In South Philadelphia, it’s a real status symbol to marry into a family that owns a home at the Shore. So for 19 years, when people ask me where I’m going for a vacation, I puff out my chest and with a sly wink I say, “My wife’s family has a place in Wildwood.” What I don’t tell them is that I get to sleep in the non-air conditioned attic.
Seashore attics have a smell all their own. The odor of my mother-in-law’s attic smells like the good ship Bounty after six months at sea. This attic, I think was designed for Quasimodo, “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.” It’s the kind of place where you expect Charles Laughton to leap out at you with Maureen O’Hara in his arms.
Of course, I’m only kidding. I love this attic. I love the little things like bumping my head in the middle of the night, while trying to find my slippers. I like the sound of the thud as head meets plaster.
The attic is painted a bilious green that sort of fits its personality. When you wake up in the morning, you think you’re inside the liver of Ray Milland in “The Lost Weekend.” But what I like most about the attic is the delightful variety of temperatures you experience when you sleep here. We’re not talking ordinary hot and cold, folks. When it’s hot and you stretch out on the bed, you are instantly transformed into a slab of crisp bacon. My wife puts me on a plate with two fried eggs and serves me to my kids, and no one even notices. I must say that I look beautiful when I curl while crisping. Sometimes, you catch one of those cold, damp seashore nights, the kind where when you reach for the covers in the middle of the night, all you can find is a thin sheet that barely prevents rigor mortis from setting in.
The attic is at its most adventurous during a storm. The acoustics are such that a little thunder sounds as if Buddy Rich were sitting outside your window. Buddy has played some of his best solos on the attic roof around 2 a.m. As a bonus, all the sounds from the street carry up to the attic while you’re sleeping. During the wee small hours of a summer morning, you can swear that teenagers are busy filming their own version of “American Graffiti.” Their voices waft through our attic window with a clarity that puts Memorex to shame. I’ve heard Kathy break up with John and then heard them make up the following weekend.
There is no plumbing in the attic. This means if you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you must first travel down a perilous flight of stairs. What makes your descent even more fun are the shopping bags, plumbing tools, brooms, and jars of homemade tomato gravy that occupy most of the free space. To make things more interesting, you can’t flick on the lights because you’ll disturb your spouse who has been lucky enough to fall asleep. Not to worry, my wife could’ve slept through the Normandy landing. Minefields are easier to traverse. Modesty prevents me from telling you how many times I have opted to use an empty Maggio’s Ricotta can that I strategically keep by the bed.
There is a certain undeniable charm about the Wildwood attic. Maybe it’s the way the slat of the bed drops away in the middle of the night leaving you with your feet in the air and your head resting snugly between the mattress and headboard. Maybe it’s the gag that both of you stuff in your mouth when you make love so you don’t wake up the entire house. One time my brother-in-law got up at 4 in the morning to go fishing and wound up cheering us on. Maybe it’s the mattress itself with its mischievous crevice in the center that allows you and your wife to go bump in the night. Maybe it’s the clothes rack, that is so delicately balanced, that the mere removal of a short sleeve shirt will cause it to topple over. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as much fun as being buried under an avalanche of smartly styled summer clothing. Come to think of it, my in-laws could rent the attic to the Green Berets to use for basic training.
See you at the Shore.
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