I knew it was REALLY summer when I was a kid when my dad would arrange our annual trip to Wildwood. Cozy Morley’s Club Avalon was a dingy looking building on it’s best day, but our faces would light up when we pulled into the parking lot of the Wildwood icon for a night of laughter.
To start with, we always felt grown up. There were never very many kids there, as the club played like the lounge in a cheap motel. There were drinks – small glasses, filled with ice cubes; and the only food to be had was your choice of potato chips or pretzels, sold in cellophane bags. My dad would order our sodas, snag a couple of bags of chips and pretzels, and, because we had gotten there as soon as the doors opened, we would watch the throngs of people cram into the club. Rows of tables filled with South Philly – neighbors or people my dad knew from work would inevitably be among the crowd, along with parents and grandparents of people we went to school with. The room was divided almost by neighborhood – tables of Italians; rows of Irish; groups of Polish – it was just like a block party at home.
The show was the same. Every year, Cozy would tell the same jokes, people would laugh, we’d eat our chips and drink our drinks, waiting for the songs we all knew and sang along with him. Even as a kid, I felt like I knew the nuns he joked about – the ones who were 6’8″ tall, until you grew up and realized they barely broke the 5′ mark. We would laugh when he’d point us out in the crowd and tell us that we dressed the way kids of his generation had to. And even though we weren’t dirt poor, I couldn’t help but connect when he talked about how his family was from such humble, South Philly beginnings. His tag line would become our tag line for the rest of the summer. ”Ya gotta be wacky!”
I can probably tell most of the jokes. How his family was too poor for an Easter outfit, so they’d buy him a hat and let him wave out the window. Or the one about how tough Catholic school was because every classroom had a guy hanging on a cross in it. I can sing the songs. On the Way to Cape May – my dad would start singing it on our way down the shore, and sing it all the way home again. I can see ladies’ cheeks getting pink when they would get up during his no intermission show to use the ladies room and have Cozy call out to her not to go, promising better jokes or drinks.
He was a South Philly legend, an icon of the Jersey Shore, a generous humanitarian, and a part of my childhood I’ll never forget. At 87 years old, he took his final bow in this life to share his jokes with those in the next. I know there’s laughing and singing in heaven today, but I can’t help but think this world will be a little bit sadder.
Rest in peace, Cozy Morley. Thanks for the laughter, the memories, and for giving me another piece of the best childhood a kid could have.