Squibs and Blurbs
by Jerry Zimmerman
TEANECK New Jersey—(Weekly Hubris)—8/29/11—I often glance at a framed picture on a wall in Sally’s house, a cool blue and soft gray photo of a deserted bench on the boardwalk of a Jersey Shore town. The scene looks a bit like a souvenir postcard, though admittedly more moody and atmospheric than the run-of-the-mill snapshot taken on a summer’s vacation. To me, a pleasant enough decoration but not particularly exciting in one way or the other.
One day, as I routinely glimpse it again in passing, I am suddenly transported.
I instantly feel myself on that empty boardwalk of weathered wood, enveloped in the smell and the sting of salty air being bandied about by the winds and slightly pressed upon by the low-hanging, mussy clouds. My ears are filled with the sound of the sea becoming slightly more agitated, the surf no longer content to obediently wash ashore in a regular rhythm. My body is alive to the rare treasure of being alone for a moment on the almost always bustling and noisy boardwalk.
My quick glance has brought me back to myself as a young teenager, on vacation with my family in Atlantic City, when Atlantic City meant a boardwalk and a beach, with crowds of bathers and throngs of hotdog-eaters and taffy-chewers; when the only gambling in sight was kids and families playing Monopoly on their blankets in the sand.
But it isn’t a return to the “good old days” of the beach that knocks me for a loop—it is my complete understanding of being the young teenage boy that I was at that time and in that place.
It is not simply a matter of my recalling a moment like this; amazingly, I have a full sense of inhabiting my whole being at this past time of my life, how I feel, how I assume the way the world works, how my body functions, and how I see myself in relation to the planet around me.
This picture has become a time-machine of the highest order.
I’m not remembering; I’m BEING that boy. I am having a good time, enjoying playing on the beach with my two younger brothers—yet there are some sort of bio-genetic rumblings trying their best to push to the surface of this happily dormant adult-to-be.
Mostly, I need to be by myself, I need to physically be away from my family, a family I love but who seem suddenly to have me glued too tightly to them. The stickiness of connection must be drawn thin to a breaking point; my random sulphurous moods need space and air and more time to dissipate; my bubbling mish-mash of new emotions can’t always bear the light of day or the crush of conversation.
For God’s sake, I need to be by myself!
On this postcard morning, aroused at dawn by some unknown animal instinct, I quietly dress and walk down to the completely deserted beach. I am alone, I am myself, one unfettered human in the light-tinged, golden-rose hues at the center of the cosmos—or so it seems to this particular teen-aged boy from Pennsylvania, wrestling with himself on the cusp of manhood.
I am like the shore this day—eager with energy, off balance, squirmy to move along, anxious for the coming upheaval. I am in my element, communing with the deceptively calm look of the sea and the gentle pricking of the warm sand on my skin. Everything needs to change before it settles, before the whole place becomes the beach and the sky and the sea again, as it always is and as it never was before.
This is the morning, this is the beach, this the boy.
All miraculously captured in a small print in a modest frame, serenely hanging on a familiar wall.
If I inspect the photo carefully, I can see some of the surf spray coming up the beach and I can pick out large tendrils of gray weaving through the clouds. If I look even more closely, I can detect some small whorls of sand catching on the boardwalk. But, no matter how carefully I search, I can’t detect even the smallest trace of some living, breathing human in the scene.
However, I can assure you . . . I am there.