August 31, 2007
This is very funny:
I think it was Abraham Joshua Heschel — after he broke off with Reinhold Niebuhr and formed Jefferson Airplane — who observed that though the ancients counseled, “Know Thyself,” in 87 percent of actual cases, profound self-knowledge is not transforming. It’s just disappointing.
And this is never more true than when the beach self takes over. There is a boardwalk game near where we vacation where you roll balls into holes to try to get your mechanical horse across a track faster than your 11 opponents. You pay a dollar a game and if you win you get a stuffed horse worth 75 cents. My beach self has played that game for 15 years, and I have never once gotten up without secretly wishing I was playing again.
In my heart, I’d be happy to play that game 11 hours a day at the cost of several thousand dollars, and the only thing preventing me is that the Slovakian girl behind the counter might conclude that American men are pathetic.
Though this is definitely a difference -- at least in my experience -- between East Coast "shores" and West Coast beaches. Very few beaches in California have boardwalks, or ski-ball, or stores that sell shirts like this one:
You go to the beach to...sit on the beach. Or possibly surf. That's the activity. The beach isn't cover for a whole lot of other activities that are generally considered gauche, but suddenly --and thankfully -- become acceptable when your shorts have internal netting.
August 31, 2007 | Permalink
Swing by Venice Beach next time you're in SoCal, Ezra...
Posted by: Petey | Aug 31, 2007 10:26:13 AM
Posted by: John | Aug 31, 2007 10:33:57 AM
I've never been a beach person, mainly because my skin is very fair and I burn easily. And why bake in the sun when God invented air conditioning?
Growing up, every family vacation was a trip "down the shaw" (as we say in Jersey). And while I disliked the beach, the boardwalk was my salvation. The boardwalks at Wildwood and Asbury Park and the like amusements on Long Beach Island are undeniably cheesy, but their allure is powerful. Ski-ball, pinball, the bumper cars, even the "claw" machines (i.e., the "one-armed bandits"), plus many other ultra-retro diversions -- I loved them all. Ah, memories!
Posted by: Kathy G. | Aug 31, 2007 10:39:45 AM
I don't get the Jefferson Airplane joke.
And what John said. "Skee-ball," gosh darnit.
Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Aug 31, 2007 10:51:44 AM
I rule at skee-ball.
Posted by: Adrock | Aug 31, 2007 11:09:34 AM
The Jefferson Airplane reference sounds like a pathetic attempt at witty "hipness" that's fourty years out of date.
Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 31, 2007 11:29:40 AM
Only one can rule at skee-ball and I am the king.
Really, take skee-ball, throw in some bumper cars and a little of that horse racing action that Brooks likes, add in some fried dough (a cardiac delight) and you've got a culturally and nutritionally complete vacation.
Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 31, 2007 11:33:04 AM
Must have that shirt. My daughter and I love the horse race game she is 10, I have no excuse and I play it the White Flint Shopping center
Posted by: Robert Waldmann | Aug 31, 2007 12:03:02 PM
Yeah, I'm so cool and funny because I dig funnel cake. Ha! Funnel cake! Get it? Scrapple! Spam! Ha! Lutefisk! Matzoh balls! Haggis! Ha ha!
I didn't think this column was funny, I think bragging about how much you like to play stupid games that are targeted at people below your income class because you think it makes you seem authentic is completely retarded and is certainly the worst development in post-Letterman American culture, and I really hate the way Brooks tosses in Heschel as an "insert funny name of some intellectual I'm supposed to have read who would seem incongruous in a column about funnel cakes at the beach" joke.
You also neglected to include the parts about the "mountain vacation", which were just unreadable. Someone who assumes that all men secretly long to wear chaps and pretend to be cowboys is really revealing something pretty embarrassing about himself.
Posted by: brooksfoe | Aug 31, 2007 12:22:57 PM
Swing by Venice Beach next time you're in SoCal, Ezra...I thought of that too. That's an exception, though, and once you get north of Santa Barbara (which, let's face it, is where you want to be in California anyway) most of the coast is pretty undeveloped.
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Aug 31, 2007 12:28:28 PM
Ah, SKEE-ball. I rock at that game.
I was never a beach lover either (I'm with Kathy), but when summer came when I was a kid it was to Long Island and my aunt's house. Every day that was nice enough, we went to the beach. (She used to get mad if we were inside and it wasn't raining. Not easy for a kid who preferred reading to kick-the-can.)
Howevah, the beach there had a lagoon which was much more fun than the actual Sound, and mmmmm.....Italian Ices from the snack stand.
Posted by: ajw_93 | Aug 31, 2007 12:33:02 PM
For someone who went to Rio and sat around blogging and reading books about policy, you've got no room to talk about what someone should or shouldn't do when they somewhere.
Posted by: ostap | Aug 31, 2007 12:49:11 PM
Sitting on the beach has its place, but the ocean is dangerous and cold at night, while skee-ball and racy t-shirts that tell you the ways in which different kinds of people "do it" are awesome.
This passage only increases my enthusiasm to hit the boardwalk at Ocean City MD, the trashiest of trashy boardwalks, this weekend.
Posted by: SDM | Aug 31, 2007 12:50:50 PM
The difference is that West Coast beaches are better for actual aquatic activity, right? It's warmer and there's more sand. The warmer beaches of the Southeast -- Florida and the Carolina coastline, for example -- are quite different from the Jersey shore scene you're describing.
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 31, 2007 1:28:03 PM
One of the great shocks of my life, having grown up on the ocean about 20 miles north of Boston, was that West Coast beaches are just as cold as New England. The Pacific in that part of the world has a pretty cold current. So San Diego's ocean temperature was not that much better than what I was accustomed to as a kid and certainly no warmer than New Jersey. North and South Caroline would be appreciably warmer.
Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 31, 2007 1:32:10 PM
Posted by: Stephen | Aug 31, 2007 1:43:31 PM
Some will remember Alanis Morissette's star turn as God in Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999). God comes to earth regularly in human form, mostly so she can play skee-ball.
Posted by: Sangfroid826 | Aug 31, 2007 1:57:36 PM
boardwalks are wonderful places!
bradley beach to asbury park, in particular....
the penny arcades with pokerino...those little rubber balls heading down the varnished wood and the pinball machines exploding!
jelly apples, caramel apples, kohr's frozen custard,salt water taffy...the big old funhouse that used to be in asbury park with the revolving barrel...the swan boats...the gazebos where elders sat with their canes resting on the benches and their hosiery rolled to their knees, speaking yiddish...splinters on your toes from the boardwalk..(G-d forbid, if you stepped on a lit cigarette butt).miniature golf...little dolphin fountains.
nothing like the sound of the ocean, sandgrains mixed into your fragrant coppertone and sea breezes, from a bench on the boardwalk!
happy labor day weekend!
Posted by: jacqueline | Aug 31, 2007 2:30:44 PM
Neil, KTLN has it right. The currents are clockwise, so New Jersey's ocean water comes up from down near the Bahamas, while California's comes down from up near Alaska. Which is why you never ever see a California surfer without a wetsuit.
But hey, going in the water is way overrated.
The real difference between West Coast and east coast beaches is that with a very few exceptions (Maine, e.g.), even the few undeveloped east coast beaches have nothing to look at. No cliffs, no rocks, no mountains--nothing. What's the point?
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Aug 31, 2007 2:57:15 PM
Not true of the beaches in Massachusetts, which tend to be part of the mainland and are rocky and curvy and rugged in many spots. I was very surprised to move further south and realize that most of the east coast beaches from the mid-Atlantic down were essentially barrier islands and are long and straight. It's a very different aesthetic experience.
I was very struck by the prevalence of wet suits in San Diego. Until I went in the water -- then they seemed to make total sense.
In my old age I say give me the Carribbean or South Beach.
Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 31, 2007 3:05:23 PM
KTLN, a good deal of the New England coast is exceptions to my general rule. New Jersey, on the other hand...really nothing there.
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Aug 31, 2007 3:38:51 PM
The only California beaches I can think of that are like the NJ Boardwalk or Coney Island are:
- Venice. It has its share of cheap sunglasses and t-shirt shops, crappy bars, pretzel and sno-cone carts. It's also a funky (and expensive) boho artist district (like Silver Lake) with a lot of restaurants and nightclubs and whatnot.
- Santa Monica. Just the pier - it has skee-ball and bumper cars and rigged games to win stuffed animals. The rest of it is pure sand 'n surf.
- Santa Cruz. Boardwalk, amusement park, wooden roller coaster, arcades. It's far enough up the coast for the water to be too cold to do much of anything in without a wetsuit. I'm surprised Ezra forgot about it.
Everything else along the CA coast is pretty much about the beach. San Diego beaches are for walking along, catching rays, and splashing in the water. Malibu and Santa Monica (modulo the pier) are all about the sun and the water. It's a pretty clear difference between the Northeast and the West Coast.
Posted by: FMguru | Aug 31, 2007 4:15:13 PM
You can surf without in a wetsuit in San Diego for about three weeks in August.
Actually, every time I went to the beach this summer in SD there were tons of people (often including me) playing Bocce. I'm pretty sure this is new. Do East Coaster do this?
Posted by: Trevor | Aug 31, 2007 4:23:31 PM
I'd agree with the strong temptation to spend thousands of dollars playing Ski-Ball endlessly, at the beach of any other setting. However, the game Brooks describes is something else. I think that horse racing game scores points by rolling balls into a horizontal set of holes, not a round Ski-Ball sort of target. I forget what the horse race game is called, but a similar setup is called Fascination, as seen here:
I think San Francisco's long-departed Playland At The Beach had a Fascination setup, as well as the horse game.
Posted by: Jacel | Aug 31, 2007 4:37:39 PM
The horsey race game is quite different from skee-ball -- a manly game of skill and grit -- versus a child's game of luck. Around here you can play both at Dave and Busters which has the great business model of taking arcade games, charging you an arm and a leg for them that you pay for with a pre-paid card (so you don't really know how much junior is costing you) and adding a bar to the insanely loud mix. Irresistible.
Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 31, 2007 5:08:45 PM
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