The following is the third installment of a story, the previous two parts of which immediately precede it. Don’t worry: if you’re too busy to go back and read the first two parts, you should be able to pick up the thread anyway.
The water park had a policy that required bathers to wear some kind of cap on their heads to prevent the various pools and slides from becoming slithering masses of slimy hair, like a spaghetti swamp in hell. Rowan hadn’t brought one with him, and had panicked mildly about the oversight at first when he noticed that all the other male teachers, as well as the females, and a good deal of the children, were all adorned with the duckbill protuberances of baseball caps, like an amateur all-star team decked out in motley uniforms.
Luckily, one of the teachers had brought along a bathing cap in addition to the baseball cap he wore, which he loaned Rowan in the locker room. Rowan thanked him and put it in the pocket of his flamboyant bathing trunks for the time being. The trunks went down to his knees and were adorned with black silhouettes of palm trees against jagged blue and white rectilinear shapes, like Miami after an earthquake.
Rowan had had the presence of mind to purchase a small container of sunscreen (called “suncream” in Konglish, or Korean English) at a convenience store in the subway station, a place where he’d once had the effrontery to offend the owner by throwing away the wrapper of the sandwich he’d eaten–a sandwich he’d bought elsewhere–inside the store without buying anything. At the time he’d shrugged it off as nothing, since he’d bought things there plenty of times before. Nevertheless, he could tell the proprietor’s feelings were hurt, his feathers slightly ruffled, as flash bulbs went off in the man’s eyes under the brim of his baseball cap.
The damage had long since been repaired by Rowan’s long-term loyalty as a customer and regular buyer of such indispensable items as yogurt drinks, chocolate bars, black pepper-enhanced pretzels imported from the New World, and overpriced cans of Japanese beer.
The sunblock he bought cost him W14,000 (about fourteen U. S. dollars, the last time Rowan checked) even though the container was small enough to fit in his palm. The number on the bottle read 47, which he deemed strong enough to protect his pallid hide from the unforgiving, omnivorous sun. Besides, his wife Yemin was always getting on his case about using sunscreen–along with everything else–and even though he hardly ever bothered to apply the stuff to his air pollution-roasted face or smog-licked arms or hairy, dust-entombed legs, he thought it wise to take precautions this time. In fact, he was solicitous enough to embalm himself externally with the anti-solar unguent almost as soon as he got on the bus, not realizing he’d have to reapply it three hours later. He felt forced to do so by peer pressure, since most of the rest of the kids were spraying themselves with aerosol versions of the skin-saving product, evidently in order to fend off the layer of ground-level ozone on board, caused by late July’s dizzyingly high temperatures that sizzled along on the drizzly days of the monsoon season. (Note: despite not being technically a kid, being in his late forties, Rowan felt like one anyway, at least mentally–or like a child trapped inside a middle-aged man’s body, unlike the reverse formation so popular within the exclusive or at any rate secretive confines of the Catholic church.)
Back at the water park, having moved their pork cutlets from their plates to their bellies, the life jacket- and baseball- or bathing cap-wearing campers moved back outside to face the artificially rendered elements. Rowan’s group, known as New York, headed straight for the wave pool, a wide and shallow affair that afforded visitors the opportunity to be splashed at five-minute intervals by man-made three-foot-high waves that broke in a terrifyingly unthreatening display (I stole that adjective-adverb combination from P. J. O’Rourke, who used it to describe Garrison Keillor’s voice).
Rowan needed to keep his glasses on in order to view all the congregated talent that had emerged from all over the country for the day. If he took them off, as he later had to in order to go on one of the water slides with a couple members of his group, and later on something known as the Extreme River, he could only see blobs of color that, while perfectly appealing to the naked eye, were less compelling than the discreetly imbibed half-naked beauties inhabiting the place for the afternoon. As a friend of his had said, it didn’t hurt anyone to look, even though it did tend to have the sad side effect of augmenting sexual frustration and the inescapable middle-aged sensation of feeling isolated and unwanted, a phenomenon Rowan had heard would only intensify with age, despite the anticipated eventual decline in performance and requirement of pharmaceutical enhancement to kick the equipment into place so it could keep up with the blazing Jacuzzi of desire churning around inside the other, bigger, though no less impotent, head. (But there was always Prozac available for that one, as long as the guinea pig didn’t mind not being able to ejaculate, or whatever other side effect the happy little green and white capsule had in store for him.)
The place was crowded but festive, and a forgiving cloud cover helped to veil the tenacity of the sun’s heat without depriving people of that fireball’s pleasant warmth. When the first wave broke, Rowan had to hang on tightly to his glasses to keep them from flying off his face and swimming away. For each ensuing wave he just turned around ahead of time to be on the safe side. (He didn’t have a spare pair and couldn’t afford to lose them, even though a new pair would have only set him back about W30,000, whereas they’d have cost ten times that much back in the States.)
Joy, one of his Korean colleagues, was avoiding the water for the time being, staying near the edge, while the children bounded intrepidly past the stern-faced life guards who held up red “stop” signs and blew whistles to ward off anyone foolhardy enough to risk their lives by drunkenly venturing past them like Ted Kennedy on a joyride.
Rowan and Tina, one of the other Korean class assistants and a member of the New York group, managed to get separated from their clan while en route to the serpentine labyrinth of water slides. Tina told Rowan she’d majored in golf before changing her mind. The following day as they were watching the children dig up potatoes in a field to take home as souvenirs, when he told her about his wife’s excessive religiosity, Tina said she’d been raised as a Christian (“Christian” meant “Protestant” to Koreans, but on the extreme end of the spectrum–we’re talking Pentecostalist or the Korean equivalent of Southern Baptist, not mild-mannered Episcopalians a la Clark Kent or Wally Cleaver) but had since abandoned her parents’ faith, much to their casual and fleeting chagrin.
(Rowan mused that if his wife did the same, her parents would no doubt not only disown her, but possibly even have her excommunicated, banished, whisked off to another planet, or at least crucified for being an unrepentant heretic.)
Rowan was stunned by Tina’s level of maturity, considering she was only eighteen years old, apart from her having apostatized by turning her back on the golf major. (Not that Rowan knew how to play golf; he did, however, have no objection to having his balls washed by a cute female caddy, even though Yemin would have preferred to have them baptized by a eunuch to ensure they’d eventually fall off just to make things official.)
Would the two “New Yorkers” ever find the rest of their group? Find out the exciting answer when our serialized saga continues tomorrow!