Hunt’s Pier – Epilogue

Philadelphia, PA – 2021

The reason I’ve struggled with writing this story is that it can’t really be written. It has to be felt. To be lived.  It was just a summer job on the boardwalk in wildwood. But it was something else. We did the same job over and over every night. It was us on the ride, and the people lined up and boarded the ride and we sent them up. That’s it. Over and over again. A sea of faces. Thousands of happy smiling faces night after night. Non-stop. We keep loading them in and they keep coming back for more. They’re on vacation. We’re there to serve them entertainment. Welcome to the show, I’m Chaz and I’ll be your host. It’s a circus. A carnival. A place where the freaks run the rides and you enjoy the show.

But it’s more than that. We sell happiness. Joy. Excitement. Thrills. Anticipation. The list goes on and on. What job have you ever had in your life where you can deliver that to your clients every single day? That’s the only product we make and our customers can’t live without it.

I’ve never ever had a job like that again. I can name every job I’ve ever had and none of them will be any of the things I just mentioned. That’s why many of the people who work there never leave.

There are worse vocations in this world.

It’s as if we worked in a place that existed in another world. A sea of joy and happy faces. Of children giggling and laughing and having the time of their lives. we’re the hosts bringing them fond memories. The type of memories they carry with them forever. The old memories. The ancient senses developed in our species millions of years ago. 

The excitement in the air crackles around you with your every move along that boardwalk. The music that fills the air whether it’s something on the radio or the crashing symphony of the calliope from the merry-go-round. That merry-go-round that you only get to ride once in this world.

One time around. Maybe you catch the brass ring, maybe you don’t. Maybe you rode all the way home on that mighty steed or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you fell off the horse a few times but you had a good time doing it. You get one ride in this life and we all have to make it. Make yours count. Maybe not for yourself but for someone else in this life.

 

Can you smell it? Is that Curly fries, or is it the sweet fragrance of a fresh funnel cake? When you bite that soft pretzel and the mustard drips on your polo shirt, and your wife pulls out a tissue to clean you up. She and the kids are so happy you’ve got a job where they can take a vacation for a week at the seashore. To play with the kids on the beach and swim in the sea, and see things you never imagined come to life. The stroll on that boardwalk, where you stuff your head with delicious pizza from Sam’s or Mack’s. 

I’m here to help. I will facilitate your joy, sir. We all will. And we’ll deliver you a show you won’t soon forget every night. That game you played. That teddy bear you won. We’re here to deliver.

But all the while we’re loving our very existence. Really living. The sun shines above our young heads. Our skin browns in the sun and our hair turns a lovely flaxen color. We feel it too. You’re here for a week or two. But we’re here every day. We get to live this life for two months every summer.

And when the shadows grow long in the autumn twilight, you’ll remember us. Because we’ll always be with you in your memories. A place that can’t be seen or touched, but you can feel it. You can smell and taste the memory. That first bite from your favorite burger spot. That first kiss of that person you just met on the beach today or this very boardwalk. The possibilities that can happen. It’s all yours. But only for a week. I get to do this every day.

It’s my life.

For now.

But one day I will join you in your world. But, we’ll all be able to look inward and feel that bit of magic in our hearts that came to life when we were young. That place that you loved that you can never revisit. 

Only in your dreams and memories.

Other people have written about Wildwood. I’ve read what they’ve written and it’s been simple documentation of what the place was like. But not how it felt. That’s what I’ve tried to describe here.

You don’t know it if you didn’t really live it. My sisters and I really lived it.

Every summer in Wildwood was different. The weather was the same and some of the things stayed the same but that was the beautiful constant.

It was always Summer there. Eternal. I only felt its dark side when I spent my first winter there. That was when the spell was broken. But only for a while. Every summer we spent there we changed. Because we were growing up. It’s not like now when another year goes by and you’re feeling the same as last year. We were growing. We were growing up. From little children to teenagers to adults. You spent your winters in Philly and went to school in the cold and waited for the bus. But in the summer you returned to a magical paradise with days filled with sunshine and joy. Only joy. You can never get that back. Those formative years are fleeting, and once they’re gone… they’re gone forever. 

I finished writing this series after a long time. I covered everything but I knew something was missing. I scheduled it and put the finishing touches on my work because it was done. I would only return to it in a month to do final edits.

But one night I was sitting in my room watching my show, and it kept gnawing at me. Something was missing from the long series. That’s when I stopped watching TV and opened a new doc and started pounding out these words. This may not even be enough. But maybe it’ll be enough for now.

The carnival. The amusement park. The sweet sea air as it blows in warm from the beach onto the crowd as they laugh and sing through the night.

The more I wrote the more I realized it’s almost something that can’t be written about. It can’t be documented. It’s a feeling. You can write what you saw and what you did, but it’s not the same.

You have to remember the feeling. 

A dear friend once told me, “It’s not what you said or what you did. It’s how you made them feel.” 

Thanks to everyone that follows my blog and also to everybody who dug it from Facebook and Instagram. I reconnected with some old friends from these posts, so it was totally worth it.

A book about my youth in Wildwood entitled, Down the Shore will publish in 2023.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 8 – Living The Dream

“Nobody ever says, “Remember that Spring?”

But people do say… “Remember that Summer?”Chaz

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

One night we were all working. It was early, maybe 6 pm. Each shift was from 5 pm until 11 pm when the pier closed. As one of the cars came in full of people and they exited the ride, someone left a camera on the ride. Danny brought it to me, and I remembered the guy and his family. I was like, “Wait…there he is over there with his wife and kids. I’ll run over and give him back his camera.” But then an idea came to mind. I went over to Louie and told him what was up and handed him the camera. He gathered the whole staff together on the platform and took a photo of all of us guys with the man’s lost camera. He handed it back to me and I ran down the ramp and tapped the man on the shoulder. “You left this on the ride, sir.” The gentleman was very grateful and relieved.

It was one of those jokes you do where you’ll never see the outcome, but you know when he gets home from vacation and gets his photos developed, he’ll find a mysterious photo of the whole Golden Nugget team among his pictures! Great idea, right?

When the pier closed at 11 pm, they always put up a big wooden fence to close off the area. There were guards and dogs always present at night to protect their assets. But the fence was in large sections and each piece was really heavy. After working all night on our feet and taking care of thousands of tourists, the last thing we wanted to do was carry big sections of fence and set it all up each night. So all the flunkies (as Louie called them) who worked all the rides up at the front of the pier were the first ones called upon to help put up the fence. We at the Nugget and the Log Flume would take our good old time closing our rides and walking up to the front of the pier to help. I can honestly say I have maybe only helped with one small section of fence on only three occasions. We were the elite weasels on that pier.

One of the amazing benefits of working for the Hunt’s Corporation was that they also owned every movie theater on the island. So as a perk for being an employee, each Saturday night at midnight, they would have a private screening of one of the latest movies playing in the theaters.

It was awesome. You’d finish your shift at 11 pm, and then had an hour to get something to eat, hit the liquor store to buy some beer, and then head over to one of the theaters and watch a movie with your coworkers. It was glorious. The cool thing was, you could bring a guest. So I could bring my buddy Wolfie with me and we could check out a cool new movie for free. (And drink beer!) But most of the time if one of the guys and I had met some girls that night on the ride, we’d take them to the movies with us. That was fantastic. Free movie with a new girl. Unless it was something we didn’t want to see, we would go every week all summer long. (Even back then, 40 years ago I was providing the hookup to the ladies in my life!)

Seeing The Empire Strikes Back in an empty theater with just my buddies with me was an unforgettable experience. The film as we all know was a long-awaited blockbuster and seeing it for free for the first time was amazing. I remember taking my buddy Wolfie with me to see the film, Airplane! And at the time it was the funniest film I had ever seen. It’s still in my top five of the funniest most creative and madcap movies I’ve ever seen. The Cannonball Run also comes to mind as one of the more memorable films we saw that summer. Just great times!

I even got my friend Pitchy a job up on Hunt’s working at the Log Flume. He was my summertime best friend who lived around the corner from my house. He and I had been friends since the early ’70s and had a rich history of summers together. He had worked as a stock boy at a local grocery store at 9th and Ocean avenue and was looking to do something different for the summer. I got him a job on the pier. He liked working on the flume and got along with all of the guys over there. One night he started chatting up a really cute little Italian girl from South Philly and later made a date with her. A few years later they kept in touch and he eventually married her and they have three great grown kids now. Met his wife on the Log Flume!

I remember it was the 4th of July weekend which is an enormous time at the shore. The island is packed with tourists and the boardwalk is mobbed every night. I went on my break and walked over to the snack bar across from our ride and got a soft pretzel and a fountain coke. I went back to the Nugget and went in the back and up the fire escape to the top floor of the ride. The ride was obviously going non-stop so you had to be careful up there navigating the tracks so you didn’t get run over and killed by the ride. On the roof, (you’ll see in some of the attached videos) had several dead man’s gulch attractions on it. Tombstones, skeletons, prospectors, etc. There actually was a replica of a gallows up there. I climbed the rickety wooden ladder up to the top of it and had a seat at the hangman’s pole.

There it is. Three stories above the boardwalk. 100 feet up from the beach.

The mine cars full of tourists would actually pass under it. So, I parked myself up there and munched my pretzel, and sipped my soda. The view was incredible and I suddenly felt an incredible level of exhilaration sitting up there. Here I was on the roof of a three-story dark ride I once rode terrified with my father and sisters. I lit a cigarette and looked out at the entire sea of people below me. The pier was packed with people, and that flowed out onto the boardwalk that was in full swing. Amusement rides going, people screaming, laughing, and filled with joy. Happy to be at the seashore and away from the heat of the city and work. They were all on vacation and having the times of their lives here in Wildwood.

The smell of french fries, caramel popcorn, funnel cake, cotton candy, and pizza filled the air. The sights and sounds of summer. I sat under the stars and watched as fireworks exploded in the sky in the distance.

I knew in this perfect moment that I was in the most pristine place in my life. I sat atop my castle as the self-proclaimed King of Wildwood. Finished with high school, tan, fit, clear skin, healthy, and immaculate. My painful past barely visible now. I had game and could talk to girls and they liked me enough to date and kiss me. I was in a rock and roll band, and didn’t have to be anywhere I didn’t want to be.  The island and this ride were mine.

But I could feel as I finished my cigarette I wouldn’t come up here again.

This moment would vanish and never return.

Like a child’s balloon that had escaped their grasp. You watch as it rises higher and higher into the night sky. But you’ll never get it back.

All you can do is make a wish…

The sax solo in this song (4:00 minute mark) by the late, great, Clarence Clemmons, and Bruce’s howl at the end of the song is about as close as I can get to what my heart felt like on any given summer night in Wildwood.

But, even as I write these words, I feel I just can’t do justice to those summers at the seashore.

You had to be there.

Hunt's Pier At Night | "Watch the tram car please!" 1970s Po… | Brian | Flickr

I’ve lived and worked in many places throughout my life.  But I still say to this day, working at Hunt’s Pier on the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was The Greatest Job I Ever Had.

 

This is sort of what it sounded like to be on the boardwalk in Wildwood.

Here are a link and some videos I found to give you an idea of what the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was like:

http://www.funchase.com/Images/GoldenNugget/GoldenNugget.htm

This series is not over yet. There’s more to come every Thursday through July.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Wildwood Daze – Gone Fishing

Wildwood, New Jersey – The early 70s

Once my parents had acquired the house at the shore, they quickly fell into the lifestyle. Days at the beach for mom and the girls, and dad taking up surf fishing. I don’t know exactly when he started getting into fishing, but I remember what he normally did when approaching something new. He read several books on the subject and got to know people in the fishing community on the island.

I remember us going up to a tackle store on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and Juniper. We would hang out in the store and he’d chat with the owner, Charlie Glenn. Mr. Glenn was a master angler. Well known on the island as a guy who could”high hook” every other fisherman around. High hook meant if they were ever out fishing Mr. Glenn would usually catch something and everyone else would go home empty-handed.

His store was a classic seashore town bait and tackle shop. All sorts of rods, reels, lures and stuff to send you on your fishing adventures. I remember a sign he had hanging on the wall among the photos of fish he had caught. It read: “Early to bed. Early to rise. Fish like hell, and make up lies.” I always liked it for its clever play on words and the idea that men probably lied all of the time about what they caught and how big the fish was. (Or the big one that got away!)

My father invested in some good surf fishing gear. He purchased a big ten-foot rod with a Garcia reel. Unlike fishing in streams and off boats, you need a long rod to throw the bait beyond the waves to where the fish were. My dad’s goal was to hook and catch a big bluefish. Weakfish and Striped Bass were also popular types that the fisherman sought after.

Bluefish – These suckers get huge and fight like a fish twice their size.

Bluefish - Wikipedia

Weakfish – This guy is actually a sea trout, but his nickname comes from his tender mouth. It’s ‘weak’ so it’s hard to get a hook in him.

Maryland Fish Facts

Striped Bass – The name is pretty obvious.

Atlantic Striped Bass | NOAA Fisheries

My dad wanted to catch one of those big blues because they put up a hell of a fight if you got one on your hook. We started out using bait, like bits of squid, but quickly abandoned that. It was slimy, smelly, gross to handle, and just seemed boring. You’d see guys at the beach sitting in their chairs with their rods standing in spikes that were driven into the sand. They’d be puffing cigars and drinking beer and just waiting and hoping something would come along and hit their bait. Boring!

My dad got into lure fishing. Using steel lures like Hopkins and Castmasters that had reflective surfaces that resembled little fish that the bigger fished liked to dine upon. Those were my favorite!

But to catch the bigger fish, you needed to use a lure called a plug.

12 Great Lures for Chinook Salmon Fishing in Puget Sound - Riptidefish

They resembled the type of fish called mullet that the bigger fish went crazy over. My father gave me books to read on the subject of fishing in general. I could still tie the proper knots to secure the lure to the line if you asked me today.

The key to catching fish in my opinion was pretty simple.

Fish the areas where you think the fish may be feeding. That meant looking to see where the seabirds like gulls were feeding. If you saw the gulls diving down to the water and snatching up little fish, that usually meant there was something bigger beneath the surface driving the little fish to the surface. If you can cast your lure out there, you may get a hit.

It seemed the best fishing was in the fall. My dad would head down to the beach in his waders and cast his heart out trying to catch a big blue. I don’t think most people realize how strong these fish are. The line these fishermen are using is heavy monofilament. A steel leader is tied to it, and then that’s attached to the lure. You have to cast it out as far as you can, and then work that lure through the water so it looks like a little fish doing its thing to fool the bigger fish. It’s truly a skill to be learned.

My dad got me a seven-and-a-half-foot Fenwick glass on glass rod, that had incredible action. On it was a Penn reel. I loved that fishing pole. I had thrown the big ten-footers in the surf without much success, and to a skinny kid like me, they were just too heavy. My older sister had a beautiful blue fishing rod, and she was an avid fisherwoman along with my dad. She put the time and practice in on the beach with dad more than I did. With that dedication came a pretty good-sized weakfish she caught on her own. I was impressed and we have the pictures to prove it. I hadn’t caught anything during any of my fishing endeavors.

As time and practice went by my dad started catching a few bluefish. Which was cool, because he would bring them home, and we’d all dine on them. I think up till then the only fish I had eaten was in the form of fried fish sticks and crab cakes. They were all bought at the supermarket from the frozen food section!

But freshly prepared seafood was delicious! My dad showed me every aspect of the fishing experience. How to hold the fish if you caught one, and how to carefully and mercifully remove the hook from the fish’s mouth.

The fish would be brought home and washed, scaled, and cut into filets. If he had a successful day and had caught more than his share, he’d share his bounty with the neighborhood. Everybody loves free food, especially when it’s absolutely fresh. Another cool thing my dad showed me, was to take the carcasses of the fish and bury them in the garden. So nothing was ever wasted from the catch. As the fish decomposed underground, they served as fertilizer. This yielded terrific, robust Jersey tomatoes. My father seemed to be very pleased with this whole cycle of life program he developed. I imagined him as the Indian warrior and me his little brave.

The filets were cooked in a pan or broiled with a bit of lemon, butter, and pepper. You can really taste the difference when you devour something that was alive and well a few hours ago. Sea to the table! (Just watch out for the bones!)

Dad finally caught a monster bluefish. He was so proud. It was three feet long and probably weighed over 20 lbs. A beast! He showed me photos he had taken.  He also showed me how during that battle to bring the fish to shore, it had beat up his tackle pretty bad. Steel leaders all chewed up and bent, and hooks nearly straightened. I was shocked at the raw power of these sea denizens as they fought their final battle on earth.

My dad became a hardcore fisherman. He and his buddies would get in his VW minibus and drive down the beach in the off-season. You needed a permit to do that, but it was awesome to take the van on the beach. He would drop the bed in the back and you could lay the fishing rods right in there. I remember going with my dad a few times, but I remember not catching anything and freezing my butt off in the van. But I was happy to spend time with my father, just the two of us.

One of the things you had to always watch when you were casting out your lure was to check that the line wasn’t tangled around the end of the pole. If it was and you didn’t notice the twist when you cast out, the line would snap and you basically threw away an eight-dollar steel lure. You’d watch your lure sail through the air and think for a second, “That was an amazing cast!” Then you’d see it disappear beneath the waves and watch as all you had left was a broken line twirling in the wind on the end of your rod. Fun!

I kept plugging away at the fishing without much luck. But one day I was down on the beach casting away with my dad and pro angler sister, and something happened.

“I got one!” I yelled as I felt the sudden tug on my line and the drag on the reel whir in my hand as the line went out of the reel. I had to think quickly and remember what my dad told me. Pull back on the rod, to seat the hook, and as I lower it, reel in like hell. I did this automatically as I did it over and over. I instinctively started to back away from the water hoping to haul out my catch. I saw him break the beach and I had him! I ran over and put my hand down on the small bluefish. I had finally caught one!

This was a father-son moment. An ancient art passed down through the generations. The father teaches his children how to catch and prepare their own food from the wild. It just felt like we were aligned with our ancestors that day on the beach.

Once I got it, I was back to casting away again. I think we caught 14 blues that afternoon. I went from zero to hero in one day! But that can happen in life. You feel like a failure, but if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find some success. This has followed me throughout my entire life.

Here are a few final words about fishing and fish in general.

I once found a three-foot sand shark on the beach one night. It was dead and some fisherman had cut a chunk out of it to use as bait. I found this cruel and unusual. Why not simply throw the elegant animal back in the sea if you didn’t want him? I had never seen a shark close up or ever touched one. Their hide is like sandpaper. Really cool. I decided to keep him. I dragged him home and hid him under the bush out front of our house. Of course, after a few days in the heat of summer, that boy was ripe! My mom was wondering what that horrible smell was coming from the front bush. I told her my shark story and she told me to drag that sucker back to the beach and dispose of it. So, I dragged “stinky” back to the dunes and left his carcass for the seagulls.

Once my dad, sister, and I were out on a little boat doing some fishing. I’ll tell the whole story about my experience in a future post, but this one is worth mentioning here. We’re fishing and dad drives the boat over to where he sees some birds working. I cast out a few times without luck. But at one point I accidentally hooked a seagull. I felt terrible. That’s not what I was out there to catch. My dad told me to gently reel him in and we’d figure something out. The eerie thing was, all of the birds stopped feeding. They all just started hovering and some floating in the water around the boat in some sort of Hitchcockian moment. My dad put on a pair of gloves and when the snagged bird was close, he gently removed the hook from the bird’s wing. He seemed unhurt and flew away to my relief.

But during this whole melee, my sister’s line got tangled and the bucktail lure she had been working sank to the bottom of the bay. While my father worked to untangle her line, I just tried to stay out of the way. Once the line was untangled and my sister could reel in her line from the murky depths, she pulls up the lure, and to our amazement, she’d hooked is a big Flounder!

Fishing Forecast: Flounder season is off to its best start in years - Daily Press

Yea, I try to catch fish and instead hook a bird. My sister is so awesome, she catches fish without even trying! High hooked us all that day!

These stories are just about us being a family and doing things together. Learning new skills and sharing fun-filled days.

In the end… what else is there in life?

 

If you like fishing and fishing stories, check out my buddy George’s site! He even has a show on YouTube!

His link is right here:

Home

I also wrote a piece about George in the Fall of 2020. You can check that out here:

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 1

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 2

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Truancy – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – Spring, 1977

We followed Martin’s Mill Road out towards Cheltenham. It was interesting to watch all of the N buses pass us by. We knew there were kids in there on their way to Fels and hoped no one who knew us would see us. Just paranoid I suppose. We crossed the bridge over into Cheltenham where I knew there was a train station. I only knew about it because that’s the station where my mom always took us to go downtown.

We went inside and all bought tickets to center city. We then went out to the platform outside to wait for the train. It would be along soon, so we discussed some of the things we wanted to do while we were downtown. We also concocted a story if anybody we ran into asked us why we weren’t in school.

The train arrived and we boarded and found some seats. None of us had ever gone into the city on our own, so we were pretty clueless as to what to do when we got there. The only time any of us had ever been into town was with our parents or on some sort of school trip.

We did end up chatting with a nice couple while we rode the train. We concocted a story that we were going into the city to meet with our parents. We were all cousins and our folks were staying in the city at the Ritz Carlton, and we were coming from our grandmothers. Just some made-up nonsense like that. I don’t know if the couple bought it, but they were nice and we figured if we could fool them, we could fool anybody.

The train soon pulled into Reading Terminal. This is way before it became a farmer’s market and a literal orgy of food and tourist destination.

Home

Today all of the incoming and outgoing trains use Suburban Station at 15th and JFK Blvd. But back in the 70s Reading Terminal was the spot. I remember it being a smelly bum pit of a place. As I walked through the station with my friends, I remembered something my father used to say. He’d tell me I needed to pay attention and do well in school so I didn’t end up like one of the guys in Reading Terminal. Which meant a bum.

Here I was cutting school and going against all that was proper. We didn’t care. We were living in the moment.

We decided we wanted to go visit Billy Penn. His statue stands atop City Hall and was once the tallest building in Philadelphia a long time ago.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_City_Hall

The skyline back then was far different than the one you see on the homepage of this blog.

We went over to city hall and the admission to go to the top was free! They probably charge for it now but back then you could just get in line and head up to the top. We piled in the elevator with a bunch of other tourists and up we went. It was cool to walk around at the foot of the giant statue atop City Hall. I noticed they had a couple of those coin-op binocular-type machines up there to get a closer look, but we were happy to just be all the way up there with no parents and teachers in sight.

“If I drop a penny from this height and it hits somebody in the head, will it kill them?”

“I don’t think so Dave, but just in case, don’t do it, okay?”

I knew from my love of all things science that a penny wouldn’t have the weight or the velocity to hurt a person if it fell on their head from a great height. But I couldn’t risk us getting in trouble while we were cutting school.

Later, we were just walking around the city and stuffing our heads with soft pretzels. We got to 16th and Chestnut, we saw that there were these older girls standing on the corner handing stuff out. Everybody likes free goodies so we walked up to them. They proceeded to hand each of us little four packs of Merit cigarettes. It must have been a new light brand they were trying to introduce, so what better way than to randomly pass out little packs of smokes to a bunch of teenagers.

It was like the wild west back then. We all bought and smoked cigs and no one ever asked me who the cigarettes were for. EVER. We were always ready to say, “They’re for my mom.” but no one ever asked. They just sold us cigarettes in every store we ever went into. You could get a pack of cigs for .51 cents a pack at Rite Aid! So cheap!

We immediately opened the packs and started smoking the Merits. But when we got to the next corner, we saw a group of different girls doing the same thing. So we went up to them too. We realized that they were on every corner of that whole block so we just walked around the block a few times until we’d gotten around 20 packs of smokes. Yes!

We headed out the Ben Franklin Parkway towards the museum district. We noticed that there was some construction going on at the Academy of Natural Sciences. We all loved that museum because it was one of the fun ones. It had dinosaurs and stuff in it so we had to get in there. We saw that there was a door open on the side and workmen were coming in and out of there. So we waited until no one was looking, slipped under a bunch of ropes and barriers, and got in there.

We’d all been there before on class trips, but when you sneak in and do the museum with your friends it’s just better. You don’t have to stay with your partner, pay attention, stay in line, go over here.. .etc. You just wander.

We had a lovely time in there for a couple of hours looking at all of the exhibits. We checked out some brochures near the exit and noticed something called the Cultural Loop Bus. We decided to hop on that out front of the museum. That bus went straight to the Philadelphia Zoo.

We spent the afternoon looking at all of the animals and enjoyed a nice lunch of hot dogs, french fries, and sodas in the Children’s petting zoo. I remembered going there with my parents as a child. But this sort of thing is always better with your friends. Just absolute freedom. We even rode the monorail!

Remember these? If you had this key, you could put it in the lock on these little green metal boxes they had at each habitat and it would play an audio message about the animals. A brilliant idea for kids!

I think that was the first time I really thought about what the zoo was. When I was little it appeared to be the greatest pet shop in the world where none of the animals were for sale. But when I really thought about it, it seemed more like an animal prison. Here we were a couple of teenage boys who had broken free for a day to go on an adventure, and these animals had been kidnapped from wherever they really lived and dropped off in here. A place where humans can gawk at them while they waste the rest of their lives in cages and glass enclosures. I could suddenly relate to the sad-looking gorilla or the majestic tiger just lying on the equivalent of a bathroom floor behind a piece of tempered glass. It seemed like a horrible, cruel existence. Just knowing you will never escape. Your whole life just the same day over and over again. Not the majestic place in the jungle or the savannah. Just another inmate. It looked very much like Fels Junior High at that moment.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could unlock all of the cages and let all of the animals just run away?”

“That would be awesome, Dave but we’d probably get beaten by our parents and end up in juvenile hall.”

We left the zoo and hopped back on the bus. Once we’re back in the city we found our way back to Reading Terminal. But there were so many trains there. Which one should we get on to get back home? We had no idea.

But then I remembered my mom always said that we needed to get on the Fox Chase train to get back home when we were in town with her. I’m glad I remembered that because we would have ended up getting lost. We got on that train and off we went. I knew we were on the right route because when they called out the Olney stop, I noticed that the train was on a tilt. My mother had also pointed that out to me on one of our trips into town.

We got off at the Cheltenham stop and made our way back to Rising Sun Avenue to get our stuff from out of the bushes of that big house. Happily, all of our stuff was still safely stashed and we collected it. We said our goodbyes and all agreed it had been a great day off from school.

I walked home wearing my bookbag with my umbrella in hand.

“How was school today, Chaz?”

“Good. Happy it’s the weekend.”

“You can put your umbrella in the closet. I’m glad it didn’t rain today.”

Me too, mom. Me too.”

“Go wash up for dinner.”

So I got away with cutting school.

Sort of…

I went to school on Monday but had forgotten to bring the absence note my sister had forged for me. It was still in my desk drawer. But when I got to homeroom, I found out that my teacher had also been absent on Friday. Which meant there was probably a substitute there that day. Maybe no role was taken. Because my teacher never said anything about my absence. So not only was I in the clear, I still had the note that I could use the NEXT time I cut school. Sweet!

A couple of weeks went by without incident. But one day my mom was cleaning my room or looking for contraband and found the note in my desk. She called me out on it.

“What are you planning on doing? Did you get one of your little chippies to write this for you? It’s actually pretty good. They did a good job replicating my handwriting.”

Little chippies? I didn’t have any little chippies. Everyone hated me at school, especially the girls.

I told her she was right, and the note was something one of the chippies made for me if I ever wanted to cut school. I said I was sorry and that I’d never cut school. She confiscated the note and tore it up. Of course, I would never give up my older sister. That would have had catastrophic repercussions on my future in Frankford High next year.

So, technically I pulled it off.

Funny… you’d think a bunch of teenage boys who would cut school would take the opportunity to get into some deviltry. Maybe drink beer, shoplift or smoke pot somewhere. But we didn’t do things like that back then. Beer was for older people and pot was drugs and they were illegal.

We took a Friday off in April and went to the city. We did some sightseeing, went to a museum, and the zoo. Just normal, fun kid stuff.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Addicted to Grief?

When time doesn’t heal, the brain’s reward system may be playing a role

When Anne Schomaker lost her husband in 2002, she did everything you’re supposed to do to heal from grief. She went to therapy, she volunteered, she traveled, she took up new hobbies, and she dated. To the outside world, she looked like she was moving on. To the outside world, it looked like she was healing the “right” way. But inside, she was frozen in mourning, unable to move forward emotionally. Nine years after the death of her husband, nightmares still haunted her in her sleep and she avoided reminders that would push her further into despair, such as the arias from the operas they had enjoyed. “I wasn’t really doing well. I had terrible pangs of sadness and despondency. I was missing my husband so badly. The pain just didn’t go away.”

Complicated bereavement is a disruption of the normal grieving process after a loss. While the loss of a loved one can be expected to be deeply painful and elicit emotional distress long after the loss has occurred, the symptoms of grief usually dissipate over time. Sometimes, however, healing does not occur. Instead, you become locked in a state of ongoing mourning; the emotional wound of your loss remains wide open and you are unable to move on. You may be preoccupied with constant thoughts of your loved one, experience intense longing, and be overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow, numbness, or anger. You may feel intense loneliness, even when you are surrounded by others, and may go out of your way to avoid reminders of the person you have lost. Or you may do the opposite—you may surround yourself with objects that make you feel close to your loved one, continuously return to the places that elicit memories of your time together, and live as if you are constantly waiting for their return. You are especially likely to experience complicated bereavement if you lost a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly, without the opportunity to emotionally prepare yourself for their death.

Many people with complicated bereavement are encouraged by well-meaning friends and family to move on, and you may feel that your emotional state is nothing more than a personal shortcoming. You’re told that you’re not grieving the right way. However, research indicates that complicated grief is actually a complex psychological illness with a neurological basis. A study by Mary-Frances O’Connor, published in NeuroImage, examined the effect of grief on brain function via functional magnetic resonance imaging. When people with complicated bereavement were shown pictures of their loved ones, “the nucleus accumbens – the part of the brain associated with rewards or longing – lighted up.” Those who experienced “normal patterns of grieving” exhibited markedly less nucleus accumbens activity.

This area of the brain is also associated with the longing for alcohol and drugs, suggesting that memories of loved ones may actually have an addictive effect on those with complicated bereavement, providing a new understanding of why you are unable to move beyond acute grief. As Dr. O’Connor says, “It’s as if the brain were saying, ‘Yes I’m anticipating seeing this person’ and yet ‘I am not getting to see this person.’ The mismatch is very painful.” Recognizing the neurological underpinnings of complicated bereavement may help researchers and clinicians develop more effective treatment protocols. More importantly, it may help you better understand your experience and reduce the feelings of self-blame and shame you may feel.

Unfortunately, the addictive qualities of your memories may also lead you to develop other addictions. In your attempt to cope with the overwhelming pain of your loss, you may have turned to drugs or alcohol or even food, compounding your emotional distress and presenting new dangers to your well-being. While using substances to escape psychological suffering is common among people experiencing grief, people with complicated bereavement are particularly vulnerable to developing substance addiction issues as they seek to soothe themselves from severe and ongoing mourning. However, any relief you find is only temporary and once the effects of the alcohol or drugs wear off, you’re back where you started or even worse off, as the effects of the substances themselves exacerbate your distress. The resulting cycle of grief and addiction can have serious implications for your ability to function, your physical health, and your fragile psychological state.

If you are suffering from complicated bereavement and a co-occurring substance addiction, healing is within reach. However, effective treatment requires specialized care designed around your unique needs to address the full scope of your emotional and behavioral health issues. In practice, this means that both your grief and addiction must be treated simultaneously to ensure that you process your state of bereavement while attending to the physical and psychological effects of your substance use.

Through comprehensive clinical care, you can develop the skills you need to move forward with your grieving process, cope with your pain in healthy, productive ways, and regain your sense of joy and possibility. Meanwhile, you will learn how to gain control over your addictive drive toward harmful substances as well as safely exploring the complex relationship between your use and your grief to give you a complete picture of your psychological state within an environment of hope and support.

The goal of treatment is never to minimize the loss of your loved one, but to discover ways of expressing, understanding, and coping with that loss in ways that are nourishing, revitalizing, and restorative. With the right therapies delivered with compassion and respect, you can begin the process of meaningful recovery to reawaken your spirit and enhance your quality of life.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1