"Dad? Dad? Dad-dad-dad-dad-dad "
Thankfully, this distress call is seldom answered. After an hour, the American children give up and go off to torture sea creatures and lifeguards.
In the meantime, the parents have formed a circle of beach chairs. We call it our "circle of hopes and dreams." Its purpose? To share a margarita and our innermost suburban thoughts.
"I remember my first kiss," my friend Don says.
"His name was Ronaldo."
I think he is joking. Don is always joking. I have known the guy eight years and have yet to hear him make a serious remark. It is just one of the reasons we are still close friends.
"When are you guys going to Spain?" someone asks Kate.
"Saturday," Kate replies.
This is, apparently, the summer everyone goes to Europe. Paul and Sara to France. Bruce and Susan to Spain. Dave and Kathy too.
I have a hard time understanding this. There are topless beaches right here in America. And the woman in the white thong, sitting 30 feet away, is as skinny as a loaf of French bread. Who needs Paris? Who needs Barcelona? They don't even have baseball there.
"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh-my-God, oh-my-God, oh-my-God "
Down at the shoreline, something has washed up dead. Ten American kids have surrounded it. They are trying to figure out how best to fillet it and deep-fry the pieces in empty cans of Sprite. Poor shark. We can only hope it was a quick death. Anyone remember the tartar sauce?
"The beach is closing," a lifeguard announces over a P.A. "I repeat, the beach closes at sundown."
"What time is it?" one of the parents asks.
"We just got here," I say.
We stand a moment and look at all there is to pack up. It is as if a C-130 cargo plane crashed at our feet — loaded with towels, beach toys and half-full bags of chips.
"We'd better go," I say to someone else's wife, the one with salsa on her ankle.
As always, there's a bit of chafing as we leave the beach. Like you, we go home with five pounds of sand in our shorts. Plus at least one cod and a couple of ground squirrels.
Encrusted in sand, the kids look like corndogs in flip-flops. They trudge toward the car. Followed by their tired parents. Followed by packs of gulls, diving at our ketchuped footprints.
"Ouch," a kid says when we reach the parking lot.
"Ouch," says his mother.
Yes, when properly done, the beach hurts a little. The sunburn. The bloody toes. The sand in your shorts.
We go as often as we can.
Chris Erskine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.