Cover Me

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beach shoes

You take the woman you love to the beach. This is half the reason for moving to Ipswich in the first place. (The other half is Town Meetings. Love those things. I think they should be quarterly.)

So you take your woman to the beach. Especially on a cool, cloudy day, when hardly anybody else is there.

But you do not wear shoes. And you certainly do not wear socks with your shoes. No self-respecting beachcomber wears shoes to the beach, let alone shoes and socks.

It’s not easy being a nerd.

I grew up in Chicago. You don’t go barefoot in Chicago. You have to protect yourself against the jagged shards of a thousand shattered wine bottles and the venomous needle points of a million discarded syringes. At least you did in my neighborhood. Not everywhere, of course. Just on the sidewalks. And on the basketball courts.

I thought my shoes were OK for the beach. I heard someone call them “deck shoes,” and the boardwalks (which take you from the parking lot over the protected dunes to Crane Beach) are really just long, skinny decks. The signs actually encourage you to use “footwear” on the boardwalk, because there’s a risk of splinters. Footwear! Shoes are footwear! (And don’t talk to me about flip-flops. Flip-flops are an abomination. No nagging little stem of rubber is going to ride between my toes, no sir. It’s unnatural. It’s shoes for me. Shoes all the way.)

But shoes are meant to be worn with socks. Sophisticated people do not wear shoes without socks. I grew up painfully average, longing to be sophisticated; so I never got into the tacky habit of wearing shoes without socks. Accordingly, when I went to the beach with the woman I love, I was, I confess, wearing shoes, and yes, I confess, I was also wearing socks.

Just over the boardwalk, she deposited her sandals near the edge of the dune grass. If she expected me to leave my shoes and socks there, she had another think coming. In Chicago you don’t leave your shoes anywhere. You go to a beach on Lake Michigan and leave your shoes, and they’re in a pawn shop window by the time you come looking for them.

So there she was, the woman I love, sauntering along the water’s edge, in her lovely bare feet, and perhaps glancing from time to time at my shoes, and my socks, and my long pants — oh, wait. Did I mention my long pants? Look, my mother raised me to be careful. You never know when a sudden squall will come up, and you’ll wish you had long pants. And a hoodie. It doesn’t matter that it’s 70 and sunny. Things change fast in New England.

She did make me leave my hoodie in the car.

It was a lovely stroll. Of course, she wanted to saunter through the shallows, and I wanted to stay up where the sand was firm, and if you’re holding hands, you can’t have it both ways. So much for holding hands. Remove my shoes and my socks, and actually carry them? The thought never entered my mind.

I would have gotten away with the shoes and socks, I do believe, if it hadn’t been for the tide. As the tide goes out, it often forms long rivulets, streams cutting through the sand from the upper beach to the receding bay. These rivulets form pretty quickly, and widen even more quickly, and deepen as they widen. So maybe you’ve walked a long way along the water’s edge toward Essex, and then you turn around to head back — and you find that you’ve got a series of gushing channels to traverse. If you’re barefoot, it’s not an issue. But you don’t want to get your shoes and socks wet, do you?

All the way back, as we came to each gushing tributary, I was reduced to hunting for the narrowest place, then leaping from edge to edge, like a terrified cat. It was an untidy business, as I landed each time in soft, sopping wet sand, which caked all over my nice shoes, and sometimes even got on my nice socks.

“You could take off your shoes,” she suggested quietly. I was silently horrified. And I knew she would get her come-uppance when we finally got back to the base of the boardwalk. I was quite sure that by now, her sandals had been stolen.

The sun had come out, and the beach was filling up with people. She had trouble finding her sandals, among the dozens of other pairs there.

Are there no criminals in Ipswich? Does no one recognize quality merchandise?

I love it here. But I am still adjusting.

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