Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We are winners

I always like to lead with the bad news and the bad news about our day at the beach was I burnt my backside. You know this already.

The good news is me and the boy rocked the socks off the sand castle contest.

That’s right folks, we won.

Third prize, baby. Or at least, we tied for third. Out of seven contenders.

But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are WINNERS. I mean, what matters is that we tried our best. And our best happened to be win-worthy. ‘Cause we are winners.

I am not the sort of person you want to play a board game with, in case you haven’t noticed yet.

We rolled into the small, lakeside beach in NJ around 10am, ready for just an ordinary day of fun in the sand. Then I saw the sign.

“Sand Castle Contest Today. To enter, see concession stand.”

“This is our lucky day,” I said to my family.

“You’re not really --- “ started my nay-sayer party-pooper husband.

“You bet your sweet ass I am,” I shot back, “Me and Primo. Team Supreme.”

It is never a good sign when I start using expressions like “sweet ass” and “team supreme.” What it means is the adrenaline is pulsing through my blood and I am gearing up for a fight to the finish. It means I have my eye on the prize, even if I don’t know what the prize is, as was the case on this occasion.

I love making sand castles. And I’m good at it. I am gifted in this respect precisely the same way I am a gifted packer. I started with natural talent, and then apprenticed with my father, who is both a master castle-maker and packer-of-suitcases. These may not be glitzy or even very useful talents, like being a fabulous cook or home decorator – but by God, they are mine. And now I am passing on the legacy to my son.

“First thing we’ve got to decide is what kind of castle we’re making.” I told Primo as we looked for a good spot in the sand.

“I don’t know,” he replied. The more excited I get about something, the less excited he becomes. It is a law of parenting.

“Then may I suggest a haunted castle?” I offered, “That’s right up your alley.”

“OK,” he said, “I want to dig a moat.”

“Excellent idea,” I said, “Because the first thing you have to do when making a sand castle is amass a pile of sand. And that requires digging. You dig, I pack.”

He dug, I packed.

“Now we need to make a choice. Tall and skinny or low and wide?” I asked him.

“Tall and skinny.”

“How’d I know?” I said, “I’m not going to lie to you, that’s the tougher choice. It won’t be easy but I think we can pull it off. One tower or two?”


“Three?” I gasped, “Three towers? I don’t know that it can be done. That is highly risky stuff. But it it’s three you want, its three you’ll get. Now lets’ sculpt!”

This is the point at which Primo got bored and went off to the water’s edge to do what he named “Combustion Mustion!” – dropping balls of sand into a pail of lake water -- leaving me to finish the castle myself. But not before he had a major brainwave, a light-bulb moment. And his little innovation won us that contest. Third prize. But still.

Two words:

Molding Balls.

That’s Primo’s term for them. I prefer to call them . . .


Yeah, they’re just balls of sand, exactly like snowballs. Except much harder to make. The trick is to make them perfectly round so that they look fetching, not sloppy. This takes practice and patience.

The SandBalls had a powerful effect on the children at the beach who were drawn to them, seeking to smash their perfect rotundity to nothingness. So once I finished the castle, I was on duty as castle-guard.

“Whoa!” I was forced to shout more than once, “Hands off the castle please! Those balls are not for touching!”

“We aren’t really going to hang around here until the judging at 2pm, are we?” asked David.

“You better believe it.” I replied, “Don’t you get it? We got this thing LOCKED UP!”

At 2pm, the judges came by, a very old man with a very young man, both in blue T shirts. They asked our names and I launched into a speech detailing our castle-making experience, our inspiration, and most importantly, the history of the SandBall. Primo couldn’t even be bothered to get up from his “Combustion Mustion!” experiment to comment.

“Can I give you a piece of advice?” said the old man, “Don’t sell it so hard.”

Looking back, I think had I annoyed them less, I might have scored us second place. Nonetheless, we were delighted to receive the news that we had tied for third and were receiving a $10 gift certificate at JimmyBob concessions.

“I can’t believe we won!” whispered Primo in my ear as the judge took our picture by the castle.

It was a good moment, the kind you file in your “warm and fuzzy” archive.

Then we went straight over to the JimmyBob concession stand to redeem our certificate and let me tell you what -- $10 goes a long way at JimmyBob’s. We just kept putting stuff on the counter and the teenager working there kept saying, “You still have money left over.” It was genuinely great.

In the end we walked away with:

Two peanut butter and chocolate wafer cookies.
One whiffle ball set.
Two candy bracelets.
One orange Gatorade.
Two multicolored Dreamcatchers.

Well worth a pain in my ass. Well worth it.