What I did on my summer vacation

August 9, 2010 at 12:18 AM 4 comments

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As far as I was concerned, visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Atlantic City was not my idea of a vacation. Considering that I hadn’t gone anywhere since a brief trip to Vermont three years ago, by now even the South Street Seaport was starting to look good. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money in a year of semi-employment and iffy health insurance, so I didn’t have exciting options. I packed a suitcase that has seen more grandiose trips than this one and drove the 141 miles to the south Jersey shore with my sister Pesha.

I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, the last time I visited my brother, my son was three years old. That was almost nineteen years ago when I was the mother of a little kid I was raising alone, the author of a novel that already had had its fifteen minutes of fame and a thirtysomething n’er-do-well with nothing more than a part-time newsletter job. On that trip, my brother told me to put two armchairs together to make my bed and gave my mother a pile of duvets out of which to make a “nest” for my son. I was afraid that the rest of my life was going to be one makeshift lean-to after another.

Put air in the tires

Pesha drove. That freed me up to criticize her for almost getting us killed on the New Jersey Turnpike when she crossed two lanes of traffic on the right to pick up Exit 11. I called her an idiot and she said I was a jerk for acting as if I had never made a mistake on the road. The spat settled us down right quick and we spent the next leg of the journey talking about failed relationships and misspent talent, two of our favorite subjects. After a while, we invented another highway terror when we convinced ourselves that we had a flat. We pulled off somewhere between Barnegat and Manahawkin to make a pit stop and look at the tire. Pesha chewed me out for not knowing how much air the rear tire needed, and chewed me out again for not knowing how to put air into it.

“Don’t tell me how to do it!” I said. “I don’t want to learn.”

“That’s stupid,” she said.

“It’s too hard,” I said.

“It’s no harder than filling the tank with gas. You know how to do that, don’t you?”

“Actually, I don’t.”

“You should learn.”

“You’re not even allowed to pump your own gas in New Jersey,” I said.

“The whole world isn’t New Jersey,” Pesha said. “Watch.”

My sister attempted to demonstrate the use of an air pressure gauge to a human being whose cerebral cortex was marinating in the late afternoon sun.

I said, “I don’t want to know!”

“Oh, you want to know who was responsible for the English Civil War, but you don’t want to learn something you can use in your everyday life? What will you do when I’m not with you?”

“Call Triple-A.”

It turns out that the road surface of the Garden State Parkway has ridges. These accounted for the flapping noise that sounded like a flat.

“You know what our problem is?” I said. “We get ourselves worked up over nothing.”

“You need to learn how to put air in your tires,” Pesha said.

“Oh, shut the F up!” I said. Swearing always makes us laugh. We were back to normal, or at least as normal as two sisters on a road trip in New Jersey can be.

The Kids Are All Right

My brother and sister-in-law were perfect.

I cannot believe it’s me who wrote those words. My brother Sol used to fight with Pesha and me over everything. The sole TV in our childhood living room had been a particularly rich source of conflict. Pesha and I wanted to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. Sol preferred The FBI. Might made right in those days and his quickness at twisting off the TV dial entitled him to be the lord of our farm house manor.

The TV was only the beginning of our sibling wrath. Nobody used a trombone like a lethal weapon the way my brother did. He would stalk my sister and me while practicing scales and aim his spit at us through the spit valve. To this day I have little affection for trombone of any kind, jazz, classical or parade. Seventy-six trombones, for example, are seventy-six trombones too many, if you ask me.

Worst of all were the times my brother picked me up in our parents’ Chevy Impala when I stayed late for after-school drama club. We always fought in the car. While driving one time, he reached across me to open the door and tried to push me out. Our rancor back then now strikes me as so malicious that I can hardly believe we survived adolescence without serious brain damage.

But on Day One of our three-day idyll, the afternoon was tranquil the way it is on most August days alongside Lakes Bay. For starters, Sol and Anita treated us to an early supper of roast chicken and potato kugel. After we finished eating, we drove out to a movie theater in Pleasantville on the Jersey mainland to see The Kids Are All Right, and we could not believe that a woman who loved sex with a man as much as the Julianne Moore character made for a plausible lesbian. But okay, the movie was an enjoyable piece of cultural propaganda that told us that incredible heterosexual sex isn’t really that powerful in the face of lesbian family values, and it held our interest despite its wishful thinking. And at least I witnessed the repeated scenes of graphic gay male porn with the brother who once tried to throw me out of a moving car, not with my almost-twenty-two-year-old son who reminds me every so often that I subjected him to many age-inapproriate movies throughout his childhood.

Biking on the boards

Anybody can go to a movie and have a decent time, but the rest of our vacation was just as sweet. The four of us went bicycling on the Boardwalk. On our third and last day, Sol, Pesha and I would have biked all the way from Ventnor to Atlantic City but for the cop on a three-wheel motorcar who told us we weren’t allowed with bikes on the AC Boardwalk after ten in the morning. No biggie. My brother, sister and I formed a family convoy and biked to the southernmost point on the Boardwalk, the Atlantic Ocean on our left, the guest condominiums and hotels on our right, the breezy salt air in our hair and our lungs. I felt like a duckling following the lead duck, the brother I once swore to hate for all my born days. How could our relationship have turned out to be so blissful?

As with every trip I take, I was hoping to come home with at least one good story. It came late on Day Two, after a dinner of grilled chicken and shwarma and an entertaining lowbrow Trump Plaza variety show, when I managed to catch sight of Sol and Anita, snuggled up against each other in the living room. They were watching Family Guy like two high schoolers. At Trump they had held hands as they searched for their seats.

I thought back to something Sol said when we were hanging out underneath, well, a makeshift wooden lean-to on the beach.

“I never did want children, not even to make up for the losses of the Holocaust,” he said. “But I still think life is a worthwhile experiment that most of our family didn’t get a chance to try. We’re lucky to have it whether we make a success or a failure out of it.”

My brother’s acceptance of life — his own and the world’s — sounded wise on the beach, but now that I am back home, I wish that he and Anita had had one or two kids to follow their lead on bikes from Ventnor to Atlantic City, and to talk with them, as they had with us, about the city-wide corruption that has resulted in fewer trash pick-ups every week and a failed promise to apply some of the gambling revenue to the state’s geriatric population and foundering schools. They could have told their own children about the time when the people with numbers tattooed on the inside of their forearm took the sun on the benches up and down the Boardwalk and used to sigh, “Avec, a velt!” Gone, a world!

It may not be much, but, at long last, Sol and Anita have us — their sisters.


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Entry filed under: Family, Travel. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Just wanna shake things up Getting ready for Phase Two

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pesha  |  August 9, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    The stars were aligned for a splendid trip…good weather, engaging entertainment, and bonhomie. But even if the weather had been lousy and the entertainment unendurable, we still would have walked away from our vacation with the sense that we had discovered a brother and sister-in-law.

  • 2. Brother Sol  |  August 11, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    It was the oldest sister, Debbie who twisted my trombone slide into a pretzel after a spit valve discharge episode. Thus began a new adolescent chapter in seeing who could avengingly spit the farthest. Sometimes, stalkers Pauline or Barbara would win. Often times, once the trombone slide was repaired, I would win. Thank goodness for that extra three feet of slide trombone tubing!
    Was I in control of the TV dial that entitled me to be lord and master of our farm house manor? That respectable title was short lived due to circumstances beyond my control. An off and on flick of the house lights alerted our on the premises working parents to impending disaster. So began the evening initiation into working with my parents in ‘Jake’s Poultry Farm’ slaughterhouse. TV dial control came to an abrupt end.
    I can’t recall attempting to throw sister Barabara out of a moving vehicle. That reference may have been made to a brother that may have existed in a parallel universe. LOL!!

    • 3. modestine  |  August 11, 2010 at 3:44 PM

      Your memory is a welcome antidote to mine! In any case, I had one of my best vacations ever. I’m ready to do it all over again. Thanks for reading and commenting, bro.

  • 4. Rukhl  |  September 18, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    What a heartwarming story! And a great picture of the Finkelstein kinderlekh…


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