Clutching her white cardigan sweater around her slender frame, the woman pictured the ring that she had tossed falling deeper, deeper, into the Atlantic Ocean. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to be tossed back onto the pier by some invisible hand, she turned and walked towards the road above the beach, the wind whipping her floral print housedress around her slender legs. Her feet slid occasionally as she walked, the sand spilling into her flat heeled shoes, but she walked on, resolutely, towards the light green ’57 Chevy Impala parked on the road.
Relief swept over her like the waves crashing on the shore. She was so glad to finally be rid of the damn thing.
“Ringo!” I screamed, brushing the chunk of orange popsicle from my stomach. “You are the biggest pain in the ass I know!” I sat up and threw the popsicle back at him, which he nimbly dodged.
I was working on getting a tan, probably an impossible task for a person as pale as me, in the privacy of my own back yard. My previously-mentioned pain in the ass neighbor snuck up on me and dropped the popsicle.
He had nothing to do with the famous Beatles’ drummer, except for the fact that he constantly tapped out drum beats with his pencil on his desk at school. It was extremely annoying to the rest of us, and our sophomore geometry teacher, Mr. O’Connor had enough one day and yelled, “OK, Ringo, knock it off!” So the name stuck.
Actually, he was born Benjamin Daniels, but from then on he answered to Ringo. Except to his mother, who called him Ben. Or Benjamin when she was mad.
Ringo lived two houses down the road from me, and his parents were friends with mine. We hung out together since infancy, I think. I never thought of him as my boyfriend, just a friend, not at all romantic. He was good to have around if I needed a date for something.
I was having a dry spell on real boyfriends.
For years we talked about going to our Junior Prom together, and we did, and actually, we had a really good time. So much better than if we would’ve gone with someone we just met and were trying to impress. We knew how to dance with each other, having practiced in my basement for years. I just hated it when he started doing splits on the floor and stuff like that, but…oh well.
I was working on my tan because the next week I was going to Atlantic City with my friend Linda and her parents. This was the summer before our senior year and I figured it was my last summer of freedom. Next summer I would be working and saving for college in the fall, so I doubted I would have a vacation.
It was 1969, the Summer of Love. The astronauts had landed on the moon, the hippies were camped out in Haight Ashbury, and we didn’t know it yet, but the phenom that was Woodstock was right around the corner.
Linda and I were both redheads with long, center-parted straight hair. Hers was naturally straight but I had to straighten mine, which was wavy and tended to frizz. I used a product called “Uncurl,” which was like a reverse perm, and rolled it up on pop cans with the tops and bottoms cut out. She wore a size five, our other friend Dee was a seven, and I felt positively obese at the time in my size nine clothes. I drank every kind of diet pop there ever was at the time: Tab, Diet Pepsi, or Fresca were my faves.
But back to Ringo—he was so mad that I was going to the beach without him. Linda’s brother and sister were a lot older than her, so her parents often took me with them, so she would have someone to hang around with and wouldn’t whine, making their trip miserable. (Which, I found out later, they could do quite well be themselves!) But Ringo was not invited, and tormented me about it every chance he got. Too bad, buddy! I was excited to be going.
I had packed and unpacked my pink and green floral print suitcase for at least two weeks, which was just plain silly. I needed a couple pairs of shorts and a few halter tops, plus a tank or two. A bathing suit…or two? Maybe a sundress. Should I take a sweat shirt? What is it became unseasonably cool. So you see my problem…
We left early Saturday morning in their jam-packed turquoise Ford Fairlane station wagon. Lin and I slept most of the way through Pennsylvania until we stopped for lunch in Breezewood. The car was an Easy Bake Oven when we climbed back in so we rode for miles with the windows half open.
Mr. Mitchell lit up a Chesterfield cigarette, flicking the ashes out of the car’s vent window. When he was finished, he tossed the butt out the window, but the speed of the car combined with the wind sucked it back into the rear seat. Lin and I squealed and batted at the butt until she stomped it onto the floor.
“Arthur!” Mrs. Mitchell bitched, “Do you have to do that? Do you want to set the car on fire? What if you would’ve burned one of the girls?”
“All right,” Mr. Mitchell replied in a sing-song voice, tucking his pack of smokes up under the visor.
This little incident set the tone for most of the trip. She nagged, he groaned and grumbled, sometimes sarcastically. Lin and I rolled our eyes a lot. But it was better than being at home.
Mostly we sat on the beach during the day. I turned lobster red in spite of the Coppertone, which was advertised as “tanning lotion” in the Sixties. Mrs. Mitchell frosted me with Noxema every night.
After dinner we strolled on the Boardwalk, giggling at boys. On our last night there, a couple of Jersey boys walked with us and bought us ice cream. We told them our names were “Candy” and “Brandi with an I.” What the heck! We knew we’d never see them again.
“Those aren’t my parents,” said “Brandi,” nodding towards her parents sitting under a striped umbrella. They appeared to be arguing…again…and didn’t notice us. “They’re our chaperones. My dad is a Senator…in Washington, D.C., you know. Too busy to come here. So he hired these…people…to take care of us.” She gazed up at Neil through her thick dark eyelashes. “My parents are afraid we’ll sneak out at night.”
“Will you? Sneak out?” Neil asked hopefully.
“Probably not tonight,” I answered. “We have to get up early to go to the airport. Our private plane will be waiting for us.”
“Awww that’s too bad,” said Gabe, my guy for the evening. “We know some great places. Not too far from here. Do you girls drink beer.”
“No…we…” I started, only to get an elbow in my ribs from Lin.
“We drink martinis,” she finished. “Extra dry. Shaken, not stirred.” She looked at me and we burst into giggles. Apparently the Jersey boys weren’t James Bond fans.
We left the Boardwalk for the beach, ambling along, hand in hand, through the damp sand at low tide. I was carrying my sandals by the straps, preferring to feel the squishy sand between my toes. Suddenly my heel came in contact with something hard.
“Owww,” I cried out, stopping to rub my injured foot. Gabe bent to see what I had stepped on, and came up with a ring. After giving it a cursory glance he handed it to me.
“Here. Don’t say I never gave you anything.” At age seventeen it wasn’t an old stale line yet.
It was pretty. A wide lady’s wedding band, with some sort of engraving on the inside of it. White gold or silver, I couldn’t really tell.
I slipped it onto my finger.
Suddenly, my head began to spin. I passed out in the sand.