The Law concerning Kite Flying on Massachusetts Beaches

Chip Samuels is blowing up trophy houses on Cape Cod in Spectacular Happiness (Scribner, $25), a novel by Peter D. Kramer '70, M.D. '76, author of Listening to Prozac. Chip is "attacking a small exemplar of capitalism"; his accomplice hates "the ugliness of greedy houses on the dunes." The press speculates, too narrowly, that their Free the Beaches movement targets the odd law allowing Massachusetts beaches to be private down to mean low water. Chip reminds his son of an incident with a kite.

We headed to the edge of the public beach, to avoid dive-bombing the sunbathers. That was our mistake. The kite shot upward, spiraled, and before we had time to reel the line in, swooped down near Dotty, who sat in splendid isolation on her private stretch of sand.

The kite landed ten feet from her, but she startled as if approached by muggers. This is my beach, don't you know this is my beach, she shrilled.

She was dressed in an Asian peasant's outfit, loose-fitting, pajama-style pants and top, and a wide-brimmed, round hat that attached with a string under the chin, all in lacquer red. She began to flap her arms like a crane about to ascend. You ran toward her to collect your kite, but she kept yelling about her need for privacy and her blood pressure. You froze, in fear of this overwrought grown-up. Rolling string and framing an apology, I headed toward you.

By now Dotty was shooing with her hands, flags of red silk shaking at you. A beefy neighbor chugged in from his own private plot of land to help. Can't people control their kids? he yelled, and he crushed your kite. Just like that. Picked it up by the struts and broke them, snap, snap, snap. It was not enough to disable the kite, he had to mutilate it.

Can't you see that the poor woman is sensitive?

That was his cry. Then he began gathering string from his end, approaching me menacingly, telling me to get off the poor woman's land. I stood my ground. I was beaten up too often as a child to fear a blow or two....

To my surprise he stopped and caught hold of himself. I now think he was imagining what would happen if he, a rich man, struck me, a poor man. Would I sue? Would I sue him even now, for traumatizing a child?

Seeing him collect himself, I imagined he must have a history of violence, this man. Later when I was in his house, I took a good look at the family photos. He is single; there are pictures of grown children from three wives. The correspondence file on his computer has pathetic, begging letters to various of the children. Apologies for past misdeeds, promises of future devotion. I found I wanted to spare the house. The man's life was punishment enough.

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