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September 10, 2001

The Last Golden Day

by ALAN CABAL

The best time to visit the Jersey Shore is just after Labor Day, when the tourists are gone, the water is warm, and the shops on the boardwalk are closing out their inventory. The motel deals are better, and better still for regular customers. On September 8, 2001, I booked a room in the Owl’s Nest Motel in Somer’s Point, NJ, for me and my girlfriend. We drove down from New York City early Saturday morning, checked in, and drove over the bridge to Ocean City to hit the beach and the boardwalk.

I gave her a little cap that I’d gotten from John Strausbaugh, my editor at the time at NY Press, and the man who put that little rag on the map. It was from a solid non-Village Voice alternative weekly in Seattle called The Stranger, a true independent. It was black, with the words “I am a dangerous terrorist” written across the brow. People thought it was funny, this little 5’2″ kindergarten teacher of Danish extraction, wearing this hat. People smiled at her. We ate pork roll sandwiches and Mack And Manco pizza, to my mind the very best in the world. We drank Pennsylvania Dutch Root Beer. We body-surfed until we were exhausted by the magnificent warm embracing surf. We had a nice meal and walked the boards for a while, then retired back to our room to get drunk and stoned.

The next morning, September 9, we checked out and headed back over the bridge into Ocean City. The water temperature was in the 80s, nearly the same as the air. The surf was incredible. We bought a kite shaped like a flying saucer, and, with some effort, actually got it to fly. We ate Taylor’s Pork Roll sandwiches and Mack & Manco pizza, bought some houseplants for her classroom, and reluctantly headed back North on the Garden State Parkway, back to New York City. She had to teach her kindergarten class the next day, and I had to get ready to fly up to Boston to load out Cirque du Soleil.

As we cruised over the ramp leading to the Holland Tunnel, we were amazed to see the Twin Towers aflame in the glorious industrial sunset of Northern New Jersey. The various hydrocarbons, pollutants, and whatnot in the air over Jersey had produced a gorgeous golden-pink light, and it was reflecting off of those towers as if they were the source of it. Like most New Yorkers, we had always hated those things. Big stupid boxes, none of the elegant Art Deco charm of the true skyscrapers, and a direct insult to the majesty of the Empire State Building and the ineffably beautiful Chrysler Building. They were tacky, unimaginative monstrosities. But in that moment, that golden moment, they were beautiful beyond compare, two shining beacons of heavenly, otherworldly light. We were completely stunned by their beauty.

That was the first time we’d ever perceived them as beautiful, and the last time we saw them. That was the Last Golden Day before the End Of The World.

ALAN CABAL lives in Mountain View, California. He can be reached  at al_cabal@yahoo.com