This evening, I found myself chasing sunset around Asbury Park and where this is obviously not out of the norm' for me, I did find myself in what started out as peculiar situation.
I often pass this tree and wonder about the things that it has witnessed. From the streets' quarrels and the over flow from The Saint, it has this "A Tree Grows In" appeal. For some reason, I decided that tonight would be the night that I would pull over for it's pic. Tonight, of all nights, under a cotton candy coated sky; the air more that of September than late July.
To pause for a moment, I must tell you that what I love about Asbury Park is its hot pockets... Those sections of air that are so tense in the weirdest of social ways. Whether it's the pretentious, touristy sections of Cookman Avenue --hipsters, retirees and the artsy co-mingle-- or the troubled sections plagued by paused progression... It's an unmistakable tightness that grabs at the oxygen in your personal air supply. Somewhere at the cross section of I-forgot-my-loafers-and-full-sleeve-tattoo and Dear-God-Please-don't-let-me-break-down-here, I find the true tales appear.
I leave my car running, my phone on the front seat; my sandals being met with trash and broken glass. I try to line up my shot as I see a shadow emerge from the corner of my eye. He saunters slow, tugging at his exposed boxers, wiping his mouth of Summer sweat. I notice but I don't budge. He asks what's my name and why am I there. I politely respond that my name isn't necessary and I'm here just to take a pic of the tree.
In an effort to make the situation less tense, I take my camera down. He repeats himself and says, "what can I call you if I can't call you by your name?" I reply, "Fins," surprising even myself at the randomness of my reply. A barrel laugh bubbles out of his tank top and he asks, "Fins?" Somehow, I still decide to hold my ground and I ask, "so what do they call you at the dinner table?" A smile comes across his face, his tongue slowly lining the corners of his mouth before he replies, "Bills. With a 'Z.'"
Over the next 20 minutes or so, Billz and I would talk about his Asbury Park. Billz would illustrate the troubles of the people trapped in the economic complexities of the West Side, where families of generations are trapped between the law and the law of the streets. To Billz, the root of the problem is one that has plagued the city for years: communication. Raising his worn, callused hand to the setting sun's sky, he wants me to know that the true families of Asbury Park are not the ones serving the news outlets with their daily feed; that they are the ones caught by circumstance.
I can't say that Billz had said anything that I hadn't already heard... However, it was his articulation that surprised me. Driven by the capacity of the burden of his city's struggle, a city of that divided, he wanted to me to take with me the "blessing of home." Despite the strife, despite the headlines, this is and was home. Not for one but for all. And it was here, under this tree, did I leave a fist bump and handshake with a man who just wanted to be heard.
But before getting back into my car and him back to roaming, we agreed on one thing: it was "Fins." ...with a "Z."
Good night, my beloved city by the sea.