|New Jersey Beach, by William Trost Richards (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
This is an odd artifact, nearly 30 years old. And while it's a fairly flaccid piece of writing, it is interesting for its circumstance.
The summer of 1990 the Sun-Times was launching Sizzle, a magazine designed to appeal to young people. I was in my late 20s, so counted as a young person, or at least youngish, if you squinted, and so either volunteered or was asked to write something about the beach. I wrote the below despite that fact that a) I hate going to the beach and b) I almost never go. It's more of a fantasy than anything else, perhaps based on one hour of one afternoon with my pals shortly before graduating Northwestern. Of course the paper didn't publish it. To be honest, I feel a little squeamish posting it now; but then "squeamish" is a condition of life lately. I must have cared about it enough to print out a dot matrix version that has slept in a folder all this while. Vanity. But given the situation on the EGD medical front—I might get out of the hospital today, unless I don't—it's this or nothing. I hope I made the right choice.
Ideally, you would never go to the beach. The beach would be there, outside your door, and you would wander onto it whenever the mood struck you, to think fine thoughts and watch the herons twirling over the shimmering sand.
Having to go to the beach is more problematic. There is nothing intrinsically comfortable about a stretch of hot sand, never mind the usually long and difficult trek to get there.
Comfort must be brought along, and comfort is chairs and coolers and towels and novels and umbrellas. Ice, bottles, food, utensils, sun block, shades and musical devices. Comfort is heavy.
Which leads to the first and only each rule: Go with people. The thought of going alone might be enticing—you, silhouetted against the blue waters, a beacon of attractiveness and mystery.
At the beach, alone, magnificent.
But that isn't ever the case. Alone at the beach, you soon start to feel like something the waves washed up. A dead jellyfish. An old can. Nothing.
A crowd makes you feel significant and, besides, you need people to help tote all the stuff. People to tell you that your shoulders are turning maroon. people to play Frisbee with and to hand you a cold beer when you don't feel like making the effort of reaching your hand all the way into the cooler.
And that is the state you wish to attain on a beach. The laziest, sleepiest, most somnolent sort of near-coma you can possibly achieve. Because you have spent so much energy lugging this stuff from the car, then setting up, and swimming and tossing the Frisbee and capering in the surf (another reason to go with a group. Have you ever seen somebody caper in the surf alone? They look like an idiot) you can then flop on the beach like an exhausted runner and rack up quality beach time.
That is why we go to beaches in the first place.
Where else can you wake up, all sleepy and disoriented, like a 4-year-old arising from nap time? You dig your watch out of .a sneaker. It's 4 p.m. You look around. Your friend are all scattered around like a pile of sleeping cats, their sand-crusted sides rising and falling in slumber.
You fish in the melted ice and grab one of the remaining cold bottles. At the sound of the sloshing water, your friends start to stir and murmur. The sun is getting low. You think: evening. Dinner. Going out. First, a nice, cool , invigorating shower—maybe the best shower you ever had in your life, maybe with all your friends. Then dinner. Perhaps the best dinner you've ever eaten. The whole bunch of you, fresh and clean and wearing crisp new summer clothes, laughing together at your collective wit and mutual intelligence, heading into a wonderful restaurant after a day at the beach ,brown as beans and ready to party.
That's what beaches do. they jumpstart your life. otherwise, why would people bother?