Friday, May 15, 2015

Thoughts about the Beach

The setting of Sag Harbor immediately grabbed my attention, and throughout my reading it has remained my favorite element of the novel.

My great grandfather built a house on the South Carolina coast in the 1960s, in a small commercial town called Garden City. Located on a peninsula, the "Beach House" as we all call it (original, I know) has remained a staple of my childhood. I've been able to compare my own experiences at the Beach House to Benji's, and contemplate how it has played into my own coming of age.

The most noticeable difference between Sag and Garden City is that Sag Harbor is a group of families that own their houses and come out every year for months on end while Garden City is mostly rental houses that flood with all sorts of folks every... Saturday? I think Saturday is the "move in" day. Wait, maybe it's Sunday. In any case, those are very different situations. For most of my life, trips to the Beach House have been very family orientated. Whether it's play Axis and Allies with my dad, lugging over beach equipment with my family in a grotesque caravan of poking chairs and prodding umbrellas, sandy and salt stained books and nearly empty sunscreen bottles, torn bags and sloshing coolers, rusty shovels and the blister-inducing boogie boards, or going out to eat at the K&W Cafeteria (best roast beef on earth I swear... good coconut cream pie as well), I was with my family. Benji, on the other hand... is without his parents for the majority of the novel (and for the majority of his summer vacation). I'm certainly envious. Having a group of friends down there would certainly be more fun, but I'm not sure how it would influence my coming of age. It might work on it in a different way, with less of an emphasis on philosophical values and a greater emphasis on social values. Benji also spends way more time at the Beach. Months instead of weeks. Without a social group that would be terrible!

Recently though that family dynamic has changed for me (a natural product of coming of age, as I'm sure many of us can relate to). Last winter break I was prone to long walks on the beach (down to the "point" of the Garden City peninsula--where you can hunt for bird bones in the dunes and watch the point where the harbor empties through to the sea--or operating a four-fishing-rod solo operation out on our dock (no luck... no damn luck...just lost bait!). I did had my music. Dark Side of the Moon and Dylan were usual company out on the--sometimes frigid--beach treks (even in South Carolina, January is pretty damn cold), and Lightnin Hopkins was out there fishin' with me. And honestly there aren't better places to think and reflect than out on an empty beach with some Pink Floyd or fishing in the rain with Lightnin Hopkins. Trying to pin down how these two weeks influenced my coming of age would be difficult, it's not something you "unlock", but a gradual evolution to the way you think and appreciate things. You approach things differently. You feel older, possibly more melancholic, certainly more careful, like you've been stomping around all the time and have just became conscious of how loud you've been. The sights and smells of the beach--Yum Yum's ice cream, the salty breeze, waves battering the shore, dune grass waving in the sunlight... you notice them all more. It's not a Stephen Daedelus level epiphany, but it is a change. I'm not sure you would get the same effect if you're around others a lot. That is, if I was out having BB fights with friends I certainly wouldn't have been staring at my motionless bobbers, noticing the fractals in the water and studying a crane try to find a fish to eat for half an hour. One's not better than the other, they're just fundamentally different situations.

I can't really say that I relate to Benji's experience. It's much easier to contrast my own experiences to his, because they are very different, but take place over the same "backdrop".

Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time,
Far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees, 
Out to the windy beach,
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, 
Circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate,
Driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today
Until tomorrow.

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