AVALON, N.J. - A thick wave of fog washed over the beach yesterday, spilling onto the dunes and scrubby pines, right to the deck of Joe Paterno's oceanfront home.
You could almost imagine the fallen legend out on the deck alone, staring off into the mist. He will have more time for that, now that he has been deposed as Penn State's football coach.
This town's motto is "Cooler by a Mile," and for 25 years Paterno and his family have traveled more than 250 miles to chill out inside a comparatively modest two-story house nestled between certifiable mansions on the dunes.
One local businesswoman said that Paterno finds "peace and distance" in Avalon, a community that doesn't gawk over the many celebrities and high-rollers who live and vacation here.
In fact, Paterno is considered "just a regular Joe around here," said Josh Souders, a Penn State graduate working behind the counter at the Seven Mile Island Deli.
Some men eating at the deli yesterday didn't want to reveal where Paterno lived. They argued over lunch about his handling of the sex scandal and questioned whether he deserved to be fired.
"How do you think he would have handled it if it was his son who was assaulted?" one man asked. No one answered.
Some in Avalon wondered whether Paterno might pay a surprise visit soon to lie low. No one recalled ever seeing him in autumn or winter, but folks said he walked on the beach every morning during spring and early-summer visits.
Yesterday, the only cars parked on the streets surrounding Paterno's home belonged to home remodelers. No one answered at dozens of front doors.
"That's the best part about the off season," said Ralph Tiz, who used to wait on Paterno at the Sea Grill restaurant and "run interference" when tourists would ask for autographs. "It's quiet here now."
The Paternos bought the home in 1984 for $380,000, and it's now assessed at $3.9 million. No Penn State banners hung there yesterday, and no hot tubs, swimming pools or ornamental concrete fountains were to be found outside. Through the windows, a visitor could see two beach-cruiser bikes parked in the living room, and a small painting of the iconic, crouching Nittany Lion hanging in a first-floor bedroom.
"It's a humble home for a simple man," said Jack Vizzard, an Avalon real-estate agent.
When Vizzard had a neighboring three-story mansion on the market, he said, Paterno was a selling point.
"I said, 'You have a living legend living next door. You'll see Joe Paterno doing sit-ups on his deck every morning,' " he said.
The property sold for $7 million.
Several locals said that Paterno was a regular at the Fishin' Pier Grille, a small restaurant just a short walk from his home. The owner declined to comment.
In the Paper Peddler, a bookstore where Paterno shops, employee Deborah Martinelli said that she once saw the English-lit major with loads of books crammed under both arms. They talked about the classics, and when he left, the owner asked her, 'Do you know who that was?' "
"I said, 'I don't know, just a regular guy?' He said, 'No, that was Joe Paterno.' "