That Small Strip Of Land

Written after the 32 year reunion of my Neptune Sr High School Class in 2008.

A tribute and remembrance of a great little town to grow up in, through good times and bad.

-Al-Vis October 2016

That Small Strip Of Land

We were born into the age of Sputnik, Kruschev, Leave It To Beaver, “I Like Ike” and the demon of rock and roll who was going to ruin us all, Elvis.

Sometime after the end of the second world war, our parents settled into a small strip of Jersey Shore land bordered on the north by Route 66 and on the south by 6th Avenue and the Shark River, called “Neptune Township”. Some of us were from Neptune City, which technically wasn’t part of Neptune but no one really cared (and besides it had Two Guys!). And some others were from the neighboring towns of Bradley Beach or Avon-By-The-Sea, whose beaches we enjoyed once June came around.

They settled into newly developed neighborhoods that had sprung out of old farms such as Wayside, Green Grove, The Gables and Hamilton Gardens, or maybe from one of the older neighborhoods such as Ocean Grove, West Grove (so called because it was West of Ocean Grove) Bradley Park (next to Bradley Beach) and Whitesville. Some of us still live there.

Our fathers wore Fedora hats and the moms really did stay home and bake cookies, Hillary (most of them). And made sure our Davy Jones lunch boxes were filled with milk (never soda, and bottled water was for doing the ironing), home-baked chocolate chip cookies and tuna sandwiches.

They chose this area probably for the same reasons my parents chose it: It just seemed like one of the nicest places they had ever seen where maybe they could raise their kids.

Neptune Township in the early 1960s was a not-too-small-not-too-big suburb about 30 miles due south of New York (probably closer to 50 by car). Asbury Park was our neighbor and we spent many hours on the Ski-Ball lanes, aboard the Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-A-Whirl and that stomach churner, the Rock-n-Roll.

For all of us it was and is our hometown.

We graduated into a world of “Frampton Comes Alive”, “Mr October”, Studio 54, “Born To Run”, “Have A Nice Day” and the dawn of the Reagan era.

In between we endured:

– Racial strife such as this country has never seen before or since. We first watched it on the nightly news, where we could turn the channel from cartoons or Bozo The Clown and see sections of Chicago, LA, Newark, Birmingham- all burning to the ground before our eyes.

Later on we could just stand outside our homes and SEE FOR OURSELVES the flames rising into the hot July night sky, as I did looking northeast from my home on 7th Avenue towards the riots in Asbury Park for a while in 1970.

And then there were those several days in 7th or 8th grade when the blacks lined up on one end of the athletic field in back of the high school and the whites on the other, ready for battle. The story I got was that some white kids had been the victims of stabbings by some of the blacks, with wire combs that kept sharpened for this purpose.

– The Vietnam war, though many of our older siblings did not. And so my parents would grab the Asbury Park Evening Press and read off the names in the obituary section, shaking their heads in disbelief: “The Millers kid, the Jobes’ son, the Johnson’s boy who just graduated last year”

– The cold war. I think knew what a Geiger counter was while I was in 1st grade. I know I certainly knew what a “Radioactive Fallout Shelter” was because there were signs all over Bradley Park Elementary School. I was told that there would be supplies there to spare in case of a nuclear attack- including crackers of all things. My 7 or 8 year old brain pondered what those crackers would taste like in the basement of my school while people were being incinerated above ground.

– Forced busing. In the late 1960s all of the grammar schools in Neptune which had been K-8 were changed to K-4. I was sent far out of my neighborhood to the Ocean Grove Middle School and then to the newly-built Neptune Junior High School.

But by high school, most of us were tired of all this- the war, the commie threat, even the racial hatred. Most of us just wanted to focus on enjoying our remaining youth. We wanted to be Fonzie or Richie Cunningham or Jill Munro on Charlies Angels (well, actually some of us wanted to be Alice Cooper but still…).

So we focused on that- some of us like Bob Danese, Mike Peniston, James Hubbard, Debbie Cave focused on athletics and maybe parlaying that into a nice scholarship. Others like my friend Mark Fuhring burned the midnight oil and crossed their fingers that they could get into Rutgers or even Princeton. And some of my other friends just wanted to know where the next keg party was (the drinking age was 18) or how to score Aerosmith tickets for Convention Hall or the Sunshine Inn in Asbury Park. Me? I wanted to be able to play guitar like Albert King or Eric Clapton and sing like Otis Redding or Mick Jagger.

Not matter what, we partied: this was the dawn of the disco era and I can still hear “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players in my head, as clearly as I heard it over and over at that 3 day dance marathon we had. And keg parties, bonfires, the woods in back of the American Legion- wherever! No one before or after ever partied like we did, and it was all pretty innocent (relative to today) and (mostly) legal

The Town Not The Planet

Then one hot June day in 1976 at the Ocean Grove Auditorium, we walked down that aisle and into the world. Some of us to college, some of us straight to work, others maybe right into married life.

Probably the first time we ventured forth most of us got that same cold, disbelieving stare when we told people where we were from: Neptune. Not realizing that no one outside of the Monmouth County area knew that this was actually a place on earth. “The town, not the planet”, we learned to say.

Like old soup, brain cells do funny things when they have been around a long time. Memory cells get all jumbled together and it’s hard enough to remember the names much less the faces, as we found out this past weekend.

I called a lot of people by the wrong names, and they did the same to me, but that’s to be expected.

And other memories get jumbled together: Richie Cunningham starring in Apocalypse Now. Jimmy “What’s Happening” Walker starring in Mississippi (or even Asbury Park) Burning.

I have always thought there was something special about our class year, and not because we were the “bicentennial class” or because we were the first class to go thru both the new Junior AND Senior high schools.

Because we didn’t just live thru those times, we survived them TOGETHER and in some ways later on just maybe we helped make the world a better place.

We didn’t come to blows that day behind the high school, we stood down and became close friends with many of our black and white schoolmates. We played on teams together and cheered each other on. And danced to the same music, as at that weekend-long dance marathon we held. Later on it was our generation that ultimately was responsible for the Colin Powells, the Dr. Rices and the Barack Obamas. OK, there was Hurricane Katrina also, but that only means maybe we aren’t quite there yet –kids, are you listening?.

We missed Vietnam by barely a year or two. Our older brothers and sisters didn’t, and most of us would have gone ourselves if called, though many of us deeply questioned the reason for that war. That legacy lives on today, as most of us have been questioning why we are fighting a largely unwinnable war in Iraq (though we have learned to question the WAR, but not the WARRIOR, and these days most of our vets come home to a hero’s welcome either way, as when Chik-A-Boom played at a homecoming for Sgt. Jay Tango and Pepper Martin’s son last year at the Neptune City First Aid building). And in between it was largely OUR generation who were responsible for 30 years of near-peace, one of the longest major war-less stretches in American history.

And I never got to eat a SINGLE civil defense cracker. I still have no idea what they taste like. Good for me.

We survived and even thrived- had a great time. This is what most of us remember about growing up in Neptune in the late 60s and early 70s.

Because even though these storm clouds were all around, we remember Cub Scouts and fishing at the Shark River and Alberta Lake. Thanksgiving games against Asbury Park. The beaches at Avon and Bradley.

We remember playing basketball and football and baseball, and seeing Aerosmith or Kiss for the first time.

At the time we were graduating we drove our “pleasure machines” around Asbury Park’s famed Circuit, and got to see Bruce at the Stone Pony just hanging out.

We got to watch Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Reggie and Lew Alcindor and Joe Namath and Muhammad Ali create sports history.

Much of it was pretty normal, considering what was going on around us.

And good for us. We just wanted to be kids, we didn’t want to solve the rest of the world’s problems (at least not yet), though for a time it seemed that the rest of the world DID want EXACTLY that, just kids growing up in that small strip of land called “Neptune Township”. The town, not the planet, in more ways than one.

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