My annual week of summer vacation is always beset by some degree of calamity. Two years ago, I dropped my new iPhone in the street and it got run over about 2,000 times. Last year, my father-in-law broke his big toe playing soccer on the beach. This year? I drove about a half-hour away from my house and realized I forgot my running shoes. Perhaps the vacation gods were telling me to chill out and relax. Slow down. Wear flip-flops for a week. Hey, forgetting a pair of shoes isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Which was definitively proven, again and again and again, during the next week, as worse things happened on an hourly basis.

Here’s a short catalog of unfortunate vacation events: I lost my $500 GoPro in the ocean, burned my leg with boat-cleaning acid, dodged errant fireworks, fought with birds in the house, sucked a towrope into a Sea-Doo jet intake and lacerated my finger on a Chinese beach cart that carried the warning “Watch your hand when fold the cart!” The full moon meant that the beach disappeared at high tide and retreated halfway to the Azores at low tide, lacing the breeze with a pungent bouquet of decaying mollusk farts. My wife got a speeding ticket, and my friend Elliot stepped on a flounder after I ran my boat aground on a mud flat. Which at least meant the boat was running that day, which wasn’t always the case. Oh, and I sprayed gasoline in my eyes, but not till the day I got home, so technically I can’t blame that on vacation.

In retrospect, most of my problems derive from the fact that I get bored at the beach, so I bring as many elaborate diversions as possible. Most of these consist of serious equipment that can break down, maim you or both. Like the boat, which decided to manifest a fuel problem that would cause it to intermittently cut out and leave us drifting while I frantically pumped the fuel bulb. One day, a guy pulled alongside and offered to help. Noting his functioning Yamaha outboard, I said, “Maybe I need to get a Yamaha.” He cast a glance back and replied, “Doesn’t matter what you have. They all do it sooner or later.” Spoken like a man who’s had a lot of boats.

Incidentally, that wisdom also applies to running aground, which I did about 20 minutes later. Elliot and I hopped out to push, sinking to our knees in black mud. We couldn’t see the bottom, but at one point Elliot declared, “I’m pretty sure I just stepped on something that was trying to get away.” I told him he probably just slipped on a flounder. As one does when out enjoying the water.

Other challenges came from the Sea-Doos. I was shooting a video on them, combining a little bit of work and play. If you’ve never ridden a Sea-Doo, it’s like saddling up a playful bionic dolphin but with more of a learning curve. A dolphin, for instance, would never inhale the towrope for a ski tube, which is what the Sea-Doo did as I idled in front of the beach to pick up nieces and nephews for a ride. Apparently, there’s a shaft spinning under the back of the thing even when you’re in neutral. So that’s how I found myself diving beneath a 900-pound watercraft, clutching a sheriff’s borrowed pocketknife and hacking at an unseen rope as rolling surf threatened to take the whole thing airborne and drop it on my head. To further enliven the scene, my niece on the beach was yelling that she saw a shark, and the sheriff was getting impatient to get his knife back before I dropped it or inadvertently stabbed myself—both strong possibilities. Oh, and the kids on the beach who weren’t yelling about sharks were complaining about the inequitable distribution of tube rides resulting from my poor stewardship of the towrope. How inconsiderate of me! This might have been the moment that I spawned a persona that Heather dubbed “Grumpy Uncle.”

The good news: I got the whole scene on video, shot from my new GoPro Hero4 setup—suction mount, waterproof float door, 32 gig memory card. Sweet. The bad news? That footage will be screening exclusively at Davy Jones’ Locker, since the camera fell off somewhere out in the ocean on my way back to the dock. Now, there’s a chance it floated—I never tested the buoyancy of the foam door—but even if it did, we’re talking about a small orange blot in the vastness of the sea. Of course, I looked for it, riding around long enough to get a really cool sunburn in a pattern that I call “invisible life jacket.”

So, to recap: I spent a week at the beach doing very little work. Can’t wait till next year!


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