Last Call: Beach
I live in a beach town. It’s called Brooklyn.
Sounds like hyperbole until you consider that Brooklyn’s entire southern coast is a beach. Sand and the smell of sunscreen are an hour’s train ride, give or take, from my front door.
So—not only does New York have an inexhaustible aggregate of art, music, book events, dance parties and edibles, it also has beautiful beaches dotted with sunbrellas and adorable curly-haired children running in and out of the surf, shrieks carried by the breeze.
I was there the other day. I had been watching the weather all week, waiting for the best beach day the way I used to wait for the perfect moment to jump into a round of double dutch, and that was the day. My best friend and I piled towels and thick books and copies of the New Yorker and Vogue into tote bags and caught the A train south.
Fort Tilden is the stuff of daydreams. It’s not the South of France—it’s not even San Sebastián’s urban old-Europe beachfront—but it is relatively clean. There are no dirty diapers or spent syringes floating in the foam of incoming waves. The same cannot be said of the beaches of my youth—Jones, Coney Island—at which I witnessed both such objects drifting along shore.
It’s September, the first day of school in New York City. There is not a cab to be had uptown in the morning, every meter ticking and overhead light switched off in deference to the oncoming school year. Children, ubiquitous yesterday, are nary to be seen on the streets of the city. I spot them whooshing past behind the closed windows of taxicabs, the air conditioning on max against the heat of the late summer day. And I’ve only been to the beach once this summer.
Twice, if you count the Jersey shore.
There are two more beach runs on the horizon. This is how it goes: the Matisse exhibit installs at the MoMA, and everyone waits until the last weeks, when we all flock uptown in droves and wait in long lines to see the colors and brushstrokes that hung in echoing galleries the week before, the open space yawning out before them. A Broadway show is held over in its last weeks, the audience showing up in hordes, a full house every night. We are procrastinators, we humans.
This weekend, my friend with a car offered to drive us to the Rockaways for a sunset beach picnic. I already have my old Laura Ashley plaid wool blanket packed and ready to go. I know which swimsuit I’ll wear, in case I want to splash in the surf at the day’s end. I’ll lug my thick book back for round two, but this time it will be easier to carry. When it comes to the beach, everything is easier by car.
The first time I ever went to Fort Tilden, a few years ago, my childhood best friend and summer sister borrowed a van from her employers and went beachbound, picking up friends on various corners in Brooklyn along the way. We filled the van and headed south along the BQE. I drove.
It was a day of magic. Sun shy, the sky was overcast and mottled with clouds, but we donned pullovers and buttoned up Oxford shirts, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, our little bodies clustered on blankets, sunglasses on against the light of day. We didn’t swim—we didn’t even wade—but we stretched out and read books and told stories all afternoon. There is a photograph of my summer sister and I, taken from the backseat, our heads together, hands touching, holding an iPhone in tandem, searching for the perfect summer anthem to blast as we rolled toward the shore. It is one of my dearest, most favorite photographs, our jawlines in demi-profile, the bones of our wrists outlined with sun.
The beach is this way. It can imbue even the dreariest of days with an enchanted reverence, a glow.
Perhaps my last moment at the seashore will be the weekend after next, when I head northeast for a long weekend at my friend’s new house in the Hamptons. The guests will include three couples and myself. At first I objected: What kind of wheel will that make me? A seventh wheel? But my host laughed and said, You’ll be the baby all weekend. We’ll make you sandwiches. We’ll buy you dinner.
When we’re camped at the beach, bottles of sunscreen flowing and wide-brimmed hats skewing our eyes, it won’t matter who is with whom. The beach is a great equalizer: No matter who you are or what you look like, you are welcome. There is always someone fatter or thinner, more tan or pale. And when the tide is in and the sun is out and the beach umbrella is at just the right angle, there is no one and nothing that can ruin a day on the coast.
To the beach I say: Twice more, with feeling. And then adieu—until next year.