An LBI beach house in the rear-view mirror

As I said in a previous blog post, I don’t do well with goodbyes. And I recently found out that the beach house on Long Beach Island where I spent several summers was added to the goodbye list, permanently.

The beach at 5th St. in Beach Haven

It’s just part of life. A lot of people who were in the house for years are in totally different situations. If you look at the core group that made up the house for years, there are people who got married, people who are engaged (myself and my fiancée obviously included), people who are in serious relationships, people who moved, people who have been tripped up by the economy (again, myself included) and people who just, for lack of a better term, grew out of being in the house.

And over the past couple of years, it became more and more difficult to replace people who left the house, or who downgraded from full shares to half shares. Again, this economy certainly isn’t helping matters.

My fiancée and I weren’t part of the beach house last summer, although we did go down to visit one weekend. And with the wedding coming up, we weren’t intending to rejoin it this coming summer. But when we ran into one of the girls in the house the past couple of years at a restaurant and she told us that our group was pulling the plug, although it wasn’t a shock, it was still weird to hear.

I had so many great experiences in that house that I’m bound to leave some out, and the fact that senility has set in at 41 (almost 42, sigh) isn’t helping.

The obvious highlight was really getting to know my fiancée. I also made a few friends who will more than likely be lifelong friends. And nothing was more relaxing than enjoying a cold beer on the deck, no matter what time of the day it was.

And then there were the individual moments that were pure high comedy. I will never forget the guest who went to the bay instead of the beach and returned to the house in a state of total confusion (even more so than his normal state of total confusion).

My bike on LBI

Of course, a legendary moment in the history of the house was when a dear friend who was part of the original core group but since moved away made her return visit memorable by doing a table dance that culminated with the overhead light falling right off the ceiling with a huge crash.

Another classic was having the police knock on our door during a boisterous game of Pass the Pigs, only to have one of our house members tell an officer, “We were JUST playing PIGS!” Amazingly, none of us was locked up that night.

Of course, we will still be able to enjoy a lot of our favorite things about LBI. The beach will still be there, even if it keeps eroding more and more every summer. The Black Whale, our favorite seafood restaurant, will hopefully make my favorite special part of its everyday menu (bacon-wrapped scallops in maple bourbon sauce). The Chicken and the Egg will continue to be a late-night unhealthy but delicious snack stop. Holiday Snack Bar will continue serving up Slam Burgers and Dune Fries (French fries with Old Bay). Bushwhackers will still be served at The Ketch Sunday nights. Riding our bikes to the lighthouse at Holgate will always be a fun activity. And as one of our good friends recently pointed out on her Facebook page, the God-forsaken shack on Route 72 off the causeway is still standing by some miracle.

But it will be a truly strange and surreal experience driving, biking or walking by the house where we spent so much time and not climbing the steps to grab a beer out of the refrigerator. It will be creepy and unsettling having people we don’t know staring at us from the deck and wondering why in the hell these people are staring at their beach house.

It was a great run, but all good things must come to an end, and our time at the beach house is now history. I feel it now, but I don’t think it will really hit home until what I described in the last paragraph actually occurs. Bypassing that house without going in will just be unnatural.

On to marriage, a honeymoon in Hawaii, starting a family and whatever new adventures await us, but LBI will always be a part of it, and I’m sure we’ll end up spending more time there. Farewell, house.

Our old beach house

Our old beach house

The best part about 2009 (well … besides getting engaged)? It wasn’t 2008!

Everyone else is doing year-end blog posts, so what the hell? And what better way to do so than actually waiting until the last day of the year, sitting in the recliner, on the laptop, sipping an Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, stout brewed with oysters) from Flying Fish Brewing, with a cat assisting me by resting on the back of the recliner (Hi, Trouble!)?

So, here goes nothing. I didn’t think 2009 was an overly good year or an overly bad year. It was pretty mixed for me, with more good than bad, but not enough good to call it wonderful. This is in direct contrast to 2008, which can pretty much go to hell. I managed to lose my job, my favorite bar and my ballpark in 2008, while 2009 brought some sadness, but nowhere near on the level of 2008.

In Newport, R.I., just before getting engaged

The highlight of 2009, by far, was getting engaged. It was a remarkable day, spent in Newport, R.I., and a remarkable experience that I will never forget. I have yet to experience one second of doubt about this and likely never will.

The precursor to getting engaged was fun, as well: Welcoming my fiancée and her cat, Skittles, to the apartment my two cats, Trouble and 8-Ball, graciously allow me to occupy. Trouble and 8-Ball still hate Skittles, but their skirmishes have become more amusing than alarming. As for the humans, we’re getting along just fine, thank you!

Anyone who knows me and has gotten to this point is saying, “Um, what about the World Series, jackass?” About fucking time! The entire season for the Yankees was a great run, starting way back when I first saw the new Yankee Stadium, before the start of the regular season. Yes, I would move back across the street in a heartbeat, and I miss the old ballpark like a lost family member. But it was great to have the Yankees rise back to the top again, and I really liked the makeup of this team, as opposed to some of the underachieving squads of the mid-2000s.

Skittles

I went to two weddings that I was very happy about, within weeks of each other. Both brides are longtime friends of mine, one much longer than the other, and both finally found perfect matches and soul mates, which was quite heart-warming. It’s funny to think of how much I used to hate weddings, and how quickly my opinion of them reversed when the prospect of actually being a groom inched closer to reality.

My then-girlfriend, now-fiancée and I went on a great trip to Cancun and, even though it was more than nine months ago, I still find myself dealing with insatiable cravings for Mojitos at 11 a.m. on occasion. We also went to Cape May and loved it and, of course, there was Newport, where I finally popped the question (without actually popping the question, as I am constantly reminded of … sigh!).

Now, on to the not-so-good: The obvious lowlight is pretty simple. If anyone had told me that I would go an entire calendar year and not spend one second working on a full-time job, I’d have asked them when I won the lottery or was named in the will of a rich old aunt I had never met. This economy sucks, this recession sucks, and this job market sucks. I’d have completely lost what little mind I have left if it wasn’t for the one part-time job I still have.

Bidie, R.I.P.

One of my favorite pooches went on to doggy heaven. I still miss Bidie. I lived with the little bug-eyed, hot-tempered, 200-decibel-snoring rascal of a Boston Terrier for a year, but I knew her for most of her long, happy life, and there was a strong bond between us. As I said in my tribute post to her: If there’s a dog run in Heaven, I hope all of the other dogs up there are quick, or they might be in for a rude awakening.

For the first time since 2001, I was not part of a beach house on LBI, mostly for financial reasons. It turned out to be a good summer to skip, as it seemed like it rained almost every weekend, but there’s a certain calm and peacefulness about being near water, and I truly missed that all summer.

My Aunt Rose gave me a huge scare, as she suffered a minor heart attack and minor stroke in October. It was very unsettling for a while, as she was having a great deal of trouble expressing things like names, numbers and dates, but she’s improved to the point where she’s very, very close to 100%. I knew things were on the upside when she started nagging again.

So as I said earlier, overall, 2009 was pretty mixed, and it doesn’t draw the same “two middle fingers up” response that 2008 would. There was a lot of good and lot of bad, but the good outweighed the bad. Whatever else happens in 2010 (a job would be nice), our wedding April 25 and the honeymoon in Hawaii directly afterward will be the highlights, and I’m ecstatic about both.

The Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout is now history, and I am currently enjoying a Defiant Christmas Ale as I post this. Happy New Year to all who read this, and I hope 2010 is better for everyone. Cheers!

My fiancée and I on the beach at Key West

Summertime blues

Holiday Snack Bar, Beach Haven, NJ

Holiday Snack Bar, Beach Haven, NJ

Something is missing this week, and it’s very weird.

This is the week before Memorial Day. I’m supposed to be getting everything ready to head down to the beach house on LBI Friday morning. But I’m not.

I’m supposed to be buying cases of G2 (low-calorie Gatorade) and good beer, because I refuse to drink Bud, Miller or Coors (Miller Lite is tolerable). I’m supposed to be packing bathing suits, towels, bedding, toiletries, Hawaiian shirts and more good beer. But I’m not.

I’m supposed to constantly check weather.com for the Beach Haven forecast. But I’m not.

I’m supposed to be making arrangements for someone to feed the cats, because God forbid the two pot-bellied pigs miss a meal. But I’m not.

The summer of 2009 will be the first one since the summer of 2000 that I’m not in a beach house. It really bothered me at first, but I started coping with it, accepting it and making other plans, so I was at peace with it for a while. But now, with the Friday before Memorial Day staring me in the face, to put it mildly, it fucking sucks.

There are things I won’t miss. The bar scene down at LBI has become agonizing the past couple of summers, with the exact same bands playing the exact same songs week after week after week. And the two-hour drive each way does tend to get old. But the good outweighs the bad.

I’ll keep busy. I have a lot more weekend Yankees tickets. My girlfriend and I are planning a few trips. But I still feel like something is missing.

This is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love the feeling of anticipation that the beginning of summer brings. But as excited as I am to welcome the World Champion Phillies to Yankee Stadium this weekend, it just isn’t the same kind of buzz.

Bah.

Unemployment Nine: No LBI = summer bummer

Among the many things that absolutely suck ass about not having a job, the fact that (barring a last-minute miracle hire) I will not be a part of the beach house on Long Beach Island for the first time since 2002 royally blows.

5th Street, Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, NJ

5th Street, Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, NJ

LBI has been my summer mainstay for years and, while I know I’ll still visit a couple of times, it’s not the same as being a part of the house, and I hate that.

The only bright spot, as my girlfriend pointed out, is that we’ll get to do some different things that we ordinarily might not have done. When you’re part of a beach house, you almost feel obligated to go down every weekend, because you know in the back of your head that it’s already paid for.

But I’m still having a lot of trouble coming to terms with this. After seven straight summers of being in the same house, with pretty much the same core group of people, many of whom will likely be lifelong friends, the fact that I’m not already thinking about which beers to bring down to the house, or how many cases of G2 to fetch from BJ’s, is very, very strange.

We’ll salvage our summer. Ideas already being tossed around include Newport, R.I.; Reading, Pa., for outlet shopping and minor-league baseball; Philadelphia, to visit my girlfriend’s sister, get my ass kicked by her pit bull mix, eat a Tony Luke’s cheesesteak (or several) and hit Citizens’ Bank Park for a Phillies game; Cape May, N.J., just for the hell of it; and (for me, anyway) lots of softball and Yankees games.

I’ll do my best to prevent my summer from being another casualty of this economy, but all things being equal, I’m really, truly going to miss being a part of that beach house. Change is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to bitch about it!