Stephen G. Jordan: Summer? Pack the meat tenderizer
Summer. It's hot and uncomfortable. People think about getting relief from the type of weather they wished for so earnestly a mere few months ago when the temperature seemed to be stuck below freezing, possibly forever. Thoughts of the beach easily come to the fore.
A little over two decades ago I was living in Birmingham, Ala. It is in the central part of the state about a five hour drive from the Gulf of Mexico. When Alabamians speak of the beach they are referring to the Gulf.
Summer in Alabama can be brutal. The average August temperature in Birmingham is 91 degrees Fahrenheit. So, when friends invited me to their beach condo at Gulf Shores I signed on immediately. Early one morning three adults, two 12-year-old girls, a five-year-old boy and a chihuahua crammed into a vehicle and hit the highway for Gulf Shores.
The last part of the drive to Gulf Shores is on local roads through farm country and small towns. I began to notice that the time and temperature displays in front of local banks said it was 92 F. It wasn't even noon yet. It was already hotter than Birmingham and the closer we got to the beach the higher the temperature climbed. This was not the beach model I was used to.
The last bank sign I saw as we entered Gulf Shores said 94F. The accompanying humidity seemed like 100 percent. I don't know what it really was. I can say the air felt like a fluid rather than a gas.
The girls were a big help unpacking the vehicle. So, we were able to accomplish transferring all the stuff up to the 12th floor condo in one trip. I wouldn't need to leave my chilled cocoon to carry more things.
The view of the Gulf and beach was gorgeous. Groups of pelican's skimmed the surface of the water very close to shore. Waves didn't seem to exist. The Gulf was a vast calm blue-green body of water. I could appreciate the view from the balcony while being bathed in air-conditioned air. I would have been content to stay inside for the whole trip.
The children wanted to hit the beach. They insisted I come with them. They knew this was my first trip to the Gulf. They were sure I'd love it.
The children gathered up all the stuff they thought they would need. The other adults revealed that a long established beach custom was to enjoy a large margarita before leaving the condo. I'm a strong believer in following local custom.
We claimed the piece of beach chosen by the kids. I left my glasses with an adult. It was time to cool off.
I'm extremely nearsighted. Looking around at the beach what had been fully formed people were now amorphous blobs. The beach itself is made of pure white spherical grains of quartz. That meant the Gulf had to be the vast blue green expanse that had a sound of tiny waves meeting the shore. I headed straight for it.
Back in Maine I'm a follower of the "wait till your ankles are numb" method of entering the ocean. Hitting the water of the Gulf I was shocked. I could stand there all day and my ankles would never get numb. The water was very warm, practically hot. I learned later that the water temp was 88 F, just 6 degrees cooler than the air. How was this supposed to be refreshing?
I walked on out to where the water was at neck level. The bottom had a very gradual slope. Looking at the shore I could see the brilliant white swath I knew to be the beach. I figured the moving blobs were people. They were a lot further away than I expected.
Standing there willing myself to lose some heat to the very warm water a black torpedo shape a couple of feet long flashed by my legs. I froze. Two more sped past. A Mainer grows up knowing that there isn't anything in the ocean surf zone that can eat you. On the other hand, movies, television news and print stories make it very clear the Gulf of Mexico is home to plenty of sea creatures that can bite, sting, maim and eat you. I had no idea if what flashed by my legs was one of those things. I wasn't cooling off. Unknown creatures were speeding past my legs. It was time to head for shore.
I started toward the beach. Without any kind of warning all areas within my swim trunks felt like I had been set on fire and dipped in acid. I was still covered by water up to my shoulders. A person doesn't make much headway when they're attempting to walk through water that deep. Each step made my swim trunks move which only made my burning skin feel worse. I cupped my private parts trying to keep from introducing them to even more of whatever was causing me pain. And so it was that, crotch in hand, I made my way as fast as I could back to land.
The Gulf did not have any appreciable waves; however, it did have a substantial long shore current. This means that there is a current that runs parallel to the beach. So, as soon as you get in the water the current is moving you down the beach away from the spot where you entered. I didn't know about this.
I eventually hit the beach. The people on land saw a tall, skinny, extremely white man rise up out of the water with his right hand down his trunks cupping his genitals and saying, "Ow, Ow," with each movement. I walked straight up on to the beach expecting to find my group. Instead, I found a different family with children. The children just stared with their mouths open. The adults stared but managed to get out, "Are you OK?" I answered, "Not really." I explained that I felt like I was on fire. The husband's expression turned from curious and concerned to sympathy. He said, "You've got jellyfish in your trunks."
He went on to explain the current. He pointed down the beach saying that I would find my friends down there. They said they had nothing that could help me. They did say I needed to treat the area as soon as possible and wished me luck. Junk in hand I made my way down the beach saying, "Ow," a lot.
I couldn't make out faces until I was very close. I must have disturbed and maybe alarmed quite a few people working my way up the beach. When I reached my friends the girls burst out laughing. The adults both said I was being stung by jellyfish. One of them told me to get back in the water and use sand with the warm sea water to try to clean myself of as many stingers as I could. Fresh water would only make things worse. The other adult said to meet him back at the condo. He went off to get some Adolph's Meat Tenderizer. I didn't think I heard correctly. I went back into the water anyway.
Back at the condo I applied the meat tenderizer. The pain ever so slowly dissipated. Over-the-counter pain medication and house-made margaritas helped as well. I was effectively pain free in 48 hours. It took longer for the red irritated rash like regions to clear up.
I returned to the Gulf with the same family a number of times over the years. Most times it was a free trip in exchange for keeping an eye on the little boy while mom kept the girls from getting into too much trouble. I rarely went into the water. I stayed in water less than waist deep when I did. I had learned my lesson.
I learned a new lesson on subsequent trips. Walking the beach with a 6- or 7-year-old attracts female attention even better than a puppy. How I learned that lesson is a story better held for another time.
Stephen G. Jordan is a Maine native. He has practiced and taught law in different states and at different universities. He followed a similar path in the fields of geology, engineering geology and remote sensing. These days he can be found in Rockland living a happy life with his flat coated retriever, Luna. He hopes to someday figure out what he wants to do when he grows up.