Yes, it is January. It’s also 18 degrees this morning, so I am not sweating. This post is from last August… My most sincere apologies for the delay, you know, stuff and life and other stuff. Hope you like it.
It’s the very ass crack of dawn, J and K are begging to go to the beach, and I am already sweating.
We must be down the shore (we don’t go to the beach in New Jersey — we go “down the shore”. I don’t know why).
I drag my eyelids open to see the house on Long Beach Island.
I’m on vacation.
I go to “down the shore” every year in order to sit in the sand (in my prescription hat)
and slowly accumulate beach detritus in all the many cracks and crevices upon the plenary of my sticky white vastness. I continually sweat off the compulsory half inch of sunblock I apply and reapply faithfully, but no matter how vigilant I remain to the task, I undoubtedly forget some tiny portion of my skin which will then turn a brilliant, yet grossly unhealthy shade of magenta and stay that way for the rest of our trip. Yesterday I missed my double chin.
This is not a good look for me. I look like I’ve dyed my amish beard purple, and believe me when I tell you that there is no cream in the universe that will successfully hide a third degree double chin sunburn.
I am inordinately tired this morning because last night I slept in a room with my children. At one am K awoke (sort of), screaming: “DON’T EAT THAT” over and over again. It must have been one of the vegetable nightmares. Again.
Later on I was awoken by my son, who wanted me to know that I had woken him up during one of the more lively portions of the war my brain had quite unsuccessfully waged against the springs in my shitty, borrowed, beach house mattress over REM sleep.
I drag ass into the tiny kitchen and drink hot, life-affirming coffee. This is the highlight of my day.
I sweat more.
There are seven of us in this 200 sq foot apartment, the kids, the husband and I, my mother and father in law and my sister in law. There is something about this place that they all enjoy.
In my humble opinion, beaching is an occupation for only that lucky majority born with normal levels of melanin and far less freckly skin.
Which is to say, not me.
The apartment is so small that it’s impossible to pee without an audience. This, by far, tops the list of beach shit that doesn’t work for me. When I pee, I must be so completely alone that even I am not in the room, so on LBI, of course, I do not urinate at all.
It’s not so bad, I do sweat profusely, but this morning’s different. I need to make a deposit in the porcelain bank.
I’m prairie dogging it.
I sized up the bathroom in preparation to fire the rear thrusters. It’s a three by three foot square in between my sister-in-law and my mother and father-in-law’s bedroom and the walls are no more than glorified construction paper. This is going to be bad.
I have but one thing going for me.
They’re all still playing sleep survivor.
No one wants to be amongst the first up with the kids, you see, and I was already awake to keep them as close to some facsimile of quiet as I could manage. No one wanted to join me. I couldn’t blame them, and as for myself; if there had been any other choice before me… Any hint of reprieve from dropping the payload… I’d have taken it.
Things went as well as could have been expected on my end, but the toilet did not fulfill it’s contractual obligation.
I flushed, yet the shit remained.
I stared at the shit. It stared back at me. I recited the Lord’s Prayer and flushed again, ignoring the screaming voices in my head warning that everyone knows two flushes always equals a shit.
I was frozen with fear.
This was my worst nightmare. Trapped in a tiny apartment with my severe potty neurosis, all my inlaws and a stinky shit that won’t go down the pipe.
I scanned the room desperately for help.
My eyes stopped on the window:
No, the fall might be far enough to break my legs, but it would not kill me. What it would absolutely do is draw my theatrically sleeping family to the very room where my aromatic gift sits waiting to be discovered, while I languish 20 feet below, just a little too far from the ocean to drown myself before paramedics arrived.
Thankfully, there was a plunger.
If you have ever looked favorably upon me, please make me stealthy now, for should anyone ever find out what I am about to do here, I will have to divorce my husband and flee the country.
I won’t go into detail regarding my disagreement with the toilet, but I will tell you that no one, neither the toilet nor I, came out well in the end.
War is hell.
The sweet stink of argumentative shit permeated the apartment. It had been cold last night, no windows were open.
Still, they pretended to sleep.
Never let it be said that they did not afford me some comfort in my darkest hour.
My children are not so delicate.
“What’s that abhorrent smell?” asks J.
“smells like argumentative shit” says K.
Okay, not really. But it was something like that. Close enough for Government work, or something of the like.
As always, I am impressed that we ever set foot on the beach at all. The sheer magnitude of crap we bring along is staggering. Every person is loaded like a pack animal for the pilgrimage across sizzling asphalt and blistering sand to the ocean. If our flip flops haven’t melted to the street before we make it to the dune, we scale that rocky hump. If no one has broken an ankle or sliced too deeply into a foot on one the thousands of jagged rocks lining the side of the dune, we hike down the other side and remove our flip flops, in preparation to insert our bare feet into dry sand; each grain baked to precisely the temperature of the surface of the sun and piled just deep enough to swallow one’s entire foot, so that each step, without exception, is burnier than the last.
From the house, it seems to be a walk of around one city block to the water. Not far. Just out the driveway, really. Once en route, however, it becomes startlingly clear that this estimate is impossible, and that I have, once again, been taken in by what can only be described as “the beach mirage”. At any point during our journey to or from the beach I would tell you that we will undoubtedly fall off the edge of the earth before we get there. We are the summer version of the Donner Party. It must be at least sixty miles, uphill all the way. We are trekking through a mountainous Sahara Desert.
Yet, miraculously, we make it every time. The children rejoice.
Umbrellas, beach blankets, chairs, toys, books, hats, and one shit ton of sunblock emerge from our beach bags.
The children immediately beg to go in the water.
For ten years, until last year, actually, I managed to keep my feelings regarding ocean water a secret from my husbands family. I have very strong feelings regarding the sanctity of the ocean and all the animals who reside therein.
They do not wish the pleasure of my company, and I’m cool with it.
It all comes down to very simple logic:
In the ocean, everything that might happen across my skin is a jellyfish. Shells (jellyfish), rocks (jellyfish), seaweed (Jesus H. Fuck, that’s a jellyfish), even other people, although a persons touch inevitably bears a second option:
In 2 inches of ocean water I will dance like someone is shooting at my feet every time the current pushes a new load of crap to shore.
Last year, upon the exposure of my secret, my sister in law made me walk out into the ocean past the breakers. This, she said, would help me to overcome my fear. Instead, I took a huge wave right in my lady testicles, fell backwards into the ocean, took a nice gulp of seawater and spent the next week listening to humorous anecdotes about how I looked flailing around in the surf to avoid mythical jellyfish and sharks, and surreptitiously picking sand out of my girly bits.
There is no help for me.
By eleven am, the children are tired of the water and instead roll their wet salty bodies around in the sand; which congeals upon their bodies to form a completely impenetrable layer of sand glue that no brillo pad or pressure washer can remove. They do this every day, and every day they are genuinely surprised at how categorically unyielding their sand cement has become when they return to the house to shower.
At the beach J says:
Look Mom! I’m making sand angels! I’m Sandy the Sandman!
You’re going to be Sheldon the shower man when we get home.
He laughs and laughs.
Later, in the shower:
J: MOM! MOM! Quit scrubbing me!!!! I swear by all that is holy, I’ll never roll around in the sand again!!! Gaaaaaaak…
Replay scene twice daily for five to seven days.
This morning, in particular, was a special one:
I watched as K brought a shovel full of sand to her mouth, opened up, and ate it like it was brownie batter.
I swear, that child has Pica.
Me: K, we don’t eat sand.
K: I wasn’t.
Me: You just put a shovelful of sand into your mouth. I watched you.
K: No, you didn’t.
The sun must be getting to you, Mommy. Why don’t you close your eyes for a while.
Then it’s time to pack up all our shit, make like the Chosen People, and do our forty years in the desert back to the house for lunch.
K walked back to the apartment bowlegged, holding up the bottom of her tiny bikini with both hands, while the crotch dangled between her knees. Upon removal, I found a perfect sand sculpture of her can.
She likes to sit in the sand and let the waves crash over her. The repercussions are messy and time-consuming, but with a little spray glue I probably could’ve sold that thing online to some anonymous buyer and sent her to college with the proceeds. (Don’t be like that, you knew coming into this that kiddie porn jokes weren’t off the table)
Once the children are clean and fed, it’s time to drag our 900 lbs. of beach shit (and my sad and broken body) across the steaming asphalt, the rocky dune and the searingly hot sand, set up all our shit again, watch the children soak themselves in sea water, roll themselves in sand, and head back to the house again.
They charge people money for this.
It’s true. In order to have the privilege of accruing sand in your slot machine, you must wear a badge that identifies you as eligible to do so. Otherwise, you are subject to the will of the Beach Badge Boy.
You can always pick out the Beach Badge Boy because he’s always the kind of kid you want to punch in the mouth. Also, he is the one doing the Beach Badge Boy walk. If he is in flip flops, He walks like he spent the day on horseback and then jumped off his horse, only to find himself walking to your beach blanket in a river of lava. If he is in socks and sneakers, he invariably has blisters all over his feet which are causing him to walk like he has Parkinson’s disease. He is trying to be cool, for he is always fourteen years old and trying to impress scantily clad teenage girls (or other boys, whatever), but the Beach Badge Boy walk, along with the tiny notebook and three inch backpack he has slung over his shoulders is making it entirely impossible, so instead, he takes his job very, very, seriously.
Woe to those not wearing the badge.
You may see your Beach Badge Boy three or four times in a day, for he is always making sure. And while watching him walk around in four inches of sand with poor footwear is generally diverting, you can be sure that your Beach Badge Boy is vigilant in his pursuit of those who do not wear the badge. Beach Badge Boy has power over you, and he knows it. In fact, that has got to be the only perk to being a Beach Badge Boy, besides exceptionally well-toned calves from walking around the beach in four inches of blisteringly hot sand all day.
Friends, your beach badge boy is making sure. He needs to know that you are wearing your little plastic pin with a number on it that invariably pokes and pricks your skin upon any sort of jostle, either by it’s nasty sharp plastic edges or when the safety pin twists the wrong way, or comes undone, which happens… Always. It’s especially pleasant when your beach badge wounds come in contact with saltwater.
The Beach Badge Boy is the law on New Jersey beaches. Although, presumably, New Jersey beaches are wantonly ignoring child labor laws. He is the law, he and the beach patrol — the beach patrol is the guy wandering around in half of a police uniform and stinking of poor life choices.
By the end of the week I am spotted magenta, and suffering from a mild case of stockholm syndrome. My feet are leaden, my back is broken, and Ive acquired an irrational fear of my prescription hat. My family loves their beach time. My husband feels refreshed when it’s over and can never wait to go back.
Before we leave for another year, we always let the kids go to the beach one last time. Then we take them back to our mountainous home covered in sand and beach muck. K, of course, can be found holding up her tiny bottoms, for she is replete with sandy ass sculpture, and always, as I walk away from the sand and surf for the very last time, I hear the tinkling bells of my daughters laugh and I think to myself:
But they’re so happy. It’s got to be worth it.