To the parents of the families gathered here at Buck Lake this beautiful Sunday afternoon:
Let’s begin with the obvious: it’s awkward. Of course I know it’s awkward. It’s been weird ever since I sat down.
I can see you staring at me, one eye regarding me warily while the other remains protectively fixed on your children. I do not begrudge you your caution. My house contains mirrors, and I, of all people, am perhaps all too aware of the widening bald spot, the yellowing teeth, the scraggly beard and the hairy chest, none of which endears me to you. But must they scream predator?
All because I’m the thirty-nine year old man who decided to go to the beach by himself.
Perhaps we can begin with agreement and balm the divisiveness that currently separates us in the gentle waters of concord. Undeniably, it is hot today. Very, very hot. The humidity is heavy as a vinyl curtain that’s been steam-ironed upon us. Melting tar runs down driveways like lava, and you could cook a frittata in the seat of your chaise lounge.
Isn’t it in response to such meteorological conditions that we’ve gathered here today? What brought me is surely the same thing that brought you: to settle upon the gentle sloping lawn, walk the sandy beach, and revel in the lake’s cool and refreshing waters.
It’s true that unlike you I brought only a book bag, a water bottle and a towel. I have no spary-on sunscreen, no cooler full of gummy bites and orange colored snacks. I possess no water-wings or styrofoam floating noodles. I do not have a squirt-gun. There are no fins or even a snorkel in my bag. Ultimately, and this is crux of the problem, I have no children. And I am here alone.
I am beginning to think that perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea.
How could I know it was going to be a thing? Truly, I simply wished only to go swimming. But within nine-seconds of setting down my bag and laying out my towel I realized that this was a huge mistake. My every action since has been filtered through the critically self-conscious lens of, How creepy is this going to get?
Perhaps you could advise me: which is weirder: taking off my shirt or leaving it on? Should I pretend I’m moored alone on a deserted island the size of my towel and simply bury my nose in my book? Is it better or worse to acknowledge the neighbors seated seven feet away? Shall I chide the child who continues to kick his soccer ball into my back or smile and wave at his parents as if everything were fine?
If it helps shore up your faith in me I’ve concluded the following: eye contact has been definitively ruled out. To avoid licentious implications I will not apply sunscreen anywhere on my body. I pray you’ve observed my shorts are of an appropriate, non-European length. I trust this latter fact brings a certain comfort.
As you can see I’m sweating profusely. The only reason I’m not in the water is that your kids are currently swimming. I fear my presence in the lake will send a ripple of terror across the beach. I imagine you running along the shore, waving your arms frantically as your children scatter and scramble. I will have become the human JAWS, Ahab’s secret sought after, a fire-drill run in reverse.
As for your skimpily bikinied wife, in defense of whose honor you are now presumably glaring at me. I acknowledge that yes, I have noticed her lying atop her towel. But let us be reasonable: for what purpose other than being noticed would she have chosen to wear those six square inches of “bathing suit” this afternoon?
Well sir, that is your opinion, but on this we will have to disagree. I can no more apologize for having eyes than I can turn them off.
What’s that you say? Not your wife? She’s your…? I’m sorry, what was that?
Daughter, you say?
Yes, of course. I see. No, no — I. Well, no, I would not like to know just how old she is. I assure you that such information could be of no use in this situation.
Frankly, at my age I can’t tell the difference. Fifteen, nineteen, twenty-six? — it’s a numerical free-for-all, a horrible hodgepodge of hormones and things I still don’t comprehend.
Yes. No. Yes. Perhaps you’re right. I agree.
Maybe it would be for the best.
As I lace up my sneakers let me once again assure you that I was simply hoping for an afternoon of sun, reading, and relaxation. A refreshing dip is all I desired.
Yes, I understand. Of course. No, no need to call the police. I’m rolling up my towel as we speak.
Certainly. I assure you I won’t be returning. You won’t see me again. Not tomorrow. No, sir, not ever.