November 29, 2011
Island Living: We are all people who are naked in our glass beach houses


So the other day I was leaving Conner’s Supermarket when an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a couple years -- funny how that happens with people who live the next village over -- approached me and worriedly asked if I was doing okay.

She said she had passed by me in my car that morning while I was driving to Buxton and had noticed that I was hysterically crying and screaming.


Well, now, this is awkward.

To be honest, I recalled having no such hysterical outburst that morning. At all. Granted my memory has deteriorated with age to the point that I’ve left my keys in the microwave before --multiple times actually. But surely I would have remembered having an emotional fit behind the wheel just hours before I saw this person, right?

So before I responded, I quickly wracked my brain and tried to figure out the last time I cried. I could think of three occasions:

1. When I horrendously stubbed my toe at 6 a.m. on a coffee table that my bored fiancÚ had moved around for no apparent reason.

2. At hour nine of our car trip home from evacuating when one of our cats peed in my lap, also for no apparent reason.

3. Last week while watching Jerry Maguire for the thousandth time. (And not the “You complete me” scene at the end that all women cry at. It was when Cuba Gooding Jr. woke up from his concussion in the end zone and popped up and jumped into the stands, screaming and celebrating and carrying on. Gets me every time.)

Then I mentally walked through my commute that morning, step by step -- or at least the steps my poor old brain could remember -- and suddenly had a complete and total “aha!” moment.

At some point during my drive, one of my favorite ‘80s songs had come on 102.5, and being an intelligent person, I turned the volume all the way up so I could sing along at the top of my lungs.

Now as any accomplished car-singer knows, when this happens, not only is your mouth wide open, but your hands and head are moving wildly along to the beat, and your eyes are scrunched up in a painful look, as this somehow helps your voice reach full volume.

And I suppose anyone passing me on the road who could see me but couldn’t hear me could easily mistake the sounds coming out of my mouth as screams and wails instead of “I BLESS THE RAAIIINS DOWN IN AFFFFRRIIIICA!” (Actually, anyone who could hear me would probably mistake my singing for screaming and wailing as well.)

Now this becomes uncomfortable, as standing in front of my old friend, I either have to say that, yes, I was driving around having a hysterical fit, or admit that I was singing at the top of my lungs, alone, to “Africa” by Toto.

I opted for hysterical fit. And I blamed it on storm damage or the coffee shop being closed or something. She nodded, said she hoped I felt better, and slowly backed away.

It was an unexpected encounter that got me to thinking – since we all live on an island, and more or less all know each other, aren’t we therefore all living in glass beach houses, on public display all the time? And if so, how many times have I embarrassed myself in front of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, and not even noticed it?

Personally, I’m typically bad at noticing anybody or anything. My former co-worker was literally six or seven months along before I finally figured out she was pregnant, and that was only because I received an invitation to her baby shower. And we shared an office.  (This also made me feel terribly guilty for being mad that she never helped me carry heavy boxes up and down the stairs anymore.)

But surely, considering that I was apparently singing in front of an audience that morning when I thought it was just me and Toto riding along in the car, other people have noticed me when I haven’t been at my public best.

I do go to multiple places – such as Food Lion, the post office, and out to a romantic dinner -- in sweat pants. I have bright red Christmas socks that say “JOY” all over them that I’ve worn out in public, with sandals, in the summer.

Also, there was that one time years ago, when I was still in college and working here during the summer that I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of dancing on a bar.

Do people notice or remember this stuff? Should I pay more attention to what I wear, say, and do when I’m outside my beach home, as everyone I run into knows me and will log it away in their growing list of “weird things our strange neighbor does?” And, most importantly, does this mean I have to stop singing like a crazy banshee in the car?

It’s not like we live in a bustling metropolis like New York or Elizabeth City where we can be weird, but at least remain anonymous.  After all, in the off-season, we all know just about everyone we see. In fact, my good friend and fellow Avonite jokes that when he rides around the village in the winter, he feels like he’s in a parade, politely waving at everyone around him.

And now that I think about it, there are plenty of times when I’ve noticed someone wearing or doing something that’s potentially embarrassing that was carelessly logged away in my own “Well, isn’t that something?” mental database.

But you know what?

Every time that I do see someone who is acting weird, or dressing weird, or just being a little flaky in public, I never really care. And truth be told, I even feel a little sense of camaraderie, because, hey, they are doing something a little odd that I would most likely do as well. 

It’s actually comforting spotting folks that are just like you, with casually unseemly habits that are out there for the world to see, like friends in skirts and waders, or acquaintances with shopping carts filled with low-fat frozen dinners accompanied by beer and gallons of full-fat ice cream, or those kiteboarders on the side of the road that are just nonchalantly changing out of their wet suits, their buttocks flapping in the wind. (Okay, that one is actually quite gross. Granted, getting a wetsuit on and off in a car is hard and all, but surely there’s a dune or something you can duck behind for some privacy? Because, seriously, unexpected genitals on the side of the road is a major potential driving hazard for passing motorists.)

Perhaps that’s a benefit of our laid-back lifestyle -- the “carefree attitude” aspect -- because who cares if we’re all wandering around town in strange outfits, singing to ourselves, fidgeting, carrying on, having a heated debate in a parking lot, reeking of fish in the bank or the post office, or any of the other potentially odd appearing behaviors that seem to be commonplace on Hatteras Island?

After all, we all move (and sing badly) to the beat of our own drum. That’s really the reason why we all live in such a fantastically unusual place, and that’s why we know and get along with pretty much everyone we see.

And besides, I don’t think there’s a mental institution large enough to contain us all.

So I suppose it’s time to stop worrying about my odd public persona and embrace that fact that island living sometimes means weird fashion choices and accepting that you can be yourself amongst everyone around you because islanders are weird and awesome people who will just accept you for who you are.

In other words, I will hold my head up high and continue to sing along to Toto without shame.

Or, maybe, I’ll just invest in tinted windows.

(Joy Crist lives in Avon and wears Christmas socks with her sandals in the summer, sings at the top of her lungs in her vehicle, exhibits other odd island behavior.)

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