Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lessons from the Hot Tub

Every morning, my head-clearing, arms-swinging, supposed-to-be-light-hearted walk twists in discouragement as I bend to collect a filthy mélange of foil snack packs, Smirnoff bottles and beer cans thoughtlessly flung from passing cars. What would the teary Indian of the 1960’s advertisements that shamed my generation into avoidance of littering make of today’s disregard for roadside cleanliness? People are pigs. That’s what he’d think, and rightly so.

Perhaps I am a victim of a sensationalist press, but a scan of the Connecticut Post reaps a discouraging array of political chicanery, rape, corruption and shootings, day after day after day. Again, I think, people are pigs. I mean no disrespect to an animal that is both intelligent and fastidious, but the humans who have earned the title consistently fuel my fire.

The Universe, however, has challenged my allegation with liberal examples to the contrary. If people are such pigs, why am I surrounded by so many exceptions? My husband, Dave, is, objectively speaking, the best person in the world. My parents are loving and generous to a fault. My friends, associates, and family are rich in heart and creativity, and I have been fortunate to produce two wonderful children in Tucker and Casey. Still, I have weighted the scales with the merciless bad news bias of TV anchors and daily news against my limited personal experience, and concluded that I am blessed in my circle, but that people, as a rule, are indeed pigs.

I have to give The Universe credit for persistence. Much as Nature abhors a vacuum, The Universe seeks to right wrongs. As messy as a March snowmelt, the inaccuracy of my assessment was, apparently, an obstacle to cosmic harmony and required remediation. Re-establishing Creation’s even keel, happily for Dave and me, involved a trip to Florida for a sojourn at the Hilton on Long Boat Key. More importantly, it entailed hours spent in the sorrow-soothing, angst-ridding, false-pronouncement-banishing bubbles of the Hot Tub.

Even on those days where the sun shone golden, long-fingered palms swept the sky, whipped by incessant winds. The gentle gulf was not herself. Her normally clear azure waters were stirred to the choppy green of her Atlantic cousin as red tide blooms elicited the staccato coughs of a T.B. ward from the hardy souls prone on the chilly beach. Determined to return home with a healthy Florida glow, Dave and I were among those goose-pimpled, sand-blasted loungers during the prime tanning hours. What joy then to concede around 4:30 or so that it was time for a Planter’s Punch sipped blissfully from the tumultuous froth of the Hot Tub.

The first evening, we were self-conscious about the half-naked others sharing our roiling bath, so we focused on each other, the delicious warmth, and our tasty drinks. No lists, no emails, no phone calls, no obligations. “We are on vacation,” Dave announced, though the words were unnecessary. It was clear in his bright pouch-less eyes, frowzled curly hair and beaming smile. “We are on vacation!”

We tried initially to pretend that those other red-flushed faces so intimately sharing our watery space did not exist. But, you know how it goes – womb-like warmth, tropical rum, a sky streaking red as the sun lowers – you can’t help drawing those strangers into your rapture. “How great is this?!”

Mary from Massachusetts looked so much like our friend Pamela that we were comfortable with her before words were spoken. We chatted about her plans to take her kids to Disney World and regaled her with tales of the Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Caribbean. We laughingly recalled Casey and Tucker at ages three and six, goofy in their red plastic sunglasses adorned with Donald and Mickey faces. We described Casey’s fear of the purple hippo in “It’s a Small World” and.... um, her fear of every ride actually, except for the carousel. We came to know that ride well, thirty-two turns worth, as a matter of fact.

In talking with Mary about her future plans, we lovingly revisited our past.

Chip and Mary-Blythe joined us for a soak, having recently weathered their daughter’s spinal operation to correct scoliosis. We were all parents together, immersed in our bubbly brew, as we winced at the fear of sending a child under the knife and we basked in relief at the successful outcome.

Talk meandered from kids to pets, from Chip’s irish setter to our dear old malamute, Kody. We chuckled to hear of Chip’s mother’s surprise when the tiny, reddish puppy presented to her as the spaniel she requested, grew into the irish setter her kids wanted. The Hot Tub crew got a kick out of our tale of the life-long friendship between Kody and Fuzz the cat, surprisingly established when Kody grabbed our tiny kitten by the head and tossed him skyward. Fuzz landed purring, as opposed to dead, and this disturbing activity became a game enjoyed by both. Weird.

By the next evening, we were all old friends welcoming newcomers into our Hot Tub cocktail party. An intriguing couple – lovers? business associates? father and daughter? - settled in. He was balding, well-furred and beyond portly. She was pale, far younger, and reticent. We talked about their life on a houseboat in California and dipped into our mutual dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. When my environmentalist soul made its appearance, it turned out that the quiet female partner had the same concerns. We shook our heads over man’s disregard of the planet. I didn’t say it, but it hung in the air – people are pigs. We touched on our hope that there are reasons for everything; that all will turn out as it should.

As the pool lights came on and the sky darkened, some of the tubbers headed off to dinner. Dave and I were shriveled prunes, but it was toasty and companionable and we were on vacation! There was nothing we had to do. So, when a Casey-clone with her brother and friends came for a dip, we turned to them for a peek into some other life stories.

With long, dark hair and almond eyes, her 22nd birthday coming up on March 19th while Casey’s is the 22nd, we were amazed at the parallels, even as I reminded myself that there are no coincidences. We are all soakers in the Hot Tub of Life and there were reasons that we’d been brought to share these waters with those passing through.

Casey’s clone was a nursing student. She told us about her friend Tom, stationed in Iraq. She spoke of her fear when he signed off their calls, “Gotta go, gotta mission.” She giggled in describing the contents of the weekly care packages she sent him - Oral B Brush-Ups, undies, funny post-its and stuffed animals.

The yellow “Support Our Troops” loop affixed to the tailgates of SUVs, Neons and Caravans alike gained a face as Tom and his worried friend entered the growing ranks of my morning prayers. Tom could be Tucker or my nephew, Trevor. My new Hot Tub friend could be Casey herself – or me, worrying about my kids - or any era’s mother worrying about loved ones at war.

All told, Dave and I put in a day’s worth of hours soaking in that tub. Cozy and happy, we met people from Minnesota, New York, Florida and Colorado. Some nights, after we’d showered and headed to Tommy Bahamas for dinner, Dave would moan that he’d forgotten to introduce himself, to get a fellow tubber’s name. I wondered about the protocol on that; at what point between entry and the slide past half-naked self-consciousness would you go for the handshake and formal i.d.?

For me, this first-name-only blending was better. I realized that under our clothes, our coifs and our accessories, we are more alike than different. We are parents, whether worried or celebratory. We love our pets, our friends and our homes. We want to be happy. Most of us want the world to be peaceful and healthy. We want our loved ones safe.

While the sampling was not expansive, it was certainly random. The results are in – most people are good.

I believe that there are few chance encounters; there will be ripples from our hours spent soaking. I hope that Mary and her kids had fun at Disney World and that Chip and Mary Blythe’s daughter heals well. I hope Tom comes home safely, and that life is good to the dear girl who reminded me of Casey. And I hope I remember to picture, when people are pigs, the good people parade at the Hot Tub.


Meredith Charreyron said...

Hey, tubbers! Glad to hear that you've weathered and withered your vacation days away. Must be tough to be back in the frigid northlands, and back at WORK. Your Disney memories reminded me of MINE,and I'm glad to hear that Simon is not the only soul who is terrified on every ride but IT"S A SMALL WORLD. Life is good, and you're the first to appreciate that, Lea. BRAVO for your sensitivity and great literary expression.
from a Weird Sister (Meredith)

tootsielala55 said...

How do you always do it? You can elevate a wonderful experience into one that transcends barriers, issues and personalities.
Your words so gently take us by the hand and lead us into some new place, one where we not only get a glorious view into your world but gives us the double opportunity or thinking about how you are right...we are pigs and how hopeful life can be if we just do something. You make a simple trip to the hot tub with Dave on vacation and somehow I feel cleansed, relaxed and refreshed.