It begins every year in early June: a collective, desperate sojourn to the nearest coast. I can’t believe I haven’t been to the beach yet! everyone says, unprompted. I have to go to the beach! Inevitably, someone’s roommate’s boyfriend’s cousin manages to procure a car, and the offer arrives: Do you, like so many people you’ve encountered since temperatures soared above 70 degrees, want to come to the beach?
My answer is “no.” Summer is almost over, and I’m proud to say I haven’t been to the beach once. I’ve lounged on lakes. I’ve hiked over streams. I’ve forged large puddles of dirty rainwater. But quite frankly, I would rather brave a whole shower of stagnant New York subway drip than go near a beach this summer.
To be clear, I do not have beef with all bodies of water, nor even all water-based activities. Harmless freshwater situations are perfectly fine — it’s the sand strips that feed into oceans that I both fear and hate. Maybe, if I weren’t a lifetime East Coast resident, “the beach” would conjure enticing visions of pristine, cotton-soft sand and grand, majestic waves. Instead, my idea of a beach trip involves gravelly shores dotted with trash and stinky seaweed, terrifyingly loud and invasive walls of water, and seagulls that might as well be on cocaine. Also, apparently: poop?? Last year, the U.S.’s leaky sewage system released enough fecal matter into our seas to bring 55 percent of beaches to risky contamination levels. I don’t know about you, but a bath in poop-infused salt water is not my idea of a good time.
Then there is the issue of so-called “beach weather,” which is far too hot for my liking. If the sun is beating down intensely enough that cold water sounds inviting, please keep the other side of the coin in mind: Boiling-hot sand that scalds the feet and worms its way into every nook and cranny of your life like evil glitter; a roaring burn in the one spot you forgot to slather SPF; the queasy mélange of pasta salad, watermelon, and warm beer baking together on your blanket. All this, just to take a saline dip in a fathomless body of water full of beasts ready and able to pull you under at any minute? Don’t forget, the spookiest beach phenomena of all lurk beyond the tide.
In June, for example, an ominous mound of fish corpses suddenly materialized on the shores of Texas, like a warning about what happens when you infringe too much on the ocean’s territory. Several California surfers have recently been attacked by sea lions, whom scientists say were poisoned by toxic algae. Shark sightings in New York and Long Island are up, and one woman is expected to be permanently disabled after one bit her at Rockaway Beach this month. Meanwhile, off the coast of Europe, killer whales are apparently executing coordinated boat attacks. The sea has spoken, and she said, “Get the fuck off my lawn.” Fine by me!
Because if we don’t, can you imagine what harbinger of doom our maritime mistress will send in next? The terrors we have already unearthed from the sea’s depths only account for 5 percent of its contents, and that slice alone is enough to keep me far away. Five percent!! A tiny sample that includes 40-foot squid, fish with built-in stilts, prehistoric-looking sharks with hundreds of teeth, a “deep-sea blob,” a blind transparent eel that looks startlingly like the titular species of Alien, and whatever the hell this is. In May alone, marine biologists discovered over 5,000 new animal species in the watery ether. Some of these were teeny invertebrates, just strange slugs; others were large and scary. In August, for example, scientists confirmed the existence of a 20-armed monstrosity called the Antarctic strawberry feather star. I shudder to imagine what other Frankensteinian sea monsters are just biding their time down there, waiting for the perfect beach day to swim up to the shore and make their freaky mouth weapons known.
I hope you will consider that possibility the next time the sinister crash and boom of the waves beckon. I hope you will remember that you have options. You don’t need to wade through the film of old Band-Aids and miscellaneous pulp that clings to our coast’s shores. Go to a pool. Find a creek. Get thee to a water park. Take a dip in cool, possibly even temperature-controlled water without subjecting yourself to Poseidon’s whims. You and the sea lions will thank me later.