Two sides of modern America

Posted: Apr 19, 2002 12:00 AM
On a recent trip to the Florida Keys, my family and I witnessed two scenes that illustrate some of what is delightful and a bit of what is dismaying in modern America. Let's start with the bad news: We were staying at the most family-oriented resort imaginable, complete with a pirate ship pool and plenty of chicken nuggets on the menu. (This is not the bad part, I'm getting to that.) The air was scented by fragrant flowers (6-year-old Ben's favorite part was riding his bicycle under a canopy of blossoms), and the accommodations heavily favored those using strollers and training wheels. Families were everywhere. Our room was hard by the marina, where cabin cruisers of various kinds were moored. On three successive days, two 20-ish ladies perched themselves on top of one of the boats and proceeded to go for an "even tan." As far as I could tell (they were about 30 feet away), they wore only the tiniest g-string with a triangle of fabric covering their pubic area. As for the rest, it was au naturel. There were a couple of young men fetching drinks for them and chatting. The men were clothed. Now one must assume that there was a degree of calculation or intent to shock in this behavior. They chose, after all, not a club catering to singles nor a nudist colony to display themselves, but a family-oriented resort. Our children, thank goodness, were too preoccupied with the pool, the lagoon and their favorite subject, ice cream, to take notice. But if they had, I would have been forced to adopt my judgmental matron tone. We are trying, after all, to raise young gentlemen, which is hard enough when you consider that they can burp on cue and think flatulence is the funniest joke on the planet. But in order to instill a respect for women, we really do need ladies to behave to like ladies -- or at the minimum to keep their clothes on in public. What can these gals be thinking? That they are driving the married men vacationing with young children wild with lust? That the older children will get a peep show? That their bodies are community property? They probably are. On the bright side, just down the road is the Dolphin Research Center, which is staffed by idealistic young people committed to the welfare of Florida's wildlife, and particularly of marine mammals. In the driveway stands the manatee rescue vehicle, ready at a moment's notice to speed off on a humanitarian mission. And in the pools out back, you can meet and greet a succession of charming dolphins, and even rub their backs and shake hands ... well, fins. Environmentalist purists would not be entirely pleased, I suspect, with the center, since it permits those with advance reservations to swim and cavort with the dolphins, and the purists always insist that asking a dolphin to do anything that it wouldn't choose to do in the wild is some sort of capitalist exploitation. Then again, even at the very, very environmentally conscious Baltimore Aquarium, they have their dolphins fly into the air to touch a little red ball suspended over the tank. Besides, it's hard to believe that the humans who get the chance to play with dolphins for a half-hour will not come away more committed than ever to keeping the oceans clean and buy only tuna that is labeled "dolphin safe." The people who work with these animals are clearly well-informed and well-trained. One tank contained a 24-hour-old dolphin with its mother. The birthing process for these mammals is quite amazing, when you consider that the baby, which must breathe air, is born underwater. The mother must push it to the surface quickly to fill its lungs. The little nipper we saw seemed to be swimming remarkably fast, but they explained that the baby isn't actually swimming at all. He's getting a free ride in his mother's wake. Dolphins can hold their breath for 8 to 10 minutes and have no gag reflex, since they breathe through the blowhole on top of their heads and not through their throats. Most wondrous about these creatures is their obvious intelligence. Some clearly love to perform and are motivated by human praise and play, as much as by the herring they gobble as rewards. Their performance was infinitely more tasteful than that of the human exhibitionists.