This is actually a continuation of the story entitled “A Weekend in the Country,” the name of yesterday’s entry. The new title is an oblique reference to a line from a song made popular by Frank Sinatra during his ring-a-ding-ding period, “New York, New York,” before he hobbled into dotage, although he used the word “city” instead of “country.” I prefer to think big.
The manager of the English language camp had told Rowan that the water park was only a half hour away from the school, unless he’d misheard her. The trip took closer to three hours, but would have only taken half that long had it not been for the traffic. A coworker told him they were traveling during the busiest weekend in the country (pardon the product plug). Luckily, Rowan’s prostate gland was behaving itself and he didn’t have to join the chorus of children wailing for a bathroom stop.
One of the women coordinating the event got on her microphone and announced to the kids in Korean, then to the teachers in English, that they would in fact be stopping in order to emancipate the waves of urine fighting for release inside the bladders of the suffering children. Rowan felt for them, having been in situations all too often where he’d had to hold his urine as if it were a beaker of nitroglycerin he were carrying across a tightrope suspended between two pteradactyls with Parkinson’s disease in mid-flight. Since they were flying low to the ground, if he slipped and dropped the beaker, he might get blown up in the explosion. Otherwise the metaphor was utterly meaningless.
It reminded him of something a friend of his had liked to say when anticipating a social gaffe: “That would go over like a fart in a space suit.” Rowan initially thought this was a hilarious remark. Later, when he shared it with his father, the older man pointed out that the comment made no sense, since a fart unleashed in a space suit would be a private experience, hence non-communicative with the outside world. Without trying to, Rowan’s father made him feel like an idiot, which was how he, Rowan, showed his respect for the man.
“Okay, when we get to the rest stop, let’s have two boys go with one male teacher, and two girls with one female teacher,” said the coordinator.
When the bus rolled into the vast asphalt parking lot of the rectangular oasis for peripatetic consumers (only it was an oasis in between green mountains instead of one in a desert), Rowan escorted his two charges to the toilet zone, taking the opportunity to relieve himself in the process.
After a short stint back on the highway, the bus driver exited and drove them along narrow country roads, past rice paddies and tumble-down shacks. Within forty-five minutes they arrived at their destination, a sprawling water park that was preceded by a scene of people wading in a river, as if by way of announcing the upcoming aquatically imposing phenomenon.
The manager got on the mike and told everyone to take whatever stuff they needed for the afternoon, stressing bathing suits and towels. Rowan asked another teacher if he should bring his wallet; the teacher said the place would have lockers to store valuables in. Rowan panicked slightly, not having brought a towel. Later he’d discover the locker room had ample stacks of said item.
When the bus finally came to a stop, the campers disembarked in groups allotted by the manager named after famous English-speaking cities. Rowan was in “New York” with three other adults, all Korean women who worked as classroom assistants, along with two girls and two boys, all of elementary school age.
Males and females separated to change into their bathing suits in the locker rooms, then emerged on the other side with numbered little blue rubber locker bracelets on their wrists with folding keys in them. The afternoon sun bore down like a terrorist interrogator (interrrorgator?), breaking the monotony of two weeks of non-stop rain.
Rowan chatted about music with Stan, a fellow teacher who played in a rock band and had a menagerie of tattoos, none of which had prevented him from finding work as a university professor in Korea (they were discreetly arranged so that he could hide them when dressed for work; tattoos were considered a boo-boo due to certain conservative superstitions built into the culture, along with an anal-retentive emphasis on the importance of having a presentable appearance that conformed to the norms of bland contemporary consumer society–even though a tattoo was also something one consumed).
After everyone had assembled, they resumed formation in their groups and headed for the mess hall for a long-awaited lunch, which consisted of rice and pork cutlets that were too small to assuage the hunger of the migratory leisure-seekers. But it was better than nothing, and had he thought about it Rowan probably would have been grateful the fare hadn’t been too filling, as it would have meant feeling bloated and possibly afflicted by pangs of indigestion while puttering around in the water with the slippery multitudes.
He’d worn a T-shirt, partly to protect his shoulders from the sun’s razor-sharp teeth, but mainly to spare his cohort the sight of his flabby flesh, his torso having deteriorated into a trunk of collops over recent years, so he wouldn’t resemble a hairy jellyfish. To his relief the park provided everyone with identical life jackets (even though it made it harder to keep track of his elusive charges).
Rowan had had mixed feelings about the field trip, since it meant he wouldn’t be able to relax at home over the weekend, but it was also nice to have a little time away from his wife Yemin, who’d been more hostile to him than usual of late. He surmised that she was probably trying to make him earn his vacation (he planned to go back home for a month three weeks later), breaking his spirit so that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself and get into too much trouble on his native turf, unsupervised and unmonitored, except by the usual suspects).
Yemin was always getting on his case about losing weight, even though she’d regularly offer him a chocolate bar or processed ice cream treat late in the evening, shortly before bedtime, to ensure encroaching calories. Maybe she thought if he became heavy enough, he’d eventually lose the capacity to run away, even though he seemed to have become physically repellent to her already. Her love for him manifested itself in perverse ways that baffled him and made him wonder whether she might not need intensive psychiatric care instead of that of her church, although the minister who ran the joint had already taken her under his vulture’s wing a long time ago.
Rowan was not keen on lifting weights, although he did bear an imaginary cross made of equal parts broken glass, processed cheese, peanut butter, and bullshit. Since it was a phantasm built of wife-induced guilt and shame, it did nothing to help him shed the kilos.
He awed at some of the nubile nymphs patrolling the grounds of the theme park, many of them accompanied by their thin male counterparts. He wanted to thank some of them for exposing their cleavage or wearing bikinis, but thought such remarks might constitute sexual harassment. It was too bad, he felt, that one couldn’t somehow convey to young Korean women how comely their legs were without coming across as a desperate pervert.
Of course, cool guys didn’t do things like that. Their captivating indifference was what drew in the femmes fatale, so that they could bask in their own robotic coldness together (offering a contrast to those hand-holding puppy dogs dressed in matching “couple’s clothing”). That was how evolution worked in the age of high-tech capitalism, just one generation away from the more ominous threat of the singularity, when human beings would perhaps finalize their divorce from nature by becoming machines themselves, if they were stupid and crazy enough to abandon their animal identities.
(To be continued.)