I booked Ocean Grove, not knowing it is the present-day home of a Methodist meeting culture that goes back to 1869.
The ocean shines as blue here as it does a little north in Asbury Park (and there are no bars!)
But the sidewalk ends with a fence at Wesley Lake.
And, as if to do battle with its neighbor, there are stalwart — though empty — buildings standing guard at the southern edge of Asbury Park’s boardwalk:
The Carousel Building, Asbury Park Casino and the old nameless steam-heating plant.
Part of a complex designed by New York Beaux Arts architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore (designers of Grand Central Station.)
Fascinating, as old buildings are, especially when built with purpose and elan.
I didn’t know any of this as I gazed northward, only that it was odd that, what with Jersey shore prices as high as they are, that these buildings could be left to ruin.
Then, curious, I started looking at pictures.
And the past and the present shimmered back and forth.
I was maybe 5. It was a very special birthday trip:
me, my mom and dad. I have no memory of my brothers being there (sorry.)
We didn’t take many expeditions.
Dad worked like a fiend. His full-time job was for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a fireman, a job left over from steam days and protected by the union.
He also painted houses and made magic in our old house in Rahway, N.J. converting rooms to other rooms, renovating a living room to create a bathroom.
He made my room out of a pantry.
Not much time for day-long excursions.
He died when I was 11.
But here we were.
Me, 5, and me, 70, sharing Asbury Park.
Of all the wonders — to me — that arrayed themselves before me on that bygone day, none enchanted as much as the carousel.
Then, its music beckoned. Now, its memories.
I stared at the photos of what it is, and like yeast the past rose up inside me.
The tracery of the elegant gates and windows, the marvelous roof that echoed the circular theme.
The DA, da, da, DA, da, da of The Carousel Waltz…
Oh I fussed for that carousel and demanded I be taken to it.
Elegant and enchanting from a distance, those carousel horses,
with all their finery, became huge and scary as they pranced above me to the music
And all my demands turned to tears.
Not until my dad took me on his lap would I ride those magical animals.
The ghostly music still reverberates.
And, oh, the wanting and the fear remains.
And though there is no magic in the building, nor magic arms for me,
I still stand and let the shimmer overtake me,
while endless waves crash.