Day at the Beach: Sometimes It’s More Than You Bargain For

Dan's day at the beach offers some surprises
Dan's day at the beach offers some surprises, Photo: Dan Rattiner

Over the years, I have written biographies of many hundreds of people for this newspaper. Almost invariably, when I ask them what they like to do when they are out here, they say, “Oh, I love to take strolls along the ocean beach.”

The reasons they give vary. Some say it gives them a chance to think, others talk about recharging their batteries, enjoying the sand between their toes, smelling the salt sea air or watching the surf come in and out.

I say, where are these people? I go down to the beach all the time, look this way and that, set out a chair and write my stories on my laptop. You’d think, from all this high praise about the beach I get, there would be battalions of people marching along one way and the other when I go down there, but they are not.

I was reminded of this the other day when I heard the comments made by East Hampton Village beach manager Ed McDonald, as he presented his annual report about the doings on the beach to the Village board.

“Dull is good,” he said.

Want to know what really goes on down at the beach? Here’s my report on the doings out at Main Beach last Friday between noon and 3 p.m. when I went out there to write a story about Halloween. I set up my chair about halfway down to the ocean. The jetty was in front of me. The dunes, and my car, were behind me. My trusty white dog was by my side.

The first thing I noticed was that the surf was up, way up. I believe Hurricane Gonzalo had rumbled along way out to sea that morning, and it had thrown this at us. These were high, slow boomers, crashing down on the beach at about 15 second intervals. After they did that, white foam would slide up the beach for 20 or 30 feet. It was very dramatic. But I thought I was far enough back from the water that it wouldn’t be a problem.

I was well into the history of Halloween, trying to explain everything I had learned about pumpkins, witches, costumes and candy corn, when off to the side I heard someone talking to me.


I looked up. It was Peter Honerkamp, the owner of the Stephen Talkhouse bar in Amagansett.

“Don’t mean to bother you,” he said. “But are you okay with us taking some photographs of nude women here?”

“Sure,” I told him. “I have no problem with it. I’ve seen it all.”

“We’re doing an advertising brochure for the club,” he told me.

I made a sweeping motion with my arm, welcoming him to the wide expanse of empty beach, except for shorebirds, in both directions. He walked away.

I should mention at this point that this was Friday, October 17, which as it has turned out so far, was the last warm day of the summer season. Temperature was about 68. The skies were clear, the sun beat down, the shorebirds swooped, but there were no people.

I had chosen to wear a white collared shirt for my writing session, also long pants and sneakers. There was no need for a jacket down there. There was not much wind. Honerkamp was similarly dressed, and so were two women who came down behind him, one with a clipboard and the other with a camera and tripod. These two, it seemed to me, were not likely to be stripping down. I went back to work.

A few minutes after that, three beautiful barefoot women did come down from the dune behind me, wearing white bathrobes with sashes you could tie around front. They looked at me and smiled hesitantly. What was I doing here? Then they walked down a few steps toward the jetty. When they got down there to it, far enough away so I was no longer part of their immediate personal space, they did begin to disrobe. The two women and
Honerkamp watched.

At this point, a huge booming wave came in, and I heard screaming. It was coming from out on the end of the jetty, beyond where the three women were taking off their robes. People must have been there before I arrived, but out on the huge boulders where I could not see them. They were standing up now, girls in two-piece bathing suits, and I could see from the way they moved that they were quite young, maybe 16 or 17. The wave was sending shoots of foamy water up through the boulders—it was too far out for the older women to notice this, but they did notice the girls screaming and laughing. The women stopped taking their clothes off.

Now the young girls were picking their way across the tops of the boulders to get off the jetty, and soon were running past the three models. They all acknowledged one another, then the three girls continued on toward me, but stopped about halfway up, where there was a big driftwood timber, a piece of a wooden ship, lying in the sand. There the girls sat. And one of them reached down and brought up a beach bag from the ocean side of the timber. One took out some clothes and began dressing. The others took out towels and began drying themselves off.

I was at the part in my Halloween story where in the 700s the priests from some monasteries were trying to Christianize some Irish savages into giving up their pagan beliefs. I kept at it.

When I looked up again, one of the young girls was lying in a provocative pose in the sand while a second girl stood over her taking pictures with a small camera. The third girl was prancing around, limbering up, it seemed. I had the feeling she would be having her picture taken, too. I thought this would be interesting enough to take pictures of. Trying to be discreet, I took out my cellphone. I keep it in my shirt pocket, and as I took it out its earphone cord got tangled up in this leather necklace I wear all the time. So I took that off, too. Then I took some of the photos you see accompanying this article, of both the three girls and the three women out by the jetty doing their part to make a nice brochure.

The women out by the jetty did not see me do this. But the young girl with the camera did. She waved.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“It’s a project for a fashion class at the Ross School,” she said.

Nobody bothered me for the next hour, and I began winding up the writing of my story. It was about 2,000 words. I was pretty pleased with it. But then, quite suddenly, after one particularly loud boom, I saw the foamy surf rushing up the beach toward me. My first thought was that it was not going to reach me. Then I thought yes, it was. I looked up. There were no women or photographers in sight anywhere but I did hear the girls screaming again, once again the yelling coming from the far end of the jetty. I briefly thought I should run down and save them but then realized they were high enough up so that would not be necessary.

From that thought, I quickly considered my own situation and, in the nick of time, I lifted my shoulder bag off the sand, stood up, grabbed my folding chair and, as the surf swooshed over my brand new white sneakers, sploshed my way further up the beach toward the car to finally get out of the foam to safety, where I could watch the surf retreat back out to sea. Then I looked for my dog. There she was, wagging her tail. What fun.

I also realized I had not yet saved my work. So I sat back down, finished the editing and saved it to the computer. Now it was time to leave.

This had turned out to be quite a day, is what I thought. And with that, I picked up the chair and bag and, with my dog prancing along, began the walk up the back of the beach toward my car.

There were quite a number of people parked there at that moment, and all of them had cellphones out and were holding them out to take pictures of something down by the sea.

What was that all about? I turned, and what was now going on down there was this huge wedding party, maybe 30 people, a bit to the side from where I had been, posing as a group to have its picture taken. There were little flower girls, young men in tuxedoes, young women in white with red bouquets of flowers, a beautiful bride with a white veil and a long white train. And then I heard another booming sound and more shouting and screaming.

A wave was breaking right over them. I got this amazing shot of this wave as it crashed down in the midst of this wedding party, sending them all running around in a great melee. That’s the big picture at the top of this story. I also made a video of this immediately after as all these drenched people were trying to recover, and soon was showing it to the folks from the wedding party who were now trotting back to their cars laughing.

Beach wedding fun or disaster?
Beach wedding fun or disaster? Photo: Dan Rattiner

And then I noticed that my dog, Bella, was nowhere to be found. I ran around shouting her name. Others at my urging did that, too. And of course she simply reappeared out of the dune grass and came trotting over to her leash. What’s the problem? she asked. And so I went home. The sneakers went into the trash.

The following morning, changing from my night clothes to my street clothes, I noticed that the leather necklace around my neck was missing. This is a very special necklace. Besides a key to my car and a lucky medallion someone gave me that are on it, it has on it a computer flash drive, a thing that you stick into the side of your computer’s USB slot to save whatever you want from your computer. I have been writing about five stories a week for this newspaper every week for more than 50 years. Early on, that was before computers. Around my neck, as crazy as it might seem to you, I keep everything I have ever written since 1991. There are about 7,000 stories from 23 years there. It’s my backup. And it is searchable. It also makes me feel very small—23 years of work on a thing about the size of my fingernail.

Finding this necklace was very important to me. My wife and I looked everywhere for it, under the bed, in every drawer. We even searched the car. It was nowhere. Then I remembered I had taken it off at the beach.

“It is in the sand,” I told my wife. “Gone.”

“Let’s go down and look for it,” my wife said.

“It’s been overrun with the big waves. It’s been washed out to sea. And if it’s not washed out to sea, it’s buried. And surely it’s ruined.”

“Let’s go down and look for it.”

“And if it’s not buried, some guy with an electric wand who looks for metal objects in the sand found it. Or that sand strainer truck that goes up and down the beach every morning cleaning up debris crushed it.”

“Let’s go down and look. Maybe someone hung it on a post.”

My wife, our dog and I searched and searched in both the places around where I had been sitting the day before. Twenty minutes later, I had just announced that, sadly, we should give up, and bygones were bygones, when I happened to look down and, half-buried, there it was. I whooped with delight.

Back home and plugged it in. It worked just fine.

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