Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Joys of Summer #3: The Beach


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. 
     I hope.
     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?


  1. This is a lovely fantasy, and the part about capering alone made me laugh.

    I'm sorry you're having a medical adventure and hope all is well and that you'll be sprung from the joint soon.

  2. Excursions into the world of medicine have been my only summer trips. Other than guilt trips.
    That ugly "C" word!
    The 5 letter one.
    Radiation on Monday for my fiance. Taking over her duties and taking care of her are ths only things on my mind.
    Sorry. Neil is going through his own Crap, why in the hell should he care about mine?
    I guess I'm human and like most of them, a self centered butt hole.

  3. Like all good writers, you're your own worst critic. Be well.

    Bitter Scribe

  4. Fun column.
    I never really liked going to the beach. Lots of stress. Taking the bus with a few girlfriends to the Foster beach. Worrying about how we looked in our bathing suits.
    Plopping down on a square of hot sand and suffering the heat was not my idea of fun. The occasional dip into the lake helped.

  5. Hope you're feeling better Neil! Thanks for bringing back some childhood memories of going to the beach with my parents and siblings! I can even remember carrying all that crap from the car.....

  6. Shouldn't that "medical bag" be white, with a red cross? A red bag with a white cross looks more like a tourist's travel bag from Swissair. Very strange...

    You're right on the money about beaching alone. When I was in my early twenties, and visiting southern California, I was dropped off at the beach alone, on a weekday, because my relatives had to work. The beach was totally deserted and empty as far as the eye could see, in both directions, and it stayed that way.

    Not another person came along during the several hours I lay in the warm California sun, mostly reading a paperback, as the Pacific is chilly even in August, and swimming alone was a no-no...even I wasn't that stupid. But I kept on puzzling over why NOBODY showed up. My solitude felt creepy. Did everyone else know something I didn't?

    Then the sun vanished. Cloud cover appeared, followed by very heavy fog. It was like pulling a window shade and entering a walk-in cooler. I sat there shivering in my T-shirt and trunks until my aunt picked me up...laughing as though she'd played a hilarious joke on me. It's not a fond memory of a good day at the beach.

    Not long after that, I lived in Florida for a couple of years. The sun, sand, and surf are among the few things that haven't changed about Florida, as most of it has been paved over since the mid-Seventies, and its five million residents are now twenty million. But almost forty-five years later, I still miss its beaches, very much. The Great Lakes do have some lovely stretches of sand, but they can never be compared to an ocean beach.

    Still, I'm lucky to live a few miles inland from one of Ohio's best. A summer without beaches is not truly summer. But that may soon come to pass--we are holding our breath and worrying about toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie. And we've been stocking up on bottled water.

  7. That has to be one of the cutest floral arrangements I've ever seen. I hope your recovery goes well, and you're not stuck inside for the rest of the summer. I've always enjoyed the beach, swimming in lake, playing volleyball, love it. The trick is minimal stuff, towel, little cooler, sunscreen, sometimes a book I didn't mind possibly getting messed up. Countless hours enjoyed

  8. Lived in Rogers Wark in 1990, 1 block from the lake. Walked down to the beach all the time. Loved it. But never had to carry anything. Quite special in the middle of winter. Cool ice formations. Good luck. Get better and come back. You're the best!


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