we used to tromp around in in leaky boots.
I spent a second stint in Jersey when I lived with punkette-artist VH in Ocean Grove, a Methodist mecca and a place where you either voted Republican or you didn’t live there or at least didn’t walk around with an Angela Davis or even a Hubert Humphrey tee shirt on. We fled full-time NY, lived mere blocks from the ocean, 90 minutes from the city taking trains that, at that time, were filled with humid steam, rolling and swaying like something turd-colored rolling out of pre-Revolution Russia. Were we pioneers or quitters – you decide. We divided our time between Ocean Groveand the floors of NYC friends who in exchange would vacation down on the shore.
You could hear the ocean on Mt. Hermon Way if you opened a window and here we wrote and did art and sang along to the Fall, Marianne Faithfull and Lotte Lenya. The next day we took a walk, a long, long walk, a walk that took us to strange jetties, past the middle of America, convenience stores where people darted in and then dashed out with cartons of cigarettes under their arms like they’d just robbed the place. Here you saw things falling apart, rusting, abandoned factories, shuttered warehouses, take-out joints with grimy awnings and wobbly plastic patio chairs, cars with missing hubcaps and peeling pin-striping, existence literally falling into the sea in places like Long Branch.
It was something like May 1984 when me and VH wandered down to Manasquan with our strange tight print pants, and outrageous [relatively speaking] hair styles, which, back then along with music formed the barricades you manned, the principles you defended in the conflagrations surrounding identity politics. I can wear my hair any way I want – except along the Jersey Shore, c. 1984, where there were laws that governed normalcy and undue provocation. Maybe they still engage in these battles, enforce these unspoken laws, I don’t know.
Provocation is “fun” in the danger it embraces: only a week earlier in our very own neighborhood – for Christ sakes! – two teens threw half eaten donuts and a can of something at us – really! – yelling epithets they may have learned from their parental coaches. Young teens for Christ for Christ sake in a Christian community!
Halfway on this 15-mile journey you encounter Manasquan’s Carlson’s Corner, a simple seafood outpost with a view and great fishwiches – thick, fresh and unpretentious. Sitting outside at one of Carlson’s picnic tables we took in the view of the inlet, the ambient caw of gulls, the sun glimmering off tiny slices of water.
Our return journey was something like if you saw it in a documentary you would think it was all exaggerated or faked. Let me start with this: being visually provocative has its ups but twice as many downs. Just down the street from Carlson’s some men-boys leaped out of a souped up muscle car with puffed up chests, menacing eyes, weapons maybe close at hand, to confront us as if were trespassing in their kingdom with shit on our sneaks. Their heads tossed back, offering a scary glance of their indignant and flaring nostrils, and the one with thumbs in waist of jeans inquired “ What the FOHK are you doin’ here? And what the FOHK are you? Duh zoo open its gates?”
VH figured it must be a conversation or an interview and earnestly responded, “We’re artists out for a walk.” And something about it being a free country.
“Yea, but it’s OUR free country and we’re free to enforce shit.”
And another mister menace chimed in with: “Nobody’s talkin to you bow wow.” That was supposed to get my gall so I would defend her honor, which, of course, is an old trick that would allow them to justifiably pummel me to within an inch of my death in the name of self-defense.
“Fohk you! You FOHKIN’ faggots. Get a fohkin car!” With ugly images on ugly tee shirts, ugly slouches, ugly misshapen hair, menacing grimaces with ugly teeth, all in all their grimy demeanor somehow mirrored their plundered surroundings [except, of course, for the beach with its brilliant sand and water and salt mingling with the aroma of perfumed suntan lotion].
Even a few gals, usually more reticent or less testosterone-amped, got into the act to show they were just as much men as the boys. Sexy how they enamored themselves to their men. Chucklechuckle wotchu you gonna do about it. Their unbridled and transparent snarls of total dissatisfaction taken to a point beyond lingual articulation – if disgruntlement is not a word it should be.
“Faggot punks go back to your FOHKin faggot city!!” And the one came at me and I easily deflected his flails with my arms. He was fucked up on something. You stand there and wonder would it be better for him to have been sober, more drunk, more drunk or dead drunk – or stoned. Or in the army. He climbed back into his friend’s car; they zipped off, that distinct perfume of burning rubber, onlookers gazing, looking for blame: suits you right the way you dress.
A bit later in Brielle, a guy came after us like he was a tag-team member of the earlier guy. He had also signed a contract somewhere in a backroom to punch my lights out – me and my belligerent, pesky pacifism or whatever. He came flailing at me only to have noble VH, adorable and diminutive punkette, intercede because hell or FOHKIN’ heck or the Jersey Shore knows no wrath like a woman pissed off indignant. She decided on a change in tactics right there on the sidewalk – traffic rubberneckers, gawkers squinting over sunglasses. We’d ask them in all earnestness what it was exactly that so bothered them about us. Response: “You think you own the FOHKIN’ world.”
“We live here and we’re just out for a walk.” Then something about a relative on her death bed and how that had taken its toll… Very heart to heart and that usually humanized us enough for them to back off some what. Not quite ready to shake our hands or share their bongs but, you know, like if you talk soothingly to a snarling beast… And, if you got past all the bluster, you saw Henry, your friend with a report card full of Cs and Ds. You saw a kind of suffering or uncertainty that knew no precise adjectives. If I was a saint I might have embraced him but I’m not.
Sorry, at that point but we went a bit giddy, the absurdity of it all doing us in. We began yelling funny abuse at cars passing by, yelling at ourselves the very things we imagined they might yell back. [Advice: don’t flash the peace sign around here, it means fuck you or something like that].
Ultimately, we took refuge in “our” favorite place, Vic’s Italian Restaurant along Main in Bradley Beach. We were led to “our” table in a corner, that “our” waitress had selected months ago so we wouldn’t disturb the dull-eyed ambience of the other patrons at larger tables celebrating some intramural victory with a trophy and song and plenty of diet soft drinks. Beatrice was a darling. I remember her early on observing “I don’t know what it is about you two but you make people nervous.”
We instantly ordered a rum & venom and when she returned with our poison, we quickly ordered another, this time a rum & bile and then just stared at the walls of family photos and as always read the family history on the menu: “3 generations of Vic’s Bar & Restaurant has been serving authentic and sought after Italian food at the Jersey Shore. Vittorio “Vic” Giunco and his wife Carmella came from Genoa, Italy and opened Vic’s Tap Room shortly after prohibition was repealed in 1933. In 1947, Vic and son John added our now famous thin crust tomato pie “pizza” to the menu…”
We heaved a sigh and drained our rum & biles then took stock of our day, and with zealous astonishment listed the day’s indignations: the stoning, the canning, all proof that Reagan was the living celluloid embodiment of jackboot politics. The screeching tires, the revved engines of Bitchin’ Camaros, hoots and howls ululated from passing cars, long chains of curse-inflected invective, spat at, barfing noises, car stereos turned up loud past volume setting 13, angry horns laid upon with extra oomph, the scary Hollywood 180s that some managed mid-Main Street in efforts to make a swerving pass at us, arms reaching out and they screaming at the top of their lungs, several empty or half-filled cans of whatever hurled our way like grenades and when they burst on the walk a big whoop from the car and then the personal, physical confrontations, a gun [maybe real] aimed at us and the guy mouthing the words clearly: “Bang, you’re FOHKIN’ dead” in slo-mo like in recent Hollywood movies. We quickly ordered our first pitcher of very cold Ballantine’s beer.
We remembered previous encounters in Vic’s and how Beatrice intervened on our behalf and ever since, we left gigantic tips [25%]: the passing grunts, the groans, the rolling eyes, bumping into our chairs, the leers, the giggles, the loud whispers, the guffaws and pointing but we never really felt threatened in Vic’s. Maybe Beatrice had some Patti Smith in her, you know, like “I’m gonna be somebody, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City, / I’m gonna be so big…” Beatrice was like a guardian angel and when she took our order she whispered over her notepad: “You don’t worry about them. It’s not you, you’re cool. It’s them that’s the problem.”
I noticed our hands were shaking our wrists, which shook our elbows, hell, her entire upper torso was shaking. We ordered another pitcher of soothing Ballantine’s [beer was just beer back then] and that is all we really wanted at that moment – a normal beer [literary allusion to a Suicidal Tendencies song]. Midway into the third pitcher we could toast our escape from LES snobbery where every purchase be it toilet paper or rolling papers was freighted with way too much signification [fashion, appearance, status]. We nibbled at the last crusts of our very thin crust pizza and made a toast to the very abnormal and scary details of normalcy that we had thus far conquered and survived while patrons on the other side, as if on cue, were singing along to Christopher Cross, Phil Collins, “Ghostbusters,” BrOOce…
We stopped at Bradley Liquor run by the sweetest couple, both of whom painted landscapes, mostly seascapes with swooping sea gulls and truly appreciated that we – as discerning New Yorkers – could compliment their paintings. We took home a sixer of his recommended on-sale Val-Dieu, a blond abbey beer from Belgium. “The recipe goes back to 1216. It’s re-fermented in the bottle and the name means something like ‘the valley of God’,” he noted with a grin as we departed, knowing full well we lived in “God’s square mile.”
It’s this kind of adventure that makes me want to encourage artistic outposts like South Jersey Underground with their anything-goes ethos, of fostering the “other,” the “abnormal” voice and that is why, when I was looking for a Jersey host for the BEER MYSTIC I was happy when I found SJU and even happier when they reacted so enthusiastically to hosting BEER MYSTIC excerpts 9-10.