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The Rear End

THE REAR END: Trunks Be Damned

underwear underwater, down at the beach

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

Half Moon Beach near downtown Eau Claire is where I saw that one kid swimming in his underwear. I thought it was pretty weird. He was just sloshing in and out of the water in his soggy tighty whities.

He was skinny. Shiny, wet hair stuck to his forehead.

Maybe his parents couldn’t afford to buy him swimming trunks. Maybe his family was impulsive enough to just pull off the road, leap from the car, and go swimming, trunks be damned. Maybe the kid just ran down to the beach all by himself. Because there was no one in his life telling him no.

Every one of these concepts was foreign to me. My family just didn’t do … that. 

But you know what? I hadn’t come to Half Moon Beach near downtown Eau Claire to judge. I was there to swim. And by swim, I mean “swim.”

Oh, I’d had plenty of swimming lessons by that point in my young life, but kids don’t go to the beach to do the backstroke or the breaststroke or even the freestyle stroke. They go to the beach to do the “Mom! Watch me swim underwater!” and the “Mom! Watch me do a handstand!” and the “MOM! WATCH ME DO A BAAAAAAAAACKFLIP!”

kids don’t go to the beach to do the backstroke or the breaststroke or even the freestyle stroke.

They go to the beach to do the “Mom! Watch me swim underwater!” and the “Mom! Watch me do a handstand!” and the “MOM! WATCH ME DO A BAAAAAAAAACKFLIP!”

MIKE PAULUS

You go to the beach to debate your friends over the exact way to cup one’s hands while smacking the surface of the water so as to produce the most splash per whack.

You go to do that thing where you put your foot into a basket of your friend’s interwoven fingers so they can launch you out of the water, into the air, and back down.

You dare your cousins to see how far out into the lake they’ll swim. (And there’s always one amazing cousin who could swim across the whole damn lake if they wanted to.)

That’s what I mean by “swimming.” And that’s the kind of stuff I was doing at Half Moon Beach near downtown Eau Claire when I saw that one kid swimming in his underwear.

He kept trying to play with me. But I was a shy, chubby kid swimming in a T-shirt. Hanging out with random children in their underwear at the public beach wasn’t real high on my to-do list. I didn’t respond to his comments. I didn’t pay attention to his attempts to start games.

But now, I wish I had. I wish I’d at least tried to play, even if it was awkward and weird.

And I wish I’d been more like that kid. Brave enough to offer friendship so freely. Free enough to not notice how I’m the only one swimming in my underwear.

Did I hurt his feelings, ignoring him like that? I have no idea. Maybe he didn’t care one way or the other. He probably played with dozens of kids that day. Why would I matter to him?

We were just children. But here I am, decades later, thinking about that one trip to Half Moon Beach near downtown Eau Claire. I can’t forget about it. Because somehow, he mattered to me.

As we crawl out from under the pandemic, after so many months of social isolation, remember to be kind as you reconnect. Remember to reach out to others. And remember that some people aren’t ready to reach back. There’s no right way to do this. So give it time.

And hey, since the beaches will eventually reopen, wear whatever you want. Swim underwater. Do a handstand. Do a backflip. Be happy. Stay safe.