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The tyrants of summer

July 23, 2007|Marc Cooper | MARC COOPER is an LA Weekly columnist, contributing editor to the Nation and a visiting professor at USC.

SINCE HER INFANCY, my now-adult daughter and I have ritualized every summer with a week spent lurking as lizards at one or another blazing hot Southwestern desert resort. We're neither rock hounds nor tree huggers; what we seek during these annual pilgrimages are the crass bourgeois pleasures offered up by posh resorts at summer discount rates.

We look forward all year to soaking in the shallow end of a bath-temperature pool for hours, yes days, at a time and, under our wide-brimmed straw hats, plowing through crime thrillers and the latest biographies. We float on air mattresses, stare up at the still palms, doze under our shades, sip daiquiris and gaze at the pastel-colored hills during the golden hour of sunset. We lust for the triple-digit heat that, in the still desert hush, seems to burn away all our accumulated stress.

But with each passing year, our sun-fueled retreat becomes increasingly difficult to achieve.

I blame it on the tyrants of summer. No more than 4 feet tall, armed with goggles, floaties, rubber balls and an unbridled sense of entitlement, these pint-size despots have become the bane of our summer vacation. During this last week's stay in a lush property near Palm Springs -- one with more than two dozen pools -- my daughter and I found ourselves, much like Bedouins, caravanning from one oasis to another in a mostly futile search for simple serenity.

No matter where we landed, we were tormented by a universe of children splashing, throwing balls over our heads, yelling, cannon-balling, whining, moaning, putting their doggies into the water and endlessly and vociferously demanding and demanding and demanding. (Maybe we should recognize a new malady known as second-hand noise.) Even more cloying were their doting parents, who egged on the dunking and handstands when they weren't fussing over another lathering of SPF 50.

One burly dad stationed himself in the deep end, positioned two of his sons in corners of the shallow end, and they triangulated to monopolize the entire pool in a game of football catch. When he heard me politely ask one of his sons to move over a tad to leave the rest of us some room, this pop said: "Don't pay any attention, Brian. We have rights too." Roll over, or better, go dunk yourself, Tom Paine.

Children and adults do not always have the same interests or rights, at least they shouldn't. More than two decades ago, the recently deceased social critic Neil Postman -- in his books "The Disappearance of Childhood" and "Amusing Ourselves to Death" -- presciently noted the alarming erasure of the age-old and quite necessary boundaries between generations. When parents and their children wear the same short pants, wolf down the same fast food and play the same video games, we create a nation of self-centered adolescents -- a society almost bereft of either fully formed adults on the one hand or innocent, inquisitive children on the other.

We're so far down this road to perdition, I doubt there's much to be done to satisfy an old grump like me (or a much younger one like my daughter). Other than a bar, a casino or a strip club, what purely adult spaces remain in America?

So if we can't get some voluntary cooperation, what would be so wrong with a little old-fashioned enforced segregation? How about more resorts and hotels with separate-but-equal pools for kids and adults? How about designated "quiet" zones for those allergic to yelps of "Marco," "Polo"?

The trend, however, may be going the other way. We've already given up on our once-favorite desert destination in Arizona. A new artificial waterfall and a horrendous waterslide have effectively ceded the formerly sleepy property to the kids. Our second choice, a sprawling collection of cabanas and gardens three hours southeast of L.A. that once served as a hideaway for the Hollywood elite, is now installing, God help us, a Disney-like water park. Screaming kiddies will soon fire water cannons through the same space where Frank Capra peacefully penned "It's a Wonderful Life."

On our last afternoon there, we finally were driven back to our room after a moronic mom let her kids cannon-ball into the 103-degree Jacuzzi where we had holed up. At 9 p.m., under cover of darkness, we ventured out again to the main pool for a moonlight float. What we found instead was a 60-inch plasma TV and two mammoth speakers looming at the edge of the pool, which was filled with a gaggle of giggling, bobbing brats (and plenty of their parents too), eyes transfixed on "Monsters, Inc."

Above the glare of the screen and under the roar of a cranked-up soundtrack, a glorious but unnoticed desert sky sadly twinkled, and in the surrounding scrub a choir of cicadas rather hopelessly buzzed.

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