I would like to apologize to the people of Maine. I would also like to apologize to the large segment of the Quebec population gathered in Maine during our recent visit. I mean, significantly large segment. Truly surprisingly large. Like, I’d expected a lot of Quebecers but didn’t anticipate such a concentration. Shopping in Hannaford’s, it felt just like home, except with a much broader selection of cheez snaks.
Regardless of race, colour or fleur-de-lis, I would like to offer my deepest regrets to the people at Footbridge Beach in Ogunquit, specifically those situated between the posted number 8 and number 9 signs, which are quite handy for locating your belongings among the endless umbrellas and carts of beach swag. And I do mean carts – trollies loaded with blankets and boogie boards and beach chairs until the whole overloaded contraption looks like an all-you-can-grab shopping spree at Canadian Tire.
(The English tourists, incidentally, have the carts; the French tourists have Descartes. They’re very philosophical about the beach, the French; if they fall in the water, they shrug, “I sink, therefore I am.”)
We sure do love our stuff. We can’t go to the beach without our strollers full of stuff. And then we park our stuff on a specific slot on the sand, the way we park our cars in a lot, which is why those number signs come in so handy when you go swimming and get pulled down shore by the riptide or the anti-reductionist dualism.
Nobody, though, goes swimming. That’s because the water in Maine is 54 degrees Fahrenheit, which, if I recall my empirical scale correctly, is the equivalent of minus-20 Celsius.
The tiny cohort of actual bathers among the overcrowded beach population could be divided into the young and the simpleminded, or in the case of my children, both. From the sounds of the high-pitched squealing, one would assume that the majority of swimmers were girls, but in fact many were boys reacting to the shock of their dumplings retracting into their body cavities.
During our visits to the beach, I mostly confined myself to the water’s edge, standing up to my ankles until the ache turned to burning and then to a resigned numbness. I stood there watching my children frolicking in the waves, wondering what the hell was wrong with them. Mostly I kept my shirt on because I’m allergic to skin cancer. But when the sun got intense, there were times when I stood in my bathing suit of respectable length and looseness, shirtless.
And for this, I would like to apologize.
They say that men don’t get worked up about body image. In truth, we like body image. We like body images just fine. The sole reason men agree to go to the beach in the first place is not for the curative properties of seawater or for the exfoliating qualities of sand in crevices where sand was never meant to be, but the opportunity to lounge about semi-clad while celebrating the grace and beauty of the unencumbered human body. And bikinis.
But one forgets that, while one is seeing, one is also being seen. And one doesn’t always see what others see, see?
So: It wasn’t until I saw the photo of me, standing at the water’s edge, shirtless, my back to the shore, that I realized I had become, sadly, hideously, a beach body buzz-kill.
It wasn’t enough that my skinny white chest and back were revealed to all, my tanned arms and legs proving (though not pleasantly) that I did indeed contain pigment. Why, when I was a child, they used to tell me I turned as brown as an Indian, but you can’t tan like that anymore. You can’t talk like that either.
It wasn’t enough that the stark landscape of my back served to highlight my burgeoning collection of moles, though did anyone consider their practical possibilities in terms of teaching young people about melanoma or the constellations or how to play Connect the Dots?
Mostly I was struck by the fact that, in this photo, it looks like my ectomorphic clavicles, ribs and spine are about to sprout insectoid wings. It’s hideous. I look positively reptilian. Or perhaps it’s amphibian. Which one can lower its body temperature to minus-20 Celsius?
It was not a pretty picture, and I apologize to all for ruining their beach day, their vacations and their appetites. But at least, given that I was speaking English, no one suspected that I was a Quebecer, so thankfully our province’s reputation for being ultra-stylish beach-goers remains intact.