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.