I’ve laid down two toothbrushes and a tiny travel pack of Colgate. And two fist sized jawbreakers on sticks. The cashier starts to chuckle and I slam my hand down a little too hard on the pine wood counter. Every goddamn thing in this place is pine wood that looks like it’s been lacquered with the excretory trails of 100,000 snails.
“Irony!” I cut him off. I’m so tired. “I know. I’m buying an irony.”
The five cheaply produced products amount to over 20 dollars. Because they can. Because they know I’m trapped in the middle of one of the many desolate Mad Max-ian stretches of forgotten sadness splattered around Washington State and…I cannot leave my parking space for fear of never finding a new one.
This is Great Wolf Lodge, the Washington location of the famous waterpark chain. I had a coupon.
I slap down my credit card and my licence.
“Wa…wait wait,” I sputter, squinting at him through chlorine red eyes. “I’m…Oregon. Don’t have to pay the sales tax right? Cuz seriously dude you should see my state income taxes.”
“Ooo. Well normally no, but we’re built on Tribal Land, so….”
“This is an Indian Reservation?” I ask. There are dozens throughout the Northwest, many achieving financial independence via casinos. That’s when I suddenly understand where I am.
I understand why I have been hemorrhaging money. They have given me a hospital bracelet with a microchip directly connected to my credit card making it so, so easy. $30 Build-a-Squirrel complete with $17 sunshine yellow swim outfit. Fudge bricks of pina colada and creme brulee, $4 plus tax each. $45 manicures for little girls. $40 disappeared in a handful of swipes on a special card that converts money into tokens and tokens into “paw points” that you can use to earn tickets while playing a roomful of screaming clanging arcade games with which you can buy awful awful toys.
I am in a casino. The splashiest cash-suckingist brightist loudest casino I’ve ever been in. And it’s been built exclusively for CHILDREN.
The NOISE. The LIGHTS. 8 stories high hotel stuffed with opportunities to spend-spend-spend at every tacky junction of faux fun wilderness imitation and high priced whimsy. Disorientation everywhere. (There is a doll sized fairy cabin nailed on the wall above the Starbucks. At random intervals it lights up green inside and a voice begins wailing, “What have I done!! Oh what have I done??? No go away you can’t HELP ME!!1” (Actually…that…that’s probably my favorite part.)
Outside my room is a framed photograph that lights up when children point plastic wands at it (which they do all night and day) and it plays the first ten notes of “Dixie.” Sounds just like the horn of the General Lee. And doesn’t fit in with the theme of mystical mage quests through the forest of enchanted recycling bins and elevator lobbies at ALL.
I brought my daughter there because of the water park. . And she got my money’s worth out of it. I did too. I went on the big slides. Most of them required certain inflatable rafts, but the biggest and most terrifying, The Howlin’ Tornado, provided a bizzare stubby yellow x with four holes for butts to wedge in. I twisted and heaved and said, “My butt’s not gonna fit in this hole I’m a little….WORRRRIIIIEEEDD!!!!
(That last part was just an echo back to the teenager that had shoved us off into the dark gaping void. I fell four stories, backwards, completely unsecured but for my grip on two plastic handles. I remember opening my eyes at one point, seeing we were trapped spinning and sliding in some horrible circus tent of death, and saw my 8 year old and her friend looking at me with remarkable calm, bordering on concern. “Gracious she certainly is screaming a great deal!” They went on that particular ride about seven times. Their teeny butts fit just snug and deep as can be.
For the entire four story climb and twenty minute wait I’d been leaning over the banister watching people get off the raft once they’d hit the splash pool. I’d practiced a graceful disembark in my head. When we finally touched down in the pool and the attendant tried to push us to the stairs I was breathless and literally hoarse from that 90 second plunge.
“No!! NO…no sta…just I need the wat…water…LEAVE it!” and then rolled my self with one great heave off the raft into the shallow water below. Like a dying white bellied fish gathering all it’s strength for one more flop off the dock. This, I should note, was one of many luncheon table and chairs area in the park, so that those resting and dining could watch the excited faces of children exiting the ride. Or be witness to the asthmatic terror and physical defeat of one of their mothers.
Oh but wait. Do wait. After that I stumbled to the paddling pool just to float a bit, (there is no regular pool there. Every inch of water is choked with (human bodies) things to squirt or ride or climb or throw). But there was this beach-like enclosure, and I stumbled out to the deeper water where I anticipated the relief of buoyancy.
Then a sound…not unlike a tsunami alarm…but I ignored that. Could barely hear it anyway in that place. It turned it was a warning to mortals in that particular pool that the god Poseidon had just been incredibly pissed off, probably by something YOU DID, and also that he lived behind the decorative faux rock siding of the front of the pool.
I have lived in a coastal state my entire life, gone to the beach several times a year every year, and have received every lecture on ocean safety possible to impart. But I still learned more about dying in the ocean in the following 20 seconds than my entire previous life combined. I immediately lost my footing, gasping water into my lungs as I fell. I had noticed that the floor of that pool seemed especially rough and now understood that was one of the ways the resort encouraged you not to die. I stood briefly and took another wet breath before being pulled down again, desperately struggling toward the side. My daughter, somehow, seemed to be fine, but I stuck her to a ladder under a lifeguard all the same and began to run/stumble/swim/drown my way back to shallow water.
And there I sat, the diminished waves trilling around my thighs, a soggy lump who was once a great woman, and coughed chlorine from my lungs for about 15 minutes.
“Mom!” LE called happily the next time the waves came, “The trick is your suppose’d to JUMP the waves and they won’t getcha!” She hopped happily down toward the deepest end, not being knocked down once.
Then the animatronic boggle eyed boy that hid in the tree stump staring at you with lifeless yet blinking eyes, and the Cockney raccoon and why was the moose even INSIDE the house? WHY?
If I were a child, I would have probably been hyperventilating with joy with every new talking piece of wall art, candy themed beauty shop, build-a-bear, and yes, glowering robot boy in a tree stump that I encountered. Great Wolf Lodge is a very expensive place. But they do what they do very well. That is, thrill kids and siphon money from their parents with the skill and grace of the Artful Dodger.
All my friends who have gone and said “IT WAS SO COOL!” I now recognize as having common traits, either childlike energy and joy, laid back natures that are not inconvenienced by effort or fatigue, or fierce inexhaustible constitutions; bodies whose daily work outs at gyms and Zumba translate well to hiking four flights of stairs to find the Tangled Forest of Mystery somewhere on the fifth floor fire-escape.
I hope I gave my daughter good memories. I tried but I got tired so, so quick. Not negative, just tired. And she…she like her mother just expects all good things to come effortlessly and immediately. So he gratitude I was waiting on, the recognition that THIS IS ALL FOR YOU was slow coming and disappeared completely if a current $80 whim wasn’t granted. Gratitude is difficult to cultivate in either of us, but whinging is as surely a part of our parasympathetic nervous systems as our heart beats.
I would like to say, in closing, the beds at Great Walk Lodge are just about the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in. I just wish I’d been allotted more time inside of them.
And I wish that one day maybe I won’t with that first wish.