By: Mary Fran Bontempo
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Just make sure you pay us first!

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know! I had one the other day but now I can’t find it!”

“I can’t find mine either! What are we going to do?”

“No one leaves this house until we find every one of them!”

It’s not stacks of hundred dollar bills. Nor is it bags of precious gems that inspire such madness. It isn’t stock certificates for Facebook…wait, no one’s hunting those down. Anyway, the objects of the frenzied search in the Bontempo household are made of cardboard, circular (this year) and less than two inches in circumference.

They are…beach tags.

Beach tags are the little holy grails of summer life at the Jersey shore and few things carry more weight than the cardboard pin required for admittance to many of New Jersey’s beaches. The tags’ design and shape changes every year and don’t look it up online expecting to find an official picture of this year’s model. That would make it too easy for some enterprising individuals to forge the things.

The whole idea of beach tags sends more than a few folks (me included) over the edge during summer. Having to pay to enjoy one of God’s gifts is enough to cause some vacationers to foam at the mouth, thus introducing the young beach-taggers employed to hunt down scofflaws to the ugly side of humanity during what is, for many, their first job.

Plus, the things are expensive. Twenty-five dollars for a seasonal tag, ten bucks for a weekly and five for a day. Hmmm…I wonder if Tony Soprano, now that he’s no longer on TV, is behind this shakedown racket?

The tags also possess a cache to go along with their price. The seasonal tag brands you as a local, while the weekly and daily versions mark you as a “Shoobie,” subject to derision by the locals, who, in my estimation, should be damn grateful for the Shoobies as without Shoobie income, they’d all be living in shacks and eating sand crabs for dinner…but I digress. (By the way, the term, “Shoobie” refers to tourists and originated back in the 20’s and 30’s when visitors would come to the shore for a day and bring their lunch in shoeboxes.)

In actuality, though, many locals (and some contentious visitors) simply refuse to purchase the beach tags, preferring to employ various methods to avoid the fees. As the taggers approach en masse, attempting to carpet the beach in a line, there’s the “I’m asleep” defense, during which a beach-goer fakes lapsing into a sleep coma and refuses to acknowledge the tagger, playing a waiting game until the poor kid gives up and moves on. Others jump up for a “walk” as the taggers approach. Most popular, though, is the “Wow, it’s really hot all of a sudden. I think I’ll go for a swim” defense, whereupon loungers are suddenly overcome by a desire to leap into the ocean.

For the most part, that’s just way too much effort for me and I generally give in and purchase at least a few tags for summer use. But, there are never enough for all beach-goers and we keep losing the stupid things, which results in the aforementioned screaming and panic.

It hardly makes for a relaxing day at the shore and again, the whole idea rankles. But it is what it is, so if we happen to cross paths this summer on the beach in Ocean City, please don’t be offended if I run away from you and into the water while in mid-conversation.

I probably couldn’t find my beach tag.

What’s your take on the beach tag trend? Click “comments” below and share!