Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.
Welcome to ADHD.
[You in the Real World, be sure to click on the red underlined hyperlinks!]
How much longer we gonna take this? asks Screen Six, unhappy in the direct and unrelenting Puerto Vallarta sun of Mexico. I’m frying in this little skull.
“Relax, champ,” I tell him, ignoring the cheap shot. “We haven’t waited that long.”
Oh, really? Tell that to your beautiful brown-eyed bride!
Suddenly, Miss Laura’s lovely face is in front of mine. “I’m so sorry for you, babe,” she says, swallowing tears. “You were very excited about this excursion. We noticed you never got picked up because we’ve been watching from our cabin.”
I look past her at the massive Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ship, a giant hovering over everything in this tiny port of call. Early today, while the 1100 staffers of the “Star” tended clean-up duties, most of the ship’s 2400 passengers disembarked to go on scheduled adventures.
More than 90 minutes ago, I’d done the same. But our prepaid tour boat never arrived at the dock, leaving some 25 passengers riled and less than enthused about returning to Mexico’s famed equivalent of the French Riviera.
I kiss Laura’s anxious face, assure her I’ll still get to snorkel –
Liar! spouts Four. No tour boat in sight. They aren’t even responding to calls!
– and send her back to the ship to prepare for a special walking tour of the city, kidding her about it being “so boring” compared to the “great adventure” I’m about to have.
“I know,” I reply. “Up to this point, everything’s been pretty special. Beautiful ship. Excellent food. Superlative entertainment. It’s been, well, breath-taking.”
And knife-taking, jabs One.
“Yes,” I say, chewing the words distastefully, “my good knife is gone.”
With a hopeful tone, Two says, Maybe all that good stuff you mentioned makes up for your expensive scuba knife being stolen right out of your checked luggage – as it went through the Transportation Security Administration safety scan!
I wonder how I will set that stomach-churning grievance aside. But I wonder briefly because, mere moments after gritting my teeth, our long-awaited dive boat appears, inexpertly navigating the small marina and slowly but surely crashing into the dock.
In classic American style, many tourists beside me do not express their gratefulness at the possibility of a revived excursion. Instead, they express unkind words for their Hispanic hosts.
In classic Mexican style, the captain opens wide the beverage bar, saying, “Today only, and just for my gringo friends, no cost.”
Surprised, the grumblers lay down their complaints and pick up their drinks, taking full advantage of the free-flowing liquor. The ship’s crew do the same, led by their captain, whose behavior leaves no doubt that he’d gotten an excellent head start on everybody much earlier in the day.
Four assesses the situation. You’re going out on an extremely hot morn with a bunch of amateur divers you do not know, led by nationals who are out of touch with reality. Huge quantities of alcohol have been consumed, further blurring sound judgment. Water is available, but it’s warm, and putting untreated ice in your drink only heightens the likelihood you will ingest some parasitic nightmare, prompting you to be mated to a porcelain fixture within the next few hours.
Six agrees. Four’s absolutely right. Should be a great adventure!
Our boat is quickly, carelessly loaded. A swift and less than precise count of all passengers is taken by the swaying captain. Poorly moored lines – those that hadn’t come undone already of their own accord during the brief docking – are released and we begin to motor out into the grander water.
I, weary of repeatedly turning down sun-darkened hands extending potent drinks, walk to the front of the tour boat. I post myself out on its protruding rail, soaking up the breeze. American music floods the speakers, robbing the beauty from the increasing jungle countryside alongside which we sail.
Still, argues Three, it’s fun to hear the Hispanic accent bellowing oldies tunes.
What kind of big cats do you suppose roam those forests? asks Five. I scan the lush green growth as he ponders whether jaguars, ocelots, margays and rarer kitties might be present in great number with such undisturbed terrain. I’m actually still contemplating his first question when Five adds, Man, I’ll bet these jungles have some snakes that will give you the wrestling match of your life!
I shudder and try to downplay the scene. “Doesn’t matter, Five,” I reply. “We’ll be diving the waters, not bashing through brush.”
Several versions of popular American songs get warbled – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard The Turtles in Spanglish – and untold minutes later, we reach our dive site. While our sloshed captain explains the use of snorkel and mask to the newbies, I strap on gear –
Not your knife! reminds One.
– and hit the 91-degree waters. Every time I surface, I look about me in amazement. Above me is the striking green of the jungle, with its occasionally ear-shattering cacophony of sounds; below me, a fascinating aquatic Garden of Eden, silent and solid with exotic fish beside which I never dreamed I’d swim.
We are told to stay near the captain, who has donned his own skin-diving gear and joined us. He quickly scoops up several spiky animals –
Sea urchins, says Five, offering an endless lecture on the flora of this trip.
– which the captain mercilessly guts and waves about underwater, quickly attracting increasing numbers of bigger predators.
Say, seethes Four, that’s not right. Slicing and dicing innocent wildlife to put on a show. Swim away, Black … don’t encourage this.
Flippering to a quieter section, I dive until a curious horn blast gains my attention. Aboard the boat, the captain perches perilously above us. “Time to load, my friends. Let’s go to the next spot, gringoes!”
Last on board, I see the alcohol already flows faster than the tall tales. Rather than sit sour-faced by myself, I chat with a young lady whose husband could not make the trip. We discuss what we’ve seen and wonder aloud about the sites yet to be dived.
In no time, we reach the next drop-point, a quiet lagoon. “See you out there, Blackie,” says Mis Dina, and I am overboard. My diving is more difficult here as crew policy states I must lash a life vest to myself for safety. Unwinding the long cording of the vest and tying it to my leg, I gain a good 10 feet of free-dive before I struggle against the vest’s buoyancy. Fortunately, the area we plumb is shallow; visibility, crystal-clear.
For an hour, I am up and down, holding my breath to bursting point before ascending to gather life-giving air. Finally my lungs protest and I decide to board our tour craft for a quick sandwich washed down by warm water. I surface.
The dive boat is gone, says One. And I see he is right.
Five assesses available equipment. Mask, snorkel, fins, swim suit, vest. No shoes. No protective clothes. No phone.
And no knife, reminds One.
I look at the forbidding jungle to my right. At the ocean swells to my left.
Couldn’t be more than seven, maybe 10 miles back to the cruise ship, calculates Six. You can handle that.
I sigh heavily, pray, put my face down in the warm waters and swim, a less-than-wise man following a distant “Star.”
Postscript: At the risk of ruining a cliffhanger ending, I will tell you that on my way back home from the trip, I learn from the L.A. Times newspaper that a husband-and-wife team of TSA security agents at the Los Angeles Airport had stolen more than $600K in travelers’ possessions from luggage in just two years’ time.
And your knife, reminds One, always the thoughtful sort.
Post-Postscript: The day after I launched “Bad Moon on the Rise” as the Halloween column, I found this special photo.
Here for your benefit, then, is the picture of the costume I’d chosen the night I wound up in the hospital …
Yes, that’s me as “Popeye” and tiny Leah Blackwell as “Swee’Pea.”
And yes, I do hold a can of spinach in case I need extra strength. (Don’t know why I never opened the can – Popeye would have!!!)