Ocean City begins with a big stuffed shark -- a 1,210-pound tiger shark, to be exact, caught off Ocean City on July 9, 1983, by Grace Czerniak of Buffalo and displayed in a glass case at the southern end of the three-mile-long boardwalk.
You might think this is an odd exhibit for a town whose burghers want you to ignore the possibility that a pleasant dip in the ocean could end in a symphony of flashing teeth, snapping bone and geysers of arterial blood.
But I find it rather fitting. That shark is a memento mori, a reminder that death awaits us all, so why not enjoy yourself while you're living?
Some random observations from the 26 hours I spent living in Ocean City:
This summer, any female under the age of 25 in Ocean City must accessorize her outfit with a certain type of purse: It's an ovoid sort of sack that's covered in shiny nickel-size disks, like the scales on a fish. The purses come in all colors, and every other woman on the boardwalk has one.
Males have more choices, though many favor a "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt. As at any American beach, there were some unfortunate choices, such as the baseball cap I saw a chubby, shirtless guy wearing. It was embroidered with the words "SEX POLICE." Could he be charged with impersonating a Sex Police officer? Or Sex Police brutality?
A sign on the boardwalk announced palm readings. I put a $10 bill into "Crystal's" hot little hands. And then I gave her my hand.
"You have a long life line and should not be bothered by health problems," she said. (That heart attack must just have been a fluke.)
"You are kind and compassionate." (Man, she's good.) "But people have been known to take advantage of your kindness." (Yup.)
"Your love line shows that you have experienced heartache." (Perhaps that's my heart attack?)
"Your marriage will grow stronger. I do not foresee divorce or separation." (Won't My Lovely Wife be glad to hear that? [Won't she?])
"I see two children." (Whoa, she is good.)
"One girl and one boy." (Ah, not that good. Sorry Gwyneth and/or Beatrice.)
"Your finances are good. Money comes and money goes, but I see no bankruptcy." (I see how I could have saved 10 bucks.)
"If you had any [gumption] you would not be walking that thing around with a wheel on it. Take the wheel off and I'll carry it." -- A seemingly drunk guy to a proselytizing man who was rolling a large wooden cross down the boardwalk.
I was intrigued by a sign in front of a beach stuff store at Dorchester Avenue and the boardwalk: "Seamless Toe Rings."
What is a seamless toe ring, I wondered, and what is its advantage over a seamed toe ring? Safu Shrestha, a student from Nepal who is working in O.C. this summer, took a break from cleaning the hermit crabs' cages to tell me.
A seamed toe ring, Safu explained, can irritate the skin. How do you get a ring -- seamless or seamed -- on a toe anyway, I asked, given that a toe is kind of big and bulbous on the end and doesn't taper nicely like a finger.
"We have Windex," she said. Squirt the ring, squirt the toe and -- voila -- the ring glides on.
What's in a Name?
What's the difference between a motel and a hotel? Susan Jones, head of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, says a motel has rooms that you walk directly into. A hotel has a lobby you walk through to access the rooms.
Simply reading the names of the 120 or so hostelries in O.C. is like taking a vacation: Sun 'n Fun, Castle In the Sand, Crystal Beach, Barefoot Beachcomber. . . .
Some names, though, are tougher to figure out. For example, what's up with the Barefoot Mailman, on 35th Street?
Adam Showell, the Barefoot Mailman's owner, said builder James Caine was smitten by the story of the shoeless letter carriers of south Florida. From 1885 to 1893, these mailmen walked barefoot in the sand and sailed boats across inlets on a 136-mile route that took them from Palm Beach to Miami and back. One is thought to have been eaten by an alligator.
"The neatest part is we have little barefoot mailman T-shirts," Adam said. People buy them to give to their letter carriers. Alligator not included.
Keep It Clean
At night, the beach belongs to Bruce Gibbs. He's the superintendent of Ocean City's Public Works Maintenance Department, the folks who clean the sand. Bruce deploys three or four tractors that pull sand-sifting contraptions known as sanitizers over 10 miles of beach, from 146th Street to the inlet. The harvest: cigarette butts, plastic cups, empty bottles, sunglasses, cell phones, car keys, class rings. . . .
"Basically, we find everything from broken umbrellas to chairs to coolers to beach towels," Bruce said.
It takes eight hours.
"That's what keeps the people coming back," Bruce said. "Clean town, clean boardwalk, clean beaches."
Enjoy the last weeks of summer.
Julia Feldmeier helped research this column. Hey, let's talk about summery things during my online chat, today at 1 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.