Travels: Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Tea Shirts
What else is gone? The movie theater along Rehoboth Avenue where I saw “Grease” six times during the summer of ’78, falling more in love with Olivia Newton John each time. I was 15.
And where’s the clown face that used to grace the front of Funland? For some reason it’s been relegated to the back. The new facade announces “Funland” mutely. It makes no promises.
But Skee Ball lives. As does “The T-Shirt Factory” on Rehoboth Avenue. As do most of the T-shirt shops along the boardwalk. These first became big for me in the summer of 1977, when “Star Wars” first became big for me, and when I bought, or finagled, T-shirts with iron-on transfers like “May the Force Be With You” or “Darth Vader Lives!” or just that original magic poster of Luke and Leia lit up in the foreground and Darth Vader and the Death Star dominating the background. I remember the pleasantly acrid smell of the melted print as it was steamed onto the cotton. I remember the sometimes sticky feel of the iron-on afterwards. Options went beyond “Star Wars” to include other pop icons: rock stars (the Rolling Stones), Tiger Beat stars (Shaun Cassidy), TV stars (Starsky & Hutch), superheroes (Captain America). The last one I bought was probably a Bruce Springsteen long-sleeved tee in the summer of 1983, and since then I’ve favored blank T-shirts—I advertise for no man, man—but I was still pleasantly surprised that so many Rehoboth T-shirt shops thrived.
Then I looked closer. I’m sure we had tacky and classless transfers back then...but this tacky and classless?
- A silhouette of a curvy woman by a stripper pole: I Support Single Moms: One dollar at a time
- A raised middle finger with a smiley face: Have a nice day
- Six red words: I Put Ketchup on My Ketchup
Who thinks that’s witty? Probably the same people who think the following are smart political statements:
- A caricature of Barack Obama in a baby bjorn: Worse than a HANGOVER
- The faces of Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden superimposed over Larry, Curly and Moe: The REAL Stooges
- A pic of a smiling, waving George W. Bush: MISS ME YET? How's that hopey changey thing working out for ya?
- Angry: Why the Hell Should I have to Press #1 for ENGLISH?
- Insane: If you can’t read this you’re probably illegal or the President!
I saw these in shops all over Rehoboth, and though I got weary at the smallness of it all, and angry at the idiocy of people who didn’t remember how bad things were in September 2008, I also realized I didn’t see anyone actually wearing such a T-shirt along the boardwalk. Everyone was too busy with their Phillies or Orioles tees, or their Seussian “Drunk Thing 1” or “Sexy Thing 2” T-shirts. It's still depressing, though. I’m no longer for slapping advertisements on my chest, but at least back in the day we put the things we loved on our chests.
Tomorrow: Mourning in Rehoboth
Stay classy, America.