The perils of being a fair-skinned beachgoer are legion, particularly at the beginning of the summer when no manner of sunscreen seems to protect one from the inevitable beach nap burn.
It takes place every year on the first day at the beach when sunscreen is seemingly carefully applied to face and body and an umbrella adds extra protection. This time of year, unless you have a wetsuit, swimming is not the object of visiting the beach. The ocean’s calming sound and pretty majesty are the primary sources of its appeal now.
I typically use the beach as my excuse to tackle the pile of New Yorkers that I have overlooked during the spring and for the inevitable beach nap. It starts as soon as I flip over for the first time. As soon as my stomach hits the cradle of my towel in warm sand, my eyes get heavy and I begin to drift off. Sometimes I can make it as much as 5 or 10 minutes before it happens, but most of the time, it’s immediate. My nap can last from 15 minutes up to two hours, a personal record. If I’m thinking about it, I apply extra sunscreen to my back and the back of my legs. Sometimes, I forget or I start out under the umbrella and over the course of the nap the sun changes angle and I am back in it. The burn that results is usually the same. I always neglect the same areas: a circle around the area behind my knees and a gash along the base of my tankini where my top has ridden up during the course of my rest.
When I was growing up in Ocean City, N.J., we called this patchy, angry redness a Shoobie burn. Shoobies were, and I suppose still are, what people refer to as Day-Trippers or Day-Gos in other parts of the country. The name comes from the Philadelphia city dwellers who came down on the train and rented lockers at pavilions on the boardwalks in Atlantic City. They would carry their bathing gear in shoeboxes and the name evolved from there.
It gathered currency and became the appellation for any day visitor from Long Beach Island to Cape May. Year-rounders or seasonal visitors used it with derision to complain about the crowded beaches and roads that resulted from Shoobies’ visits in the height of summer. Those who cared tried very hard not to be mistaken for one, which meant dressing a certain way and being as evenly tan or pale as possible.
Here, there are different measures of what makes one an arriviste. The most conservative one being that anyone who has not owned property here for more than a half-century is “from away.” Decades and not months of residency are the true measure of an East End local, although judging from the weekend traffic, day-trippers are still finding their way out here en masse.
Age has faded my recollection of the other easy giveaways that someone was a Shoobie, but no one forgets the embarrassment of a patchy Shoobie burn, achieved accidently, or intentionally in their cases because they only had one day to get their sun.
Well I have one again and it is terrible. The band around my lower back is an angry purple and it has woken me up a few times since Saturday. The weird circle burn on my back legs is beginning to heal, but slowly and only with much chilled vitamin E gel with aloe. I am grateful that it is still cool outside, because wearing a shorter dress or cropped pants or shorts would not be pretty. Fortunately, I am past the age or the fashion preference for cropped tops.
I may live on the South Fork now and be far away from the disapproving glances of the South Jersey cognoscenti, but the humiliation of the Shoobie burn still stings.
Jennifer Landes is The Star’s arts editor.