Asbury Park (the Drumming Circle)

Walking toward the beach last Tuesday evening after parking my car on an old crumbly road, I could feel the clean late summer night air on my skin. It felt wonderful. I had been to the Asbury Park boardwalk before but each time I experience it anew as the emerging project that it is, toward what end though, it’s always hard to be sure. My analytical mind automatically set forth to try and figure out this puzzle which was apparent to me, as I asked myself, whether the vibe was real, or completely disingenuous. Or was I rather, just being cynical, a mode I should break from on this occasion, to give Asbury Park, and Shawn, a chance? I guess I assumed that if something didn’t “feel right” to me as an artist ostensibly with a gift of perception, then there must be a reason. Such questions lingered as I walked through the carefully crafted set up, hearing the drums off in the distance, like an ancient tribal ceremony of some sort. These drums would probably lead me to Shawn, the guy whom I had met briefly on the online dating site.

Walking down the boardwalk I saw the familiar, the things I liked about Asbury Park- the amazing architecture that someone with a vision for the town sought diligently to preserve, and it’s emerging identity, as I continued to question whether it had really found itself, or whether it was still in some kind of existential flux. The prices ridiculously high for such common items as T-Shirts bearing the name of the town, it seemed to have turned into some kind of a tourist trap. I eventually found the drums and nonchalantly circled the area, walking a couple steps in, trying to get a good shot of the scene with my cell phone.

The drummers sat in a circle. They drummed and drummed together for reasons unknown to me and perhaps themselves. I could see Shawn. He looked a lot like his online picture. I don’t know if he saw me. As I looked on with the others surrounding the camp, with questions possibly similar to mine, I wondered as to the value in this strange communal activity. I recalled that Shawn had told me they do this from 6-10 every Tuesday, and at Belmar every Saturday. It was hard for me to believe that there was anything which could cause such commitment with such little payback. It wasn’t even a full band, just drums, pounding non-melodically over and over, with about 20 men, women, and children participating.

Suddenly they took a break. I felt like seizing the moment, so I walked up to Shawn. He stayed turned away, while the lady next to him acknowledged me. I thought of a question to ask, “Are you here until 10?” He turned, and seemed to finally look at me as he answered yes. I said “Hi, I’m Katie.” He seemed ashamed, perhaps of where he had met me? He looked better than his picture, but his teeth reflected bad dentistry, which I could not overlook. His arms were nice with tattoos, and muscular, possibly from drumming on a solitary conga for 8 hours a week? He seemed artistic like someone I could perhaps be interested in. But we had very little conversation before he excused himself and walked away. I did not get the impression he wasn’t interested in me, but rather he was very shy around women, or me in particular. And so I wasn’t insulted. He had said, “excuse me one moment,” but after about 2 minutes I decided it wasn’t really worthwhile to wait for him to return and so I walked away to find something else to do.

I went in to the Parthenon where they have the big name acts come in to play on occasion, and wandered into a bar which jutted out into the beach area. The evening beachside air was beautiful. I ordered an over-priced Corona and sat and felt the fresh breeze coming off the ocean, as I sang along to a random John Mayer tune, admiring the acoustics in the old fashioned space, newly renovated, but keeping with some of the rusty old architecture for the nostalgic sorts like myself to enjoy. I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel I needed what the drum people had to feel good. I was enjoying myself much better where I was at.

I soon decided to go home, and on my way out, I walked past the drumming circle again. There were more people. It was darker now, and interestingly many standing on the periphery of the circle had hula hoops. A lady carried a bunch of them and she seemed to be the instigator for the hula hoop vibe now enveloping the drum circle. Wanting to break from my judgmental mode I grabbed a hula hoop, proud of the fact that I had taught myself this skill at the ripe old age of 32. But after a while it seemed non special as everyone was doing the same thing. While fun for a moment, this activity soon seemed pointless accept that it amounted to my entire workout for the day. Shawn was still in his spot, next to his people and drumming on his conga. He didn’t see me. I did not attempt further communication with him, and wondered if he would be one of those who was very honest and forthright through email, while extremely shy in person.

I walked back to my car, happy to be leaving, still questioning what was real, and what was disingenuous in what I had just experienced this evening, and resolving that Asbury Park in its current state was a mixture of both. The tend toward a hippy vibe while applaudable, seemed contrived. And I could not get it out of my head that this guy was wasting huge portions of his time. I kept asking myself how one could actually do this? How can a guy spend hours and hours drumming on a conga drum, and how did this have any value for him? Obviously this practice had something to do with the need for community. But can someone just shut off his mind and beat on a drum for hours in order to be part of a community? Not wanting to discredit this seemingly progressive movement (there must be something worthwhile in it), I compared it to a scene from “Forrest Gump” where he suddenly stops running and says he’s going home now, and all the people following him have to wonder why they’ve been running after him for so long, and where do they go now? It seemed like the same sort of thing to me, people were going somewhere, but not sure where, just following someone else. This definitely wasn’t my type of scene.

What’s more, this guy who has a profile on a dating site; what is he hoping to find? Does he think his new girlfriend will sit for 4 hours every Tuesday and Saturday and admire him banging on a drum with his friends? No doubt any future acquaintance of his sort would already be sitting right in the circle with him, or maybe twirling a hula hoop on her hips with everyone else. She will fit into his community, and be a great conformist to this activity. But it will not be me. I am much too thoughtful. Perhaps if nothing else this eventing helped me to define what it is I am and am not looking for.

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