The talk inside the little rented beach house had grown treacherously thin, about whether this summer was as hot as the one in nineteen sixty something and whether a better class of people went to Rehoboth or to Ocean City. When others my age (all of us are around 30) started talking like old geezers, I knew it was time to get out. I picked up a blanket and headed off for the beach to get some relief.
It was early in the morning, at least by beach standards, after the "I Love Lucy" rerun, but before lunch. The sun was still cool, a pad of butter melting in the sky, and the air over the sand smelled damp and spicy, like the smell of coffee cake. Arriving this early, there was no need to worry about who might get offended at sand my flip-flops kicked up. The only souls around were a few fishermen much farther up shore. I spread out my blanket deliberately -- just far enough above the high-tide line to prevent any surprises while I napped and remote enough from the boardwalk steps to discourage others from padding over.
I thought my idea was original, but we are simply too populous a species for anyone to lay claim to an original idea for long. Not long after I had settled -- my skin anointed with oil, my body at ease upon the open blanket, my bottom wriggled comfortably into the sand -- a family with bickering small children arrived and plopped down their beach paraphernalia not 15 feet from my blanket. I don't know why, with literally millions of acres of open beach flanking us to Florida and to Maine, they chose to settle here, but they did, and I tried to ignore them. I listened instead to the waves, combing back and foaming, as effervescent as Alka-Seltzer.
Morning drifted along, and soon others arrived at the beach. Like nomads, they plodded their slow careers across the glaring sand. For some, taking a beach vacation was a lot of hard work. Not far away, two couples set up shop. They planted the beach umbrella into the sand and forced it into bloom. They spread out their beach towels under the umbrella and turned on the radio to the all-news station and stomach antacid commercials. They rubbed sun screens into their skin and capped their eyes with little black cups. When they finally lay back, their long pale legs stretched out and glowed like fluorescent lights.
All four were filled with nervous energy. They constantly pulled at the beach-towel corners or picked at their swimsuit lines. They kept swatting their legs as if flies were eating them. And they never were far from their jobs. Their discussions centered around their in- boxes and on what events were transpiring on K Street while they were away. Occasionally, their heads would bounce up and listen, as if they heard a telephone ring. But the only ringng was inside their heads, the way the ocean rings deep inside an empty conch shell.
Clearly, some people miss the point of a beach vacation. The challenge -- to lie prone and do nothing -- escapes them. To lug a thick best-seller back and forth every day and not read five pages of it. To know nothing of what the president did all week. This is what a beach vacation is all about.
The people back at the rented beach house do not understand this either, or why I spend so much time near the ocean. It is too hot, they say. The beach is filled with too many others. And it is impossible to get all the sand off your feet.
Well, it is hot, sometimes too hot. And you never get a plot of beach all to yourself. And you never get all the sand off your feet. But the good reasons why people vacation at the beach have little to do with heat, crowds and sand. They have to do with discovery, with finding ourselves in despair in the cool, roomy world of overnight deliveries, where someone is always asking, "Where is it?" "Is it ready yet?" "How soon can I have it?" Here, despite the heat and even when there's barely room for another towel, the bodies for the most part float in langorous peace on the ocean's only answer. Over and again, even in a conch shell as far away as K Street, the ocean answers with just one word: "Hush."
Now this is how I spell relief.