Tuesday, 12 April 2016


We are now up in St. Augustine, Florida, having guided the rented Jeep up I-95 from the more familiar CDP where one of my sets of in-laws can be found. For the last stretch of the journey north, we left the Interstate, preferring the coast-hugging A1A, which passes by pastel-shaded and often staggeringly large holiday homes. The shining, turquoise Atlantic surged onto a long stretch of bright sand. We stopped for lunch at a roadside place with bulging, good-tasting reuben sandwiches (although clearly better known for seafood), where I bloody nearly left my debit card behind again. Second time this trip. Same stunt pulled in a Manhattan trattoria when we were in chilly New York last week. I think I'm foxed by that American thing of taking your card away and then returning it to you in some kinda leatherette binder to conclude the payment process. I write on the tip, sign my name and then get up to leave, all without extracting my card. Well, I've done it twice in just over a week. Muscle memory kicking in? (i.e. the brain is foxed by the hands being asked to do something different from the routine I'm used to back home, i.e. POS machine brought to table, card handed back to me by waiter/waitress). Failure of ageing brain to access full range of restaurant schemata? whatevs. Just don't do it again, OK?

On arrival here, we headed straight for the pool deck of our quirky downtown hotel. A single Margarita each. A few pages of the book I'm reading right now. A few minutes of Church of Lazlo on 96.5 The Buzz from Kansas City (best radio show in the world; I ought to write about it properly some time soon). But, just as it should be, way more of the time spent splashing about in the cool water of the pool and the almost scalding water of the hot tub (murder, for the first few moments, on my sunburned shins) with my son.

He's a good lad. High-spirited, for sure. Testing the limits of what he can get away with saying and doing? Most definitely. But he seems to be considerate enough. On the way to being able to operate in human society without causing undue harm or upset. Maybe some of that is natural. But we do our part, guiding him towards a feeling for other people's feelings, towards an awareness of what's going on around him. So only a few words were needed to ensure he had fun without shouting the place down, knocking over someone's drink or soaking the pages of some other punter's holiday novel. 

Watching my son play thusly (i.e. nicely), my mind returned to the clubhouse pool at the gated community where we'd been staying for the preceding few days. It's well maintained. A good size. Lots of comfy furniture arranged around it. A short walk from my in-laws' house (though most other pool users prefer to arrive and leave on golf carts...). The schools here not being on a break, it's quiet on weekdays. Empty. Or maybe just a couple of retirees swimming laps or relaxing in the sunshine. But at weekends we expect there to be more people around. Folks with kids and whose houses don't have private pools. I'm not exactly known for vivaciousness and conviviality but my wife is a nicer person and my son gets on easily with other kids so it's all fine. Well, usually. But not this Sunday.

It wasn't the gaggle of 20-something/30-something adults without accompanying children that rattled me. They were OK, notwithstanding the execrable LeAnn Rimes-style music playing from their corner of the pool deck. It wasn't even the small group of boys in their early teens loudly tormenting each other with dull jibes and banging the fucking gates to the pool area over and over and over and over and over again. No, what turned our stomachs and turned us away was the strange, unpleasant sight of a rotund boy eating slice after slice of pizza WHILE STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING SWIMMING POOL. Not just eating pizza, mind you, but picking at it with his chubby fingers, discarding dispreferred pieces of topping and crust INTO THE FUCKING WATER. 

You're probably asking where his parents were, right? Nowhere in sight? No, no. Not the case. The massively obese dad was sitting by the pool, WATCHING his son's drooly gob and hungry jaws work on those pizza slices. Not just watching, though. Each time junior finished a slice, big daddy would struggle up from his chair and hand the boy another portion. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK.

Of course I considered going over there to ask the big guy what the hell he was doing. But I thought about my father-in-law and wondered whether he would appreciate being drawn into a dispute with one of his neighbours over something happening in a pool he never uses himself. So I left it and we headed back to the house. No desire to swim around with bits of masticated pizza dough and slobbery pepperoni.

So I was reminded that loutish behaviour and terrible parenting are not (as some may have it) phenomena exclusively associated with the poor. The gated community into whose pool we saw pizza crumbs being deposited is not a cheap place to live. While the prices of the smaller houses are certainly not high by UK standards, the monthly charges (to cover maintenance of the facilities and immaculate landscaping) are eye-watering. So that shitty, shitty dad has money and lives in some comfort. He's better off, I'm sure, that most of the parents we'd seen the day before at a local water park. There, my sense was that the patrons were mostly people living in homes with no access to private pools. People of more modest means. Many of them Hispanic and speakers of English as a second language, in an area where we have only observed Hispanics working as gardeners and cleaners. Consider the demographics of the nearby settlement where my in-laws reside, the numbers strongly suggesting that those Hispanic labourers we see at work must be based in other, presumably less affluent, parts of the county:
The racial makeup of the CDP [is] 96.56% White, 1.08% African American, 0.13% Native American, 1.03% Asian, 0.40% from other races, and 0.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.77% of the population.
That apparently less affluent water park crowd, then? Having a good time with their kids without any sign of behaviour as thoughtless, selfish or unpleasant as the nonsense we saw a day later from monied fat-dad and his pizza-gobbling offspring. Funny, lovely, horrible, old world. 

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