Twenty-eight years ago I drove down the Maryland coast looking for a summer rental. We’d just graduated college, the Beastie Boys had put out a new album, and people were rioting in the streets of LA. I found a place on Division Street in Ocean City, a bungalow off a rickety cat walk above a Texaco. Our landlord lived next door, ex-Marine, a recovered alcoholic and stroke victim with a face like a rotten apple, sunken and brown. I can’t remember much from that summer other than the two jobs I worked, one at a candy store weighing fudge for tourists, the other delivering pizzas on the late shift. I didn’t expect much coming out of college in terms of a real job. We didn’t move to the beach for that, we moved there to postpone growing up for one more summer.
Chris and Dave were friends I met in college and the three of us fantasized about moving to Boulder, Colorado even though none of us had been there before. I thought it better to test things out first with a summer long rental closer to home. Mike moved in too, so the four of us shared a single bedroom with bunk beds and one bathroom. No one wore shoes at the beach and sand got everywhere. You had to walk barefoot for a while to break down the sensitivity on your feet so they could take the heat from the sand. Most of our friends’ feet were black either from the heat or out of sheer neglect. We fancied ourselves punk rock but we really weren’t, I was too soft for that. I did get my ear pierced by a friend who pressed the stud through the cartilage on the top. It hurt less than having it done at the Piercing Pagoda, at the mall.
I had an ’84 Thunderbird my dad gave me when I graduated and used that to deliver pizzas. I started my shift at 11 pm and ended at 3 or 4 am. One night we drove to the beach as the sun was coming up so my co-workers could surf and I sat on the sand with a girl who worked the front register listening to a tape on my boom box. It was moody music with a lot of synth but she said she liked it and gave me a look when she said it which I didn’t pick up on as a signal now, in hindsight. I was too distracted by my own angst and got nowhere with girls that summer. Girls can sense that in guys, the angst is a kind of repellent.
When I moved back home and got an apartment it was time to get serious about work but instead I applied for a job delivering pizzas because I knew I could do that and it wouldn’t be hard. I didn’t want too much stress out of a job, I wanted to write. I set up a typewriter in that first apartment and a reel-to-reel player on the mantle one of my cats knocked off and broke. It was many years before I got a real job. I think by ‘real’ that meant it was hard and stressful, but paid well.
When I left the beach I had one last shift at the pizza shop but decided last minute to blow it off. I felt bad but there was something else going on that night and I didn’t feel like going in. But I had to go back to the shop to pick up my last pay check before I left town and my manager, the one I really liked, said I thought you were different but I guess I was wrong, you’re just like everybody else. And that hurt, because I thought I was different too.