Author’s note: This is the eighth installment of a multi-part series. For an optimal reader experience, read the introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII first. Subsequent installments will post daily.
I rose with the sun on day three, one of those happy accidents that occur when you’re well-rested and don’t need the squawk of an alarm clock to get your day started.
Melinda and the kids were still just beginning their journey to consciousness, so I took my cup of coffee to a bench on the boardwalk outside of our hotel.
There’s a certain solemnity to a beach town at sunrise. The crowds, the filthy ignorant masses that make it so unbearable during the day are gone, still filling their bedrooms with labored apneatic snores. The beach isn’t deserted, but the few who populate it are on something like a nature hike, a stroll. Nature is actually apparent for the first time, the gulls pecking in the sand for crabs, or, more likely, the leavings of yesterday’s hordes. Dorsal fins of porpoises crest near the shore, not yet driven out to sea by thrashing limbs and the splashes of errantly thrown footballs.
The boardwalk is empty, save a smattering of fit assholes in tiny shorts and headphones, their bodies already glistening with the sweat of their exertion.
On the west side of the hotel, the shops and streets are likewise vacant, and if you let your mind unfocus, the way you do when you look at a Magic Eye picture, you can see what the town looks like in the winter, empty and desolate and a little bit serene.
It’s like the world resets every night, and each morning the sidewalks are rolled out anew.
Even the motorized scooters got a break, gathered on street corners in neat clumps like soldiers after a battle, commiserating and steeling themselves for the hellish abuse that lies for them in the day ahead.
I sipped my coffee and exhaled, pleased with my state of zen. It would be the last moment of peace I’d have for the next 48 hours.
We braved continental breakfast again, this time making sure to check in (but not tip) Grandpa. The only table available was on the patio, which was nice until an upstanding member of the city Parks Department decided that exact moment was the right time to mow the narrow strip of grass separating the hotel and the boardwalk.
“IT’S A NICE DAY, ISN’T IT?” I yelled to Melinda over the roar of the zero-turn mower’s engine. “HOW IS YOUR BREAKFAST?”
The day was overcast and the kids were beached out, so we instead decided to spend the afternoon lounging by the pool.
To me, swimming in a pool while at the beach is sacrilege, like ordering the chicken at Ruth’s Chris. But buoyed by my relaxing sunrise meditation, I figured my intended activities of reading and drinking beer would be enjoyable just about anywhere.
What I pictured was a long concrete pool deck ringed by a white fence, little rows of lounge chairs topped with neat, rolled towels. I’d seen these types of hotel pools jutting out into the boardwalk during our walk the first night, populated by perfect little children floating in swimmies and parents dozing with open copies of Forbes and Us Weekly over their faces.
What met us as we passed through the keycard-controlled door, however, was far less idyllic.
This indoor pool was the size of my living room, the deck itself extending perhaps six feet on each side. If I had to describe it in three words, they would be cramped, shabby, and swampy.
Fortunately it wasn’t too crowded; the pool’s only occupants were about 15 kids, all of whom were clustered asshole to elbow in the shallow end. The only adult in the pool was an old man swimming laps, and each time he ventured into the shallow end, he’d have to take a circuitous route around two or three splashing urchins.
A doughy brother and sister duo took turns climbing onto the deck and jumping into the small windows of available space, coming dangerously close to other kids with each attempt. Once, when the boy almost landed on J’s neck, I looked up to see if they were being supervised or if it was going to be my job to parent other people’s kids.
No worries, I saw. Dad was right there on the deck, videoing the kids jumps and encouraging them to make bigger splashes.
“More, more!” he exclaimed. “Try a cannonball this time!”
I did my best to ignore the potential for spinal injury and quell my claustrophobia, and it went well until the door opened and a giant family — in both number and body size — entered. I recognized this clan as the ones who brought the boxes of Papa John’s to the beach a couple of days earlier. There were no parents with this group, just a pair of teens leading a line of progressively younger kids like a row of ducklings.
God bless the woman who birthed these seven urchins. She must have a vagina of steel.
Anticipating the aquatic hell headed my way, I abandoned my post in the vacant deep end of the pool and retreated to a rickety lounge chair. As I suspected, the family dominated every square inch of the water within a matter of seconds, beginning a rousing game of Marco Polo. Have you ever heard eight kids scream “POLO!” in a room the size of your first studio apartment?
Melinda lasted no more than five minutes before turning to me. “So, are you ready to go?” she asked.
“Abso-fucking-lutely,” I said.