Inside looking out: The lure to the shore
Last week, I spent a few days with my kids in Wildwood, New Jersey. While sitting in my beach chair smelling the fragrant salty air seasoned with puffs of cigar smoke and clouds of sunscreen, I looked left and right at the mass of humanity that covered nearly every inch of the beautiful white sand.
And I wondered.
We drive hundreds of miles through stop-and-go traffic to this beach or to that beach. Our flip-flop march to the sea starts in the late morning. Upon arrival at an agreed-upon spot, we erect small cities of cabanas and tents and screw down colorful umbrellas, marking our settler territories.
We have loaded towels, chairs, blankets, toys, food and coolers filled with drinks onto beach buggies that someone we elect gets to push through the unforgiving sand. I watched the pained expressions on the faces of men and women as they struggled with the push. After two plastic buckets and a boogie board fell off one man’s buggy, he must have thought, “Yahoo! I get to do this again in a couple of hours!” He might also have thought, “And they call this a vacation?”
Nevertheless, like all of us, he already knows that when he gets home and unloads the beach paraphernalia from his vehicle, no matter how much he’ll vacuum the interior, he’ll find grains of sand while he’s loading Christmas presents to take to his mom’s house next winter.
So we plop ourselves down onto our blankets, and for some of us, the only physical movement we’ll make in the next four hours will be rolling over from our backside to our front side. This is so when we get home, friends and family will compliment our beautifully baked suntans.
I scratched my head at some beachgoers who paraded around the cabana colony nine-tenths naked, and there were others who crawl up in a ball, having covered every inch of their bodies with clothing of some kind.
Activities take place on the beach that do not require any proximity to water. Reading novels, catching footballs and walking along the tide line while wearing the latest summer fashions all can be done far away from sand and saltwater. Some never see the sea much with their eyes glued to cellphones.
We spend thousands of dollars to stay at hotels and condos for one expensive week. We leave our air-conditioned bedrooms in the mornings to sweat all afternoon under the hot sun. In my sight line of estimation, more than half of the thousand or so people who were on Diamond Beach that day appeared to never have gotten a single drop of the ocean on their bathing suits.
After all the money spent, the time traveled and the buggies burdened, what exactly is it that most of us want to do upon nature’s hottest summer sites?
We go to the beach to sleep!
Find a spot on the sand, lie down on a blanket and become a member of the largest slumber party on the East Coast.
With the incessant laughter of seagulls screeching in our ears and sand spraying across our horizontal bodies when those kids run past us to get to the water, we barely budge a toe.
You might think if we need to take daytime naps, a $69 a night hotel bed is a more economical choice, but there you can’t show off your new bikini or your Superman pecs while you’re locked inside a paneled room with free HBO.
To be serious for a moment, something about the sounds of the waves and the water lure us to the beach. I’ve mentioned the poet Walt Whitman before in this column. In one of his poems he implies that we go to the beach because we subconsciously want to return to the comfort of our mother’s wombs. The slish slosh of the waves is a familiar sound to our preborn selves, and the warmth of the seawater reminds us how wonderful it was to be inside our mothers for those nine precious months before we arrive into a cold, cruel world. No wonder we cry that shocking second when we have to leave our wombs.
If Whitman was right with this idea, and I think he might just have something there, then the next time I’m lying on a beach listening to the rise and roll of the ocean, I’m going to tilt my head toward a stranger near me and say, “You hear that? Doesn’t the sound of the waves make you want to go back inside your mother?”
I’ll either have an interesting conversation following this remark, or suddenly that stranger will move his blanket far away from me, giving me extra space. Either way, it’s a win-win.
What other reason would call us to Mother Nature’s shoreline just so we can all sleep together in one heckuva huge bed covered with sheets of sand?
This phenomenon makes me think of another remark I might have made to that pretty woman who was sleeping on a blanket near me. If our paths crossed that evening along the Wildwood boardwalk, I might have tapped her shoulder.
“Hi! Do you remember me?” I’d ask. “We slept together this afternoon.”
Speaking of snoozing under the sun, I was 18 years old the first time I saw the Atlantic, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with my shut-eye.
I’d better book that ocean view condo for next year at $2,300 a week and invite myself to the slumber party and sleep with everyone and anyone I don’t even know.
Rich Strack can be reached at email@example.com.