Beach Bitch

(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!”

Not I.

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.

13 thoughts on “Beach Bitch

  1. Welcome, Susan! What fun this was to read on a frigid Boston morning, with a blizzard in the forecast and summer far away. I’m envious that you’re in Florida, though I hate Florida as much as you hate the beach. I do LOVE the beach and LOVE that sun bathing is considered an “activity.” But I grew up by a lake and spent every summer down the Jersey shore, so it’s in my blood. Hope you find a way to enjoy the rest of your time in Florida. Watch out for the alligators.

  2. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”

    If you’re prone to S.A.D. or cabin fever typical to northern climes, there are far worse places to be in January than Florida… and far better things to think about from 10 miles away. At 7:30 am you’ll find Floridians finishing up their early-bird senior special breakfast at the local Shoney’s or Golden Corral. They need to be done with their morning’s outings before the beach zombies begin their trek to the shore.

    If it soothes you, pretend you’re back in Boston bracing for the latest record-breaking weather?

    • I am back in Mass., Bill! I returned especially for the blizzard.

      It’s interesting that you mention S.A.D. I think I have the opposite of it. Nothing lifts my spirits like a nice gloomy day.

  3. I was just thinking about my last visit to a beach on the Southern California coast which was about 10 years ago. There was this very sweet little Mexican family situated about five or six feet away from us and, as the children of both families romped in the ocean waves gleefully, that middle aged couple built sand phalli (I had to look up the plural for that word!) between them there on their little site. I just about broke my eyeballs watching them while trying to appear as if I was looking straight ahead toward my kids, making sure they didn’t drown. Good thing they didn’t drown that day because I never would have seen them, unfortunately. But that was one fabulously intimately artistic moment between two in-love married people that I voyeuristically could not resist. Oh well. I am a red-head. I hate the beach too. Unless it’s night.
    I love your piece here. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Kathleen, and thank you very much. By the way, I too have red hair. I’m sure that has something to do with my dislike of baking in the sun. I do like to swim, though, particularly in rivers. Makes me feel like Huck Finn. And, rivers tend to have trees on their banks, which means…shade.

      The whole beach obsession, though, makes me ponder a greater issue, which is why we often allow ourselves to pretend to enjoy a lot of things we don’t care for all that much–just because we’re supposed to like them.

  4. One word about Florida, Susan…


    Not me, friend. All the joys and beauty of that state could not entice me to return, not with those things wriggling into every nook and cranny. No way in hell. Half-grown dinosaurs are bad enough. But I don’t do overgrown serpents. Everyone whining about cold weather should take a moment and be thankful they cannot survive in these temps.

    • Oh, dear Lawd, Kent. Pythons. I forgot about them. You’re absolutely right.

      Speaking of half-grown dinosaurs, I didn’t ever encounter an alligator. Nor an armadillo, which has always looked to me like a miniature stegosaurus. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a real live armadillo. Yes, I know they spread leprosy. I would have kept a safe distance.

  5. Here’s something that might surprise you: I’m a 65 year old surfer and have been surfing for over 50 years. The beach is something I walk across to get to the surf. Other than that, I have little use for it. I suspect most of my fellow surfers feel the same way, because I never, ever, see them lying on the beach.
    SO, you have allies in the most unlikely places!

  6. Susan,

    The whole secret to enjoy the beach, and especially the fryolater aspects of beachy pleasures, is quite simple. You must eat large quantities of pork and pork products. Then, after about 45 minutes under the broiler, you will notice the enchanting aroma of sizzling bacon, radiating from you!


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