Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

As I walked through Ocean Grove, a small town just south of Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, I felt proud of my people. Who else but my fellow childless, non-heterosexual disciples of the past would have had the patience and fortitude to sweep uninvited into this enclave of once-dilapidated Victorian masterpieces, and—undeterred by the proximity to 1) the post-war urban blight of Asbury Park and 2) the religious blight of the Methodist Church, which founded Ocean Grove in 1869 as a “camp revival” site and still owns the land on which every house sits—painstakingly refurbish every spoke and shingle? I imagined what it would be like to live in a house where the jagged edges of my obsessive nature could be soothed by daily contemplation of kaleidoscopic color schemes and ornate detail.

You don’t have to belong to the church to buy in Ocean Grove, you just have to sign a 99-year renewable lease from the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, whose slogan is “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey Shore.” Still, architectural bliss aside, I doubted that I could ever live here; to be subjected to the rule of homophobic Jesus freaks would be like a return to the United States circa 2012. I might even feel compelled to hang from my porch a flag emblazoned with the HRC logo or—most dispiriting of all—a rainbow.

I soon arrived at the beach, where a big stretch of the Ocean Grove boardwalk had been swept away by Hurricane Sandy. As I considered a recent ruling by FEMA to deny the Camp Meeting Association—designated a “private entity” in this context—the necessary funds to rebuild, I gave in to a sense of schadenfreude as I thought about the same association denying a gay couple the opportunity to perform a civil union ceremony on the boardwalk in 2007. Assessing the situation objectively, it seemed probable that God was expressing his displeasure at such discriminatory practices.

Heading north, I felt less smug as I considered the shuttered businesses closer to the ocean. Hardly a day passes when I—like 97 percent of MTA-commuting New York City office workers—don’t fantasize about moving to a beach town and opening a small business, and here was the result of those dreams.

Fortunately, the famous ruins of Asbury Park—the great, fallen resort—seemed to have made it through the storm unscathed. Some of the murals I remembered were gone, but the flapper mermaid had been spared. Or it was possible, I reconsidered, that she was a recent addition, which seemed plausible and appropriate (at least when it comes to artwork), sort of how a forest fire will burn away the old growth to make way for the new.

As so often happens when I leave New York City, I was astounded that a developer hadn’t yet bought this land and converted it into luxury condominiums, or at least (with the usual bribes and kickbacks) persuaded the city to build a refurbished “green space along the waterfront” to entice moneyed prospects to open their wallets. I had spoken to several residents who told me that the legacy of Hurricane Sandy will be to push the working class away from the coastline so that the Jersey Shore will increasingly become a “playground for the rich.”

It was difficult to argue the point. Having lived in New York City for the past twenty-five years, I had witnessed the similar, ongoing, and tragic effects of “Superstorm Capitalism.”

At least the water was crowded enough with swimmers to believe that the beach still belonged to all of us, notwithstanding the best efforts of rich people everywhere to limit access.

Similarly, the Asbury Park boardwalk was packed and—in another definite sign I wasn’t in New York City—everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I immediately vowed to move at the earliest possible opportunity to Asbury Park, where I would open up a palm-reading shack and play drums in an old-school punk band at the Asbury Lanes. I felt my earlier pessimism ebb away with the tide.

I made my way through the crowds to the non-heterosexual section of the beach, where I admired the hot gay bears and watched two young men play a game of badminton without a net. Thankfully, neither church nor gated community had jurisdiction over this magical, ruined landscape, or you can be sure that all such behavior would have been proscribed.

Matthew Gallaway is the author of The Metropolis Case.

5 Comments / Post A Comment

sunnyciegos (#551)

Beautiful. Thanks.

jolie (#16)

Assessing the situation objectively, it seemed probable that God was expressing his displeasure at such discriminatory practices.

<3 <3 <3

dado (#102)

Asbury Park won't become a playground for the rich as long as there are a couple blocks worth of half finished concrete pillars with rusty rebar sticking out of them across the street from the Stone Pony. This, and the previous steel skeleton structure that occupied the same spot for 20yrs last decade, will ensure that the spirit and soul of Asbury Park remain, and Lily Pulitzer will stay away.

Nancy Sin (#232,943)

I've been to Asbury Park once.

It was 2000, I was just out of high school and on a road trip with my ragtag group of friends. We were using an atlas (!) and plotted our way there to see a stop of a touring punk-oriented festival that I dare not mention.

I had no knowledge of Bruce Springsteen's legacy there, no context for anything.

We arrived on a foggy afternoon and parked near the beach. As soon as I stepped out of the van I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. An amusement park ghost town. It was the coolest and most frightening thing I had ever seen. I'll always have a soft spot for it.

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

My great-aunts owned a house in Ocean Grove! It's a little disquieting to walk through, but the tent houses are fascinating and the beach is still a beach. Or it was the last time I was there, several years ago. I miss the aunts a lot.

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