34. Asbury Park

The Westside From Asbury Avenue to Deal Lake

(With a few personal memories)

The main Westside residential section runs north to south from Deal Lake to Asbury Avenue and east to west from Railroad to about Ridge Avenues. This is seven or eight blocks wide and about nine blocks long. These are blocks of regularly spaced small- to medium-sized two-story houses. The architectural style is diverse within a boundary of colonial- and sometimes Victorian-based models. Nearly all have porches. Though some examples are unique, the differences between the houses do not shock the eye at all.

Image 1.34.3. A spot on Fourth Avenue.

It was great growing up here. Uncle Danny (DeVito) grew up here too, he and I in the same house. (My cousin Fred, when he was little, lived on Asbury Avenue, a few blocks away, near his father's restaurant, "Freddie's.") Danny and I lived on the Northwest corner of Second Avenue and New Street in a white medium-sized colonial of several short porch-columns. Oddly, it seems that this whole corner has changed more than any other location in the immediate area. Many trees have been lost, and a general threadbare quality afflicts the street. (Though I must note that recently several young tress have been planted, improving the atmosphere.) Second Avenue was a little wider than the other east-to-west streets, and I think this intensifies the relatively empty look. A hilly ridge bounded the center of our lawn on the south and east. The property was home to three tall pines. One pine was on the east side, another on the southwest side (in the front ), and another on the west side. The latter two always made shadow-patterns on certain corners indoors. Pines have a wonderful intimacy about them. The west-side pine was very close to the house, and its bottom branches were high enough to walk under. A marvelous root-bumpy, needle-carpeted world existed under there. Next to the southwest pine stood a gnarled berry tree. At the right-front corner of the house a Forsythia blazed yellow in spring and heralded the Easter season.

The backyard was nearly roofed by an enormous maple (which, I sadly notice, has been chopped down). The trunk of this tree was very close to our "guesthouse," which we always called the Bungalow. This is a small one-story dwelling right on the old New Street ally. I used to live in the Bungalow when I was a very young. Later I "graduated" to the main house. I learned the word bungalow early in my life. When I got older I was surprised to find out that there were other bungalows in the world. I had thought that "bungalow" was a word that applied only to our little house, a kind of family expression.

Among my favorite memories is waking up (in the main house) on a summer morning. Life seemed golden, sweet and unlimited. Here's part of a poem I wrote that reflects my experience:

Here forsythia bushes tolled in yellow

berry tree in berries

watermelon freshness of new-cut grass

far and wide with day.

Inside awakening near golden curtains

hearing -- cheek in pillow taking in: chirps

tweets -- the sound of distant mowers

quiet turn now -- warm intoxicating sweet.

Listen: A clothesline pulley squeaks.

Here I am. Here I am.

Woodpecker pecks electric circles --

dry solid forest tones -- blue in sky above

silvery airplane lazy drones.

Life redolent of itself expansive -- warm

luscious roaming in an endless

future fragrant of days and circumstance.

And out there, not many blocks away, was the magical beachfront - world on top of world! Reader! (Okay, let me calm down a minute.)

I have to laugh: Somewhere on the Internet I came across a little bio of Uncle Danny. It begins something like this: "Danny DeVito grew up next to a swamp in Asbury Park, NJ." I wonder where people get these notions.

We had lots of fun and were always up to something. I remember how I cried when Danny left to attend prep school (Oratory, up north in Summit). Never mind that he would be home on weekends. I thought he was leaving forever. I remember how my little cousin Fred cried when he broke a bottle of milk on the porch of his house. This gave me the perfect opportunity to come out with the line: "Fred, don't cry over spilt milk." Today Fred is Danny's stand-in. He also appears in several of Danny's movies, Hoffa, The Ratings Game (or Mogul), and others. Look for his name in the credits.

Now that I'm on the subject, you can see little 'ol me in a couple of Danny's movies (if you look close enough). In The Ratings Game (sometimes called Mogul) I'm the guy who sells frozen bananas on the Santa Monica boardwalk. In Hoffa, I'm the fellow who brushes off Bruno Kirby's shoulders. "Get back into your cave!," Kirby shouts at me. Jack Nicholson laughs. I looked strange. They cut my hair really short, took off my glasses and gave me a crepe shirt. After the scene was shot I exited to another room, where a dozen scantily clad dancing girls were waiting around to do their number. Unfortunately, I couldn't see a thing because I didn't have my glasses on! (By the way, these scenes were shot in the grand old Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles, where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. The hotel had been closed for years.).

When Danny was a budding actor in New York, he became good friends with Michael Douglas. Danny took over his apartment (336 West 89th Street, right near the River, a great apartment I later "inherited"). In about 1969 or '70, Michael came down to Asbury for the weekend and stayed at our house. We drove around a lot and showed him the shore. (Michael was born in New Brunswick, NJ). I recall that we had a pizza at Freddie's. When he ordered a beer, Katherine the waitress asked to see his driver's license. He wasn't well known in those days, but Katherine gave him a curious look!

Okay, enough socializing. Let's roam our neighborhoods a little more. There are several really fine sights remaining. Click on, I pray you!


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