Sometimes, vacation means just goofing around

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STONE HARBOR, N.J. -- On a Friday night when thunder coughed in the west and it was trying in the hardest way to rain, Tracie Kurtz and Molly Hackman looked at each other, considered their options and chose silliness.

"I said, 'Hey, it's the last night. You wanna dress up crazy?" Molly said. Tracie didn't have to be asked twice.

So there they were, atop a bench at the corner of Third and 96 th, warbling in falsetto, "Would you dance for twenty-five cents?" while a quintet of beach friends cheered them on.

"You can do things like this in a place where you really don't know people. It won't matter," said Tracie's brother, Brian, who assured me those were not his boxer shorts the two girls were wearing.

Men's underwear was the most conventional item in the duo's ensemble. Tracie, 15, had Harry Potter glasses, a lightning-bolt shaped scar drawn on her forehead, an entirely superfluous belt and a T-shirt with a sketch of Martha Stewart with the words, "Martha Is My Home Girl."

Molly, 16, made do with eyeglasses in the shape of large dollar signs, cowboy boots picked up at a Goodwill shop and a shirt that said: "Everything Is Bigger In Texas."

It is tempting to read some political or sociological significance into this bit of street theater: perhaps a tacit protest against the commercial nature of the shore vacation; an act of rebellion; a release of inhibition by repressed teens longing to be noticed without penalty.

In truth, they were just goofing around. The pleasure of their performance was the utter absence of meaning beyond something silly to do before returning to normal which, in their case, is Lancaster, Pa.

One of the functions of the beach, it would seem, is nothingness. I have been from Atlantic to Pacific and on each stop have seen people do things that have no meaning beyond their doing.

In Maine, I have seen a man dress like Jesus and surf. On the bay in Seattle, I saw a man standing flat stones on end in a bizarre maze and, when I asked him what it meant, he looked astonished.

"What could this possibly mean?" he asked.

So it was with Tracie and Molly, as they cast their lot with the angels of meaninglessness.

They paid passersby to dance. They performed rap songs. They traded barbs with teen-age boys who stopped by long enough to insult them.

"You're ugly!" one snarled.

"You're beautiful!" Tracie replied. A compliment for an insult is the ultimate comeuppance.

"It's amazing how many guys hit on us yesterday, and they're insulting us tonight," Molly said.

Because they were at the Jersey Shore, where tourists dispense money by impulse, many on the street here had trouble comprehending the order of things. Asked if they would dance for a quarter, several dropped a quarter into the plastic foam container from which the girls were drawing their quarters.

"OK, dance," one said.

"No," said Tracie. "We pay you a quarter to dance."

A long, awkward silence followed. He got out of there.

Once, someone dropped a quarter into the container and began to dance. An 8-year-old girl named Mairead understood perfectly. She handed her father the Wonka candy bar she had purchased up the street at the Wawa market, took two paces backward and did a perfect Irish step dance.

The evening ended on a curious note. A boy, he could have been no more than 13, plopped himself beside Tracie. He had a black mop of straight hair, oversized sunglasses and the mannerisms of Chachie from "Happy Days."

He was upset because the girls were performing a rap song by Snoop Doggy Dogg.

"You should apologize," he said.

"Yo! You don't like my song?" Tracie said.

"You going to apologize?"

The sight of two white adolescents at the seashore trying to sort out race and music dominated the final moments of Tracie and Molly's big night out.

Chachie moved along to wherever imaginary cool people go. Tracie, Molly and their friends went back to the rental house.

Even street rappers in boxer shorts and cowboy boots have curfews.


Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazatte.com or 412-263-1965.


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