A Clarey vacation: Lobster and nostalgia

by Brian Clarey

We’ve been back in New York just a few ticks longer than 24 hours, and already my wife is considering physical violence against another human.

“That bitch just scraped my car!”

It’s true. The bitch in question scraped her whole passenger side against a rear corner of our station wagon while my wife sat idling at the curb on Barnum Island, just across the channel from Long Beach. She then looked my wife directly in the eye, scoffed and then drove off, possibly because she saw our North Carolina tags and figured us for a couple of rubes.

It was a mistake on her part; my wife jotted down her plate number and then began an exercise in the Italian art of vendetta.

Or maybe it was the smart move. It’s possible that if she had stopped, my lovely bride would have dragged her out of the car by her hair and laid a smackdown right there in the street in front of all the people queued at the take-out window of Jordan’s Lobster Farm.

I missed the whole thing. I was inside Jordan’s procuring a sack of one-pound lobsters, one of those lobster rolls and a couple containers of the best goddamn lobster bisque I have ever eaten.

No summertime trip to my ancestral home would be complete without a trip to Jordan’s, where they’ve been boiling those suckers alive for 50 years. Eating one on the beach, sand between your toes and the susurrus of the tides off in the distance is one of the finest culinary experiences a man can have. The glee my 7 year old expressed while he took down his lobster was worth the sideswipe.

We’re here for a number of reasons. It’s one last trip before school starts and the mornings in my house, which have been fairly pleasant all summer, turn into something that rhymes with “fustercluck.” Also, my dear mother has spent some time in the hospital this summer, and when she requested an audience with her grandchildren it was not for me to deny. Plus it’s always grounding to touch base with the people I grew up with; most of them still live here.

Escaping the Carolina heat wave was purely serendipitous.

It’s beautiful here in summer, with watercolor skies and a strong offshore breeze. The ocean is as clean as it’s been in my lifetime, evidenced by the staggering amount of mussel and littleneck shells that have washed ashore to stud the sands of the inter-tidal zone. My father’s taken to wearing thick-soled aqua socks for his daily swim, which kind of cracks me up.

On Saturday night we were 10 miles inland, in Dr. Lawyer’s backyard making a good run on his beer supply and the wide platter of meats he seared on the grill. His wife, Dr. Doctor, is newly pregnant with their second child. Our friends Mary and Mike have one on the way, as well, their third. Meanwhile the Dick is in Philadelphia burying his father, Cap has just settled in for a long stretch of rehab and Dr. Lawyer’s dad, Dr. Senior, is in the hospital where he worked for so many years, recovering from a bad fall.

Still the tide rolls on.

I haven’t seen J Ho in nearly 20 years, when he wore a magnificent mullet and one of three or four Metallica T-Shirts he rotated through. Back then we were part of an alliance between the Metalheads and the Deadheads forged in the smoking section of our high school in Garden City.

And here he is now in Dr. Lawyer’s backyard, sipping a white ale while our sons play together on the lawn. J Ho is an acountant now. This is funny to me.

Joe Spo is here, too. We’ve crossed paths maybe five times in the last 10 years, and it’s good to hear about his young children and his dental practice.

Yeah, dental practice. This I also find amusing.

Seeing these guys now is like traveling in time – it feels like only yesterday when we were in high school, after all, and in a flash, it seems, all these things have happened to us. Kids and careers. Triumphs and tragedies. The stuff of life.

My friends think we should move back here, and I admit it sometimes seems appealing to settle down in the place where I grew up. I have hundreds of friends here, and a part of me likes the idea of watching my children retrace my steps – to play in the same parks I did as a boy, go to the same schools and come of age with the offspring of the people who shared that time in my life with me.

It’s a neat little picture. But it is not to be.

My own path has already passed through this part of the world. I’ve learned its lessons as best I could, tasted its riches and felt its sting.

And I’ll always be back to visit, as long as Jordan’s Lobster Farm is still turning out those beautiful crustaceans and the waters of the Atlantic crash to the shore in wave after wave after wave.

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