I was 9 nine years old and he was working at the/Metuchen Ford plant assembly line/Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion hall/but I can tell what's on his mind~Bruce Springsteen
The last weekend before Labor Day we spent at Sunset Beach. My son and I mooched cottage/beach space from my uncle. I say “mooch”; he says “always welcome”. This time my mom came with us.
As I situated my little family on the beach, my uncle remarked that I was using a bedspread as a blanket with the same disapproval as Martha Stewart might if she saw a table runner being used as a shawl. After a brief discussion with one of his friend (there are always beach buddies) on how Buffalo’s old money refuses to invest in the city, I went for some French fries. As I neared Cabana Sams, I heard Vacation by the GoGos being blasted from an open air bar. The GoGos summoned back to me the summer of ’81 when I high schooled in Oregon and vacationed in Buffalo.
That summer, my other uncle’s ex-girlfriend M took me everywhere with her. We cruised the South town beaches—smoked cigarettes, read trashy magazines, baked in the sun. With my fake ID tucked into a pocket (unused: the fake ID was merely a courtesy back then. Showing it just made everyone uncomfortable with the lie, but you had it just in case). She’d take me to the Pierce Arrow or the like. We drank vodka/teas and danced sometimes with a guy or just with each other. My uncle would show up later and they’d drop me off at Gram’s.
Those summer days on the beach I felt as if I was on the brink of something…it turned out to be just more life, but there was anticipation that I’ve never felt again.
With the flush of youthful memory ripping through me, I suddenly felt old, fat, tired and spent like an emphysema-riddled rabbit chasing a carrot on a stick. That’s the problem with nostalgia: the youth in it seems to mock present circumstances. The years I worked at the tavern (more on that another day), the patrons endlessly engaged in the “remember whens” and the reminiscent musings of Buffalo in its heyday— when Bethlehem Steel ascended. Sometimes I loved it—the time when a friend’s mother told me that my aunt shocked their prom by not wearing taffeta but a pink suit my Nana made (ala Jackie Kennedy), but mostly I wanted to scream at those old guys: “IT’S OVER. All you have is today and you’re wasting it.”
Today on the beach I wasn’t much better than those old guys. The GoGos had plunged me deep into my memory and just to make the whole day disorienting, I heard my name and saw her face—M. There she was again.
Nostalgia is such a trap and it’s pervasive here. The place, the people, and the circumstance— nothing seems to have changed since “remember when”. The remains of the steel plant triggers memory to keep the wheels of nostalgia rolling on. Sometimes it’s like living in a cemetery with a vast, empty, rusted mausoleum to the past. If I had a few drinks with M and avoided any mirrors, maybe the alcohol would have tricked my brain and I could relive.
Instead, I pointed out my son playing on the beach with his grandmother and great uncle and asked her to stop by and say hello. My son may grow up alongside the hull of an industrial past but I can't have him grow up with a mom ghosted by her youth. Forget the steel plant and the GoGos; there are better days to be had along the shores of Lake Erie.