I don’t get home much anymore. I’m on the road...mostly elsewhere trying to make sense of my own past and at the same time do the field work that historians do far too little of, not that I blame them much. I’m a historian like Scanner was a writer...a late bloomer. I’m not a writer, but I try. I don’t do fiction.
I found OS while in grad school in my fifties, as I was learning how to write history. I try to write some history every day after doing the field work. Now in my sixties, I am not near as nimble as I was years ago. I don’t run down the jetties at inlets anymore, or jog eight miles of boardwalk at dawn three days a week.
I was watching Ragtime last week and saw my old jogging route in the beach scene. Spring Lake is just a few miles south of Asbury Park, where my father was a bellhop during WWII summers until he joined the Marines in 1945, just after finishing high school.
I’m not there much at all anymore, and I feel guilty about it. But it never was me, really. I know that I played my end well enough up and down that beach, but it’s a kids game...the beach. I’m too old to play a kid or even a forty something, but I got away with it far longer than I should.
I was up and down the coast this summer...doing the field work, and got to see a disco act on a rainy Saturday night in Asbury Park. I had not been there for a year, and had seen almost no rain anywhere. The club was full of old people. I knew the lead singer from high school, who had just turned sixty, which is why I’m not mentioning her name. She is younger and in far better shape than me.
I never was much of a disco fan, but knew most of the songs they reviewed during an energetic three hour show with no intermission. I was tried just watching from the bar. After the show the lead singer recognized me and brought me back stage to catch a little buzz and meet her boy friend, who is ten years older than me but also in much better shape.
I walked out into the rain and down the street past the Stone Pony and all the other clubs spilling out swarms of youth into the stormy night. The wind blew warm rain close to sideways, but it did not sting. I got up on the boardwalk and headed south towards Ocean Grove where I was paying way too much for a tiny room in a Victorian fire trap.
I had been tired before going backstage but was now feeling just right. I walked through the remains of the Casino and felt better than I ever had in all the decades I worked those boards. I was not that person anymore, the one who was going nowhere, ever. The rain came off the ocean salty warm and greeted me as if I was a relative, and I embraced the moment...as a string of lights danced in the wind, I knew I was free of it all, and happy to be home at the same time.