Monday, July 27, 2009

Slow learners...

Our summer thus far has been pretty jammed with responsibility and commitment, with precious little laid-back family time. We decided Sunday would be a good opportunity to change that.

Way back in October, at the Louisiana State Fair (one of my favorite places on earth...perhaps the foot long corn dogs and red dye number 3 from the candy apples clouded my judgment) we signed up for a day at a brand new, indoor waterpark in East Texas. Free passes for our family of four, $50 worth of gift cards, $40 in gas money, $40 cash...can you see where this is going? The catch, of course was that we had to attend a "presentation" about vacation home ownership at the resort where this alluring water wonderland is located. Eh, no biggie, we say. We can sit through an hour of anything. Like I said, I blame it on the midway food.

Since October, a very persistent fellow named Rudy has been calling our home at least twice a month, trying to get us to commit to our day of leisure at his resort. He is always very polite, not pushy, and understanding as to why, months later, we still haven't booked an appointment for the experience. Finally, he reachs us on Saturday, with both of us home, and no really good reason to say no. Besides, the forecast was for rain, and the waterpark is indoors. So, we make an appointment for 10:00 the next morning. We are to bring ourselves and picture ID. Mmmmmkay. Wouldn't want us to pass our opportunity on to another unsuspecting victim...errrr....recipient.

So, we pack up the car and the kids and head West. It takes quite a bit of gear for a family of four to enjoy water activities. Suits, towels, sunscreen, dry clothes, swim diapers, xanax.... But by 7:45 AM, we were on our way. I try very hard to prep the children for the fact that we had a wee bit of business to take care of before we actually got wet.

"Remember, kids. We have a meeting to go to before the waterpark. Ok? It might take a long time. But after we are done if you are reeeeeeallly good, we'll go to the waterpark. So.... Meeting first. Swim after. Got it? And you have to mind. Really mind. If you don't mind Mommy and Daddy, we'll come home and not go to the waterpark. Does everyone understand?"

I swore I would never make crazy, empty threats to my children. Swore. I also swore I would never dose them with Benedryl for my own convenience and utter the words, "Because I SAID SO, that's WHY!" Well, two out of three ain't bad. Benedryl turns my kids into hyperactive that helps keep me honest.

We arrive at the gated entrance of the resort and announce ourselves to the uniformed attendant. So far, so good. We pull up to the log cabin-looking structure tagged "Membership". It is hard to miss. There are at least a dozen brightly colored helium balloons bobbing in the rain. Harrisen is delighted. Anything that is announced by helium balloons is worth checking out in his opinion.

We run everyone in out of the rain and Scot signs us in at the desk. I am immediately struck by how many other people seemed to be taking advantage of their opportunity at exactly the same time as we were. It is quite the organizational maelstrom. Once you are signed in with the front desk, you are ushered to partake of hot coffee, fresh popcorn and Grandma's cookies, in the package, being offered by a lovely uniformed hostess. Next to the popcorn popper is a plastic dispenser full of pink lemonade and styrofoam cups.

Looking around at my fellow victims, errr...opportunists, I am very glad I chose to dress my family as if we were NOT headed straight to the waterpark. I purposefully and carefully accessorized and did NOT underdress swimwear. I mean, sure, we were all about the waterpark, but I wasn't about to advertise that fact before our obligation was met. It seems like I was the only human who gave two flips about appearing cooly disinterested in the free stuff. Everyone else seems to flaunt their swim trunks and bathing suit straps in a show of rebellious "I'm just here for the tickets" mob mentality. Some people even have their beach towels draped over their necks! The nerve.

We sit for about 20 minutes. The kids gobble oatmeal raisin cookies, popcorn and slurp lemonade, getting only a marginal amount on the pleather sofa and low-pile industrial carpet.

Finally, our name is called by a chipper young fellow named Wesley. He is smartly dressed in a striped shirt, jaunty black suspenders and trousers. He introduces himself and leads us out the side doors to another building a little bit down the way. As he maneuvers us across the manicured lawns to another suspiciously modular-looking building, I notice the skoal ring on the back pocket of his polyester pants. The bells start going off...but I help corral my little family into Level II of the opportunity.

We walk through the double french doors and are thrust into a virtual cacophony of people and activity. There are at least a hundred rough-hewn wooden tables where at least a hundred versions of Wesley are seated with a least a hundred versions of the Smith family. The chairs are hard-backed made of twigs and look like they were whittled from East Texas Pine. On each rough pine table, there sits a three-ring binder full of glossy, four-color-process propaganda for your viewing pleasure. The sheer noise and excitement of that many people in such a small space, the looming white board on the wall, and the bank of "managers" behind the counter in the back who oversaw the entire spectacle like vacation-real-estate-pit bosses, combined with the faux-rustic, deep in the heart of East Texas decor, leads me to whisper to Scot..."Oh's the redneck stock exchange." We sit on our whittled twig chairs.

Wesley is woefully poor at small talk, which suits me fine. My fight or flight instincts are starting to kick in at this point, and my bullshit sensors are firing on all cylinders.

The first thing Wesley tries to comment on from our application was Scot's profession.

W: "'re a faux-tographer?"
S: "Yes, I'm a professional photographer."
W: " long have you been into faux-tography?"
S: "About 30 years now."
W: "Whoa." (did I neglect to mention that Wesley appears to be about 19 years old? And that's being generous.)

It takes him only about 4 more times butchering the pronunciation of my husband's industry and occupation before I change the subject:

K: "Ok, Wesley....please do tell us about your resort."

Well, I should have known that there was a method to the madness. Skipping ahead in the script is not in the cards for a three-week veteran of vacation resort sales like Wesley. He quickly produces a "worksheet" that will, after a series of questions about our travel preferences and vacation history, delineate very clearly how purchasing a unit at this vacation resort will save us at least $90,000 in our lifetime alone. (that's not counting the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren, to whom we would be able to bequeath our vacation property and all its benefits.)

The question and answer section includes the ubiquitous, "Would you say spending quality time with your family is important to you?" I should have stopped him right there. It is the perfect opportunity to cut to the chase and get to the real reason of our trip into the state of Texas on a Sunday. The quality time. The waterpark. I begin to realize that the guy with the beach towel around his neck is probably getting a considerably shorter presentation than we were. Score one for the rednecks.

Now, you will remember that our children are present at this little "meeting". The empty threats have not worked. They never do. That' s why we parents swear never to use them. The kids do as they please anyway, and mommy ends up looking like a schmoe, because she either needs copious amounts of alcohol or a trip down the lazy river herself after enduring this opportunity. So...the kids. Harrisen alternates between crawling around under Wesley's legs beneath the pine top table, rolling around on the carpet, and fiddling with the crutches of the amputee at the pine table next to us. He and his sister both take turns at the double french doors, as the unofficial greeters. At one point, Evangeline comes out of the foyer of the building with someone's dripping golf umbrella like an oversized and inappropriate parasol. Throughout the presentation, they weave in and out of the tables as if it were a hall of mirrors.

I have just returned from retrieving the girl-child from the far end of the room for the third time, when a booming voice comes over the PA system. "It is a tradition here at our resort to welcome the newest owners into the flock! Sitting right over there is Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, aaaaaaaalllll the way from Beauuuuuuumont Texas! For their first vacation, they will be visiting our sister property is LAS VEGAS, Neeeeeevaaaada! Give em a hand!" All of the Wesleys of the room break into mad applause, and the lucky Wesley gets to write his name and the names of his victims/clients on the massive white board. I lean over to Scot:

K: "Dammit. The kids already drank the Kool-aid."

Shortly after that, Wesley gets to the part of the day when we have our official tour. We follow him out of the log cabin stock exchange building to the parking lot. He produces a door remote and went to un-lock the doors of his small, black, sports car.

K: "Where are we going...?"
W: "We are going to drive around for the tour of the property..."
K: "Do you have carseats?"
W: "Nah. We'll stay on property. We don't even have to wear seatbelts."
K: "Um...there are hundreds of other cars on the roads of this resort."
W: "We won't go over 25 mph or so..."

HOLEEE CRAP! Has he not seen those public safety commercials where they put a kid unrestrained on a downhill sled at JUST 25 mph? Has he not seen their little fiberglass crash test dummy heads explode like ripe fruit? A year's worth of waterpark tickets wouldn't have been worth turning my kids into statistics.

K: "Well, we'll just have to go in our car."
W: "No problem."

We all retrace our steps back to our car. I can read Scot's mind...

S: "GREAT, Katie. Show him the Mercedes. Make it reeeallly hard to let him down easy."

Sure enough, during the tour, Scot manages to mention the age of my car at least twice. Teamwork. He's the cleanup.

We take a very tepid tour of the property, which is nice, but crowded and full of gangs of people not unlike the ones at the membership building. White tank tops, tattoos, cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves, un-earned spandex...We live in the deep south. We happily co-exist, work and are even related to southern redneck Bubbas. We don't, however, typically choose to vacation with them. I kept track of the beach towels hanging over the balcony railings:
*Harley Davidson
*Rebel Flags
*Bass Pro Shops

lather, rinse, repeat.

After getting the kids in and out of the car about 15 times to view yet another modular condo unit, we make our way back to the stock exchange. Our original pine table is waiting on us. We have finally made our way to the pitch portion of the day. The bottom line. Dollars and cents. I can almost smell the chlorine.

But, we don't get the bottom line until AFTER we have to produce an answer to the question, "So, how much do you think all of this would cost? Don't you think it would be worth, I don't know? Maybe, twenty thousand dollars?"

I am really proud of Scot. He isn't going to play. Period. He's the consummate southern gentleman, but he knows real estate. Poor Wesley doesn't really know how to proceed with his script when the suckers won't pony up even a perfunctory answer to his question. Since our non-commital answer throws him, he just kinda spit it out. $15,500. For the vacation of your dreams. For the rest of your life. And they only want $1,200 down. Today.

W: "What do you think?"
K: "I think there is absolutely no way we would pay that."
W: "Didn't you like the property?"
K: "It was very nice. But I'm unemployed and in school, and we have no way of spending that at this time."

Whew. Done. There. Now, pony up the tickets, bud.

Wesley informs us that it "Always comes down to money..." and he is "at the end of what he could do for us, but that we now had to wait for his manager to come over before we could go to gifting. "

We are entering Phase II of the opportunity, and don't even know it.

About this point in time, my blood sugar starts to bottom out. I'm a grazer, and have been really careful about my food intake this summer. I had 3/4 cup of kix cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries at SEVEN in the morning. That's roughly 185 calories that were surely already expended in nervous energy and chasing the kids in the first 3o minutes in the stock exchange. As anyone who has ever seen me hungry before can attest, I start to get hostile.

K: "How long is it going to take to get a manager over here?"
W: "Oh, it' won't be long. People are starting to get up."

At least he doesn't try to make any more small talk about faux-tography.

Ten minutes pass.

K: "The kids are surely getting hungry. Are there any snacks?"
W: "There are vending machines over there."
K: "Sure, yeah. Once we say 'no' the free popcorn and cookies are off the table, right?" (ok, I didn't really say this, but I sure as hell thought it.)

Finally, the manager leaves the pit and comes over. He introduces himself as Raul. Raul is a self proclaimed straight shooter who doesn't have any agenda at all but to help us out in any way he can. He wants to know what the problem is. What is preventing us from being up there on that big white board?

I tell him the same story. Just not financially in the cards for us at this time. Raul excuses himself. He goes back to the pit.

He comes back with a huge grin on his face. He HAS the deal for us. You see, he's not really a manager. He is in titles and deeds. Someone JUST NOW has upgraded their property, and the deed has not been repriced. The equity they have paid over the years is still on file. We can have their deed for HALF PRICE! The other suckers have paid for years on it and knocked the price down into what is surely in the range of a professional faux-tographer and his unemployed nursing student wife! It's our lucky day! He gives us a few minutes to talk it over, and retreats to the pit, where he grins at us with his bonded toilet-bowl teeth. We do, indeed talk it over.

S: "Well, it' s a much better deal."
K: "Yes, it is. Wonder which of the people we have clapped for on that white board bit on Phase I?"
S: "No telling. We could get free camping."
K: "For eight grand we could buy a campground. NOT in East Texas."
S: "You are so right. We could go to Europe a lot of times for that kind of money. It's taken us half a year to come here once for free. Would we really come here?"
K: "Why are we still discussing this? Get Raul over here."

I tell Raul that we have decided not to take advantage of this opportunity. He seems perplexed. Wesley is on the edge of his chair. He's still thinking about the ride in the Mercedes. He's probably also needing a dip as badly as I'm needing a snack.

I'm a pretty good bad cop. I gently but firmly tell him we need to get on to the waterpark and feed the children. That's right. The kids.

He thanks us, shakes our hand, and tells us that Colin from gifting will be with us shortly. Frickin finally.

But this story doesn't end there. We are unknowingly being led straight into Phase III. Blindly, and without the benefit of a snack.

Colin from gifting shows up. But not before we have a revelation.

K: "Honey, we have DONE this before."
S: "I think we have."
K: "Grand Mayan Resort. Puerto Vallarta. I don't think we even got prizes."
S: "Nope. We swore we would never do this again."
K: "Well, next time....surely we will remember."

Colin from gifting asks us if the downpayment is standing in our way today. I tell him that we are unprepared to put any amount of money down today. Big mistake. These guys are professionals. I am a slow learner whose brain desperately needs a shot of glucose, and who thinks she can play with the vacation sales boys on their turf. I'm toast.

Colin offers to HOLD the amazing deal Raul has proposed for 18 months. A whole year and a half to enjoy the Redneck Riviera, unlimited, while only paying $70 a month! At the end of that time period, our monthly fees will apply towards our down payment, because we will certainly be ready to hand over the eight grand after 18 months of enjoying the facilities. Surely, we won't be able to imagine life without our membership after the trial offer!

Colin's approach is different from Wesley's fumbling newbie awkwardness and Raul's polished-creepy straight shooter tactic. Colin is cool. Steely. He knows we are no fools. He is the cleanup person. He gives us a minute to talk it over.

K: "I have no intention of paying $750 for 18 months of this crap."
S: "We have done this before."
K: "I know. Mayan Palace."
S: "No. Before that."
K: "Oh hell. You are so right."
S: "Where was it?"
K: "Hot Springs Village. To get a free condo to visit with your daughter."
S: "We are really slow learners."
K: "Get Colin over here."

He takes it well. Colin shakes our hands and sends us to gifting. Another modular building. Another form. Another wait. We are almost FOUR hours into our opportunity at this point. I ask Scot to look in the cabinets for snacks.

Luckily, gifting moves pretty quickly. Bridgett is no-nonsense and her office is quiet with no whittled wood furniture. By the time you migrate through all the phases to gifting, they've dropped the ruse. It's plain old office chairs, and Bridgett seems like a real person.

The waterpark was ok. Harrisen has marginally more fun than he does in our backyard pool. Evangeline has marginally less fun, as she is too short to go down any slides. The one I sneak her on gets us whistled at by a bored lifeguard who probably would not have saved our lives if we were drowning, but was big on enforcing the rules on the water flume . I eat an entire personal pepperoni pizza, a bag of M&M cookies, and a Three Musketeers bar. I run into 2 other women wearing my Target bathing suit.

On the ride home, we swear we are going to remember this adventure, and avoid opportunities of this kind in the future. Seems like we have said that before. But this time I mean it. When it comes time to bequeath property to the kids and grandkids, it is highly unlikely that vacation resort property will be on the list. We have decided to stick to the kind that pays US each month, and buy our own waterpark tickets from now on.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


With school having crunched into my hang-around-the-house time in the mornings, many times over the past two months, I have been on the road to class before Harrisen climbed out of bed. I've shouldered my fair share of mommy-guilt over my absence, but it's all worked out pretty well. Daddy rocks the breakfast. He uses a lot more syrup than I do.

This morning, Harrisen rolls out of bed (our bed. At some point each night, he ends up between us. Co-sleeping really stuck with that kid.) He, with his mess of tousled curls and flushed sheet-lined cheeks, bee-lines to me standing in the kitchen and gleefully says:

H: "Mommy! I am so happy you are here this morning!"
M: "I'm so happy you are here this morning, Harrisen!"
H: "Are you kidding me? I'm always here when I wake up."