Today’s post is by awesome guest Clam poster Adam Kuhlmann, who is clearly awesome at this and needs to do it more.
Wanton Seagulls and Other Enduring Charms of Good Harbor
During our first six years in Gloucester, my wife and I lived in a rental apartment with large windows but no habitable access to the out-of-doors. At first we didn’t really sense our state of deprivation. But soon, every time we walked through town, our eyes lingered over balconies garlanded with petunias and porches accented by Adirondack chairs. How we envied one ancient Italian woman, who tended her herbs on a deck so spacious that an eternity passed as she shuffled its length with her battered watering can. Trapped inside our brick bunker throughout one sunny summer after another, we couldn’t help but hope she would lean too heavily on a moldering post, pitch headlong, and, with her dying breath, surrender her apartment to us.
Fortunately, we had one refuge, a place where our yen for fresh air was satisfied and our jealousy was soothed: Good Harbor Beach. Here, we could show up at noon on a sultry Saturday, slip past the “Lot Full” sign, wave to the fluorescent shirt at the fee station, and claim our sandy parcel of Gloucester’s great outdoors. After we had basked for hours in the sun and spume, it hardly mattered that dusk sent us back to our stuffy one-bedroom cell. Our every idle moment was spent at the beach.
This spring my wife and I moved, and our new rental has outdoor space of embarrassingly ample proportions. We eat most of our meals on one deck and drink most of our drinks on another. Sometimes, I must stifle the urge to kick my own privileged ass for living here. But despite our easy access to sunshine, we still find ourselves packing beach chairs into the trunk and heading to Good Harbor. Only now, a few months into beach season, am I starting to understand why.
Our new apartment is home to many seagulls that, by and large, comport themselves like normal birds. That is, they squawk, they shit, and they fly away when we shout or feint at them. Good Harbor, on the other hand, is home to many seagulls that behave in quite extraordinary ways, generally in their never-ending search for junk food. These are birds that do not think twice about touching down in your lap to steal a French fry, or clambering inside a giant tote to locate a stray Wheat Thin. Last week I was taken aback by a gull whose snow-white head was speckled with bright orange. I thought I might be glimpsing a new subspecies until I spotted a toddler on a nearby blanket, mewling over a bag of Cheetos that had been butterflied and eviscerated like a trout. Quite honestly, the tot was lucky. Good Harbor seagulls are normally solitary, territorial creatures, unless they are cooperating to carry off a fully loaded cooler or a child clutching a basket of chicken fingers to his chest.
And visitors to Good Harbor interact with these birds in surprising ways. Once, I watched as a mother encouraged her son to feed the remains of their fried lunch to a few gulls. Mother and son whooped as a growing flock of birds fought over clam strips. When the boy had nothing left, the mother rifled through her backpack, tore open a bag of potato chips, and scattered them in a ring around their blanket. More birds arrived, and soon every gull on the beach was crapping wantonly onto mother and son. The dazed look in their eyes suggested this may have been the first time either had understood the concept of cause and effect.
At Good Harbor, you never know who is going to park their beach blanket next to yours: a jointly lobotomized family like this one or possibly an Amish clan, on hand to get their Vitamin D through the chinks in their woolens and neck beards. Last summer, I watched a muscular young man in neon trunks wheel a large cooler to a spot on the hard sand. He opened the lid and retrieved a Coors Light. Then, fiddling with something inside, he unleashed a thunder of bass music through a single subwoofer that peeked out of the plastic capsule, turning the cooler into an angry, rapping Cyclops. This appeared to be some type of signal, because a coterie of similarly fit young individuals converged. The men began flinging the women into the air like rag dolls, if rag dolls could pike their bottoms gracefully and keep their toes pointed at all times. We had been enveloped in a veritable flash mob of cheerleaders. But it is a testament to the seasoned Good Harbor beachgoer that no one gasped, filmed the scene, or even looked particularly entertained. Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of things.
Ill-fitting or just ill-conceived bathing suits are another source of interest. While I believe that people of all shapes and sizes should enjoy the beach in whatever style of suit they want, I do take notice when form totally undermines function. For instance, while baggy board shorts are de rigueur for gentlemen at Good Harbor, it is not altogether uncommon to see a man wearing a suit whose inseam measurement is typically reserved for people with the surname Bird or Duke. This is all well and good—why should only women be owners of tanned thighs? But recently I saw such a man reclined horizontally in a beach chair, knees splayed akimbo, and his chicken was completely out of the barn. It lolled alongside his leg, subject to the elements and the muffled gasps of onlookers. What is the purpose of a bathing suit, after all, if not to maintain fundamental standards of decency and SPF protection?
As pleasant as it is to sit on the deck at my apartment, I would have experienced none of these things from its quiet confines. Good Harbor offers novelty, variety, incongruity, and spontaneity. From year to year its contours change as storms erode or mass the sand; from hour to hour its dimensions fluctuate as the tide goes in or out. In a sense, the beach renders me like one of its stalwart band of treasure-hunters, who arrive late in the day to sweep the beach with their metal detectors. As I sit beneath a striped umbrella, a good novel flopped pointlessly in my lap, my eyes scan the crowds for those nuggets of human tragedy and comedy that are hiding in plain sight.