Weekend at Bernice

BY JUSTIN SHANES

Ah, spring break. That time of year when we abandon the petrified routines of our sterile and quotidian lives. When the Apollonian gives in to the Dionysian, and concerns about firm receptions or utilities bills melt away like – as Roger Pao might put it – Jarvis Field ice rinks on a blistering Torts exam day. Ok, let’s not kid ourselves. Spring break is a time to get tan, get tanked, and get ass. It usually entails traveling long distances to an “exotic” location, only to be surrounded by the same kinds of people that you had to deal with before you even left (see Aruba’s new tagline as “The Equator’s Long Island”). And while warm weather and proximity to the ocean are requisite criteria, spring break is primarily about striking the right mix of relaxation and debauchery. Taking all this into account, there seemed to be only one place for me to go last week: Grandma Bernice’s house in West Palm Beach.

Choosing favorite peninsulas is sort of like choosing favorite children. But if pressed to pick just one, I think I would have to say Florida (Zamboanga Peninsula in the Philippines, you know I still love ya, girl). Florida: that glorious land of cheese-tastic theme parks, unrelenting hurricanes, and pregnant chads. Where the streets are paved with Gold Bond, and the Metamucil flows like wine. West Palm Beach itself is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, giving new definition to the term sprawl. I went into the ocean for a swim one day; by the time I got back to my beach chair, it had been replaced with an eighty-story condominium and an Outback Steakhouse. Everywhere you turn, gated communities are sprouting up: places like Frenchman’s Creek, Ocean Walk, Admiral’s Cove, and Mangrove Bay, to name a few. (Don’t even bother approaching the zoning board with a proposal if the name of your development fails to reference a body of water.) Soon the “palm” in West Palm Beach will just seem cruelly ironic. Nonetheless, the city still has plenty of charm. And by charm, I mean Baby Gaps.

My grandma’s house is tucked away in a private country club called Eastpointe, a place free from the hazards of daily life… and Gentiles. Upon arrival, the first order of business was food shopping. This was not mere coincidence, it was foreshadowing. You see, my entire trip to Grandma’s would revolve around food. At breakfast, we’d discuss what we were doing for lunch; at lunch, we reminisced about breakfast and made plans for dinner; at dinner, we arranged the midnight snack, the next morning’s breakfast, and even contemplated the possibility of a leakfast, brunch, and brinner. I was always being given food, but to say I wanted no more was an insult, something like Oliver in reverse. Challah, turkey, bagels, smoked salmon, pea soup, chopped liver… I felt like Hansel (but more Jewish), like those ducks that are force-fed bushels of grain to make foie gras. Grandma’s first question wasn’t about my flight, it was whether I drank orange juice or grapefruit juice. I told her I didn’t really have a preference. “Well, I’ll just get both,” she said. And you thought firms were willing to splurge on you?

After grocery shopping, I decided to go for a ride in Grandma’s golf cart, as is my wont whenever I visit. Because I’m all for living on the edge, sometimes I took that bad boy up to seven or eight miles-per-hour. One curious thing I noticed on my joyride was that there were other exclusive communities within the confines of Eastpointe. Gated communities within gated communities! I couldn’t gain entry to these smaller developments, though I wondered whether they themselves contained some exclusive subsections of their own, and so on and so forth until there was just some old guy sitting alone, feeling superior in a high-end cage. Do they make “member only” signs?

Next it was time to check out the pool. Normally, the pool area on spring break is swarming with young, scantily-clad sorority girls. They sip piña coladas, apply sunscreen to each other, play volleyball, and giggle over the new In Touch. Not here. No, unfortunately, most people at Eastpointe made planets look young. The residents rounded their ages to the nearest millennium. I got into a political discussion with someone, and only later did I realize that by “the first Bush” she meant the burning bush. Was this really the pool, or had I stumbled onto the set of Cocoon 3? I had to get out of there. Luckily, it was time to go to dinner.

Dinner the first night turned out to be the trip’s first real adventure. Problems began when I announced that Monday night was when 24 aired, and so we would have to be back before 9:00PM. I don’t miss 24. I don’t watch it late. For one hour, I don’t talk on the phone, I don’t surf the internet, I don’t eat or go to the bathroom, and I try to save breathing for the commercials. So what time did my grandmother make the reservation for? 8:00PM. Since we were traveling to the restaurant in a car and not a CTU chopper, our chances of making it back in time were effectively zero. What to do? 06:45:22: Panic sets in when we discover that all the other restaurants are booked or have hour-long waits. 06:50:33: I make a decision to try an oyster bar that might not be too crowded. 07:08:45: Arrive at the oyster bar. Place is packed, and the wait might exceed an hour. 07:13:58: Re-enter car and attempt to find another restaurant. 07:22:02: Find nice nouveau American placed called Off the Vine. 07:31:20: We are seated, but my grandma doesn’t like the table. 07:32:06: Seated at table with better view. 08:06:22: I go to the bathroom (number one). 08:43:49: The meal is over and we are about to leave. But my grandma’s lips are chapped and she can’t seem to find the lip balm in her purse. She asks if I can do it, but my search comes up empty, too. “Grandma!” I shout. “We are running out of time! Tell me where the balm is!” 08:47:19: The lip balm is found. We get into the car and drive home at 75 mph. 08:59:07: I make it home just in time to hear Kiefer Sutherland sweetly declare, “The following takes places between 10:00PM and 11:00PM.” Phew. And you thought your cliff diving stunt in Belize was living on the edge?

I had high hopes that day two would prove slightly better. Grandma dropped me off at the beach so that I could be alone. Finally, this would be my opportunity to meet some hot girls. And boy, did I find plenty of girls. And not one weighed an ounce more than 100 pounds. Maybe that’s because they were all six years old! Yup. The only “girls” there were little kids with their families, not a college student in sight. I go to the beach in Florida expecting to find Tri-Delt sisters ready to go party and end up with braying toddlers ready to go potty. Instead of Girls Gone Wild, I get Girls Gone Child! But as I had five hours left until Grandma picked me up, I figured I’d do some light beach reading. Some people like to read Danielle Steel or Clive Cussler on vacation. But when I’m looking for some mindless entertainment, nothing hits the spot like Max Frisch, whose 400-page novel I’m Not Stiller was assigned for Law & Drama. Seriously, nothing goes better with a banana daiquiri by the ocean than some post-war German existentialist literature. (Thanks, Bruce!) I penciled in “Ben” above “Stiller” on the cover to avoid potential embarrassment.

The rest of the trip more or less followed the same patterns. Eating, sleeping, bemoaning. The last night we ate at a sushi place with the infelicitous name of Tsunami. I felt slightly uncomfortable about eating there, but hey, both Bhopal and Holocaust were booked through the weekend. At least the food was great, though my grandma sent back her tuna for being “too sinewy.” Afterwards we went to see Hotel Rwanda, which helped put comments like “my tuna’s too sinewy” into perspective. Twelve hours and forty-seven thousand kisses on the cheek later (give or take five), I was flying Jet Blue back to New York. At take-off, Fox News was reporting that the Pope had died. By the time I landed, he was alive again. Was I flying back in time? Either this was some miracle (after all, sort of the pr
ovince of popes, no?) or Fox News had been putting out false information (after all, sort of the province of Fox News, no?). As I looked back on my trip, I realized it wasn’t so awful after all. I mean, who needs all-night-long foam parties in Acapulco when you can spend forty-five minutes reprogramming the clock in Grandma’s car in anticipation of daylight savings? Come on, is checking out one breathtaking church after another in Italy really better than watching one CSI rerun after another in the living room? No, despite all of my complaining, somehow I was still able to find the social in social security and make the best of my trip. Things could have been worse: I could have been in Jersey.

Justin Shanes is a 2L.

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