Ray was another 18 year-old lifeguard with me on the beach in Brigantine
that summer. Came one of those perfect late August days when you could throw
on your coveted Beach Patrol jacket in case the girls hadn’t noticed you were a
lifeguard, or let your tanksuit top down to improve your tan.
The television weather hucksters can talk all they want about the heavy
snow that brings down power lines, and the huge drifts that close highways and
crush the roofs of houses and the black ice that makes our neighborhood driving
so tricky. But the deadliest snow of all is the snow that covers the boats in our side yards and kills the dreams of impatient fishermen from Cape May Point to the Brigantine Inlet and all the way up the Jersey coast. Doesn’t matter if it’s one inch or twelve, the brutal fact is that it’s there at all.
We drove, on a cold Tuesday evening in February, up the Atlantic City
Expressway and across the Delaware, then up Broad to Dickinson, and so to
dinner at one of South Philly’s most venerable landmarks, the famous Victor
Café where young waiters bring the appetizers, then set down their serving trays,
ring a bell for quiet, and stand on a convenient step to sing arias from the famous
operas of the world.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers —” . Wordsworth
It was an iffy kind of announcement. The movers and shakers held yet
another meeting about how to save Atlantic City. Somewhere in the proceedings the President of Rowan University opined that his office was thinking about opening a branch of their School of Osteopathic Medicine in Atlantic City — the sort of school that produces primary care physicians. They might have a plan in a year or so. The meeting moved on to other things. The Atlantic City Press, always behind the home team, headlined its story “Rowan Seeks To Bring
Medical School To Atlantic City.”
You have to give Governor Christie credit. He’s figured out a better form
of government than Democracy. He’s personally solving the very problem that
stumped amateurs like Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson and John Adams.
There’s no question Atlantic City Emergency Manager Kevin whatsisname and his consultant Kevyn himtoo is legal. Under New Jersey’s system, cities and townships and all local government units, including school boards and local dogcatchers, are creatures of the State and can be shoved to the back of the room no matter how many voters elected them. The only powers that outrank the State of New Jersey are the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, God Almighty, and maybe the Hudson County Surrogate.
January plugs along. It’s the quiet part of the calendar. The holiday
visitors have departed. Those who can squeeze in a trip to Florida have packed
and left or they’re counting the days. Dried out Christmas trees waiting to be
picked up punctuate the roads here and there. We are all back at work or in
search of it, and the afternoon meandering of school buses calms the homeward bound traffic as kids with backpacks climb down and straggle along their street. Everybody’s favorite TV series have resumed. The stores are setting up for their Valentine’s Day sales, and we’re all waiting for the Oscars – or arguing about them.
As boys growing up a decade after the War the two of us played at
catching imaginary German spies smuggled ashore from Nazi submarines on the
wintry beaches and dunes of Brigantine. We stayed friends long after I opened
my law office and Chuck McGee rose from paperboy to copyboy to reporter to
an editor of the Atlantic City Press. He was a good friend and a good editor, whose private passion was writing and playing Broadway show music for stars like his friends Carol Channing, Martha Raye and Maurice Chevalier. He was only 37 when a heart attack cut his career, and soon thereafter his life, short. I thought of him this week when news of the Paris terrorism that cut short the lives of another editor and his colleagues broke upon the world.
We were enjoying our New Year’s lunch at the Tuckahoe Inn when the
conversation turned to the start of the new season of British Television’s
“I never said I didn’t like it,” Aunt Tess insisted. “But I like it more now
they’ve got Tom Branson, that Irish chauffeur, remembering where he came from!” I was surprised to learn she even watched that show, her being so devoutly Irish.
In olden times mapmakers impatient to reach their market before
everything they needed to know had been discovered filled the empty regions
with stuff like “Here be dragons”, “Terra Incognito” and drawings of sea
serpents and other terrifying monsters. The ignorant and the superstitious may
have shivered at such warnings, but I’m sure experienced captains took them with a lot of salt. Dragons don’t sink ships. It’s the fog-hidden rocks of ironbound coasts they worried about. Meanwhile, the sailors huddled below decks made up tales of gold and rubies and beautiful, passionate women just waiting for the lucky men who landed on the right shore.
Chris Rock, my candidate for the greatest humorist since Mark Twain, was
being interviewed by Charlie Rose, my candidate for the most civilized man in
the media today. As Rose’s interviews often do, the easy ambiance of the talk
made it possible for his guest to invite us into his heart.
I can’t recall whether Rose asked his guest if he believed in God, or if something in Rock’s musings opened a new line of thought and that was where it led. It’s the sort of topic that rivets your attention, especially when you don’t see it coming.