A Surprise Trip to the Shore

The back story: My brother wanted to go to Six Flags with a bunch of friends from Governor’s School. However, since Great Adventure is about an hour and a half drive from our humble town, my mother wouldn’t let him drive myself. And my mother, who didn’t want to be by herself for an entire afternoon, dragged me along for the ride.

“We can go to the Safari thing and see giraffes!” she said.

The Safari thing my mother was referring to is Safari Off Road Adventure, Six Flags’s attempt to lure nature enthusiasts to spend money at their theme park. Next to the roller coasters is a giant wildlife preserve where giraffes and other safari animals roam. While my favorite animals happen to be the ones that call the Serengeti home, I was unsure whether either I or the giraffes on-site would be very happy about frolicking the wilds of central New Jersey.

As luck would have it, Six Flags is also conveniently located in Ocean County, and some educated guessing will lead you to conclude that yes, Ocean County is located next to the ocean. A half hour after we drop my brother off, my mother and I arrive at the shores of Point Pleasant, armed with a new beach umbrella bought at an end-of-seasons sale (probably at K-Mart), towels, and a bottle of sunscreen that happened to have expired a few months ago but remains surprisingly effective.

Because we did not have a real address, it took a bit of navigational tomfoolery with the GPS to reach our destination. We wound up on Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, which features a small offering of amusement park rides, fried food, and ice cream.

IMG_0617

As you can see, it was a clear day. The sun was out, but the temperatures hovered near the low eighties. With the constant breeze, it almost felt chilly. (My preferred beach weather is sunny to the point where it’s a little uncomfortable but not impossible to step on the sand with bare feet.)

I didn’t really go swimming today either. The water actually was not that cold, but the surf was especially rough. No one else was doing anything besides wading in up to their knees, so I took it as a sign that venturing out further was not the best idea. Since it was a weekday, most of the beachgoers were kids with their grandparents/parents/babysitters. The sea-soaked children had a grand time running into the waves and flinging sand and saltwater as they sprinted past. The different caretakers were content to observe from a distance and got up occasionally to rescue their young charges when they were knocked over by a particularly strong tide. The people watching was not particularly exciting, except for one family who decided to feed the wildlife and attracted a swarm of laughing gulls to their blanket.

A laughing gull.
A laughing gull.

Instead, I spent a lot of time watching the ocean. Generally, nature is not really a point of interest for me, but I have an affinity for oceans and for waves in particular. I like how the water curls in on itself and all the foam that creeps towards the shore and the chilly saltiness of the spray. I like the surprising violence of the surf–how the sea slams into the land hard enough to make a sound and how it can knock you over if you’re not paying attention.

IMG_0611

Unfortunately, real beaches require a couple hours driving distance from DC, so I’ll have to spend another summer without the Atlantic Ocean within easy reach. But luckily, another nice thing about oceans is that they’ll always be there.

Advertisements

People Watching #3

Today, I witnessed an incredibly fascinating conversation between two dog owners. One lady, dressed in a coral-themed shirt and fuchsia shorts, let her black labrador mix bark plaintively at squirrels. The other woman wore capri plants and walked a scruffy terrier-like pooch.

I learned:

  • It’s easy to make friends if you’re a dog owner.
  • Positive reinforcement training totally does not work. At all.
  • There’s a great dog trainer somewhere in Bergen County. They exchanged phone numbers with a 201 area code.
  • Dogs that eat too many treats develop IBS, colitis, and all kinds of terrible gastrointestinal illnesses. I wonder if that applies to people.
  • Both dogs came from shelters. One might have been rescued from euthanasia. As the coral-shirt lady said, “I love hearing stories like that.”

Things That Happened to Me Today

Because it was one of the more terrifying moments of my life in recent memory, I’d like to start with the spider. It was an unusually mild day, and by the time I was waiting for the train, the clouds outside were a storm-like gray and the platform felt like a wind tunnel. I was determined to finish The Interestings before I arrived home (one of those I-had-fun-reading-it-but-some-plot-points-annoyed-me books) when I felt a tickle on my arm. I looked down and saw a gigantic furry mini-tarantula, cursed loudly, and flung it onto my book where it then dangled with malice and disappeared somewhere into the distance (hopefully). I understand that “gigantic furry mini-tarantula” is an oxymoron, but it was definitely one of those species of spiders that live in the wild and feast on small beetles.

Speaking of animals, I remain perplexed about the appeal of Shark Week. Sharks are pretty cool creatures, but I’ve finally finished the first season of Game of Thrones and have become extremely invested in all of the characters. So sharks be damned.

On the flip side of exciting, my accomplishment at work today was hunting down author names and emails for at least 80 blogs. I think it’s the most tedious thing I’ve done so far, but along the way, I’ve learned a few things:

  • There are some terribly designed websites out in the universe. (That being said, I realize that this theme on WordPress makes bulleted lists look like true word vomit.)
  • Oh the places you discover contact information.
  • On a similar note, Google is miraculous.
  • Looking through all the WordPress sites made me seriously reconsider the theme I chose for my upcoming food blog.

Falling in between the spectrum of tedious and exciting, I made a rhubarb and raspberry crumble two days ago with plans to use leftover rhubarb for a second rendition of the dessert. Rhubarb lives in no grocery stores besides Fairway (and probably Hyde Park Produce because what isn’t at Hyde Park Produce?).  It smells kind of funny when you boil it on the stove, but it does make a pretty crumble, which is best eaten fresh.

Ohmygodwhatthehellwasthat?!?

At home, my parents like to leave the windows open. In the winter, the open windows circulate the stale, heated air, even if the incoming draft is cold enough to overtax the inefficient central heating system. In the summer, we open them in hope of a draft and wait for fresh cooling breezes that wick away heat and sunlight.

Opening a window, like anything else we do in the world, carries its own hazards.  Of course, all of our windows have sturdy, insect-proof screens. Of course, the functionality of those screens is dubious at best. While open windows in the winter just means you should put on a pair of socks, open windows in the summer signifies the onslaught of exoskeleton wielding invertebrates with neatly sectioned bodies.

The bug problem is not severe enough to merit any real intervention.  (For actual insect issues that pose public health violations, see ants or roaches or bed bugs.)  However, it is noticeable to those who do not qualify to be listed as members of the household on federal tax returns. After trying to explain to my friends to relax whenever something zooms across the downstairs living room, I have long realized that I am desensitized to most bugs that are smaller than a toddler’s fingernail, such as moths or crickets. In fact, because I have watched Mulan too many times as a child, I regard crickets with a tolerant affection. They hop and chirp. Their only misfortune is that they are crickets and not canaries. Even centipedes, while horrendous and frightening, do eat other equally horrendous and frightening creatures, so as long as they are far, far away, they can stay too.

However, the really frightening moments occur when I’m reading or sitting in front of my computer when out of the corner of my eye, something scuttles across the floor. For example, just five minutes ago, I saw something that looked suspiciously like a spider sprint across the carpet. I hopped off my bed to investigate, and (here’s the truly frightening part) nothing was there. The spider, which was the size of a dollar coin, had run towards the wall next to my closet. My walls are white, and my carpet is a light lavender. The main point: There is no possible way for a spider to disappear without a trace in such an environment.

Why is this moment “really frightening”? As desensitized as I am to bugs, spiders, etc., they are only innocuous if:
a.) I know exactly where they are.
b.) They are small in size. Really small.
c.) They do not appear to be poisonous or particularly gross looking.
The spider, of course, fulfilled none of these qualifications. Another unsettling thing to consider was that my mind made this whole thing up. The spider could have been a nervous manifestation, a symptom of an eye disorder, something signifying that I should see a health care professional. Thus, I am left terrified that an unidentified, probably large, and possibly venomous spider will attack me in my sleep (or that I should get my eyes checked).

I’ve written this post, and so far, I have not seen any more signs of life in my bedroom. While not a good sign, it is not a bad one either. Tomorrow, I’m going to start closing some windows.

Update: I found the spider. It had spun a web in between a stack of books, across from the wall where it had disappeared. I promptly dispatched my father to extract it from my room, so all is well.

That’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

The most exciting thing that has happened to me today was that I changed the background on my computer.  Gracing my desktop is a black and white photograph.  Two men are sitting across from each other eating breakfast.  They’re having a great time, sipping coffee and smiling cheerily when out of nowhere comes a giraffe!  It cranes its long neck towards the table in search of his own cup of coffee.  Please, thank you, and a good morning to you too, sir.

It’s not quite surrealism, but this image is far from ordinary.  No matter how many times I imagine it, there will be no African savanna dwelling animals wandering the streets of New Jersey anytime soon.  It’s a shame really.  I am fascinated by such creatures – lions, elephants, giraffes (oh my?).  Whenever I look closely at pictures or zoo exhibits, I can see how strange they really are, how if I had never set sight on them before, they’d be downright bizarre.  Sure, a giraffe is a giraffe.  Its image has been indoctrinated into the realm of the ordinary.  But if you can distance yourself and maybe squint a little, you can see a giraffe for its strangeness.  Suddenly, that is the quality that momentarily defines it.

For our purposes though, let’s go back to how most people see giraffes.  It’s a funny-looking animal, vegetarian, perhaps friendly, and certainly tall.  This image is general and familiar, printed in textbooks and featured on Animal Planet documentaries.  Now, picture breakfast on a Sunday morning.  There are waffles and bacon, ceramic mugs and china plates, tall glasses of orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you’re lucky.  This is a portrait of daily life, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

By themselves, these images are ordinary.  No one blinks twice at a photograph of a giraffe munching on acacia leaves or of two people enjoying a breakfast spread.  However, these two images are ordinary in their own distinct ways, and when you combine them, the resulting picture immediately joins the ranks of the uncanny, the strange, and the striking.  Similar to the way the product of two negative numbers is positive, two ordinary components can create something else entirely.

Image analysis, aside, giraffes at breakfast made my day.  As far as house guests go, the tallest animal in the world is hard to beat.