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All washed up at the beach.


Abeach is not a fit place to be. This is well understood by the entire animal kingdom, excepting only the sandpiper, who is nitwitted; the crocodile, who is squamous; the sea lion, who thinks the sandpiper knows something; and man. In this respect, as in others, man has not ripened into wisdom. Ages ago, when man's ancestor first poked his head from the tidal wash and noticed evolution's eon sign, he did not waste his slime on the beach. He slithered across it at top speed (thinking the sign belonged to a bar and grill), noticing only that the sand scraped his belly and that the moss that came afterward helped a lot.

In the last few decades of the present eon, however, man has grown perversely bored with the green-growing golf course, the black-flowering asphalt and the clear-bubbling cocktail lounge, and he has strayed wistfully back toward the sea. There, where the solid leaves off and the liquid begins, he has found and cherished an intermediate state of matter. It is a damp mulch of mustardy hotdog wrappers, fat ladies, displeased infants, former fish, ex-seaweed, volleyball players, lost socks, midget radios, walruses, beer cans, pieces of sodden wood that look even uglier when they are turned into lamps, big, pink men with little white legs, uncom-fortable small stones, other people's elderly lunch in moist brown bags, insolent sea gulls and bugs. Not to mention shrieks, shouts, squeaks, roars and baseball scores, five-year-old girls in two-piece suits, small boys glistening with cherry soda, young mothers oiling themselves and planning to take a course in something, dismayed fathers, impatient businessmen, brainfried lifeguards, scornful teen-agers, addled dogs and me--talked into it all again, despite a vivid memory that this was the way it was last time.

[The author writhes in distress. He thinks he is at the beach, with the deadly August sun beating down. Actually he has fallen asleep on the living-room sofa, as he always does if he drinks a beer with lunch, and it is merely a ceiling light fixture that is causing his eyes to squinch. It is not August but March. However--Does not Science tell us that every dream is a Baggie, hidden away in the cluttered reaches of our mental refrigerators, stuffed with moldering Truth?--there is reason for the author's daymare. There is a Surf-'n'-Sun Sale at the local female chandlery, and his wife has gone there with car and charge plate to buy a bikini. Beyond March lurks August, leering.]

"Before the phrase "on the beach' became, quite properly, the title of a best-selling novel about atomic disaster [the distracted author, now dressed in a diver's wet-suit and goggles, imagines himself to be addressing an audience of beach balls; they wear sunglasses and applaud uproaringly, political-convention style, after every few words] it signified economic disaster for sailors [applause]. To be on the beach was to be without a job, with no topgallants to raise, no keel to haul, no salt pork to eat and no one to talk to but missionaries and native girls [applause]. To be beached is bad if you are a whale [the beach balls boo and blow raspberries] but it is worse if you are a sailor, pestered morning and night by native girls [cheers, whistles] who frequently do not know the first thing about proper dress [catcalls, stomping of feet, showers of confetti; the beach balls cluster around the author and roll him into the sea].'

The delirium enters a new phase. The author's wife and children are propelling him toward the family station wagon. He struggles. "Since you asked,' he says to his three-year-old, "my objection is that you can't do anything on a beach. You can't play pinochle comfortably; the sand makes the cards gritty. The same with hand-holding and other gestures of emotion. You can't read; the sun is too bright and children drip on your book. You can't swim because you saw a baby shark on the sand. You can't sleep for a dozen reasons. Sand castles are silly. Volleyball is for morons, and anyway, if you're overweight you jiggle. To sum up, you drive 90 miles, park, walk, undress, dress, walk, put down the towel, smear on the lotion, and there you are: 90 miles from sanity, covered with linseed oil, lying on a highly efficient abrasive, and what is there to do?'

"Take the kids to the rest room,' says his wife sternly. The expedition has reached the beach. The author stumbles off with the children, jiggling, while great, bronzed volleyball players look on in derision. Bravely he walks up to the oiled giants. "Play fair,' he says. "Admit it. You argue that if it were not for beaches, Florida would be nothing but a very large alligator farm.' The giants look at each other and nod judiciously. "All right,' says the author very loudly, his voice rising in triumph, "IS IT NOT TRUE THAT AS THINGS ARE, FLORIDA IS NOTHING BUT A VERY LARGE ALLIGATOR FARM with beaches?' The volleyballists grow red with rage. They hold a war council, nudging and punching each other, and then advance menacingly toward the author.

The dream bursts. The author's wife is standing by the living-room sofa saying something that ends with ". . . thought you were going to watch the kids the baby got the chain saw.'


"Well, anyway, let me show you.' His wife leaves the room with her packages and comes back a few minutes later dressed sparsely in green nylon. The author is numbed with horror. It is a rather nice bikini, and it is a rather nice wife. But the combination means that August, gritty and peeling, and glistening with oil and cherry soda, is going to come again. The author weaves to the ice-box for a beer, and then goes outside to stand in a snowbank.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:satire
Author:Skrow, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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