The beach, to Long Islanders, is what ski slopes are to Colorado or what the Amish Country is to Pennsylvania. It’s a local hot spot, and if you’re a self-respecting local, you make regular pilgrimages there.
Having grown up a Long Islander, I have fond memories of my days lounging on the beach, surrounded by my girlfriends, armed with a bottle of Deep Tanning Oil. In fact, high school finals and “locker clean-out” were barely complete before plans of a beach trip were made. My friends and I chattered about the healthy, vibrant, beach-glow we would soon have, and took joy in the fact that our orthodontic ally augmented teeth would appear whiter against the backdrop of sun-bronzed skin. All of this, a deliberate plot to attract teenage boys, who were nothing more than hormones in sneakers.
We packed an arsenal of provisions including teenage smut magazines and romance novels. And after battling “beach traffic”and competing car radios all while idling on the Robert Moses Causeway, we made it our job to “lay out” like strips of bacon in a frying pan, and would be dammed if we left before the appropriate level of pan-seared skin had been achieved.
On our beloved beach, free from the clutches of overbearing parents who knew nothing about what it was like to be a teenager, we sizzled--- careless of our parents’ warnings about skin cancer from sun exposure or how much nagging we’d have to hear when we came back with sun-scorched skin.
But it wasn’t all lazy lounging. There was serious ogling to be done as well.
From beneath our dark sunglasses, and behind our magazines, we inspected every half- naked body within sight, and in hissing whispers, critiqued each body’s muscle tone (or lack thereof), body art, and bathing suit.
We watched naked babies who found it quite pleasing to sit bare-bottomed in the sand-- and their frustrated mothers who tried to wrestle diapers back on them.
We snickered as we spied on young teenage couples making out beneath beach blankets.
We gaped when we realized the pot-bellied man with the cigar hanging from his mouth was not actually wearing a sweater.
We admired the tenacity of the ice cream salesman who walked for miles across burning hot sand shouting “Ice cream! Ice cream, here!” though scoffed when we learned he was charging $5.00 for an ice cream sandwich.
However, twenty years later, things are a bit different.
These days, beach conversations revolve around Preschool graduation, tooth cutting, and yoga classes. We use sunscreen. We read self-help books.
We chase our own naked babies as we wrestle clean diapers on them. Rather than discussions about what teachers we’d have in the fall, we talk about Oprah’s new Life Class. We have husbands, not boyfriends.
And we know better than to waste $5.00 on one ice cream sandwich when we know we can buy two boxes for the same price at the supermarket, especially if we use the coupon we have tucked into our wallet.
We make sure our children wear sandals in the hot sand so they don’t burn their feet. And there’s no lounging for hours when we have to chase after little ones who try sneaking off into a sea of strangers and beach umbrellas that all look the same.
Yet there are still some things that remain the same: the calming sound of waves crashing against the shore; the squealing of hungry seagulls as they circle above; the crunching of feet as they sink into gritty sand; the sky-writer messages that dot across the cloudless blue sky; the taste of a picnic-style lunch in the fresh, salty air. And the timeless, mature, camaraderie we share.
Even if we still do chuckle at the old guy wearing the body hair sweater.