Here comes the Sun King

Bruno Battaglia, Jersey's glowingest beach bum, has worked on that tan eight hours a day for 40 years.

Posted: July 03, 2007

VENTNOR, N.J. - It's an ungodly hour. Unless, of course, you are Bruno Battaglia and your god is the sun. And your sanctuary is the beach. And your time of worship is all day long. Every day. For most of the last 40 years.

And so what if the roofers at Dorset and Atlantic roll their eyes at you as you march down from the Dorset Avenue bridge before 8 a.m., shirtless and shoeless, beach chair in one hand, towel and little beach bag in the other.

"Look. He's going to the beach again."

Bruno pays them no mind. He's found purpose enough in life, and that is to be happy, while the rest of you work and are not as happy as you might be.

Happy for Bruno involves sitting on the beach at Newport Avenue every day, carving his little sand ottoman with his feet, turning his chair clockwise with the sun.

Happy for Bruno involves a little limeade to drink, a rag to wipe the sand off his feet, Native Tan SPF 15 for his face only. No book. No food. Not necessary. No dip in the ocean. No point. He arrives every day by himself, usually before you've had your coffee.

"Everybody has a destiny," he says. "I feel this is mine."

Yes, Bruno Battaglia, almost 59, is, hands down, the Jersey Shore's ultimate beach bum, a dude with a California mentality and Peter Frampton hair, who toughs it out in Ventnor because, well, that's where his mom lives.

8:14 a.m. Human Sundial. Bruno is standing up, back to the east, to allow the rays to find his back. With the beach groomed in a swirl around him, sun low in the sky, he looks like a human sundial.

His father was an Atlantic City fireman and his mother a beauty salon owner, but Battaglia has devoted the majority of his days to developing a deeply unapologetic shade of bronze, marred only by a splotch on his forehead that resulted from a mistaken application of Retin-A a few years back.

The longest career path he seems to have traversed in life was that period of time, back in his 20s, when he worked at a California pot farm. He spent 13 years on the West Coast, and in winter travels to warmer climes, where he house-sits or figures out where to stay when he gets there.

But for the last 15 years, Newport Avenue has been his daily beach, on into November and even longer some years. He began the beach-bum routine in earnest during high school, back when Atlantic City High was two blocks from the ocean (and who wouldn't?).

Opportunities just present themselves, he says, like the elderly couple he grew up near in Atlantic City who left him their house when they died. And like any self-respecting beach bum, he keeps a stable of massage clients on the side, whom he will see only after 7 p.m. No bank account, no cell phone, no credit cards. He tries to be happy each day, and be nice. What could be bad? He is what he is. Very tan. You could do it too, he insists, if you really wanted. "It's so simple, it's unbelievable," he says. "You have a choice."

10 a.m. Ventilation. This issue, he has honed to high art. Once he's seated in his chair - a new one every season, draped with the 11th of 12 identical orange sun-design towels he bought in bulk, uses one side per season - he sets about making a bed for his feet. It's basically a curved trench, to allow the air to pass under his legs when they are outstretched.

"You push with your foot sideways," he says. "Then sweep over with the side of it." He says people study it, then imitate. Sure enough, the Bruno Battaglia sand ottoman can be seen, in varying degrees of artistry, under outstretched legs all around him.

Often imitated, always noticed, Battaglia, also known as Tan Master, also known as Ultra Violet Man, settles into his usual spot back by the dunes, wearing one of his 24 bathing suits. (He likes to mix it up, hates to see women out there day after day in the same suit - OK, it's a bummer, but now you know, people do notice.) The day begins to pass.

People drop by. "The rule is, an arm's distance away, and nobody sits in my chair," he says. He doesn't buy a beach badge, no one ever asks, as if that daily insult to the rest of us exerting our rights to the planet would somehow be a true insult if applied to Bruno Battaglia.

2 p.m. The Turning of the Chair. Clockwise, by notches, all day, so as always to face the sun. Except in the afternoon, when the sun is behind him, he faces the chair back toward the ocean, but lowers the back, to allow the afternoon sun to work the back. He spreads his fingers to let the between part get tan, too.

He does not worry about skin cancer. "I don't have time to get sick," he says, though it would seem he has nothing but time. People start to freak if he, on rare occasion, dips his toes in the surf. People talk to him all day, and he does favors, carries chairs, commiserates after he sees boyfriends storm off.

That's what he's here for, he says. No particular attachments himself, a few long-term girlfriends in his distant past, he is available to be your friend.

"Do you know what I do on the beach? People bring me food. One woman brings me romaine leaves wrapped with crabmeat and shrimp. I'm treated like gold."

4 p.m. Departure. His walk back, down the boardwalk to Dorset, over the bridge, left onto Derby and out toward the bay to his mom's house, includes stops at various houses along the way, to chat or help an older person with a chore, or just say hello. He cooks dinner for his mom most nights. A veteran beach freak herself, Dot Battaglia, 79, still logs major hours on the Suffolk Avenue beach.

"It takes me almost two hours to get home," he says. "They wait for me. These people always have things for me to do." It seems to be all he needs, along with a regular diet of juice concoctions.

"My goal is a healthy hundred," he says. On that day, Sept. 13, 2048, he will set up as usual, take a bottle of sleeping pills and leave a note. Hopefully, the sun will be out.


 

For news and musings from the Jersey Shore, go to .


Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at arosenberg@phillynews.com or 609-823-0453. Read the Philly.com Shore blog at go.philly.com/downashore.

 

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