Margate Now Margate Then, Part 2

This is the senior center, circa September 2012, on the beach, right near our old house at 8206 Atlantic

The view of the same senior center, looking pretty lonely on the big lot, taken from the deck outside my folks’ bedroom, in the early seventies.  Look at those boss cars!! I can remember this lot before the senior center, before the Margate Public Library, when it was just a lot.  When they were building the senior center, my sisters and I found a box turtle on a construction trailer.  We took him home and named him Sammy.  Sammy lived in a box on the kitchen floor in our house on Upland Road, until mom and dad suggested  – I’m sure the reality was much harsher – that we put him back in his original habitat.  On a subsequent trip down the shore, we pulled the Plymouth Belvedere over somewhere in the swamps of Jersey off the Blackhorse Pike near AC and tearfully bid Sammy adieu.  I have strong memories of this!  I “see” Sammy in the black and white shot.

Why when I look at old photographs, the world looks more real in black and white?  Maybe it’s less of a literal interpretation – the scene was obviously in color.  But the monochromatic tones allows me to interpret the image in a way that color sometimes doesn’t.  Black and white gives a crucial layer of distance to the viewer familiar to the scene; his own memory has to come into play.  It’s a challenge.  To make a photo come to life the viewer needs to allow the characters to move, to speak, to come alive. But in black and white photos the viewer has to work that much harder.  When one looks at old pictures of one’s parents or grandparents (“one” who is in his fifties, at least, as I am), one has to color up their imagination.  Or not.  The reality of that old world was black and white.  As if color never existed.  I’m not as interested in watching archival video of my own kids, or the old home movies of when I was a kid, because the reality in the moving image is too literally represented.  It’s the sounds, the moving pictures, that seemingly trick the viewer to almost feel as if we are all still there.  Videos can be a colosal mind-fuck: there’s no room for reinterpretation.  There’s no room for romanticization.  It’s the cold hard moving pictures of a long-gone reality, and the current you is there no longer.  No – I like photographs.  There’s room for me now in the photographs of old.

The new Margate Public Library. Well, new is pretty relative. It was built when we lived on 8206, and it was new because we remembered the “old.”

Libraries hold a sacred place in my heart.  There is so much untapped potential in a library.  There are so many books to read; even if your town has a small library, 95% of those books will go unread by you.  There’s no way you can read 5% of what a library offers.  Because – and listen to me – as soon as you are catching up the library will be buying new books so the end result, the ripping reality: you can never catch up.  You are always behind, so get used to it.  Again, the untapped potential.  There are gems on the shelves just waiting for discovery.  You can say bookstores are the same way, record stores too (sad sad sad, but that’s another future post).  There is so much to read, so much to listen to.  But in the stores you need to pay money.  With the library, it’s all there for free.  It’s for you, ten, fifteen books at a time if you can stand it… if you can read them…  Sometimes I like taking books out that I truly never intend to read, just to see how they look sitting in my house.  So many possibilities…

This Margate library was sleek.  I was wowwed.  Sunlight filtered in, and there were rows and rows of books and magazines.  Sleek modern wood shelving.  I brought

Carved in the cement is the date “1979.” This bricked area was added a year after we stopped going to Margate

homework with me from Philly and spent some time there working on this project or that, but maybe romanticizing what all the books and magazines meant to me. The key word in the above sentence: “some” time.  It opened when I was, what,  a junior? A senior? in high school.  And spending time in the library just wasn’t as important as compared to the kid that I was a few years earlier.  This was the “new” library which opened on the big empty lot a few years after the senior center.  It somewhat beckons me in 2012, but it mainly serves as a reminder of the old library, which still exists.

The old Margate library on Jerome Avenue is still standing.

The old Margate library on Jerome Avenue is still standing.

How can this tiny building be a library.  It looks like an outpost, a storage shed, a doll’s house.  Something so tiny as to be impossible to have any real use.  On our Sept. trip, after the three of us left Iroquois Ave. we walked down to Ventnor Ave. and Dale and I got to talking about other memories.  And something we channelled right away was the old library.  We both had strong memories of the building, and decided to see if it was still there.  We walked a few blocks up Ventnor, turned the left onto Jerome, and about half a block in, there it was. How could you miss it?  Rather how COULDN’T anyone miss this.  It is so small, so seemingly inconsequential.  A “For Sale” sign on the bit of lawn in the front. However, it seemed to be reaching out to us, saying, “Appreciate me now, because tomorrow I might not be around.”  Someone will buy the property, and tear the diminutive structure down (it won’t take much – you could wrap some rope around the building, attach it to the trailer hitch on your entry-level Subaru and just touch the gas.  You’ll hear a “pfffftt” – and that soft sound is of the place falling down).  This building will not last, but for me the memories will.

The cover of a Hardy Boys book I possibly/probably read as a youngster at the Margate Public Library.   I

It was small, but it served for years as the Margate Public Library.  I remember two rooms: an adult room and a children’s room.  You’d walk in and be completely surrounded by books.  I would spend many comfortable hours in there, but what comes back to me so strongly are the Hardy Boy series.  Maybe I was in third or fourth grade and during a rainy day (it has to be raining, right? in the late 1960s what else would be there to do in a shore town on a rainy day but go to the library. In my mind, it has to be rainging). I was probably looking at the spines of the books (or maybe had the recommendation of the librarian) and some how came across a literary force that – I still feel this way now – changed my life.  One book let to two, three, four… I think by the end of the summer I read every Hardy Boy book.  Death defying adventures, friendship, engaging family dynamics (the brothers were a team and rarely seemed to fight), chaste romances – I was completely in the world of Frank and Joe Hardy and their escapades in the city of Bayport on Barnet Bay (You can read about the Hardy Boys today, and find the stereotypes that “Franklin W. Dixon” employed were horrible, though editions after 1959 were revised to acknowledge changing societal norms).  One after the other after the other.  I had read the Bobbsey Twins before this (same author), but the twins seemed to be kids’ stuff compared to danger and peril involved in the Hardy Boys’ mysteries.  My love of reading, that love of discovery, cystalizes in the tiny frame of the former building of the Margate Public Library.  I still love small spaces, in which everything is within reach, in which you are surrounded by everything you need.  I love being surrounded by books, by the possibility that exists within every cover.  This is a life feeling formed in this library.

The entrance way to Casel's food store, an iconic fixture in Margate since I was a boy.

The entrance way to Casel’s food store, an iconic fixture in Margate since I was a boy.

I can go so deep into snapshots.  This – like many of the images throughout this blog – should be meaningless to the viewer.  But to me, this image shows so much.  It’s the front entrance of Casel’s supermarket circa 2012, but through the power of the image I can go way back. Casel’s is on Ventnor Ave., about a fifteen minute walk from the old library (maybe longer on younger, shorter legs).  Casel’s was Mom Mom’s favorite place to go.  Every day.  Everyday she would shop at Casel’s (later a Pantry Pride would be built nearby – it is the site of condos today – and she would alternate between the two).  She didn’t drive, and she would wheel an old blue baby carriage to the store, a bootleg version of a shopping cart that did the trick.  I laugh at the memory of our grandmother walking the sidewalks of Margate wheeling a baby carriage loaded up with groceries.  And we loved going with her.  Mom Mom had no compunction about opening up bags of potato chips and letting her grandkids eat the bag in the store (never to pay for it).  She would cook food for the deli guys behind the counter, and they in turn would give her ridiculously cheap prices at the deli.  She was the queen of Casel’s and Pantry Pride.  And I don’t exaggerate: every day!  It was a daily mission, because nothing gave Mom Mom pleasure like cooking food and seeing her grandkids eating it – and the more the better.  One of her favorite expressions: “Who says you have to be hungry to eat?”

Casel’s brings Mom Mom back to me, but it also brings back my first employment opportunity.  I always wanted to work.  I wrote on some blogs earlier about various boardwalk jobs, but I was always trying to jones for some money: selling seeds and greeting cards door to door (from advertisements on the back of comic books), delivering papers, carrying beach chairs and setting them up on the beach for family friends, getting to the Margate Public tennis courts early in the morning to reserve courts for players later in the day.  But I was a self-appointed shopping bag carrier at Casel’s, a pint-sized entrepreneur.    On summer days I’d leave the beach, wash myself up, then walk over to Casel’s where I would position myself at the front of the store (right near the yellow fire pump).  Then as shoppers would emerge I’d ask them if they wanted any help with their bags.  Simple.  Most people said no, but those who couldn’t resist an earnest ten-year-old, would let me wheel the shopping cart to the parking lot, and I’d put their bags in the car for ten cents, twenty-five cents, and even the very rare dollar.  There were a few summers I seem to remember being there all the time, coming home with newly-earned coins jangling in my pocket.

Last night Gail and I watched the final episode of the current season of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”  The episode was titled “Margate Sands” – an homage to gangster hideaways in undeveloped parts of Atlantic City in the 1920s.  These Margate Sands were no longer wild in the 1960s and 1970s, and the area has continued to change, develop and grow as the 60s begot the future decades.  I was there then, and  I can still sense much of it all these years later.


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