Long Beach Island: A Memoir
By Ann Chiappetta
LBI, the land of Big Insects, otherwise known as the Jersey shore, is our 2008 reunion destination. We arrive at a beach motel one midweek afternoon in September. The weather cooperates. After the hip-to-hip extrication, complete with popping sounds and groans, we climb out of the SUV and say, “Boy, it’s hot.” We quickly proceed to the cool room, nursing sore butts and stiff joints. But all five of us are intrepid female travelers, proving it by agreeing to share a bathroom for four days.
The motel owner assures us that staying on the Oceanside of the island will allow us to avoid the jellyfish and flies. Apparently the jellyfish are as much as a pain as the green headed flies and B-52 sized mosquitoes. We should, however, be able to swim today without the fear of being stung by the jellyfish, the flies, on the other hand, wait for us to relax before striking. Incidentally, the flies are repelled by a specialized concoction of mouthwash and eucalyptus oil. The motel owner arms each room with a 32 ounce refillable spray bottle full of the stuff. One must sprits liberal minty amounts upon every human contour, including clothing, or risk being bitten.
Anyway, aside from this spray, which one must use during the day, one must put it aside once the sun goes down and switch to the good old fashioned bug spray at night or the Jurassic mosquitoes will make a meal out of any unprotected epidermis.
But the people are great; I was especially taken with the part-time maintenance/surfer dude (never got his name (, who sat with us and answered all our LBI trivia questions while sharing a beer or two. The most intriguing of which is, what’s with the guy ringing the bell on the beach? We throw out a few inane guesses, like, is he signaling the incoming tide? Or, is he letting all the sun-worshippers know its time to flip? No, surfer Dude says, it is the ice cream man. He comes out to ring the bell because he can’t drive the truck onto the sand.
Our accommodations, while not the four star hotel type, are comfy and roomy. The quaint clapboard inn is fine for a short trip. The 12 room, two story motel is painted a vivid teal with white trim. The paths are strewn in bleached gravel and terracotta pavers. The common area is equipped with a trio of barbeque grills, a gazebo and a half dozen umbrella tables. There is even a fountain and ambient lighting for after dark, if the bugs aren’t biting, that is.
Our first meal at the shore is interesting. My sister, for whom the trip is arranged because she is turning 50, craves lobster tails. We put our butts into the SUV and cruise up and down the strip looking for a good, uncrowded place to eat that also offers lobster tails. Unbeknownst to us, the two establishments we select only offered whole lobsters, one or two pounds, either steamed or broiled. My sister, a self-proclaimed lapsed vegetarian and wimp, said she couldn’t bear breaking it apart. “I just can’t look at its eyeballs.” She says, shivering. Eyeballs? Whatever.
Since we are all tired and hungry, I convince her to ask the waitress at the second and less crowded place to ask the cook to only bring out the tail and claws. No problem the waitress says, with an amused grin,
After a good meal, we all piled back into the SUV and roll home, fat and happy. As we get out of the SUV, the mosquito Air Force attacks and chases us inside.
Day two on the beach Oceanside is wonderful; the waves are fairly calm and the incoming tide makes a lagoon, which we enjoy, as it is warmer and much calmer than wading in the breakers. The mouthwash bug spray works as expected; we only suffer a few bites from the green-headed devils.
We sit in beach chairs, sharing shade and sunscreen as needed.
The gulls are a constant boredom breaker; one actually tries to break into the sack left out on the blanket next to us and begins to drag it away. The owner chases it off and puts away the sack, zipping it into her beach bag. A few minutes after she leaves, the same gull is back, trying to get into the bag again, but is unable to open it. If only it could operate a zipper, I think, but then again, maybe it was better it didn’t know. It is better for us that it doesn’t know, anyway.
We end the day with a cookout, and complete our feast with a hip-to-hip trip to Dairy King and follow it up with a digestive stroll to the nature conservatory four blocks from the motel
Day three at the beach is exciting, the surf and the people are more active and numerous. Sister #1, the pragmatic first-born, warns us that the waves are rougher than the day before and only fat folks can withstand the undertow. She doesn’t want Mom, who is nursing a shoulder injury, to be knocked off her feet. As she turns to warn Mom, however, a wave knocks her down. She tries to get up and another wave drags her under. Finally, she struggles to her knees and looks up at Mom and sister #2, who are in hysterics. It is at that moment she notices not only are her sunglasses askew but her boobies have come out to say hello.
Later that evening, the wine and beer flowing freely, sister #2 recalls the event, we are reduced to hooting ninnies and the guest next to us bangs on the wall. “It’s only nine o’clock!” Sister #2 protests. But since we are adults and respectful of the rules at Laurie’s Beach End Motel, we keep it quiet.
Day four is the day of leave-taking, so we pack up and say farewell to LBI and its winged denizens, large and small. I hear a gull laugh as we get back into the SUV and wonder if it’s the same one that tried to steal the lunch sack and witnessed sister #1’s immodest unveiling. But then I tell myself that’s stupid, don’t all gulls have a judicious eye for food?
By Ann Chiappetta
A sister taps my hand.
“There’s a gull trying to get the lunch out of a bag someone left on their blanket.”
“Really?” I pause the audio book and take out an earphone.
“Yes, it’s on the blanket and is looking around. Now it’s, taking another step, this is funny.” She laughs and I can picture it in my head.
I wait, then,
“Ooh, it’s looking at the bag … now it’s pulling out the lunch—oh my god, it’s dragging it away.”
By this time our gang was watching and laughing at its antics.
“Shouldn’t we stop it?” says one niece.
“Why? It serves them right for leaving the bag open.” says the other niece.
We all laugh. Another sister lobs a grape in the opposite direction and the gull hops after it. By this time the blanket’s owner comes back and I hear a sister explain what happened. She thanks us and zips the lunch into her other bag, and then leaves.
“Here we go again.” Says one niece.
“I wonder if it knows how to unzip things.” Says the other niece.
“Okay,” says my sister, “it’s eyeing the bag. Now it’s back on the blanket …it’s looking around …now it’s trying to open it.”
The gull gives up, unable to unzip the bag and walks away. Then it lets out that laughing caw we all know so well and I hear its wings beat the air, off to search for other abandoned lunch sacks.