The Great Escape

Jim McSherry was always our leader when we were young. We were mostly bored out of our minds desperate to find something to do. There was no technology, smart phones or video games as you have heard from us old timers ad nauseam on social media. We did do a lot of interesting things but in between those adventures mostly I remember walking to the Shopping Center to get a coke or a snack to start the day. Along the way we met with other members of the gang that lived along this route. So totally boring and mindless it seemed to me that I would spend the rest of my life walking to Carteret Shopping Center with this crew.

I thought I always had a plan in the back of my mind but it seemed too selfish and stupid to share to anybody. It was my secret.
My first love in life was the New Jersey Shore. I was carried there as a toddler by my parents, and was taken there in my early years by aunts, uncles, sisters and their boyfriends. Something magical happened to me when I sat in from of those endless rolling waves. It was mesmerizing inner peace and freedom. It attacked all of my senses, the salt air, the hot sun, the sand between my toes. This was always my heaven on earth.

As our fearless leader Jim McSherry was the one that started the football team (he was quarterback), he was the one that initiated side street baseball. He told us where to go. He told us what to do. If you didn’t listen or do what he said you were shunned mentally from the “gang” He was also much stronger than us and apparently a good fighter. (later on he did join a boxing gym and fought in the Golden Gloves).

One day James Vincent McSherry began our daily routine walk to the shopping center with a plan. We listened intently as he explained what his old brother had recently done, we would now follow. The plan was to walk to the Woodbridge train station and take a south bound NJ transit train as far south as it would go which was Bay Head. From there we would hitchhike a few miles north on route 35 to Belmar. Belmar was a quaint little shore down. This was the McSherry beach of choice. You see each family in New Jersey had adopted a favorite beach to visit. I know for the Hartmans it was Point Plesant and the Gitter enjoyed Bradley (Bagel) Beach. Stuff’s family went to Seaside Park. Jim McSherry was our leader and Belmar was “his” beach so Belmar it was.

Belmar was unique in a way that they had huge wooden lifeguard boats that they turned over at night. We could tunnel underneath them at night to create a place to sleep. A couple times when we did this adventure we actually rented a room. Today I still wonder where all the adults were. Our parents for one thing, allowing us to travel by train 50 miles south, hitchhike and rent a room to stay over night. Also, what kind of responsible mature adult rents out a room to a group of teenagers all obviously under the age of 18?

So what stuck in my mind was that this great adventure and rebellious plan actually worked. This beach escape became a permanent fixture in the back of my mind. As the gang went on to different high schools and some of us to college we separated. It happened swiftly and without warning like life usually does things. I don’t really remember saying goodbye to anybody. Life just happened. If I would have known that our very last walk down to Carteret Shopping Center was our final, I would have done things so much differently. I would have a taken camera and lined us all up in front of Krausers holding our cokes and snacks in a cheer. I would ask one of the passing adults to snap our photo. Then I would individually hug each and every one of the gang and wish them well in life. “Bless your journey, whatever it may be.” I would say with tear filled eyes.

I struggled greatly in an all boy High School dominated by geniuses and talented sport playing fellow students. They had trophies with their names on them in the huge glass case out in the reception area of the school. The administration had a flawless reputation to keep. We are the best and nothing else. They hung up newspaper clippings on a board by the trophy case demonstrating that greatness. I was just barely getting by with my grades and at home it was now 5 years since the death of my father and almost pure chaos had kicked in. It was also around this time I started to drink. I drank to get drunk. This was a fine escape.

I was delivering the Star Ledger in the early morning my first three years of high school and I adored getting up early to do this. There was something magical and QUIET about being the first one up in a house loaded with 12 children. (at this point Barb had moved out and three step brothers had moved in). I loved the complete stillness of the early morning when I walked my route. Sometimes I would see stuff in neighbors garbage that I took. I found a cool wooden box hand engraved which I still have today filled with concert tickets. One time I found a box filled with National Geographic magazines and I picked up and took it home.

It was in these magazines I discovered the world. How huge and beautiful it is. There was something bigger, more important and much more beautiful out side of Carteret New Jersey.

I had concocted a plan and it was to run away from everything. I would save enough money for a one way ticket to Hawaii, pack nothing, fly there and then spend the rest of my life there. Since Jim McSherry had taught me that you can sleep on the beach that was my plan. I would stay on the warm beaches of Hawaaii until I could find a small job, maybe washing dishes and then just work my up. I told myself I wouldn’t tell anybody where I was. I would have just vanished with a new life.

With no internet checking flight prices and departure times was done with a phone and at times my vision of living on a beach in the Pacific ocean seemed unrealistic. But I was determined and several times I had saved a couple hundred dollars in the bank for my plane ticket but then “something always came up.” I don’t know whatever happened to this plan to escape. It got lost in the rough and tough tumbles of life. It was still always there, though, whenever I got frustarted or lost a job or fell behind on my bills.

It was only in writing this now and remembering that I realize a very influential friend has been gone in my life since I turned 20. It was one hot day in the Summer that Jim McSherry knocked on my door and said, “I’m leaving now. We’re moving to Arizona” His father had asthma so bad that the doctor told him that moving to Arizona would be the only left to save him. So Jim McSherry moved away and started a new life. He came back to visit a few times and I went there once to visit him in Arizona State University but it was never the same. He was on the other side of the country and so was his imagination, his laughter, his impersonations, his animated story telling and all the magic that he brought to any friendship.
Now he is slowly dying from congestive heart failure and I ask that anybody who reads this to say a prayer for him and his family. He is a great man.

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