If you visited Seaside Heights, NJ during the early 90s, it’s likely that I yelled at you. Not that we were at odds, I was just doing my job, harassing you into playing games like the Ring Toss, Shoot Out The Star and Frog Bog. My employer said my job title was “Agent” but I knew better. I was paid handsomely to be a Boardwalk Jerk.
Looking back, this is the only job I’ve ever had where I was always right. I summarily disqualified people for leaning too far over the amusement’s ledge…
Having successfully forded the Frog Bog, I shoot him down, “Sorry, pal.”
“But I was behind the line! I had both feet on the ground!” His daughter starts to cry, her dreams of Daddy winning that plush doggie now fade into the salty air, alongside the hot oil scent of Kupper’s fresh-cut fries.
Casually, not even looking at him, “That’s not the ground. That’s the boardwalk, and I don’t like your tone. Next up! Give-it-a-shot. Give-it-a-try. One-on-one-time-wins-it!“
I was a mad barker and this was a crooked business, especially Shoot Out the Star. We used a giant star–illegal in fact–considering the inadequate number of rounds. Contestants always blew it by shooting at the star–no one EVER won with that approach.
Smart players shot around the star, popping it back through the target in one piece. There were enough rounds for this strategy, but the machine gun’s accuracy was laughable, compounding an already difficult game. Here’s the key: shoot one round at a time by gently swiping the trigger–pop. pop. pop. I eventually mastered this technique, to the point where I was barred from playing in Seaside, so I descended upon Pt. Pleasant Boardwalk, an unknown, but dangerous player. I clearly remember The Nerd’s blasting from Jenkinson’s, and me, an assassin, enveloped in a calliope of carnival sounds, surgically removing a doomed star. The barker running the stand peppered me with questions, trying to throw off my game…
“Hey, where’d you learn to shoot like that, Tex?” He nudges my arm.
“I’m from Seaside.” On target and unperturbed, I make music with my machine gun, like Luke bulls-eying womp rats in his T-16.
“Oh.” He’s concerned.
Cleanly, eventually, the star falls. “I’ll take that garish teddy bear there, pal.”
But payback is a bitch, like the time I had to work Shoot Out the Star while nursing a MONSTER hangover. Head pounding, guns blazing, body seizing-up. I was told a chocolate shake from Kohr’s ice cream, directly across from my stand, would do the trick. That shake did make life more bearable, as did the constant parade of questionably dressed beach-goers. That said, witnessing the often inexcusable human parade was by far the best part of working the boards. During breaks I’d stop at the Saw Mill for a Lumberjack Burger–8oz. of Angus topped with pork roll and melted cheddar–and dive into some serious people watching.
As most of us know, Seaside is not known for its well-clad clientele. If you’re not familiar, think Wal-Mart shoppers, except they’re outdoors, giving them an opportunity to wear a whole lot of not enough. Cringe.
A close second to people watching, the gorgeous sundowns brought beauty to an otherwise foul environment. Working the south end Ring Toss offered a reasonable view of unfettered boardwalk and beach, where impossibly warm light from the west demanded your attention. The north end Ring Toss, Midway Steak House to its left, boasted full view of the beach and Atlantic ocean. Here, the sunsets washed overhead, opposite the incoming waves, a brilliant amalgam of red, orange and white.
Prior to Sandy, I took for granted the majority of what Seaside Heights’ has to offer. Although I look forward to visiting this summer, I know it will be sobering. Whatever shape she’s in, she’ll always give us those sunsets.