Those Fine Signs

April 25, 2010
There are really only two differences between California beaches and New Jersey’s, back home in California the sand is compacted and the smell is like seaweed. Here the sand is always smooth and the smell is one that could be captured in an ocean breeze air spray bottle. Dunes stand perpendicular to the streets which lay parallel with each row of eight houses and on top of every dune there is a three foot sign that warns “Do Not Climb Dunes Fine $500.”

My only friends on the island were a group of four boys, two sets of brothers. We were around nine years old when we decided we would become rebels. We called ourselves the “LBI Gang”. No guns or violence, but we considered ourselves a gang because we partook in illegal activity regularly, plus Long Beach Island’s Cool Kids Club sounded pretty wimpy for what we were up to. We met at 2:00 am and had one hour to grab as many signs as we could while hiding from the waiting cops. These cops only worked during the summer and probably guarded malls with the rest of their time. This routine had become a game as the rent-a-cops began to replace every sign we took. Every day we watched them awkwardly climb the dunes and violently stab them with new signs and after 12 missing signs they decided to wait in front of the dunes all night, but we were nine not stupid so we changed streets every night.

It was a regular night, but I remember this night as particularly cold, even my thick black clothes didn’t protect me. As my feet pushed through the sand and crushed the few weeds on the dune the wind sprinkled sand all over me. I dug the sign out, threw the black trash bag over it, and skied down the hill on the sliding sand. The five of us rushed through the gravel backyards, either because we were trying to hide from the street lights or because we loved a little extra thrill.

Mikey had the sign from 19th street and Noah the one from 23rd. We made our usual line and crawled into our hiding spot. The space was four feet tall and covered in sand, it ran all the way under Mikey’s house. I unwrapped my sign and shoved it into the sand. Timmy’s flashlight ran over the 42 signs we had and the white and red painted wood was all I could see. As I said goodnight and tiptoed through the gravel the adrenaline forced a quick pulse through me, I was James Bond, or better yet the girl version.

I had gone back to California for two weeks and the morning after I returned to New Jersey I went to Mikey’s window sill where we sometimes talked. Laid in the garden by his window was a newspaper that’s front page covered the mysterious signs. I quickly left with the paper and later read that the cops were offering an award for assistance in arresting the culprits. The next couple of weeks I spent most of the days shooting hoops with the guys until one day a repairman parked his car in front of our hoop. We were eating ice pops in the front yard when the bulky repairman crawled out from fixing the pipes under the Weinberg’s house with one sign in his hand looking like the man on the moon, but with more pride because he had caught the island culprits.

Two cops filled the porch doorway lecturing all six of our shocked parents, we staggered around the corner on the sand covered stairway. I felt like my afternoon ice-pop was going to dye their wood floors blue. Mikey turned up at me with one hand grasping my knee cap and told me we would just deny everything. I didn’t care. I just wanted my mom and their moms to take care of it. The old screen door bounced four times before clicking shut. My feet rubbed harshly on the sandy wood and the itchy feeling calmed me. Mikey’s mom called to us in a high pitched voice. I wanted to run up the stairs yelling, “NO! No, I won’t come. I want to go to California and never come back.” Noah was a year younger than me and two younger than Mikey. He rushed into the room crying “I am so sorry Mom, it was a joke! I don’t want to go to jail!” The remaining four of us slid in completely pale. Timmy and Danny’s parents sat there and somberly spoke about how the fine for being on the dunes 42 times and taking 42 signs would total $29,400. Those numbers hit me like darts in the neck. I started to cry. I never wanted to see these people again. I ran to my dad on the couch, however he didn’t hug me but turned my body towards Mr. Weinberg. Mr. Weinberg was a quiet man with a large presence, it was either his extra weight or the fact that he was a huge lawyer. He began to speak and his voice sank into my already lowered stomach. “Children, we discussed it with the police department and they have decided that because you are so young they will drop all the charges if you return the signs and promise to pick up trash on the beach for the rest of the summer. However, your names will be written on a paper at the police department and if you ever do anything wrong again then you will be taken to jail.” My stomach climbed back up to where it belonged and I slowly wiped the sweat from my hands to my shorts.

The pure fear permanently changed my face pigment to bright white. I think about consequences now before doing stupid things. I think in order to forever avoid that dizzy feeling fear brings. One enormous dose of fear can change your life forever and for me it has. I feel grateful that I learned consequences at such a young age when the rent-a-cops were so forgiving, or embarrassed that they were beat by 9 year olds, and the consequences didn’t ruin my future.

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