This vacation was to die for

Kevin Cowherd

July 14, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

I guess it was when the body washed up on the beach that things became seriously weird and I began to re-examine the direction our vacation was taking.

It's one thing to have jellyfish and sand crabs brush against your legs as you frolic in the ocean.

But when a corpse washes up not 50 yards from where you're standing and people start screaming and pointing and running around . . . well, you try concentrating on that John Grisham TC novel. It's damn near impossible.

Until the body washed up -- yes, yes, we'll get to that in a minute -- we were enjoying the tranquillity that only a week at the seashore can provide.

Our days were spent on the beach, nervously scanning for syringes and smearing on sunscreen and fending off melanoma.

At night, we'd hit the boardwalk for ice cream, dodging the wild-eyed, multi-tattooed carny workers who would suddenly emerge from a cloud of cigarette smoke to shriek: "Knock over the bowling pins, win the little lady a giant panda!"

Maybe there's a better way to spend seven days in the summer, but off the top of my head, I can't think of it.

This is neither here nor there, but my philosophy when swimming in the ocean is simple: Try to keep at least one child between you and the open sea in the event of a shark attack.

That way, when you spot that dorsal fin knifing through the water in your direction, you can throw the child in the shark's path and buy some time to frantically thrash your way to shore.

Incidentally, if a child is unavailable for this purpose, a senior citizen will do nicely.

Luckily, we met an 84-year-old grandmother from Princeton, N.J., named Betty who would go in the water every afternoon.

She was very sweet and I hated to use her as a shield, of sorts. But the fact is that most senior citizens are not quite as spry as they used to be. So when that first panicky cry of " SHARK!" pierces the air and hundreds of terrified swimmers begin splashing ashore, it is people like Betty who will slow the monster and keep him from savaging even more innocent lives.

Another thing: Having lost a great deal of bone mass to advancing age, many of these people are light enough to be plucked up by the shoulders and actually hurled in the direction of the shark's jaws, should the horrible beast be that close.

(Look, I'll be a senior citizen soon enough myself. You think I like thinking about these things?)

While there were no reports of voracious makos or great whites devouring swimmers, we were attacked repeatedly by "greenheads," which are vicious sand flies the size of pterodactyls.

These flies will literally tear off a portion of your skin and leave you bleeding profusely, as if you'd just been hacked with a machete.

Fortunately, the vigorous application of a certain skin moisturizer -- a product from Avon; no, that's it, end of endorsement -- kept the little pests at bay.

In many respects, this was the insect equivalent of waving a crucifix in the face of a vampire.

As soon as the skin moisturizer was applied, you could almost hear the greenheads braking in mid-air and screaming at each other: "No! Go back! He's got the stuff on!"

The greenheads took particular delight in attacking my wife, who, due to an incredible streak of cowardice, will not go in the water any deeper than up to her ankles. The woman claims to be uncomfortable with all the "things" floating at her feet in the ocean.

One day I said to her: "Stop being such a baby, for God's sake! What's the worst thing that can brush up against you?"

Which, of course, was when the body washed up.

I don't know . . . this is not exactly the mental snapshot that the Chamber of Commerce wants you to carry after a week at the beach.

But there it was: a body washing up one beach from where we were. The body was that of some poor guy who'd been reported missing in the water the previous evening. That was all we were told, and all we cared to know.

As if our nerves were not jangled enough, that night we watched Linda Blair levitate and spin her head 360 degrees and spew forth green bile in "The Exorcist."

Fortunately, I was able to sedate myself with many beers, and had no difficulty at all watching even the most disturbing scenes while cowering in the hall closet.

Anyway, that was plenty of excitement for me. The next morning we went home for a good, long rest.

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