Always better to be prepared, this I know

Always better to be prepared, this I know

As part of my job, I’ve been required to maintain CPR/AED/first aid certification, and though I’ve rarely had to use those skills, I like to think that should it become necessary, I could save a life.

A ridiculous thought, isn’t it, that someone like me — a self-centered hedonist with an addictive personality and an overdeveloped appreciation for the Rolling Stones, Gonzo journalism and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — might actually do something noble?

It’s a counterintuitive notion, like burning a Vietnamese village to protect it or destroying vast tracts of the rain forest to maintain its economic efficacy, but there you are.

Hiding hypocrisy in plain sight is a time-tested rule of success.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make; conversely, all I am saying is if you’re prepared to do something good, you can make a difference, even if it’s nothing anyone ever knows about.

I spent an inordinate amount of time at the beach.

You know that, might even resent me for it, but that’s the truth.

And I’ll tell you something else that’s true.

The ocean — for all its vast beauty and infinite horizons — is nothing to mess around with because it will kill you in less time than it takes to nuke a slice of three-day-old pepperoni pizza.

You have to be not only vigilant, but also smart.

Anything less than that combination can make for a very bad scene.

Consider this a simple public-service warning: Don’t be dumb.

Last week I was sitting in my beach chair — the one my wife insists I should replace because it’s 10 years old and well past its prime — when I observed a rather typical display of Americana.

A large group — presumably an extended family having traveled many miles to Coastal Carolina for a July vacation — decamped and began milling about. Some folks set up umbrellas as others arranged seating, coolers and tables, and there was a buzz.

These folks were happy, slathering on sunscreen and smiling.

Naturally, I was concerned because it’s hard to keep an eye on everyone when that kind of assemblage is putting down stakes. It’s easy for a child, excited to see the Atlantic for the first time, to toddle away unnoticed, drawn to the water’s edge for a closer look.

I did the same thing not an hour before, and I’m no toddler.

You’ve probably seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” his legendary dissertation on what it is to be a voyeur; that is, how someone can be completely consumed by watching what he’s not supposed to be seeing.

There are social norms, after all, and one ignores them at his own peril, not to mention those who fall into his orbit of spy/witnessing.

In short, Hitchcock is saying society frowns on Peeping Toms while at the same time suggesting vigilance can be a virtue.

It’s all — if you’ll pardon the pun — in the eye of the beholder.

So there I was, listening to a homemade CD of my favorite songs from summer 1972, just grooving to “Tumbling Dice” and “Join Together,” when I became aware of another Super Mom.

She’s part of a sub-species in the Helicopter Parent family tree, one of those officious, efficient, endlessly cheerful, perky, youthful mothers to whom every challenge provides not a craggy mountain to be survived but a white-water cascade to be sleekly negotiated.

She embodies the ideal of multi-tasking, a combination of Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, a bewitching nose-twitching/chin-nodding superwoman able to distribute healthy snacks while at the same time planting colorful umbrellas at perfect 90-degree angles.

And yet, despite all her obvious abilities and parenting excellence, I couldn’t take my eyes off that little boy. His hair was blond, almost white in the mid-morning sun, his pudgy upper arms encased by inflated water wings, giving him the appearance of a miniature, robotic, animatronic cartoon.

All he lacked was a thought balloon above his head with the words “That looks like fun” inked in as he wobbled toward the sea.

Ordinarily, at this point I would have turned to my wife — a trained nurse with 25 years experience — and said something like, “Um, shouldn’t someone be doing something about that kid?”

But she was off hunting beach glass by the fishing pier, hundreds of yards away, so it was just me and my worries. I glanced over at Super Mom, who was engaged in helping another child with her sand shovel and pail, and came to the realization this might not be one of those situations that evaporated quickly into nothing.

I might actually have to be the one to do something.

At that moment, though, a man — presumably the child’s father — splashed through the crashing waves and scooped up the boy, who squealed with delight and indicated he wanted to be put back down.

It doesn’t take long to sign up for a life-saving class, and after three or four hours of practice and instruction, you can qualify for certification, which is usually good for two years. If the teacher is a dedicated one — and most of them seem to be — you’ll have a grasp on the basics of chest compressions, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and the correct use of an automated exterior defibrillator.

My first time, I asked so many questions that the kind lady in charge asked me if I was a reporter.

“Actually,” I said, “I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years.”

“Good, great,” she said with the tone she probably saves for the slowest learners. “Why don’t we hear from somebody else, OK?”

Summer’s hitting its stride, and a lot of people will be heading for the beach. They’re going to be excited to finally get to the coast. They’ll be eager to run and jump into the surf. They’ll be happy.

Who am I to throw a wet blanket on their fun?

I’m someone who knows better, that’s who.

We’re expecting friends and family in a few weeks’ time, and I will gather them around me, as I always do, and hope they listen when I say, “The ocean has no memory. It’ll kill you and not care.”

I expect the eye rolls and the usual “Geez, man, relax” admonitions.

But if I can plant a seed of doubt in their minds, one that grows into a healthy respect for that great, big, beautiful body of water just beyond the back deck, I’ll have considered it a job well done.

Then I won’t have to worry about doing what I know how to do.

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