My wife’s family has been vacationing in the beach town Ogunquit, Maine, off and on for decades. We’ve been there as a couple many times, too, and returned to celebrate our 35th anniversary last week.
Ogunquit is the place I once heard my father-in-law say one of the coolest things I have ever heard in a restaurant. At a place called The Oarweed, after everyone else at the table had ordered, he told the waiter to bring him a lobster, “and take the work out of it, please.” I didn’t know what that meant but, partly out of curiosity and partly because I wanted to impress my wife’s father, I told the waiter to do the same for me. Ten minutes later, we were each presented with a plateful of lobster meat that the chef had removed completely from its shell, so we didn’t have to do any cracking or digging around.
Voila! Great taste from a lobster probably caught in the last 24 hours by one of the locals. Everyone else did the work, all we had to do was stick a fork in and dip it in some drawn butter. Fantastic! I’ve never had the chance to use that line since, because “take the work out of it” doesn’t play so well when you’re ordering pasta or chicken or a salad. So, I was looking forward to saying it on this trip, but times have changed. Apparently, in the ensuing decades a lot of other people have decided they want the work taken out of their lobster dinners, too — so much so that three of the restaurants we went to had “Lazy Lobster” on the menu. Somehow that just doesn’t sound as cool.
While Ogunquit and nearby towns have long, sandy beaches, it’s not suitable for swimming in the same manner as Jones Beach on Long Island, or in the Carolinas, Florida, or the Caribbean. No, the Maine beaches aren’t dirty, they aren’t covered in medical waste a la New Jersey, they aren’t poorly maintained — but that far north, the Atlantic is just too frigid. As I wrote in my 2001 piece about Ogunquit (read the whole thing here):
The ocean water is far too cold for normal people — about 55 degrees on the hottest day of August. At that temperature, there are parts of the male anatomy that retract completely. Forget shrinkage, this is more like regression. The only humans who can endure extended exposure to water that cold are: children, who have no natural body thermostat and will remain in the Atlantic until they turn six shades of purple; and Canadians, who flock south for the summer to discover the miracle of water that isn’t being Zamboni-ed. We watched dozens of Quebecois (Quebecians? Quebecers?) frolic in the waves like drunken polar bears.
This time, the water temperature was about ten degrees higher, but even with that climate-change-induced warmth, it was still too cold for me to go any further than ankle-deep. After walking out a hundred yards (which you can do at low tide), my toes were more numb than Chuck Todd’s brain trying to figure out what Rudy Giuliani just said, so I turned around and headed back to dry land.
Later in the week, my daughter came up from New York to join us for a couple of days, and then my sister-in-law and brother-in-law drove up from Boston for a day and my oldest niece drove down from a summer camp where she’s been head counselor all summer about an hour north. We all had a very nice time together, although my wife and I both caught nasty colds I wanted to blame on the water temperature, but couldn’t.
I have two other quick stories about this trip to share with you.
One was that while the others were off doing various things, I was left waiting alone near the center of town for about ten minutes until they came back. I happily stood there, enjoying the clean, fresh air and people-watching. At one point, a young woman in her early twenties walked by with a dog that was much bigger than she. It looked more like the dog was walking her as it pulled her along the sidewalk, but at one point she managed to get it to turn a wide one-eighty and head back. With a smile on my face, I congratulated her on being able to pull off that remarkable act of physics considering the inertia of an animal that outweighed her easily by a hundred pounds. She glanced over at me with a puzzled look, then said something in French. I didn’t understand what she said, but immediately realized that to her, I wasn’t the nice, clever guy I thought I was. I was the creepy old man who might be hitting on her. I shook my head as I put my hands up in the international symbol of “nothing, never mind,” as her four-legged beast dragged her off to some other destination. My daughter was nowhere nearby, but somehow I still heard her eyes rolling from afar.
The other story has to do with when we drove back to Logan Airport in Boston on Sunday to catch our flight home. As I pulled into the proper lane at the car rental return center, there was no one from Payless Car Rental to check us back in. Usually, they have a clerk with a wireless device who looks over the vehicle, determines it hasn’t been totaled or even banged up, then prints out a receipt, and we’re on our way. This time, no such clerk came by. After a few minutes, my wife — always better at handling these things than I — walked up to the Payless booth. There was no one there, either, but she saw a sign telling us to bring our paperwork in to the rental counter to complete the return. I cursed, knowing this would take an extra 15 minutes we didn’t have to waste and, sure enough, when we got inside, there were several other customers ahead of us.
When I finally made my way to the front of the line, the clerk took our rental agreement folder and noted that I hadn’t written down the mileage from the odometer. Frustrated, I shouted “Why do you need to know that, since this rental comes with unlimited mileage? You’re asking for useless information!” Ok, that was inside my head. Outside my head, I replied, “Oh, I didn’t have a pen, but it’s 39,751.” Yep, completely made up a random number out of thin air. Had no idea if it was even a reasonable number. But it didn’t matter, because I answered in such an authoritative way that the clerk simply nodded and typed it into his computer, which spit out the receipt (on a dot-matrix printer with tractor-feed, a technology I didn’t know was still in use!). He handed it to me, I said thanks, and we headed for the bus to our terminal. I have no idea how many miles were on the bus’ odometer, but we made it to our gate with ten minutes to spare.
In retrospect, I wish that when we had pulled into the rental car center, I had jumped out and exclaimed loudly, “I’m returning this car now. Please take the work out of it for me!”