The Beach

I like to people watch. So does my mom.

She asks me, “Do you think people are really enjoying themselves here?” (Here could mean a few things in this context. Here on vacation. Here in Puerto Rico. Here in the sun. I’m hoping she doesn’t mean here in life because I really won’t know how to answer that.)

I’m wondering if this is her pseudo way of telling me she’s not having a good time. So I ask bluntly, “Are you enjoying yourself?

“Yes, I like it here,” she assures me. “I just wonder about people.”

“Well, I think they like it. I think they all came from someplace cold like us and they are so happy it's warm. That's what they like.”

Now her question has me making up stories about the people I’m watching.

The first person to catch my attention is the Blackberry business man. He was here yesterday doing the same thing—playing with his phone. He looks like he’s on a commercial for cell phone service—the kind that brags about having the best connection anywhere in world, even on remote island beaches in the middle of the Caribbean. I always wonder why those companies boast about staying connected and working while on vacation as if this is the primary goal of getting away.

Still the man seems to find a sense of security in the fact that he can check his email with a sunburned forehead and raccoon eyes. I want to walk over and offer him my opinion set down your phone and put on more sunscreen.

His wife is a lying flat, face up in the plastic lounge chair, her skin a swirl of tan and bronze. I can’t tell how much is fake and how much real. But, she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s enjoying her nap in the sun while her tightly woven straw hat sits in the sand with no need for practical use, still it will look good when she wears it back to the hotel before showering and changing for dinner. Ooh, wait. She’s moving! Time to bake the back side I guess.

I wonder if he is appeasing her, joining her for the trip he promised but was hoping wouldn’t really happen. It seems he’s working on a negotiation in his mind, one where if he promises to buy her a personal tanning bed, next time she wants to fly somewhere hot and without an agenda she will agree to bring her best friend instead.

I could keep going with my made-up story. It seems to be the makings of a fascinating novel, except for the fact that they are starting to bore me and no one wants to read a book where you feel sorry for the main characters within the first couple chapters.

So I turn my focus on my kids who are making sandcastles. And I’m intrigued by the fact that they don’t mind getting sand all over their bodies, arms, legs, swim suits. It seems the more sand that sticks to them is in direct correlation to how happy they are. Why is it the opposite for me? As soon as I have too much sand on my feet I’m running towards the shoreline of the ocean to let the waves wash me clean.

My kids don’t seem to notice the gritty granules affixed like gum. They are fixated on building tunnels and secret hideaways and make believe castles with dragons in dungeons and princesses in towers that seem to keep toppling over. 

I count myself lucky that I have found an activity that occupies their preschool bodies for more than four minutes at a time and pick up my magazine to learn how Rachel Ray makes the ultimate burger.

My mom starts to laugh and says, “I was right.”

I look up from my recipe reading as she continues, “He’s bored. He said it himself. I had to keep myself from laughing until he got up and left.”

“Who?” I ask, “The business guy?”

“No,” she says, “the guy next to us.”

Oh, brawny college boy, I think to myself. I noticed him way before Blackberry man talking nonstop on his cell phone probably hours before we arrived to set up castle shop. I wonder why he is all alone chatting with other students about passing last semester's Biology and Psychology 101.

I want to snatch that cell phone out of his hand and offer him some sage advice as well, next time go on the Habitat for Humanity trip coordinated through the university. You’ll save money on your phone bill, still get tan in New Mexico building a playground for impoverished children and as a bonus get to talk to all these people you keep calling…face to face!

It sounds like I’m annoyed and really I’m not that wound up. This is vacation after all, so I keep reminding myself to relax, read my book, keep my feet minimally grubby from sand and all is good.

Just to prove I can let myself rest, I will not tell you about the woman who keeps falling out of her bathing suit and all the things running through my mind that I could tell her.

My mom is still chuckling, so I appease her by asking, “Okay, why are you right?”

She can’t wait to tell me. “Well, he was talking to someone and I heard him say, ‘It’s not that exciting here…it’s cloudy and rained a bit each day. I’m pretty bored, actually. I guess I don’t know how to enjoy a vacation much. I could go play bingo at noon…at least then I’d have someone to talk to.’”

Now I’m laughing with her. The thought of this twenty-something, girlfriendless beach boy playing bingo with the retired resort connoisseurs is the best image of irony. Well, I think, maybe this is better than a Habitat trip. Maybe this kid will learn something.

I wonder what people are thinking about me and my pool-addicted children. We swim for four hours as my mom sits in the shade starting her second book for the week. We munch on apples and granola bars.

I ask Jordan his favorite part of the day and he gives me his usual response, “Everything!”

Maddi instantly says, “The water slide.”

Maybe the best part about being away and knowing no one is that it really doesn’t matter too much what we are all thinking. The sun eliminates too much time for judgment. Bring on the chips and salsa. Stay hydrated with lots of water. Keep the goals simple. I have all afternoon to let the time pass, fomulate stories and then let them wash out with the tide when I start thinking too much.

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