Sights at the Beach: The Beautiful and the Grotesque
(Madison, WI, USA)
Living in the Midwest United States, we don't really have "beaches," like those on the coast. We have lakes that sometimes have sand around them. Because of farm waste runoff, these lakes are usually full of algae and smell like hot, soupy garbage. However, when the temperature is in the upper 90s and the humidity resembles that of a sauna, you'll take whatever body of water you can get.
We went to the beach a lot when I was a kid. Packing up the car full of towels, sunscreen, and coolers full of soda, we would drive many miles north to the biggest lake in the state. Once there, we would stake out a postage stamp size piece of beach, marking our territory with garishly colored towels like a dog marks a fire hydrant. I would venture out into the water, trying to ignore the gross feeling of seaweed under my toes, never more than waist-deep because I was terrified of drowning. When it was time to eat, I would dash as fast as I could over the hot sand, wincing as I landed on the unavoidable rocks just hidden under the surface.
The people are by far the most fascinating parts about the beach. All shapes and sizes, slowly crisping under an unforgiving sun. Dads with beer bellies in the same trunks they've owned for the past 27 years. 20-something women in bikinis that were never meant to get wet, their 20-something boyfriends taking way too long rubbing tanning oil on their backs. Older women, far past their glory days, still letting it all hang out, keeping their screaming grandchildren within view.
The lake is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountainous bluffs, and occasionally intrepid climbers can be spotted scrambling up the side, with or without gear. And the colors! Towels, umbrellas, swimsuits, a veritable rainbow spread across the sand, edging right up to the blue-green of the lake. It's not exactly paradise, but it still feels idyllic when viewed through the lens of nostalgia.