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Under the Boardwalk, Down By the Sea

Justine's First Ocean Visit

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It is only fitting that Justine’s first vacation away from home be a trip to the Jersey Shore.  Aside from the annual fox hunt on Boxing Day in the meadows beside Frantzylvania Manor, and of course hunting pheasants at Chateau du Frantz, there is no greater Frantz family tradition than a trip to Ocean City, New Jersey.

The ties between our family and the shore are varied and numerous, reaching all the way back to Columbus, who set adrift Otto von Frantz in the middle of the Atlantic for “excessive heckling” at the Santa Maria talent show.  von Frantz drifted for weeks, finally washing ashore near the 7th Street Surf Shop and becoming the first European to set foot on North American soil.  After sampling the native delicacy “funnel cake,” he assimilated in with the natives, eventually opening up a soft serve ice cream store.  Unfortunately his achievements were lost to history, and are now only a part of our family’s lore.

In more modern times, both my mother and father spent good parts of their childhood summers at the shore, perhaps at that time when men wore suits and women ball gowns as they sat hiding from the sun at the beach.  When they married and had children in 70s, they began to travel to the shore each summer, kids in tow, for three weeks of fun, sun, and three miles of wood and rivets, the much ballyhooed Ocean City Boardwalk.

I remember my childhood at the shore fondly – saving up my money during the year only to spend it all buying water snakes and personal hand fans, and of course dropping quarter after quarter into Mad Dog McCree at Jilly’s Arcade.  Bike rides on the boardwalk, playing ball at the beach, bodysurfing in the syringe laden water.  Ah, to be young again.  But as time went on, and we all grew older, our time at the shore started to grow shorter and shorter.  We started staying farther down the island, then off the island, and then not coming at all.

But as the Frantz family children started having children of their own, the pull of OCNJ began anew, and so, for the last few years, we’ve been all meeting for a week right back where we had been when we are all kids.  So as mentioned, it was only fitting for Justine to be a part of this fabled tradition.  Plus she’s too small to hold the shotgun for the pheasant hunt.

This is the first year we’ve had everyone down at the shore, and so, with everyone minding their own children, we were all free to take part in the usual activities.  Any Frantz family visit to Ocean City, NJ generally consists of one or more of the following activities:

–  Walking the Boardwalk

On the Beach

By all accounts the focal point of many trips to the OC(NJ), the Boardwalk has drained the accumulated savings of many young lads, myself included.  It also features a variety of carnival rides, t-shirt shops laden with the memes of the day, and hermit crab cages.  With Justine in tow, we were forced to abandon our usual activities (apparently bumper cars are NOT equipped with the LATCH system for carseats), so instead we settled for a spin on the Carousel and some fried Oreos.

–  A trip to the “Shell Museum”

Don’t let the name mislead you – the Shell Museum is not, in fact, a museum.  It does, however, sell shells.  Lots of shells. Down by the seashore.  It also features a great white shark jaw in the back, that you can get your picture taken with. For $5.  And don’t attempt to take a picture with your own camera for free.  There’s a sign that says you can’t do that.

– “Bodysurfing”

Generally, when I attempt this particular activity, it’s more like “Bodyscraping” or possibly “ShellEmbedding”.  My brother, who is 9 feet tall, glides on top of the waves like some sort of hydrofoil.  Go figure.

– Shuffleboard

This is the only place I have ever seen with public shuffleboard courts, with the possible exception of the Queen Mary.  After a hiatus last year due to “court resurfacing,” we were able to get in few matches this year.  I don’t recall who won (although it was undoubtedly me).  More importantly, we were able to finally use some of the “magic powder” that we have in an old Palmolive bottle.  No one can remember where the bottle came from, but we’ve had it for as long as I can remember, and have somehow avoided throwing it away.  It’s one of the great family mysteries.

– Pounce

Pounce is a card game which is generally described as “group solitaire.”  We’ve been playing pounce at the shore (exclusively  – for some reason we never play it any other time) for as long as I can remember.  It’s characterized by fast moving hands, a good deal of reckless card playing, and the occasional argument over who got to which pile first.  Justine, while initially excited at the prospect of watching the marquis players deal hand after hand late into the night, eventually decided she’d rather pass out instead.  It’s kind of her thing.

By and large though, our time at the shore was made up of something that I’m calling “child management.”  In terms of personnel in the house, there were basically two teams: people born in this millennium, and everybody else.  Forming the “tod squad”:

1)  Jacob aka “the Old Man”

At 3 years old, he is the unquestioned leader of the children. He by far has the largest vocabulary, singing songs, reciting his ABCs, and even regaled us with selected scenes from Hamlet.  It was pretty good, although I thought his performance was a little too over the top during the Yorick scene. And who knew that Fisher Price made a plastic skull?

2)  Benjamin aka “the Pointer”

My sister’s son, Ben’s favorite past times at the moment are playing with trucks, and pointing at things on command.  Generally this particular behavior is prompted by my sister who says things like “Ben, where’s Uncle Mark?  Ben, where’s your truck?  Ben, which way to fiscal solvency?”  I usually get the fast point – he has his hand in his mouth, which he then sort of gestures quickly in my direction and goes right back to sucking on his hand.  Sometimes, however I get a longer, more pronounced “damning point,” as if he’s saying “right there Mommy, that’s the one who ate my cookies while I took a nap.”

3)  Gracie aka “Princess Binary”

Gracie is at the awkward stage in life where you know what it is that you are looking for, but you just can’t get it across to all the moron adults in the room.  Instead you are forced to resort to simple messages.  “Yes”, which she can clearly pronounce.  “No”, which is more of a “uh uh uh” and a head shake, and finally “I want,” which in this case she gets across with three “words”: “uh uh UH-AH” (that last part finishing up in tone like a Valley Girl talking on the phone).  The default response of these, by the way, is “yes”, as evidenced by such questions as “Gracie, do you think that a Roth IRA is the best vehicle for my retirement? (“Yes”) or “Given the socioeconomic status of the citizens of North Korea, do you think that Kim Jong Il is wise to pursue the 6 Party talks?” (“Yes”)

and of course…

4)  Justine aka “the Sleeper”

It is of little surprise that Justine’s general reaction to most events at the shore was to unceremoniously fall asleep.  In the house, on the boardwalk, at the beach, during dinner, during pounce, etc.  Unfortunately this proclivity got her into a bit of trouble, for when she fell asleep at the beach she woke up with some rosy sunburned cheeks.  To her credit, this seemed not to flummox her at all, although her mother briefly contemplated turning herself over to the OCPD for child abuse.  I snickered while attempting to look distraught over the whole thing.

Latest Frantz's at the Shore

And of course, opposing such personalities were the rest of us, who attempted to keep this cadre of timebombs from all melting down at the same time.  For the most part we were largely successful, and by all accounts we had a wonderful time at the shore.  Though there were several bumpy points – the first night the fire alarm mysteriously went off, bringing firemen running into the house to search for a non-existent fire, and on the last day the ocean was briefly closed because they (shocker) found medical waste in the water – our week at the shore was a rousing success.  We also achieved our primary goal, which was to get lots of good (and staged) pictures of Justine “enjoying” the beach, her little feet dangling in the water, or lying on a towel in front of the waves.  So much of life is about photo ops.

As we drove back to Syracuse a few days later, we both wished…what’s that Gracie?

Uh Uh UH-AH.

You want to go back to the shore?


Soon, soon.

Uh uh uh.

Ok ok… goodnight Gracie.


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