Monday, June 21, 2010

Hell on Earth

As a concept, I think we can all agree that Hell is interesting.

Take, for example, the classical Western construction of devils with pitchforks a la  Dante's Inferno. This is a truly nasty place.  The kind of place you wouldn't want to spend an afternoon, let alone an eternity.

Then there is Palatka, Florida.  For me, Palatka was a perfect example of eternal damnation.  It smells bad.  It is certainly hot and humid enough to qualify for one Dante's circles of hell (although it is unclear which one) - and sufficiently so that one finds one's crotch in a continual state of sweat-stinging discomfort.  There are enormous insects swarming around you at all times.  There is precisely nothing to do unless you're the type of person who enjoys sports with the words "bogging" or "gigging" in the title.  There is no good coffee to be found.  There is decent food, but as everything has been fried beyond recognition or smoked into oblivion, one often finds one's self suffering stomach cramps and longing for green leafy vegetables shortly after a meal.  The only entertainment to speak of is driving past the pulp mill and marveling at how many days have passed since the most recent industrial accident.  As every moment spent in Palatka feels like an eternity, you could actually manage to spend several eternities in one afternoon.  Conceptually - that is fascinating.  In practice, excruciating.

I say that Palakta was my perfect example of hell, because this weekend Palatka was replaced in my own personal pantheon of displeasure.  Hell is dead.  Long live Hell.

The new hell is certainly ritzier than Palatka.  And more populated as well, although as Sartre neatly expressed: "l'enfer c'est les autres"  (or - if you're from Palatka and not familiar with the French - "Hell is other people") so perhaps an increase in population density neatly corresponds to an increase in demonic potential.

The new hell arguably offers more in the way of entertainment than Palakta as well - and to be fair - better coffee. 

But it still smells bad.  It is still hot and steamy - and your skin remains irritated.  But unlike Palatka, your epidermal discomfort is no longer confined to simply your crotch and is neatly amplified by the use of unnatural means.  Better living through chemistry indeed.  Palatka could learn a thing from this place.

In Palatka, the soundtrack by which you spend a typical afternoon is not especially dreadful.  True, you have a choice of either many radio stations which play country music or one radio station which plays essentially nothing other than Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty.  But still, one can get by.

In this new hell, your ears are treated to a symphony of mayhem.  All around you, children are screaming.  Parents are scolding.  Milk is steaming (note - the better coffee has its drawbacks).  And animatronic animals are repeatedly (and loudly) activated.  This cacophanous melange is not alone, however.  It is neatly accompanied by piped in music of the most nefarious sort: Disney Radio.  I had the opportunity to listen to Disney Radio for a solid 5 hours straight just this afternoon.  I believe I heard a total of 10 songs.  Most were saccharine but tolerable on the first pass.  But since each song lasts no more than three minutes - and I managed to suffer through approximatley 300 minutes?  Well, they say that saccharine causes cancer in laboratory mice.  And I'm here to tell you that saccharine songs cause homicidal thoughts in knitting male lawyers in their 30s. 

There was one exception - Justine Bieber.  I'd heard some people complaining about her work recently, but as far as I can tell she's relatively talented.

[Note: The new hell is not a Disney property.  There are certainly those who have disdain for the house of mouse.  I am not among them.  I have spent many an enjoyable day at one of the company's parks - and bear them no ill will.]

My new hell is the Great Wolf Lodge; it is an indoor water park, resort and convention center.  Conceptually, it could only be more unpleasant if it featured an abattoir.

I was there because today I had the good fortune of addressing a group of executives on legal topics of interest.  The presentation went well; no one fell asleep or ran from the room. 

But in a remarkable feat of poor judgment, Mrs. TSMK and I told the childen in advance that I would speaking in Hell - although we did not know at that time that Hell was its rightful name.  The children, of course, had heard of Hell from their friends and were intrigued.  So much so that our oldest boy began to write of Hell in his classroom journal in March.  Hell made an almost weekly appearance in that periodical until the end of classes last week.  How could we disappoint?

We arrived in Hell yesterday late and Mrs. TSMK bravely planned to take the two older boys to the water park.  Knowing that I am not water-park-friendly, she accepted my offer to take care of the youngest.  But our middle boy arrived without his bathing suit.  And so I walked with the middle child into the very mouth of Hell. 

The swim shop where I learned we might purchase a suit was located within the climate controlled room containing the water park.  A veritable cathedral of heat, humidity, chlorine, screaming, dousing, and shopping opportunity.  Picture if you will a scene out of the Spanish Inquisition, but with chlorine-laden air, a gift kiosk and a Disney soundtrack.  I knew I would not return to our room unscathed - and also that I would not return to the belly of the beast.  There would be no swimming for me.

That evening, and most of today were spent with me sitting in the lodge area of Hell, watching our youngest and trying not to scream.  He managed to sleep.  I couldn't sleep, but did manage to start a new project.  I'm knitting myself some socks to remind me of Hell.  They're Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock - lightweight.  The colorway, ironically enough, is called Christmas Balls


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