Ode to the Lost Motels of the Jersey Shore

Exploring Seaside Heights, N.J., for the first time, and, sadly, I find no treasure-trove of midcentury motels like there are in Wildwood. Here, as testament, is an image of a Jeffrey L. Neumann painting of the Seashell Motel in Wildwood and my poem on the same subject (total coincidence, but not surprising, since Jeffrey and I cover the same beat: lost America).

 

"Sea Shell," a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

“Sea Shell,” a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

CHECKOUT AT THE SEA SHELL MOTEL

the caramel room
at the Sea Shell Motel
dollar store palm prints
and nicotine sills

cheap rum hangs in the shaft of sun dust
hula lamps hold the afternoon

dealings have come and gone —
Greek families, pimps, divorcees,
schmuck runaways, suicide watches

music plays no more
only murmurings and distant trucks
the scent of the bulldozer

‘Checkout at the Sea Shell Motel’

When I first saw the paintings of Jeffrey L. Neumann, in a gallery in Hudson, N.Y., I could hardly contain myself. I knew I had discovered a simpatico artist, a realist painter whose images of a lost America — faded motels, eateries and roadside oddities — could have illustrated much of the nourish imagery of my poetry and fiction.

Then, recently, in a kind of artistic kismet, I discovered a poem I had written years before I happened on Jeff’s work. The poem was about a motel in Wildwood, N.J., the very same seaside relic Jeff had painted in 2009. I shared the poem with Jeff, who responded: “Wow. I can hear this set in Waitsonian (re: Tom Waits) phrasing.” He agreed to let me use the image of his painting “Sea Shell” for this publication.

My poem, accompanied by Jeff’s painting of the same subject, follows.

"Sea Shell," a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

“Sea Shell,” a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

CHECKOUT AT THE SEA SHELL MOTEL

the caramel room
at the Sea Shell Motel
dollar store palm prints
and nicotine sills

cheap rum hangs in the shaft of sun dust
hula lamps hold the afternoon

dealings have come and gone —
Greek families, pimps, divorcees,
schmuck runaways, suicide watches

music plays no more
only murmurings and distant trucks
the scent of the bulldozer

Waffle House

This country is a thrill ride. No shit — the roar of Macks and Peterbilts down Route 81 south through Maryland, Virginia, red diodes bleeding into the night. My wife and I just returned from a road trip: New York to North Carolina.

Sailing on traffic thermals along Virginia 220 toward Rocky Mount, Martinsville — shear hillsides, split Blue Ridge mounts, ghost cabins, Jesus on the AM, breakfast in Waffle House, eggs, grits, hash browns scattered and smothered.

Brings to mind a poem I wrote in Florida:

WAFFLE HOUSE

In the shrill light
against the black pearl glass
across the shimmering counter
large globe hanging

bearded rail of a man
hung over country eggs
hashbrowns

waitress in Christmas nails
flatchested, hardscrabble

“My momma and my sister
had nary any polish remover
so I scratched off the Santa
and the Christmas Tree”

man faces window
onyx oblivion
and Denny’s neon
in the West Florida night

Also calls to mind the paintings of Jeffrey L. Neumann – motels, bars, eateries. Take a wild ride through his Web site, where you’ll see roadside America at its best. Pictured here is “Lota Burger” (oil, 38” x 72”), a real gem.

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

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Kansas City Star

Papa walked the great hall
of Union Station
learned to box the language
at the Star
on his way into the world’s war

on the cusp of Bird’s entry
into the warble of the world
from the flesh and iron
of Kansas City

yard town, hog center
breadbasket, whistlestop
9ths and 13ths and Vine
where the Western Auto sign
now blinks and punctuates
the Thomas Hart Benton landscape

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