Thursday, January 20, 2005

Beach Reading and Mating Signals

A recent OGIC article on reading books in public reminded me of this story:

August 1990 (or something like that)

Some girlfriends and I are at the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama for a week during the summer before our junior year of college. I've signed up for a fall-term course called "Milton and the Metaphysicals" and decide to re-read Paradise Lost in advance, so I've taken it with me to Gulf Shores.

(Now, I wasn't doing this for social status, or to show off to the rest of the world how I rejected their silly beach bacchanals and boring beach novels. I have just always been somewhat of an English lit nerd and just like to read, and I read anywhere and everywhere. Books are my introverted, part-deaf way of checking out from the busy world around me. So I do some of my most focused reading when in coffee shops, or on planes, or at parties. I never really think about what someone else will think of (1) my reading, or (2) the content of the book I'm reading.)

Anyway, we all go out to the beach in front of our five-way-rented condo and stretch out under the umbrella chairs that we've also rented. I get a Diet Coke out of the cooler and rub myself down with sunscreen. I have on my sunglasses, my swimsuit, my floppy hat ... perfect. I reach into my beach bag and grab my copy of Paradise Lost and a pen (as I am a chronic underliner). I open it. Soon I'm in the Garden of Eden and everything else--my friends' chatter, the music, the sound of the ocean--is a million miles away.

But I'm interrupted a few minutes later. One of my girlfriends has said something to the effect of, "Oh, what a surprise. Waterfall's reading Paradise Lost." None of them are surprised. They're amused, but not surprised. They make fun of me (in a nice way, 'cause they're my friends), I give them dirty looks (in a nice way), we all laugh, and then we all proceed to read/talk/listen to music/lay out in the sun.

So the lifeguard is ... a lifeguard. He's tall, tan, muscular, and curly-haired. Cute, cute, cute. Every now and then he walks past, and in his wake are our oohs and ahhs of admiration. (OK, so I was an English nerd, but I was also a 20-year-old female with a healthy admiration for buff lifeguards). He is hot.

I get back to my reading, though. After a while, Hot Lifeguard comes back, and he's walking in front of where we are. He walks right up to me. My heart skips a beat (I'm watching him out of the corner of my eye while reading about the great battle between God and Satan).

"Are you reading Paradise Lost?" he asks, somewhat incredulously.

Oh great. Here I am, in all my nerdiness, in front of Hot Lifeguard. Who knew that he'd look at the cover of my book?

"Yeah, I'm, um ... reading it for a class."

"Cool!" he says. "I'm just got my B.A. in English at Ole Miss!"

I can see my friends' surprised faces as Hot Literary Lifeguard and I chat for awhile about Milton and a few other poets before he walks off to resume his rounds.

My friends were jealous of me. Who would have thought Milton, of all people, would serve as a mating signal to Hot Literary Lifeguard?

Note to mom: No, Hot Literary Lifeguard and I did not mate.

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