I just came back from a family vacation at the beach. Will someone please explain the beach to me?
What if you’d never seen or heard of a beach and someone suggested you spend your holiday at a place where there’s a large, hot, windy expanse of ground-up stones, the grit from which coat your hair and exposed flesh, get under all your clothes, and penetrate your every bodily orifice?
A place where the grit is bordered by freezing water in such a state of agitation that going near it is like being targeted by Russian police water cannons at an anti-Putin demonstration, except the water has things in it that eat you?
A place where your children will be fried until they blister, burst, and peel like hot dogs left too long on the grill and where they are get prolonged exposure to a multitude of nearly naked fat people with lewd tattoos?
Would you go there?
You would, I discovered, if your wife and kids insist. So we rented a cottage on the beach. “On” is a beach cottage rental technical term meaning “closer to the ocean than Cincinnati.”
Because of a last minute cancelation we got the cottage at a special rate. “Special rate” is a beach cottage rental technical term meaning “more money than it’s worth.”
The cottage was nice. I had no objection to staying in it, by which I mean staying in it. There was a liquor cabinet, a refrigerator with ice-making, a wide-screen TV, and a nap-sized couch.
But a vacation does not count as a family vacation if dad is napping. We drove to the beach. Or, I should say, we drove to the beach parking lot. The beach was north of Boston. The beach parking lot was someplace out near the Lexington and Concord battlefields.
An Ironman triathlon is, shall we say, a day at the beach compared getting to the beach from the beach parking lot carrying beach umbrella, beach towels, beach toys, beach bags, and a beach picnic in a beach cooler the size of a Manhattan studio apartment.
The sun shone brightly, like I give a crap. The O’Rourkes possess the Hibernian complexion best suited to sitting in dimly lit pubs – a result of millennia of Darwinian selection among Hibernians sitting in dimly lit pubs. We were coated inch-thick in sunscreen, SPF 100,000.
Posted at the entrance to the beach were the red-circle-diagonal-slash “prohibited” signs that have replaced the spread eagle as the symbol of the American republic. “No littering,” “no smoking,” “no cooking,” “no camping,” “no dogs,” “no glass containers,” “no alcohol,” “no bonfires.” I would have added “no photographs of meditative politicians walking on the shore” with a slash though a silhouette of JFK.
No alcohol or bonfires? I have a fuzzy memory of fondness for the beach when I was young. The fuzziness was from the beer we drank after building bonfires in the dunes in the middle of the night. This beach in Massachusetts closed at 7:30 PM, and beneath the beach prohibitions was another sign reading, “No Dunes.”
This last was simply a lie. There were dunes all around us. I consulted my wife who had spent two weeks Googling “beach” to make sure we had enough beach stuff to carry to the beach from the beach parking lot.
Picking my way between fully exposed pie wagons and wide-loads, I did, however, feel quite fit and trim myself.
She said walking in the sand dunes environmentally degrades the sand. Sand being ground-up rocks, you’d think sand is about as environmentally degraded as things in the environment get.
She also said beach grass in the sand dunes is home to deer ticks, even though a crowded beach is an odd place for ticks to look for deer. And, she said, deer ticks carry Lyme Disease. Named after a snooty summerhouse locale on the Connecticut coast, I assumed the ailment is what afflicts WASP men when choosing the color of pants to wear. Turns out it’s even worse.
We lugged the beach stuff onto the beach, avoiding anything that resembled a dune. As I mentioned, the sun shone brightly, illuminating…
My god! One hears a high percentage of Americans are morbidly obese. “Morbidly obese” is such a tactful way to put it. If Captain Ahab ran aground here he’d shrug off Moby Dick as barely fit for catch-and-release on a dry fly. Queequeg and Ishmael could wade ashore and, without the bother of whaleboat or “Nantucket sleigh-ride,” busy themselves in harpooning all season. Meanwhile the Captain, in salvaged beach chair, would put his peg leg up on the Pequod’s rail and gleefully contemplate blubber enough to make oil for ten thousand lamps.
Another memory I have of youthful fondness for the beach concerns tiny bikinis. Not anymore. Please, you leviathans, don’t wear tiny bikinis. No, what am I saying? Please, you leviathans, don’t take them off!
Picking my way between fully exposed pie wagons and wide-loads, I did, however, feel quite fit and trim myself. Until I spotted the lifeguards, bronzed to perfection and sporting abs and pecs and lats and other parts of the body that I, at 66, no longer have.
Now, what to do at the beach? Panic? My 10-year-old son Buster headed straight for the agitated water. Buster swims like a brick. My teenage daughters headed straight for the lifeguards. Who wants a son-in-law with a nose covered in white zinc? How would that look at the altar in St. Patrick’s?
Turn seaward and enjoy the view? View of what? Nothing’s out there. Okay, there’s a sailboat. After I get the beach explained to me perhaps someone will explain sailboats. A moveable domicile that’s blown around and leaks from both the ceiling and the floor -- a sailboat is a tony version of living in a trailer park during a tornado and a flash flood.
Build sand castles? As a family we have the same exquisite eye for design that guided the architects of the 1970s when they were building public schools, low-income housing, and minimum security prisons. Also, isn’t there a biblical injunction about this? “…like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell… and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell.” We had some weather like that during our vacation too.
Enjoy our picnic? The kids refused. “There’s sand in all the food.” They preferred the “Harbor Hovel” snack bar serving blistered, burst, and peeling hotdogs plus the obligatory local seafood delicacy, in this case fried Mrs. Paul’s fish stick rolls.
After being rescued from the ocean several times Buster spent the rest of the afternoon collecting flotsam and jetsam.
Flotsam is, I believe, the dead stuff that washes up such as fish heads and horseshoe crab shells, which Buster insisted on taking home so that our car trunk will forever smell like an open can of tuna was left in there for a month. Jetsam is -- ouch! -- broken beer bottles.
And my teenage daughters went into the town to shop at cute stores selling cute things at acute prices.
On the way home from our vacation the kids asked, “Can we come back again next year?”
No. I’m going into this beach business myself. Where we live, in rural New Hampshire, there are plenty of fat people. We have a freezing cold pond. I’ll dump our supply of winter road salt in it and agitate the water with boulders dropped from my tractor bucket. Our pond is short on man-eating sharks, but I can set bear traps on the bottom. I’ll put Buster in the lifeguard chair. (The pond is shallow.) We don’t get much sun.
However, with all the concern about skin cancer from excessive sun exposure I’m thinking “shadeshine” will be a marketing point. We don’t have sand either, but we do have dirt, which is similar in many ways. And the “Pond Pit” snack bar will serve fried tadpole rolls.