Tag Archives: Beach

This guy ruined my sandcastle

I just got home from spending the day at the beach. It was pretty cool, mostly, but I had this really weird run-in with some guy. My wife and I were building a sandcastle, it wasn’t one of those professional ones you see beach artists working on for weeks at a time. But it wasn’t your average kid-with-a-bucket-and-pail sandcastle either. This was like semipro, if there were such a way of classifying sand sculptures.


We’d been working on it for maybe three or four hours, so you could see the general outline of where everything was going to go. There were several towers, a few turrets, all of your standard sandcastle fare. But we were just getting started on the detail work when this guy totally crashed right on top of it.

It was just like out of a movie. He was chasing a Frisbee in the air, it was just out of his reach, and as he dove to catch it, he landed exactly where I told you he landed, on the sandcastle. It was destroyed.

He didn’t notice at first. I mean, he did make his catch, so he was probably a little lost in his sense of accomplishment. There was definitely this five second moment after his body stopped moving, where the three of us were just sitting there, my wife and I not really sure how to react, him sticking his hand out of the sand, I guess to show off that, despite sacrificing himself for the play, he did it, he caught that Frisbee.

And then I got angry, not a rational type of anger, but just like a, “Come on man! What the fuck?” instinctual response. And he must have seen it coming, because he got really apologetic. “Oh, jeez, guys, I am so sorry about this. Holy shit, I can’t believe I just did that. I wasn’t looking where I was running to and … man, I hope you guys don’t think that I did that on purpose. My God, I am really, really sorry. Can I make it up to you?”

And what am I going to do? Get mad at this guy for ruining our sandcastle? Sure, I said it was semipro quality before, and even as I wrote that out, there was a voice inside my head saying, “Really Rob? Semipro quality? Don’t you think that’s a little generous?” But the competing narrative in my head, the voice that wrote semipro in the first place, it shot back, “Why, you’re saying it’s not that good? Get out of here, that castle was great. In fact, if I could have spent a whole weekend on the beach, entirely dedicating myself to sand sculpture, I think I might be able to broach that semipro-pro barrier.”

But now that I’m writing it out, I don’t think it was that good. If I’m being totally honest here, I mean, sure, it was big. But that was it. That was our sandcastle’s defining characteristic, its size. And so as this guy apologized, I wanted to be mad, but I didn’t want to be mad either, because I didn’t want to be that guy that made a huge scene over whatever it was that got destroyed. I started to think, maybe this guy did us a favor. It’s not like my wife was really that interested in sandcastles. It wasn’t something that we planned on, either. I’m wondering if she wasn’t a little annoyed at the whole activity. She just wanted a nice relaxing day at the beach, and it’s like as soon as we had our towels and umbrella set up, I immediately recruited her into this ridiculous, big activity.

“I’ll help fix it,” the guy offered.

To which I said, “Nah, that’s OK, I think we’re about done with building sandcastles.”

“No, come on, don’t say that. It was so big! Just let me help you, I can help you.”

And I looked toward my wife, I knew she probably wouldn’t want to, but maybe. But no, she gave me a look, I could tell she was nonverbally communicating with me that she didn’t feel like starting over, not with this random dude, not at all.

“Nah, that’s OK, I think we’re just going to relax for a little while.”

But this guy wouldn’t take a hint. He just started digging and building. “You’ll see,” he muttered to himself, “I can fix it.” It was like he was possessed. After a few minutes, I looked behind him, to see who had tossed him the Frisbee in the first place, but there was nobody there, nobody looking for him.

His digging could only be described as feverish, really, and we kept getting sprayed with sand as he scooped at the giant pile with his bare hands. “Sorry!” he’d call out. I turned to my wife and said, “Do you want to go move spots? Somewhere else?” And she just nodded, yes, I want to move spots.

So I had to roll everything up and walk everything over and reset everything. It took like another half an hour. And then when we left two hours later, we passed by our old spot. It was incredible. In just a couple hours, this guy had managed to build a masterpiece out of the ruins of whatever it was that we were on our way to building over there. He even somehow built a moat with actual water, something that I had originally suggested to my wife, but the idea wasn’t met with too much enthusiasm, and so I backed off.

I was so jealous. A crowd had gathered, people were taking pictures. I’m not saying that I went in on the sandcastle to get attention. You can’t go about life that way. But man, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have that fantasy running through my head. And now this guy had it. I tried to catch his attention as we walked toward the bus stop, “Hey man, looks like you really turned it around,” hoping that he’d acknowledge me, maybe give me a little shout out. But there was nothing. He looked up, considered me for maybe half a second, and then went back to his work. Damn. Right before we were just out of earshot, I could have sworn I heard the bystanders giving him a light round of mild applause.

Vacation Part Two: Swimming

I’m still on vacation. We spent the whole morning sitting on the beach. Every twenty minutes or so I’d go into the ocean to cool off and go for a swim. I started thinking about swimming, how it’s this natural state of being that I rarely get to really experience. I fill my lungs up with air and bob along the surface of the ocean, paddling in, lunging out.

Whenever I swim in the ocean, I get all of these crazy thoughts. I at once recognize the vastness of the sea, how tiny of a blip I am occupying this planet, the cosmos. I’ll go out a little bit, the water’s only ankle deep. Then it’s waist deep. And then I’m on my tippy-toes, bouncing up and down, enjoying as close as I’m going to get to weightlessness in my life. And after that I’m in over my head.

There’s always that urge to see how far I can swim out. And I’d love to. I mean, I’m a distance runner. I’ve run like eight marathons. I like to think that there’s a very high upward limit for what my body is capable of sustaining physically. And so I wish I could have a controlled environment, maybe a boat sailing next to me, making sure I don’t cramp up and drown. I’d love to know just how far I’m able to swim out before actually not being able to take any more punishment.

I’m sure it’s got to be hours, I’m pretty good at rationing out energy. And yet I’m never able to swim out more than five minutes or so without getting spooked and heading back to the shore. I always panic. I always think, what if I can’t make it back? When we were living in Ecuador, we’d head to the beach every month or so. There was this one spot that we frequented, and way out past the breakers there was a giant buoy. Every single time we’d visit, I’d mentally challenge myself to make it all the way out there.

Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe anybody who swam in high school or college would look at this buoy and call me a total wimp. But it was maybe twenty minutes of swimming once I got past the point where I could no longer touch the ocean floor. I know it was twenty minutes because I eventually wound up making it out there. It only took a year or so of mentally preparing and then actually committing myself to the challenge.

I made several unsuccessful attempts, the first dozen or so times I’d get maybe half of the way out there before freaking out and turning back. I’m saying freaking out, but what does that really mean? I’d think, even though I know that I’m physically capable of doing this, out here there is absolutely no margin for error. I’ve never had swimming cramps, the kind of debilitating pains you’d associate with the word charlie-horse, but they have to exist, that whole don’t-swim-until-twenty-minutes-after-eating rule has to be there for a reason.

And so it was always this self-induced mini panic attack. I’d get out there, I’d start thinking about cramps, about accidentally swallowing some water, of maybe some weird type of a sea animal brushing against my leg – no joke, one time I saw a sea snake in the water – making me freak out. And just the idea of me freaking out made me start to freak out. My deep breaths would become increasingly shallow. I’d feel a burning throughout my body, not a real burning, but a good enough of an imaginary burning to let me know exactly what it would feel like to run out of gas right there, nobody to save me, slowly realizing that these breaths would be my last.

Like I said, eventually I made it out to that buoy. It’s all about getting past that point of no return, when you realize, look, yeah I’m freaking out now, but I’m closer to that buoy than I am to the shore, and so if I’m really concerned about survival here, I might as well swim all the way out. And so finally I made it. It was a little deceiving, because even though I thought I was halfway out, it was probably more like only a quarter of the way out. I guess the vastness of the horizon played some tricks with my depth perception.

When I made it out there, the buoy was much, much bigger than it had appeared from the shore. And there wasn’t anywhere really to grab on, the whole surface of the object was corroded, like the government dropped it in there twenty years ago and figured, yeah, we probably won’t have to replace this thing for another fifty years. I looked back at everybody back on dry land, and it really was way too far.

But knowing what I knew, that I made it out there, that I didn’t have a panic attack and die, it spared me from suffering a similar fate on the journey back. And so it was the only time in my life where I was able to go for a really long swim, a distance swim, and just enjoy it without being way too conscious of my impending doom.

And I’m thinking about this because I tried to go for really deep swim today here in Puerto Rico, but I couldn’t. It was the same deal as always. I got out there, maybe like one or two minutes past where I could stand up, I chickened out. I treaded water for a minute or so and then immediately headed back. This time I just kept imagining a stray wave, something that maybe formed months ago miles out, a gust of wind over a still patch of water, it started rolling, started heading toward the shore, where I’d be, swimming, vacationing, and it would carry me all the way out, one mile, two miles away from the sand, and I’d be out there for how long, alternating between on my back and treading water, hoping that I had the strength to make it back alive. No thanks, I went back to the bar and ordered another Mai Thai.


Even though I’m on vacation right now, I’m still committing myself to sitting down to write something every day. But it’s really hard to concentrate because it’s so beautiful outside and I don’t want to be at my computer trying to figure out what to write about. It’s hard enough doing this at my kitchen table back in New York, where I’m almost completely desensitized to the world around me. I’m able to, sometimes anyway, completely clear my mind from all distractions, open up my imagination to topics such as, what would it be like to wait tables in space? Or, do I really believe in the magical properties of crystals?

But here it’s like super hard, for all of the obvious reasons. There’s this ridiculous beach outside. I’m sitting in my hotel room in a bathing suit trying to just belt out a blog post, just one short piece, just something. I didn’t get any writing done yesterday, because we were traveling. It was one of those get-up-at-six-in-the-morning days so we could catch our flight. That’s great, but of course my brain wouldn’t let me fall asleep until two in the morning the night before.

When we finally made it to our hotel yesterday afternoon, all I had the energy to do was sit on the beach and drink Mai Thais until my body couldn’t keep its eyes open, some time around seven PM. I woke up this morning at nine, but my wife had to pry me out of the bed. I can’t believe I used to pull all-nighters like this once a week when I was in college. And it was nothing. I’d spend all day totally goofing around, realizing that I had way too much work due the next day, but I’d shrug it off, head to the library, and stay up all night getting my assignments done. What happened to me? At what point did I turn into this guy that becomes a zombie the one time a year he only sleeps for three hours before a flight?

By the way, it’s funny because, I wrote this whole blog post a while back about Delta Airlines, how they wronged me in the past, how I swore I’d never fly with them again. Guess which airline had the cheapest flights to Puerto Rico? Guess who flew Delta Airlines? Whatever, I flew in protest.

This morning we got up, we had the hotel breakfast, and then we camped out on the beach, my wife lying out in the tropical sun, absorbing its golden rays and bronzing herself like a pro. Me, I was committed to the shade like a cockroach, religiously reapplying sunscreen every twenty minutes. I’ll still burn, but it was worth it, to be able to sit outside. I got to read, something I really don’t let myself find enough time for.

We’re only on our first full day of vacation here, but if I had to find one thing to complain about, it’s that there are way too many vacationers here complaining. We’re at a total American beach destination, and yeah, I work in the service industry, so I guess I’ve sort of fine-tuned myself to automatically detect the frequencies of others’ discontent, but I’m really shocked by how so many Americans can come to a beautiful tropical island and just find everything to complain about.

We went out to dinner to some seafood restaurant in Old San Juan. Everything was as perfect as you’d imagine an amazing seafood restaurant to be. We had ceviche, we had whole red snapper, we had these fried fish balls. Man, everything was just f’n unbelievably delicious. The only thing that put a damper on our good time was these two ladies at the table next to us complaining the entire meal, to each other, to every single staff member that came over. It was beyond ridiculous. They ate an entire dish and then complained that it wasn’t enough, arguing over the bill for an hour after they finished their last bite. Our waitress wound up buying us a round of drinks after they left because we had to sit next to that vortex of negativity the entire time. What a bunch of entitled brats.

And then today at the beach, there was this couple complaining, loudly, to everybody around them about how long it was taking for the hotel staff to get them a beach umbrella. Just get one yourself if you want it that bad. It was one of these scenes where the woman was walking around in every which way, grabbing anybody that wore anything remotely resembling a uniform, “Excuse me? Can we have an umbrella? Everybody else is getting umbrellas. Oh my God. We need an umbrella,” to the point where like three employees eventually came over with three different umbrellas, the second and third one realizing that they had all been contracted to repeat the same job, muttering to themselves in Spanish the absurdity of this lady’s demands.

Anyway, that’s my only complaint, other people complaining. That and me not being able to concentrate on my writing, because I’m having a fantastic vacation.

Hey it’s summertime! Let’s go to the beach! Let’s go to the beach and have some summertime fun!

It’s summertime and I’m always thinking every time I have a day off that I’m supposed to go to the beach. Like I really should, like I have to or something. But, I don’t know, I just don’t get the whole beach thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great times at the beach, but only if I’m staying at a hotel that’s like directly on the beach. I’ll go straight from my room, right out to the beach, maybe do some swimming, some laying around, sandcastles, obviously. And then when I’m done I just go right up to my room and take a shower and it’s like I was never at the beach in the first place.

Because while it’s fun being at the beach, everything else about the whole process is really annoying. I live like an hour away from the beach. I’d have to get up super early and pack all of my stuff. And here’s where I’m already totally lost. Because am I supposed to go to the beach in my bathing suit? I guess, right? Because, what am I supposed to do, change at the beach? Where? I can just see it already happening where I get there and there’s nowhere to change, so I have to do this really weird move where I wrap a towel around my waist and take off my pants or my shorts and then put my bathing suit on. I’m just squirming and it’s really hard to maneuver, and the towel keeps slipping. And everyone’s looking at me like, what has this guy never been to the beach before?

But if you go to the beach in your bathing suit, are you supposed to go home in your bathing suit also? I’m probably going to go swimming. And it’s going to be all sandy and itchy. So for an hour I have to sit there and pretend like I’m comfortable, while I’m really itchy and sticky and sweaty and just feeling grosser by the second?And there’s so much stuff to bring. It’s like going on a mini vacation. So much unpacking and packing and repacking and carrying. It’s not an easy thing to do. And there’s a ton of preparation involved that the eventual time actually spent on the beach hardly seems worth it. I’d be happy at the beach for like maybe like two hours. That sounds cool. I could do a little reading, go for a swim, lay out for a second, and that’s it. It’s like going to the park. I don’t feel like spending all day at the park. But if you spend two hours packing, an hour travelling, another hour unpacking and repacking and setting up and disassembling, you’re really at this point invested in the beach, required to spend at least five hours at the beach, just to make it seem like you spent your time at least somewhat wisely. So then you have to think about what you’re going to do for those extra three hours. Aren’t you going to get hungry? Thirsty? OK, so now you have to bring a cooler, and that’s heavy. Don’t forget the ice. And cups. You know what? I think we have to bring a trash bag for all of the trash. Aren’t we going to get really sunburned after five hours? Maybe we should bring an umbrella. Isn’t it tax season already? All right, we have to go to accountant’s house and pick him up. Don’t forget extra copies of those W-2s.

No, I hate complaining. I’m not trying to be a complainer. Like I said, the beach can be a lot of fun. It’s just really inaccessible and so much work. Plus, if it’s a really great beach day, do you think you’re the only person who has the bright idea to go to the beach? No, it’s you and every other person with nothing to do. And so you’re stepping on cigarette butts that always retain their heat whe they’re buried in the sand. You’re getting sand kicked in your face by little kids. That big Italian guy next to you is blasting club music really loud and looking at you, almost begging you to say something. You want to start something? Huh brah? Huh punk?

I’m just kidding. I love Italians. I love Super Mario. I love spaghetti. I don’t care if Marco Polo brought it over from China, it’ll always be Italian food to me. At least the Italians aren’t a bunch of communists like the Chinese. I do love Chinese dumplings better than gnocchi, though. Sorry, Italians. You make the better pasta, but they make the better dumplings. I wonder: if China and Italy joined forces to make one country, would they call it Chitaly? Yeah, definitely. The Chitalians would be a great people, masters of both pasta and dumplings. Don’t you think a General Tso’s inspired pizza would be delicious? You’ve had buffalo chicken pizza, right? Well this would be just like that, but Chinese. Or Chitalian. I forgot already. This is all probably never going to happen though.