by Nancy McDaniel

When I walk down the streets of Chicago by myself, it never enters my mind to wonder about the things I see. Why, for example, are people standing on the corner? That’s easy; they are waiting for a bus. Why are those people frowning? Simple, because they’re unhappy or stressed. When I walk along the beach in Florida, all sorts of questions, most without answers, go through my mind. Is it because I revert back to a childhood full of beach walks? Or am I just bored with too much time on my hands? Either way, on the beach, I become a philosopher of sorts.

Other Beachwalk Imponderables
I wondered why, in a mile and a half stretch, there is one small portion where all the seagulls, the terns and the skimmers sit. No other place along the beach, just there. They just sit, all facing in the same direction. And they look out. At what, I wonder? Are they waiting for the tide to change? Or the boss bird to come to lead them somewhere else? And why does one type of bird mix in only with a few of the others? Not completely separate, yet not fully integrated with the whole group? I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I found myself fascinated.

And I just stood, as motionless as they, and watched them for a long, long time. I was waiting for something too. But I finally gave up and started to walk away, while they just stood there. I looked back. Were they waiting for a change in the wind that might bring them some fish? Or were they waiting for Gull-dot?

Why Are the Couples Couples?
So I walked some more. And I saw all the people, mostly elderly, mostly couples. Some were chatting animatedly, some holding hands, some silent and glum-looking. And I wondered what draws certain people together. And why some are happy together and stay with each other? And why some are unhappy and still stay together. And why some are so happy together yet decide to be apart anyway.

Why are relationships so complicated? Why is it so hard to find – and then keep – the right person? One’s soul mate, their helpmate? One who holds your hand as you walk down the beach of life? One who gently brushes the sand out of your toes and kisses your foot? And I walked on.

Bird Legged Bikini Man
I saw a man walking toward me and I thought how silly he looked. He was quite old and he was wearing a brown and white striped bikini swimsuit, with gold chains circling his neck. He had old man bird legs and a roll of flab that hung over the top of his bikini. I thought, do you have any idea just how you look? How can you go out in public like that?

And then I answered my own question: I’ll bet he thinks he looks great. And isn’t that all that really matters? He was wearing that goofy-looking brown and white striped bikini just for him. And combing his thin, lonely strand of hair over his bald spot . . . a bald spot that had taken over his whole head. To my eyes, he would have looked better had he let that lonely slicked over piece of hair join its late companions on the barber’s floor or circling down the floor drain of his shower. But he probably thought he looked great. He walked with a spring in his step as if to say, “Hey, I’m still here and I still have it.” And maybe he did.

Dad of the Year
And then I saw a dad playfully burying his two small daughters in the sand, gently patting it around them so that only their smiling faces stuck out. And grandma took the photo to commemorate it for the ages. To embarrassingly show someday their boyfriends and husbands and their own children.

And I saw another dad and his little boy running into the water and the child giggled and laughed and grabbed onto his father’s legs. And I fondly remembered playing with my own dad on the beach. I wondered why fathers and children on the beach always seem to be playing and laughing, more so than in any other place. Is there a chapter in the How To Be A Good Dad book that tells them the beach is a special place that will create a special and lasting memory? A time that children feel particularly safe and their dads seem especially big and strong and fiercely protective?

I walked some more.

Finally I got back to the building and its pool, where everyone was reading their best sellers and looking contented, if disaffected and maybe even bored. And I wondered, not for the first time, why this swimming pool condo world doesn’t feel like a place I belong. Tomorrow I will go back and walk on the beach again. And wonder some more.

And answer nothing.