Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Other March Madness

Not only sports fans, millions of middle Americans know about March Madness—the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. Complete a bracket based on alleged hoops knowledge, where you kissed a boy, or which mascot that you’ve never heard of that you like more, and you’re sure to win the office pool.  I’m not much of a gambler, but I put $10 into a pool to make watching basketball players I’ve never heard of at schools I’m glad I didn’t go to more interesting. I’ve never come close to winning, though my aunt Doris won the pool's prize for the top scoring woman when she was about 80. Even though she's been dead 13 years, she still knows more about sports than I do. I know that going into it that I don't have a ghost of a chance.

March Madness could also be a synonym for the Stone Harbor Shiver, a late winter dip in the icy Atlantic. It’s ostensibly for charity, but its real purpose is to bring people to the Jersey shore to spend money at time of year when tumbleweed is practically blowing down Stone Harbor’s main drag. It’s not quite the success that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is, but The Shiver, as the locals call it, is pretty darned successful.

It’s a community event, with a big dinner, a procession, costumes, prizes, and a King and Queen. Regular blog readers will breathe a sigh of relief that the National Rabbit King has nothing to worry about when it comes to royal prerogatives. His throne is safe from Garden State usurpers.

Last year Bruce, Martha, Pam, and I went as a Demo Sale (as in Demolition Sale), a homeowner’s last gasp at squeezing some value out of an older, smaller, and simpler house before wiping it from the earth and replacing it with suburbia on steroids. We didn’t finish in the money. Perhaps our costumes were bad, perhaps we were too political, or perhaps the construction worker wasn’t any of the judges’ favorite Village Person.  Who knows?

This year, we put some extra thought (as if we have any spare brain cells) into our costumes. We wanted them to be simple, something we could make—renting something was completely out of the question—and relate to Stone Harbor somehow. We considered going as Chris Christie and a bunch of traffic cones, but in such a GOP-centric town as Stone Harbor that’s not a winning strategy. Besides, none of us were fat enough to go as the loudmouth Garden State Gov.

We settled on going as the tides. Very shore-rific. We’d incorporate Tide detergent boxes into our costumes and go as High, Low, Rip and so on. Martha and I disagreed on the fourth tide, but in the end I prevailed and we went with Crimson. Three of the tides would be in orange—Tide-y shirts and I’d be in a red (OK, crimson) shirt. Our names would be on our shirts in something approaching Tide detergent logotype. We thought we were pretty clever. Bruce came up with our name, Fit To Be Tide. As model citizen Charlie Sheen would say: Winning!

The weekend starts Friday evening with an event at the Stone Harbor Yacht Club. There’s a buffet, dancing, and a silent auction. We sat with our friend from Fred’s, Kim, and her bf Tom. Kim alerted us to the news that the King and Queen of the Stone Harbor Shiver lived in Avalon, the next town; in other words, practically bridge and tunnel folks.

The other people at our table were some big guy with a broken tooth and his wife. They actually lived in Avalon, having moved there not too long ago. Martha could be a KGB interrogator and so in a half a sec we knew all about their lives and that if you lived in Avalon year round, the public works department will actually plow your driveway during a snowstorm. Mr. Broken Tooth wants to run for Avalon Borough Council and save the world. More power to him.

Instead of watering down at the Yacht Club we went to Fred’s Tavern that night to scope out the pre-Shiver competition. It was nice to see familiar faces after a long winter, though three not-that-hot fortysomething-if-they-were-a-day Jersey chicks threw some serious shade on me when I asked them if they were entering The Shiver.

The next morning faffing about turned into a mad dash to get ready. I take a lot of heat about finishing projects at the last moment, but I was totally almost ready, unlike some other folks on our team who do not share my Myers-Briggs profile.

Our concept was great, but it didn’t take Tim Gunn, Nina Garcia, and top American designer Michael Kors to point out that our execution left something to be desired.

Shortly before the it was supposed to start, we had our act together (I use both words figuratively) to go Fred’s for kegs & eggs and the costume contest registration. Fred’s was packed—we never even made it to the tent in the back parking lot where they were serving up the eggs.

People loved our costumes. Of course, amusing a bunch of liquored up folks in a bar at the NJ shore on March 15 isn't that difficult.

We met a nice woman dressed as sort of mermaid or perhaps flotsam & jetsam, I’m not sure which. Her costume included lots of tulle and tchotkes that you'd find at an strip mall seafood buffet. I think she was an ad copywriter in Allentown in real life, though don't quote me on that. She does a lot of couch surfing at the shore (as opposed to say, hooking up at the Windrift). As you might expect from a seasoned couch surfer dressed as a mermaid, she was quite jolly.

Our main competition seemed to be the Sweating to the Coldies group—a Richard Simmons tribute act. When one of the women on that team came out of the john at Fred’s I thought it was a guy. If we'd been in Rehoboth, they'd all have been guys, except for Richard Simmons. It would have been much funnier.

After a bunch of milling around we processed down to the vacant lot next to the Women’s Civic Club (a name right out of P.G. Wodehouse) where a stage had been erected and lifeguard chairs were set up for the costume and performance judges.  There were prizes in five categories: Oldest, Youngest, Best Costume, Best Team Name, and Best Performance. I thought we had a shot at winning best costume or team name. We hadn't rehearsed a performance so no way would be competitive in that category.

The Readers’ Digest version of the story is that we didn’t win. Did we have good costumes? Yes.

Sure, they could have been better. But they blew most of the entries right out of the water.

 The other costumes were mostly lame.

Except for those that were even lamer.

I mean, really. Rented costumes that you just throw on? What’s with that?

While our costumes were pretty darned good, our “performance” was pretty dismal.

There were some “dance” moves that we didn’t really practice about which Bruce and I weren’t enthusiastic anyway. I’m sure you can guess how they panned out.

As for the libretto, Pam, as High Tide, was to say, “I thought the name of this town was Stoner Harbor”. Bruce, as Low Tide, was to say, “You should see what I saw on the beach when I was out last night”. Martha, as Rip Tide, was to say “I’m more dangerous than I look”., I was to say “Roll Tide Roll” but instead I said “You Yankees sure do some crazy shit.”  And even thought here were lots of drunks there and Longshoreman is the second official language of New Jersey, I probably shouldn’t have dropped the S word. What can I say? I'm a Bryant. Profanity happens.

I thought we had a shot at winning the team name title—Fit to be Tide. Genius, I thought. We lost to a group of kids in Alice in Wonderland costumes, with the stupendously original name “Alice’s Adventures in Winter Wonderland”. Truly horrible. Obviously the Shiver judges know about as much about a good team name as Gwynneth Paltrow knows about shopping at Walmart.

The costume prize went to the Sweating to the Coldies Crew. It was a well deserved W since they’d scored some great dance togs, leg warmers, and Reboks in just the right 1980s hues.
After the scores were validated and the winners announced, we all trooped over the dunes to the beach and the sight of more parked ambulances and emergency management vehicles than you thought existed in Cape May County. There was barely enough time to ditch most of the costume before the starter’s horn blew. Then it was a mad dash to the water.

It’s just a quick run in and run as fast as you can out--which isn't very fast--out, though of our team, I’m the only one who goes in the WHOLE WAY. Pam made it in to her waist, Martha to her ankles, and Bruce remained on dry land with our beach towels.

For the record, the ocean temperature was 37. That’s cold.

After a hearty meal and lots bitching about the competition, we’re already planning out entry for next year.  We're going to have college boys in Speedos, a dog, and cute little kids. And maybe a veteran and someone in an iron lung, oh yes--and feather boas! We're sure to win!