I never thought it would come to this, but I’ve had to resort to selling seashells by the seashore to make ends meet.
For generations, the women in my family have sold seashells by the seashore. It was the first job my great-grandmother had when she came through Ellis Island in 1917 at the age of 15, and it was the last job my mother had before she retired. During the off months, father picked pecks of pickled peppers to make sure we had enough food on the table.
Growing up in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, my parents always envisioned a brighter future for me. When I graduated from Yale with my bachelors in marine biology, they could not have been more proud. Now, they are shocked and dismayed that I have been forced by the recent government shutdown to return to the family business.
Selling seashells by the seashore isn’t the worst job, but there’s no room for growth or upward mobility. Same shells, same greasy, sun-soaked tourists, year after year. At the age of 23, I was the youngest person to ever be hired to an upper-level position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. By 25, I became head of the Seashell and Crustacean Commission.
I thought my future was secure. I thought that I would never have to see another goddamn sand dollar again. When I was informed that the shutdown would mean implications for our agency, I was crushed (NOT a shell pun).
Today, my desk is empty. Instead, I have returned to Seaside Heights to stand on the boardwalk and convince frazzled tourists whose kids thought it would be a good idea to go to the beach in below freezing temperatures that their lives would be a little better with the purchase of a Blue Mussel shell, or a Knobbed Whelk. Business in New Jersey is always steady because most of the shells on the beach actually are washed-up pieces of Grandma Betty’s dentures she lost on vacation last year.
Since the pickled pepper industry virtually collapsed when the name Peter fell out of favor, I’ve had no choice but to return to my roots if I want to make the rent this month.
This is not a cry for help. I do not want your pity. I merely hope I can one day fulfill my mother’s dream of never again having to hold up a conch shell to her ear and assure a sunburnt mother of six that her children will be able to hear the ocean in the damn thing. How stupid are these kids?
For now, I am back on the boardwalk, haggling shell prices by day and eating leftovers from Ricky’s Fried Shrimp Emporium by night. God-forbid, if you ever find yourself at the Jersey Shore during the winter (or any time of year), stop by Sally’s Seashell Selection. While you’re here, be sure to check out other beach-side classics, like Chuck the Woodchuck’s Wood Chucking Spectacular, and Betty Botter’s Bitter Butter.