Just back from a 6-day excursion to the family’s rented house in Sea Isle City, NJ – a charming little vacation town that exists on a series of islands bordered by the ocean on one side, and marshes & bays on the other. Where once stood one-story bungalows are now three-story vacation complexes – but the soft hiss of the ocean manages to keep the charm in place.

It’s a town of minigolf and arcades, seafood restaurants and tourist baubles. Thankfully, it remains mostly devoid of chain restaurants, since there’s at least 7 months of off-season. We just happened to visit on the very first week of the off-season, which meant that 90% of the island and adjoining attractions were closed already. We scrambled around to play pinball at as many arcades as possible during the final weekend of life, but by Monday, it was a frustrating trawl through a ghost town and a few 50% off tourist junk shops.

Still, it was a good trip. Ten years ago, I stumbled on a decaying town in an enormous march, took some photos with an oldschool film camera, and subsequently lost the roll of film. I’ve regretted this for a decade, but through the wonder of Google Maps, I was able to retrace my steps this year and find the town again, and I took the photo that had been lost – as well as a bunch of others. The street continued along a massive overpass and eventually plunged into the grassy marsh, but not before branching off into a series of docks which was a town unto itself. There was no way of telling how large the town was, but it seemed significant, just hovering in the fields of green and black. The existence of such a thing was maddeningly romantic.

Over the course of the few days, I played a number of pinball machines – Iron Man, Spider-Man (which is forgettable), Indiana Jones (which is great), Batman, Sopranos (also surprisingly good and a staple of most NJ arcades), Family Guy, Simpsons, and an especially incomprehensible Rollercoaster Tycoon machine (which has a Norfin Troll stuck in it), as well as a perplexing Wheel of Fortune pinball. One arcade had a machine that dispensed one of six random ball-headed Marvel figures for 75 cents each. I was after the Iron Man, but after two rounds of every character but Iron Man and a third Spider-Man (which I placed atop the machine for the next kid to get), I finally scored an Iron Man. I consider this a victory.

Lots of time watching TV on a set which fell apart in my hands on the first day, and would not accept the PS3 despite every indication that it would, and drawing Coptopus. The people at Mike’s Seafood on the dock began to recognize us (not to be confused with Dock Mike’s Pancake House) with every other eatery in town closed, and Uncle Oogie’s being populated by rude, coughing waitresses.

A walk on the beach yielded a stingray barb and countless tiny mollusks in tide pools doing gooey mollusk things.

Home now – will post pictures of the seaside marsh town. My fingers spent so much time away from the computer that they’re relearning how to type again.