By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"Don't worry, it's going to be okay," I told them. "Just keep your mouths closed."
Off we went, careening down the slide, flying up the sidewalls on the turns and then back down again. Water splashed over us, on us and into us. I held on in tight-lipped horror. Kelly, though, she was laughing a big, wide-mouthed laugh the whole way down. That alien freak, I thought, she's feeding. Apparently she got her fill, because when we got out of the water, she asked me if I was ready to go.
"Only one thing left to do," I said, nodding toward Drop Out, looming high above us. I was ready to meet my maker. "A little unfinished business."
On the way over, we passed one woman with a bleeding knee and one guy with a bleeding elbow.
At Drop Out, I fell in line behind a pint-size, skinny kid with short dreadlocks and innocent eyes.
"Hey, man, you scared?" he asked as we moved toward the launching deck. It was a brother-in-arms bonding moment.
"Yeah, I'm scared all right . . ."
Only, I wasn't looking at the tiny people in the viewing area, or the pool at the bottom, which held the promise of a soft landing. I was staring in the other direction, at the Amazon Adventure, a quarter-mile-long, 18-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep "tropical river" filled with 500,000 gallons of water. It can accommodate up to 600 raft riders "who want to lazily bask in the sun while coasting down an endless waterway," and it was filled to the brim.
I watched the disturbing crush of people floating by in a parade of sizes, shapes, colors and unfortunate outfits. They didn't seem to ask where they were going, or why. They just kept drifting, bumping into each other, splashing, mixing, sharing the same churning, recycling, undulating half a million gallons of water. I wondered what legacy each was leaving. What will one pick up from the next? From where I stood, 70 feet up, waiting to drop to a symbolic death, to violently dive feet first back into a metaphorical womb, it looked so . . . free of will. So unconscious. Almost subhuman.
I was immediately reminded of a Saturday-morning show I used to watch when I was a kid called Land of the Lost. In the show, a typical suburban family out rafting one day plunges over a waterfall during an earthquake and into a land time forgot. A land of dinosaurs and tropical vegetation. A land with a friendly but challenged prehistoric boy and his baby dinosaur pal named Dopey, both of whom inevitably cause problems that are solved by the resourceful (and extremely good-natured, considering all they've been through) family and the sexy cavegirl who looked like Pebbles would if she grew up and came to life. Along the way, viewers learn that the foibles and triumphs of human nature span the ages.
One of the show's mainstays was a gang of hissing, lizardlike creatures called Sleestaks. The Sleestaks constantly terrorized this ad hoc modern/prehistoric Brady Bunch. All my life, I've wondered why the clumsy, practically inert Sleestaks were so horrifying even to me, watching safely at home. But, looking down on the Amazon Adventure, it was beginning to make sense. As was my distaste for places like this.
The Sleestaks, and especially their rise to upright, human stature, only reminded me of the primordial pool from which we came. The threat of the Sleestak was the threat of being glommed with the ungodly ooze stewing beneath our skin and clothes. Things like phlegm, boogers, dandruff, loose toenails, pubic hair, psoriasis, seborrhea, earwax, scabs, blood, pathogens, parasites, secretions, viruses, urine, feces and . . . goop, goddamnit, goop! We're made of slimy, fetid, fucking goop!!! And I don't want your goop! I don't want to commune with the rot from which we came and to which we'll return. I want to cling like an uncomprehending child to the illusion that we are divine. I don't want to be reminded that beneath the surface we're all just a bunch of Sleestaks, that evolution is a cruel deception. You bastards! You squirming tadpoles! When I look into your teeming depths, it's repulsion - and not love - I feel.
". . . but not of this ride," I told my young friend. He looked at me like he understood, and slid into the chute.
I felt sorry for everyone who had been reduced to this state, and sorry that my secret misanthropy was floating down the lazy river like one of the bright-colored rafts. But I knew all the chlorine Raging Waters could bring to bear wouldn't neutralize that. So I stepped up and took the plunge.
Driving back to Hollywood, I realized that maybe it wasn't Sleestaks I was thinking of, but my friend Wilksey, who looks like a Sleestak and slobbers a lot when he drinks too much.
Later that day, safely home and showered, I called my mom.
"Mom, remember that raised pool in the back yard in New Jersey?"
"How did that work, just stick the hose in and fill 'er up?"
"Yep. That was it."
"Did you change the water?"
"Yep. I was too persnickety to leave it in there too long. The neighbor's Newfoundland used to come over and jump in. That wasn't too sanitary. And God knows how many kids peed in the pool."
Oh, the humanity.