I would like to thank the funny little girl I encountered at Sea World-San Diego over Spring Break for inspiring some treasured memories to re-surface. Her remarks now top my list of “Best Overheard Conversations,” displacing previous champion, “Lewis and Clark had canoes full of alcohol.” Eavesdropping is underrated but it takes luck to happen onto something worth listening to. You also have to stop talking once in awhile to get it to work, which is part of my challenge. I am cleaning up some fiction to send out this way soon, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy another reminiscence of mine.
The little girl next to me launched herself over the handrail, sneakered feet flying into the air, tartan skirt flipping up to reveal white bloomers before she returned to hanging below the rail from her monkey-like arms. The crowd around us built; show time was gradually approaching. Every time she repeated the maneuver her foot connected with my leg as I impassively watched the masses through my sunglasses. Sometimes she brushed it lightly, sometimes there was definite contact. I wondered if the parents were watching me suspiciously, waiting for me to complain about their darling, but when I glanced their way they seemed oblivious, more intent on figuring out where the beer was sold and which of them would be going to get it. Two little girls were on the other side of the gymnast; a tot, maybe a sister, of about three and one I judged to be a friend about six years old, the same as my provocateur. She took a moment, not to rest, as her energy seemed infinite, but to report.
“Look, Ella, a bad guy!”
“Bag dye?” the tot chirped.
“Yep, that’s a bad guy all right. You can tell because he’s wearing a black and white shirt. All bad guys wear black and white.”
Big sister’s voice got deeper. “Alert! Alert! All officers be aware that a bad guy is leaving the building! He is wearing a black and white shirt and tacky pants. He is stealing orca meat!”
What was this? Tacky pants? Probably khaki pants, but I couldn’t tell without turning around and giving away the fact that I was eavesdropping. There could well have been a tastelessly dressed man walking around back there. And orca meat? What was this guy carrying? At that point the other six year old who had been silent until now pleaded, “Can we please pretend my blood has come back in my body so I can play now?” Obviously the poor child had been killed before I got in line, perhaps by the bad guys or the bag dyes.
“You can watch behind me so I don’t kick anyone,” the Orca Patrol Agent offered as she resumed flipping around the handrail and nailed me a good one against my left thigh. The dead girl sighed morosely and looked the other way.
I shifted a few inches to my right and noticed a woman nearby who may or may not have been glaring at me. It was hard to tell with the sunglasses, but she had definitely pointed her unhappy face in my direction. Did she think the girls belonged with me? Or did she think that in the absence of parental direction it fell to me by proximity to tell the little urchin to settle down? I wouldn’t do it. For one, we had all been standing in line for over thirty minutes to see a twenty-five minute Shamu show that wasn’t scheduled to begin for another twenty or so. Active kids have to move or they get insufferably whiny. Two, I remembered hours of sunny summer days as a child spent spinning around the tubular steel bars of our backyard swing set. We’d unhook the swings to practice our moves on the top crossbar that was baking hot from the sun. One evening playing after dinner I was rudely interrupted when the cute rope belt around my short set snagged on a bolt and I was hung up. My little sister ran to get my dad who laughed at the sight of me wriggling in midair before coming to my rescue. To our delight, rather than tell us to cut it out, he removed the bolts that had held the forsaken swings in place. As we girls grew and got more daring, we’d whip around that bar so hard the whole swing set would tip so the feet on one side would lift off the ground a few inches before our moving bodies counterbalanced it, and then would lift up on the other side. I am sure we toppled the whole thing over multiple times, counting it a worthwhile and exhilarating risk, until winter came or adolescence got the better of us, and our entertainments changed.
I doubted if Agent Orca had a dangerously unstable swing/gymnastic set in her backyard, but she had a handrail at Sea World and a few inches of clearance and I wasn’t going to try to stop her. If I was a few feet shorter, I’d have joined her. In my mind’s eye, I did.