At the beach. Some go the the beach out of a mere velleity for the simple pleasures: sun, sea breezes and the timeless roll of the waves -- where do these waves come from? How long does it take for each to complete its journey? Once a wave has crashed onto the beach, does it expire, or will it wash out to sea and return again? These beach-goers look out into the waves for a while and go home. After all, how long can one contemplate such matters without falling into insanity or into one's empty wine bottle?

Yet others stay. They are attracted to the beach by some deeper compulsion. They stay through the summer and into the fall. Some stay year-round, and at the first sign of a summer sun they are out roasting in it, reacquiring their Caribbean tans, donning shorts and T-shirts and sandals, putting up cabanas, and making all the furbishments that the arrival of the glorious sun has rendered imperative.

There is something numinous that brings these people to the shore and holds them there. For some it is a love of the natural wonders of the shore, and I, for one, am grateful for their presence. Imagine what our beaches and wildlife would be like if these people were not living nearby, vigilantly eyeing the yahoos who so recklessly despoil the environment. But what brings these other beaches dwellers, who are so devoted to life on the beach? What brings them to the shore and holds them there while the world spins on and they decay in the sun?

Having watched them for a week, I have come to the view that it is a vague memory of things past, a memory that they do not want to lose. It is some fair recollection of their far-off youth. If the persevering beach dweller is full of years and good sense, the memory gives him profound pleasure. If the persevering beach dweller is a slave to this memory too soon, the memory taunts him and, in the end, befools him.

There are other curiosities on the beach, of course. There are the exhibitionists. There are the voyeurs. There are the sun worshippers, and the nuisances who come down to the beach loaded down like pack mules, their arms full of cassette players, coolers and all the other devices so necessary if they are to turn the beach into a replica of their living rooms. Then there are the kids.

The kids, it seems to me, are the real fauna here, and naturally they make a lot of the others uncomfortable. The more they act like kids the more they discomfort their neighbors.

On those occasions when I have ventured down to the beach this year, it is the spectacle of the kids that has given me most amusement. Not only do I relish the discomfort that they bring to the exhibitionists, the voyeurs, the sun worshippers and the nuisances, but I enjoy watching the kids frolic. Of course, they have much to be frolicsome about. Finally they are liberated from the child counselors, the gym instructors, the progressive teachers and all the other pest who make being a kid in America such a painful and occasionally impossible experience. Kids run riot on th sand and put on a colossal show.

They crash into each other. They whoop and sing songs that are nonsensical and loud. They heave balls and sticks and sand. They roll in the foam at the water's edge until their swimming suits are full of sand, and then they order their parents to remove it. While adults roast in the sun and fight off tedium, kids run and dig and decimate the beach's bountiful populations of bugs and fish and crustaceans. Usually, every activity is ended by an explosion of tears.

What amuses me most about kids at play is their habit of discarding the fanciest toys for some derelict hunk of wood or stick, which they transform into a wonderful device by the sheer force fo their infantile imaginations. At day's end they take their fantastic devices home, leaving the expensive toy for their parents to bring -- F. A. O. Schwarz, take that! Kids at paly are like amiable drunks, and a beach full of them is like a convention of amible drunks.

I shall miss their highjinks, but two weeks of life at the beach and it is time for me to abscond to civilization. I am not yet ready to give myself over to any fair recollections of far-off youth. I want to watch the world spin from a less barbarous or remote vantage point.