Note from the author: This originally ran in The Tribune in August 2013. Over the past few years, more people have approached me about this column than any other I’ve ever written.  So, I therefore present for your reading pleasure a command performance of “Gator Boy and the Bikini Mama.” – M.B.

Our summer vacation ended this week with the return of the Bird bunch to school. This week, I paused to reflect for a moment on the summer just past.

The summer of 2013 began with a family vacation across the western Gulf coast – an exciting endeavor in our Ford Econoline.  We traveled back and forth across Louisiana and Mississippi for several days.

Being fans of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives starring Guy Fieri, we made sure to have dinner at L.A. Pines Restaurant in Slidell, Louisiana.  It qualifies as a “dive”, being that the restaurant is basically an old mobile home nestled between the legs of a giant water tower.

Mississippi’s beaches don’t look anything like Florida’s or even Alabama’s.  The sand is not white, it’s gray, and the gulf water is green instead of blue.  On the upside, the beaches are less crowded and more family-friendly.

We vacationed in Gulfport. Our vacation plans included spending time in the hotel pool, which the children really enjoyed.  With one exception.

We met a kid I’ll call Gator Boy.  He pretty much lived in that hotel swimming pool all three days we were there.  Every time we went, he was there.  Morning, noon, or night.  And I know I was an annoying kid, but this guy could not take the hint.

“Let’s play gatuh,” he said to my kids every few minutes.  “It’s a game I made up.”

He kept talking about this gatuh game until I realized he meant ‘gator’.  In this game, he would emerge from underneath one of my kids and dunk them in the pool.  My children were kind and played with him, but when they would move to another area of the pool, Gator Boy would appear again and be as obnoxious as possible, poking and punching and, in general, making a nuisance of himself.

His mother lay in a poolside chair, looking like the lady in the Ban de Soleil commercial. Her skin glistened in the summer sun as she lay there on her back, in her bikini, listening to her iPod while smoking Marlboro Lights; she would turn over on her belly, read her Kindle, and smoke more Marlboro Lights while her son terrorized my children for three days.  He would try to get her attention, but she barely noticed he was there.  In fact, she actually left the kid in the pool with us while she and her man went to get more beer and cigarettes.

Bikini Mama seemed way more interested in sunbathing than dealing with her child.  That’s fine, but this was so noticeable that other families would come and go from the pool within minutes after taking in Gator Boy’s “games”.  Yet Bikini Mama never really moved, except to apply more suntan oil or light another cigarette.

It’s strange that despite all the other memories we made this summer, sometimes one of the kids will say, “let’s play gatuh.” And we have to laugh.

Michael Bird is a longtime weekly columnist for The Tribune.