I've gone on record with this before: Me like the beach. Very much. Even better, so do my kids. And I say that because, well — I wasn't a very adept beach kid. Truth to tell: I was a complete wuss about it.
Don't get me wrong, I loved going with my family. But that was more about the whole vacation endeavor: The upheaval, the overpacked car, staying up late, sleeping on screened-in porches, the smell of coconut oil, late night card games, hot dog omelets for breakfast and dinner, all the pinball I could play and nights on the boardwalk with all its flashing lights and Tilt-a-Whirl and soft-serve ice cream.
You'll notice I didn't say anything about the actual beach. And that's the thing. It scared the hell out of me.
I never trusted water where I couldn't see my feet. I grew up on the beaches of Maryland, Delaware and Jersey; once the water gets up to your knees, you can't see your feet. And I knew there were lots of things down around my feet that I couldn't see — stingrays, crabs, jellyfish and regular fish, in diminishing order of terror.
And up on those Northeast beaches, there's a species of crustacean alien to Southern beaches, an alien called the horseshoe crab, a large, black primeval beast that looks like nothing more than Darth Vader's helmet with a long stinger-like tail in the back.
They're a clumsy lot, horseshoe crabs, having no control over their movements once they get near the surf, so they get picked up by waves and tossed into your legs and it feels like a hubcap smashing into you.
A hubcap with legs. And a tail. That looks like a stinger. Never mind that it wasn't; at 9 years old, perception is everything. To me, deadly hubcaps lurked in the sea.
The World Book Encyclopedia I had as a kid said the horseshoe crab is not a true crab at all, but related to the scorpion family. 'Nuff said.
I hated going in the water. Absolutely dreaded it. I couldn't bear the thought of unseen animal life lurking around me, things that pinch and sting and giant underwater scorpions that randomly slam into you.
So it is that, when I was finally coaxed, prodded or shamed into going into the water with my brothers or friends, I spent the whole time treading water — even at three feet deep — so my feet wouldn't touch the bottom.
Like I said, pretty much of a wuss about it. And this was in the pre-Jaws era, mind you. That came out when I was 15 and, after that — forget it. I didn't go in the water for years.
But I've come a long way since then. This city boy learned to love the water. Learned to love it in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans, over on the Gulf Coast where, oddly enough, the water is clear enough to see everything around you and that eventually led me to the conclusion that the dark beach water of the Northeast might be better than the pristine Gulf waters because maybe — just maybe — I'd rather not know that there's a school of stingrays right next to me.
But my kids, they know none of these irrational fears. Sure, they hate getting stung by jellyfish, and horseshoe crabs freak them out to the proper degree (they don't know about the scorpion thing), but they love being in the water.
They go hard-charging in and stay until commanded to come out for food or rest or just because I'm ready to go.
They let their feet touch the bottom and everything. They fear nothing. To me, they're brave, but to most people I guess they're just normal. They even try to pick up crabs which, in my own personal psychological portfolio, is tantamount to grabbing a rattlesnake by its tail.
It's just not something you do.
So we love the beach together and we go every summer. And, as I write this, I am in Maryland because the beaches we've been going to since my kids were born have been destroyed — at least, in my psychological portfolio.
I'm sure there are still beaches on the coast that haven't been despoiled. I just don't know where they are. And I don't want to be there the day the oil comes in.
So I had to take my children 1,200 miles to go to the beach this summer. And that makes me so angry that I feel like the Macondo well, ready to just blow my own damn top, spew my bad karma like thick black crude all over — not brown pelicans — but anyone and everyone who asks me my opinion on the state of affairs in the Gulf of Mexico, "my" Gulf of Mexico, my family retreat, our beach, our playground, the place we love best on this whole planet.
Ruined. Or damn near. Or gonna be. And for God knows how long.
I possess an anger about this that I have never known before. Sometimes, I feel like I want to hurt these people who toyed so frivolously with our lives and marched along so cavalierly in their hunt for riches, seemingly unmoved by having destroyed an enormous body of water, just flat-out destroyed it.
The bastards. All of 'em.
And so to go to the beach, we had to travel 1,200 miles.
Hey, the great part is we get to spend some time with my parents, who live in Maryland. That's a perk. And my kids are filled with the energy and abandon that accompanies the "endeavor" of travel — the flights, the chaos, the motel ice machines, sleeping on screen porches, late-night card games, the flashing lights of the boardwalk, the whole shebang.
And so it is I take my kids 1,200 miles from home this week to go to the beach, with playful mind, buoyant soul — and firmly grounded feet.
And murder in my heart.