My wife Sue and I celebrated the second leg of our vacation at J and G Zimbo’s summer retreat, in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Despite living less than ninety minutes apart, (in New Jersey), we probably have averaged less than a visit a year since 1984. So the allure of accepting their many invitations was always there. But due to scheduling conflicts, our long overdue visit down south, (six years) finally came to be, (this week).
JZimbo and I know each other since we were about ten. Three years later, we were Bar Mitzvah-ed together (May 31, 1968). But our long and current friendship didn't blossom until our late teens. Coincidentally, independent of us, Sue and GZimbo, became BFF’s in Brooklyn College.
In our young adult lives, JZimbo and I always enjoyed eating...too much. Our struggles to maintain sexy beach bodies combined regular dietary adventures with rare success. To his credit, the big difference between us is JZimbo works hard and plays hard. I do neither. That means with a more conservative approach, I don’t live the dolce vida or kill myself trying. The positive spin on excessive behavior is, high risk, high rewards. So looking back, one could say I’ve maintained a less impressive, middle weight range, while JZimbo has looked spectacular and at other times…well…not so much.
For this year's vacation, Sue and I drove two hours from the Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Airport to the Zimbo house. Their four-bedroom, three-story house is a block from the beach. This beautiful home is perfect for visitors and parties. Our three night stay over-lapped with other friends, (the M’s), in the beginning and the A’s at the end. Even if we all stayed at the same time…even with a fourth couple for the last bedroom…we all would have had plenty of spacious privacy.
The first thing Sue and I did in town was hit the supermarket. We bought fruit, wine, water and other essentials. When we arrived, GZimbo greeted us while JZimbo and the M’s were at the beach. In my quick scan of the kitchen, I was beamed-back to the memories of our college days. All along the counter, I saw JZimbo’s influence, (an industrial-sized jar of Animal Crackers, a huge box of knock-off Nilla Wafers, super market brand chocolate chip cookies and several bags of cashews, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds).
Our reunion on the beach began with catching up, (good, bad and indifferent gossip that morphed into a laugh marathon). The M’s were flying home that night from nearby Wilmington (N. C.) airport. So we headed out in two cars, for an early dinner, at Elijah's, on the historic river walk, in the old town section of Wilmington.
|GZIMBO MADE A PERFECT RESTAURANT CHOICE. ELIJAH'S OFFERED GREAT FOOD, GREAT SERVICE AND A BEAUTIFUL VIEW OF ANN STREET AND THE CAPE FEAR RIVER.|
Luckily the M’s are no strangers to food either because our communal effort (led by JZimbo) flooded our table with salads, soups and appetizers before the equaling satisfying entrées arrived.
While JZimbo drove the M’s to the airport, GZimbo gave Sue and I, a walking tour of old Wilmington.
I never knew anything about Wilmington but its architecture, cobblestone streets, antique shops and history was a nice surprise. The contemporary vibe combined with southern charm made me want to spend more time there, (I also felt that although my son Andrew is thriving in college life, he would love this city because his university town of Ewing is nothing by comparison).
GZimbo took us to a vintage ice cream shop. In the perfect marriage of relaxation and eating crap, we sat on a bench shaded by magnolia trees. We watched the passengers get on and off the horse-drawn trolley and people watched.
|SUE AND I WITH THE HORSE-DRAWN TROLLEY TEAM OF RUFUS AND HOBART, (FAR LEFT WAS CAMERA SHY).|
JZimbo came back from the airport and got us off our duffs. So true to his character, he marched us several blocks away to his favorite, (different) ice cream parlor. The ever-friendly JZimbo chatted up the proprietor and suggested ways of improving the man’s business. Later, he handsomely tipped a street saxophonist while letting him know that the river walk (a couple of blocks away was a better location).
By accident, we found a bar that showed cult movies in a small, adjoining theater. The night before they showed the, “ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.” But that night’s headliner was, “DOLOMITE.” JZimbo was certain this movie was a riot, (everyone else was indifferent). Then the bartender poked her head out of the door and said, “Y’all’s in luck, tonight’s feature film just started.”
We shuffled through the one hundred percent empty bar and into the darkened fifty seat theater, (with fifteen or so customers). Within seconds we found ourselves embarrassed by this "blacksploitation" film from 1975…despite some humor derived from the shoestring budget, we walked out after twenty minutes.
At the bar, JZimbo again proved his excessive behavior by proclaiming, “I can’t go anywhere without buying something.” While he alone enjoyed the fruits of his motto, M and M’s and a can of Pepsi, he started a pleasant conversation with the bartender...who through an endearing local accent told us of her a connection with Flatbush, (the neighborhood in Brooklyn where GZimbo grew up, next to Canarsie).
On the way back to Carolina Beach, JZimbo gassed up and bought tons of junk food, (Sue and I got sodas). At the house, the arm of JZimbo’s reading glasses fell off. In an attempt to make the repair, he was entertaining as he struggled to properly line the tiny screw into place. I’m guessing that GZimbo was less enthralled than me. She said, “Let me see what I can do.” To show how excessive behavior grows on people, she threw the glasses on the floor, stomped the last bit of life out of them and said, "Tomorrow, you can pick your self up a new pair.”
In the morning, in lieu of breakfast at the highly touted Grandma’s, JZimbo led us, in the broiling humidity on a walk that zigzagged the back streets. The girls paired-up and I walked with JZimbo. Our fulfilling conversation’s wide a breadth spanned the ridiculous and the sublime. The chat was so peaceful that the hunger, drudgery and mysterious objective became secondary. Along the way, he got a phone call from the M's reporting that they were safely home despite a slight problem leaving Newark (NJ) Airport.
|UBER TAXI, IS A NEW (CONTROVERSIAL) PRIVATE CAR OR RIDESHARE SERVICE. IT IS OBJECTED TO BY ESTABLISHED MEDALLION CABS, BECAUSE OF CUT-RATES, SAFETY ISSUES AND LICENSING LOOPHOLES.|
The M's phone call included that the police stopped them before they got into the Uber Taxi and the driver was issued a thousand dollars in fines and was arrested, (so they had to find a ride in a conventional cab for $12 instead of $10).
Our million-mile march was starting to get stale when JZimbo mentioned that Port City Java was our destination. I assumed our morning meal would be there…I was wrong. I was also wrong because our four-mile walk didn't earn us the privilege of a real meal. Consistent with his excessive mentality, we had coffee and cake then JZimbo said, “The baked goods here aren’t very good.”
I was still wondering about JZimbo's decision to take us to the that coffee shop as we approached the Snow’s Cut Bridge. Rather than lead us back to civilization, JZimbo took us across, out of town. Over the man-made waterway that connects the Cape Fear River with the Atlantic Ocean, we continued to a park on the opposite shore.
|THE ZIMBO'S THOUGHT IT WAS NOTHING BUT WALKING OVER THAT BRIDGE WAS CRAZY. BUT IT WAS PLEASANT IN THE RIVERSIDE PARK ON THE OTHER SIDE. IF WE HAD A CAR, I COULD HAVE STAYED THERE ALL DAY.|
The hike going back was direct along Carolina Beach’s main drag. JZimbo needed to replace his stomped reading glasses, at the “Dollar and Up” store. He with Sue’s help took a half hour to find exactly the right ones.
Our next stop was at Walgreen’s. We were still three miles from home but JZimbo bought nuts, candy and six colossal cans of Arnold Palmer brand lemonade. Like two pack mules, he and I each carried a heavy sack each and trudged through the town’s business district.
At the municipal building, GZimbo needed to clarify her water bill's balance, (she had received a duplicate invoice). Outside the water bill payment window, a local TV reporter, a cameraman and an intern greeted her. Their station had a publicity stunt and were paying random people’s water bill. GZimbo turned to the municipal representative to plead her case. She was then assured that she had a zero balance...and thusly didn't qualify to have her bill paid. Seconds later, a man came up and they indeed paid his bill, ($124.61).
A mile from the house, we came upon a man-made lake with a jogging path, playground etc. In the distance, GZimbo spotted heavy storms clouds rapidly coming our way. She was saying we needed to move quickly when stout lightning cut through the sky accompanied by a tremendous, crackling, thunder clap. She pointed at a nearby bar and insisted we wait out the possible natural fireworks. JZimbo was in full agreement but Sue and I snapped, “We can make it home.”
|GZIMBO DIDN'T APPRECIATE WHEN I SHRUGGED, "WE'LL BE OKAY, I HAVEN'T BEEN KILLED BY LIGHTNING YET."|
Poor GZimbo. She didn't like that we didn't join, in her over-reaction. So in a near panic trot, she admonished us while encouraging us to scurry along. The potential catastrophe was bearing down on us as I lagged behind, in what Sue calls my “mall-walking speed.” Strangers recognized the imminent disaster and two different alarmists volunteered to drive us…I was so confident, I turned down both offers.
We were safely back twenty minutes and all hell broke out. For five hours, thunder and lightning highlighted nature’s fury. The lights flickered, the streets flooded and the Zimbo’s were glad they listened to reason. Otherwise their over-protectiveness might have caused us to be stranded, (drunk and fed at the bar) the whole time.
Later, we got dressed for dinner. Huge puddles eliminated many parking spots but we enjoyed at elegant meal at the Dockside. Afterwards, we drove to the next town (Kure Beach) for dessert at the Arctic Circle (soft ice cream stand). I had my mother’s favorite, a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream and wet walnuts, (my first one in twenty years, it's tough to imagine anything better).
Wednesday morning was hot and cloudy. The girls declared it a "no beach day" and shopped in Wilmington. JZimbo and I walked, (with our beach stuff) around the corner to Grandma’s. Apparently the previous day’s storm knocked out their electricity, we continued to the beach. We threw around a Frisbee. I hadn’t done that in decades. JZimbo was sweating through his shirt after forty minutes. Later he admitted trying to out last me but that's one activity that I can be excessive at.
We sat in chairs and stared into the ocean while chatting. He pointed out that the omnipresent pelicans continually do strafing runs, inches above the water. When they spot their prey, they skim the water with their big lower jaw and scoop up food. Their other feeding method has far less finesse. From a high vantage point, they do kamikaze face-first dives into the sea for a meal.
|(stock photo) PELICANS ARE BIG, UGLY BIRDS. I HAD NEVER SEEN ONE, SO I LOVED WATCHING THEM.|
I followed JZimbo into the surf. He dove in while wimpy me was getting my second toe wet. The ocean was choppy from the storm and another seemed to be brewing. JZimbo's head was a distant bobbing dot in the briny deep before the first big wave knocked me over. It took time to stand upright. I was shaken-up enough that I retreated to my chair.
If I had joined JZimbo, I would have merely waded in chest deep water but JZimbo actually swam. From the safety of shore, I watched him cut through the current, parallel to the shoreline with ease. I was impressed. I was thinking that he reminded me of the pelicans. The flock I saw glided so gracefully or perpetually splattered themselves into the water.
At around eleven, JZimbo led me to an indoor/outdoor café on a nearby pier. I had psyched myself up for breakfast at Grandma’s so the limited gourmet lunch items were not appealing, (they didn't serve breakfast). So I was surprised that we went back to his house...unfed. While I foraged for food, (cookies, nuts and fruit), he went into his backyard in pants and a sweatshirt to spray insecticide on tree worms. He was out there a long time so when I made a burger run, I was shocked that he turned down my offer.
The girls called and said they bought the fixings for a barbeque. Another north Jersey couple (the A’s) was coming to Camp Zimbo after visiting family in Florida. Consistent with his character, JZimbo, like a man possessed suddenly declared he needed more insecticide and a garden hose.
Through a downpour of biblical proportions, he took me to Wal-Mart, in the Monkey Junction section of Wilmington. We went through the self check with his garden needs and four lollipops. Maybe he was doing it purposely but there’s the possibility he doesn’t know how entertaining it was to watch him struggle to scan the tiny, individual UPC labels on those pops.
In his car, while I’m imagining the need to build an ark because of the volume of rain, his excessiveness was made funnier when he made a series of insane turns to get to a Philly cheese steak joint. I didn’t want to spoil my dinner and didn’t get anything. But it was hilarious that he went through so much hardship to see if the place was any good only to order a can of tuna mixed into a bowl with lettuce, tomato and onion.
Later, the A’s arrived exactly on time. Sue and I were well acquainted with them but this was our first chance to really socialize. In no time, we had new friends. After eating we talked and laughed for hours.
On our last morning, (Thursday), like a camp counselor, JZimbo organized us for another walk. I asked our fearless leader if he was dragging us and the A’s on another ten-miler. JZimbo assured me that this jaunt, through the affluent section of Carolina Beach, (to the North Pier), was much shorter. Three miles later, I controlled my sarcasm by NOT whistling theme song to, “BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.” It took an eternity to reach our goal but because the conversation flowed, I never complained.
|1957's "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI," FEATURED THE SONG, "COLONEL BOGEY'S MARCH." THE OPENING SCENE DEPICTS THE ALLIED PRISONERS WHISTLING THIS TUNE AFTER SURVIVING THE "DEATH MARCH" TO THE PRISON CAMP...ONLY TO BE BEATEN, TORTURED AND STARVED.|
We followed JZimbo up the North Pier’s stairs. I was expecting a cute little café but it was little more than a bait shop with toilets, (while the others took advantage of the facilities, JZimbo's zest for trickle down economics resulted in him buying a Chunky chocolate bar and playing pinball). The rest of us were interested in real food so we indulged in neither the candy counter fare or the protein-rich selection of chilled worms under glass.
I was starving as we had a photo shoot on the pier.
|THE A's ARE A GREAT COUPLE. I HOPE WE GET TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEM SOON.|
During a lull in the photography session, I watched a trio of pelicans play a form of musical chairs as two alternated hunting for food while a third rested atop a random mooring post set out in the ocean, (as hungry as the bird on the pole might have been, he didn’t give up his few moments of rest easily for the next tired pelican trying to take a breather).
|THE ZIMBO's, ON THE NORTH PIER.|
JZimbo was either blind to our needs or he wanted us to burn enough calories to earn our meal. So he took the scenic route back. This round-about way took us to the town’s miniature boardwalk. At its famous doughnut shop, he made three points; early each morning a line stretches out the door, they only sell one flavor doughnut and that one type of doughnut, isn’t good.
By this time, the natives were restless and demanded food. JZimbo wanted to complete our eight-mile journey at Grandma’s but in a landslide vote, the apparently reliable eatery was ousted, in favor of the arbitrary place across the street, Kate’s. Speaking strictly for my self, if Kate’s specialty was shit on a shingle, I would have ate it and loved it. As for the actual southern-styled cuisine, Kate received twenty-four enthusiastic thumbs up, (all six of us used both hands and feet to accentuate our joy).
At the Zimbo compound, JZimbo, like a man possessed, in the stifling heat and humidity decided on another round of bug spraying. The others went to the beach…I took a nap.
We said our thank you and good-byes and loved every cherished memory of our stay at Camp Zimbo. The M’s were fun to be with the first day, Sue and I had the Zimbo’s to our self in the middle and we finished by making stronger friends with the A’s.
On the drive back to Myrtle Beach Airport, Sue lamented that the four of them were going to rent bikes the next morning. I figured a wheeling JZimbo would have taken them to Beale Street in Memphis via Miami…so me and my buns certainly didn’t feel like we were missing anything.
Later, on our hour-long flight back to Jersey, I reflected on how JZimbo maintains his incredibly excessive, work-hard, play-hard lifestyle. Then I realized there are many ways to get the job done right.
Our rough landing at Atlantic City Airport temporarily made me think about my mortality.
|THE PILOT LUCKILY RIGHTED THE JET. SECONDS AFTER OUR BOUNCY, SCREECHING LANDING, WE RE-ENACTED OUR VIRTUAL PANIC IN A SELFIE.|
My son Andrew picked us up at the airport. On the way home, despite side-stepping a plane crash and an untimely death, I was pre-occupied. I realized that I'm generally happy to sit on the sidelines instead of living a pattern of constant energy-burning supported by power-eating. So, I guess, I’ll never make it as a pelican...wait, when do they have time to make baby pelicans?
Ironically, the JZimbo system must have merit because I lost three pounds at his house…that means…thanks to the Camp Zimbo method, despite over-eating great food…daily ice cream and continuous in-take of other sweets, (washed down with beer), I out-exercised my poor diet.