the most disingenuous place on earth

My friend and I needed an adventure. It was summer, and everyone in the world seemed to be on a beach somewhere. I thought I would die if I stayed inside all weekend. So we decided to take a road trip. Each of us brought an iPad, a notebook, a pen, and a change of clothes. On the morning we left, I had a hangover and no idea where we would spend the night.

The beach always makes me think of Death in Venice. Last year it was the Outer Banks where I was privy to a beautiful drunken entropy among my own acquaintances. This year it was Ocean City.

Everyone at the beach seems to be grasping for some kind of infinity. Nothing makes you feel young and gorgeous quite like sunbathing, and nothing proves your impotence quite like the sea. But pairing the pleasant doom of the average beach-goer with the frantic mating ritual that is Senior Week in Ocean City creates a whole new level of existential crisis, which of course, is my favorite type of crisis.

The city is contrived expressly to cater to egos aged 18 to 24. Every girl in town looked like Ke$ha or someone from Jersey Shore, and every boy looked like he needed a shirt and a generous slathering of aloe vera.Yet, in a crowd of thousands of identical drunk teenagers, they all managed to maintain a sense of self-importance. Each and every one of them was utterly forgettable and pointedly ignoring my friend and me, the two 30-ish women meandering slowly and soberly, observing the whole scene with bemusement. Occasionally one would hear our snickering commentary and shoot a scornful look our way.

It wasn’t just arrogant youth on the boardwalk, of course. There were a notable minority of 40-somethings, mostly sun-leathered and tattooed but also the occasional splotchy pink softness of caged animals who had been unexpectedly freed, blinking and flinching under neon lights.

Senior week is exactly what it sounds like: a time when the new high school graduates from all the surrounding states flock to the beach to take part in the parade of youth and ego. My friend and I were intruding. At least the 40-somethings had the decency to get drunk and shut up.

I would like to say something profound about Ocean City, about what it means to be an adult woman in America, or about our cultural obsession with youth, but the whole day my brain felt stifled by the heat and the flies, the smell of carnival food and the sounds of the most disingenuous place on earth.

Walking along the boardwalk at night in the garish glare, I began to have terrifying repetitive thoughts:

This is a place where crimes happen. This is a place where girls’ lives are ruined.

Teenage boys leered down from balconies and postured on the sea wall as girls affected looks of flirtatious disdain. In the back of my mind, I was calculating the shear unsearchable number of hotel rooms in town, the dark and unkempt places into which one might disappear. The odds were against any girl on her own.

I found shelter in the company of a traveling companion, someone equally out of place, someone who could laugh at the absurdity and keep me from wandering any further down that dark path. We went to the water’s edge where we observed countless identical couples making out on the beach. We commented quietly about the heteronormativty of the place. Wouldn’t it be nice, we said, if one of these couples turned out to be two boys sharing a clandestine kiss? Eventually we did see two boys walking clumsily through the thick sand holding hands. We cheered at this little victory.

Every hotel room in town was booked except for a few dirty rooms that ran up to $300-$400 for the night. There was no place for us. We stopped for coffee and drove back home, comparing notes on the day and feeling a little adventurous and a little old. We were asleep by 1 a.m., safe, sound and sober. Not even a little sunburned.

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At Fenwick Beach

Sting of a sand bug
smell of ocean
children playing in the distance.
Sun, cool air, early summer,
people turning their bodies on the sand like sundials.

It was worth the drive,
even with a hangover,
even with the car jerking along,
driving past splotchy pink college bros
and a million girls who look like Ke$ha,
wondering if this is a good day
or a bad day for my ass
when I am a million miles from a full length mirror.

A sea gull flying against the wind
remembering our smallness
the seagull’s delayed shadow
the tattooed men
the skin parade
the boats
the ocean the ocean.

Families baptize their young in the surf,
sun worshipers with no concept of ritual
who turn slowly with the hours
texting someone in a city
too far away to matter.

this Italian man.
this Moroccan man.
this Israeli man.

The way the day settles in.
The bare shameless humanity of the beach.

The sudden lack of resistance
leaves you flailing, a fish out of water.

Yes, I’m still working on an essay about Ocean City itself, but in the mean time, here are my notes from the beach at Fenwick State Park in the form of what might be a poem.

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summer haiku

Children’s fishbone spines
stooping to taste the ocean —
washed up jellyfish.

Attempting to write about a trip to ocean city over the weekend. Like all things I care about, it’s complicated. I’ll let you know what happens.


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I need a vacation from my vacation.

In the rental car, on the way to the airport at the end of our family vacation, my brother said, “Well, that sure was some vacation we had.”

“Yep, it was a good one, too,” Mom said.

“Yeah,” my brother reiterated, “That sure was a vacation. I think my favorite part was the fun stuff. That was pretty cool. The miserable part was not so cool.” The rest of us nodded tiredly as Dad bumped along the interstate behind my other brother who was driving the other rental car with the rest of our party of eleven people (including the 9 month old).

Yep. That sure was a vacation.

It’s hard to know what to think of Disney World when you grew up in a family that, as a whole, sortof rejeted all things trendy, popular, hyped up or commercialized. Somehow, my oldest brother grew up to love Disney World and has been there a lot, and he’s the one who planned this whole trip. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed letting my big brother make all the decisions. The rest of us just traipsed along happily, eating and drinking and going on rides. Some of the shows were pretty great, not because they were artistically impressive or intellectually challenging but because they brought me back to that childhood state of mind in which villains are easy to spot and all you need is a kiss from your true love to save the day. Not to mention, they sang all my favorite songs from movies like The Little Mermaid. I used to know every word to every song in that movies, and I would make up dances to the soundtrack.

On the other hand, Disney is a world of contradictions. A lot of the shows emphasize environmentally friendly living, appreciating the natural world, recycling, etc. There’s even a ride/show all about future sources of energy, reducing our dependence on oil and finding safe alternatives. That show alone features an iMax-sized movie screen, animatronic dinosaurs, and an auditorium’s worth of benches that actually moved through the ride (think church pews on wheels).

In a ride called Living With the Land, we saw all the agricultural efforts of Disney, including the new techniques they’re using to produce fruits and vegetables in a more energy efficient and space efficient way. And to get to and from each park, we drove our two rented SUVs and parked in their gigantic parking lots, or we took the resort busses, which run every few mintues from each resort to each park or attration all day. Every day.

In the Animal Kingdom, they made a big deal about being environmentally friendly. We got pizzas and sodas for lunch, but our sodas didn’t come with lids because the plastic is bad for the environment. We also received cardboard straws that looked an awful lot like tampon applicators. Granted, in all the other parks, we were given plastic lids and straws, and Disney’s sudden effort to go green in one park just stood out as being rather… too little too late?

I don’t want to be a downer. As family vacations go, this one was really great. This was the first time we’ve gone some place all together in probably ten years. We had a lot of really great meals with really great drinks (ooooh the drinks!), and we all talked and laughed a lot. My brother made sure we got to ride all the best rides and see all the best shows without wasting too much time in lines, and we had two days out of the week long vacation when we all went our seperate ways and just relaxed. I adore my family, and we had an unforgetable time together. I’m certainly not complaining about that.

But Disney World is a weird place. I often found myself wondering exactly what kind of person Walt Disney actually was. I’d like to read a good biography of him. Not one sanctioned by the Disney corporation but a real honest look at the man, his life, his mind, his friends… And I also wondered what would happen if Disney really put its money where its mouth was.

Well, it occurs to me now that if Disney only used recycled and/or biodegradable materials, if it cut back on its energy consumption, and if everyone had to walk or ride bikes rather than taking busses or rental cars, it just wouldn’t be Disney would it?

In my final analysis, I figure Disney World is fun and weird, a little bit cultish, and a little bit awesome, and probably not actually the happiest place on earth. The rides are great, and the time I had with my family was priceless. But next time we go on a vacation, it’s already been suggested that we should go to the country somewhere, ride bikes, kayack, and maybe make a day trip into the city for a little shopping and a nice dinner. Interestingly, that sounds an awful lot like what we do at home.

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