Blissful Moments With Just the Right Amount of Terror

A rare occasion: all seems well aboard the Barrel of Monkeys

A rare occasion: all seems well aboard the Barrel of Monkeys

My dad would have turned 60 this week. He exemplified all the phrases the French use to describe an excellent human being – joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi…OK, I’m out. Je ne parle pas Francais. (Thanks, Google Translate!) But you get what I mean. You really and truly cannot find a soul on God’s green earth that had met my dad and didn’t love him. Well, except for the people he cut off on the road and on the sea – not the world’s greatest driver of cars and certainly not of boats, as you’re about to find out. To honor this occasion, I solicited happy memories and hilarious stories of my father’s many mishaps. I was shooting for 60, but I should have known this request would far surpass my expectations.

Below are submissions from family and friends presented in no particular order and with minimal editing, save for some snarky insertions from yours truly. Because most people had several stories to share, I tried to keep these in bite-sized chunks. To me, the most astounding thing is that there were so few repeats of stories, except the broken wine jugs and the fruit flies. You’ll see common themes: lots of vacation follies and a lot of people sensing they were in danger while out on our old boat, the Barrel of Monkeys. Yet, we all kept taking trips and setting sail – not wanting to miss the adventure. I stole the title from AJ’s story, the last of the bunch. I promise it will make sense when you get to Uncle Anthony’s stories.  Continue reading


After a Hurricane Comes a…Meh.

We're almost not homeless!

We’re almost not homeless!

I remember this same weekend last year like it was yesterday. I woke up early that Saturday morning with an ungodly hangover and suffered through a bus ride to New Jersey for my 10-year high school reunion. A few girls asked what I thought about the impending storm and I shrugged it off with an “Ehhhhh, Irene wasn’t toooooo bad.” The next day, I checked the MegaBus site compulsively for updates about my scheduled departure since it seemed that every other transit line was canceling trips, even though no rain had fallen yet. I met Lauren at the diner because she happened to be home from New Orleans the same weekend. More hurricane talk, more “I mean, it’ll be fiiiiine?”. She offered some encouraging information about the power of mold bombs immediately after flooding.

Despite secretly wishing for my bus to be canceled (I was hoping for an extra day or two at home), it took off, the last bus to make it out of New Jersey in advance of Sandy. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that, had I not made it to that bus, I would have been stranded for weeks. In the dark, in the cold, with little access to the outside world or any perspective on the carnage up and down my beautiful, beloved Jersey Shore. All the mold bombs in the world couldn’t have helped our charming little bungalow, after the island was off-limits for three weeks.

It seems like this week, every media outlet is offering retrospective stories – about where we are, about what we’ve learned, about what progress there’s been, but mainly about the lack thereof. A majority of our neighborhood’s houses sit vacant and gutted. Whole tracts of land on the Barrier Island where houses once stood have become open space. I hope those cringe-inducing Stronger Than The Storm commercials are played in marketing classes for years to come to highlight glossed-over ineptitude and the woeful decline of jingle writing as an art.

My mom has fought tooth and nail to claw her way through a bureaucratic system whose goal seems to be keeping funding from the people who need it most. A year ago, it warmed your heart to see all the support pouring in as millions of dollars racked up; it seemed implausible that my widowed mother would have to pay out of pocket to fix our only home. In the months that have separated us from the most destructive storm I hope we’ll ever see, she’s gotten a loan and used it to pay for a brand new house, but that’s money that needs to be repaid. The state’s RREM program has yet to disburse any money from what I can tell and they keep moving the goal posts for homeowners who are still waiting a year later. Continue reading

Thank You, I Love You, I’m Sorry, Goodbye: When Hurricane Sandy Makes You Demolish Your Home

My little house in the snow.

My little house in the snow.

I knew it was coming, knew it had to happen and know that its occurrence is simply the first step in a string of good things to come. Recently, I found myself growing annoyed that it hadn’t happened yet. But once I found out it was scheduled, once it became real, it punched me in the gut and all but knocked the wind out of me.

Our lovely little house at 202 Joseph St. meets its demise Wednesday after sitting uninhabitable all winter and spring, gutted to its studs and stripped bare of all the wonders inside that made it our home. Like I said, I knew this was coming for months, but wasn’t anywhere near prepared to hear the news. I’ve powered through this whole process knowing that the demolition of the house would usher in a new house, a bigger, more storm-proof one with swankier amenities and enough space for everyone to get their own bedroom. A house just like that had been the plan for my parents’ retirement, except they were going to give our current structure a makeover because it was so important to keep the original structure, which my grandfather and great uncle built with their own hands.

I’m trying to think positive thoughts here, but it’s hard. I knew I’d be sad when it was finally time to tear the old girl down – I just didn’t think I’d be this sad. Continue reading

When Life Crumbles Your Cookie

I have failed you, green besprinkled friends.

I have failed you, green besprinkled friends.

We all know what to do you when life hands you lemons, just as we all know about cookies and the way they sometimes crumble. On my way back to Boston after a nomadic Memorial Day Weekend, I had in my bag some rather precious cargo – two Ninja Turtle cookies from the greatest business establishment known to man, Colonial Bakery. A series of unfavorable circumstances (crazy early flight, lots of rushing, bag packed with a laptop and other stuff) convened to put me awkwardly juggling bags, shoes, jackets and my boarding pass through security. In the hubbub, my cookies crumbled to the fine pulp at your left. (Don’t worry, I was going to be nice and share with the RyGuy.)

I trudged straight to work upon landing and plopped the cookie dust on my desk, sneaking occasional chunks while pondering what to do with this travesty. I shared this picture on Facebook to garner sympathy for my grave misfortune. Condolences rolled in from my Shore friends and I wondered exactly how I would manage eating these.

Then, genius struck: ice cream topping! Two of my most favorite guys (Ben & Jerry – what, did you think I was going to say Mark & AJ?) have been blending baked goods into ice cream for years. Obviously, these two pulverized Michaelangelos were just waiting for the sundae treatment. I shared my stroke of fat kid genius on Facebook and collected a few “likes” of agreement. See, I always try my best to find the upside of a down situation (or else I surely would have cracked up years ago) and this pickle turned into a win-win-win-win (in Michael Scott parlance). Eventually. Continue reading

Hurricane Sandy: Still an Enormous Bitch


My story about the LBI Trailer Park. Clearly, I’m not a photographer.


But this was a good one. Not sure if it’s still online anywhere. I may just retype it in one day. You should read it.

Hurricane Sandy, aside from being a horrible jerk, has so many knotted, sticky stories in her undercurrent that we’ll have to untangle in the coming months and years. There’s the story about how messed up the flood insurance system is. There’s the story about us damaging our planet so much that it’s turning against us. There’s the substory of that one that our seas are rising and some of our favorite places are in very real danger of extinction.

One of the stories that makes me the saddest is that the iteration of our country that gave us our Shore is gone. If you’re unfamiliar, hearing that hundreds of vacation homes were ruined may not stir many emotions. These don’t all belong to millionaires though.  In most areas of the 127-mile coastline, small unassuming bungalows are passed down through regular families over many decades – like mine. More on that in a second.

In my old life as a reporter, I wrote a story about the only trailer park on Long Beach Island. LBI went through a similar period of destruction and rebuilding after the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. I’m sure lots of old stock housing was destroyed or knocked down and bigger, more expensive houses replaced little beach shacks. A drive down Long Beach Boulevard can feel like a tour of the 1%’s summer playground, but at the southern end sandcastles give way to sandboxes. Continue reading

Sandy, the 900-mile-wide Chip on my Shoulder

Looks like Sandy threw a pretty wild party. Unfortunately, that bitch didn’t invite us and isn’t planning on helping us clean up.

So, two weeks ago, we had a little weather event here on the East Coast. Maybe you’ve heard of it – Hurricane /Superstorm/ Frankenstorm Sandy? This beast pretty much took over my life, stole my attention span and routinely woke me up in the middle of the night.

My family’s dear, little lagoon-side (and only) home was battened down and evacuated to ride out the worst storm it’s ever faced alone. The day before the mandatory barrier island evac order, Mark taped up the windows, put a few valuables on top of beds and off the floor, and put some towels in the doorways. Last summer, Irene coaxed the rising bay water just two feet from our back door and no one thought we’d be as lucky this time.

But I never thought it would be as bad as it was. Our little house took on more than three feet of water, most likely courtesy of a storm surge rising from the end of the lagoon that normally brings us mallards to feed.

I only know the extent of the damage because last Friday, 12 whole days after Sandy absolutely ravaged the Jersey Shore, my mom and AJ were bused over to our island from the mainland and given an hour to collect our most important belongings. This trip only included primary residents of the island, i.e. people with no other home to speak of. (Most dwellings on this strip of sand are summer homes and it’s pretty lonely in the off-season. I don’t know how I survived three long winters, but sometimes, when the clatter outside my Boston apartment get so loud I can hear conversations and car horns from three blocks away, I really miss it.) Continue reading

A Night of Ghost Stories at Giants Stadium with Mr. Springsteen

Jake picks up where the Big Man left off, supported by a tremendous horns section.

As previously discussed in this space, I partook in the customary ritualistic gathering of my peoples this past weekend and attended (for the twelfth time) a stadium performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This marked my third such concert for 2012 on the band’s tour in support of their newest studio-recorded offering. Since the release of Wrecking Ball in March, Bruce seems to have whole-heartedly embraced the theme of ghosts – not scary specters, but simply the spirits of those gone before us; in his own words, “sweet souls departed.” For evidence, take a listen to “We Are Alive,” maybe my favorite track on the album.

For this first time ever, E Street had to step out on the road without Clarence Clemons this year, and in March, I took in my first Boss show since the month before my father died. Why does this matter? More than anyone else in my life, my dad imbued me with (in my humble opinion) an impeccable taste in music. And, more than anyone else, Bruce Springsteen has singularly provided my life with a rich, beautiful soundtrack. If you can imagine what might happen when I have a few too many beers and get a little sad…well, I kind of made a fool of myself. The Boston show was so early in the tour that no one really knew how Bruce would handle Clarence’s absence, other than hiring a horns section anchored by the Big Man’s nephew.

About three songs (and many more beers) into the night, Bruce asked the crowd “Is anybody missing?” and he obviously meant Clarence and I promptly devolved into loud sobs. It felt a little harsh to be so upfront with it, but the more I thought about both our scenarios, I realized the Boss and I had something in common beyond a shared home state. He had been dealing with Clarence’s death for a year. For him, it was horrible, but it was old news; he felt OK discussing the obvious. My family has mourned our loss going on three years now and I’ve reached a place in my grief where I feel comfortable talking about it. What’s really happened, though, is that I’ve gotten really good at making people who don’t know me well feel awkward. Same kind of thing. Anyway, Bruce then led the band into “My City of Ruins” from The Rising, which became a post 9/11 rallying ballad. Bruce himself has said he originally wrote the song with Asbury Park in mind. Clearly it’s taken on a new meaning for him. Continue reading

How to Behave at a Bruce Springsteen Concert

What time is it, Steve? Boss time.

On Saturday, several loved ones and I will partake in New Jersey’s closest attempt at a communal religious experience: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Giants Stadium. Or MetLife. Whatever it’s called. While I haven’t seen nearly as many Bruce shows as some of my countrymen, it’s not my first rodeo.

Typically, in the Garden State, everyone gets along; tailgates are very friendly. We’re all there for the same reason: to see the Boss and the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making legendary E Street Band. However, in the 11 shows I’ve had the good fortune (and made the financial sacrifice) to attend, I’ve noticed some unbecoming behavior both in the Jerz and abroad. We’d all do well to follow some ground rules. Continue reading

Ode to Tommy Cheeseballs

Before Snooki entered the national parlance, before people beyond their 200 regular customers had heard of Karma, before T-shirt time, before the CABS WERE HEEEEEAHH, there was Tommy. Oh, Tommy, I miss you. Things were simpler back then. MTV had only grossly misrepresented the Jersey Shore to a smattering of True Life viewers with Tommy’s buffoonish 40 minutes of fame, rather than the pop-garbage (I refuse to call it “culture”) franchise through which we currently suffer. Continue reading

Bryan Adams: Poet Laureate of Beach Kids

Favorite place ever.

Three months a year, living in Boston becomes really difficult. June, July and August pretty much turn me into a surly, whiny mess, though I try my best to conceal it. No one likes Miss Pissy Pants. It’s not living in an apartment without A/C; it’s not navigating through glacially slow-moving hordes of confused tourists on the T or on the sidewalk, though these things really don’t help. Not being home at the Shore for the summer is quietly strangling my soul and sucking out any happiness I may have had left. I don’t feel much better about it until after Labor Day.  No, I’m not being overly dramatic. These are all accurate, factually true statements.

Don’t get me wrong – summertime Boston certainly has its perks. Pictures like this exist here. But I still have to drive to the beach and can only makes s’mores on our grill. Continue reading