|At right; my gal Sal. The photographer, Emily is reflected.|
Everybody said I was crazy to agree to take 5 teenage girls (my daughter and 4 of her friends) on spring break to Panama City Beach last year. I assumed there’d be some headaches, but I was trying to be a good dad.
We left Indiana at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning and arrived in Panama City Beach mid-afternoon. The condo high-rise was nice; security guards at the entrance, clean elevators and hallways, lots of tile floors and granite countertops. The five 17-year-olds and I settled into a pretty amiable routine; they ran off to the beach and I cleaned up after them.
My Saturday, 3/31/12 Facebook Post: "Lesson #1 – When you're the lone adult on vacation with 5 teenagers: Your main job is closing open bags of chips and throwing away abandoned cans of half-consumed soda.”
My friend Shannon Plumer comments on FB, “If that’s your only problem, count yourself lucky.”
It would not be my only problem.
My Sunday, 4/1/12 Facebook Post: “Lesson #2 - When you're the lone adult on vacation with 5 teenagers: You discover awesome junk food. Abigail Fisher introduced me to Jalapeño Cheet-os. I now have a new guilty pleasure. You'll know me by my orange fingertips and the pollen-like orange flakes in my mustache.”
My Monday, 4/2/13 Facebook Post: “Lesson #3 - When you're the lone adult on vacation with 5 teenagers: I go for an early morning walk on the beach. The sites and sounds are beautiful . . . mostly. But I quickly discover that college kids have shitty taste in beer and are serial-litterers. Here and there, along the beach, time and again I see three things suspiciously clustered in the sand together: empty beer cans + discarded underwear + empty packs of cigarettes = I don't' wanna know the details - and I HOPE it's the college kids!”
At 11:40 my cell phone chirped: “Are you in Panama City Beach?” It was my old college buddy, Scott Brown.
I reply, “Yes Sir. Trapped with 5 teenage girls and 2 boys just showed up! Could use some adult conversation. You around?”
We arrange to get together the next day.
Our beach strip was crawling with Noblesville kids. I let the girls throw a party and sequestered myself in my room, watched TV and worked on my computer. After a couple hours the music got a little loud. I waded into the mass of kids and turned the music down, discovered a bottle of vodka on the counter and promptly told the girls, "It’s time for everyone to leave." As kids were gathering their stuff there was a knock on the door. It was condo security asking that we turn down the music. "Thanks. Sorry. It’s already turned off."
|Tending these girls was like walking 5 oversized dogs all at once. Useless |
leash in hand, I got drug down to the sidewalk time and again. I'll not
name them in full, for the sake of their futures . . . and to protect
myself from neglect charges. From left: KT, Sally, Josie, Emily, Abi.
The girls had a fight of some sort and one of them wanted to go home. Her mother sent a plane ticket. I drive Emily to the airport.
We’re now down to 4 girls.
This screaming was taking its toll, along with going into the bathroom and finding the floor covered with water because someone took a shower without the shower curtain in place. And there’s dirty underwear and trash in the water.
In case you don’t know, high school girls live in absolute squalor.
My Wednesday, 4/4/12 Facebook Post: “Lesson #5 - Sadly, many teens struggle to understand the simple operation of the zip lock bag. The package of hot dogs? That fresh $8 bundle of shaved ham? While it may look enticing, the complicated function of zip lock technology puts it just beyond the reach of many teens. That's why you'll find the hot dogs and deli meats drying out in the refrigerator because the teen had no choice but to crudely rip the package open in the middle, and then, having done so, had no means of re-closing the bag. We teach them chemistry and advanced calculus. Why can't we teach them to open (and then perchance, re-close) a zip lock bag?”
The unhappiness born of the argument the girls had the previous day lingers, claiming another victim. A mom called to say a family friend was nearby and will drive her girl back to Indiana.
And then there were three.
My shopping and clean-up skills earned me a reputation. Josie tagged it, "The perks of Kurt."
That evening I left the girls to God-only-knows-what. I went out to dinner with my college buddy’s family. Ahh, adult conversation, how I’d missed you.
My Thursday, 4/5/12 Facebook Post: “Lesson #6 - Shhhh! Enjoy your coffee and walk on the beach whilst they slumber. The primitive local inhabitants were up late last night in their jungle of condo high-rises. The females painted their faces. The males beat their chests and howled. They all ingested trance-inducing concoctions and took part in crude mating rituals. For now, let these uncivilized beasts doze upon their futons and hide-a-beds, around their boom-box campfires, for they will soon wake and mass to worship the sun god. All ye over the age of 25, beware! The hip-hop & alt-rock drum circles will soon resume. Should you be deemed old and useless to the tribe, you may be thrown upon the funeral pyre. Tonight is the full moon. Heaven help us all!”
That afternoon while I was carrying in groceries and cleaning up messes, there was a knock on the door. It was security. “Sir, there’s someone on your balcony throwing things in the pool below.” I promised to take care of it. I walked quickly to the balcony and found two of the girls and a couple of boys sitting in lawn chairs, eating sandwiches and potato chips. They smiled at me innocently.
I began spending more and more time alone in my room or hanging at a different beach with my college buddy’s family.
My Friday, 4/6/13 Facebook Post: “Lesson #7 - Friends make all the difference. Just when I thought I couldn’t fall asleep one more night to the sound of police sirens, couldn’t take one more ride in an elevator that reeked of urine and stale beer, couldn’t take another walk on a beach strewn with beer cans, Jager bottles, and discarded underwear, and just when I couldn’t take one more air-brushed tee-shirt, the Brown-Richardson-Vendrely families found me. This near-normal family, who have only rarely needed redirection from law enforcement, nursed me back to health with charbroiled oysters, alligator meat, and the restorative powers of the Chicken Trio. My soul was repeatedly anointed with gin & tonic (Tanqueray and lemon, please!). Thanks to my old college buddy, Scott Brown for hearing my distress signal and inviting me down to the civilized end of the beach.”
Our plan was to pack the car at 8:00 that night and drive straight through to Indiana. At 3:30 in the afternoon there was a knock on the door: condo security. “Sir we have a complaint that there’s a couple having sex on your balcony.” I bolt down the hall in a rage expecting to strangle two naked teenagers. At the balcony I find one of the girls and her boyfriend standing, fully clothed at the railing kissing gently. I sigh, smile, and head back to the door to explain the misunderstanding.
“Sir, I don’t care what the truth is,” the security guard says. “A family having lunch on an adjoining balcony was offended. This is our third visit here to speak with you.” He holds up a contract with my apparent signature on it. “If you’ll read right here,” he goes on, pointing at the contract with an ink pen, “you agreed that if we had to visit your unit three times, upon that third visit you would be evicted. You now have 45 minutes to pack your bags and vacate!”
I thanked the kind man, closed the door, and let out a loud, “Whoooo-hooo! We’re going home!” And four hours ahead of schedule!
I drove the entire way, fueled by Monster and Redbull drinks, arriving, mercifully in my driveway at sun-up.
My Saturday, 4/7/12 Facebook Post: “Lesson #8 - The final lesson: Happiness is really all about perspective. Cruising north through southern Alabama on the way home last night, I was thinking, "I'm so glad this shitty week is over." At the exact same moment my 17 year old daughter looked to her two girlfriends in the back seat and said, ‘This was the funnest week of my entire life!’ The other girls all agreed.”
Buy Kurt's novel The Salvage Man