Saturday, July 5, 2008

Seaside Chubba Bubba

The pungent aroma of sausage drives up your nostrils, competing with onions, peppers, sea air, and coconut oil for your undivided attention. The sound of coasters grinding on rails, kids screaming, and carnival barkers pull your ears into the mix. Your bare shoulders crisp in the summer sun and you feel the body heat of too many passers-by passing too closely by. You cautiously open your eyes and it’s a full frontal assault of color, lights, tattoos, cigarettes, bathing suits just a little too small and bare stomachs just a little too large. It’s the Jersey Shore and if it doesn’t knock you on your ass, stay home!

We’re in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, a frenetic beach side boardwalk. We stroll along with our Gran Arlene, a New Jersey Native just like Steve, taking in the sights and smells of the shore. The kids jitter with anticipation as the negotiation begins.

“Six rides! We want to do six.” Collin anchors his opening bid wisely on the high side.

“Two,” says Steve, as we all circle to watch the action. They compromise on three, but Steve gives me a wink that means he’s holding back a fourth as a bonus if Collin and Gillian work well together to decide what to ride.

They ride like champs, throwing their arms high on the giant plunges and screaming like mad – sometimes out of fear and sometimes just because it’s fun to scream. Of course, they get a fourth ride and everyone is high with carnival fever.

Then, we hit the games where Collin is a basketball shooting star and Gillian a darts machine. Collin plays a game called “Shoot the Geek” where you basically paint ball a guy in football pads while he jumps around. Everyone wins except the Geek. We lug our stuffed booty into Three Brothers – the best, most authentic pizza on the planet. You may argue with me on this, and I know those of you from New York and Chicago will, but until you taste this pizza, I will not listen. The slices are huge, cut from pies the size of a tire. When folded, the grease runs down your arm and creates a puddle on the table. My eyes roll back in my head just thinking about it.

We walk some more. Three young men are patted down by five cops and escorted away for the night. We’ve paused to take this in when I glance to my right at a family on a bench looking a little like the three bears. Papa Bear is huge, in a tank top and shorts, black socks and sneakers. He takes a bite of sausage sandwich and pushes his glasses up the slick incline of his nose with two fingers of his other hand while the remaining fingers clutch a wad of napkins. Mama Bear takes a long hit on a drinking straw, sucking the life out of a giant Pepsi, her pasty skin singed a sickly pink. That’s gonna hurt later. But best of all is their daughter, a Seaside Chubba Bubba of the highest order (and I’m not thin, so takes one to know one). Smaller overall than her parents, but hefting impressive slabs of bright white thigh out of each leg of her too short shorts, she shoves a hot dog into her enormous gob. This causes an eruption of ketchup-mustard sluice from the other end that spews all over her leg in a giant yellow-red mudslide. This in turn makes her mouth yaw open wide, exposing hot dog, bun, mustard, ketchup, teeth, tongue and a terrifying “aauuughh” that turns heads for a hundred yards! It all happens in an instant and I am forced to squat so I don’t wet myself. This is why reality television is so compelling – because reality is compelling. You cannot make this stuff up. It happens all around you everyday and it keeps happening in those places you’ve been even when you’re not there.

We pile into the car and head home, satiated. All of our senses have been burned. We stuff saltwater taffy into our mouths, negotiating over who gets which flavor, and try to think of ways to talk each other into coming back to the shore tomorrow.

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