The City of Long Beach is unique among South Shore communities in many ways, including one feature that’s the focal point for a collection of stories by a local author.
Boardwalk Stories by Roslyn Bernstein uses this wondrous man-made part of beachfront communities, especially the one in Long Beach, as a center of story action and plot. The author, a long-time Long Beach resident and college creative writing professor, also posits that the boardwalk and its environs seem to breed strange and unusual characters that figure into her stories, a point with which I strongly agree.
The subjects touched upon in Boardwalk Stories range from childhood memories of “Digging to China” while excavating that deep hole at the beach to playing skeeball and other boardwalk arcade games to spying on your best friend and her family during the McCarthy era and watching for German submarines from a special beachfront observation tower. The author includes boardwalk-related vintage photos from a collection by the late Dr. Kenneth Tydings.
The photos and stories brought me back to childhood memories of Long Beach in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. I don’t feel so bad now that others also thought the “odd” things I perceived as a child often occurring around the Long Beach boardwalk were not unique to me. These “odd” things, of course, included the earlier mentioned “strange characters “ like the woman who spent summer days on a boardwalk bench telling kids apocryphal beach stories insisting that they were true. There was also the unique atmosphere of Seidel’s Skeeball on the boardwalk at National Boulevard. Nickels were the coin of the realm providing you with an opportunity to win the “big” prize of a transistor radio or a giant stuffed bear.
I especially liked the author’s ability to describe her young characters intimate feelings and thoughts. An example in the story “Eavesdropping” gives us insight into Beverly (possibly the author’s alter-ego) imagining her best friend, Joanne, reacting to her spying for the FBI on Joanne’s family’s possibly Communist inspired activities. “I could never tell them. I could never tell anyone. I carried my betrayal around like a lead weight, banging against my barely developed chest. Thump, thump. Bang. Bang. Bruising my skin. Bruising my soul. Beverly the spy. Beverly the betrayer.”
My personal favorite story was “Watching for the Enemy (1957).” A WWII enemy submarine lookout tower (if that’s what it really was) near my Penn Street home right next to the boardwalk at Edwards Boulevard was the subject of many stories and rumors during my elementary and junior high days. Ms. Bernstein weaves the rumors into a successful anecdotal story of enemy infiltrators, military intrigue and boardwalk characters. She blends reality with imagination in describing her main character’s encounter with another boardwalk denizen: “Manny, the owner of the cotton-candy booth, told me that a dozen enemy subs were seen from the tower during the Second World War. In 1943 alone, six subs were spotted lurking off the beach. I thought about Manny’s words when I walked past the tower.”
Boardwalk Stories is a 14-story collection of memories (for old-timers like myself) or a vivid description of times gone by for everyone else that is worth a trip to the library or Amazon.com. It definitely rates a strong four and one-half sand castles out of a top five.