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I was on Cape Cod with my family last week and had an interesting experience at Marconi Beach. Beautiful dunes, big sand bar, good surf, good book, great family. Having a lovely time. We’re taking a break for lunch, I’m staring at my sandwich or my book or my wife or watching a bird or who knows what and my daughter tells me that my 4 year old is playing on the dunes. This is not a good thing. The dunes are fragile, eroding every instant and you’re supposed to stay off them.

I call to my son and tell him to get down. Strangely enough, he doesn’t listen. Arrggh. I’ve got to get up out of my beach chair and really get his attention. But as I start to rise, a woman comes on a dead run, rage on her face, screaming, “Whose idiot kid is this???”

I’m on vacation. I’m pretty relaxed. Actually I’m very relaxed. I calmly respond to her question with a smile. He’s mine, I announce, loud enough to get her attention.

“Are you stupid or what?” I take this to be a rhetorical question. I say nothing.

“If you want to destroy the dunes, don’t come to the Cape!” she screams.

I fight off an urge to take our two long-handled sand shovels and use them as ski poles to climb up the dune for an avalanching set of cartwheels. Instead, I smile again and explain that I like the dunes. I don’t want to destroy them. In fact, I was just getting him down. Hadn’t seen him up there. Very sorry. I’ll get him down.

“My friend says he’s been up there for an hour!”

“I don’t think so. That’s off by maybe 58 minutes.” But by this point she has wandered off. Or stomped off.

It was one of three encounters during the week where someone from a vantage point of self-righteous indignation angrily berated someone for violating a rule or convention of the beach. Very strange. Is it a form of therapy or catharsis to scream at someone’s misbehavior? It’s a good idea to have a social convention or even a rule not to climb on the dunes. But the erosion of civility is another problem.