Ah, the fascinating boredom of the beach. It is the only spot where people are likely to work on a puzzle, with the possible exception of a nursing home. The pearly insides of shells call to be touched, and the waves keep wooshing in, then out, and in again. There are waves to be crashed into, beach tags to be checked, the moon to photograph, and constellations of freckles to count. I have plenty of those.
People come from all over to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, to spread out their rainbow of chairs and umbrellas, don their floppy hats, and smear coconut sunscreen onto their bodies. By noon, the beaches are filled with families. Plastic baby dolls bake in the sun outside of the aid of a staked umbrella, while the owner splashes happily by the shoreline until the ice cream bells ring.
A pod of New Yorkers stays put in their staked claim of land, drinking Coronas and laughing. Some very tan young men lie on their stomachs and face each other. One holds a smartphone. They all huddle around its reflective surface as if it were fire. A few girls they flirt with pose on a nearby blanket. There is a lot of hair tossing, and feigned disinterest when their men get up and leave. Twenty minutes later, they leave too. The seagulls close in on the Cheez-Its they’ve left behind.
We are here for an entire week, and this is the first week off work for the past twenty years for my husband. So far in three short days we have eaten a lot of toast while sitting around in our underwear, we’ve flown a kite, saved a land locked sand crab, spent a total of 15 hours out in the sun while covered in SPF 1000 sunscreen, and fared just fine without wiFi. My writing “office” is the yellow dining room with a window that overlooks the beach.
The house we’re in is the Jersey Beach house of my childhood. Dark paneled walls and ceilings make it feel like being inside a cheesebox. The dining room is the only room that is painted, and the television, which we haven’t turned on once since we arrived on Saturday, still has a sticker on it that reads “32” LED TV.” The living room art consists of a resin plaque with a rose and the word “Welcome“ on it, and two posters of beachscapes – one of a porch with two Adirondack chairs looking out onto the ocean, and the other of a flower-filled dune.
Flower-filled dune landscapes seem like a good artistic choice after a few days of being lulled by gulls and waves, but everything I buy at the beach is rendered useless and sad at home. I suspect this is a common phenomenon. Beach artifacts.
A few years ago I bought a large scarf that was perfect for walks in the evening along the shoreline, but when I wear it at home I feel as ridiculous as if I’d wrapped myself up in a piece of Saran Wrap. Shells plucked out of the sand are out of place and homesick sitting on the back of the toilet in the bowl my daughter made in pottery class. Thankfully, I’ve fought off the urge to buy the flip-flop hand soaps that were advertised in The Sandpaper.
On this visit I didn’t win over the henna tattoo. The lotus flowers fade on my ankle out of pure embarrassment now that I am home, having found themselves adrift in a sea of asphalt whose waves wash forward, and forward, and forward forever.