Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
“If you don’t go and put your bathing suit on right now, I’m going to pick you up and throw you down that thing myself,” my friend Matt says.
Matt is my boss’s son, and he is only 22 years old, so I think of him as little even though he is quite big and very strong. He has a white beard and white eyebrows pasted onto his face, and looks more like Santa Claus than Uncle Sam, despite the red, white and blue sunglasses. But even with the ridiculous get up, I know he means business.
The slip ‘n’ slide looks a lot more intimidating than I’d imagined it would. It’s industrial strength, modified-for-adults, doublewide, and extra-long. The hill is pretty steep, especially at the top. There are bottles of dish soap being squirted all over the place, all over people’s bodies and on the plastic that runs the full length of the hill. There are two ramps, both with ample water exploding up into the air, so this thing looks almost amusement park-quality, like those water roller coaster rides that get you wet.
“Let’s do it!” Amanda says. Amanda is always up for anything. She is my yoga friend, and her flexibility extends far beyond the yoga studio. She has this long, unruly blonde hair that she often wears in a loose bun on top of her head so it makes her look even taller than she already is, and long thin legs that are always covered with cuts and bruises or most recently, with more than 40 stitches from a little trampoline incident.
“OK, OK!” I say, having a sudden change of heart. It’s a bit overcast and not that warm out, but now I can’t get into my bathing suit fast enough.
I take a quick swig off my beer for extra courage, and other than that, I feel like I am 10 years old again. Amanda and I squeeze hands one last time and hurtle ourselves downhill. I scream the whole way down, startled by the speed, the force of gravity, and the amount of dish soap that finds its way into my lungs. We land in a big, wet heap at the bottom, our hair soaked, our bodies slick with soap, and dissolve into a puddle of laughter. It’s good, clean innocent fun, kind of like jumping up and down on a trampoline or riding a big pink cruiser bike. There’s just no way you can’t be happy after riding the slip ‘n’ slide.
Ryan had been hyping up his big Slip n’ Slide Fourth of July party since the day we met, and it did not disappoint. The hill in front of Centennial was littered with the locals who, rather than being at some patio barbecue on Red Mountain, were running around in their swim trunks, their skin slick and shiny with Palmolive, drinking Bud from a keg and playing some weird game with sticks that Brad’s brother brought home from Sweden. It was kind of like horseshoes, I guess. It looked pretty basic but people played that game for hours and hours and hours.
I kept thinking this is the way Ryan grew up, in an all-American suburban neighborhood where they had block parties every weekend and everyone knew and liked each other well. He knows the formula: a few fun games, keg beer, a barbecue grill and a card table covered with big bowls of food.
I remember my mom’s requirements when we were looking for a new house in Connecticut when I was a kid. She wanted a long driveway so the house was not visible from the street on a piece of land big enough so that we would not have anything to do with our next-door neighbors. When I think about it now, I realize I have no idea who our neighbors were. If my life depended on it, or if you told me I would win a million dollars if I could remember their names, I couldn’t. We certainly weren’t party-throwers and every time we drove by a house that had a lot of cars parked outside my mom would say, “I guess we weren’t invited … Thank god.”
I don’t really remember ever doing anything special on the Fourth of July, either. I vaguely remember trying to get to a park where we could watch the fireworks display and getting caught in traffic so everyone got on each other’s nerves and started arguing with each other.
Ryan, on the other hand, was so totally in his element, among his people with the beers, the burgers, the brats and a legitimate excuse to wear the red, white and blue sweat band that he wears all the time anyway. He was the Grand Poo-Bah, running around in his silk robe with the Chinese dragon embroidered on the back like the Hugh Hefner of Centennial, handing out the fermented fruit from the bottom of the vodka punch bowl to all the pretty girls like he was Timothy Leary himself, tempting the experimental and adventurous.
It was impossible not to get into the spirit of it all. At one point, I did the “human luge,” riding down the slide on Ryan’s back. Despite warnings, I was even victim to the old bikini top trick where the guys hold the string of your bathing suit as you’re about to take off down the hill so your top falls off. I managed to hold mine on, but because my hands were cupped to my chest I couldn’t stop myself and went flying off the end into the bushes where I incurred enough scrapes to give Amanda a run for her money with my battle wounds.
I never really cared about the Fourth of July before. But now, it seems, more than ever, I have something to celebrate.
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