Refuge

by anna on July 15, 2009

If I could build a novel full of characters without plots, only backstories, then I would house them here, in the resort to which we fled while our house was being fumigated last week.

lacosta

I would put them all up there, take away their wireless internet, and force them to interact with each other, whether they liked it or not, as they lounged by the pool or played a lazy round of golf. Because even if there are totally sane reasons to choose to go to this resort–its close proximity to San Diego and Legoland, or even its colorful history involving the old skool mafia (and accompanying prison time-done exchanges for real property)–the odd assortment of characters that congregate there must be there for a reason, attracted as a group by powers I don’t fully understand. Maybe its their spa or, more likely, the whole Deepak Chopra thing. Or, I guess it could be the water slides they installed a few years ago.

Mini and Mr. Right-Click try out the water slide.

Mini and Mr. Right-Click try out the water slide.

Mini had a grand time at the hotel’s water park, and manned the water gun for an hour at a stretch, which is a kind of strange amount of concentration for a two-year-old to have, but when Mini finds something he likes, he sticks to it like glue.

Mini as Sargent York manning the machine gun.

Mini as Sargent York manning the machine gun.

As we sat there, idly watching Mini at his gun, Mr. Right-Click referring to him as Sergeant York and Audie Murphy alternately, when we met the family from Calabasas who were staying at the resort because they had bid on it in a charity auction. They were there with their three kids–16, 12, and one 3. The father worked in TV, and the mother was a baby shoe sales representative. She represented all of California for her brand of baby shoes. Though I never found out the brand name of baby shoes, I did find out that her husband was originally from Texas, and I know that she dressed her youngest child in a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt not because they were fans of that–or any–football team, but because it “looked cool.”

The most interesting thing about the woman from Calabasas, by far, was the story she would tell me about another guest at the hotel, a woman whom I first noticed because she was always walking around drinking either Red Bull or Starbucks and looking generally pissed off with the world. This woman had three sons, of ages approximately 10, 7, and 5, whom she had dressed in identical outfits. All three of them were wearing those wetsuit-like shirts that people wear to keep out of the sun, in white, and green surfer board shorts by some company like Quicksilver or Rip Curl. The five year old was, at at that moment, spraying the water gun directly into Mini’s face, which unsurprisingly made Mini cry.

I tried to gently explain to the five year old that Mini is only 2, so he doesn’t get the concept of having a waterfight for fun yet, that continuing to spray him directly in the face would just continue to make him cry. It was one of those awkward moments, when you are hesitant to discipline another person’s child for, well, being a child–but on the other hand, I wasn’t very excited about Mini continuing to cry. The mother, a woman in her early forties with the kind of body that only comes from not eating and exercising every day, and lots of time spent by the pool or at a tanning salon, had one thing to say about the water spraying incident, which was, “That’s OK!” I’m not sure if this was directed toward her son, or me, or Mini, or what her point was, because in my view it really wasn’t OK, and perhaps I should have told her that, but then she was already wandering off to the other pool, to sit by herself, leaf through real estate magazines, and sip on a RedBull at 9:00 am on a Friday morning.

So in lieu of confrontation, I stationed myself in front of Mini’s water gun, blocking him from the blast of the other kid, until he was reconciled to getting wet, and wondered where the woman was going, and whether I would feel like it was OK to leave my kid unsupervised around water like that once he was 5. I doubted it. But one thing about parenting is that you really don’t know what you will do or how you will do it until you are there yourself–this much I have learned–and opinions are, as they say, like assholes, and though I silently judged this woman of neglect I tried to rationalize it away by pretending that I was giving her the benefit of the doubt.

After this exchange, the baby shoe saleswoman from Calabasas let me know that she had spoken to this very same woman by commenting on the identical outfits of her three sons. The baby shoe saleswoman told her that her dressing her children identically was a good tactic to keep track of them, what with all the kids running willy-nilly around the pool–a statement that, if you are familiar with the manner in which women of a certain class and age speak to each other, you will know was not likely meant as an earnest compliment, but rather designed to be both a superficial means of starting a conversation and to deliver a subtle criticism, because who dresses their kids identically, if they are not identical twins? And, even then?

But the woman’s response was what was more interesting, and this being narrative nonfiction, I have no choice but to reveal my source as the Baby Shoe Saleswoman, even if in a novel, it would have been a line delivered directly to me. Because even without context, stories are better without the Baby Shoes Saleswomen of the world, aren’t they? But to be fair, without the Baby Shoe Saleswomen of the world, we probably wouldn’t have a record of this brand of classic interaction, would we? Because if they have a purpose in this world, these Baby Shoe Saleswomen–other than to sell baby shoes–it is to get people to say things, things they don’t want to say, because they feel compelled to. Compelled to talk.

And what the woman had said, regarding her son’s matching outfits, was, “Oh, I don’t have time to keep track of them. My husband just left me for another woman.” And this was what the Baby Shoe Saleswoman had told me, after I had dealt with her water-gun-squirting son, and then I thought, well there you have it. That explains why she seems so mad at the world. Because I would be, too, if I had married the kind of man I imagined her to have married, the kind of guy who plays a lot of golf and jokes about getting ESPN in the delivery room. The kind of man who had been born into money and married a woman who was beautiful and he expected her to stay that way. And even if she did, when he was tired of her, he would find her replacement, and leave her and their progeny behind him like so much trash.

But then again, the woman had chosen him, hadn’t she? And later, as I walked by the woman on the way to the snack bar, I noticed she was looking at $5 million houses, and I thought, well . . . there are worse places in the world to be, than recovering from a divorce blindside at a luxury resort, aren’t there? And even if her life was starting to look like Kelly’s from the Real Housewives of New York City, well she still had the three boys, splashing around in the pool, the littlest one holding on to his brother’s back for dear life as they piggy-backed the length of the pool.

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