Off-the-wall

By Bob Spiwak

Oct. 29 marked the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the second-costliest and largest hurricane in size to hit the Atlantic coast. It covered 1,100 miles of ocean and inland area. New Jersey was among the largest states devastated by the storm.

New Jersey is considered a dump by many, and lives up to that description only when one is driving through he industrial corridor. Other than that, it is quite pretty, mountainous to the north, agricultural down the center, and the far eastern bounds end at the Atlantic Ocean.

We lived at 25 Center St. in a beach town called Sea Bright. About 50 miles from New York City, on a rare clear day we could see Coney Island across the water. I could never understand how our street, at most 100 yards long, could be named Center when it was at the very south end of town. The business area was smaller than that of Winthrop.

I was there after being discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1958, going to college at what is now Monmouth University. With a wife and 2-year-old daughter, we lived in the upper rooms of a two-story home. To the west was the Shrewsbury River, a five-knot tidal flow that joined another reach a few miles north which became the Navesink River. This river system flowed into and out of the Atlantic, rose and fell with the tides. Our home was about 100 feet from the river, which was protected by a high curb: It was always a worry that our daughter would wander off and drown.

To the east, maybe 300 yards at slack tide, was the mighty Atlantic. At normal high tide, 50 yards could be subtracted. During a full-moon high tide, the river rose, sometimes flooding our end of the street. Hip boots were at times required to walk to my car.

I worked in a store a few blocks away that had a little of everything from wine and liquor to lipstick and cigars. It was on Ocean Avenue, a thoroughfare where, when the tides were up, it was common for store owners to open the front and back doors to enable the waters to flow through when either the ocean or river decided to misbehave. During hurricanes or nor’easters, they frequently joined, overflooding beaches and sea walls.

Sea Bright had a long history of notable people who lived there or visited. It was the vacation spot for New Yorkers before the Depression.

In the late 1950s, when you could by a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing for $9,000, Sea Bright claimed world famous jazz guitarist Tal Farlow, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jim Bishop (my creative writing mentor) and of special interest, Don Vito Genovese, who lived in Atlantic Highlands a few miles up the coast.

The Don, head of one of the New York organized crime families, stopped at our store occasionally. His Cadillac pulled to the curb, a large man would emerge from the front seat and scan the area, then another got out from the back and looked around, and then the boss got out and walked into the store accompanied by one of the men.

The store owners would usually wait on him, but one day he and I were face-to-face across the counter. He was very pleasant, asked for a pack of Kents, looked around and left.

A retrospective of Hurricane Sandy on TV a few nights ago reminded me of life in Sea Bright. The town was demolished, but it survived through many Atlantic storms. I looked at a Google map and would not recognize the place today. And Center Street is still at the end of town.

 

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