Pop Rocks & Space Invaders

Written By: Rose Ott

It is the summer of 1978 and I am 12 years old in Tuma’s Bait and Tackle Shop in Montauk. I insert my last quarter into Space Invaders as I try desperately to beat my older brother, Buddy’s high score. My flip-flops are sticking to the floor and I shimmy back and forth to fire my cannon as if my jerky body motions will help me obliterate the oddly shaped aliens. Grape Pop Rocks are exploding in my mouth and Donna Summer is singing about a cake melting in the rain from a small radio in the back. This is our last stop before pedaling back to the beach. The owners bid us goodbye – they know us by name because we come here every day for candy and a quick game or two.

We throw down our bicycles in front of the little house we rent every year on Captain Kidd’s Path, and race to the beach across the street when we see Grandma and Grandpa’s car parked out front. They are sitting on the beach blanket, eating the sandwiches my mother made that morning. At the sight of them, my heart fills up so much, I feel like I could burst. My two little brothers dig in the sand, looking for pirate treasure – Captain Kidd’s of course. Someone found a gold vase on this very beach last year, so we were told. Buddy waves to our father who is pulling up in the boat and tosses him the front anchor. He eases it in the sand with his foot as we hear all about the big fish that got away and eat our lunch. Later, we wade into the water wearing our old sneakers because there are a gazillion rocks at the coastline. The shoes feel like a sloshy, awkward mess until you reach “the drop” – the spot where suddenly the earth just ends, the water is colder and the bottom is inexistent. I paddle around for a while as everything gets packed up.

I look up and see my other grandparents have arrived. I grab the raft and head back up to shower under the hose. The sun has tanned my feet black and in contrast has bleached my eyebrows white. I dress in a terry cloth shirt and shorts and help put everything out for the BBQ. We don’t have enough seats for everyone so we make the table into a buffet. My mother is constantly moving and I can’t imagine she considers this much of a vacation but she never complains. At this time of day, every day, two things happen: the screen door becomes invisible and someone walks right through it, forcing it out of the track, crashing onto the porch with an expletive; and I look through The Best of LIFE book on the coffee table and stare in horror at the black and white photo of Lizzie Borden’s parents after she gave them her forty whacks.

The early night sky becomes eerily dark and foreboding. We all put on sweatshirts and line up chairs under the small awning on the deck to watch the storm come in. There are no houses across the street so we can see huge bolts of lightening touch down on the bay, while big clouds roll and rumble by, followed by deafening cracks of thunder. I sit there quietly in awe, look at my grandparents and know this is a very special moment and I savor it.

Soon a light rain begins to fall and we worry about them driving the three hours back home. I hug them all so tight, say good-bye and get ready for bed. Being the only girl has its perks – I get my own pretty, yellow room while the three boys share the blue. When the storm quiets, I open the window and can hear low moan of the foghorn that’s out near Gosman’s. I settle in my bed and feel the tiny grits of sand down by my feet. The cricket that lives in the bathroom light fixture begins to sing when I turn off the light. The air is damp, the white cotton drapes billow out and in and I am lulled to sleep.

I wake up slowly, listening to all the wild life outside my window. The birds are calling to each other and there is something out there that sounds like an owl. The house is quiet and I am the first one up. My mother set the table for breakfast before going to bed and there are bowls, spoons, juice glasses and gigantic boxes of cereal as the centerpiece. I take my cereal out the deck and eat in the shade. It is going to be a hot one today – there is no fog and the sky is clear and bright. After Buddy finishes his breakfast, we hop on our bikes and head to Flamingo Road to see if we can beat our speed on the speedometer Buddy got for his bike last Christmas. We struggle, barely moving on the incline; our legs are aching and on fire until we get to the top and joyfully race down, clocking our time. We go past the giant rock on the side of the hill to see what the new image is – someone paints the rock every night and it is something we look forward to seeing. Today it’s an American flag.

We head back towards the harbor and stop in Tuma’s. I say hello to the lady behind the counter as I walk around. I know all the little turtles that are for sale by heart. Various sized shells are stacked on top of each other to look like a turtle and then glued to a rock with “Montauk” written in magic marker. With a Little Luck is playing on the radio as I look over the candy selection and decide today is going to be different. I choose Watermelon Pop Rocks and head over to Space Invaders.