Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Table of Joe and a Song in My Heart

June is a good time of year to visit the south Jersey shore. It’s not quite high season, but all the tourist oriented businesses are open.  In June, you’re no longer in any danger of stubbing your toe on an iceberg when you take a dip in the Atlantic.  And finally, it’s too early in the season for medical waste to have washed up on shore: always a plus in New Jersey.  There wasn’t anything exciting on the gang's dance card—no living history Clamshell Toss or parasailing, so I checked out the Cape May County CVB website to see what was up.

What ho! as my fictional mentor, Bertie Wooster, would have said. There was a food truck festival in Sea Isle City. SIC, as it's known on white oval bumper stickers, is the town immediately across Townsends Inlet from Avalon (as in, it’s close) and has—at least in my experience—sort of a working class shore vibe. You wouldn’t be shocked if you saw the former cast members of MTV's Jersey Shore there, the way you would if you saw them in Avalon, Stone Harbor or Cape May. It’s a gym/tan/laundry sort of town.

As a hipster wannabe, I am all in for food trucks. I like their cute names, amusing graphics, and quirky menus. The food is often both tasty and cheap. Cheap is appealing to their “core constituency” of hipsters, who are often sleeping on their parents Castro Convertibles. And because food trucks have that aura of au courant-ness around them, not everyone realizes that, at the end of the day, you can eat pretty much the same deep fried crap that you’d get at a fair or a carnival.

In addition to the food truck festival there was theatre in Cape May. Everyone knows I’m not a theatre kind of guy.  But I occasionally go. This was one of those occasions. It wasn’t community theatre, but the actors were real Actors Equity members. And it got better….it wasn’t an evening of Chekov or Strindberg, but an evening of SHOW TUNES. Show tunes: the lingua franca of the gay community. And not just any old show tunes but tunes by Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein. In other words, the evening was going to be knee deep in old chestnuts. After getting the gang's assent, I bought tickets using my cellphone quicker than you could say "Beer Bust at the Eagle!".

Before a pre-theatre dinner at the food truck festival, there was plenty of time to do chores around the house and in the yard.

I had to buy some plants to fill in the flower beds here and there. I like my yard to look tidy and well cared for, even if it doesn’t compete with the folks who have sprinkler systems and a landscape contractor who employs lots of people who are adept with a leaf blower and can tell you where to go for good, cheap, Mexican food.  And besides, I got the gardening gene. I can tell a delphinium from a dahlia and a lupine from a larkspur. The difference between Chekov and Strindberg, well...I'm a little shaky there.

So M. and I headed off the island to the garden center of choice. It’s on Route 9, which used to be the main drag from North Jersey to Cape May before the construction of the Garden State Parkway.  It’s still where you find garden centers, a golf course or two, and closer to Cape May, a gaggle of big box stores and strip malls.

Still, on the undeveloped portions of the highway, there are some vestiges of Old Jersey: old churches, small towns with antique shoppes, and some houses here and there.

Before we got to the garden center, we came to a huge sign for GARAGE SALE. It was near the site of a garage sale where I bought a great Cold War era photo of a meeting of Air Force generals that’s been a fixture in my downstairs bathroom for years. So, with that great purchase in mind, I pulled over to see to what was for sale. In theory, lighting can strike twice in the same spot.

Among the tables of insulated coffee carafes, video game cartridges, record albums and miscellaneous boxes filled with household crap I zeroed right in on the Pot O’ Gold.

Interestingly enough, everyone was ignoring it.

It was a table stacked with a giant scrum of mostly naked GI Joes enjoying what seemed to be one big Hasbro themed orgy. Hasbromance, I suppose.
My first thought was, is this how they celebrate Gay Pride in Middle Township? But alas and alack, there wasn’t a single rainbow flag, Cher album, or poster from Promises Promises starring Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth to be found anywhere.
It turned out that the man who was selling them got them from his father, who drew for Marvel Comics in the 1980s. For whatever reason, Marvel sent his father LOTS of GI Joes to sketch.

And after a while, the father got bored with just the standard Joe (just like a guy, no?) and then decided to turn some of them into Zombies. As Dave Barry would say, no I am not making this up.

I was astonished that the folks having the garage sale didn't think it was at all noteworthy to be selling a pile of mostly naked GI Joes, some of whom were Zombies. They acted as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

And so right there, on a sunny Saturday in June, at a garage sale on Rte. 9 in Middle Township, NJ, I learned one of life’s more unusual lessons: you cannot take a bad photo of a pile of naked GI Joes.

Even though they were only a dollar each, I didn’t buy any.

As I'm sure you know, I have intimacy issues.

M. and I went back to the garden center in the afternoon and stopped again to take more photos. The guy told us that he was still waiting for his first sale of Joe. I gave him $2 and told him that it was for the photo rights. He laughed and invited us back on Sunday.

After reluctantly saying goodbye to the Joes, and planting the stuff I bought at the garden center, there was a bit of time for the beach. The water’s pretty cold, but once you’d gone past the shrinkage point it was really quite refreshing.

After a quick shower, we headed out to the food truck festival in Sea Isle City.

For starters, we were overdressed. And we could tell that pretty much as soon as we parked. You might have thought that they didn’t make horizontal stripes in those sizes, but they do.

The trucks were parked in a vacant lot behind a bar. There were about fifteen food trucks and they formed a U. in the middle of the U was a line of “vendors”, as in people who sell license plate holders about the Second Amendment, folks from the local animal shelter, and, believe it or not, someone selling Tupperware. Perhaps she was thinking that people might need to take something home in an EZ-2-Tote Deviled Egg Caddie, or the Overnight and Part of the Next Day Pineapple Schlepper.

We did a lap around the lot before splitting up to get the genuine food truck sourced Epicurean delight of our choice. I went with a boring pork BBQ, I wasn’t really in the mood for Alsatian Tempura on a Stick or Vegan Cactus Sliders on Home Made Matzo, not that I saw either of those things. The menus were pretty boring for the most part, except for some sort of Hungarian spiral bread called a spritzenflugel or volkdophschlaen or something like that.

Cutting to the chase, my Carolina pork BBQ was terrible. In fact, it was easily the worst Carolina pork BBQ I have ever had. Frankly, it didn’t even rise to the level of North Dakota Pork BBQ.  For starters, it took forever. I paid my $8 and gave them my name. And then waited and waited and waited. And they called Brandon and Jimmy and Kristen and Cassie and so on, and never Rick. The guy who ordered right before me got his sandwich, but alas not me.

Finally, a proto hipster in a pork pie hat asked me if I’d been waited on. I said that I had quite some time ago but was still waiting for my food. The woman who took my money, a middling student in charm school back in the day, informed me, in a tone postal workers save for people who fill out the wrong forms when they’re mailing boxes to countries with no vowels in their name, that they filled the orders in the order in which they were received and that my sandwich would be coming. I pointed out that Brandon, who’d ordered right before me, got his sandwich quite some time ago. That went over like the proverbial fart in church.

After the long wait, my sandwich arrived. It wasn’t Carolina Pork BBQ. It was some gristly roasted pork with a blob of what a dollar to a donut say was Heinz BBQ sauce plopped onto it. Ugh.  When I went back to the bit of standing cocktail table the gang was sharing with some perfect strangers, I told them all that it was the worst fucking pork BBQ I had ever had.

On the plus side, the milkshake I ordered at Shore Shake was really good even if opted for chocolate and not mango/persimmon/starfruit with candied ginger bits and quince flavored jimmies sprinkled on top.  But hey, the guy in the truck was wearing a hand crocheted visor and that made me feel hipper just by looking at him.

The rest of the gang liked their meals even down to the Hungarian ventlinzerfuble or whatever the hell that thing was. It was just my unlucky day.

After the food truck festival, we zipped down to Cape May for our evening of theatre.

Cape May is quaint and cute, especially at dusk.

"I can't believe I forgot the beach tags!"
The show was in the Presbyterian Church, which had some great 19th century stained glass windows. However, there was a large stage where the pulpit should be.  I’m not sure what that would do for Sunday service, but it did make a decent enough theatre.

The director spoke to us before the show and pointed out that the actors (two men, two women) were un-mic’ed, as they would have been in the old days so we would be hearing people as they sang when the songs were written. Cynical me thought, oh, well, the space isn’t very big and this saves them the cost of a sound guy. But hey, the singers projected from the diaphragm like old pros and a sound system wasn’t necessary.

But unlike in the old days, the accompanist played an electronic keyboard, which sounded like, well, an electronic keyboard. At least there weren’t Hammond Organ rhythm section. The world doesn’t need the sound of maracas in a cha-cha beat as the backdrop for “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”.

And unlike in the old days, I don’t think there was any sort of costume professional managing the wardrobe. The women performed in home-ec class worthy sack dresses in a Liberty-esque floral print, and the men in our old friend, the goes-with-everything blue blazer. The costumes would have been nice enough had they not been fitted by someone who was used to work with Omar the Tentmaker. There was plenty of extra fabric in case the actors gorged on Hungarian zeppinstagpitzel from a nearby food truck between acts.

The brochure told us the actors would be ‘breaking the fourth wall”, and indeed the performer did leave the stage and come into the audience. One of the singers wanted me to dance with her as she sang, Ten Cents a Dance. Since I didn’t aspire to including a walk on role in an Equity show in Cape May on my resume, I channeled my inner stick-in-the-mud and passed on the chance.  I’m a gardener not a dancer, remember?

Since show tunes aren’t enough to put butts in seats, there was a trivia contest. We were asked to name twelve of the twenty-four songs AND the film or play where the song was heard first. Some of the songs were pretty easy but there were more than a few that I thought of as just a standard, and didn’t know that R&H had used them in a show.  Several of the people there looked as if they never missed a community theater production of Oklahoma!. I was sure that I didn’t have a chance.

After the show, we handed in our score sheets and the cast members performed an encore while the ushers tallied the scores. At the end of the song the head usher came out and called my name. What ho! My luck had changed!

I won a $25 gift certificate to the café at the Emlen Physick House, a local house museum designed by the well-known, at least to 19th century architecture nerds, Frank Furness. He’s no relation to Westinghouse pitchwoman Betty Furness.
Had I won a $25 gift certificate to a certain Cape May County garage sale, I would have bought a whole table of Joes. As it stands, I’ll be more than happy with a cup of Joe, and maybe even a piece of Hungarian grinzetmacfarch, if there’s a food truck nearby. I’m not sure when I’ll get to the Physick Estate, but I be sure to Whistle a Happy Tune when I do.

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