MAL DE MER AND OTHER MISERY

By Steve Dresselhaus:

While I am a missionary now, with a message of hope for a brighter, better future, both short and long term, I have not always been a nice person. In fact, I went through a season of my life when I was pretty much nothing but a self-serving, pleasure-seeking adventure junkie. I lived and worked as a SCUBA guide and instructor at several spots in the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic.

For a single guy, this really was a dream life. Diving, adventure, shipwrecks, sharks, fast boats, tall blond tourists, white sand beaches and palm trees all made for a pretty exciting life–which tragically eroded away until nothing was left but middle class suburbia, but that is a tale of woe and misery to be told later. Back then in the 70s, prior to suburbia, there were several of us, really only a handful of us, who early on became certified SCUBA instructors with a cluster of certifying agencies. NAUI, PADI, CMAS, YMCA were the letters after our names; and people thought we were either board certified brain surgeons or part of a clandestine branch of the military. Those who knew us and what we did, with feelings  of awe and envy, referred to us as the “bronze godlings.” I’m not making that up, they really did. Now 35 years later, “pale Buddha” is a more likely moniker.

Lest any young man be lured into this lifestyle with unrealistic expectations, I must, in the spirit of honesty and transparency, engage in full disclosure. Dues must be paid in order to reach this earthly Nirvana, that wonderful place known only to underwater adventurers. The heavy price extracted from me to become a bronze godling, a man of the sea, was enduring chronic “mal de mer,” “mareo,” or–as they say in proper French–“hurlies de les cookies.” I got seasick. I mean like, really seasick every single day. Not just the kind of seasick where I felt icky, but the kind where I became the envy of every rail thin fashion model in America. I became a virtual hurl-o-matic. Every day I would captain my boatload of tourists out to the dive site. Every day started with me being the gallant man of the sea, the teller of tales, the fearless one, the tier of cool knots, the fixer of all things broken , and the source of the legend of Fabio. I would stand at the helm reading the far horizon, the northeast trades blowing through my shoulder-length sun-bleached hair as the boat raced across the transparent blue water, my bare suntanned chest and broad swimmer’s shoulders glistening in the tropical sun, and then wretcheleguglegurp, I was at the edge of the boat, on my knees, hands on the gunnels, my face over the water, and doing what we euphemistically call “feeding the fish.” Day after day I got so sick I thought I would die but was afraid I wouldn’t.

The aura of the mighty man of the sea was shattered in a heartbeat. The bronze godling became a mere mortal. The tall blond tourists shifted their attention to the potbellied rich guys with all their new equipment, assuming a direct correlation between cool equipment at sea with a cool Porsche on land. I was left to contemplate death alone. In my humiliated and weakened condition the local deck hands brazenly called me to my face what I already knew they called me behind my back, “El marinero verde,” (the green sailor.)

To my credit I stuck it out, I endured the pain, the humiliation, the rejection and the ridicule. The day came when I did not barf at sea. The day came when I did not feel sick nor even queasy. When that day came, however, I did not revert to being a beneficent bronze godling. No, I became a cruel manifestation of Neptune, eager to seek revenge on those who had laughed at my misery and taken advantage of my weakness. Harking back to my Nordic roots, I became the merciless thunder-throwing Thor. I became the angry god of the sea, whose sole purpose was to inflict hurlies de les cookies on people who only wanted to have a good day at sea.

My co-captain and I would often take unsuspecting individuals fishing. There was a great spot south of Key West, near the lighthouse at Sand Key, where the Gulf Stream would butt up against some reefs, making the water rough and choppy but full of fish. As our clients* would grow silent, which is the very first evidence of seasickness, the evil within me would well up. “Seymour,” (not his real name since I don’t know what the statute of limitations is for premeditated causing of seasickness), “what do we have for lunch?” “Well, cap’n,” my co-conspirator would reply, “we have some leftover cold, greasy fried eggs with the burnt brown, crusty edges. Want one?”

To the growing sounds of silence emanating from our tourists a bit of local color was added, green, not real green, more of a bile yellow, more of a jaundiced color, but close enough to green to be called green. Silence and green: my Neptunian evil was beginning to reign in triumph. As my clients’ misery deepened, my sadistic joy increased exponentially.

“Seymour, toss me the knife. I need to cut some more squid for bait. No wait, never mind. I’ll bite the squid in half.” There is a direct causal relationship between rough water, rocking boats, engine fumes, raw, slimy, mucus-slathered squid being bitten in half and severe, eruptive hurlies de les cookies. With this method I’d say the success rate of intentionally inducing sea sickness approaches 100%.

The audible results of biting raw squid in half while in a rocking, bouncing boat full of silent, green, fume-sniffing tourists from Nebraska could best be compared to the building crescendo of the 1812 Overture which culminates with the cannon blasts. Boom, boom , boom de boom BOOOOOOOM. The sounds became primal, animalistic, subhuman. The sounds revealed the apex of misery. I reveled in my cruel victory. The visual image of a boatload of flatlanders in the final stages of hurlies de les cookies will be left to the imagination of the readers, since small children may be reading this and I don’t want to get in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission for printing objectionable material online.

Those days of intentional cruelty are long gone, and yes, I really am a missionary. I am a changed man. Now I preach a message of love and reconciliation. While I may have repented of my evil days of yesteryear, I must confess to looking back on those fun, wild days with no small amount of yearning and nostalgia. If you the reader happen to be one of the people in whom I induced hurlies de les cookies, I humbly beg your forgiveness, although, if given the opportunity to do so again, I’d jump at the chance faster than greased lightning.

*Because the institute I worked for received grants from government agencies at times, many of our clients were junketeering government-type people. They deserved no mercy. To my knowledge, I never intentionally mistreated an honest tourist.

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2 thoughts on “MAL DE MER AND OTHER MISERY

  1. Lots of laughs, Steve. I really am having a hard time imagining you as that evil Neptune, but if you say so….

    Roberto Correcto

    • Bob, I really was an evil guy, but selectively so. If the tourists or scientists were what they said they were, my co-captain and I were good to them. If they were a bunch of junketeers using us for a free dive or fishing trip, then Eddie and I were not so nice.
      Steve

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