Then there is the Texas beach, which can be, from time to time, completely unpredictable. Which is exactly why nobody thought anything of it when I squinted through the windshield at the water and asked, "Is it black?"

Jessica didn't slap my arm playfully and laugh, as if I were making some weird joke. Sam didn't twirl a finger by the side of his head as if his dad had finally lost his marbles. Neither of them said or did anything. They both knew it was entirely possible that, yes, the water was black.

We gathered our towels and walked toward the water. No, this time it wasn't black. The play of clouds and sun only made it appear that way from a distance.

Today, the water was a deep sienna color and freckled with red specks, as if God opened a huge can of cayenne pepper and poured it into the Texas Gulf. (Which, when you think of it, makes sense, given the roux-brown color of the water; what with the shrimp and oysters, it's less an ocean than a gumbo.) It was probably red tide.

I harbor a bit of the same antipathy for beaches that Fields claimed for kids. He said: "I like children, if they're properly cooked." And, "Children should neither be seen nor heard from - ever again."

I harbor this feeling toward beaches because I am not what you would call a "beach person." A beach person, as I understand it, is someone who enjoys the beach, who really likes swimming in the ocean and/or getting a tan. I don't much care about doing either. To me, ocean swimming means you swallow more salt than the annual USDA recommended consumption, and getting a tan means blistering your skin under a fierce sun for hours, an activity I would think would be condemned as inhumane by Amnesty International if it were applied to prisoners of war.