I live in a town called Keyport

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reposting … Years ago, while teaching at Alfred University, I had a master’s student from New Jersey who loved the Jersey Shore. He ultimately left school to return to that place which he so deeply missed. I also know someone who did the same thing with Ontario. They moved back to Ontario and bought an Aurora house. I knew I had a reason to miss the Mediterranean and its beautiful azure waters, but what could be so compelling about the Jersey Shore? Well, it took me many years to find that out. After nearly eighteen years of living in a few different New Jersey towns, we moved to Keyport about six years ago. I was always attracted to this quaint, New Jersey bayshore town several years before we moved there. The first time I saw Keyport was in the early 1990?s and they were filming the movie Big Night in town. I had no idea that this town would impact my life in so many ways. So many beautiful ways. There is life here. This town represents what the “old” ways used to be. Keyport people can interact with one another as friends with no strings attached. Every day brings me a drop of beauty from just living in Keyport . I feel alive and I am enjoying every moment of life here. I love walking to local stores each day, where I am able to obtain various things that I need. I love saying hello to a dozen people along the way whom I have met since I moved to Keyport. I love taking a bunch of basil from my garden to Drew’s Bayshore Bistro, a renowned Keyport restaurant. I love being greeted by the owner of Gina’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, who just opened this lovely Italian Restaurant in town. I love seeing Cliff Moore, owner of the local IHOP on Route 35, manage one of the local donation centers after Hurricane Sandy. I love a local landscaping company donating their time and materials for the rain gardens on the waterfront. I just feel that the whole town is home. Living here is reminiscent of the days I had visited my grandparents at a little fishing village in Turkey. It is reviving, it is intoxicating, it is real. You rarely hear conversations about technology, iPhones and Galaxy wars, the latest cars, vacations, money, or the stock market. In Keyport, we talk about everyday life and we talk about Keyport. One day in Keyport is enough to understand what Keyport is about. One summer morning, I decided to tell my story of Keyport through living a single day in town. I wrote my story as the day progressed. Here is Keyport, as is … I am up very early this morning, listening to birds’ songs mixed with seagulls’ laughter. We live directly across from a little beach and can watch all the activity in the sea. Today the sea is misty gray, and dotted with sailboats. It is not really a very clear day. It is difficult to see the outline of Staten Island and New York skyline across the bay today. It is already hot and humid, but still a beautiful morning. Then, I see Max gliding across the water very close to the beach.

Max, the swan at Keyport

Max gliding by the beach front

Everyone knows Max. I am sure Max does not understand that he has a name and an identity. He is Keyport’s one and only year-around resident swan. Max is very big, pure white, and as elegant as a swan can get. I really do not know the story of why he is alone. Maybe he could not fly due to some damage to his wings and could not migrate with the rest of the swans, so he remained in the waters of Keyport. Our friend M.D. takes care of him. Every morning and night, rain or snow, Max glides across the beach area and goes to M.D.’s backyard adjacent to the water. M.D. feeds him breakfast and dinner. She has a beautiful brick house with a widow’s walk on top – one of those beautiful historic Keyport homes. M.D. is a painter and a writer. There are many talented people in Keyport. I watch Max glide back to mingle with Canadian geese, terns, cormorants, egrets, and seagulls on the beach. They are all busy having their morning feast. A couple of fish jump out from the water and there is a stir in the sea. This is a sign of a big fish chasing smaller fish. Marine and bird life are very active in Keyport. Sometimes, when we are out in our kayak, we see a school of stingrays; they look like brown paper bags floating one on top of the other. Turtles stick their heads up in the water and then disappear as we approach. There are little bird sanctuaries on the shore where you can beach your kayak, and if you are very quiet, you can come very close to the inhabitants without disturbing them. It was so relaxing. If this sounds like something you want to experience, first, do some research into sites such as https://www.perceptionkayaks.com/us/kayaks/fishing-kayak to see what the best kayak would be to buy if you are thinking of fishing too. Once you’ve got that sorted and you know the safety rules when it comes to using it, you’re all good to go. However, something else that you may need to consider is how you’re going to transport your kayak around, especially if you don’t live close to the water. Perhaps something similar to the Malone Xtralight trailer package would be ideal for fishermen who want to take their kayaks to different places to fish. Consider how far you need to take your equipment before you purchase a trailer, to ensure that it is the correct decision for you.

I eat my tasty granola on the balcony, taking in all the beauty around me. There are some early runners and walkers. I usually take an early walk. Within Keyport’s 1.5 square mile area there are many beautiful streets with unique historic homes and beautiful gardens. Some of the gardens were adorned with large painted or mosaic butterflies, part of The Arts Society of Keyport’s efforts to beautify the town. The Historic Society of Keyport has done a lot of work identifying and marking these homes. Every year around the holidays, they sponsor a Candlelight House Tour, when guests are permitted to visit these historic homes. The Keyport Garden Club initiated Keyport Garden Walk two years ago. Thousands of visitors come each year to tour the gardens of Keyport and enjoy this quaint and a beautiful town. I start walking on the waterfront so I can watch the sea. This is my favorite time of all. Captain John’s crew is getting their boat ready for a morning departure. The boat is a fairly large-sized boat that offers daily fishing tours on the bay. It is like a migrating bird. When Captain John leaves in the fall to go South for the winter, I feel very sad. When the boat returns in the spring, I get so happy. I watch the boat from our balcony. Sometimes it hosts private parties for night trips; it is spectacular to watch the boat at night, lit up like a Christmas tree, slowly returning to its spot on the waterfront. I walk pass Mike’s Sub Shop, rebuilt after Super Storm Sandy and now rising fourteen feet high After weaving through several streets seeking Mulberry trees to treat myself with still cold-from-the-night mulberries, I find myself on Second Street, passing by the Senior Citizen Center. I cannot resist the urge to weed the brick pathways connecting patches filled with an abundance of plants. This is one of the many gardens that the Keyport Garden Club maintains. My walk is interrupted as I spend about twenty minutes there. I am eaten by mosquitoes! They have left marks all over my arms and I am itching like crazy. I rush home to take care of the bites and with the help of my magic solution, in a few minutes, their effects disappear. Most of the time, I try to walk with a destination in mind. Within a one-hour walk, I can reach Costco, Lowe’s, four supermarkets, Staples, clothing stores, and many restaurants and eateries. Yesterday, I ended up walking all the way to Lowe’s on Highway 35 at Holmdel just to get some organic hand soap refills. When I arrive home I see Richie is cutting our lawn. We hired him this year since we were planning to spend our summer in Turkey. That did not work out, but I did not want to tell Richie that I did not need his services anymore. Richie lives in Keyport too. Since we moved here, we try every which way to support the local businesses. Richie was very instrumental in fixing almost every lawn on my block after Sandy. I see him talking to Dennis who is also taking his daily walk. Dennis walks over and tells me that he will drop by with my order for printer ink cartridges this afternoon. He is also a Keyport resident. When I am running out of ink on my printer, I send Dennis an email and within twenty-four hours I have my cartridges right at my doorstep. They cost a fraction of what you would pay at Staples as they are all refurbished ones – another chance to be “green.” It is about 11 in the morning. Being an early riser who eats breakfast at seven, I am very hungry. Al and I decide to go to Lenora’s cafe for an early lunch. We walk across the parking lot behind the townhouses where we live to Front Street, the main street of Keyport. Almost all the stores and activities are here. We pass by McDonagh’s Pub. They are getting ready for their noon opening. It is a very popular spot for all ages. The Pub started the St. Patrick’s Day Parade tradition five years ago. The fire departments from our neighboring towns join our own seven fire departments. Yes! There are seven fire departments in 1.5 square-mile town. After having experienced a few serious fires, Keyport takes fire prevention seriously. My son is a volunteer at the fire department next to our house. I watch the volunteers all the time. They move swiftly when the fire alarm blares across town. Suddenly, they are in their fire gear jumping into the trucks, horns blaring, and speeding to the call. Many of the alarms are small incidents, but, they always rise to the occasion when more serious incidents occur. I watched their heroic acts during Super Storm Sandy. I watch them returning from a fire. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade really makes you feel good about our Keyport firefighters. McDonagh’s Pub puts up a big tent that day and has live Irish music playing all day. St. Patrick’s day is a great day to be in Keyport. We pass a recently opened antique store. There are quite a number of antique stores in Keyport. They are competing in numbers with the hair and nail salons. I do not go to the hair salons on Front Street. I got to Bob’s house on Luppatatong Avenue where our son and his family live. Bob has been in Keyport for many years. His work is excellent and the price is right. He is a wise real estate investor and owns quite a number of buildings in town – no doubt he can get some good interior real estate photography done on them too. His wife works with him. He turned a portion of his house into a hair salon. Most recently, he purchased a very old building that used to be town hall and is restoring it. His name appears in my mobile as ‘Bob Hair’. Our landscaper Richie shows up as ‘Richie Lawnmower’. We arrive at Lenora’s Cafe. Lenora opened her cafe a few years ago, serving breakfast and lunch. It is in the location of a former bakery. After two successful years in business, Lenora’s is now open for dinner four nights a week. I order my usual: Eggs Ranchero – scrambled eggs, fresh avocados, queso franco, a bit of red spicy sauce layered on top of warm tortillas, accompanied by a small bowl of refried beans. Al has two eggs with bacon, potatoes, and toast. The cafe is crowded; and the coffee is fresh. We did not recognize any of the diners this morning, but it’s a good sign! She is getting more popular. Years ago, Drew’s Bayshore Bistro also started as a small restaurant. . His first location was a tiny space on Broad Street, perpendicular to Front Street. Drew’s reputation quickly grew beyond Keyport, beyond Monmouth County, and beyond New Jersey. Drew’s Bayshore Bistro was recently featured in New York Times. Last week, he had a ‘Throw Down’ with chef Bobby Flay. My heart’s desire is that every restaurant in Keyport becomes as popular as Drew’s. All Keyport’s chefs are as wonderful as Drew and they create great meals. It feels so good to know the chefs individually. It feels so good to be friends with them. We leave Lenora’s cafe. I see the new window decorations of the Family Dollar store across the street. One of Keyport’s eccentricities. We have this big store with big windows decorated with odd items. Sometimes the décor is quite clever! For example, an upside down pail with two storage boxes at the back, and a toilet bowl cleaner next to it ~ voila ~ a nicely decorated imitation toilet. Some of my friends hate it but I refer to it as eccentricity I look forward to seeing. This store is one of the main hubs in town. I saw Drew’s waiters buying coffee mugs there. I saw Lenora’s son running across the street to get paper napkins and toilet paper there, I saw a mother with two children buying paper supplies and candy. Almost everyone in Keyport finds something to buy at Family Dollar. I buy my garbage bags there. After the antique store, we pass a pawn shop. Some of the townspeople are against this shop. They think that it degrades the beauty of Keyport. I think the reverse. What makes Keyport beautiful is its diversity. We have poor, rich, artists, gardeners, professors, businessmen, waiters, hair dressers, painters, lawyers, musicians, doctors, retirees, restaurant owners, chefs, dog groomers, and 7-Eleven corner-standees waiting to be picked up for hourly jobs. Keyport has a very rich history. A friend of ours once showed us a rum-runner’s secret door in his basement that led to the bay. The Henry Hudson Trail crosses across Keyport on the site of a former railroad. Today, the trail is used by bikers, joggers, and walkers. The trees lining the trail on both sides provide great shade on hot summer days. captain john boat Al and I walk towards the Mini Park. On our left we pass a few more nail salons, a tattoo parlor, more antique stores. We cross Main Street and observe the colorful decorations of Jersey Shore Subs. We pass Keyport Pizza. The owner left Keyport and moved to Florida years ago, but he missed Keyport and moved right back. He is already working on lunch orders. The only ice cream store in town is not open yet: Uncle Louie G’s Ice Cream. The owners, John and Vinny, opened it a year ago and they are already part of the Keyport family. John and Vinny know customers by name and know their favorite flavors. We chat with them almost every day. I take my weekly dose of chocolate ice cream. Al tries a different kind every time. We see that the Espresso Joe’s is also closed. It is the coffee place in town. The walls are decorated with local artists’ works. Sometimes, you see beautiful photography, sometimes paintings. Espresso Joe’s is also the music center of Keyport. They have open mic night every Wednesday. In the summer they sponsor music concerts at the Mini Park across the street on Friday and Saturday nights. The town business association also sponsors great bands every Thursday night in the summer, so we have music four nights a week. Well, the music does not stop there. On Friday nights, Dave McCarthy plays at McDonagh’s Pub. The place gets packed starting at four in the afternoon, and you cannot find a single seat around the bar after five. Dave plays for our generation: Beatles, Beach Boys, Doors, Moody Blues, Bob Dylan, and many more. When Dave sees me, he plays my favorite: “Nights in White Satin,” with a hello gesture towards us. A couple of times he tricked us. When we start to leave the bar, he would start playing this song. What can you do? You truck back to your seat and sit down. We like talking to our favorite bar tenders, Paula and Jenna. Paula lost her house to Sandy and started a new life with her family in a townhouse she is renting in Middletown. Jenna got married less than a year ago. She is a thriving actress. They are wonderful people, very friendly, and they make us feel welcome every time we go there. 20091105_0071-300x199 We walk back home. We pass Calabrese’s Barber shop. It is the coolest and classiest barber shop for men: brick walls, hardwood floor, two antique barber chairs, revolving barber shop sign. When you enter, you feel you are in the 1930?s. Chris Calabrese, the owner, has tattoos all over with a long beard reaching to his belly. He cannot match the tattoos of Bob “Hair” though. Bob is completely covered with colorful tattoos from the neck down. Chris’ barber salon is extremely popular. Many Keyport men go there for their haircuts and shaves. Al says whenever he is there, he learns about all the happenings in Keyport. Chris lives in Keyport. After he moved in, he enticed his parents and his sister to move here too. His mother, Diane, is very active with the Garden Club and is an amazing person with hundreds of skills. You can see from whom Chris got his great taste in decorating his barber shop. A few days ago, after Al and I bought our vegetables at the farmer’s market, Al wanted to have a haircut. I decided to sit on the wooden chairs lined up against the brick wall and read a magazine while waiting for him. Chris was already busy cutting the hair of Terry Musson. Terry is married to Terri and they live by our house in the nicely renovated former borough hall complete with jail cell in the lower level. While chatting with Terry, Al takes the next chair to let Ben cut his hair. Then Tom Gallo walks in. He is a volunteer for everything you can imagine in a little town: firehouse, first aid, garden club, fairs, and events. He is also a plumber who probably fixed the plumbing of half the houses in Keyport, including ours. Tom and I talk chit chat about Keyport. He was born here. He says Keyport never lost the charm of a friendly little town. The store between Chris’s shop and Nemo restaurant is a pet store. This is not an average pet store that sells all kinds of pet food and pet toys. It is really a grooming place. You need to book your dog’s grooming about three months in advance. Not only do all the Keyport go there, but out-of-towners bringing their dogs as well. If dogs could talk, I wonder what kind of gossip they would learn from one another. Men at the barber shop, dogs at the grooming shop, and women at the hair and nail salons: all chatting Keyport away. Before he passed away, our dog Tornado was part of this little circle too. Nemo restaurant is still my favorite place to go. The food is incredibly tasty and the prices are excellent. Just take your bottle of wine with you and you can sit out on the deck and watch the sunset over the hills of Cliffwood. You can watch the kayaks go about and see the return of the boats from their fishing outings. We come back home and I write about my morning. I am sitting on the balcony. It is hot, but, being on the seashore, we are lucky and have a constant breeze. I hear the humming of the air conditioner at Bob and Linda’s house just across from us. Their house blocks part of our view of the bay, but it also saved us from getting major damage from Sandy. Linda works as a crossing-guard during school time, and as an attendee at the Keyport boat launch. All summer, she sits in a little trailer until a truck with a boat trailing behind shows up. She collects the fee, and watches the truck back up the boat down to the water. Linda has three plastic geese on her little porch facing the street. Those geese have more clothes than any fancy pets in the world. Linda buys their clothes from a catalog. She dresses them up as elves, Santa Claus, and Mrs. Claus during Christmas. She dresses them up as pilgrims during Thanksgiving. Now they are all donned with patriotic clothes for the Fourth of July. In a few days, Linda will put their beach clothes back on. I am almost finished with my writing. Al is at his son’s house setting up a swing for his grandson. It is almost five and time to prepare dinner. I have wild salmon that I bought from Keyport Fishery, a couple of yellow squash, garlic, and broccoli from the Keyport Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market on Thursdays consists of one local farm selling all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and eggs, one bee producer from Pennsylvania, and Michelina’s Bakery selling her sauces and bread. I am all set for dinner. I brush the salmon with olive oil and pomegranate molasses, and sprinkle on sea salt and pepper. I smash garlic with the side of a knife, and throw it in the pan with the sizzling olive oil. I sauté sliced zucchini and broccoli in the aromatic, fresh sautéed garlic. No store-bought garlic compares to that aroma. Al picks up a bottle of wine from the local liquor store on his way home from the kids’ house. They have a great wine selection, especially considering their store is tiny and has a dive bar attached filled with daily drinkers! We even asked the owners if they could get raki for us, the traditional Turkish liquor. And they did. They are very accommodating. We eat on the balcony. The sun is setting beautifully. People are walking about since the air is a bit cooler now. After our meal, we take a stroll on Front Street, this time heading straight to the ice cream store. Since it was our anniversary just two days before, we treat ourselves to banana splits. Keyport friends come and go, all eager to get some ice cream to cool off. It is Thursday, but since it is Fourth of July, we do not have live music tonight. We walk down to the waterfront. In the distance, the firemen are working hard to get the parking lot across from the Keyport Fishery ready for the Firemen’s Fair. It will be five days of fun, mostly for the kids. It is another little example of our town’s entertainment. And I feel, one more time, that I belong here. I know this town. I know the names of almost every street in Keyport. And I love this town for being such a simple, beautiful place. We go upstairs to our bedroom. We open the balcony door. The night has fallen. We can see the flickering lights of several fireworks still going on across the bay. We turn the fan on. The fire alarm blares and we hear the sound of the cars pulling in the firehouse parking lot. Sirens and lights fill the room. Another fire call, hopefully just a false alarm. We hear loud motorcycles leaving the bars. Then, it gets quieter. A couple talking passes our house. We hear a snippet of their argument. Now we have only the sounds of the waves and humming fan, until morning, when we hear the seagulls once again.

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3 thoughts on “I live in a town called Keyport

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