Jews at the Beach


"For days after Ken [Gordon, editor of] gave me this topic, I walked around chanting, 'Jews at the beach. Jews at the beach.'" says Danit Brown. "There's just something about the way those words sound together—maybe it's the stresses on 'Jews' and 'beach.' At the same time, I was teaching Rick Moody's 'Boys' at the Indiana University Writers Conference and unable to shake the hypnotic hold of the incantation 'Boys enter the house,' which forms the structural basis of the story. And so... " To see what else the assignment inspired, read Dara Horn's "Song at the Sea," Elinor Lipman's "Alice Apologizes," and Neal Pollack's "Mr. Pacific Beach."

After Rick Moody's "Boys."

Jews at the beach. Jews at the beach. Jews, technically not all of them Jews, the mother having agreed to light candles on Fridays, the father promising to spend Christmases with those damned in-laws, at the beach. Jews looking for a clean patch of grass at the beach, which, although technically a beach, has no sand and no ocean—this is the Midwest after all—and is dotted with goose droppings. Jews eating BLTs with turkey bacon on challah at the beach.  Jews at the beach rubbing sun block into their skin and wearing large-brimmed hats because it’s the smart thing to do, the safe thing, and still, despite the sun-block and the large-brimmed hats, the mother compulsively checks herself and her daughter for new moles every morning, the daughter crossing her arms to hide her brand-new breasts and protesting, Mom! Mo-om! Jews at the beach, most of them in flip-flops, the father wearing socks with his sandals because in tenth grade, Tommy O’Malley made fun of his hairy hammertoes, and even now, a fully grown man, he’s careful to keep them under wraps at all times, literally, even in bed, even during you know, but especially in summer and especially at the beach. Jews at the beach, eyeing blond women with dewy, downy skin and legs that don’t need shaving, blond women with smooth hairless armpits, blond women rubbing baby oil into their skin or—better yet—allowing blond men to rub baby oil into their skin, those hard-to-reach places not so hard to reach after all, as if these women had never heard words like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma—knock wood—sun spots—Christ almighty—leathery skin—for God’s sake—aging. Jews at the beach, snacking on carrot sticks and staying hydrated, reading literature under shade umbrellas, ignoring the steam billowing from the nuclear power plant on the opposite shore, telling themselves, The water’s too cold for swimming. Jews watching large families with fat children lug giant coolers to the beach, Jews watching them set up grills and unfold folding chairs and crack open beers, Jews watching them greet each other with handshakes and back claps, and cries of How you been, man? Nice beach! Jews going through their address books, their Rolodexes, their cell phone contact lists, thinking, There’s safety in numbers and Drunk folks can turn on you at any moment, and Who can we invite to the beach, the daughter sucking in her stomach and thinking, I bet everyone’s at the mall. Jews remembering other times they’ve been at the beach, alone, unafraid, the wind in their hair, salt on their skin, hands sticky with sand and ice cream and Kool-Aid, or maybe that was just how it seemed on TV. Jews at the beach, adjusting their shade umbrellas, checking their watches, pretending they’re at another beach entirely, a beach in another country, a country that’s always warm and sunny. Jews pretending that they are hairless and straight-toed on that make-believe beach, surrounded by friends they didn’t know they had, some of them cute like the lifeguard in his tower and happy to demonstrate mouth-to-mouth. Jews at the beach pretending—the daughter believing—that the future’s still unrolling before them, a red carpet, a runway—You’re welcome—the waves whispering, You’re safe now. Stay here.

Click below to hear Danit Brown read "Jews at the Beach."