Monday, May 3, 2010
Here’s the idea: you put on a wetsuit. One of the crew members tosses a decapitated tuna head into the water, affixed to a tow rope. Another crew guy spills a steady trickle of fish guts into the water. Since we are in South Africa's “Shark Alley” – the cunning plan is to draw as many sharks as possible so that when we get into the “shark cage” the sharks will come along, expecting to eat something.
“You should go in,” says Sheree…who is the only one who wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. It’s one of those adventures where I would look at a brochure; roll my eyes and wonder briefly what kind of moron would be stupid enough to pay money and actually go into shark infested waters ON PURPOSE.
“Me?” I ask, squeaking just a little. “I should go in?”
“Yup. I’m going to take pictures from here. Do something I’m not doing,” she says.
I decide not to point out that I do lots of things she doesn’t do: peeing standing up, for example. But I have already made up my mind to go into the cage. I am, after all, paying two hundred dollars so that I could get up a little past four, and finish my morning in the water with sharks. My mom didn’t raise any idiots. (Well she did…but I am not one of them.)
“All divers must pick up their wetsuits on the first deck,” says the captain, an affable craggy faced man who drops tourists into shark water for a living.
With one final thought of “What the HELL ARE YOU DOING???” I join the line up of brain dead prospective chum donors. Most of them are twenty-somethings from around the globe. There are several blond gym bunnies and their attending frat boy/muscle head/young-guys-who-can’t-seem-to-keep-their-pants-up companions.
The captain sizes me up and hands me a wet suit. It’s sopping wet and heavy and looks like it’s designed for someone of more conventional size. (I am a touch rotund.) I look at the rubber scrap.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
He nods and responds “Ja Ja” which is South African for “Yes Yes.”
I go to the head to put the wet suit on – having no desire to do what I am certain will wind up being a very undignified procedure in front of the gym bunnies.
As I stand locked in the tiny room with the outer space looking toilet in my underwear, the ship takes off. It seems to me they could give some warning…that someone could call out: “Hey Disgruntled Little Fat Guy In His Underwear In The Head: We Are Planning To Take Off With a REAL Joyful Spurt of Speed Now.”
I lurch to one side, banging my head on some mysterious pipe, begin cursing anyone and everyone as someone knocks on the door.
“In a minute,” I call.
The fricking wet suit is inside out. I pull at it, still as dubious as an elephant contemplating a napkin tutu…but the idea of bravely facing sharks in their own environment without peeing my pants sustains me.
I settle onto the tiny toilet seat and thrust one leg into the wet suit. No. That’s not the right word: I TRY to put my leg into the leg and am stopped by clammy rubber. It feels gross. But I, Great White Hunter, do not know the meaning of the word "gross." Ahem.
I try to work the rubber over my leg and it isn’t going.
Someone knocks again. The boat lurches to one side. I bang my head again. Shit.
“In a minute,” I call cheerily. Dork, I think. Did you SEE me come out of here since the last time you knocked?
I have the wet suit leg almost up to my knee now and am slowly working the rubber down my ankle.
Sheree forgot her sea bands somewhere. And I have taken seasick medication…so I gave mine to her. And the head is starting to smell bad. Diesel fumes? Poop? Sea? I stop my brain right there, resolving NOT to think about it. For the love of God: don’t go there. Nossir. Four fricking hours on the fricking water surrounded by gym bunnies…and me heaving my guts into the water? No way the Great White Hunter will be seen like that.
The leg finally kind of is on and I must now raise my other leg, while balancing one butt cheek on the toilet seat in the rocking boat while I try get my other foot in. (Like that’s gonna happen.)
The boat pitches again and my precarious balance is disrupted and I slide off the toilet and, with a fleeting thought “this is really gonna hurt,” slam onto the hard metal floor.
Knocking again. This time more insistent.
I ignore it.
I am pinned on the floor, one leg straight, the other bent at a vaguely unnatural angle because I can’t get it through the rubber. I try to think through the motions that will allow me to get up. I brace my hands on the toilet seat (don’t even think about it)…and the almost smooth wall and shove. It almost works, but the boat runs into another ice burg and it lurches and I thump to the floor.
Fury charges my muscles and, in the midst of a fifty-something tantrum I thrash and shove that fricking leg forward with all that is within me and am rewarded by the appearance of a big toe…nearly…at the bottom of the leg. The knee pad is still around my ankle…but I choose to celebrate the small things.
Seizing the moment, I struggle to my feet and try to thrust my arms through the microscopic arm holes. Does the head actually stink more than it did a minute ago? Are they piping the diesel fumes directly in here? Who the hell is smoking? Are they hitting waves on PURPOSE?
I am suddenly and without warning in the familiar position of being driven to the floor, only now I have one arm trapped under me.
“Piss off,” I call out cheerily.
Arms are easier than legs and I get both of them into the wet suit finally and realize there’s no way I can stand up. The rubber traps me in a forward leaning position and I look like I should be ringing the bell at Notre Dame, not facing down sharks.
No way this suit is the right size.
I sigh…ignore the knocking…and work the suit off.
When I go up top Sheree shrewdly observes. “You’re not in a wet suit.”
I just look at her.
“They didn’t have my color.”
I just look at her for a long moment. She shrugs and goes back to snapping pictures, enthusing about what wonderful shots she’s getting, completely indifferent to my recent suffering and obvious need for a touch of human comfort.
I shrug and decide I wanted to take pictures from the start.
This is one of them.