We're All Damaged

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reflections from the Beach


I’m supposed to be back in London right now. That was the plan. But apocalyptic thunderstorms somewhere in the Mid Atlantic Region yesterday prevented that, and so today I did what any patriotic American would do. I went to the beach.

In my awkward, often sexless young adulthood, I found that the beach was usually more hardship than it was worth. I’d sit smoldering on my sandy chair and hate myself for not having the balls to talk to any of the dozen girls in bikinis lounging in all directions. Now though, because I’m both married and in my early-to-mid 30s, I’m finally able to relax and enjoy myself for a change.

When you’re not consumed by self loathing and glistening navel rings, the beach is actually a pretty entertaining place. They serve nachos there, as well as freezing sodas the size of fuel-efficient Japanese sports sedans. As I slurped away, trying half-heartedly to read an article about the economy (apparently things aren’t going well) I found myself mesmerized by two things that I’ve never really paid much attention to at beaches until now: children and dogs.

There was a little girl in a pink bikini; she was no more than two years old. She had one of those pot bellies that only toddlers can get away with, which her parents had caked with sun block thick enough to grout a shower. She watched patiently as her sunburned father inflated a dinosaur beach raft. This took about 15 minutes. When he was finally done, the girl clapped and then immediately lost her raft in the wind. She watched in horror as the grinning dinosaur went skittering down the beach toward the surf. The look on the winded dad’s face was hilarious, like ironic resignation, and then he leapt from his towel and ran through the flaming sand.

To me, this scene seemed like a perfect microcosm of what it must be like to be the father of a daughter. Next though, to my left, I witnessed the other, grosser side of that scenario. Also potbellied, a little boy wore baggy swim trunks that appeared to be filled with a load of something. For optimism’s sake, we’ll assume it was sand. He was throwing a stick into the water over and over again for a soaking dog that looked like something in the cocker spaniel family. On the twentieth or so retrieval, the boy decided to mix things up. Smiling, he put the slobber-and-ocean-gunk-covered stick in his mouth and took off running down the beach. Confused, the dog made a brief whimpering noise, and then trotted away in the other direction.

“Oh my God,” said a man, bemused and also sunburned. “Tyler, that’s disgusting.” From the tone of his voice, it was clear that this wasn’t the nastiest thing he’d seen Tyler put in his mouth. And then he, like a hundred billion fathers before him, stood up, brushed himself off, and chased after his squealing child.

Ahhhh . . . the beach.

So long, America. I'll see you again soon.

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