We went to Point Pleasant last weekend. I saw too many great things for just one post, so come back tomorrow for Part 2!
Never heard of Point Pleasant? It’s a beach town in New Jersey, but when I say “Point Pleasant,” I’m specifically referring to its boardwalk, stuffed with games, rides, junk shops and restaurants. Every Jersey boardwalk is my personal Disney World, and this one did not disappoint!
It’s been a looong time since I last visited an honest-to-goodness New Jersey boardwalk, and holy sweet mother of something hilarious, I’VE MISSED THEM SO MUCH.
My God, even after so many years, I still never feel quite so “at home” as I do while walking over the weather-worn wooden planks of a seaside boardwalk that doubles as a bootleg Six Flags. There’s just nothing else quite like it.
Compared to say, Wildwood, Point Pleasant is pretty small. It has the reputation of being “cleaner” and “less seedy” than some of its bigger cousins, but I should remind you that it’s all relative. Jersey boardwalks are supposed to be a little trashy, and if anyone takes issue with me saying so, just know that I mean it as a compliment.
HERE BE HIGHLIGHTS!
I vow to find one of these, purchase one of these, and assemble one of these in my living room. It will be my special place. I’ll sit in there when I have something important to think about, because nowhere else will the answers flow so freely.
When the lemon-shaped lemonade stand’s back door is open, the whole thing looks like an enormous Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. This improves matters by a factor of seventy billion, whatever that means.
I steered clear of most of the carnival-style games, but I can never resist Frog Bog. It’s one of the few that actually gives you a reasonably fair shot at victory. This is proven by the fact that you need to win five or six times to go home with anything decent.
In Frog Bog, your goal is to catapult a rubber frog into one of the spinning plastic lily pads. I suppose those lily pads are really flowers, but let’s not split hairs.
Wait, actually — YES, let’s split hairs. I just found out that those flowers are called “Nelumbonaceae.” I like that word!
I’ve spent my entire life wanting to steal one of those rubber frogs. They’re adorable even when they’re missing their legs and parts of their faces. Sooo much better than the actual prizes.
It occurs to me that I might easily find them for sale online. I just hope I won’t have to buy them by the gross. As much as I’d love 144 rubber frogs, I only need thr–FOUR.
Hey, I won! There was some debate with the guy running the booth, because technically, my frog was only barely within the scoring range. In the end, I got a pass. I assume this was because I have the eyes of someone who really is psychotic enough to lose his shit over an iffy foul ball.
For my prize, I picked this big plush snake. And since we played Frog Bog around five minutes after arriving, I spent three hours wandering around Point Pleasant with this stupid thing around my neck.
(I totally forgot it was there. Near the end of the trip, I realized that I’d indeed spent almost the entirety of it wearing a giant neon snake necklace. Fittingly, it started pouring two minutes later.)
Junk shops are my favorite parts of any Jersey boardwalk.
At first glance, they seem to be simple souvenir shops that play on their beachside locations. True enough, at least half of the shit inside will be made of shells. Shell picture frames, shell chandeliers, shell EVERYTHING.
There will also be plenty of t-shirts, and these too will hint at where they were purchased, either because they’re covered in lobsters or surfboards, or because 85% of them say “NEW JERSEY” on the back in a wackadoo font.
From there you’ll find a lot of novelty shot glasses, along with the usual gamut of sundries, batteries and other minor necessities that generally abide by the “charge 3x what CVS charges” rule. (The closer you get to the beach, the more “beach stuff” will cost. Since these stores are practically on the beach, the people working there get to do Dr. Evil impressions if you ask how much their sunblock is.)
But once you dig deeper, the clouds part. These junk shops never get rid of their old stock. Until somebody buys it, it’s there to stay. If the gods favor you, you’ll find twenty-year-old treasures that only a fool would leave behind. In that sense, they’re kind of like Dollar Trees, but Dollar Trees stuck in 1997, and Dollar Trees where everything costs way more than a dollar.
My analogies… could use some tweaking.
The toys are usually knockoffs. You won’t find any My Little Pony figures, but you might find Your Lil’ Horse. (And yes, I found some terrific things at this store, but we’ll save them for a post that isn’t already doomed to be 5000 words long.
Mmm. Hermit crabs. You’ll find them for sale all over the boardwalk.
I adore the sight of a wire cage full of hermit crabs, but it’s just not a great setup for them. (The critical humidity levels are left unchecked, and the crabs are almost encouraged to fall from heights that can seriously injure them. Basically, the only thing these setups get right is that hermit crabs enjoy company. Of course, maybe not this much company.)
Some people will tell you not to buy hermit crabs from boardwalk bric-a-brac shops, but I haven’t decided where I stand on that. I mean, they’re already there. If you’re the type of person to consider the concept of hermit crab cruelty, you’ll probably be a much better owner than the seven-year-old who plans to keep one in an empty Folgers can.
Course, others say that these crabs simply aren’t meant to be pets at all, because unless we’re rich and insanely dedicated, we can never create an environment truly suited to them. I’ll pretend I don’t know that, as I simply cannot stomach the idea that I’ve owned my last hermit crab. Finality cripples me.
No matter where you find hermit crabs, chances are, they will be inside these painted “cartoon character” shells. I love the concept, but again, this is no good for crabs!
Even if you ignore the fact that the crabs are sometimes “encouraged” into these shells by nefarious means, the paint is still bad news. (Since cheap paint has a tendency to double as glue, it may trap the crabs in their shell. Plus, hermit crabs are among nature’s biggest samplers, and they’re too naive to know that paint shouldn’t be nibbled.)
I’ve read too much, and I can never again gush about Nicktoons crab shells without feeling guilty.
The painted shells are easier to appreciate when there are no crabs inside. In this sampling, there’s a swank Star Wars shell, a slightly less swank Spider-Man shell, and a not at all swank Batman shell, which dresses the Caped Crusader in Hanes thermal underwear.
All casino arcades are ripoffs, but the ones in Point Pleasant at least make you believe that there’s some logistical end goal. By this I mean, “They have good prizes.”
You’d have to play for two straight years to win the big stuff, but at least the big stuff is out there on display, existing as more than whispered rumors that the arcade has something bigger than “Gangster Banana” dolls waiting in the back.
I feel so comfortable at these places. It doesn’t make sense, because if I listed the common traits of a casino arcade, nearly all of them are things I hate. They’re noisy, and they’d crowded, and they’re bright, and they’re full of screaming children, and there’s always that one weirdo who makes eye contact with you, assuredly to open negotiations of the unwanted sort.
I guess I’m willing to forgive a lot when there are pinball machines on the list of pros.
We didn’t “play for points” at any of the arcades, but I still loved inspecting the prizes. What really brought me back to childhood were the many “prizes cases” running across the top of the walls.
Those prizes were for serious players. Nobody wins that stuff after one visit. As a kid, my family often hit the same casino arcades several times during the summer, and pairing that with my gambling-addicted parents, it wasn’t out of the question for me to win something huge. I used to spend hours staring up at those cases, because what you spent your casino arcade points on was the most important decision you would ever make.
The main reason for our visit? A reader tipped me off about a crane machine filled with E.T. and Gizmo dolls!
(Let’s avoid the “crane machine / claw machine” debate. I’m too tired. “Claw” sounds cooler, but I grew up calling them “cranes.”)
I’ve seen better Gizmo dolls, but I’ve seen worse ones, too. Actually, these were pretty nice. Big, detailed, and though I didn’t get to test this theory, I also believe that they’re fluffy. The arcade owners must have known that Gizmo would be a draw, because this was one of the most expensive cranes to play. ($1 a shot, or 3 for $2. Only the Super Mega Extreme cranes cost more, and those give you a chance to win eight-year-old Xboxes!)
What I learned while sinking dollar after dollar into this machine was only confirmed by my experiences elsewhere on the boardwalk:
The cranes at Point Pleasant SUCK.
It’s no big secret that these games are rigged. Over the years, the rigging has become more finessed and less obvious, but ten times as frustrating. There were plenty of cranes that did that horrible thing where the claw barely closes, and you know straight away to avoid replaying those. But this Gizmo machine, like many others, had far more sinister tools in its fuck-you arsenal.
When you play, the machine seems to function normally, or possibly even generously. The claw moves as it should, sinks low, and most importantly, grabs hard. But it does something terrible as it retracts. You won’t notice it until a furious inspection after the umpteenth misfire, but the claw very subtly reopens as it moves back up. (What’s probably happening is that its “tightness” is electronically removed during the retraction, so it’s not so much that the claw is opening – it just has no strength to keep your prize from slipping out.)
Gizmo was just the start of it. On other machines, I’d single out one item and pick it up ten times in a row, never once missing my target. Each and every time, the prize would just slip out of the claw just as it completed its ascent, clearly having nothing to do with weight or position, and everything to do with a robot claw that was programmed to be a complete asshole at the worst possible moment.
And even when your brain tells you that you’re being cheated, it doesn’t stop you from playing. You saw the claw lift the prize, and you saw the literal five inches that kept you from victory. So you just keep trying, like an obsessed dimwit.
I’m giving myself a pass for overdoing it on this machine, though. We’re not talking about Annoying Orange dolls, or velvety turtle plushes. This was motherfucking GIZMO. Yeah, he looks like a ninety-year-old version of Gizmo who just woke up, but he’s still motherfucking Gizmo.
Right next to the Gizmo dolls was a twin machine, this time filled with Nintendo stuff. There were many cranes with these same dolls, and every time I saw one, the Koopa Troopas were stuck in the most heinously inaccessible places. Did that stop me or anyone else from aiming for them? Hell no. Koopa Troopa is no Gizmo, but he’s worth a dozen E.T. dolls, easy.
That ends Part 1! Come back tomorrow for the grand finale, with more sights from the arcade, lots of candy, and maybe some rooftop mini golf! In that order, too!