We need a good, smart bear…

“If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.” – Yiddish Proverb

thanks

Michael’s wife, Liz (a.k.a. my fourth sister), is Chinese. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my sister-from-another-mister was the BEST thing that ever happened to my brother. Her natural ability to interact with Michael in a way no other human being has come close to achieving speaks volumes on the beautiful soul that exists within this extraordinary person. If her only purpose in this lifetime was to make the last years of my brother’s life happy and comfortable, she has succeeded ten-fold.

Over the years our family has tried their best to learn and speak simple Chinese phrases with little to no success. To be expected, mom was the most entertaining member of the class. My mother took the cake when it came to jumbling up pronunciations. For example, throughout the entire OJ Simpson trial, mom referred to Barry Scheck as “Barry Skank” regardless of how many times we corrected her misnomer. And, as to be expected, her faux pas didn’t end with the English language.

One of the phrases mom wished to learn was how to say “thank you” in Chinese so that she could thank her server when eating at a Chinese food establishment.

https://translate.google.com/?um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&client=tw-ob#auto/zh-CN/thank%20you

In her defense, Chinese is a difficult language to learn and speak, especially for us Americans. However, for mom, “xie xie” became “shit shit.” The inaccuracy of her pronunciation is something we speak of often and always hardily laugh about when remembering our mother…which brings us to my secret-now-empty-nester-getaway with the hubby this past week…

As summer was quickly coming to a close with the inevitable departure of the kid to Israel, I frantically began planning things to do so that the hubby and I could actually have a relationship once again that didn’t involve a child or anything to do with a child (sorry kid). So on July 12th I planned a getaway post chagim (Jewish holidays) in order to get the ball rolling…destination- Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Locating a B&B two blocks from the beach that was affordable enough not to take out a second mortgage, I paid the deposit toward a minimum two-night stay on a room with a private balcony overlooking the lake. Researching “things to do,” along with kosher eateries (a must), every hour of 48 was arranged to guarantee non-stop pleasure. The Weather Channel promised me clear skies and temps in the 60s – perfect! Of course, the one thing I didn’t think through thoroughly was the fact that we would be leaving the day after month-long chagim as well as Shabbatbefore I knew it, the day of retreat was among us…

Having gained at least 50 lbs. over the holidays (okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration), I insisted on going to the gym in order to impossibly lose the weight I had gained over a four-week period of non-stop eating. In the interest of time, I instead decided to walk up to the local pharmacy to purchase travel toiletries and convinced myself to do a quick workout in the garage. And then, of course, having forgotten to color my hair days prior, I tacked on an additional 30 minutes while desperately trying to control the giant pimple that had decided to plant itself on my chin. The “plan” was to be in a kosher friendly neighborhood by lunch time, so around 12:00 p.m. we ventured out (my family, often in cahoots with the hubby, used to lie to me about the startup time for gatherings, knowing I’d be at least 15 minutes late), but, of course, we had to turn back because I forgot to pack my sneakers that I purposely planted at the garage door so I wouldn’t forget them. Managing to take two hours to arrive from what should’ve been a one-hour drive, we arrived in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Getting my much-needed kosher sushi and finishing lunch around 2:00 p.m., we continued down the road, The Bully ever-present and taunting me about how imperfect and horrible the next two days would be. Twenty-five minutes later we found ourselves at what we have now affectionately dubbed “The Hotel New Hampshire”:

IMG_20171016_093441616_HDR

Photographs do no justice when it comes to seeing something with one’s own eyes. I can visually document The Grand Canyon for years and never quite capture the beauty of what is seen face to face…but this time I actually looked up reviews and all were “reliably” promising (a 4.1 out of 5 on Tripadvisor – I’m thinking the Grand Canyon gets a 10 on that scale of 5).

With no signs of a parking lot or signs directing us where to park, we abandoned the car between two white lines believed to be some kind of parking space and walked up the stairs of a gorgeous wraparound porch surrounded by colorful fall mums and bleached white chairs with vibrant pillows.

With no signs of reception or signs directing us where to check in, we wandered through the foyer, looking this way and that, and found a structure resembling a “front desk” with several individuals behind and around it – a young heavyset woman with straight shoulder-length blond hair, significant cleavage and glasses as thick as Coke bottles, a tall and sickly thin-looking young man with big teeth, a goatee and a man bun and a petite young boy with giant hair and adolescent facial hair. With no signs of life, the woman, not looking up from her computer screen, asked if we had a reservation – no hellos, no welcomes, no how-are-ya’s. The giant-haired boy asked, “Yous guys need help with your bags?” to which we responded in the negative.  With the boy’s response of “Awesome!”, a key is grabbed by our hostess off a hook on the wall and she began walking…no explanations, no follow-me-this-way, no nothing…

Thankfully, we are two fairly intelligent human beings with a lot of common sense. Eyeballing one another, the hubby and I followed the woman up the first flight of stairs…then the second…then the third to room #7. Jackpot! Seven’s an awesome number! Shabbat is the 7th day of the week. We have 7 Days of Creation, 7 days of the week, the 7 species of Israel, 7 Laws of Moses, 7 Patriarchs and 7 Matriarchs. There’s 7 wedding blessings, 7 times a bride circles her husband when getting married,  we have 7 sheva brachot (wedding meals) after getting married and for 7 days we mourn our loved ones. The first verse of the Torah consists of 7 words…WOW! Lucky number 7!

Okay, granted it’s an old Victorian home near the ocean that was no doubt affected by Hurricane Sandy – I get it. But the place was run down. We tried to be positive. Maybe the housekeeping staff is just too exhausted to care after a busy and prosperous summer. It’s off-season, so maybe the staff is less meticulous. Perhaps I’m just too picky about my standard of cleanliness…

As we unpacked our belongings and hung clothing on hangers too tight to fit around the closet pole, I checked furniture for wear and tear, the bed for critters and the bathroom for mold, my inspection barely passing my old school grade of “S” (Satisfactory). I informed the hubby that we were going to go for a walk on the boardwalk and then drive north along the shoreline to dinner at a steakhouse that was 100% approved by one of the pickiest meat eaters in our community. Granted it was a little warm and the humidity too high for mid-October, but the hubby reluctantly agreed and we started for the door…and it didn’t open…and the door knob fell limp…and it was 4:10 p.m…and the “front desk” staff left at 6:00 p.m…and we didn’t know what time they came back in the morning…because they didn’t mention it…

The Bully: See…this little vacation’s gonna suck!

Me: Shut up…

For more than 15 minutes the hubby and I tugged and turned and attempted to screw back in the door knob, he on the house phone calling the front desk and me on my cell phone calling the hotel’s main line…but no one answered. Panic set in. As the hubby repeatedly called the “front desk”‘ on the phone, I ran to the balcony, thinking, “It’s beshert (meant to be) – perhaps this was the reason I reserved the room with the balcony…?!”

Me: “Hello?! Hello?!” (shouting to no one below).

A teenage girl parked her car across the street.

Me: “Miss! Miss!”

Girl: (pointing a finger toward her chest).

Me: “Yeah, you! I have a HUGE favor to ask of you. We’re locked in our room and would appreciate it if you could go to the front desk and tell them we need immediate assistance.”

Girl: (without hesitation as if it’s happened before) “Sure, no problem,” and enters the hotel upon request.

Minutes pass like hours and the hubby continued to pull on the door knob as I ran back and forth to the balcony looking to see if the girl followed through on my request. Suddenly, we heard a voice on the other side of the door…

Voice: “Take the key out of the lock.”

The hubby: “There isn’t a key in the lock.”

Voice: (opening door with master key) “This fuckin’ place…”

A stocky-built individual with brown hair piled on the head, a faint moustache, serious man hands and wearing navy blue hospital scrubs entered the room. Kat (whose name we later learned), in attempting to contact the “front desk” via inter-hotel cell phone, proceeded to tell us why the hotel sucked as much as it did – “The staff is stupid.” Precise and to the point – the hotel sucks because the staff is stupid. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Kat continues to explain to us how the hotel is actually a kind of time share, whereby each room is owned by an individual and rented out through the property owner. In other words, the state of the room is dependent on “how much the owner of the room gives a shit.” Kat’s words, not mine. Perhaps another reason why the hotel sucks…

Finally free from our prison hell, I descended the stairwell toward the “front desk.” Meeting me halfway, the heavyset woman with the sickly thin-looking man by her side, asked, “You’re locked in your room?” Okaaay…this is going to be an interesting conversation…Kat attempted to tutor the “front desk” staff on the mechanics of door knobs to no avail and demanded we be “upgraded” and the woman and man were gone. After several minutes, Kat received a message letting us know that we were being moved to room #14…one more flight up. Quickly repacking our suitcases, Kat, waited patiently and continued to give us more reasons as to why the hotel sucks. Turning the bolt lock out so as not to have the door lock behind us, she escorted us to our new digs. Kat showed us around the room, repeatedly insisting it was “much better” than the last one. Needless to say, it wasn’t terrible (definitely an S, but not much better)…and at least we still had a balcony…

With the Hotel New Hampshire behind us, I dragged the hubby reluctantly to the boardwalk. As the humidity and temperature began to lighten up, it was a perfectly beautiful day to walk on the beach and observe the shidduchim (Orthodox system of matchmaking couples for marriage) being conducted along various benches and frum (religious) families playing along the shoreline before loading up soaking wet and full of sand into their minivans.

As the sun set, we drove north along the ocean through all the towns we were familiar with thanks to the Bruce Springsteen references provided to us as kids growing up. Like seasoned early-bird-special retirees, we arrived at the restaurant in Deal 15 minutes before opening, but the wait was worth the food and service.

Returning to our room at the Hotel New Hampshire after dinner, I made my way to the balcony overlooking the infamous Spring Lake as the hubby hibernated under the covers staring at his iPad. The air was crisp with a soft ocean breeze. Crickets and peepers chirped all around as I listened to the ocean tide ebb and flow with an occasional quacking duck or honking goose. The sky was clear and replete of stars with a splendid view of the gorgeous hotel on the boardwalk I enviously wished I had booked instead.

IMG_20171016_082356646

Leaving him no choice, I convinced the hubby to join me. Not completely miserable, I downloaded a stargazing app for him and he attempted to find our way around the heavens. Being on the top floor affords a balcony without any obstructions – score!

Looking for sleep. we made our way to the bed…a VERY squeaky bed. As we drifted off to sleep around midnight, The Bully reminded me that the staff had left at 6:00 p.m. –  it was just us and two other guests somewhere else in a large 28-room mansion with no staff to speak of in the off-season whose exact return was uncertain. Making reference to The Shining, the hubby’s slowed and steady breathing advised me I was all alone in my thoughts…

The Bully: Sleep tight my dear!

Delighted to have woken up alive with no signs of axed-force entry, the hubby and I strolled down the four flights and two landings, past the “front desk” and into the breakfast nook (and the only reason we knew where we were going is because one of the two other guests staying at the hotel had asked the “front desk” woman the day before as we were checking in). We were greeted by the petite boy with the big hair and adolescent facial hair who asked if we were going to have breakfast. Not quite sure of the kashrut (kosherness of the food), we scrutinized the “Continental Breakfast” and managed to find some hard-boiled eggs and a couple of instant oatmeal packets with an OU, assuming the baked items were most likely a no-go. I suggested the hubby ask the boy if we could see the packaging that the baked items came in (believe it or not, most hotels have no issue doing this). The boy very happily took the hubby to the kitchen where he discovered that the English muffins had a reliable hechscher (kosher symbol), to which the boy asked many curious questions, eager to learn.

Having eaten our money’s worth of hard-boiled eggs, plain instant oatmeal and dry English muffins, I informed the hubby that we were going to take a walk around the infamous Spring Lake. The temperature had plummeted 20 degrees since the day before, so the hubby had no complaints…until we got to the lake…and started walking…and it started to rain. Offering him an umbrella, the hubby adamantly refused and grumpily made his way up the path that encircles the lake. As I took photos with my smartphone, the hubby had a “lively” discussion on his flip-phone with the kid who was calling from Israel to complain about not having access to her Amazon Prime video account after the hubby changed the password because he thought he’d been hacked following an alert showing someone had attempted to access the account from an unknown device. At least we know she’s alive…

Halfway around the lake, as the rain got heavier, I joked that we might get lucky and it wouldn’t be raining on the other side. Turning onto the bridge that crosses the lake, the rain suddenly ceased…and it wasn’t raining on the other side…

About a half hour later, we found ourselves back at the hotel trying to figure out what to do next. My original plan was to take the hubby to Allaire State Park, do some light hiking, have a picnic and possibly check out the museum or take a train ride. Having rained all night and all morning, we decided the park wasn’t going to be much fun in the mud, so we chose to get some complimentary coffee and sit on the porch and enjoy the cool air. While the hubby ran to the bathroom, I started pouring a cup of coffee and was greeted by a tall, thin young woman with hair tied into a bun, wearing leggings and a hoodie and whose willowy legs reached to my waist. As she piled a basket of baked goods onto a plate, she loudly began interrogating me about my stay – “How was your night?!” “Did you eat breakfast?!” “When did you get here?!” What’re ya doin’ today?!” Thinking she was an overly friendly guest who really liked donuts, it finally dawned on me that she was an employee in some capacity.

Casey, as I learned, was with housekeeping, has been working at the hotel for a number of years and lives in Point Pleasant with her 7-year-old daughter. Asking her advice on things to do on a rainy day at the shore in the off-season, Casey was a walking directory of attractions. However, with every nomination, her follow-up response was, “But you better call first because businesses are always going under or close for the season.” Having also planned to check out a place called Monster Mini-Golf, Casey provided me with the same advice – call first. We sat back down on the porch to drink our coffees while I called the mini-golf location mentioned and discovered that they were indeed open, but not until 2:00 p.m. – it was currently 10:30 a.m…

Revolving our day around mini-golf at 2:00 p.m., we decided to head to the local Whole Foods to purchase picnic food that was kosher and didn’t require heating up. Driving the few miles to the store, we discovered a rather kosherless stock of food items and thought to cross the street to the local Acme, but lazily convinced ourselves to drive back to Deal where we knew there were a number of places to have lunch along the main strip. Finding our way back up the road along the shoreline, getting lost a few times and riding in circles, we discovered that every restaurant that posted hours of operation online were closed for the season. Taking one more look on Google and making one more phone call, we found an open pizza joint on the other side of town. Upon arriving, we discovered it was a little take-out place inside a community center that was not to our liking. As we stood in the parking lot believing we would have to suck it up and forgo lunch, I noticed the sign on a restaurant across the street was a name that had popped up when perusing Google – Sheng Mao Sakura.

It looked familiar to us both, but we couldn’t figure out why. Checking the window for a reliable teudah (kosher certificate), we settled on eating Chinese. Again, as we entered the lobby, the hubby and I simultaneously experienced deja vu – it’s familiar because we’ve been here before! Michael had taken us to this restaurant years before when he was living in Neptune and the kid was a little girl and his wife was not even a twinkle in his eye. The hubby pointed out the table where we had sat and instantly remembered what we ate that day. We wondered if the waiter was the same waiter who had served us so long ago but couldn’t recall his face.

We ordered our food, consumed all we could manage to stuff in our bellies and asked for the check, after which I said to the waiter, “Xie xie.” Slightly correcting my pronunciation, the waiter was impressed that I even knew how to say thank you in Chinese. I told him about my sister-in-law and how she has attempted to help my family learn simple words and phrases over the years and how mom used to say “shit shit.” Producing a broad smile and a hardy chuckle, he presented me with a fortune cookie…and I laughed out loud…

IMG_20171016_131614026

Now off to Monster Mini-Golf, an indoor monster themed glow-in-the-dark 18-hole miniature golf course. As you know from previous posts, I’m a miniature golf addict. On every vacation I’ve managed to find a miniature golf course, whether it be indoors or out. Anticipating rain for the entire day, I chose this particular course because it was inside (of course the sun came out and the sky was blue by the time we got there). No matter – I was determined to get some tee time!

Ashamed of our scores, we started our trek back to the hotel, where we cleaned up, changed and went to dinner.

IMG_20171016_142456190
I’m Forrest Grump!

After an uneventful evening at the staffless hotel, we fell into our squeaky bed, passed out and awoke with the sunrise (and a view of the hotel I still wished we’d booked)…IMG_20171017_071807109_HDR

Returning to the breakfast bar scarcely loaded with the previous day’s goods, we again consumed our money’s worth of hard-boiled eggs, plain instant oatmeal and dry English muffins in the company of the petite boy who was having a conversation with a short older-adult woman with red bob haircut, glasses and a slight southern drawl. Apologizing for my rudeness in not asking his name previously, the boy introduced himself as Daniel. The older woman continued her conversation to include me and the hubby. Her name is Mary Catherine and she grew up in East Orange, New Jersey where she spent all her formative years in Catholic schools and retired to Williamsburg, Virginia with her husband six years prior. Mary Catherine explained to us that she had attended her 50th high school reunion over the weekend – the only reunion she has ever gone to, we learn, because she truly never had any interest in finding out whatever happened to her classmates – it was just an excuse to come back to “come home” and stay in her favorite place on the Jersey shore, Spring Lake. She warned us of her candid personality as well as her Tea Party support and proceeded to tell us her life story up until that moment – how, to her father’s disapproval, she married her husband who had been married before and refused to have the first union annulled in order for them to get married in the Catholic church, which lead to the description of her current spiritual state and her regrets about never having children; how some of her classmates were dead and that the girls she had befriended in high school would never be her friends now and the girls that were not her friends in high school would be her friends now…and on and on she went…

Mary Catherine excused herself to get her belongings so she could go for a walk on the boardwalk, sit on the beach and check out the quaint shops on Main Street across the lake. As we attempted to head home, Daniel informed us that check out was at 11:00 a.m. and asked we wait until then because he was not permitted to check guests out of the hotel and wasn’t sure what time the rest of the staff was due for work. Assuring Daniel that we had paid for our room in full, we handed over the room key and bid our farewell. We were again joined by Mary Catherine, who had locked herself out of her room and begged Daniel to lend her the master key, which he reluctantly handed over. Trying to make our escape, Daniel then asked the hubby about the Star of David and proceeded to hypothesize the spiritual interconnectedness between all things in the world based on the theory of plutonics. As Kat returned to a new day of work and asked “Danny” if he was “bothering these poor people,” I reassured her that he was not and insisted Daniel continue our conversation. Possibly disclosing something very personal and private, Daniel then asked if we had “ever been in an institution” and suddenly appeared embarrassed, lowering his head and gazing up at me to see my reaction. Informing him that I had been in several different institutions over the past thirty years (in a social work capacity), Daniel began to tell us about a woman he knew who used to rock back and forth when she was upset, which reminded him of the Israeli men in the area he has seen rocking back and forth when they pray in synagogue, and he told the woman, “Maybe you’re trying to find comfort in getting closer to G-d?” I told him he was exactly right in his thought process and wished him well. The ride home was a lot less adventurous…

Two years ago today, after a hug and a kiss and “dancing” to his favorite Christmas tunes, before heading to bed I said good-bye to my only brother and asked him to say hello to everyone when he got to heaven, to which he nodded his head. At 2:40 a.m. while the rest of us slept, my brother Michael, holding his nurse’s hand, opened his eyes, looked at her as if to say, “I’m ready,” quietly and peacefully left our world. He is missed beyond words…

“Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'”

Hotel California – Eagles

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Advertisements