Oh Rats!!

Thursday, July 30:

I’m glum today because I can no longer eat at the hotel buffet. Not that I’ve been banned due to overindulging or sneezing into a steaming cauldron of fish-head soup, but simply because I’ve lost my appetite for it.

Earlier today, Bernadette, Penelope and I were splashing about the kiddie pool at the hotel. Penelope has been bonding quickly with us helped in part by our willingness to flop about in a large puddle of water. Penelope giggles uncontrollably when she dumps small plastic cups filled with water on my head. She loves wearing my sunglasses and has a penchant for washing her flip flops with pool water. As we played, a rat ran along the sun-baked concrete between the kiddie and adult pools. The lifeguard grabbed a metal pole and swatted the rat, which tried to escape a brain-bashing by diving into the adult pool. That’s when I discovered that Japanese men can fly too because seven of them spring out of the pool faster than you can say “Smog Monster.” A second lifeguard grabs a skimmer, scoops up the rat and the lifeguard with the metal pole starts swinging away like he’s Ryan Howard. (I would have said David Wright but that would imply that the lifeguard couldn’t hit the rat.) Bern and I turn toward each other and she’s reading my mind: We’re not eating at the buffet tonight.

I tell this story because frankly there’s not much else to do in Fuzhou besides watch lifeguards treat rats like pinatas. The city isn’t known as a tourist destination so we visit the gorgeous Buddhist temple and wander the neighboring park early in the morning or late at night because it’s too hot to be outside during daytime. Walking out of the hotel is like walking into a blast furnace. So, I wheel Penelope around the lobby in her stroller, let her test her wobbly legs by walking up and down a flight of stairs holding her hand all the while. In the afternoons, Bern and I take turns sitting with Penelope while she naps. On my “off” days, I sit in the lobby and read a book of letters written by Theodore Roosevelt because I’m nosy and like reading other people’s mail. We swim, of course. And, we eat.

And eat. And eat.

And eating isn’t good because between eating breaks I sit bloated in the lobby with chicken’s feet running around in my stomach and I start to think. And thinking isn’t good for me now. I think about whether I can handle this responsibility. I think about what I will do if the market crashes and I lose my job. I think about how I’ll be 65 when Penelope is getting out of college. I think about what Bern would do if I drop dead and she has to raise Penelope on her own. (OK, with this one I just figure she’ll marry some rich guy and laugh about the days when she had to slum it with her first husband.) And it all scares the shit out of me.

But now it’s time to strap Penelope into the stroller and head to the restaurant where I’ll surely be eating some kind of fish that will be staring back at me. And I’ll feel as though the fish is staring into my heart, sizing me up as a father and a man. And I worry that I will fail.

I can’t wait to leave Fuzhou.

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