Getting along with the neighbors


‘A landlubber learns to lub the sea. Well, sort of.’

As someone who grew up in the Midwest far from any major body of water — not even a Great Lake, mind you — I have always maintained a healthy respect for the ocean.

I mean, creatures live in the ocean. Big creatures. Sure, lakes have fish living in them. But the odd perch or bluegill or crappie (yes, that’s a fish, pronounced ‘croppie’, in case you were wondering) isn’t really very scary. Unless you’re treading water and one of them, you know, brushes against your leg under the water. Which is pretty creepy.

Me, gamely 'enjoying' Lake Carlyle. Hoping that a crappie won't take a fancy to one of my toes

Me, gamely ‘enjoying’ Lake Carlyle. Hoping that a crappie won’t take a fancy to one of my toes. Note that my hair is not even wet

But ‘creepy’ doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about the creatures who frequent the briny deep. I made this deal with them early on in our relationship — sharks, manta rays, jellyfish, are you listening? — ‘You stay out of my living room, and I’ll stay out of yours.’

I wish I could blame my ocean squeamishness on the fact that I didn’t clap eyes onto (or dip feet into) an ocean until I was well into my twenties. But even before that I was water-phobic. In fact, I think I may be the only person who ever cheated in swimming class. (I refused to open my eyes underwater and ‘counted’ the number of fingers the teacher was holding up by guessing till I got it right.)

These classes were held in the public pool in my hometown well before the afore-mentioned lake even existed. (No I am not that old; the lake is a manmade one and wasn’t ‘finished’ by the Army Corps of Engineers till I was in high school.)

So. Needless to say I hadn’t had much watery practice when I up and moved to New York. I remember going to the beach once with a bunch of brand-new twenty-something ad biz buddies, where I encountered the other thing about oceans, besides the creatures-living-in-them thing. Oceans move.

There I was, wading (safely, I thought) in the shallows, when I noticed my friends’ collective eyes widening and their arms gesturing wildly. I smiled gaily and waved back, when, speaking of ‘wave’, a great big one crashed right on top of me, rolling me around like laundry in the spin cycle. Costing me my sunglasses, my bandanna, my top — and my dignity.

Me in the back of a group of Very Attractive Twenty-Somethings before The Incident. (I know it was ‘before’, because I’m still wearing my top)

Well. Then I met The Dude. Dude Man came from a family completely unlike mine. (Unlike mine in many ways, but I’ll just stick to this one way today.) He not only grew up spending all his summers by the ocean, he had a Dad who insisted that all six of his children know their way around a wave. There are grainy black-and-white home movies showing Whitmore toddlers being tossed like mini-footballs into huge, frothing waves, their tiny mouths open in silent screams.

Former Whitmore toddlers lined up for some kawabunga time with Dad (far right)

Former Whitmore toddlers lined up for some kawabunga time with tough-love Dad at far right

Naturally, once I met The Dude, I wanted to impress him. So, on my very first visit to his parents’ Amagansett retreat (which, incidentally, we now own and is where I am writing this right now) I sort of ‘lutheran lied’ about my experience with the ocean.

He’s like, ‘Do you want to go out in my cousin’s Hobie Cat?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure! That sounds like fun!’ (lutheranliar pants on fire) See, my Middle Younger Brother Roger had a Hobie, and I had in fact ridden on it. But that was on a lake. The Dude clamped me into what I thought was a safety harness. Then off we scooted onto the ocean, where we proceeded to go really really fast with the whole rig tipped crazily — and scarily — on its side.

When we (finally) made it back to shore, I remarked, ‘Wow, I thought we were going to tip over there for a minute’. To which The Dude replied, ‘I was trying to get us to tip over; it’s fun.’ I gasped, then asked, ‘But what do you do when you tip over?’ ‘You unhook yourself from the harness and swim out from under the sail’. ‘Oh yeah’, I said, ‘You unhook yourself from the harness and swim out from under the sail. I drown.’

Well, time, as it is wont to do, marched on. The Child came along and my beach-towel-surfing days were over. Because, even though we weren’t toss-’em-in-like-a-football-and-see-if-they-swim kinds of parents, we did want her to enjoy the ocean. (And not ‘catch’ my fear; though as it happened, she turned out pretty fearless.) So I gamely participated in Water Fun. I remember playing a game called Tsumommi, where we pretended (not so hard in my case) to be scared of the waves while we ran in and around them.

The Dude and The Child get up close and personal with the waves. Yup, she got that suit for her birthday

The Dude and The Child get up close and personal with the ocean. Yup, she got that suit for her birthday

We even made up a cutsey, funny term for when you got slammed by a big ole wave. We called it ‘getting crunched’. Here’s a clip from that same adorable video I butchered a couple of weeks ago to show you two little girls picking wineberries. It was shot by my Hobie-owning Younger Middle Brother Roger, and is well worth twenty seconds:

As for me, I still prefer to enjoy the ocean from a nice safe distance. Like, at the movies. Oddly enough, the scarier the Ocean-Themed-Film, the better I like it. Personal favorites include the Mother of All Scary Ocean Films, Jaws. Where (fun trivia fact) those of you who are also Ad Biz Types can glimpse the former Head Creative Director of Ogilvy during the opening beach-bonfire scene. (He was a law student at the time, spending the summer on The Vineyard when he was recruited as an extra.)

But I can also highly recommend The Perfect Storm (George Clooney as a fishing-boat captain!) and my favorite of favorites: Open Water. This is the one about the scuba-diving couple who get left behind by their dive boat. I remember seeing the trailer for this and whispering to The Child, ‘What’s next? Trapped in a car trunk with no air?’ Well, now I own this movie. And watch it, um, embarrassingly often.

I suppose this is one way of dealing with my fears of the water, sort of like kids liking scary fairy tales. But if I wanted to spend Quality Time with The Dude I needed to figure out some way to enjoy the stuff. So guess what? I learned to windsurf. After all, when you windsurf, the whole point is to stay out of the water. I will (finally) end this post with some proof. Enjoy your summer and this short clip (yup, that’s me full-speeding-it-along in the beginning, and The Dude demonstrating a duck jibe there at the end). And be safe in the water. I want to see you here again next week.

Amagansett, New York. August 2016

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39 thoughts on “Getting along with the neighbors

  1. We went to Florida last month yet I didn’t set foot in the ocean. It creeps me out and I really want no part of it. The thought that those alien like creatures (aka jellyfish) could sting me at anytime is enough to make me stick to seashell hunting.

  2. Forrest Harter

    No mo beach for me… Now it’s not just the big scarey fishes but the tee-niney bacterias n microbes too… icky-ich scarey

  3. josypheen

    I’m terrible at water sports but I love love LOVE the sea!! I do understand your fears though. I nearly drowned twice in one summer. My only problem is getting so cold that I have to come out. 🙁

    I love your stories anyway so stay safe so we can all keep reading.

  4. I’m EXACTLY the same. I’m terrified of the sea. Almost drowning in the Mediterranean Sea at 11yrs old, obviously didn’t help my fear. I’m happy with paddling and waving at my daughter & husband having fun in the sea (whilst remaining utterly paranoid about their having fun). Great post (oh and awesome windsurfing!).

  5. After I saw the Movie Jaws. I was a little afraid to get back into the water, but I’ve overcome that fear. I get in the water, but I don’t stay for very long. 😉

  6. Haha, I was traumatised back in the day by Jaws!! I love to angle in the sea and don’t mind boats close to land… although that makes me sound like Jack Sparrow when the Kraken was hunting him! Fab post, but I may stick to rivers and lakes lol

  7. When I think of water sports, I go back to my one and only scuba diving experience.. I was so scared, but once I was down there it was amazing! For Hubby Dearest however it was a different story, they didn’t weigh hi down enough and he kept on floating upwards lol!!!

  8. You tell your stories so well! I’m not a water person at all, but somehow allowed my son to persuade me to go sea kayaking (and survived tell the tale)!

    • Thanks, Bruce! I, ahem, was actually quite the Windsurfing Ace. I kept it up till about five years ago, when I couldn’t get anybody to go with me (or to rig my sails) xo

  9. I’m more like The Dude. While I wasn’t a surfer, I did grow up near the ocean. Loved it. Big waves and all. Still do. Though right now, the ocean is farther away. Our boys don’t live as near to the ocean as I did growing up. But we do go to the beach, it just not ocean water. It’s a “strait”. Hilarious story! “lutherianliar pants on fire! HAHAHAH!

  10. I love your blog so much! My favourite film is jaws and I must write about it one day but I’ve actually been cage diving with Great Whites! I get nervous occasionally on top of the water but being under water is completely different, I’ve never felt as calm and relaxed in my life, as I have when I’m underwater. Luckily, I adore the ocean. I love the simple ‘you just un clip yourself and swim out’!! What?!!! I’d drown too! Gorgeous clip of your daughter and look at you go on the windsurf! You’ve got skills! Thanks for joining the #weekendblogshare whilst we were on holiday!

    • You superstar! My sort-of prowess at windsurfing is nothing compared to swimming wth the sharks!!! Thank you so much for your kind words — about my daughter AND my blog. So glad we discovered each other! (Hugs to Bear)

  11. Alice, believe it or not, I was thinking of that movie the other night – Open Water. I could not remember the title but those with magical memories provided it for me. That was sad and scary at the same time. Well, guess who doesn’t like ocean water – His Lordship who grew up near the ocean. My favorite thing to do is scour the sands for shells and beach glass. Pretty safe. You are pretty fearless, actually, judging by the wind surfing.

    • Odd how that little movie sticks in one’s mind, isn’t it? I remember reading that it was shot on a small(ish) camera and used non-actors. And that they (the non-actors) were actually suspended in a tank full of actual non-actor sharks! Anyway. I did get to be pretty fearless as a windsurfer. It was all about NOT actually being in the water!!! Thanks, as always, for weighing in. Have fun collecting shells. Oh — and I absolutely adore beach glass. (That aqua color is my favorite.) When The Child and I would find a sharp piece, we would throw it back because it wasn’t ‘done’ yet.

      • Funny you should mention throwing sharp glass back in the water because “it wasn’t done, yet” I did that just today! And we do that whenever we go beach glass hunting.

      • I remember the utter hopelessness of the two people, her watching him die and she was left alone, knowing the same fate awaited her. Geez, what a downer. But it wasn’t over-done or pitiful, just a well told story leaving you with thoughts to ponder. Yes, I agree, pieces that were not rounded on the edges needed more sloshing around.

        • I hear you on the well-told-story comment. I think that’s what keeps me watching. I mean, I know how it’s going to turn out, but it’s just so darned compelling. And the thoughts-to-ponder part is huge (!)

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