Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 2nd-Brought To You By the Letter 'B'

NOTE:  The below story is longer than I would like. If not for the vagaries (fancy word for 'detail thingies') of the A to Z Challenge, I'd break it up into a couple parts. As it was, I edited out several sections, each guaranteed to make you wet your pants. Still, if what's left makes you pee your drawers, so much the better (blowing milk out of your nose is equally acceptable).  I must also apologize as I took a couple of shots at Europeans, the French in particular.  Please don't hold that against me.  I originally took a potshot at Canadians, but they're in the next country over.  They could ostensibly drive down to my home and beat the crap out of me.  Plus, they have moose.  
Anyway, I hope you enjoy.....

Once Upon a Time at the Beach

    As predictions of a record heat wave spilled loudly from the kitchen radio, my mother suddenly shouted that she had had enough.
    Slamming her glass of iced tea to the breakfast countertop, she flung the screen door open and screamed, “That’s it!  We’re going to the beach!”
    From Memorial to Labor Day, my father became at one with the yard.  Every weekend, he’d slip on the only pair of shorts he owned and lumber outside.  Dragging a tattered lounge chair from underneath the back porch, he’d stake out a spot next to the pool.  Then he applied a noxious mixture of baby oil and iodine to his exposed flesh and flop on the chair like a greasy manatee until dinnertime. 
    Never one to exert himself, his one summer goal was to develop an angry shade of red that would do a stop sign proud.
    Adverse effects of the sun never seemed to bother him.  His “gonna get me a good burn” philosophy ranked right up there with his penchant for using gasoline to light the hibachi.  Never mind he’d have to eventually relieve the maddening itch of peeling skin.  That’s what he had forks and kids for, after all.
    This morning, though, Mom called a halt to the Lobster Man freak show.
    At the sound of her voice, we kids perked up and my father sighed.  He reluctantly pulled himself upright, his flesh pulling away from the chair’s plastic straps with a moist snap, leaving sweaty zigzags across his back.  He noted with pleasure, though, that his skin radiated a vivid crimson.
    However, as he stood up, his smug preening turned to dismay when he saw pale stripes crossing his belly.  Evidently, when he sat up to read, his ample stomach had creased together, leaving some areas untouched by the sun.
    “Jesus,” he muttered angrily, “I look like a friggin’ zebra!”
    Ignoring his grumblings, we excitedly babbled over the prospect of a seashore visit. 
    Even though we had a pool, we loved riding the waves, collecting seashells, and burying our sleeping father in the sand while our mother also snoozed away, a magazine plastered on her face.   
    As a bonus, there were plenty of dead things to throw at Kathy.
    During times like these, Mom displayed the organizational skills of a seasoned field general.  Her masterful management of essential beach accoutrements was only surpassed by her wizardry with the obligatory picnic lunch.  Baloney on Wonder Bread with mayonnaise, and Egg Salad didn’t sound like much, but they were far superior to cinder dogs and hockey pucks off Dad’s petroleum-fired infernos on the grill.
    As the oldest, I had the privilege of riding in the back of the Penwasser family fun bus for short trips.  That way, I could hang out the open window and make rude faces at anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck behind us.  Joining me was poor Gary, who needed an open window for excursions longer than the driveway.
    After being properly secured in our vehicle (meaning:  actually inside), we set off for the city beach, a happy song in our hearts and the first of many root beer popsicles in our mouths.  The fact that Gary actually made it to the end of the street this time before hurling was an especially auspicious omen.
    Driving in the car with my family was like joy-riding with the Marx Brothers.  Hopped up on sugar, we bounced around like ping-pong balls while our parents smoked like a couple of tire fires.  The resulting mayhem was similar to that commercial where they toss luggage into the gorilla cage.     
    Eventually, after a delay at a gas station to get Gary cleaned up after an especially memorable bout of intestinal distress, we arrived at our destination.  Our excitement at a fever pitch, we knew we’d soon be dashing through the pounding surf of Long Island Sound.  And terrorizing innocent beachgoers.
    Securing one of the few open spaces, we burst from the overheated vehicle like so many crazed clowns.  We immediately dashed toward the beach, but not before our parents called a screeching halt in order to divvy up supplies.
    As much stuff as we dragged from home, you’d think we would have thought to bring flip flops.  That bit of bad headwork soon became painfully obvious as we gingerly tip-toed over scorching tar towards sand which threatened to burst our feet into flames.
    Quickly spying the first available clear space, we dumped all we carried and raced toward the surf.  Flinging burning sand everywhere, we dashed pell-mell toward the cooling waters of the-what the hey, low tide!?
    Imagine our disappointment as we stared forlornly at what a few hours earlier was a happily churning shoreline.  Scattered here and there were small puddles of brackish water and marooned hermit crabs.  The retreating waters had left behind only an expansive mud flat.
    After soothing our blistering feet in one of the many puddles, we trudged back to where our father had unceremoniously collapsed in the middle of our blanket and Mom was already engrossed in one of her magazines.  The rest of our stuff was haphazardly scattered in a riotous jumble of beach chairs, sand toys, and an unopened umbrella.
    Seeing that nothing fun would come out of hanging with the folks, Phil and I returned to the roaring ooze.  Maybe something interesting had been stranded when the tide went out.  Maybe we’d find some lost treasure from a sunken ship or a dead body or something cool like that.
    Unfortunately, all we found was seaweed, a sock, and a shopping cart from Shop Rite.
    Undaunted, we made our way to the snack stand.  Hopefully, we’d find something there on which to spend the change found wedged under the backseat of the car.
    On our way, we gawked at the variety of beachgoers sprawled in the sand.  From diapered toddlers to paunchy, middle-aged men whose back hair made them look like Bigfoot, the menagerie ran the gamut.
    We even noted with amused smirks the number of men who wore those skimpy little bathing suits under huge beer bellies.  Strutting about like hairy-chested, gold-chained roosters, we knew immediately they weren’t from around here.  But, why they chose to come to our beach from Europe was mystifying.
    Oh, the joys of a beach snack stand!  A junk food oasis adrift in a sea of burning sand, it beckoned us with a dizzying variety of ice cream flavors, some of which we never knew existed, like “Toe Jam Nutty Buddy.”  We gazed, open-mouthed, at the menu board, paralyzed with indecision.
    We finally settled on a pair of fudgsicles (which we called fudgikles) and headed back.  Certain we’d catch grief for getting something without thinking of the others, we jammed the ice cream down our throats, unaware of the tell-tale ring of chocolate around our mouths.
    As we arrived, we saw the rest of the family pawing through the cooler like seagulls on a chicken bone.  Since it had been only thirty minutes since we’d arrived, I thought it was a little early for lunch.  Still, nothing spurs the appetite quite like salty air and scorched feet.
    Unfortunately, the lid had popped off the cooler when we dumped it on the sand.  The resulting mess was a mishmash of egg salad and baloney mixed in with liberal amounts of beach.
    “Huh, huh,” Phil chortled, “sandwiches.”
    He didn’t think it was too funny, though, when Kathy pelted him in the head with a rolled-up baloney, sand, and Wonder Bread ball.
    Mom fretted that our food had been ruined.  Spotting our fudgey “moustaches” she glared at Phil and me.  “And some of you,” she scolded, “even thought you were too good to wait.”
    Petulantly proclaiming lunch over, she returned to reading her Look magazine.  Hungry nonetheless, we brushed off as much sand as we could, but it’s darn near impossible to get sand out of mayonnaise.            
    The sandwiches as clean as they were going to get, we managed to choke down the least fouled of the lot.  The grit wasn’t so bad, really, once you got used to it.  Phil even said it was good for your digestive system.
    Yeah, if you’re a clam.
    Lunch finished, we decided that all that low tide mud would make perfect sand castles.  So, grabbing our collection of brightly-colored, plastic digging implements, we trooped down to the glop at what was previously known as the water’s edge.
    We dove into our project with a vengeance.  Pooh-poohing traditional sand castle building techniques, we constructed a two-level affair, complete with a moat and drawbridge fashioned from driftwood. 
    For landscaping, we sprinkled our creation with tastefully placed sprigs of seaweed-“Oh, God, it smells like dead fish!” whined Kathy.
    Covered in mud and smelling like, uh, dead fish, we proudly evaluated our work.  It was a masterpiece, one that would last a lifetime.  Or, at least until...
    Pointing off into the distance, Gary cried, “Hey, look!  The water’s coming back!”
    Looking up, we saw that, indeed, the tide was slowly making its triumphant return.
    We jumped for joy as we watched the scattered puddles come together around shrinking sandbars.  Little rivulets snaked their way over and around the higher plots of muck as the surf increasingly kissed the shoreline.
    Of course, our “sand condominium” held up against the watery onslaught like the French army against well...anybody.  But, we paid it little heed as we waded out into the coming water.  Finally, we were going to get a chance to enjoy the reason we came!  Finally, we were going to...”
    Suddenly, from up on the beach, came, “Kids!”
    Pretending we didn’t hear our mother’s call, we stepped even further into surf which now crested at our knees.  I relished the feel of the sandy bottom as it squished between my toes.        
    “Hey, kids!!”  This time, the zebra beckoned.
    I grimaced, knowing the game was up.  I slowly turned to see our parents gathering our belongings.  What, this couldn’t be!  We just got here!
    “Your mom has to use the bathroom,” my father explained.
    Why couldn’t she use the one at the snack stand, I silently crabbed.
    As if in answer to my complaint, he said, “She hates the ones at the snack stand.  She needs to use ours at home.  Let’s go!”
    So, we reluctantly shuffled in from the water just as it was getting deep enough to body-surf.  A mirror image to our arrival, we each grabbed an armful of beach stuff.  Gritting our teeth, we steeled ourselves for the madcap “cat on a hot tin roof” dash across the parking lot.
    Arriving at our car-which by now had become an Easy Bake Oven on wheels-I noticed Mom looking a little uncomfortable.  Never saying a word, she frantically alternated balancing one leg to the other.
    With barely concealed irritation, she glared at our father as he searched each of his pockets for something.  A growing sense of unease gripped him as he came up empty each time.  In near panic, he desperately checked them again, but got the same result.
    At this point, Mom snapped, “C’mon, c’mon, what’s the problem!?”
    He shook his head, saying everything was under control.  He returned to the beach, much to our mother’s growing annoyance.  What in the world was he going back there for?
    I glanced through the front window of the locked car and pointed out what I saw to my brothers and sister:
    A set of keys dangling from the steering column.        
    Mom was going to get more aggravated before all was said and done.


  1. This brought back a lot of memories - especially making rude faces out the back window. I MISS seeing kids ham it up out car windows!

    And wise call on leaving out the part about Canadians - I'd hate to sic my moose on you!

  2. What a great post. I remember similar trips to Popham Beach with my family here in Maine.

  3. @Kara: See? I knew it was a good call to edit out Canadians.
    @Eva: We use to go to Popham Beach quite a bit (as you know, it's near the Navy base). I remember it as being beautiful. But, I also remember water so cold that my testicles would jump inside my body when I went over my waist in the water (in August!). Ayuh, wicked freezing.

  4. This was great. I loved the part about the car becoming an easy bake oven. That description reminds me of my dads old Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon.

  5. Those old station wagons were definitely death traps in the summer.
    Just an's too bad this post was so long. The A-Z challenge is such that I can't break them up like I normally do. So, I can understand they're off-putting to a degree. Thanks for reading.

  6. Hi Al - I read this earlier but had to dash out the door to another Mac class - but I wanted to come back and tell you (while trying not to peeing my panties) that I could relate to the "burned dad" part - we kids had to "peel" dad's skin off his back - talk about abuse - nothing says "I love you" like having to skin your parents!

    And thanks for dropping by and giving my "B" a read - I got the idea from your site, since you were plugging it!

    You are such an entertaining read and I'm always guaranteed a laugh - see you're my inspiration!


  7. NO LIE-my father used to give us a dollar for the biggest piece of skin from his back.
    Yep, I'm thinking you're all getting a clue as to why I am who I am.

  8. You really do bring back memories of traveling in the station wagon when mom and dad smoked "like a couple of tree fires". I remember my dad stopping the wagon to hold my sister upside down since a butterscotch had gotten lodged in her throat. Worked too.

    Thankfully with cars pre-automatic windows, the coat hanger worked every time on getting those keys out.
    What a trooper Gary was to travel even though he could never hold down his stomach contents.
    A great family memory Al! I enjoyed it.

  9. No seatbelts, metal seat backs, the aforementioned smoking, and our station wagon had little recesses in the back that would cut us in half in an accident.
    But, we lived.

  10. I almost spit my lunch all over my computer with the "I look like a friggin zebra" comment!

  11. Dear old Dad had a way with the English language. I learned most of the "classics" (e.g., "frig") at his knee.