Sheltered Islander: The Science of Beach Blanket Bingo?

Beach blanket girl
Photo: akz/123RF

At the beach you can enjoy practicing a fine skill that technology can’t teach you and can’t improve upon. It requires dexterity, control and grace. It is an Island skill, a coastal skill: the art of the beach blanket.

Beach blankets stake out your turf by the surf. Like a grave, everyone knows you never walk across someone else’s beach blanket. When you arrive at the beach, you select an area that is roughly equidistant from all others. Laying down, and gathering up, your beach blanket takes years of practice to be able to do with finesse. You gauge where the edge of the blanket should be, and standing with your back to the wind, you unfurl your old bedspread in its final incarnation as an island in the sun.

Sometimes the wind shifts and your blanket cigarette rolls. But experts wait for the updraft and, in one gesture, unfurl and loft the blanket, lowering it slowly with the dying breeze into a perfect square shape. You enjoy that moment of accomplishment as you secure all four corners with sand. You then add all the beach accoutrements you schlepped. Next you slather all the kids with sunscreen, give instructions on free range limits, and finally sit in your chair.

You will enjoy three full minutes of bliss before you begin yelling at your children: “Don’t go out so far!” “Don’t hold your sister under the water that long!”

No matter how crowded the beach, you must keep a walkway of sand between blankets. You must pretend that you cannot see or hear anything that is happening on any other blanket. You must stifle the urge to grab your cooler and bash the head of the young man next to you, who is blasting obscene rock music—because that would be frowned upon. The rules are: If it bothers you, you move or leave. I like to turn up Maria Callas singing Aida

Sometimes young couples get a little too amorous and you’re supposed to look away. But lately I’ve decided that, if they didn’t bring enough for the whole class, they have to stop. So if things get too steamy, I look right at them. This tends to cool their ardor and often elicits the question, “What are you lookin’ at?” My response, “You’re the ones puttin’ on the show. Why don’t you get a car?”

At the end of your stay comes the true test of your beach blanket expertise. The lifting of the blanket. By now, your blanket has acquired a layer of sand from kids running across it, feet passing by and the blowing breeze. You try to get the blanket up without redistributing your sand. You gently shake the sand down the blanket as you furl. But almost always a gust of wind comes up and somebody gets a face full of your sand, then you have to apologize and they have to say, “It’s all right.” Novices merely get up and shake their blanket, coating everyone around them, and we all say, “Thanks pal…” with our distinctive New York intonation that informs them that we all know how to wrap a body in a beach blanket and position it for the outgoing tide…

Sitting on a beach blanket, listening to seagulls, the rush of wind and waves, is as close to heaven as I need to be in this life. Within the imaginary boundaries of my beach blanket I can focus on what’s important, like looking at my calendar and realizing that there’s only nine paychecks till Christmas…


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