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Life’s Unwritten Rules

The chief chaperone for Bus #2 (the friendly one who speaks in italics) sidled up to me.

Approximately 8.2 inches too close.

Compelling me to step back without appearing like I was stepping back.

“Well, that was a memorable experience.” Her italics made clear she was making a dramatic, unclear statement that compels a man to stop and listen.

Even though his bladder is screaming at him for drinking that second large cup of coffee waaaay back in Tampa before foolishly boarding an early morning charter bus to Orlando.

It was an IB middle school band trip to an invitation-only music clinic at Disneyworld. Perhaps the 40 young Mozarts on her bus had broken into a soaring, transcendental, acapella version of In Dulce Jubilo before annotating War and Peace and releasing a joint study announcing a groundbreaking Grand Unified Theory of Physics.

Or they had just behaved like 40 middle schoolers on a bus.

She heaved an italicized sigh. (The world would apparently be waiting for its Grand Unified Theory.)

She stepped forward. “There was a rather PG-13 version of Truth or Dare.”

I stepped back. “At six in the morning?”

Step forward. “And one of the boys stole one of the girl’s purses, removed a feminine product and began passing it around the bus.”

Step back. “Strawberry sparkle lip gloss?” (I was now pinned against a Disney hedge.)

Step forward. “No, the other feminine product,” she said. “How was the behavior on your bus?”

Nearly toppling over hedge. “Oh, it was great. The kids were very well behaved.”

At least that’s what my mouth said.

Meanwhile my brain was seriously rethinking the last 90 minutes.

Had the largest hole in my head spoken truthfully, it would have said, “Actually, I was sitting in the front of Bus #1 comfortably reading the paper and commenting to another chaperone that the bus driver clearly didn’t color inside the lines as a child because he certainly couldn’t drive inside them as an adult. And, frankly, the eighth graders could have stuffed the sixth grade bassoonist down the bus toilet and I wouldn’t have even noticed.”

Fortunately, I have a very active social filter and only say about 40 percent of the foolish things that flit through my skull.

She nodded. “Probably because the band teacher was on your bus,” she said.

I politely overlooked the fact that my own highly intimidating presence received no credit for the perhaps entirely fictional superior behavior on my bus. “Well, she even terrifies me, so you may be on to something there.”

Then I sprinted to the Disney bathroom.

Because, as everyone knows, you NEVER use the bathroom on a charter bus.

At least everyone apparently knew that except me.

In 2011 I once boarded a charter bus for a 9-hour trip to Sea Camp in the Florida Keys. And when I emerged from the bus bathroom, I encountered a red-faced, sputtering bus driver. “WHO USES THE BATHROOM ON A CHARTER BUS?!” he screamed.

I had violated an unwritten rule. Bathrooms on charter buses are like those expensive, fancily printed napkins on the sink in your neighbor’s guest bathroom.

You’re never supposed to use them.

(Important note to guys: Just shake your hands vigorously over the sink and wipe them dry on your buttocks.)

And here I was, chaperoning the precious offspring of real adults again, and I’d made another major misstep.

No one told me that chaperones were actually supposed to watch the kids while they were on the bus.

It frankly seems rather counter-intuitive. What farmer watches 40 free range chickens once they’re jammed into a small cage?

Apparently a good middle school chaperone does a lot more than repeatedly count to six or seven at Hollywood Studios and grumble, “For the love of gahd, would you people make up your minds?”

That’s the problem with society. It has a lot of unwritten rules you magically have to know.

Like when you step into an elevator full of strangers. You’re supposed to mutter a number and immediately whirl 180 degrees, facing the closing elevator door.

No exceptions.

You should never just board and keep facing all of the strangers. And then, to break the growing tension, loudly ask, “So what d’yall think of the president?”

Another unwritten rule?

Fifty-one year old men should not go into Disney parks alone.

Which is exactly what I had to do for three full hours before all the free-range chickens joined me at lunch.

“Awesome!” I first thought, speed-walking toward Toy Story Mania in Pixar Place. “I have three hours to do whatever I want to do at Disneyworld!”

Then I stopped. 

Because it was going to play out one of two ways.

I was going to climb into a single car all by myself.

And slooooowly roll past all the other people in line staring at the 51-year-old man riding the Toy Story 3D shoot-em game all by himself.

Or I was going to sit next the 8-year-old son of some couple from Italy. And, when I scored 150,400 to his 88,000 points, I would be screaming, “IN YOUR FACE!” in incomprehensible English to a complete stranger child instead of one of my own daughters.

I couldn’t figure out which made me feel more pathetic.

So I searched the town square for an empty park bench.

To keep me safe from all the ole-people scooters out in force, hunting potential victims that morning.

And because there is an unwritten rule that you just don’t sit down on a park bench that another person is already sitting on unless it’s longer than five feet.

Finally finding an empty one, I sat.

So that I looked like a proper dad waiting for his kids to get off a ride that started making him feel motion sick once he turned 40.

And I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Until another guy came up.

And plopped into the park bench beside me.

Long, awkward pause.

“An absolutely beautiful day, isn’t it?” he italicized.

The bottom quarter of my face smiled. And I slowly, subtly and incrementally slid away, politely wedging myself into the corner of my bench.

Because that’s what the other rule says.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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