Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when she lived in the East Village and belonged to two modern dance companies and worked long shifts as a waitress at various restaurants, my sister Susan coined the expression “Boat Day.” This was a day during which she floated on her bed all day in her pajamas, surrounded by books and magazines, gratefully accepting the cups of tea and plates of food her then-boyfriend was kind enough to bring her. She was not sick, she was in perfect health, but she needed some time out, a restorative day of rest, solitude, and contemplation.
During that same era, when I also lived in the East Village and had started writing my first novel and was working as an office temp all around the city, I coined the term “Soul Spa Day.” This was a day during which I lay in the bathtub for hours, replenishing the hot water as necessary, reading detective novels and anything by M.F.K. Fisher, drinking tea while it was light out, then wine when it got dark, and slurping bowls of minestrone I’d made the day before from the contents of my kitchen cupboard.
During these days of doing nothing, fittingly, Susan and I also both played a lot of Solitaire and listened to NPR or mix tapes on our boom boxes. And we screened all our calls and didn’t call anyone back until the next day.
We both still do this, decades later. Boat Day, Soul Spa Day – whatever it’s called, sometimes you need a 24-hour break from life.
Yesterday, I woke up with a to-do list as long as my arm and an impending (temporary) move to Iowa City three days away and an enormous backlog of emails and messages to respond to, following a very happy but very busy and chockfull summer of work and travel and activity and interviews and family visiting and deadlines.
Lying there, waking up, I felt no desire to do anything productive at all, all day. In fact, I felt rebellious and lazy. I got dressed and walked Dingo along the sidewalk in the sparkling, lush, sweet Maine summer morning.
“I don’t want to pack yet,” I said when I got home. “I don’t want to run errands.”
“Let’s go to the beach,” said Brendan. “Let’s have a picnic.”
Less than four minutes later, we were in the car, bathing suits on under our clothes, wearing our straw beach hats, headed for Cape Elizabeth. Dingo rode in back along with the beach towels.
On the way, we stopped at the lobster shack we call the Mail-Order Bride’s because of the busty, artfully made-up Russian woman we assume is married to the owner; she sits behind the counter and rings everything up with a fatally bored expression that says, “For this I leave Russia? To work in lobster store and be married to Maine man?”
They have excellent lobster salad at the Mail-Order Bride’s: mounds of fresh, tender, perfectly cooked meat bound lightly with good mayonnaise, served on some iceberg with thinly sliced ripe tomato, nothing else. We also got a big bag of Cape Cod sea salt-and-cracked pepper potato chips, a bottle of chilled rosé, and two bottles of water, mainly for Dingo.
And then we headed for Ferry Beach, forgetting in our excitement that they have a strict no-dogs rule in the summertime between 9 and 5. When we got there, the parking lot was full, so it was moot. We were out of luck. We drove a bit aimlessly around the back roads, wondering how to sneak onto a beach somewhere. No luck there, either.
“I know,” said Brendan. “The Inn by the Sea. They take dogs. We can use their beach.”
A minute later, there it was, the place where I took Brendan for his 30th birthday on a weirdly hot March day last year; Dingo came along too, and got to dine with us in the lobby restaurant alongside all the other dogs and stay with us in our room, where the staff had provided him with a soft dog bed and treats.
Now we parked in their lot and walked Dingo down their wooden boardwalk to the beach, and then we saw the no-dogs signs there, too. So we set up camp at a picnic table in the shade by the beach and ate our lobster and potato chips and drank our wine. The air was sweet and fresh and cool; the sunlight filtered through the branches of the trees to dapple the ground.
After lunch, we walked Dingo back to the car and left him snoozing in the backseat with all the windows rolled down. Then we came back to the beach, unrolled our towels, and lay in the sun in our bathing suits until we were baking hot. Then we walked into the green, clear, cold, lapping waves of the north Atlantic and paddled around. Back on our towels in the sun, we dozed, tingly and zinging and euphoric from lobster and wine and seawater.
After we woke up, we collected Dingo and drank more cold rosé on the porch of the Inn, sitting on a wicker couch with a view of the ocean, enjoying the fresh breeze in the shade. From the dog menu (yes, they have a dog menu), we ordered the “Meat Roaf” for Dingo. A big bowl of rice, ground beef, minced carrots, peas, and beans was set down next to his smaller bowl of ice water. Dingo stared at the waiter as if he might be an angel from heaven, then stuck his nose into the bowl and didn’t look up again until it was empty.
Then we humans were hungry again, so we drove to the new, fancy oyster place in town and sat outside in the bright sun and ate two dozen briny local mollusks with mignonette and cocktail sauce and drank cold muscadet.
After that, it was time for another nap; I awoke in pitch darkness to find Brendan shaking me gently. “You’ve been asleep for four hours,” he said. He had walked and fed Dingo; he had been up for two hours already. I discovered that I was wide awake and ravenous, so we went to the corner bar for their juicy, savory burgers with gluten-free buns and pimiento cheese.
This midnight supper was the perfect ending to our outdoor Boat Day, the Soul Spa Day of seafood and naps and potato chips and ocean air and sand and wine.
And now the summer is over, and our To-Do lists are longer than ever.