Modest Isn’t Hottest For Me

While preparing for a church outing last year to the local islands, it dawned on me that maybe I should rethink my swimwear choices.

I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin and I prefer to be on a beach with as little clothing as possible. My bikini was from O’Neil – a surf clothing line – because it stayed put in the waves and wore like iron. It was street legal on the family-friendly beaches of New Hanover County, but it didn’t leave much to the imagination. My top barely cleared my areola and my cheeky bottoms showed more skin than it covered.

I suddenly became self-conscious about what I was wearing, which hadn’t happened to me since middle school. I ended up wearing a surfing bikini top and men’s boardshorts, my ace in the hole for modesty. The boardshorts cover my belly button to just passed my knees and are super baggy. You can’t see any of my ink and my awesome waist to hip ratio is obliterated (my hips are thirteen inches bigger than my waist measurements). I looked like a box.

That’s how I’m suppose to look, right?

A pastor’s daughter who aspires to be a philosophy major commented on my attire. “Boardshorts, huh?” she said, wearing a cute bikini herself.

“Eh, my normal swimsuit isn’t that modest, thought this would be better.”

She rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I assure you my dad doesn’t care what you wear.”

Well, that was encouraging.

One of the ladies of the congregation in her mid-50’s showed up in a string bikini. She was a grandmother and rocked it, despite not having a “perfect 10” body. I want to be like her when I grow up.

While still active but not exactly declining modeling contracts at 38, I decided that maybe this year I should dress my age. I found a swimsuit on sale and thought this was the answer. Hello 38, I have arrived.

My new suit is a corsetted surfing bikini that covers, which means my 32B chest is safe and I don’t have to worry about getting arrested after a big wave. The bottoms have actual material that cover the entirety of my butt and then some. There are four inches of material on the sides. Four inches. It’s like granny panties.

They fit perfect in the fitting room, leaving everything possible to the imagination. Fast forward to my road test of the new suit at the beach: I checked myself in the mirror before I left to get a better idea of this new swimming costume.

Well, if it was modesty I was going for, I sure got it.

The bottoms, although they covered all things, cut into the nice layer of fat I have on top of my hips. Yes, I like my ice cream. Yes, I like my rum. Yes, this is a byproduct of that, I’m sure. In the back, it covered everything so the only thing visible was the giant cellulite patches at the top of my thighs. Did I mention spider veins?

Oh. My.

I’m not bringing sexy back. Hot girl summer part deux? Not here. For the first time in my adult life, I felt out of place at the beach. The real test of a bathing suit is body surfing in the waves, and it passed with flying colors. So I got that going for me.

Here’s to visiting the beaches of southern France the next chance I get. That’s more my speed. But until then, I’ll be adjusting to this new normal.

Loopholes Discovered in Carolina Beach

Today was a big step for Simonne kind in this new normal world.

Carolina Beach is “open,” inasmuch as you can’t sit or play games on the beach, but you can walk, jog, surf, and paddleboard, socially distanced of course.

Oh, and there’s no public parking available. Everything is roped off.

As usual, I found loophole. Public parking might be closed, but the town’s press release said nothing about parking at the chain grocery store and walking a mile to the strand. And that’s exactly what I did with free parking to boot!

I wore a cloth mask I found on Etsy without sunglasses so if I was caught in a “circumstance,” I could at least communicate with my eyes. I walked towards the North End, but even the public beach access had boards nailed across the wooden path. I knew one spot that would be open. I chose to willfully ignore the laminated “No Entry/No Access” signs and smiled at the pedestrian gap in the traffic barrels with rope. And before I knew it, I was back on the beach. My heart sang it was so happy! I walked a couple of miles and encountered only four other humans.

Also, masks get really hot after a few miles on foot.

It was surreal to be on the beach on such a nice day without crowds. The waves looked decent, but I’d have to wear a wetsuit and would have no where to stash my bag and towel – that was illegal too – let alone carrying a six foot surfboard several miles. I stopped by the Boardwalk in search of curbside ice cream and it looked like a post-zombie apocalypse had occurred. There was no ice cream.

I’m pleased to report no encounters with the law.

It made me sad to think this year I might not experience my “Summer Sundays.” Last year, early afternoon on bright sunny summer Sundays, I would drive to Carolina Beach. I’d walk to the store “Go Sauce Yourself” on the Boardwalk and buy a beer – usually “Come Hell or High Watermelon” (which is basically summer in a can) – and take it with me in my beach bag. I’d spent the afternoon sitting – Sabbathing if you will – on the beach, sipping beer, and taking a dip in the ocean. I’d read, let my mind wander over the waves, and recharge with solar energy. If I was feeling especially crazy, I would get ice cream on my way home. I’d only be out there for a couple of hours.

Wait, you’re probably thinking, alcohol is illegal on the beaches here!

Well, there’s a loophole about southern culture that I’ve learned from all my years here: it’s quite gilded (which means a cheap metal is painted in a gold coat to give the appearance of solid gold, but obviously isn’t – appearance trumps everything). As long as you hide the alcohol, and aren’t disturbing the peace with your public drunkenness, no one cares. I had a koozie over the beer can, thus hiding what it was, so I was safe. I find this hilarious. If I ran Carolina Beach, I’d have patrols looking in everyone’s coolers and write enough alcohol citations to fund the town’s annual budget.

But I’m not, so I will gladly enjoy a beer. Obviously, I’m not anywhere near intoxicated.

The fact of the matter is even if the stay at home orders are lifted, our lives will be different for some time to come. Church says we hope to be meeting again by mid-May, and even if that is the case, it’s far too soon for me. I can socially distance myself at the beach – heck, I’ve been doing it for fourteen years now, but I don’t know what the summer holds or how long this virus will linger. I’ll just keep checking for loopholes and keep a low profile. As I do.

No Wake Zone

When I first moved to Wilmington, the biggest draw for me was the ocean. I got a surfboard and quickly learned the ways of the ocean. Most of my weekends are spent on the sand or in the water. The ocean grounds me. She’s a capricious mistress, as I found out the hard way by nearly dying in heavy seas, but her ebb and flow speak to my soul.

When I first moved here my co-worker gave me pause: she never left an AC-controlled environment all summer long. “Go to the beach?” she said in an exasperated tone, as if I suggested trudging through a swamp at dusk, “Why? It’s hot, the blazing sun’s out, there’s bugs, and you get sand everywhere. Ew. No thanks.” I come to find out, many of my fellow Wilmingtonians never went to the beach. I really fell off my rocker when I learned many children here never experienced a day at the beach with their family and the kids in the poorer sections of town had never seen the ocean. I was not prepared for that. I thought everyone here would go to the beach!

I couldn’t imagine not going to the beach. I visit the beach in winter, too, and I feel a difference in my soul when it’s been weeks since I get to the strand. When we were house hunting and contemplating an area more inland, I noticed the difference in the air and temperature once I got away from the ocean and I didn’t like it. I’m glad my house is only a few miles as the crow flies from the Atlantic. I couldn’t have it any other way.

And now, because of the virus quarantine protocols, they have closed the beaches. “$@%,” I said when I saw the news. I know why they’re doing it and I agree with why they’re doing it. My head knows it, but my heart doesn’t.

The worst part about being in the medical community is that it erases all hope. It’s so much easier to hang onto hope and look beyond the reality of a situation without medical knowledge. Our dear leaders keep saying things will turn around “another week or so,” but it doesn’t work that way, no matter how much they say it. Once I saw the beaches close, I knew it would be for months, not merely weeks, and my surfing and beach time was now an act against the law.

I’m a law-abiding citizen. Cops and I have never gotten along well, so it is everything I can do to keep them away. Despite this, I started trespassing on private property, however, in a desperate attempt to find a place near by house to access the Intracoastal Waterway. All of my attempts were thwarted by guard dogs and scary looking “NO TRESPASSING” signs. I was successful in finding one spot – again, technically I am trespassing because I do not do not own property in this neighborhood – but a kind elderly gentleman said it would be okay. This is as close as I can get to the beach nowadays.

A summer without the beach? I’m hesitant to think about it too much.

Wrightsville Beach opened today, but alas, public parking is not allowed and I’m not desperate enough for 20 mile walk round trip. I hope other beaches will open. I know enough honey holes on the island to be far, far away from the crowds (especially for illegally suntanning). I’m contemplating buying a backpack for my surfboard so I can easily carry it down the beach, if I have to walk a mile or so. I’ve also shopped around for kayaks, but the 2 mile walk to the public dock with kayak in tow has me rethinking that plan.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” says the Lord’s prayer. We don’t live that way in modern America, but I have a feeling that I will be living like that more often than not in the days to come.

I hope that bread is full of vitamin sea.

The First Time

“I think you’ll really like this one,” my high school boyfriend said to me as he handed me an old tattered copy of The Black Shrike by Alister MacLean, a Scottish author, published in 1961. My family was leaving for our yearly retreat at the cottage on Lake Huron and I was in need of a novel. He assured me it was an adventure book and a real page turner. I had no idea what a shrike was, let alone any color variations of it, yet I trusted his recommendation. 

I would be in my thirties before I found out a shrike was a bird. It had nothing to do with the title. Then again, maybe it did?

I remember sitting on the beach, sun tanning in a bikini on a towel when I began reading. A few paragraphs in, I had to stop for air.

Oh. My. 

I was only 17, but astute enough to be completely blown away by MacLean’s writing style. As someone who had not yet experienced alcohol or sex, this was the literary equivalent to both of my vices. His words hit me like a shot of expensive high quality vodka and washed over me like the first touch of a lover’s naked skin against my own.

I was hooked.

I tore through the book as if someone else was paying my bar tab and it was a passionate one night stand that would end with the sunrise.

The story is told by John Bentall, a scientist who was also a secret agent for British Intelligence. He got pulled to a top secret mission with a co-agent, Marie, who was to pose as his wife, much to John’s chagrin. The duo get sucked into a treacherous web of lies and double crossings, complete with a bait and switch minefield. The ending has so much of a twist that you’ll find yourself upside down on the last page, wondering what on earth just happened.

John was a loner, like myself, and his bluntness combined with a parched British sense of humor, need for the truth, flawed logic, cunning intellect, and ability to push through anything by sheer determination melted my heart. If he were real, I’d have dated him.

I got serious about writing in 2016 and looked to authors who came before me for inspiration: Alister MacLean was at the top of my list. I read Where Eagles Dare – my German came in handy for deciphering the play on words in the title – the flawlessly executed banter between the two main characters delighted me as both a reader and a writer. The Blake Shrike never left my beach bag this summer, as I re-read it for the third time – this time through the eyes of an author. I’m still amazed at his ability to craft words and scenes. I wish I could share a drink with Alister, picking his brain about life and writing. I’d love to know his inspiration for this story, but he died when I was in elementary school.

I may never hold a candle to my writing hero Alister, but I’d certainly love to try.

An excerpt from the second chapter:


But there’s no perfection in a very imperfect world: the locks on the bedroom doors of the Grand Pacific Hotel were just no good at all. 

My first intimation of this came when I woke up in the middle of the night in response to someone prodding my shoulder. But my first thought was not of the door-locks but of the finger prodding me. It was the hardest finger I’d ever felt. It felt like a piece of steel. It was a dully-gleaming .38 Colt automatic and, just in case I should have made any mistake in identification, whoever was holding it shifted the gun as soon as he saw me stir so that my right eye could stare down the centre of the barrel. It was a gun alright. My gaze travelled up past the gun, the hairy brown wrist, the white coated arm to the brown cold still face with the battered yachting cap above, then back to the automatic again.

“O.K., friend,” I said. I meant it to sound cool and casual but it came out more like the raven–the hoarse one–croaking on the battlements of Macbeth’s castle. “I can see it’s a gun. Cleaned and oiled and everything. But take it away, please. Guns are dangerous things.”

“A wise guy, eh?” he said coldly. “Showing the little wife what a hero he is. But you wouldn’t really like to be a hero, would you, Bentall? You wouldn’t really like to start something?”

I would have loved to have started something. I would have loved to take his gun away and beat him over the head with it. Having guns pointed at my eye gives me a nasty dry mouth, makes my heart work overtime and uses up a great deal of adrenalin. I was just starting out to think what else I would like to do to him when he nodded across the bed.

The Black Shrike, by Alister MacLean



Phoebe

Phoebe texted me out of the blue.

Seven years had passed since we last spoke – 1,000 miles and a lifetime between us. We drifted apart as life happened. We communicated through Christmas cards.

She wanted to catch up.

I met Phoebe at my first job out of college, in the barren wastelands of central Illinois. She was a new immigrant from Asia, and in the small red neck town I found myself in, she was the coolest one there. We would walk to house parties, taking pulls off of a flask of rum. We’d go dancing at the night club an hour away – dressed to kill – or grab drinks at the bar down the street. We’d swap boy stories, hang out, have lunch dates, and I learned a great deal about her culture and way of life back home. When we hung out with her crew, I was often the lone white girl, who was a full foot taller than everyone.

She worked second shift, I worked third shift with her then-boyfriend Alex, an American. Alex helped me learn my trade and I kept up with him for job references. When they got married, I was a bridesmaid.

We kept in touch after I moved to the coast for several years. Once the kids came along, we drifted apart. I got a phone call when she found out she was pregnant with her first. I learned of her second child on social media. I haven’t seen her since 2009 and never met her kids.

I was surprised to see her texting me after all this time, but my heart was happy. I missed Phoebe. We talked on the phone that night. She sounded good, she caught me up on all the local gossip, as she and Alex are still in the same town. We talked about the surface level things – fond memories, how “things were currently going well,” both of us still unsure of the other – I wasn’t ready to spill my heart of the past years with anxiety, infertility, and alcoholism. Maybe for another conversation. Her accent was as thick as ever, my ear no longer trained to it. It was never like that before.

We ended our conversation with her and the family possibly coming to visit in the fall.

A few days later, Phoebe texted, Can you talk thru text message?

Sure, I replied. This was bizarre, but okay.

All the pieces clicked in her next message.

I’m not in a good place. I’m leaving Alex. I can’t take it anymore. Can you help me restart my life? Maybe I can get a job by you?

What?

Long story short, Alex cheated on her several years ago and they got through it. The other woman recently waltzed back into town and Alex got a burner phone to communicate with her behind Phoebe’s back – despite his denials of contact. It was a mess that involved the cops at one point when their argument got out of hand over the situation.

I offered for her to come to my beach for a few days, get out of the situation to think clearly, and said several times to get professional help. Counseling in these situations is so important, whether they stayed together or not.

She began to price airfare and planned a long weekend visit in a few weeks.

And then I got this message:
Things are better. We talked it out and I’m leaving for a visit to Asia soon and I don’t have the money to fly to North Carolina right now. But thank you so much for listening and supporting me! I promise I will come down sometime this year!

I told her the invitation was open and that if she needed time to get away, I was here for her.

This was all several weeks ago.

I texted her today, to see how she was doing. Things had returned to normal – the other woman was gone and the harmonious matrimony continued.

I hope stays that way.