(Zach: Susan Kelly, an old friend and author of great detective fiction and true crime graciously offered to write this week’s column while I worked on the final revisions of TIES THAT BLIND. I’ve known Susan since the early nineties when the two of us hung out at Kate’s Mystery Bookstore. So thanks Susan for pinch-hitting. Very much appreciated.)
by Susan Kelly
I hate the beach. I can’t tell you how much I hate the beach.
It feels so good to say that.
Yes, yes, I know. All red-blooded Americans are supposed to love going to the beach. And being at the beach. It’s part of our heritage. (The Pilgrim fathers and mothers landed on the beach, right? Whatever.) We even have an expression to describe a chore or duty that was unexpectedly easy to perform: “That was a day at the beach!” Conversely, when we suffer through an unpleasant experience—a tax audit, rush hour on Route 128, a visit to the DMV, any degree of exposure to Justin Bieber—we say: “That was no day at the beach!”
I cannot see the appeal of lying on sand for hours at a stretch basting in your own body fat. It’s unhealthy. Worse—it’s boring. Insanely, terminally, unspeakably boring.
I’m not complaining just about the kind of beach where you can’t distinguish the sand from the spread towels, where you have to keep your arms tight to your side because if you scratch your nose you’ll poke the stranger lying six inches away from you in the eye with your elbow. Nor am I complaining just about the kind of beach with pristine white sand, azure sea, and scantily-clad beautiful people running hand in hand through the surf, where every fifteen minutes some grotesquely underpaid employee of the resort or club brings you a drink with a teeny paper umbrella and a skewer of fruit whether you want it or not.
Far Tortuga or Far Rockaway, it makes no difference to me. I hate it when there’s nothing to do but lie and fry.
I should note that I’m writing this from Florida, where, because of a series of events too stupid to explain, I’m spending a week at the beach. But not really; the nearest beach is about ten miles away. There is an allegedly alligator-infested canal just behind the house where I’m staying. The house is in a residential neighborhood, only there don’t seem to be any residents. Every morning around 7:30 I go for a walk, and I’m the only person on the street. No one’s taking the dog for a stroll. No one’s jogging. No one’s running. No one’s riding a bike. No one in a bathrobe is scampering out to the driveway to retrieve a newspaper. In four days, the only animate beings I’ve encountered are a few geckos, plus some buzzards that have an unsettling tendency to gather in my wake and then circle overhead. Where the hell is everyone? Were all the people in the neighborhood victims of a mass alien abduction? It’s the Twilight Zone with palm trees.
Then again, maybe everybody’s…at the beach. Maybe they never leave…the beach. In which case, why do they bother to have houses here, if they stay at the beach?
What I think is that I’m not alone in hating the beach. There are more like me out there. (You know who you are.) It’s just that they’ve been brainwashed into believing that going to the beach is the ne plus ultra of human experience. And they’re afraid to say, “Aw, you know, I’m not all that crazy about the beach.” Because if they did, everyone would accuse them of being nuts. Or un-American.
(In fairness, I should note that Europeans are even goofier about the beach than are Americans. Just try and pry a Scandinavian off a sand spit. Just try it. And these are people who live in the Land of the Midnight Sun. How much more of it do they need?)
You’ve seen the bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and, for all I know, condoms with “Life’s a beach” printed on them. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people.” He was probably at the beach when he wrote it.