My Aunt Sonya has invited us out for a couple of days to her lovely home on the Jersey Shore. The entire town of Ocean Grove has a quaintness code that is enforced seriously. It is a shock of Victorianna. The wooden houses stand cheek to cheek, displaying their lacy fretwork and fancy porch rails, chintz curtains like drooping eyelids, and exteriors tarted up in the 15 approved colors. I could also draw them as a flock of creaking wedding cakes admiring their reflections in a briny mirror.
Did you know that "chintz" is a word adapted from Hindi meaning “spotted”? Calico cloth was stained or painted in India sold to Europeans, starting in 1600s, and became the general name of floral patterned fabric. The word chintz seems to call forth the word cosy and that immediately suggests this town would make a great background for a whodunit mystery.
As we walked in the almost warm surf, I noticed how white everyone is. The town's summer population is swelled by visiting church folk who fill the giant tabernacle and eat lots of ice cream. They are friendly and say hello as we stroll past their tent cabins. There is a 10 year waiting list to rent one of these tents. They are passed down through families... I feel like an anthropologist in a unique cultural niche. There are also locals who have the look of year round hardscrabble lives. Older men and woman with tans, tats--their bodies and smiles noticeably unsymmetrical, and attitudes that suggest, however dry the town is, they are not.
So what am I to the Methodists or locals here? How do they see us? With no doubt we look like Methodists (white, middle aged, wearing fresh tee shirts and displaying no body art) but if one were to listen, we talk a load of writer's nonsense peppered with pungent unchurchy phrases. Of course, there is the third population in the town, people like my aunt. Comfortably funded types who buy or rent homes here, some of them Jewish, others gay, all artsy, smart, and in love with decor... and then there are the shopkeepers, craftspeople, and people that fix and restore wood and pipes.
If I were giving a writing prompt I'd ask for a description of a herring seagull by each of the four groups: tent camp Methodist child, one armed pony tailed man who does small jobs, the elderly homeowner who is determined to recreate her house into a prize worthy magazine feature, and the waitress on break from a lunch spot that uses bad puns to name its specials.
I noticed the young gulls with tan and gray spots eyeing me intelligently from small dunes. They molt into birds with white heads, gray wings, and a bright red spot on their lower bill. Some of the young ones were exactly in between, as if I had merged two photos. All of them waddle on sand and hover in the air. Where, exactly, is the poetry in that? I guess as a tourist, the poet in me has gone on vacation.