April 27, 2011

Island Living: Learning to love thy beach neighbor


The other day I almost got into an argument with an Amish woman.

It was one of those fantastic yet painful April beach days where it’s 80 degrees, but the wind is blowing sand directly at you at 20 mph, so I decided to take advantage and get a little sunshine and/or a sand-induced, full-body exfoliation.

So I pack a lunch and go to my favorite beach spot. It’s my favorite spot because there’s generally nobody else there, so I can wear a bikini and not worry, based on the principal of “if a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, it does not make a sound.”

Well, if I wear a bikini on the beach that hasn’t fit since college, but no one can see me, then I do not look ridiculous.

The morning started out perfectly. The sand was blasting off all of my sunscreen, so I was getting a decent tan. I was 40 pages into the latest terribly indecent and embarrassing “bodice-ripper” novel that I scored from Buxton Village Books, (also under the

same “tree in woods” principal), and I was perfectly happy, ridiculous looking, and alone.

Then I heard voices in the distance and realized someone else had discovered my spot. I looked up and realized it was an Amish family of five. No biggie, really, as it was unlikely I’d ever see these folks again, (surprising as it may sound, I don’t hang out with a lot of Amish people), so I went back to my book and tuned them out as they staked out a spot on the sand 20 or so yards away.

Then I felt it. Someone was staring at me, and not in a good way.

I wanted to look back. And I wished I had sunglasses at the time. Sunglasses are the perfect people watching instrument, because you can just stare and stare at something cool, and because your eyes are hidden, no one will be the wiser. I use this technique sometimes when I’m on the beach with my fiancÚ, and there are 20-something surfers nearby.

But I didn’t have sunglasses, and I could feel the stare continue, so after a couple of minutes, I lifted my head from my book and looked.

That’s when I realized that the woman in the group, wearing a pretty full-length blue dress and a white bonnet, was glaring at me.

Did she notice the title of the book and deem it indecent? (I forgot what it was, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of “Pirate Whores.”) Did she notice the love handles I’ve acquired after a long winter of frozen pizza? Did she want my sandwich?

Then it dawned on me – she was wearing a dress. I was wearing my ill-suited college bathing suit. Aha!

Well, I figured the best course of action was the path of least resistance, and I would be courteous and throw on a shirt. I was getting burnt or red from sand-blasting anyways – I’m not sure which.

Then I realized that the T-Shirt I had thrown on without thought that morning was bright green, with a picture of the Quaker Oats guy, and the words “Hustlin’ Quakers” in bold text on the front. 

I feel this portion of the story deserves some explanation – my college friend was in a 4-on-4 basketball tournament, where they all came up with their own team names. Theirs was the “Hustlin’ Quakers.”  He knew I collected T-Shirts, and was thoughtful, so he made me one. Also I should point out that the number on the back was “69.”

Now this is a pickle.

I literally sat there for a few minutes, completely distracted from my otherwise perfect beach day, and wondered to myself what would be least offensive to the Amish? A bikini, which yes, looks awful on me or a T-Shirt that potentially mocks their religion?

And just how closely related are the Amish and Quakers anyways? Are the Amish direct descendants of the Quakers? And how on earth could I have ever known that I would have to know this fact at some point?  And why did I skip so many early American history courses to go to McDonald’s? And when did I land in the Hatteras Island equivalent of the Twilight Zone?

So erring on the side of caution, I stayed in my swimsuit, which was getting smaller and tighter by the minute, and returned to my novel with my hands hiding the cover. This lasted all of 10 minutes, until I realized that I was no longer relaxed, or having fun, and I was still being stared at. So I gathered up my book and beach chair (I’m sure they LOVED seeing my backside while I dismantled that thing.) and headed out to relocate to my backyard.

Then I glanced back, and I wish I didn’t.

The woman was still glaring, and now, shaking her head in disapproval.

When it comes to altercations, I am always caught by surprise and unable to answer back with a clever retort. If someone says something sassy to me, it takes hours, if not weeks after the confrontation before I think of something smartly appropriate to say.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t find myself in altercations often and simply haven’t learned how to respond yet. (Be forewarned, people standing in line at Food Lion or the post office – I might start pushing you, for practice.)

But somehow, at the moment, a response dawned on me and I shouted over the wind, “You know, it has way more stuff about judging others in the Bible than it does about bikinis!” 

And with that, I turned on my heel, stumbled on a giant shell piece, (revealing once again, I’m sure, a fantastically gross view of my backside), and stormed off the beach with as much dignity as my situation allowed.

I wish I hadn’t said it. Frankly, it wasn’t the best response, just the best I could come up with at the time. Later, seething, I would create mental examples of exact Bible quotes I could have used, like “judge not, lest ye be judged.”)

And really, more importantly, what was the point?

I fixated on this situation for hours. Much longer than I should have.

Who did she think she was? Wasn’t I there first? Don’t I live here, and pay taxes, while I’m sure she’s just visiting since I haven’t seen too many Amish barn-raisings on the local community calendar?

And oh, yes, by the way, isn’t this my secret beach?

This has happened to me before -- having a perfectly great beach day ruined by some jerk who had to set up camp next to me.

There was the time the Swiss Family Florida came barreling down the beach with cabanas, and firewood, and generators, and literally built a make-shift shelter so high it was blocking my sun.  Then there was the time I tried to drive out to the Frisco beach for  July 4, and some genius in a station wagon had determined the best way to celebrate the holiday was by trying to gun it down the ramp and got stuck, while blocking two lanes of beach traffic in the process. And, finally, there was the time the group of elderly nudists somehow thought that my stretch of Ocracoke Island beach was the ideal place to practice yoga.

Did I let it ruin my day? Did I irrationally dwell on these “neighbors” until I could think of nothing else? Did I let it spoil the crystal blue ocean horizon, the soft warm sand, and the gentle, flowing sound of the ocean?

Heck, yeah, I did.

So finally, after hours of stewing and steaming and thinking that the Amish woman wouldn’t look that great in a bikini either, not with those ankles, it dawned on me.

And I had a miraculous revelation of sorts, thanks to the Amish, and I wished I had realized this long ago.

So what?

I mean, really? So what? If there are outside factors in place, seemingly determined to annoy me beyond reason and ruin a perfectly pleasant day at the beach, who says I have to let them?

Allow me to elaborate.

Think of every time you’ve been to the beach for a day of sun. Odds are, after you’ve unpacked your gear and slathered on the sunscreen, there have been a couple times when you discovered you have an inconsiderate or hard-to-deal -with “neighbor.”

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Consider the tribe of wild children who throw sand two feet away from you, or the gang with 12 dogs and a cooler of beer who are jamming out to Lynyrd Skynyrd, or that one guy in a Speedo who has absolutely no business being in a Speedo.

These people get under your skin until it crawls and you can think of nothing else other than shooing them away with your beach towel, or if you’re on a 4-wheel-drive accessible beach, slashing their tires.

Your day is ruined, you are not relaxed and happy, and you’ll spend a long time thinking about how your otherwise perfect beach day was ruined, because, let’s be honest, with all that seething about these stupid beach neighbors, it completely was.

But did they come to the beach with the sole intention of ruining your day? Of course, not. They’re like us, strictly at the shore to have a blast, and somehow oblivious to whether or not it affects other people to the point of irrational rage and tire-slashing.

Instead of putting all my focus on listening to shrieking children and/or “Freebird,” why can’t I just focus, instead, on the sound of the waves going in and out, over and over? Instead of popping my head up to glare at an Amish woman, why can’t I turn my focus back to pirate captain Eric and his new-found resolve to stop womanizing?

My fiancÚ always says that things can only bother you if you let them. I, in my oh-so-rational demeanor, always thought this was stupid. But when it comes to sharing a beautiful shoreline with hundreds, if not thousands of other people, who may be louder, weirder, or odder-looking with more questionable clothing choices, this is exactly the right point of view.

After all, everyone on the beach has one profoundly huge thing in common – we all love Hatteras Island.

This brings me to revelation number two: I have most certainly spoiled other people’s beach days.

I can guarantee you that the Amish woman’s beach day was spoiled. There have also been times when I have chased after my dog, Louie, when he was intent on stealing bait fish from every cooler on the beach and could not be stopped, leaving many fishermen annoyed and baitless.

And, to be perfectly honest, I adore Lynyrd Skynyrd and sometimes I don’t pay attention to the volume of the Jeep stereo.

Sure, this situation was incredibly weirder than any other inconvenience I’ve experienced on the sand, but come to think of it, I was her bad neighbor. She didn’t come to the beach to see a chubby, scantily clad woman reading a steamy romance novel. She came to relax, and how can she with a strumpet like me on the loose, telling her off, and then flashing way more thigh (and other parts) than necessary?

My point is that, as summer approaches, many people are coming to Hatteras Island, and these people will head to the beach to relax, and enjoy the sand, and the ocean, and the shoreline.

And some of these people are going to sit next to you and be really annoying.

Now there are times when you can speak up and say something or ask them to cease certain behaviors. Nine times out of 10, they will oblige, and you can go back to your important beach affairs.

But remember that they aren’t trying to ruin your day, and they can only bother you if you let them. You have an ocean in front of you to look at, and you have the ocean roar which is louder than any song that can be blasted on a Jeep stereo, even “Tuesday’s Gone.” And if all else fails, you can always move 10 feet in one direction or the other.

After all, it’s not my beach, no matter how much I wish it was. It’s our beach. 

And frankly, it’s the place I go to actually relax – not stew, simmer, steam, or sautÚ – just relax. So I suppose I should forget about the distractions of other people and do just that. Relax and learn to love my neighbor.

And as a final side note, just in case the Amish use the Internet, I want to send out my heart-felt apologies to the woman who “ruined” my day, and whose day I, in turn, ruined.

Apparently, in my mad dash to be justified in my frustration and to have an excuse to go back to the worried-anxious person that has no business enjoying the beach, I totally forgot the “Do unto others” part of the bible. And for that, I apologize.

I’ll try this season to share the beach with the folks who love it as much as I do and go enjoy my little stress-free world where I can zone out and tune out, listen to the ocean, and remember with gratitude why I live here and love it so much.

Also, I think your ankles are lovely.

(Joy Crist lives in Avon and is a recovering neighbor hater.)

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