I took my eleven year-old son and a friend of his to an indoor water park this past weekend. The outside temperature was in the mid-nineties and I was initially enthusiastic about lying in a tube and meandering around the lazy river. That lasted about ten minutes.
After securing a second mortgage on my condo, we had the financial resources to enter the men’s changing room where we nudged and jostled our way to one of two available lockers. The boys were in no mood for orderly processes so we jammed our shoes and clothes into the mailbox-sized hole and sloshed out into the slimy, tattooed, chlorine-soaked nightmare of the indoor water park.
It is a cavernous enclosed facility where the humidity is at a constant 150 percent and nothing ever dries. Ever. The warm puddle of water you’re standing in as you search in vain for your children has been there a growing bacterium since 1998 when the building first opened its doors. The screams of hundreds of children and over-stimulated teen-age girls are amplified ten-fold in the mostly metal structure, and I felt like I had tiny policemen in my auditory canals unmercifully tasering my eardrums.
We find a plastic chair and table that aren’t draped with layers of wet towels and set down our own towels, which seem to absorb moisture from the air and instantly become wet. Before I can utter a single warning or plea, the boys disappear into the madness. With a shrug, I make sure the locker key is securely fastened to my suit and move out.
You don’t rent tubes at this particular water park, I quickly learned. Instead you prowl around the kiddie pool or the lazy river for abandoned tubes that you then quickly snap up like the first crow to discover a juicy road kill. Tube hunting is a free-for-all. Parents mill around the departure point of the lazy river carefully reading body language and scanning eye motion in their efforts to be the first to spot a tuber who might be ready to give up the prize.
I eventually get a tube without making a child cry and head off down the lazy river. It’s only then that I realize the place is packed. My tube is bumped and spun in collisions with kids wanting to pass or older people in front of me whose tubes have stalled. Instead of the relaxing ride I had hoped for, I feel more like I’m commuting to work, except my tube doesn’t have a horn.
Amid the screams and splashing, I have a second realization. The place is teaming with monstrous, obese humans. They are everywhere. Men with guts that hang like garbage sacks filled with Jell-O. Women with roll upon roll of cellulite escaping out of every crack in their suits (and where do they get suits that big?). Hippo families lumber in herds from one attraction to the next. There are white hippos covered in blue varicose veins and hairy hippos who need their backs shaved and baby hippos who look like they are wearing kid-sized blubber suits.
I started making certain connections in my head that took me to a bad place. I knew that I would never want to take a bath with any of these people, even in a really, really big bathtub. Even though I had no idea where the boys were, I made tracks for the locker room. I desperately wanted a shower and dry clothes.
My son and his friend had a great time, of course. And that’s what’s important. Right?
But I’m still having nightmares.