Of course, there are certain things that change about us as we age, both physically and emotionally. Physically, for instance, I can no longer sit cross-legged on the floor, fold my arms across my chest and rise to a standing position without uncrossing my arms. And, emotionally, I grow more and more sentimental as each day passes.
As for the sentimentality, I was again reminded of that recently when I was included in a social media conversation about my summer in a town about the size of Elida, Spring Lake, New Jersey. It was in 1971, while a sophomore at Miami University that I learned of the job from a bulletin board posting at the student union, which all of us Miamians simply called The Res. The job was a seasonal position working at the Essex and Sussex Hotel. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was one of the most venerable Grand Madams of the Atlantic Ocean-facing luxury hotels on the Jersey Shore.
Frankly, being only an occasional checker of any social media, I’m surprised I even noticed the conversation which was begun by one of the waitresses for whom I bussed trays in the sprawling dining room, but I’m glad I did join in. It was nice to hear from some of my E&S alums and see some posted photos someone had the foresight to snap. Of course, the photos all came from girls. None of us self-respecting 20-something-year-old dudes were running around with a camera in our hand when that hand could be filled with a Schaefer Beer, brewed a little over 60 miles away in New York City.
Since I only spent one summer at the majestic hotel on the Shore, I didn’t know everyone who joined in the conversation, but I do have memories of many of my ’71 fellow workers, people like me, I’m pretty sure, who’re wondering how quickly a single summer shy of a half century can pass.
I remember Billy Dermody because he pitched for Cornell and that summer routinely threw his swifties past me with a rubber ball called a Spaldeen by East Coasters who played stickball and strikeout. For Billy and me, the game was strikeout played up against a nearby grade school building’s brick wall with a chalked off strike zone Billy routinely filled up.
I remember his pal and roommate Ted Osiecki for his great love of music — especially the band Emerson, Lake and Palmer — and I also remember the congeniality he possessed that made him a favorite of all of us.
And, of course, I remember Tina Stone, both for her sweet disposition and her striking physical beauty. She was indeed the McIntosh apple of every guy’s eye who lived that summer in the old wooden dorm we all called the Gizmo. The dorm was a block down Ocean Avenue from the massive hotel. While the guys occupied the first floor, the girls were on the second.
Others who joined the conversation, I couldn’t recall by name, but that didn’t matter, for all who joined the conversation I considered kindred spirits, no matter whether their Essex and Sussex time coincided with mine or not. We worked at what was considered the crown jewel of the Jersey Shore, a hotel constructed in 1914, and we played at the Giz and on the beach and also in the taverns that dotted the coast in nearby towns, especially in a bar called Crine’s in nearby Sea Girt.
We also took our occasional road trips into New York City to attend baseball games at Yankee Stadium or a Schaefer Music Festival concert in Central Park at the Wollman Skating Rink. When I think back on those times, I have to laugh about our feeling that we were invulnerable. Night concerts in Central Park or, after one Yankee game, a towed car we had to retrieve from an impound lot after walking four long big-city blocks as the night rolled on past midnight we did without a thought that anything could possibly go wrong.
Yes, I’m guessing like a lot of you, that summer when I was 20 was one filled with activities I would never consider today. My Essex and Sussex work shifts were bussing dishes in the dining room, operating the elevator and, at times, bell hopping. While I’d like to think my being moved around to different jobs other than the one I was originally assigned was an homage to my versatility, perhaps closer to the truth may be that I dropped too many dishes before I could get them to the dishwashers while bussing.
I went online to see if the massive hotel across Ocean Avenue was still in operation and found some great current photos. It’s now a condo development, but the pale yellow building with the six three-story columns accenting the front entrance and the sweeping wraparound porch that faces the grand Atlantic remains exactly as I remember it in all its grandeur.
The fact that it’s still there comforts me. At least when a building remains that once played host to my youthful hijinks so many decades later, it allows me the ability to fool myself that not all that much time has passed.
Eventually the conversation and the swapping of our memories ended. After all, I think we all had to face the realities that while the occasional sentimental social media journey is all well and good, perhaps it’s best to keep those trips short lest the sadness we feel over our lost youth distracts us from what still lies ahead.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.