Now that I can watch webcams on the Ocean City boardwalk anytime of the day or night, I can analyze the people, and they are just not as interesting as I remember. Certainly the girls are not as hot. Their numbers on the boardwalk seem to thin out soon after adolescence, and they don’t come back until they have at least two children in tow. Most still look good, but just be aware clothes were developed to hide our physical flaws.
Ocean City was once the Mecca for summer college students. They flocked to the huge bars over the bridge in Somers Point. The boardwalk was filled with them, and they all wore clothing emblazoned with their college name. It was an important conversation starter: “Hey, Penn State! Do you know Jerry Czyzyk? Sociology, class of ’77? Went to my high school.”
“No, but what high school was that?”
“I know a Frank from Hoboken High. Is that close?”
The banter continued as long as necessary to decide if there was any romantic potential. Either side could break it off anytime with a cheery, “Gotta go. Nice talking with you.” (Meaning, I think I can do better.)
But, that was then. College students do not hang out at Ocean City anymore. The ones that did bought summer homes on West Avenue that now provide free vacations for their unemployed children and grandchildren. The college-aged kids seen working on the boardwalk are imported from the Czech Republic and are grateful to have summer jobs. (They are extraordinarily polite, pleasant, and peppy. Makes you think our country is in trouble.) With no American college crowd, the high school kids go elsewhere, too.
Next, we all know the middle class has evaporated everywhere, so that just leaves the lower class and the upper class. (I am uncomfortable referring to anyone as “low class.” Let’s say instead “culturally disadvantaged,” or CD. It means the same, but sounds better. At least it makes me sound better.)
I assure you, none of the upper class vacations in Ocean City anymore. Grace Kelly and her family have gone and won’t come back. Author Gay Talese, who graduated from Ocean City High, is teaching at Southern Cal.
But I have to modify that a bit. In the Gardens and the southern sections are still many homes in the million dollar range bought generations ago. Their upper-class residents would not go to the boardwalk—ever!— but their relatives visiting in the peak months of July and August do.
Back to the subject: That still leaves mostly the CDs on the boardwalk by a wide margin— except early in the mornings when they are noticeably absent. I suspect they are day-trippers, or “shoobies” as day-trippers used to be called because they brought their lunch in a shoebox. (Now they lunch on boardwalk funnel cake).
I find they are easily recognizable, but my wife asks what the signs are, so I have been keeping a list. Here are the CD indicators so far:
- Any boy or man wearing long, mid-calf shorts. A sagging belly completes the look. Add points if the shorts are denim.
- An ankle tattoo on a fat lady who waddles as she walks. It is meant to draw attention to what we do not want to see.
- A rail-thin guy with a beard and arm tattoos pushing a baby carriage beside a woman described above.
- An already fat 10-year-old boy or girl eating an ice cream cone dripping on their belly. If it is a girl, she is duck-footed and wearing worn-out flip-flops. If it is a boy, he is wearing basketball shoes without laces. (Or maybe I have that reversed.)
- A teenaged girl wearing sunglasses with red lenses shaped like hearts.
- A skinny old lady with a stiffly permed, orange wig, bright red lipstick, and a dangling cigarette in her mouth. Her blouse and slacks are brand new with fold creases and Walmart tags still on them so she can return them after her vacation.
- Any age male or female wearing a T-shirt printed with a gross obscenity in big letters. They think they are making a statement, which they are.
- A man wearing a white, ribbed tank top that looks like my father’s undershirt (see photo above). Lots of stringy black armpit hair hanging down like Spanish moss, even better. Add points if he is wearing basketball shoes with no socks.
- Any woman over 40 with long, straight, blond hair and maybe an ankle bracelet. It was a killer look when she was a teenager and still had teeth.
I’ve got to stop. The list keeps growing with no end in sight. You can see them for yourself. They are all over the boardwalk.
Of course this sounds cruel and snobbish, but George Bernard Shaw had it right in Pygmalion: Cultural disadvantagement is not a prison we are irrevocably born into or even the inevitable effect of low income. (It’s the ghetto kids who wear the $170 basketball shoes. Cut back on welfare and Nike will go broke.) It is the sum of our choices, choices that can be taught and can be learned. Eliza Doolittle did not simply learn to fake upper-class speech and manners—she actually became upper class, which is the whole point. But once you move up to a new understanding, you cannot “un-understand” and go back to the way you were, as Eliza discovered. Upper class is the real prison.