Looking out for killer sunbeams, killer ponies

July 22, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

I HAVE JUST returned from nine days on the beach at Ocean City, and have the healthy glow and ruddiness of skin which signals initial-stage melanoma to prove it.

Look, tanning is a problem for those of us with that kind of waxy, semi-translucent northern European skin.

So before hitting the beach I slather on the sunscreen -- thick, greasy stuff with a Sun Protection Factor so high you wouldn't pink up at ground zero of a nuclear blast.

Then I sit on the beach -- oh, yes, that's a sight -- and read my newspapers and books, and within an hour I look like I've been napping inside a blast furnace.

When I wasn't slathering on sunscreen, I was working on a pretty complicated daily schedule at the beach.

The schedule went like this:

Play golf.

Hang on the beach with the kids.

Drink beer with my wife and our friends on the deck at night.

Oh, sure, it gets old after a while. You could only do this for, say, 27 or 28 years in a row, and then one day you'd wake up and think: "God, not golf and the beach and beer again!"

For the most part, the weather was gorgeous, although one evening I turned on the TV and the weatherman was saying: "Looks like a little precipitation coming our way. Which is good, of course, because the farmers really need the rain."

And I'm thinking: Ex-cuse me? The farmers?! The FARMERS?!

Hey, what about me, Jack? What about my needs?! I'm the one on vacation here!

Look, I'm sorry the farmers have thousands of acres of corn shriveling in the hot sun, OK? I'm sorry the soybean crop is dying and the tomatoes have shrunk to the size of marbles and the chickens are all frying in their coops and turning their parched little beaks toward the heavens and chirping plaintively: Rain. We need rain.

But I got a 7 a.m. tee time tomorrow, OK? So I don't want to hear about rain.

Hey, I'm not proud of thinking like that. But that's what vacation does -- it warps your mindset.

Anyway, it did rain the next day, so instead of hitting the beach, we went to see the killer wild ponies on Assateague Island.

I say killer wild ponies because as soon as you pull into the Visitors Center, you see all these signs saying how dangerous the ponies are, how they're wild, so you shouldn't get too close to them because they could kick or bite you.

Then you go into a little theater and watch a 15-minute movie about the wild ponies, and the underlying message is: Oh, sure, these ponies look cute. But don't get too close, 'cause they could kick, bite and maybe even be rabid!"

Then you leave the theater and pick up the informational brochures, and there it is again: Be careful! The ponies could kick, bite, spread rabies, maybe tear out your lungs.

So by the time we went to actually see the ponies, the kids were terrified. It was like we were off to see a pack of timber wolves.

At one point, we actually found ourselves with some other pony-watchers about 25 yards from three wild ponies in the scrub brush.

And everyone in the crowd was extremely jumpy, like these ponies were going to charge and tear us to shreds any moment.

It reminded me of that classic bit in the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where the Knights of the Round Table come upon a cave they've been searching for feverishly, only to find the cave guarded by ... a bunny rabbit.

"Why, it's joost a bunny!" one of the relieved knights exclaims.

"He's got fangs that'll rip your eyes out!" a nearby sorcerer warns. "He's got a mean streak a mile wide!"

And with that the bunny flies through the air and starts attacking King Arthur's men and ripping their throats out.

Thankfully, none of the ponies launched into a snorting, murderous rampage, at least not while we were there.

And by the time we returned to Ocean City, the sun was already peeking out, and I was reaching for the sunscreen. This one had an SPF of about 180.

Because whether it's the sun or killer ponies, you can't be too careful.

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