THE LAST FIVE ...

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2001-05-02 - 12:27 a.m.

Ah-CHOO!

The weather reached 80 so I went out and mowed the lawn before meeting up for a volleyball game on the grass behind the office of the paper. There's a net set up there, and it was the first game of the summer. There were only six of us, so three to a side meant a lot of ground to cover. There was a lot of diving and rolling and when I got home, I suffered the consequences of allergies. I sneezed like a semi-automatic weapon: AH-CHOO! (a split-second pause like relaxing the finger before squeezing the trigger again) AH-CHOO! AH-CHOO! AH-CHOO! AH-CHOO! AH-CHOO!. I actually sneezed so much and so hard that I got dizzy, then started laughing out loud because this sneezing fit came just before I stepped into the shower, so I'm standing there naked in the bathroom, the water falling and my body in convulsions.

After the shower, which took longer than usual because my skin felt like one big rash from rolling around in the grass and I needed longer to make the itchy go away, I was exhausted and laid down on the couch beneath the ceiling fan with the windows and patio door open, eyes closed and enjoying the breeze. I may have thought about something, but I have no idea what it was. It was the least active -- physically or mentally -- I've been in a long time. For 15 or 20 minutes, I just was. Nothing more. Just was.

Before dinner, Dave came by, excited about his new radar detector, so we got into his BMW and drove through the small towns to the beach, cruised up Ocean Avenue north, gazed out across the Bay to New York City and the Harbor, then back down into the small towns again for dinner at our favorite restaurant and bar, Val's. Me tired and Dave needed back at work, we left shortly after dinner, just before 8 p.m. We stepped out into the light. With the exception of a few Sunday lunches, we've never stepped out into the light when leaving Val's.

Another sure sign of summer.

I think the first time I ever went cruising was my sophomore year in high school. This guy Tim, a year older than us, called me up and asked if I wanted to go hang out. We were supposed to meet up with someone I think. I can't remember how I knew Tim, and I don't know what happened to him after he graduated. There was some mutual friend who invited Tim to eat lunch with us one day.

But anyway, Tim had a Mustang or some decent late 80s sports car. With T-tops. I think it might've been the first (or second) time I ever rode in a topless car. But it was a night a lot like tonight: cooling after a hot day. We drove some of the same roads that Dave and I did tonight -- Route 36 in the Highlands, Ocean Avenue, the tiny streets of Monmouth Beach. I don't remember our purpose, but there might not have been one. That's one of the things small towns offer: when there's nothing else to do, you get in the car and drive. Anywhere or nowhere, you just drive. And you talk and laugh and learn and it might not be a memorable night, but it might just surprise you.

To this day whenever I drive at night, I use the white line on the side of the road as my guide if I can't see the center line, or there is no center line. It's a better gauge too, I think, because if you happen to drift toward it, you're not drifting toward oncoming traffic.

That's something Tim said he did that night we drove around the Shore.

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