I never saw any security guard I didn’t love as much as I didn’t love that security guard.
It was not-love at first sight.
A mountainous security guard in an unnamed aquarium in an unnamed city defended the touchable stingrays from terrorists, tornadoes and children.
“Two fingers PLEASE, two fingers PUH-LEASE,” bellowed Stingray Bouncer from within a sea of children flocking to the stingray tank, where in exchange for your self-esteem and your sanity you can touch the stingrays under Stingray Bouncer’s threatening gaze.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 250 pounds, Stingray Bouncer had a manic, round-eyed stare, a ginger beard, full-sleeve tattoos, a self-corroding heart and an aquarium-issued polo shirt.
I was feeling trepidatious, but the children rushed to the tank, their eyes as limpid as the blue pool mist rising into the skylight’s slanted beams.
Stingray Bouncer inhaled the threat of their approach. His chest swelled. His eyes boggled. His lips compressed then vanished into his stout, disbelieving face, which he cupped in one giant hand while squeezing his other hand between his forearm and bicep so he couldn’t accidentally rip anyone’s larynx out.
“Woahhh they’re so prettyyyy!” cooed my Middleborn son, who loves monsters. The stingrays flowed under Middleborn’s outstretched hand. His eyelashes swept onto his cheeks and fluttered in the skylight haze.
Middleborn’s hand relaxed. His third finger unfurled.
“I said TWO FINGERS,” shouted Stingray Bouncer.
I rushed to Middleborn and whispered in his ear.
“For heaven’s sake, sweetie, don’t unfold your other fingers here,” I hissed.
Middleborn barely heard me. He was naming the stingrays after their hidden attributes.
“That one’s Slimy; that’s Tiny, that’s Cutie, that’s Speedy, that’s Big Friendly,” rattled Middleborn, pointing to each ray. “That’s, uh, Other Big Friendly, that’s The Weird One and that’s Poopy.”
I wondered if we were allowed to name the sting rays.
Meanwhile, my Firstborn son strode to a jellyfish tank featuring large-print instructions on how to approach and touch the jellyfish. He stuck his hand into the hand-shaped hand opening in the top of the jellyfish tank.
“YOUNG MAN,” bellowed Stingray Bouncer’s beard, “Do NOT put your hand in that TANK.”
Firstborn looked around, wondering what dope had put his hand in a forbidden tank.
“I said hands OUT of the tank!” yelled Stingray Bouncer.
Firstborn yanked his hand out of the opening and jumped back.
The Husband was confused and decided to push the issue.
“Hey, no offense,” said The Husband, who is also bouncer-shaped, “but what’s with the instructions on touching the jellyfish?”
Stingray Bouncer’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t realize there were other alphas in this aquarium. Maybe he had a mutiny on his hands.
“Usually, they figure it out when they see the ‘Do Not Touch’ decal,” said Stingray Bouncer, gesturing to the “Do Not Touch” decal lower down on the jelly tank.
The Husband squared up his glutes. Stingray Bouncer drew back his shoulders.
I covered my little, feisty twin’s eyes with my hand, but my hand had stingray water on it so Little Feisty spluttered, grabbed my shirt hem and scrubbed his eyelids with it.
The Husband decided to let it go. He came back to the tank and leaned over our four boys, who were now calling out the stingrays’ names as the graceful beasts swam past. And there they remained. For 30 awkward minutes.
Stingray Bouncer had eaten his lips by minute 20.
His cheeks swelled with a desert hunger.
Three times he paced to a megaphone and blasted warnings NOT to touch the stingrays’ tails, NOT to use more than two fingers, NOT to grab the stingrays or insult them in any way.
“Guys,” I said, cautiously, “aren’t you about done petting the stingrays yet?”
“Oh no, Mom, we’re just getting started,” said the big, sweet twin.
I was hangry. I bobbed over to a Starbucks selling $10 lattes inside the aquarium and I dared my gentle palate to weather THAT assault, but in the end I decided it would be better to wait for dinner, or death.
I paced to the octopus tank and sweet-talked the octopus, but he wasn’t falling for my charms. He lurked in his cave like a grunge rock song not yet to its chorus.
“OK, Mom, I guess we gotta go,” said my sons, shaking their wet hands at my face as they approached.
Stingray Bouncer watched their every move.
“We — we can go?” I asked, hopeful and amazed.
“Yeah, Dad says we gotta give Stingray Bouncer a break or he’ll explode.”
“Hey Mom,” said Firstborn. “You know when Stingray Bouncer gives a girl his phone number, he tells her it’s JUST TWO DIGITS, JUST TWO DIGITS PLEASE.”
“Hey Mom,” put in Middleborn. “You know what they feed the stingrays?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
I absolutely howled.
“But don’t joke about Stingray Bouncer,” said Big-Sweet.
“Yeah,” finished Little-Feisty, “Cuz he’ll whip out his tail and tase you.”
And I died laughing.
We now have a whole slate of Stingray Bouncer jokes. He’s our toast and tradition.
Our touchy subjects, our tense encounters, our stressful days and our hangry hours are no match for the casual input of a Stingray Bouncer joke. And even though I do not love that security guard, I can safely say that I do not, not love him.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.