Keeping the Change

The benchmark of the page on the calendar that is Labor Day stared at Rachel with a look of impatience.

“What are you waiting for?” the calendar asked in a voice not unlike Johnny Drama’s.

“I don’t know,” Rachel replied, unfazed that calendars can talk. But when in the deepest throes of REM sleep, anything is possible and logic is never questioned. “There’s still time left in the summer.”

“Two weekends, maybe five nights,” shot back the calendar. “That’s hardly an eternity. And really, what do you have to show for your summer?”

“Show for it, Cal?” Rachel asked, already devising a clever nickname for the inquisitive Calendar that features not mountains or rainbows on the photos above the dates, but a picture of Kevin Dillon.

“Yeah, where are your dividends? You spent, what, $250.00-$400.00 per weekend? You exhausted your organs like that guy in Super Size Me. All that late night pizza, Mexican food, endless hours of drinking, and the fact that your reputation was put on the line every night…where’s the return on your investment?

“Like most Hobokenites and city folk at the shore, you were successful at most times of keeping things under the radar, but once in awhile you’d slip into someone’s lips on the Edgars dance floor or under the fake palm trees of the Sea Shell,” Cal continued. “After all the money, the parties, and the nights out, what exactly do you have to show for your summer?”

“Well, there were a few guys, but only one who I really liked,” Rachel reflected, thinking back on her 14 weeks at the beach. “We never really talked about the future. I didn’t want to scare him off.”

And therein lies the rub. Summers at the beach are like college mixers, except Senior Week lasts 15 weeks longer. You have your hookups, your weak moments. And then there’s that one person who you think, ok, hope, that you connected with. But is he or she on board to explore matters further when you need to start wearing a coat at night? Will they be there as a date for a wedding, as a double dinner date with one of your married friends, or someone to just pop in on during a boring Tuesday night?

This column tries to explore those situations in life that many think about but few are willing to admit to even mulling over. Taking stock in social nest eggs such as purchasing a beach share with some that were complete strangers in May simply for its relationship benefits is definitely one of them.

So over the next few weeks at the beach, just look in their eyes. The place oozes in bittersweet symphonies. It is a time to enjoy the warmth and nightly convenience of never having to pick up a phone to summon a crew to join you. It’s like going on a cruise-everything you need is already on board.

But simultaneously, the benchmark of Labor Day Tuesday is as ominous as April 15; a point in time that asks if all of the abuse to the mind and body provided any outcome in the form of a significant other.

Labor Day weekend is the Super Bowl for all those who love to watch the spectacles unfold. It is a time of complete candor and confessions of feelings that had been portrayed since Memorial Day as nothing more than casual or platonic.

You’ll see the intense conversations in the corner of the bar or in some nether region of a pub parking lot. You’ll witness someone pleading guilty to falling for the person standing in front of them, as if their old boat was going down like it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

It’s getting late early around here. You may not have access to this special someone on a weekly basis anymore, you think. In order to see him or her, you may have to actually contact them to make plans and set itineraries in a more structured environment wrapped in the inconvenience of reality. If some sort of conversation does not occur when September 6th rolls around, the opportunity may have slipped away.

And for those who spent thousands for shore house shares and the socializing funds that go along with it, that though simply is not acceptable.

This is especially true for those born before 1974. The bar scene on the Jersey shore is very forgiving to those some consider old. 33 isn’t your parents 33: Actually, in some parts of the beach, 33 is considered a happy median.

You can still get away with it.

Back north in the Mile Square and Big Apple, that isn’t necessarily the case. Oh sure, Dalton the bouncer won’t kick you out of the joint, but there is a younger feel to places you once called home, and to look for a significant other is significantly more difficult.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Unfortunately the apple of your eye that is hearing about amorous thoughts that he or she pretended not to know about now puts them in a position that screams “Oh fuck.” After all, this conversation would never happen in an urban environment. Savvy courtshipers around these parts always seem to know how to play it cool, where pride and dignity are usually given priority.

And guess what? According to my polling, spilling-your-heart-out-declarations-while-overserved have exactly a 3.9% success rate ( polls have a +/- margin of error of 4%)

Regardless of the numbers, the beach has a way of turning everything upside down. And on Labor Day weekend, many beachgoers don’t mind dancing on the ceiling if it means possibly securing the one whose hips were willing but whose heart and mind may not have cried proceed.

To call it panic would be a hyperbole, but not far from it.

After waking up on a humid August Saturday, Rachel pondered her conversation with the calendar that the local bank gave her for signing up for free checking. She rarely remembered her dreams, but this one was so vivid.

And a bit unsettling…

Rachel was a catch: the kind of girl on paper who most guys—most of whom didn’t give her butterflies, anyway—wanted to make a bring-home-to-Mom-girlfriend. Her interest just happened to be in the house next door in Spring Lake, which helped her avoid in-house drama, but only by about 30 yards.

The days in the sand were typical: His house parked in a straight line of 14 beach chairs sitting behind hers by the same 30 yards, followed by respective house dinners apart.

Distance at the bar is established for a short time until the magic hour of 11:00 PM, when couples who hadn’t acknowledged each other since leaving the other one’s bed the previous weekend proliferate like IPods. Suddenly affection and close talking is all the rage, and when the cabs start lining up for closing time three hours later, a decision that used to mean something has already been made without uttering a word before the fare is paid.

The conversation at 4:30 AM between these faux-couples is always somewhat telling, deep and seamless. One side may wish these moments could continue when September ends, while in a majority of cases the other side is thinking about how to prevent the other one from becoming too attached. This pattern could continue for weeks or at least until the other party in this unorthodox relationship doesn’t come down because they had to attend a wedding or family barbecue.

Then late August hits and all things nonchalant come to a head. Rachel, after being fed up with the thought that she, SHE, could actually have been used in the name of expediency, finally puts her heart out there to Mike (whom she began calling “Michael” during those telling, deep and seamless conversations…always a sign of things to come).

The pillow talk, the snuggling, the intimacy, it had to mean something, she thinks. Plans for a normal evening back home with her future boy are anticipated. And if rejection occurs, the August account for yet another summer once more shows a zero balance.

“I’ll never do this again,” the discarded souls will say. But after nine months of almost connecting and going through the motions with two or three other people, they always come back, because down the shore everything really is all right.

Rachel’s fate has yet to be decided. Only on that first week after Labor Day will she know how much of an initial return she was going to receive on her investment.

Until then, enjoy the succulent storylines abound at a shore scene near you.

For those who take pleasure in seeing these sorts of circumstances unfold so overtly, it doesn’t get any better than this.