Friday, 29 August 2014


My wife explained the plan, and it had sounded as though we were going to stay at a hotel somewhere within thirty minutes drive of home, and the point of going to stay at this hotel would be so as to have ourselves a night out at a hotel. I asked again and she confirmed that I had understood the proposal quite well. Her friend Andrea had made arrangements to stay at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa some time in July, and we would join her for the last day of her holiday so that the boys could play together. To me it sounded something like going to stay with a next door neighbour for a couple of days, scheduling the sort of fun one might enjoy at home but without the convenience of actually being at home; but I agreed because I knew it couldn't be that simple, and that there had almost certainly been some factor I'd overlooked.

The date approached and Junior became more and more excited, with myself becoming accordingly more irritable as the vocabulary of his excitement reduced to a cluster of just five or six phrases repeated every few minutes for what he clearly and genuinely believes to be comic effect because he's eleven and no-one wants to tell him otherwise. He's basically a good kid, but a good kid with the energy of one of those early black and white Disney cartoons in which everything on screen has a face, and each face is rolling its eyes and singing Ukulele Lady. He apparently requires no more than two hours sleep a night and is thus most generously described as lively. Doting relatives gather around to coo and refer to him as our precious little boy as he repeats some zinger from a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon which I've already heard fifty or sixty times that morning, and I will grit my teeth and think to myself sure, he's precious as they come when you're not the one trying to get him down from the ceiling with a garden rake. Before this is taken as evidence of some profound underlying dissatisfaction with my lot, I should probably state that I feel I have more than earned the right to vent the occasional cloud of steam. Stepfatherhood, so it turns out, isn't easy, but by the same token, I never for a moment imagined that it would be.

Anyway, so far as I understood it, we were to drive for some thirty minutes to a local hotel, leaving our ordinarily well-behaved cats a twenty-four hour window in which to fill the house with territorial aromas and poo in whichever locations they felt would best serve to register feline displeasure regarding the disruption of their daily routine; more specifically we were to drive for some thirty minutes to one of those places in which I am rudely stashed by airline companies whenever my connection is cancelled. I don't fly very often, but when I do, I'm nearly always delayed and slapped in some anonymous hotel in Philadelphia or Charlotte or wherever. It's not that these places are necessarily terrible, but I always find their particular brand of sterilised corporate hospitality profoundly depressing. They seem to presume that ten golfing channels and a coffee machine will compensate for whatever karmic forces have most recently pissed on my chips, but they never do. Aside from anything else, I'm very particular about my coffee and will drink only proper instant granules, which I can never get because everyone involved is determined that I should experience their version of luxury. Hotels at which I have stayed in Mexico City carry none of these supposedly elegant touches, and instead have had roaches, random fist-fights in the hallway, the hits of Elvis at volumes which crumble the mortar from between the bricks, and still they feel somehow more homely and inviting than their more affluent northern cousins.

So, just to be absolutely clear about this, our familial assembly would - through our own free will - take a room at a fancy hotel, and I would spend the night glowering at Junior from the other bed in order to keep him from whiling away the small hours in his usual fashion, gibbering and shouting to himself in commentary to the video game replaying inside his head with his customary approximation of the sort of cigar-chomping racetrack wit which doesn't really suit a boy of eleven.

Oh my God - he's playing the Bulbasaur! This guy is really good, and I mean really good...

At least since I've been old enough to make a decision, I've never really gone in for amusement parks, resorts, holiday camps, or anything suggestive of regimented fun; but both Junior and my wife had been looking forward to the excursion; and as I've long since outgrown any notion of not getting my own way being a violation of my human rights, we saddled up and were away. We drove north, but not so far as to really be able to say we had left San Antonio for sure, and we soon approached the hotel complex built upon a stately rise of land. It was large, its clean stone lines filling the horizon and reminiscent of the architecture one once saw in low budget 1970s science-fiction films starring either Roddy McDowall or Ike Eisenmann.

'You know, I have a good feeling about this,' Junior observed in portentous tones from the back seat, once again channelling some elder statesman of the sort who might puff thoughtfully on his cigar before delivering bon mots from his stoneclad fireside. 'I think we're going to like this, and you know I don't say that often.'

'Okay.' There didn't seem to be much point in asking for an elaboration. I doubt he'd thought the statement through to any particular depth, but he'd clearly enjoyed how it sounded, so it had done its job.

We parked, following urgently voiced testimonials to our requiring no valet parking service, and I thought of all the bellhops who would stand and grin, palm held out for a ten or a twenty every time one of us so much as farted. I thought of this without even being quite certain of what a bellhop is, beyond some vaguely defined kid in a bright red hat who takes your money for doing something you could have done yourself. Happily there were no bellhops to be seen, predatory or otherwise, and once we'd checked in, we made our way to a room high up on the eighth floor from which we had a panoramic view of the Texas hill country underscored by a brief strip of golf course.

Tommy arrived from a room on one of the floors below, having spent the entire morning asking his mother when we would arrive. The boys quickly formed a yapping huddle of notes compared and plots hatched. They had heard tell of the magic of room service, and that which could be remotely summoned as though one were a minor regent in the event of parents or guardians looking the other way.

Once we were settled - which didn't take long as this was to be a one night stay, so we hadn't brought much - we headed for the pool. The boys coaxed my wife and I onto the least daunting of three waterslides. We each took a toob - a transparent inflatable donut doubling up as both float and seat - and made our terrifying and rapid descent to the more serene watercourse at the bottom of the waterslide, from which we entered a drifting gauntlet of water cannons operated by the children of other guests, but not minding too much because it was a hot day. This tributary fed into the gentle current of a much larger loop running around the circumference of the main pool, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon floating along and trusting that the two boys were probably old enough to look after their exhausting selves. Luckily for all concerned, they were, and despite the place being fairly crowded we all managed to find each other to eat burgers and drink soda when the time seemed right, then back to sailing the artificial creek serenaded by slide guitar music piped from speakers set at intervals along the bank, this being Texas and all.

This was not my natural environment, but it was nevertheless comfortable, and there was nothing aggravating. Occasionally we registered the presence of the sort of assholes who inevitably emerge when a crowd of people reaches a certain size, but it was too hot to really care about them, and too hot for them to do anything too annoying. The only group to hold our attention for longer than a couple of seconds were a chain of four guys who had moored themselves to the bank of the loop, resisting the gentle pull of the current. They grinned and loudly congratulated themselves on their cunning defiance of the laws of nature.

'I like totally think beer is awesome' one of them probably roared in jovially independent spirit. 'How you like those apples?'

'Let's check out some broads,' another of their number may have suggested before laughing like a big hairy man. 'Haw! Haw! Haw!'

Within another minute we had floated out of range, and when the current eventually brought us back around again, they were gone.

Aside from eating and sleeping, that was all we did, hour after hour floating around in the sun; and my default mood of faintly acidic contentment mellowed to such a degree that Junior was able to coax me onto the most terrifying of the three waterslides. I still have no idea why he's seems so determined to herd my wife and I into certain activities, but it seemed like he would appreciate it, possibly just for the sake of some common experience. So we all carted our toobs up the winding stairs, and I watched as the boys vanished screaming down the chute, myself following a moment later and finding this time I kind of enjoyed it. That night we all slept soundly, even the kid. Next day I even found myself laughing at one of his zingers probably lifted directly from a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon. Just as my wife had assured me, our overnight stay at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa really wasn't that simple, and there was of course a fairly significant factor I had overlooked, as is thankfully often the case.

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