recently installed on Chicago’s sewers) I knew that in
its many incarnations, water had a complex, multi-tiered approach
to fraying my last nerve. A plan, I needed a plan…. brash,
yet subtle, lest I tip my hat too soon and thus prompt proactive
But lest one think I have become completely detached from reality,
I am aware that I am destined to lose this fight. The only question
is how, and how badly.
I will tell the tale of how I have come to this twisted blood
feud with the element that makes up 80% of my own body weight,
as well as the larger malevolent conglomerations of said fluid,
from rivers and lakes all the way up to the seas. It began many,
many years ago, when as a wee landlubber I first realized that
my encounters with bodies of water would come with a catch,
a hidden cost, a curse, if you will.
family was staying near a quaint, lovely little lake in Indiana.
Little did I know that beneath its calm surface lay an instrument
straight from the Spanish Inquisition known as an anchor. It
was half-buried at the bottom of the lake with about 4 or 5
feet of water above it in an area directly next to the pier.
With its hideous points exposed in the water, it must have been
licking its proverbial chops the day I jumped off the pier while
screaming like an idiot (‘cause that’s just what
kids do). I felt a sharp pinch as something punctured my knee,
and I climbed back onto the pier and toward the house to get
a band-aid. Now when you cut yourself underwater it doesn’t
always bleed right away, so when I turned around to tell my
mom what I was doing I was shocked to see a red carpet of my
own blood extending from the pier all the way to my leg.
Screaming like an idiot once again (‘cause that’s
what kids do), I was rushed as fast as a 1980 Mazda station
wagon would go to the nearest emergency room. In league with
my watery foe was a local policeman, who pulled over my mom
for speeding. Fortunately, his authority was no match against
the fury of a woman whose child was bleeding profusely all over
the interior of her car, and he escorted us the rest of the
way there. I have a vivid memory of a doctor pulling a curtain
out of the way to show me two splints going into layers of flesh,
cartilage, and bone. A little too enthusiastically, he asked,
"Hey, kid, ever seen the inside of your kneecap?",
at which point I did the proper thing and fainted. I did not
realize then, that this was my enemy’s first official
But the villainy freshwater-style had just begun. A few years
later, when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was in another lake,
raking for bottles and debris ironically enough, and I managed
to step on perhaps the only beer bottle that has ever been broken
from top to bottom and remained otherwise intact. Standing in
disbelief with a bottle attached to the entire underside of
my right foot, I let out a mighty howl when my younger brother
tried to detach it by smacking it with his rake. This assault
required in excess of 40 stitches from my heel all the way up
my little toe. Worse, I began getting visions of my toe healing
the wrong way and webbing to my foot, so one night in secret
I opened my Swiss Army knife, took a deep breath, and cut my
toe away from my foot. Bad, bad, bad. Now assuring myself of
a partially webbed toe, I knew the marker had been set:
A few minor skirmishes followed throughout the years, but a
truce had seemingly been reached. I occasionally dove into Lake
Michigan, but I was careful to get out before being recognized.
For the most part, I was content to confine myself to domesticated
bodies of water such as my bathtub, or one of the park district
pools. (It’s probably not fair to blame the elements for
the inescapable amount of urine, bleach, and other nastiness
found in public pools, but then again you never know…)
Over time I grew comfortable in the water, thinking it certainly
couldn’t be complicit in the actions of people littering
it with dangerous objects. I became a gung-ho enthusiast when
it came to swimming, diving, water skiing, etc.
When I moved back to Chi-town after four years at a landlocked
college, I didn’t hit the beach that often. Perhaps it
was that omnipresent dead-fish smell, or the punk-ass little
teenybopper lifeguards. But in the summer of 2000 I was psyched
about a beautiful vacation to the North Carolina coast. Some
friends and I had gone there the year before, and outside of
drinking myself stupid a few times, no major incidents had gone
down. This year, enter a happy little character called "Hurricane
In the days before we left for the trip, we had been feverishly
watching the news and monitoring web sites that showed up-to-the-minute
storm movements via radar and satellite. Hurricane Floyd had
been swirling viciously just off the eastern coast of the U.S.,
but it looked like it was going to shoot north without causing
much of a ruckus. We had a fun, uneventful drive across the
Appalachians, and then as we entered Virginia, a massive storm
hit. But we drove through it and when we got to the North Carolina
coast it was calm, but a little too calm, if you get my drift.
Looking out to sea, I noticed an eerie stillness to the clouds
that blanketed the horizon, which had a blackish-green hue.
The water, however, was frothing with activity—instead
of the typical lone wave rolling in, there were groups of three
or four waves only a few feet apart that were breaking into
the shore at a high frequency.
This was a boogie-boarding dream come true! Already feeling
claustrophobic from the long drive, some of us hopped out there
with our boards and fins and started riding the surf. It was
great. It was beyond great, we were cooking like real surfers,
really riding the waves and getting up in the air before crashing
upon the shore, laughing hysterically.
I made the decision to take one ride too many, of course…
Out in the water lying face down on my board, I patiently awaited
the next break, and the next thing I knew I was getting lifted
up. But then a strange thing happened--while I was still rising
on one wave I felt another wave start to sneak underneath my
legs and the back of my board started to tip forward. In a blink
of an eye I realized that the second wave was bigger than the
first, and suddenly the nose of the board was pointing down,
and then the third wave caught me and my now-upright board and
drove me straight down face-first into the sand. To further
add to my misery, a fourth wave then took me and pushed me,
with my face partially buried in the sand, about 10 feet towards
the shore until I was able to get up.
I slowly regained my composure and was immediately aware that
about one-third of my face was just screaming with pain. Once
I was able to stumble inside and look in a mirror, I saw that
most of the left side of my face was completely raw from my
eye sockets down to my jaw line. Fuck! Here it was 30 minutes
into a weeklong vacation in paradise and now I had this grapefruit-sized
abomination on my face.
It got worse.
for a day, but it was obvious the giant scorekeeper in the sky
had tallied up:
Now sure, I could have spent my next vacation visiting a nice
desert area like Arizona, or perhaps a ghost town in Colorado,
or even the famous Wall Drug in South Dakota. But no-o-o-o-o,
the sea it was to be. Off to the beautiful coast of North Carolina
I went again. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a much wimpier-looking
surf and I smiled smugly, feeling that as I had (sort of) survived
hurricane conditions the worst was over. But not being a complete
and total glutton for punishment, I was pretty content to swim
out with the boogie board just a little bit and wait for the
waves. I certainly wasn’t pushing my luck like setting
out chum for sharks or anything like that.
I think this time the surprise came on the second day of the
trip. Once again I swam out casually on my board, and then turned
and waited for that tasty wave to take me away Jeff Spicoli-style.
I caught a pretty decent ride and was cruising towards shore
when I felt an unusual itchiness as the wave washed over me.
Curious, I thought. Unfortunately, the itchiness rapidly turned
into a feeling of hot liquid fire attacking my cellular structure
all across my back. Puzzled and in pain, I ran back to the house.
My first thought was to wash off whatever weirdness was causing
this pain, so I burst into the shower and started rinsing off.
My now-wife came in to see what the deal was, and we determined
that I had
with only weeks to go until another masochistic trip to the
North Carolina coast, my options for retaliation appear to be
somewhat limited, and somewhat futile. I suppose I could go
the route of the youngster-peeing-in-the-hotel-hot-tub, but
that’s kind of gross and it’s more likely to bother
me than anyone else. I’m sure the sea has seen worse.
Another option is a boycott, but how do you boycott 80% of yourself,
much less something that directly and indirectly is responsible
for all life on the planet?
The only other option I can think of would require at least
a partial lobotomy, namely voting for George Bush in 2004. In
an indirect way I could then support him continuing to poison
our oceans, lakes, and rivers by scaling back the EPA and insisting
that global warming is just a fact of life and we better just
grin and bear it.
Or, I could continue consuming tequila as a remedy to all water-related
ills and ailments.
I think I like that option the best.
To be continued? Hopefully not, as the way I’m heading
it will look like this: