Our desire to place items in logical little boxes is a curious one. People go on vacation to get away from it all but always seem to spend significant effort to replicate their existing home even if they are spending significant money to leave it. As I watch parades of vacationers, from all parts of the country and the world, embark on their daily adventures, I see troubling consistencies within the family units. We are nomads that cannot travel outside our world without hauling our familiar and annoyingly heavy belongings with us. Parents follow their children, loaded down with awkward plastic toys, in hope of supplementing the children's vacation experience by providing both exotic new vistas filled with recognizable molded plastic objects from home.
All the men pack lightly and selfishly. They are concerned with only the primary issues: themselves, safety and shade. The children are somewhat similar, carrying no more than one additional item to sustain life; a pool toy, a hat or magazine. However the mothers are exactly alike. All are armed with their own needs but are also concerned for their flock. They are responsible for the entire management of the primary and secondary bags, These bags are filled with cameras, sun products, and miscellaneous items that have, in vacations past, placated their family for brief periods of time as they alternated between dangerous phases of boredom and exhilaration.
As travelers arrive at their planned destination, exhausted from traversing airports, larger-than-expected crowds and rental cars, they drop off their luggage in their second home, the hotel room, and begun building their third home at the pool. Their hotel room was likely full of the little pins that secure clothing to itself, internal shirt tissue paper and all the other accoutrements that accompany significant purchases. Not more than one hour after building their second home within the friendly confines of the hotel, families slathered with sun lotion come to the pool to arrange chairs, hoard towels and reposition umbrellas to establish their newest residence at the pool.
The third house had to act as the last frontier, a last chance fortress facing the unknown. One could use the location as the base of operations and a resource to replenish their own systems, whether it be for sunblock, bottled water, trashy paperbacks or the mysterious series of moisturizing lotions that seem to be essential to preserve life of any woman over the age of thirteen. These critical items are acquired, purchased, packed, transported, assembled, inventoried, repacked and eventfully dispensed as needed by the family members. The pantry of the third house is usually made up of a new carrybag with many pockets to assure that all necessary ingredients of a successful adventure to occur.
I am a married man of sixty-four years with the experience of many vacation campaigns, including five tours of Disney World. I have hauled exhausted children and grandchildren through countless number of entertainment venues, numerous bodies of water, hotel lobbies, airports and rent-a-car agencies all in the name of well-rounded family fun. I have checked car seats, play pens, and my sanity several times in my traveling career. Luckily at this time of my life, my children are very experienced hands at entertaining themselves and my wife has long since tired of nagging me on whatever issue of the day crosses her mind. Therefore, with this newfound freedom, I can observe the human condition and how it seems that we struggle to get away from it all and when we are finally away from it all, we insist on recreating our old world with whatever resources we have at our disposal.
It is a peaceful start of a beautiful day around the pool. There are numerous alcoves to place the hotel chaise lounges to accommodate the wide range of sun worshippers and sun avoiders. The towels are placed in orderly heaps, uniformed hotel personnel are busy with their tasks and another day is literally dawning. All of a sudden, a grating female voice launches a request wrapped inside a technical term of endearment.
"Honey," cries out a woman in her early thirties. Her ability to draw out several additional syllables makes for this noise to satisfy everyone within earshot. It is a call for help, a demand for attend, a notice of something. The sound reverberates throughout the hotel pool area as all married men within earshot all react momentarily as if the verbal assault was aimed at them. One milky-skinned man slowly changes his posture and turns at the woman.
"What do you want?" says the man as he is all adorned in a brand-new swimsuit, sunglasses and with a shirt that still shows the machine pressed folds. He stands proud, or at least as proud as he can while he holds an inflatable beach toy, two pink snorkel masks and the local Sunday newspaper. All he wants to do is to read the paper in peace while looking at women who are at least ten years younger than his wife. His wife was wearing a hat, an odd-shaped hat, essentially for sun protection, and it sparkled in its newness. In fact, everything they wore was new. New shoes with annoyingly white laces, clothes whose tags were removed within the hour and lots of carry bags stuffed with lots of new treasures.
I say quietly, under my breath, "Dont ask that question." All it does is open the door for a litany of orders and instructions. I gaze down my row of four other men, all free of injected-molded toys and wives that insist on spending time with them. We all give ourselves a knowing look that this guy, probably a two-vacation veteran has just overplayed his wife and will be lot busier than he could ever imagine. For the next hour, he will be busy building the third house and completing at least three more round trips to the hotel room to gather the newly determined necessities for the wife and kids. It is going to be a long day for this guy and we all reflect quietly on our younger days while all of us turning to the sports page with a choreographed flip.
"What a putz," said the older East Coast guy at the end of our line of chaise lounges. The entire line agreed with his statement, all of us wishing for the youngster to take control of the situation. I made up the other end of the five, with my horizontal neighbor, the Accountant-looking middle guy and Number Four between Mr. East Coast and me.
"Where is the kid?" said my completely reclined neighbor without looking up.
"Kids," I responded, "He is carrying two pink snorkels, he must have girls."
"Two girls and a wife," sighed the Accountant linemate, "he won't get a minute peace today. Looks like it is Day One for them, lots of adrenaline."
"The sky is clear and the weather hot," observed Number Four, "They will be out here all day and he'll fold early."
"By lunchtime," I said, "He won't see the afternoon."
"I'll take that bet," said Mr. East Coast, "but I call him down by two o'clock."
The bet was back to me but I had solid history on my side. The guy was real white and hadn't seen the sun for at least two years. Secondly, his wife seemed like a real sparkplug, she was not going to give him a moments peace. She had been planning this vacation for a long time and they were going to have a good time even if it killed him. The only variable was the kid factor. How young were they? How active and demanding could they be? My answers came bounding out from around the towel area.
Two girls, maybe six and eight, completely amped up on doughnuts, Pepsi and fruit cups came screaming up and tackled their already-exhausted father fifty feet from their third house. The last variable was also established: their third house had limited sun protection. I was in.
The rest of the group saw what I saw and the intangibles were in my favor and Mr. East Coast knew it. Instead of pitting us against each other, I became magnanimous and said, "We'll split the difference, one o'clock is a push, and I'll pay you now with a nice cool drink." Mr. East Coast nodded, very aware of my strategy to make us both winners. The waiter scooted by, I told him to ask Mr. East Coast and the rest of my new friends wanted and to get me something soothing. The fraternity grew closer as we all adjusted for sun and soon we all were settling back for a nice morning show.
Once the betting pressure was off, we began to analyze the science of the situation. The wife, who had disappeared after making her initial demands, had not returned. Our mark was still in the pool, frolicking with both daughters and slowly was taking on a slightly rosy glow. It wasn't serious but the subtle color change was not lost on the group. "He is pinking up," said my neighbor, "no sunscreen."
We had all commented about the time or two when we were caught in the no-mans land between the third house and the swimming pool. A quick inventory of children and years married made this a veteran crowd. No one had a child under thirteen and most of the children were girls. That meant that the wives and daughters were shopping, getting ready to shop or talking about shopping. The average number of years married was fifteen so the urge to spend the time with the spouse was somewhat minimized by familiarity. We were all rooting for our new friend but his exploits were no different than ours (at some point) and as observers, we had to allow nature to take its course. We could only interfere and upset the balance, and all of us agreed we had to respect nature or nothing would be learned here today.
"Maybe the wife is at the fourth house," said East Coast's neighbor, Number Four. "That would add some pressure." A collective sigh by us all sent the message that we may be seeing some fourth house pressure.
Once content with the layout, some younger families use the pool as a base camp to their final destination: the beach and an umbrella-configured fourth house. Usually a novelty, the fourth house acts as a home away from the pool for the adventurous at heart who need to explore the beach but be able to retreat back to a more controlled and shaded environment at the hotel pool. Usually, the fourth home is abandoned early as the family determines it is easier to maintain three homes and leaves the beach to people who have already bypassed the pool. However, the infrequent sighting of the fourth house doesn't mean it isn't a reality due to the novelty a beach can play with a younger, married couple.
"Perhaps," said my horizontal neighbor as he pulled on his cocktail, "but he doesnt seem like a beach type. But, when did his opinions matter?" We all laughed because just when the horizontal comment was stated, our tired and rosy friend was hauling both girls around the pool like some kind of trained water monkey.
A half an hour had passed and we had given up reading the local newspaper and are now content to observe our new friend exclusively. He had successfully escaped to the shady side of the pool while convincing the young girls to stay in the shallow end to do their snorkeling. Once accomplished, he had retreated back to his third house as soon as he could manage it and positioned himself as best he could with the always adjusting sun and took a pull on a drink that had long since melted into a mildly warm and barely recognizable beverage. He had grabbed a few towels off the mountain and for the first time in two days, had a moment of peace.
"This won't last long," said Number Four. "His wife has be closing in on him right now." The ability of a wife to catch their husband in a non-approved activity was long documented by centuries of husbands, but Number Four's statement was prophetic as seconds after he said it, a newly tanned woman, in a new black one-piece swimsuit was making a beeline towards our friend.
"She's locked on him," said Mr. East Coast, "and he doesn't even see her coming. We, on the other hand, saw her access the pool area from the far entrance and pick up her pace as she closed on his rosy skinned body. Her possessions were few; a shiny-covered (new) paperback, a list of hotel activities and a fresh drink for herself. Our entire lines of chaise lounges were quiet as we all strained to hear her latest instructions. Even Mr. Horizontal pulled his head up just to see the interaction.
"Reminds me of my wife," said Number Four as we saw a brief exchange of information between the two. "It appears that his plans and her plans are in conflict."
Our new friend was helpless, trying to explain his valiant efforts with the children, the pool, construction of the third house and his desire to relax himself for awhile. The hotel was a pricey one and we all knew this guy had run the numbers himself and was feeling it was high time for him to get his money's worth. Mr. Accountant beat us all to the punch by asking; "Do you think he is figuring out his cost per hour yet?"
I laughed and said, "Only in his head and it better stay that way."
The wife sat down next to our friend and cracked her book. For another moment, everything was peaceful. The young girls were busy in the pool, splashing and not in any need of their father, the wife was still surveying the situation, not just ready to make her next move. The calm was eerie and brief because no more than a minute later, the wife says something and up jumps our friend.
"He is going back the room," says my neighbor, "at least he will be out of the sun." We all agreed and even though I had the under, I had no negative feelings towards our new friend. I hoped he would get a few moments of peace and although it was not yet 10 o'clock in the morning, he still had a long way to go.
A side bet occurred between Mr. East Coast and his neighbor, Number Four. By this time, we had all had paid for a round of drinks and briefly introduced ourselves. In fact, most of our wives and daughters had stopped by to say hello and tell their husband/father where they were going and when they would be back. The charade of seeking approval was never challenged and we all were appreciated for the update although none of us were kidding ourselves that our opinions mattered. One father, Number Four, even had his son visit for a moment but he was dispatched with strict orders to go looking for girls his own age. The son complied and we are all alone again with our game.
A side bet dealing with what our friend was carrying back to the pool had developed. Mr. East Coast and Number Four had taken turns picking items and the rest of us were just curious because no matter what happened, another round of drinks was going to be sent around, either due the generosity of Number Four or Mr. East Coast. They alternated their picks and Mr. Accountant was nice enough to keep the tally, Number Four had (in order) additional children's toys, more towels, a new drink for the wife, a book or magazine or nothing. Mr. East Coast's picks were squarely based on the wife's demeanor: sun lotion for the wife, a hat for the wife, a bottle of water for the wife or apparel supplements for the wife. The choice of the designer water was approved due to its specificity and even Number Four thought that was a good bet. The sides were established and the rest of us agreed to act as arbitrators for anything that fell outside the two bettors. It was unsaid, but anything for the kids would make Number Four the easy winner.
Time went on and new theories began to be presented. The delay was due either to our friend's reluctance to return to the pool area or the distance between their second house and the third. Eventually, our friend returned with a carry bag and some fresh towels. We all held our breath as he reached in and pulled out the contents. My horizontal neighbor fought gravity as the items were dispensed. Number Four had taken an early lead with the towel but Mr. East Coast was calm as the items surfaced.
"Suntan lotion," said my neighbor, "for the wife. No way that stuff would go on the kids." We all had agreed, the game was tied.
The next item was a thick, silver-covered book. Another trashy, best selling paperback that was placed in the wife's hand. Number Four had called out a book and just as important, Mr. East Coast had not addressed books at all. "Good call," said Mr. East Coast, "I didn't think she would be needing another book, she had barely cracked her first one."
However, quickly the game changed as our friend had pulled out some beach coverall jacket that matched the wife's swimsuit and before we could comment, out came an iced bottle of Evian. We were stunned. Mr. East Coast had called the last two items and was named the Champion. "I was positive about the water, said Mr. East Coast, "I had done that myself dozens of times." The group was ready for the second half, complete with fresh drinks, compliments of Number Four. All five of us were continuing to order primarily non-alcoholic drinks, making every effort to stay well hydrated. The days of hitting the booze early were long gone, and we all were ready to stay the course. We were all in the shade, wearing sunglasses, cooling wet towels and intently studying of our friend without any fear of discovery.
The side bet complete, we all began to prepare for the final prize: how long was our friend going to go? Right after dispensing the items, he was pulled back into the water by his two adorable and fast-moving children. Lubricated from head to toe with waterproof lotion and still strung-out on sugar and novelty, the girls made our friend move from one side to the pool with troubling frequency. By this time, the lack of fluids, constant movement, the mental strain of paying attention to three females and the lack of proper sun protection began to take his toll. It was 11:30 and our friend was showing the signs of exhaustion. His rosy color had evolved into two distinct areas of concern: his shoulders and the top of his head.
"His melon is about ready to go," I observed, "I don't like the color and those little girls are worse than Drill Instructors."
"It is kind of a magenta," said my neighbor who had fashioned an incline of towels beneath himself to place him at an angle that was still more horizontal than upright.
"He is beginning to look like a tropical drink," said Number Four, "and the two colors I see are beginning to trouble me."
Our friend's wife was completely oblivious to his fate. She had stuck her nose into the new book and did not gaze up at him at all. She would look up quickly to make sure the children were alive and just as quickly, look back into her book. She was intelligently prepared for the sun; lotion, hat, cover-up, water and lounge placement safely in the shade. Our friend's chair was hardly touched as all that was displayed was a completely melted eight-dollar hotel cocktail (We had all guessed Mai-Tai), the still pristine Sunday newspaper, a stack of lightly used towels and an empty carry bag.
Noon was looming and that meant lunch at the pool for our family. All five of us were tired but we all knew the next hour would tell the story. Within a few minutes, the third house was surrounded by plastic serving containers complete with some impressive chicken sandwich, kid meals with hot dogs and fries and some kind salad for the wife. The sun was causing a lot of damage to our friend, as he tried to eat his sandwich in peace but between the demands to apply yet another ketchup packet and the wifely orders for more napkins, his chicken sandwich began to congeal almost immediately. All five of us learned the hard way to eat inside and drink outside, our friend was learning his lesson while retrieving cookies, scooping up rouge fries and trying desperately to enjoy some part of the day. A few of us had gotten up during the lunch to hit the restroom and got closer looks at the situation and things weren't any better close up.
The girls, oblivious to the one-hour wait rule, ran back into the pool as soon as they had their fill. Our friend dutifully grazed the rest of the kid's food while trying to get some additional nourishment. The wife, sufficiently satisfied with picking at the twelve-dollar salad, reapplied lotion and began to read. Our friend began to survey the landscape of the third house and we could see the epiphany take shape. In front of him, was a pile of wet toys, the remnants of fifty bucks of hotel food, wet towels and his Sunday paper lying uncracked in the sun. He raised his crimson hand to his eyes and saw us sitting in a line, completely shaded and without obligation. He looked at us and we collectively stared back at him through our sunglasses. He couldn't of knew that we, an unmatched and non-related group, were discussing him but he actually appeared to be considering making a break for it.
"He is figuring it out," said Mr. East Coast, "but it may be too late."
"It is too late, the poor slob is glowing red," said Number Four. "He is a dead man if he doesn't escape the third house."
All of us agreed as our collective concern had shifted from the bet to his health and welfare. He was exhausted and he needed something to turn the tide. The top of his head was now a deep magenta and he appeared to be demonstrating initial signs of sunstroke dementia. He was moving sluggishly and was no doubt wishing that he was back home, wherever the hell that was, working in an air-conditioned offices miles from the wife and kids.
It was now 1:00pm, our friend wandered away from the third house, back into the hotel for a well-deserved respite. Hopefully, both he and the kids would take a nap where he could begin the slow painful recovery process. His wife was young enough and could potentially insist on either a walk on the beach or a shopping excursion. Either one would kill him or all we wanted was for him to get some hard-earned recovery time.
I looked at my watch and I looked at Mr. East Coast. His nod told me that he also agreed to call the contest a draw. As we were all making our move inside, Mr. Accountant's wife wandered in, flush from some needless shopping and asking him if he wanted to go in and get a bite to eat. Of course, his lunch would inside, using a legitimate menu and well away from the brutal heat. We all shook hands with him and as he and his wife walked away, she asked him to tell him all about his new friends and what he was doing while she was shopping. He shook his head, waved one more time to us and wandered in, without giving a clue to our entertainment.
We all went our separate ways, with knowing nods and content that we did some good work here this morning. We knew we would see each other around the hotel but nothing would be made of it. We wanted to enjoy the morning without knowing why or putting it through mind-numbing analysis. This activity was harmless, moderately interesting and a worthwhile validation to our approaches to life. No one made a value judgment but rather our play-by-play commentary kept us all entertained. I saw our friend several times in the hotel and he appeared no worse for wear other than the shockingly red skin and I am confident that he was looking forward to his vacations ten years from now, when he could do it right. In the meantime, he would have to get up earlier to steal a moment or two for himself but he would figure it out.
As we all did.
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