My husband and I are going to Florida in a few weeks, and naturally the whole ordeal fills me with anxiety. Just the very use of the word “ordeal” to describe a pleasure trip gives you some idea of my handicap, stemming from a childhood devoid of vacations. To compensate for the fact that we simply couldn't afford them, my parents implanted several messages in my still-malleable brain: vacations were a waste of time, fancy hotels were a waste of money, and that universal dictum, people were starving in Europe. They stuck, and now all these years later, despite my eagerness at visiting old friends and eating good grapefruit, I’m a little scared that our hotel will be too luxurious, causing a child somewhere in the world to go hungry. Also, besides those soaps and shampoos and conditioners and sewing kits, there’s little to take home other than feelings of inadequacy. I found that out years ago on a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, a town where shopping is a career and designer malls outnumber palm trees. After three days there I had all the self-esteem of a tadpole in the food chain.
Anticipating a few carefree days of sunbathing and possibly a lizard sighting or two, my then 10-year-old son and I had tagged along with my husband while he attended a conference held at The Phoenician, a place described in the numerous pamphlets littering our suite as "one of the Southwest's most distinctive resorts." Several things were intimidating from the get-go. For starters, all the other guests appeared to be fabulously wealthy, which was apparent from a cursory glance in the hotel’s garage. Among the Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches, our rented Buick Skylark was an eyesore. "Maybe we should have chosen the Taurus after all--what do you think," I asked my husband. He answered with a bitter laugh as we parked in a dark corner, got out and ran.
Once safely inside ("Nowhere is the splendor of The Phoenician more prominent than in its exquisite lobby, where a stunning Italian marble entry and fountain are illuminated by magnificent crystal chandeliers"), we couldn't help noticing that the concierge, bellmen, desk clerks and chambermaids were all dressed better than we were. I panicked, but reasoned that if I just wore a Phoenician-logo robe to the Mother-of-Pearl-lined pool and stayed put, my vintage wardrobe wouldn't blow our cover. I was wrong. In a bathing suit, it was even more apparent that I was out of my league, since my one-piece Jantzen revealed the awful truth that I was packing prehistoric body parts. Bikinis were rampant, confirming my suspicion that most of the other female guests had lifted more than their suitcases before their arrival. The old ladies looked young and the young ladies - well, let's just say I finally understood the term "breast implants." I'm not sure Zack did, since he asked, "Mom, what are those things?" All I could muster was, "Honey, don't point."
While the men were away at the Golf Wars, the women killed time at The Centre for Well-Being. I didn't, mostly because you had to have planned for your well-being two weeks in advance, and I hadn't. If I had, I could have experienced one of their life-enhancing services and who knows where I'd be today. Most intriguing was the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), "an advanced technique to deal with emotional trauma and stress." Instead, I was forced to deal with the emotional trauma and stress of being there through continual doses of wine spritzers poolside.
Mealtime offered its own trials, mostly in finding something acceptable to our son, whose mantra for the trip became "Yo quiero Taco Bell." One night at dinner Zack was hard-pressed to make a selection, even though the menu said "our culinary team creates masterpieces each day with a palette of fish and fowl," and encouraged him to "raise your fork and experience these works of art." He finally showed minor interest in the spaghettini. "Exactly what is spaghettini?" I asked our waiter.
"Spaghetti, only thinner," he answered, looking as if I had to be the dumbest person in the world.
"Then why not just say spaghetti?" Zack asked.
With an audible sigh and a totally visible eye-roll, the waiter asked, "Well, do you want it or not?" We picked "not," and happily jumped bail to find a Taco Bell in the neighboring real world. I must admit the Veggie Fajita Wrap never tasted better. Nestled in our Skylark, with palm trees swaying in the warm desert breeze, I finally achieved a sense of well-being and concluded that Scottsdale was pretty nice after all. But if I ever go back, I’m staying at a Motel 6.