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American Pie: Watchin' All The Girls - And The Guys Go By

...The array of people ranged from toddlers to stooped and rheumy oldsters. Many folk, despite repeated warnings about skin cancer, lay roasting their bodies to a coffee brown, or flame red. If there were any dermatologists present, I imagine they were comforted to know that their future prosperity was assured...

John Merchant takes a stroll along a Florida beach to bring us word pictures more vivid than any camera image.

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For an inveterate people watcher like me, the beach presents a perfect opportunity. People are stripped of their camouflage, and pretty much what you see is what you get. I visited one of our local beaches this past Easter Sunday and restocked my image bank. Ninety-degree temperatures and a cooling breeze ensured that it was an ideal day for my pastime.

The array of people ranged from toddlers to stooped and rheumy oldsters. Many folk, despite repeated warnings about skin cancer, lay roasting their bodies to a coffee brown, or flame red. If there were any dermatologists present, I imagine they were comforted to know that their future prosperity was assured.

At the fishing pier, it was a constant parade of those who wanted to see and be seen, with all age groups represented. Young boys with fishing poles and a gleam of anticipation in their eyes strode purposefully to the pierís end. Teenagers; the boys in droopy swim shorts reaching to mid-calf, and the girls in bikinis that almost werenít reaching anything, eyed each other speculatively as they passed.

Inevitably, the overweight and obese were well represented. Some of the women, with the courage or audacity to wear bikinis, pushed the strength and restraining properties of textiles to the limit. It must have taken a whole lot of Budweiser and burgers to grow the beer bellies that hung over the menís shorts. I wondered what the lissome young girls and hard-bodied young men were thinking.

Did they accept it as inevitable that they would eventually evolve into the bloated caricatures of these mature adults, or, more likely, did they think they were immune to such a future? Then again, many were probably thinking about nothing except the possibility of a conquest.

Aside from the visual panoply, the auditory entertainment was equally as fascinating Ė a veritable Tower of Babel. English vied with Spanish, German, French, Russian and a host of middle European tongues that were identifiable only to the initiated. I had to wonder how many were US residents and how many were visitors.

Back on the beach, there were vignettes aplenty for me to speculate on. A small group of young Cubans, or possibly Puerto Ricans was sitting under the shade of a large umbrella, playing cards. Their boom box played Island music softly in the background. They looked relaxed and completely at home, and I wondered what brought them together.

An old couple dozed in the shadow of a dune, with what I took to be a grandchild sleeping peacefully in the old manís lap. Were they simply giving the childís parents a break, or, like so many grandparents these days, raising the child because the parents were unable or unwilling to take responsibility.

Three young boys were digging to China, and I pondered on the universality of digging on the beach in the western hemisphere. When I was a kid, and itís equally true of children today, happiness on vacation was a bucket and spade. For some reason it didnít have the same cachet in the garden at home.

The beach on that Sunday wasnít totally given over to the human species. Hopeful Brown Pelicans hung around the fish-cleaning table, waiting for the entrails. A group of opportunistic Frigate Birds sat watchfully on the roof of the fish shack, looking for an opportunity to steal from the Pelicans with a swooping, precision dive.

Out in the Gulf, a pod of Dolphin were putting the human surfers to shame, and scaring the fish away from the frustrated fishermen, in water so clear you could still see them as they dived below the surface. Sand Pipers skittered on the edge of the surf, going back and forth with each breaking wave, for all the world as though they were trying to avoid getting their feet wet.

Far out on the water, muscular kite-boarders performed unbelievable maneuvers with the aid of a strong breeze, making me wish I was young again. Less athletic couples sailed high on parachutes towed by powerboats.

Pretty soon now it will be summer. The visitors will have returned home, and the hot, humid, sub tropical weather, with its daily thunderstorms, will have driven all but the outdoor workers into air-conditioned homes and offices. The beaches will be deserted; the Pelicans will be forced to do their own fishing, and the dolphin will have only their own kind to frolic with until next Fall.

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