Beachy Keen

I think the beach is a naturally uncomfortable place. Don’t get me wrong; I love beaching, but between the purpose for which sand seems to have been created (filling every orifice of one’s body), the whole swimsuit issue–which is compounded by the fact that I never outgrew my childhood compulsion to play in the waves, occasionally resulting in wardrobe malfunctions that would make Janet Jackson proud–and the fact that my skin comes in two shades (“Blind Me” and “Fresh Lobstery Goodness”), I always go into beach days prepared for something to go a little awry.

My roommate, on the other hand, happens to love the beach. I mean love it. Our beach expectations are fundamentally different. Callie tans well, she has no desire to frolic in swimsuit-eating waves, and she perches primly atop neat plastic beach chairs and reads for the duration of her visit. In other words, she could have the exact same experience in a sandbox in the backyard.

When Callie started talking about visiting the beach over spring break, she did so with an infectious enthusiasm, and it took only three weeks of hardcore coaxing before I caved and agreed to try: THE BEACH, CALLIE EDITION.

We left early and were perched primly in our beach chairs by 10 AM. All went smoothly at first. Callie read her book. I read a book on the Kindle I had swathed in a Ziploc bag, like any tacky resourceful college student. At around 1 PM, with the tide coming in, we decided that a move would be in our best interest, so we stood and dragged our chairs to the other end of the beach.

We were now perched primly a few feet away from some college students face-down in full on tan mode. I didn’t pay much attention to them, even when a loud fratty boy–complete with spiked bleached hair, artificial tan, and flashy swim trunks–showed up. After disturbing the peace with his mindless yammerings for a few minutes, he laid his towel down behind my chair and settled in for a nap.

In a blissful Kindle-induced cloud of oblivion, I was totally unprepared for what happened next. A few minutes later, without any warning, Mr. The-90s-Called-And-They-Want-Their-Hair-Back himself stood up, shifted his towel over several feet, and lay down again. . .under my chair. WHAT?!

Surely this could not be. I turned my head slightly, trying to be subtle; yes, there was his torso, protruding from beneath me. If I dropped my hands to my side, I might find myself clinging to his ankle.

WHAT?!?!?! Again, I say, WHAT?!?!?!

I stared hard at his back, hoping he would feel the power of my glare and mend his flagrant violation of universal beach ethics, which go something like this:

1) Have fun.

2) Don’t sit under anyone you don’t know.

He appeared to be asleep.

And then I froze when I realized–he was under my chair. I was on top of my chair. If the chair collapsed, I would literally be sitting on top of this man.

Quick context: I have a massive fear of chairs breaking under me, ever since I broke a chair as a 30 pound whippersnapper and promptly developed the paranoid idea that I am 800 pounds and have no business engaging in skinny person privileges like sitting. (True story.)

I’d always thought merely breaking a chair was as bad as it could get; but the mental image of collapsing my beach chair onto some random guy’s calves definitely qualified as worse. Much, much worse. What if I broke his legs and he sued? What if I heard the bones crunch? What if he screamed and the whole beach looked at us? What if I screamed and the whole beach looked at us? What if–I shuddered inwardly at the thought–his legs wriggled like dying snakes as he tried to escape me?

The possibilities were endless and horrific.

I lay there for over an hour in a state of petrified rigidity, scarcely daring to breathe. One wrong move, one unbalanced eyelash, one ill-timed lip twitch, and it would all come crashing down. One or both of our lives would be ruined forever. I was too scared to even roll off the chair and move it closer to Cal, lest that shift in weight would be the undoing of us all.

I turned my head by increments until I was able to see Callie. She glanced over and shot me a ‘glad it’s not me!’ smirk as she fiddled with her phone, then looked pointedly at me.

Text messaging. I am communicating with my roommate, 2 feet away, via text message. I am my own worst nightmare. Neil Postman is weeping in his grave right now. This thought did not deter me from grasping my cell phone and slowly shifting it to texting position for the following conversation.

Cal: He’s SOOOO close!

ME: I KNOW! What do I do, Cal? I’m freaking out. I haven’t moved since he lay down, and my neck is cramping.

Cal: Stand up and move your chair over! (‘Idiot’ heavily implied.)

Me: WHAT IF MY CHAIR BREAKS AND I FALL ON HIM?!?!?! I’m scared!

Cal: It won’t. You’ll be ok.

I mentally surveyed the situation. I could just wait until he left, but I didn’t know when that would be. And with every moment, the peril was increasing. It had to happen. I had to stand up.

I took a deep, tremulous breath to test the chair; it held. Ok, I reasoned. This is it. The name of the game was speed. If I could get off the chair before it collapsed, he would only suffer some moderate bruising; and I wouldn’t say that was undeserved. Here goes, I thought, mentally bracing myself for whatever humiliation I was about to face. In as smooth a motion as I could muster, I rolled forward, planted my feet on either side of the chair, and stood, leaving my Kindle and phone to fend for themselves.

Success! I started to breath again. My neck crick eased. It was over. Frat boy and my ego had both survived. I felt like a Disney heroine getting her happy ending. I yawned, stretched, and took 20 minutes applying sunscreen in an attempt to look like that cool girl who has no chair collapsing phobias and is therefore totally unphased by frat boys setting up camp beneath her. (I have a compulsive insistence on pretending that everything is normal even when things are clearly headed toward Bizarroville; I think it’s the TCK in me. . .for all I know, it is totally normal in Charleston culture for people to lie down beneath the chairs of strangers).

Finally, I picked up my chair, moved it several feet away from frat boy, and reclined again with the comforting thought that no frat boys would be harmed in the making of this memory.

PS: After I moved, I got Callie to take a picture, which I am attaching lest any of you can identify the swim trunks and offer the man a lesson in beach etiquette.

The angle is a little funky, and doesn’t do justice to how dire the situation was, but keep in mind that this was after I had moved my chair a few feet away from him. And yes, I am holding my head in my hands as I mourn the death of personal space.

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