Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980
Sadly, at the seashore Autumn approaches. It comes slowly. The sky and the sun look and feel differently. Fewer people are around. It gets to a point where the pier is only open on the weekends in September before it closes for good.
But you’re not going back to your friends at home or at your school in Philly. You’ve finished high school and now live in Wildwood. What was once the most exciting place on Earth has now become a desolate wasteland.
It was as if it was all a dream. But all dreams end and you have to wake up to the reality of life living in a resort town in the winter.
But Hunt’s liked me and let me work as an Usher in one of the few movie theaters still open in town. Like my father, before me, I would tear tickets in half and show people to their seats in a movie theater.
It was depressing to fall from such a height. The summer sun, now gone. My wings have melted and I hit the hard sand with a thud.
It wasn’t so bad. I saw the movie Dressed to Kill half a dozen times and really became a fan of Brian Depalma and John Lithgow.
Once that was over and the theater closed for the season they offered me a job working maintenance on the pier. I joined the ranks of all of the other flunkies working odd labor jobs on the pier. A far cry from my supernatural existence the month before.
But I learned a few things. Work needed to be done on the Log Flume, and it was 60 feet in the air. The water had obviously been drained from it and it needed to be cleaned, painted, and winterized for the coming winter. Initially, I was terrified to climb the ramp up to the top of the ride. But there were other guys there and I couldn’t look like a scaredy-cat, so up I went. When I was inside the actual tube area of the ride, the sides were high so you couldn’t really see how high off the ground you were. The pier is thirty feet off the beach so you’re almost 100 feet in the air. But after spending a few days up there I was not only comfortable with the height, I was literally running along the little walkway that ran around the perimeter of the ride. That’s a series of metal posts about ten feet apartment strung together by a two-inch-thick rope. The walkway is literally a catwalk made up of three boards. It’s only about 2 and a half feet away. I could run along it on the edge of the ride without fear. Funny what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. I learned nothing is ever as bad as you imagine. As long as you don’t let the fear in.
There was this one guy who had worked at one of the games of chance at the front of the pier named Mike. He was a heavyset guy from South Philly and one of the funniest people I’d ever met. He and I became friends and even though he seemed like a tough guy, it was all an act. I noticed he was too afraid to go up on top of the log flume. But he and I became friends and I used to give him rides to work. He lived in an apartment with another guy back on Park Blvd. I would pick him up in my VW minibus and it would be cold out. The windows would be rolled up and he would release what I would describe as a Milwaulkee Beer Fart. A silent but deadly emission that was so bad I thought I’d die. He said it was from drinking a bunch of PBRs and eating Chinese food while he watched kung fu movies at night. It was awful, but I liked him because he was a delight to be around. A big ego and personality full of false confidence.
He was supposed to go to California with me to become an actor but it turned out to be all a bunch of careless talk over beers because he hadn’t saved any money. So once the reality of me actually leaving wildwood and going out there, he found some excuse to not hang out with me out of shame. Mike turned out to be what my father called a feather merchant. I think he thought he’d attach himself to me and I’d end up paying for everything. Not happening. Sadly, that would happen to me in the future. People would enter my life and I would love them. They’d bask in the warmth of my sunlight until the money was gone then fade away.
Some memorable things from that time were, once we were cleaning out some old furniture and detritus from the Strand Movie theater and opened a rusted old door and found a hand-carved deer and a sea horse from an old Philadelphia Toboggan Company merry go round. I don’t know if they were from the old classic down on Marine West/Nickels pier but we knew they were rare and original. They weighed a ton so we alerted the manager and he was surprised. I never heard anything about those pieces but I’m sure they were sold for quite a bit of money to a collector somewhere.
Once I was sent to a big warehouse that was underneath the Shore movie theater to get some supplies. I pulled up on the battery car and parked it outside. I unlocked the big wooden door and went inside. It was pitch black inside and I felt the wall for the switch. I found it and flicked it on. The area was suddenly filled with bright light.
Standing before me was a beautiful naked woman.
I was startled by the sight and jumped backward at the sight of this Venus.
But she wasn’t real. She was the animatronic girl prisoner from the dungeon in the Pirate Ship. This motorized beauty had been a prisoner of the ride for over 30 plus years by then. She had been removed from the ride to be painted. I knew the main painter for Hunts. He had done a marvelous job making her beautiful again. Her blonde hair and blue eyes shone brightly in non-life. It wasn’t that there was an anatomically correct life-sized naked lady standing before me in the dead of winter in a warehouse. It was that it was HER. I always loved her from when I was a boy walking through the pirate ship. There she was, her dress torn to rags, her bosom heaving through her ragged clothes. I didn’t even realize it as a little kid but there was something erotic about her. Chained to the wall in the corner. A damsel in distress and all she did was breathe.
But now, here she was completely naked before me and freshly painted. It was as if after all I’d been through on the pier and in the last year she suddenly appeared to me like an angel to say: “Remember me? You always secretly loved me. Well, here I am. Look at me. Because you won’t ever see me again, Chaz.”
And I wouldn’t. Like the rest of the team, we all went on unemployment for the colder months of winter. I made the best of the winters in Wildwood but knew that the sunny beaches of Santa Monica and the bright lights filled with unbridled adult fun were waiting for me in California.
By then it wasn’t so much of starting over in LA and becoming a metal god of rock. It was just more about getting out of this sad, dead town and off this island that only came to life in the summer. It was a terribly depressing place to be in the winter as a teenager. The island was filled with rich kids, drug addicts, and teen pregnancy all rising out of boredom and complacency. Wildwood is a wonderful place to be in the summer as a kid, but the winters are long and cold and it’s nowhere to be for a young person growing up.
Video Thanks to Ralph Grassi
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