I thought that it was impossible, as an adult, to feel the same kind of sheer fantastical excitement that a Santa-lovin child feels on X-Mas Eve. But, when MaryEllen uttered a sentence that included the words "Splish" and "Splash" and "Waterpark," I rocketed into the atmosphere. Fuck an old guy with a beard. Fuck presents. Fuck candy canes and figgy pudding and cherubic children singing carols. Water slides are where it's at.
I talked about Splish Splash all week. I annoyed my co-workers. I couldnt sleep Friday evening. Visions of inner tubes danced in my head. After carefully selecting a book for the train ride and slipping on my favorite, favorite, favorite bikini of all time (the one I won by sending in a postcard to Jane Magazine, by the way), I busted ass to Penn Station.
Once there, I sprinted off of the train and barreled up the stairs. I spotted MaryEllen across 34th St. We ran to each other and jumped around a bit, not unlike exuberant Girl Scouts hopped up on too many Thin Mints. We were going to the motherfuckin' water park and we were going to have fun, dammit.
The train ride to Ronkonkoma (or Ron-KON-ko-MA!, as the conductor pronounced it, emphasis all his) was uneventful, save for the fact that every ten minutes or so, one of us would squeal, "Were going to SPLISH SPLASH! FUCK YEAH!!!"
When we arrived at the Ron-KON-ko-MA train station, we searched for the Coastal Fun Shuttle to Splish Splash, but all we saw were several ratty school buses. MaryEllen nudged the sweaty woman standing beside the buses. "Do you know where we can find the bus to Splish Splash?" The woman pointed at the row of rusty yellow. Oh, it doesnt matter that its not a comfy, cushy, air-conditioned coach bus, we thought. We're going to the water park! Everything is GREAT!
Our bus driver (Jackie, we would later learn) was a Long Island goddess, resplendent in purple. Purple tank top. Shiny purple shorts. Layer upon layer of gaudy purple necklaces. A stack of jingly purple bracelets. And, topping it all off, a puffy purple scrunchie wrapped around her brassy ponytail like a cloud of grape cotton candy. Jackie was divine.
MaryEllen and I settled in the back of the bus, bags on our laps like well-behaved schoolchildren on a field trip. Besides Jackie, we were the oldest Splish Splashers on the bus (save for a few cross-looking mothers and fathers tending over hyperactive children). But it didn't matter - We were going to float in the lazy river! We were going to frolic in the wave pool! We were going to run around barefoot, eating greasy french fries and dripping on the concrete! We were going to the water park! Everything was GREAT!
It was when Jackie dropped us off, unceremoniously, in the vast asphalt lot surrounding the park, that something in the cosmos changed. We pulled out our tickets and waited in line at the gate, only to be told that we needed to exchange our tickets for other, prettier tickets. Ok. We waited in line at Window No. 1, only to be told that to receive our prettier tickets, we must move down a few windows, to Window No. 3. Ok. We waited in line at Window No. 3 when the family of 10 in front of us suffered a complete meltdown. Dad had mistakenly given Jackie (she of the purple haze) his park admission ticket instead of his bus ticket. Jackie was attempting to placate a trio of irate school bus passengers. Mom was employing the word "fuck" a lot. Junior was running full-tilt into the parking lot. Ticket Girl was chewing her gum and staring vacantly at the rangy kid running Window No. 2. MaryEllen and I exchanged a glance.
When we finally had clearance at the window, Ticket Girl gave us the prettier tickets, but then told us to head back over to Window No. 1 or Window No. 2 to run our credit cards. We did so. We headed back to the main gate, pushed through the turnstile, and felt excited again! "Let's get a locker!" MaryEllen enthused. "YES!" I replied.
Oh. There were no keys in the lockers. You need to pay $10 to get a locker. Ok. So we wait in another line, this one also filled with mothers employing the word "fuck" a lot. It was while we waited in this line that we started to understand the strange phenomenon of theme park queues - why you stand and stand and wait and wait and never move anywhere. This is because the mothers who employ "fuck" a lot figure that because they are pushing a baby carriage filled with a screaming toddler, because they need a cigarette, and because their daisy dukes are perpetually jammed up their ass, they deserve to cut right in front of you.
Regardless, ten minutes later, we had a locker. We smooshed our shit in it. We were excited again! "Lets ride on the lazy river!" I shouted at MaryEllen. "YES!" she replied. After a twirl around the lazy river, we headed to a ride where you had to climb a tower before sailing down a steep tube in a raft. YES! FUN! Towers! Rafts! We got the signal to begin climbing the tower stairs and we eagerly began our ascent.
But HOLY SHIT! The stairs were ON FIRE! Burning hot sear-off-the-flesh-on-the-bottom-of-your-feet-hot!! We bolted up until we could go no more and then quivered on our tiptoes in the shadow of a small oak. We looked down at our blistered feet. The steps were made out of black plastic. Because, as we all know, black plastic would never soak up heat and blast it back onto your naked feet like some sort of atomic Death Star.
After scorching our toes, we were a bit weary and decided to take a break and walk over to Fry World (Fry World!) to fill our tummies. We shimmied over to the shortest line. And waited. And waited. The only three things on the menu were: fries, chicken, and soda. Fries, chicken, and soda. I glanced at the counter inside - basket upon basket of fries and chicken and fries and chicken. The soda machine was ready to go. But still, the line stood still. The mother at the front of the line (naturally, sporting a baby carriage and short-shorts) started employing the word "fuck" in a rapid staccato. Fuck-f-f-fuck-fffffuckfuckfuck!
At this point, the serious man in front of us sensed disaster. He turned to his son and with an earnest gaze, gave him the important mission of finding a picnic table on which to spread out the fries, chicken, and soda feast. His son ambled off, and the dad began yelling directives, becoming increasingly more and more agitated with each sentence he sputtered:
Jacob! No! Over there!
Wait! Jacob! See those people leaving? Go for it!
No! Jacob! Just jump in there! Dont lose the table, son!
Jacob! Just stay there. JUST STAY THERE!!!
After another 10 minutes or so, the Fry World line had progressed and it was my turn. I was ready and fired off the following:
Me: French fries with cheese sauce and one 16-oz Coke and I will pay with my Go Pass
Counter girl: What do you want to drink?
Fucking hopeless, this place. Hopeless. After drink confirmation was made, Counter Girl handed me my Coke and motioned for MaryEllen to order, as if she was done with me.
Me: Hey, wait. I had fries. With cheese sauce.
Counter girl: How do you want that cheese sauce?
We scavenged for a bit of picnic table and scarfed down our fries and chugged our Cokes, just in time to be ousted by a family of 16; eight on each side of the picnic table. But you know, we were excited again, because we were going to the wave pool! MaryEllen had never stepped foot inside of a wave pool, and because of this, she was willing to forget the days inadequacies. Waves! FUN!
We waded around for a while in the pool, counting down the time until the wave generator would push forth its walls of water. We avoided splashy children and playful teenagers. We did elementary water aerobics. We started to get bored.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the center of the pool - a group of high schoolers was yelling about something...that appeared to be...a giant condom...filled with something...floating in the pool. A kid with cornrows tossed it out and the lifeguard scolded him. And then blew her whistle. And then made us all get out. We were being punished; there were no waves.
MaryEllen frowned. Things werent going well. I had a headache that had been slowly building all day and was threatening to break into a raging crescendo. We got some water. We waited. After some time, they let everyone re-enter the pool. We took up our positions once again, ready to bob up and down in unison with the other swimmers. We practiced, me pushing the water towards MaryEllen and MaryEllen smiling and popping up an inch or two each time my tiny wave reached her stomach. We pretended that we were baby seals, rolling around on our backs. We started to get bored.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the center of the pool. MaryEllen shot me the kind of look that one might shoot when they realize that they've been stood up for the high school prom and they would never get to wear a corsage or pose for a cute photo underneath the beautiful balloon awning. She was near tears. I say this without exaggeration.
A very large teenager was in over her head and was flailing about, screaming something incoherent. A lifeguard jumped in and pulled the girl over her life-saving raft thing, towing the drownee to the relative safety of the 2'5" section of the wave pool. The girl stood up in the water, looked at the lifeguard, and began yelling the kind of obscenities that aren't meant for public consumption. She lost her water shoe in the faux-drowning; she wanted it back. While she was busy harassing the possibly life-saving lifeguard, another guard picked up the water shoe and tossed it the would-be victim, hitting her square in the side of the head. I think I detected a smile on his face.
Needless to say, the waves never came. MaryEllen was depressed. We prepared to go home. We asked a staffer where one would find the Coastal Fun Shuttle back to Ron-KON-ko-MA, and he pointed vaguely back at the asphalt, and so it was there that we walked. And there it was! Shiny! Big! Air-conditioned! Plush! We pulled out our tickets and practically ran to the bus, eager to leave the most inefficient theme park in the world. The woman guarding the bus door (not Jackie) simply said, "Theeees eeees not your bus."
It was then that MaryEllen said, "I am writing a letter of complaint to Splish Splash and to the Long Island Railroad" and I totally believed her.
Jackie finally showed up, surprisingly enough, driving a big fancy white coach bus! We walked up to the bus, only to be intercepted by a chubby guy with a comb-over. "Jaaaaackie," he scolded. "You need to move the bus over there." Jackie shook her head like an insolent toddler, the feathery bits of her purple scrunchie waving back and forth with each shake. "Yes, Jaaaaackie," Comb-Over coaxed, "Come oooooon, just move it twoooooo spots over."
Jackie complied and a minute later, along rolled a rusty yellow school bus. And this is what we rode, without insolent, purple Jackie in the driver's seat. The new driver lady turned to me and cautioned that the air conditioner jimmy-rigged above my head liked to drip occasionally. I didn't care. Just. Get. Me. To. Ron-KON-ko-MA.
MaryEllen started to drift off. I started to drift off. Until I felt a river of cold water splash down my back, causing me to scream, causing MaryEllen to jump, and causing passengers to stare. The bus driver laughed. Bitch.
The rest of the ride was spent in silence. Before boarding the train back to Manhattan, we grabbed some pasta and I realized that I lost the bottoms to my favorite, favorite, favorite bikini somewhere between hell and the bus. Fuck it, I said to myself. I will just sleep on the train.
But thwarting my restful plans were four little girls sitting behind us, ages 5 to 8, giggling and pulling on our hair. Their mother was sleeping (probably tired after employing a lot of very loud "fucks" throughout the day) and was ignoring our stern requests that the little girls stop giggling and pulling our hair. A very, very fed up MaryEllen turned around and threatened to wake the little girls' mother and the little girls finally moved one seat back. MaryEllen then pointed to the two tallboys of Budweiser that the little girls, ages 5 to 8, were draining while giggling and playing the hair-pulling game. Drunk toddlers. Figures. Par for the course.
I did nap for a bit, and MaryEllen and I parted ways when we arrived at Penn Station. Exhausted, I made my way to the train and there, on the platform, heard an operatic voice, belonging to one Rosa Theresa, the Subway Siren. She sat there with her keyboard, singing away, resplendent in purple capri pants, a purple caftan, and a bright purple streak in her graying hair, a far cry from Long Island Jackie.
I relaxed, smiled and set down my tote to dig a dollar out of my purse. I walked over and placed it in the small plastic bag set up next to the keyboard. Rosa Theresa looked me in the eye as she sang, blurted out a quick "Thank you!" in the middle of a verse and continued on with her music. I smiled again as the train rolled up, pleased that a 30-second subway encounter had me heading home on a high note.