I'm just back from a long weekend in Ogunquit, a small beach town in southeastern Maine, where we celebrated my daughter's 21st birthday. I started writing a column about the place, then realized I'd already done it -- on August 20, 2001 -- and everything I said then still applies:
Now that I’m back from summer vacation, I have an important message for all American men: Put Your Shirt On!
On this vacation, I saw far too many guys walking around shirtless. That’s not a problem at the beach or the pool, but there’s no reason for anyone over the age of 12 to be walking around town topless. I don’t care how hot the day is, I don’t want to walk into the supermarket to pick up a gallon of milk and be confronted with the sight of some guy letting his chest hair and pot belly hang out.
This doesn’t mean that young in-shape guys are exempt, either. Trust me, no one wants to see you showing off how you spent your summer tattoo allowance to proclaim your torso-laden devotion to the reptile gods. If we let you do it, we have to let everyone do it, and before long we’re back to half-naked middle-aged guys with droopy man-breasts gassing up at the Sunoco. So slap a tee on that bod, you Red Hot Chili Pepper wannabe!
Speaking of shirts, I’m going to extend this ban to those t-shirts with the huge armpit holes. For some reason, these seem to have particular appeal to the hairier members of my gender. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re so hirsute that, when naked, you look like you’re still wearing a sweater, then pull on something with sleeves when you’re out and about. Spare us the display of your personal underarm rainforest.
We spent several days in a coastal Maine town, where there are only three things to do: eat, shop, or go to the beach. When I say “go to the beach,” I don’t mean swimming. The ocean water is far too cold for normal people -- about 55 degrees on the hottest day of August.
At that temperature, there are parts of the male anatomy that retract completely. Forget shrinkage, this is more like regression. The only humans who can endure extended exposure to water that cold are: children, who have no natural body thermostat and will remain in the Atlantic until they turn six shades of purple; and Canadians, who flock south for the summer to discover the miracle of water that isn’t being Zamboni-ed. We watched dozens of Quebecois (Quebecians? Quebecers?) frolic in the waves like drunken polar bears.
Fortunately, the frigid temperatures do have an upside: they help keep the sharks away. You’ll notice that all the shark bite stories of late have come from Florida (whose name is an Indian word meaning “giant mutant mosquitoes that will suck your blood through your socks”), mostly in the Daytona area. Gotta wonder how those shark stories are going to affect Spring Break next year. Will Murray Hamilton ever allow the beaches to be closed? Will MTV still go? This could be the ultimate reality series -- don’t be the first one eaten off the island!
There hasn’t been one report of a shark attack off the coast of Maine. The closest they’ve come was in late July when one guy got his index finger stuck in a lobster claw, but a liberal application of drawn butter solved that problem quickly. Once we retrieved the kids from the shark-less arctic water, we mostly sat on the beach, watching them dig holes in the sand. For parents, the greatest thing about this childhood activity is that it has no logical end. Thus, it keeps them busy for hours, for no matter how many friends they have buried in the sand or how many castles with moats they have designed, there’s always another hole to dig.
At one point, my daughter asked me the same question I once asked my father, “Dad, could I really dig all the way to China?” I started to give her a geographic and geological explanation of why that was impossible, but I stopped and gave her the same answer I got from my father, just as generations of other kids have gotten from theirs: “Sure, go ahead and try!” I couldn’t help but wonder if, on some beach in China, there’s some Dad telling his kid to try and dig a hole all the way to America.
While the kids were digging, the adults were doing what we do best on a trip -- discussing where we would eat our next meal. My family is particularly good at this. Since we don’t like to cook and clean up all that much at home, we look at vacation as an opportunity to do even more eating without performing any chores. Thus, the near-constant discussion of where to go for the next meal. We have even talked about where to have dinner while walking to the place we’re about to have lunch!
On the way to and from each meal, we would have to stroll past the various tourist-trap boutiques that keep the village economy going. If you’ve ever been to one of these towns, you know what I’m talking about. Every other store carries a full supply of the same two dozen hats and shirts with the town’s name printed on it. Or you can have a keychain made out of a shell. Or a lobster-shaped stuffed toy (not to be confused with stuffed lobster, which will cost you about thirty bucks in any local restaurant).
Then there are the stores with signs saying “Summer Sale.” These are businesses that stay afloat thanks solely to the influx of vacationers from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and they’re trying to con us into thinking they have discounted some of their merchandise just for us. As if they raise their prices back to normal once winter returns. What they really mean is, “It’s Summer, And We Have Lots Of Crap For Sale.”
The store owners could do us all a favor by offering a summertime special. Give a small discount to any man who comes in, buys a shirt, and puts it on!