Tag Archives: Brigantine New Jersey

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

So when The Curmudgeon last vacationed in Brigantine Beach, New Jersey he had a close encounter with the law and found himself on the beach surrounded by four police cars and sitting just inches from the business end of a police officer’s service revolver.  It all happened because The Curmudgeon dared question why he should buy a beach tag – which he brandished throughout the encounter – when it was so clear that the beach tag patrol had no intention of enforcing the beach tag requirement.

So earlier this month The Curmudgeon returned to the scene of the crime, hoping he would not be compelled to make the dreaded perp walk before his two weeks at the beach ended.

And a year later, he can report that some things have changed in Brigantine.

And some have not.

One change, which The Curmudgeon suspects he helped inspire, is that early in the beach season, the town tried something new:  it stationed people at beach entrances to check arriving sun-worshippers for tags and to sell tags to those who lacked them.

And it would be inelegant to point out that the seashore version of hall monitors were all senior citizens who, if pressed on the subject, probably could have done little more than hurl their false teeth at tag-evaders.

Another change, which The Curmudgeon also suspects he helped inspire, is that after visiting Brigantine Beach for twenty-three years, the town for the first time was employing some male beach tag girls.  In fact, during his two weeks in town, The Curmudgeon only once saw a beach tag girl team that did not include a male beach tag girl.

Unfortunately, while Brigantine, like The Curmudgeon’s beloved Phillies, now has some new faces in the lineup, it looks like it’s producing the same old results – also, come to think of it, just like The Curmudgeon’s beloved Phillies.  The beach tag girls still don’t do a whole lot to enforce the beach tag requirement.  Oh, they still go up to people and ask to see their tags, but when told “I left it at the house” – the adult version of “the dog ate my homework” – they still just shrug and go their merry way.

Of course, when The Curmudgeon observed this he tempted fate and was unable, once again, to hold his tongue (did the gun not scare him off?  Would he never learn?  Or is he just that stupid?).  After observing one instance of indifference to the lack of a beach tag, he asked one of the beach tag girls – a male beach tag girl – about what he had just seen.

“Oh, they said they left their tags in their condo.  We’ll be back in about an hour to check.”

Well, it was a beach, there’s not a whole lot to do but sit, so The Curmudgeon decided he would wait.  After all, seeing is believing, right?

So an hour passed.

And then two hours.

And then three.

No movement by the miscreants to retrieve their alleged beach tags.  No return by the two beach tag girls and the male beach tag girl.

Some things never change.

But during the course of his two weeks in Brigantine – which, to the uninitiated, is the first beach town directly north of Atlantic City (you can see the casino-hotels from the beach) – The Curmudgeon did notice some changes.

Brigantine has always been unfriendly to day-trippers.  Parking is limited, and the only bathroom facilities are porta-potties, and in recent years the town has reduced the number of porta-potties it sets up for the summer.  The beach isn’t nearly as well-groomed as it has been in the past, and the main drag through town, which used to be policed pretty carefully to discourage speeding, now is an every-man-for-himself zone.  The Curmudgeon generally abides by speed limits, and while driving through Brigantine he regularly found other drivers leaving him in the dust.  The town appears to have abandoned enforcing existing rules governing where you can fish on the beach, where you can fly a kite on the beach, and whether you can bring dogs onto the beach (in theory, you can’t during the summer, but take a walk on the beach after seven p.m. and see for yourself).  Worst of all, it appears to the naked eye that there are fewer lifeguard stands than in the past, and therefore greater distances between protected beaches.  Meanwhile, the smallest part of the beach for all of the twenty-three years The Curmudgeon has visited the town is now huge – courtesy of the federal government, one of the locals explained.

Maybe that’s the city fathers’ master plan:  suck all of the federal aid they can out of the government and keep the benefits for themselves by making the town more inhospitable than ever to the outsiders who are footing the bill.

And maybe it’s time for The Curmudgeon to find another beach town that’s less hostile to visitors who come to spend thousands of dollars while on vacation.

 

The Curmudgeon’s Brush With the Law

The Curmudgeon can be a bit of a paradox.  On one hand, his thinking tends to be not so much outside the box as it is contemptuous of the box.  On the other hand, he is in some respects highly conventional.  He is, for example, an inveterate rule-follower:  he completes his tax returns simply and without artifice, sees his dentist every six months like clockwork, and drives within the speed limit (often, to the chagrin of his passengers).  While his memory doesn’t go back far enough for him to be certain, he thinks it’s a pretty safe bet that in his younger years he most definitely colored within the lines.

So it was very unusual, to say the least, that one week ago today he was sitting on the beach in Brigantine, New Jersey, surrounded by police vehicles and girding for a tense confrontation between law enforcement officials and a certain bald, pudgy, fifty-four-year-old curmudgeon with an awkward gait that’s sometimes mistaken for a limp.

What led to this moment – a moment that to all appearances looked as if it would lead to The Curmudgeon being led off to the big house in flip-flops and handcuffs?

It all began twenty-four hours earlier, and it began because of The Curmudgeon’s curmudgeonly rule-following side.  Most of the beach towns along the southern New Jersey shore require visitors to purchase and display beach tags whenever they step onto the sands.  Rule-follower that he is, The Curmudgeon purchases a badge for the entire season the first time he visits Brigantine, his beach town of choice.  The pass is well-used:  he visits the town every two or three weeks for a few hours from mid-May through late October and also spends one or two weeks there a year on vacation.  He gets his money’s worth from his badge, and he dutifully shows it every time the college girls who constitute the Brigantine beach tag patrol ask to see it.

On this particular Wednesday, however, as The Curmudgeon was showing his tag to one beach badge co-ed, another was having a more difficult time with two middle-aged women about seventy-five feet away.  They clearly did not have badges and were trying to talk their way out of either purchasing tags or being asked to leave the beach.  The Curmudgeon looked on with great interest, and he did so in a manner that unmistakably caught the attention of the failing beach badge girl.  This contributed to her discomfort:  not only was she failing with the law-breaking women but she also had become acutely aware that someone was closely observing her ineptitude.  Eventually she despaired over both, refused to look up at The Curmudgeon as he eyed her, and walked away in defeat.  As she departed, the two women could not prevent themselves from laughing aloud; The Curmudgeon thought it unlikely that the humiliated teenager failed to hear their laughter.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and The Curmudgeon was back on the beach and the same inept beach tag checker approached him.  He first showed the checker his badge and then inquired about the previous day’s confrontation with the two women who’d been permitted to break the law with impunity.  She immediately knew exactly what The Curmudgeon was talking about and was embarrassed as she explained that it’s the town’s policy not to eject people from the beach if they fail to produce beach tags.

Why should anyone purchase a beach tag, The Curmudgeon then asked, if they know they won’t be ejected from the beach if they don’t have one?  That’s the policy, the beach tag checker explained.  The Curmudgeon then asked the question again:  why should he buy a tag when all he needs is a marginally plausible story about how he left it at home or in his car – or that the dog ate it (sorry, old homework excuses die hard)?  Whenever you let someone stay on the beach without a tag, he suggested, aren’t you essentially making fools out of those of us who were suckers and played by the rules?

At this point, instead of just walking away, beach badge girl walked back toward The Curmudgeon and told him that his questioning constituted harassment and that she was calling her supervisor; every time he tried to speak, she aggressively spoke over him and shut him down.  She and her partner stepped away while The Curmudgeon finished planting his umbrella in the sand, took a seat, and opened the August edition of The Atlantic (an article explaining how difficult it still is for women to “have it all” written by a woman who’s had enough for any five women).

The beach tag duo idled about 100 feet behind The Curmudgeon while they awaited their supervisor’s arrival.  The supervisor must’ve been busy flirting with the lifeguards, though, because she apparently was nowhere to be found.  While awaiting the seemingly inevitable confrontation – ten minutes had already passed – The Curmudgeon walked down to the water to wet his feet; that’s as wet as he ever gets at the beach.  He then returned to his sand chair; still no supervisor.

After about another five minutes The Curmudgeon could no longer resist the temptation to turn around to see what was going on – or if they were still even there, since it seemed entirely plausible that upon hearing her charges’ sad story, their supervisor might very well tell them to grow a pair and get back to work – and when he did, he counted not one and not two but three police vehicles congregated behind him:  two beach patrol vehicles and a Brigantine police car.  Another five minutes passed, after which the beach tag girls’ supervisor – a “lieutenant” (who knew a beach tag patrol would be organized according to a military model?) – approached The Curmudgeon.

She was clearly spoiling for a fight.  She asked what the problem was and The Curmudgeon suggested that since she’d already spent a good deal of time with her charges, she knew perfectly well what the issue was and that The Curmudgeon had already spoken his piece on the matter.  She told The Curmudgeon that he was wrong and that he had mistreated her girls.  The Curmudgeon reiterated his basic contention:  that if the beach tag patrol lacked the ability or the will to enforce the beach tag rule, there was no reason for anyone ever to buy a tag.  She was dissatisfied with the conversation and departed – but only after abusing her authority by asking to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, which her charges had already viewed and which she surely knew.

While all this was transpiring, the arrival of the Brigantine wing of the New Jersey National Guard and the multiple cross-examinations of a solitary beachgoer were attracting an audience.  Between interrogations, some in that audience, assuming that the problem was The Curmudgeon’s refusal to produce a beach tag, offered him theirs to help him combat the evil beach fuzz.

Another five minutes passed, and when The Curmudgeon again could no longer resist turning around to check out the fleet behind him, he found that the fleet had grown:  it now consisted of four vehicles.  It looked like The Curmudgeon was about to be read his rights and hauled off to the hoosegow.

Yet another five minutes passed, and now it was the police officer’s turn.  When he asked what the problem was, The Curmudgeon suggested that the officer needed to ask that question of the beach tag team that had apparently summoned him about the dangerous criminal who had invaded their sands.

During this conversation, The Curmudgeon remained seated in his sand chair.  Consequently, the officer towered over him.  At this point, The Curmudgeon decided to throw a new wrinkle into the conversation, suggesting that the addition of the police officer and the fourth police vehicle amounted to a clear attempt to intimidate The Curmudgeon.

“Do you think I’m trying to intimidate you?” the officer asked.

“Well, you’re the guy standing six feet from me with a gun on your hip,” The Curmudgeon replied.  After yet another brief conversation during which the officer asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag yet gave no indication of what he was even doing on the beach – did they think The Curmudgeon posed a threat to the public safety or was planning to steal some sand? – he asked The Curmudgeon if he had any identification on him.  When informed that he did not – when The Curmudgeon is staying in town, the only things he brings to the beach are his keys, his cell phone, and, well, his beach tag.  With nothing left to ask, and probably more than a little annoyed both by The Curmudgeon and the helpless beach tag girls who had summoned him because their feelings had been hurt, the officer left to rejoin his squadron.

But it still wasn’t over.

After yet another five-minute wait – didn’t any of these people have anything more important to do? –  The Curmudgeon was approached by yet another authority figure:  a Brigantine “summer police officer” who was a criminal justice major who had just finished two years at a community college and will be entering a local college in the fall.  Blessedly, he lacked a gun, although he did have a baton and something else on his belt that looked like some kind of weapon.  Like his predecessor, he asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, and since The Curmudgeon had no ID with him (and was thinking about all those movies set in France:  “Your papers, sir?” the gendarme would always ask), he demanded contact information:  name, address, phone number.  Why?  Because The Curmudgeon was “going into the system.”

Ooooooooooh, just like on Hill Street Blues.

Even now, The Curmudgeon still has no idea who was in the fourth vehicle.  Assuming vehicle number one was Lieutenant Nasty, number two was Sheriff Andy Taylor, and number three was Deputy Barney Fife, who was in vehicle number four?  The captain of the beach tag patrol?  The colonel of the beach tag patrol?  The mayor?  David Hasselhoff?  Dog, the bounty hunter?

It was an interesting adventure.  The Curmudgeon made what he feels is a valid point, he ran the risk of going to jail – he stood up for the principle, mom! ­– and he met some nice and not-so-nice people:  the beach tag girls were just dumb kids, their lieutenant is going to be the dean of women at a girls boarding school when (if?) she grows up – think Beulah Balbricker from the movie Porky’s – and all things considered, the police officer and the officer in training seemed like pretty good guys who were good at their jobs.  The spectators on the beach were pretty great, too.

But The Curmudgeon isn’t quite done.  On Monday he called the police department to get a copy of the police report.  That will be another ordeal:  they have to mail him a form requesting the report, he has to return it, and only then will they send him a copy.  Why does he want it?  Because several people among the spectators captured some of the multiple interrogations with their cell phones, so The Curmudgeon will consult with counsel to explore whether his rough treatment at the hands of the town’s authorities – treatment inspired by his simple observation that a beach tag girl was pretty bad at her job – is going to enable him own a piece of the Brigantine beach, or maybe a small beach-block condo, in the near future.