Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Mean, It IS Shark Week After All

One day I decided to go the beach. Now this is a pretty normal thing, considering that I live in Florida, a place where people spend hundreds of dollars to travel thousands of miles just so they can go to our beach too. We have nice beaches with clean sand and clear water. There are hardly any waves and palm trees grow on the beaches just like in all the post cards. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some German tourists who don’t realize that our beaches aren’t topless like the ones on the French Riviera. If you’re really lucky, the topless German girls won’t have armpit hair and won’t look like they’re on vacation from the Bratwurst/ Sauerkraut factory where their job is to beat the assembly line workers. The thing is, I don’t like the beach all that much. I should like it more, I know. I tell myself all the time that people from Nebraska would kill to live less than a mile away from this paradise and because of that I should stop taking it for granted and just go to the damned beach more often.

I don’t like the beach because I am appallingly lazy and the beach represents hassle and sand. I hate sand. I hate sand on my feet, sand on my towel and most definitely, I hate sand all jammed up in my butt crack. I’m also mildly frightened of the ocean because of what lives in it that might want to bite or sting me. Periodically though, guilt overcomes me and I endure the hassle of getting together the beach bag, the towels, the sunscreen and the beach chairs, and I go to the beach. The day I am about to tell you about was one of those days. I made up my mind and I went.

On this particular day I went to the beach begrudgingly. I knew I’d like it once I got there and I did, except that it was hot and I knew, I just knew, that in ten years when I was diagnosed with melanoma that I could blame this particular beach visit for my malignant black moles. So I decided to get into the water to cool off and the water was exactly how I like it – like a swimming pool. It was still, clear and warm. Because of that I went all out here, took a major risk and went in as far as my mid-thighs.

I noticed an ungodly number of little tiny, awful fish swarming around me and this was not OK. I do not like fish bothering me when I just want to go to the stupid beach and stand in thigh high water worrying about how bad I look in a bikini, and these fish were definitely interfering with my worrying. They were like little bugs, nipping and nibbling and tasting my feet and I kept trying to stomp on them and express my utter disgust for their antics.

“I hate your dumb faces, little fish!!”

But the little fish would not go away.

I didn’t really like my bathing suit, I thought. I decided to throw it out when I got home. I should have worn the one with monkeys on it. The monkey bathing suit was definitely my favorite, even though the bottom was all fuzzy and pilled up from sitting on the edge of various pools. The blue bathing suit that I was wearing made me look fat. It was not flattering. I just knew that people were looking at me and thinking that I could have made a better choice. Maybe I was too old for a two piece. Maybe it was time to graduate into the one pieces now. Yeah. It was probably time to give up my dreams of a bikini flaunting youth. At a certain age, you just can’t do the stringy two pieces anymore. Then again, this was South Florida and I had seen many a septuagenarian in butt floss. That doesn’t make it OK though. How would I look in a one piece? I bet it would be frumpy and I’d look like someone’s mom. Why did I wear this blue bathing suit? I swore everyone on the beach was staring at me, thigh high in the sea, and shaking their heads in sympathy at how dreadful I looked. And the gazillion and a half awful little fish would not go away. In fact, they were flipping around hysterically, zipping back and forth in perfectly synchronized schools.

How do fish do that, I wondered. It has always amazed me the way hundreds of fish can all move as one; each individual sensing a subtle social cue in a nanosecond which alerts them to food or danger or just a better direction. What is it that they perceive, as though they share a single brain, never questioning the intents or motives of their peers and just…listening? Paying attention. Confident their friends know absolutely what is best for the group.

While I waxed poetic over the swarms of bait, about a dozen Indian people gathered on shore, all wearing large white tee shirts over their saris, dhotis and salwar-kameez. Some of them wore big, ruffled leis of marigolds. All of them had long red smudges down the centers of their foreheads. I guessed that they were on the beach for some sort of celebration, hence the marigold leis, because people don’t just stroll around wearing wreaths of flowers unless they have a good reason. None of the Indian people wore any shoes and all of them were laughing at me.

Every last one of those Indian people, all twelve or so of them, stood on that beach making fun of me. I could not believe the nerve of them, all standing there shouting and laughing and pointing at me screaming and yelling. How rude! I decided to ignore them and turned around with my arms crossed over my chest.

They were making fun of my bathing suit. Dammit. I knew I should have worn the other one. The Indian people thought I looked utterly ridiculous in the blue one, so ridiculous that it caused the whole lot of them to erupt in a frenzy of taunting. I wanted to go home, but I didn’t want to walk up to the shore and have to go past the gauntlet of Indian people who were making fun of me. I didn’t think I could stand that close up, knowing that all those people found me so amusing, so I stood in the water and tried to will them all to leave. But they didn’t leave. More people joined them now, all kinds of people. There was an old man in a Speedo, some Canadians wearing black knee socks with Birkenstocks (yes to the beach and I have no idea why Canadians do this, but they do), a middle aged couple slathered in white sunscreen, three little kids and four Hispanic teenagers, two of whom had a lot of tattoos. And ALL of these people were standing on the beach making fun of me.

Now I knew that the bathing suit was bad. I knew it was unflattering, but was it THAT bad that approximately 24 people would gather on the beach to point and laugh at me in it? I mean, my God, I had seen far worse at the beach than an average sized girl in an ugly blue bathing suit. I knew what the people were all saying. The Indian people started it too.

“Look at her in that suit. Did she not look at herself before leaving her house?”

“This girl has had one too many samosas I think!”

“And several platters of chicken korma from the looks of her bottom!”

“She really could have chosen something more flattering, more age appropriate.” one of the Canadians would interject.

I had no choice but to stand there in my humiliation and try to ignore them, hoping that soon they would realize that I was actually quite dull and go away. Didn’t happen.

The more I tried to ignore the large crowd on the beach making fun of me, the louder they screamed and the more they pointed. I could hear them all jeering behind me. I was on the verge of bursting into tears when one of the Indian men waded into the water, in his tee shirt, getting the sarong-like wrap he wore all wet. He looked very upset with me, and he was wearing a wreath of marigolds. A red line divided his forehead with red dots on either side of it. Even the part of his hair was stained red.

“Come!!” yelled the Indian man.

He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out of the water so quickly that I didn’t have time to question why he would ever do such a thing.

Everyone crowded around me.

“Are you OK???”

“Didn’t you see them??”

“You must have been paralyzed by fear!” said the sunscreen slathered lady.

I looked around confused.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Look at the sharks!” said one of the Hispanic teenagers.

Everyone nodded and pointed to where I had been standing actually believing that 24 people would seriously care that much about how I looked in a bathing suit. Sure enough, two long dark figures glided beneath the surface, the tips of their fins serrating the smooth water. They were about six feet long and were not playing around.

I knew we had sharks but I had never seen any or even heard of anyone else who had seen any. Every so often someone gets bitten and then it’s all over the news for weeks on end. Here in Florida we also have what I call shark helicopters, which hover up and down the coast all day long looking for sharks where people swim. On the news at noon, just before the weather reports, we usually get a shark report too, where they show disturbing images of way too many sharks whipping around unsuspecting swimmers. This is apparently to scare the hell out of people so that we will never ever go to the beach again as long as we live so that the beaches will be free and clean for rich white people to build enormous, vacant, high rise condos on.

“You didn’t see them? They were circling and circling around you, getting closer and closer!! We tried to tell you!! Parminder said you might be hearing impaired. We were so worried for you!” said one of the Indian women, who wore a beautiful peacock and mango colored sari.

“They’re following the schools of bait fish.” said someone else.

I thanked the crowd of people who had not been making fun of me very profusely, especially the guy who got wet and braved sharks to save me. We all stood for a while and watched the sharks as they moved ominously back and forth pursuing the tiny fish, and when the sharks disappeared back into the depths, I gathered up my stuff and left, more embarrassed at how I had behaved than how I looked in the blue bathing suit.

This is the problem with being pathologically self-conscious – it can kill you. I don’t mean it can kill you figuratively in that it strangles your spirit, but literally in that you can have your head jammed so far up your own ass that you think people who are trying to save you from sharks actually give enough of a shit about how you look in a bathing suit that they would actually stand on a beach solely to make fun of you. And you know what? If you are that stupid, you probably deserve to at least lose a large chunk of your left calf as punishment. Then you’d really have something to be self conscious about.

I don’t know why the sharks didn’t attack me, because Lord knows, they certainly had a clear shot. Maybe it’s true that sharks don’t really prefer people, but I tend to think that at that moment I was so self absorbed that even sharks didn’t find me appealing. Too bitter, I bet they said.

That’s the thing with this self-consciousness. It’s really a wussed out form of self absorption and I’m sick of it. I see so many people every day who can’t even function because they can’t stop thinking about themselves and what other people think about them and what they think someone might have said about them, and who might have looked at their MySpace page and what last night’s date REALLY meant when he said he wanted to make a date for next weekend. Most of my girlfriends can’t even leave the house if they have a glitter sized chip out of white part of the French manicure on their pinky toe.

So all this crap that you think other people are looking at and judging and scrutinizing about you, other people can’t even see. I hate to break this to you, but people don’t pay as much attention to you as you imagine that they do. No one is looking at the chip in your pinky toe polish. No one, not a soul, gives a flying crap how I look in a bathing suit, except me. As long as you are relatively healthy and well groomed, people don’t notice you that much. You know what they do notice and what they really don’t like? Insecurity and self absorption - and they’ll make fun of you for that far more than the hair sized stretch mark on the back of your leg. Try maybe paying attention to someone else instead, not that weird new thing they’re doing with their hair or what size pants they wear and if it’s smaller than yours, but what they’re actually saying and thinking and caring about. Be like the Indian man who saved me – brave, selfless and concerned about others. This is what people really care about when judging someone else. Trust me. If you don’t, you deserve to end up as some very putrid chum.

30 comments:

amy said...

My grandmother once said, "Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you." It's so true.

Pumpkin said...

Excellent post with a nicely made point!!!
I couldn't agree more!

Leonesse said...

I just love you. Just the way you write.

jeff said...

So... did you throw away the suit? :)

Subservient No More said...

No! I didn't throw away the suit, but I haven't worn it since. I jsut came across it the other day and I was wondering why I still had it. I hate to get rid of stuff, as evidenced by the wedding soup. I like to let junk pile up. I need to put it in the Salvation Army bag so I can ride around with it in the car for another year.

Eric said...

Nice Story, I laughed as much as I could with my boss two cubes over

Green said...

Throw a towel, sunscreen and a beach chair in the trunk of your car. That way, at any moment you're inspired, you'll be ready to go to the beach.

I'm glad the shark didn't snack on you and that the indian man came to save you.

Jen & Rob said...

Amen. I, myself, have made the journey from total self-consciousness to almost total Idon'tcareness. Now, if only I could convince my Mother to make the same journey.
"aren't you going to brush your haiiiiiirrrr?"

Anonymous said...

I needed to read this post. I'm overweight and my husband gave me a gift certificate last year to an outdoor spa to which you have to wear a swimsuit. I haven't gone because I'm too afraid people will be looking at me.

After reading your story, I've decided I'm going tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Your writing is awesome.

I've said that before, many times, but it's still true. If anything, you're getting better with time.

Have a great week.

Anonymous said...

a) i love your writing. i just can't say that enough.
b) have you thought about having a pay-it-forward day? i did one last month through craigslist and i'm going to do another one in a couple weeks.

what you do is put all your unwanted stuff out on your front lawn, post a come-n-get it notice on craigslist, and they do, indeed, come and get it. completely cuts out the middleman, and promotes Very Good Karma.

i'm a firm believer in it.

as always, big virtual hugs, sunny

AFC 30K said...

But aren't we all a little self consious? I know I am.

I like to be liked, I like to think that people think better of me than not.

Traca said...

I am in Florida and I feel exactly the same way about the beach. And like the self-absorbed person you talk about, I thought I was the only one. The beach is not all that it seems and there are things in the water that will eat you. Sand sucks and I hate the way dry salt water feels on my skin and hair. Blech.

MsCatCalls said...

Brilliant blog .... I will be back to read older posts when I have a minute , or an hour . You write a lot ! Its great ....

just kristen said...

Thank you so much! This post came on the day that i went to work and my fat jeans are tight. I am going to a party later and I was embarrassed... but who the hell cares! Honestly had i not read this i would have not had a good time. I just wanted to let you know that your writing means something to at least one person out there and I'm so glad you continued. :o)

MP said...

I realized people don't care about my arm fat..and really screw 'em if they have that much time on their hands.

I'm very glad you didn't get bit..or worse. Scary stuff.

Is my hair OK? said...

Thank you. I love your blog and I was especially touched today.

I am very self concious all the time and it hinders my life in so many ways.

Thank you for reminding me that it isn't all about me. :-)

Subservient No More said...

Your hair is more than ok. It's gorgeous.

Tere said...

I have similar feelings about the beach. I actually enjoy it more on gray, semi-cloudy days...

I wish I could feel now like I did as a child - so carefree and clueless about bull sharks and all that crap.

booda baby said...

A delicious observation, that even sharks won't bother when you're that self absorbed. Ha.

Great story!

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing writer. Every time I read you I'm ready to laugh or cry. Today I felt enlightened. Love it! It's rare for a writer to inspire such emotion in people. I hope you are proud of your amazing talent ;)

Reserved Stipulation said...

Dang, Amy beat me to it! :)

Mile High Pixie said...

One day, I'm going to read this to some kids as a very-real fairy tale. Loved it!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is awesome. I've read the soup story and this one so far. You should consider getting things published if you haven't already. Made my night.

Anonymous no more said...

Loved it, made a point with me! Thanks.

Ann said...

Gah, you made me teary.
Thanks for this, it's a lesson I know in theory but much harder to know in fact.

And I live at the beach too and hate it. Just once I'd like to make friends with people who aren't sun worshippers.

Anonymous said...

Amy and her grandma are right.

I'm fat and I still go to the beach. (Not self-conscious fat, actual I-wear-a-size-24 fat.) Also, I'm middle-aged. Doesn't stop me.

Trust me, no one is looking at me. They're worried about how they look, they're looking at the hot young things and at MOST thinking for 1/2 a nanosecond, "Gosh, at least I look better than she does in a bathing suit."

Ok, maybe one or two are thinking, "I can't believe she went out in public in a bathing suit." But basically I believe I'm all but invisible to the beach-going public.

Dave said...

I don't care what you say..I know people stare at me on the beach! Nonetheless, I'm glad the shark stayed away from you. I am equally so self conscious a six foot shark once knocked me over while I was tanding hip deep in the water in Vero Beach some years ago. Talk about distracted! You should have seen my imitation of "walking on water" immediately thereafter.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. It's a great story and what you said at the end is so true. I know so many people who are so self-conscieous and can't seem to understand that no one really cares that much. I'm going to show them this post so they know I'm not the only one to feel this way. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

i am canadian and have never witnessed socks on the beach. i am from vancouver island where we have long beach and have never seen socks. strange

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