Like any child of the 80s, I spent some time with Lamar on Reading Rainbow. (Butterfly in the skyyyyyyy! I can fly twice as hiiiiiiiigh!). I got down in Fraggle Rock — a show that, through the misadventures of Red, soothed my angst about being a carrot-top. And I appreciated the subtle comedy of Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages. (Seriously… have you revisited Picture Pages? Because it’s a lot more complex than I remember.)
Wow. That was quite a collection of 80s YouTube links.
Not infrequently, I recall the Yip-Yip aliens from Sesame Street, creatures whose droning calls adhere to my subconscious like some sort of nightmarish picture show, never to fade. :: shudder :: And a snatch of melody from a passing car will re-animate in my memory the Teeny Little Super Guy, from the same program, who tap-dances his way into my heart afresh every time I recall him.
You can’t judge a hero by his size, people.
But lately a lost snippet of childhood television has been clinging to the edge of my brain, persistent but indiscernible. A child stoops on a cratered seashore, a bucket near his bare feet. He peers into a tidal pool, and as he recognizes each creature — a sea anemone, a starfish, a hermit crab — it happily exits the lukewarm comfort of its home and jumps into the bucket. (Oh, unhappy creatures. Don’t you know that tidal pool trumps plastic Walmart bucket?) I don’t remember if the clip was live action or animated, because really? It doesn’t matter when you’re still wearing Jellie Shoes.
I blame this seashore children’s television clip for ruining the beach for me. Well, not ruining it, perhaps. But after watching this boy effortlessly collect a zoo of sea life within a matter of minutes, I fully expected all visits to the ocean to include an almost alien landscape of craters, each offering up a mirror-surfaced pool filled with its own miniature, Crayola-colored landscape. If this boy — who, if I recall, was not the sharpest pencil — could corral a seahorse just by smiling invitingly into the water, imagine the safari I could collect with my feminine wiles, my palpable enthusiasm, and my stylish Jellie Shoes.
I don’t have many early memories of the beach. I spent many of my elementary years landlocked in Tennessee or in the Midwest, where the shores of Lake Michigan offered no promises of tidal pools. When we lived in the Carolinas and ventured to the beach, I found the sprawling, flat sands of the Atlantic. No starfish happily waved their suckered arms at me. Digging in the sand usually unearthed the discarded spoon from a frozen lemonade.
Not that there is anything wrong with east coast beaches. I enjoy them very much, in fact. But the disconnect between my Sesame Street expectations and the quite different beauty of a place like Hilton Head or the Outer Banks or Surfside was a shock to the system.
And really, it’s a lesson in both managing expectations and paying attention. As much I would love to live in a Fraggle Rock world of talking trash heaps — or in a Sesame Street world of endearingly antisocial trash monsters — it is probably irresponsible to take life cues from daytime television. And trash cans without monsters are, after all, useful — just like beaches featuring smooth sand instead of rocky pools inhabited by hermit crabs on a suicide mission are enjoyable in their own way. You just have to know how to look at this very different beach. For example: with a margarita in your hand.
Like Robert Fulghum, I’m trying to learn such lessons from my kindergarten years. Things are taut and stressful and not enough right now. (COME ON job search committees. We’re dying here.) But things are fine. Great, even. I still suspect that these tidal pools exist, somewhere. Edmund Gosse tells me so in Father and Son. And I may not be in these tidal pools (yet).
But the water here is fine.