May 28th, 2004

Beach Rules: A Tough Assignment

My pal Scott is calling on me to weigh in on the matter of beach etiquette. He wants me to add to the list of rules offered yesterday on one of Masslive’s sister sites’ Beach Blog. And I understand the instinct. I do have a habit of using this space to prescribe and proscribe various behaviors. (Plus, Scott likes to keep people blogging and I ain’t been doing it lately.)

Trouble is, I’m not all that sure I have much to add. I mean, even I have to mellow out sometimes. I love the beach. The beach is pretty much my favorite place to be in the world. My great fantasy in life is to live on the beach (well, not on the beach like some smelly bum; I mean I want to own a beachside home, preferably someplace nice and remote — actually, I have a locale in mind, but I’m not telling you what it is, because if I ever get there I don’t want to find you beat me to it; let’s just say it’s farther north than you’d wanna go) and just spend my days strolling and sitting by the ocean and thinking. That’s probably never gonna happen. But at the very least, I want to keep the beach someplace I go to be calm. I don’t want to be tense about the beach. Besides, the beach is supposed to be a relaxed environment. You don’t wanna go creating a whole bunch of unnecessary rules and ruining it for everyone. The rules spelled out at Beach Blog are pretty much enough as far as I’m concerned.

All that said, I will offer a couple of general rules you might want to keep in mind while packing up the station wagon:

First (and, really, if you follow this one you can skip the second for all I care): Stay off my beach. What I mean by this is, well, stay off my beach. If you go to the beach and you see me there, get back in your car and go to another beach. Even if we’re friends. If I didn’t specifically ask you to go to the beach with me, I’d really rather not see you. If you don’t know me and wouldn’t know if you were intruding on my beach day, I’d say it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you’re beachbound and you think there’s any chance I’m on the beach you want to go to, just assume I’m there and stay away. (This is easier than it might seem. Most of the beaches I go to are in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. And I never, ever go to any beaches in Massachusetts that aren’t in Wellfleet, Eastham or Provincetown. So if you can stay away from those, you’re safe. Also, I never go to any beaches in Rhode Island or New Hampshire. Well, once in a very long while New Hampshire, but only in the dead of winter, so let’s not sweat it there. You can have the whole state of Connecticut if you can find a public beach there. And the frequency with which I get to the beach in Maine is so rare, I think you can take your chances.) I don’t mean to insult you or anything. I just want you to leave me alone with the sea and the sand and the sun and whomever I’ve chosen to share my day with. That’s all.

Second: Don’t be an asshole. There it is again. I feel like I’m always having to offer that same advice. In situation after situation. And the crazy thing is, a lot of people can’t be bothered to listen. This is probably because a lot of people don’t know how to be anything but assholes. How do you know when you’re being an asshole on the beach? Pretty much the same way you know when you’re being an asshole in everyday life. If the stupid fucking shit you enjoy doing encroaches on the ability of other people to enjoy themselves (or at the very least, get through the day), you’re being an asshole. Look at that list of taboo behaviors on Beach Blog. If you’re doing the things listed as off-limits there, you’re probably being an asshole (especially the one about the cigarette butts and other litter). Here are some exceptions:

Drinking: From an etiquette standpoint, you can totally drink on the beach if you want. I mean, it might be against the law, but as long as you’re not hurting anyone other than yourself, go right ahead. Just don’t behave like a drunken idiot and ruin everyone else’s beach experience (really anyone else’s experience). And don’t expect the people around you to interrupt what they’re doing when your alcohol-related dehydration leads to sunstroke and you pass out face down in the sand. You created the problem, after all.

Stepping over people: If you’re walking along the waterline and some jackass has fallen asleep in a beach chair, feel free to step right over him. The waterline is everyone’s territory. It’s the guy who needs to sit there in his chair who’s the asshole, not you.

Other than that, just stick to Beach Blog’s rules. And before you do anything other than lying or sitting on your blanket (or in your chair, or whatever), building a sandcastle, playing in the water or walking along the waterline, think about whether doing it makes you an asshole. It’s called self-awareness. And if you combine it with concern for others, you’ll pretty much come out OK every time. Unless you’re one of those dedicated assholes who knows he’s fucking other people over and doesn’t care, in which case, what are you doing on the beach? Don’t you have a corporation to run?

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