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Tuesday, 29 April
White Whale! Holy Grail!

It was my father's birthday today, so I gave the cantankerous old bastard a phone call. I asked how his day was going. "I went to Ernie's and had a hamburger," he said. "Now I'm playing with my guns." Golden years! Actually, he does have his fun, of a sort--he spent a few minutes explaining that even though the economy is falling into the septic tank, he's still making money. I didn't bother to tell him that I couldn't tell a money market from a cheese market, and anyway, he lost no time making it clear that I will never have to: he enjoys, in every conversation, explaining to me the various ways he is burning through any meager inheritance I might think of looking forward to. This time, it's a fishing trip that he's taking in July. He and a buddy are taking a seaplane flight somewhere into B.C. to stay in a lodge and fish the inlets. "It's going to set me back four thousand bucks!" he crowed. "So you're not getting that."

His birthday is the opposite of my birthday! I thought. It really makes me laugh, because I hate myself. And really, it is kind of funny. Anyway, we chatted about the trip a bit; he's very excited. "So you're not ocean fishing, then?" I asked. "Oh, fuck no. I'd rather fish than puke." Eminently sensible. Words of wisdom! In fact, that's what I'm putting on the grasping bastard's tombstone: "DISPLAYED INDIFFERENCE TO ESTATE PLANNING; OPPOSED TO VOMITING."

Then he mock-threatened that if the economy really tanked that he and Mom would move in with us. This was so comically inconceivable that we both shared a laugh. This is how you grow closer together with your parents: you gracefully accept the fact that as the years continue, it becomes clearer and clearer that you find each other alien and weird. It's funny!

I'm with him on the ocean fishing thing, though. Not that I've ever been ocean fishing. But I did once go whale-watching.

It was back in '94 or so that a bunch of us computer buddies--oh, all right, if you must know, there was a period in my life that I was an AOL user, and I frequented the trivia games--decided to "meet up," as we youngsters liked to call it, in "real life." And so the lot of us found ourselves all together at a hotel in San Jose.

I was working retail at the time, and it took my last cent to even get there in the first place, so when the whale-watching expedition got put together, I demurred. But a bunch of us had already gotten drunk together the night before, and, inexplicably, the others decided against all reason that they liked me, and so they paid my way--generous friends! I will never forgive you--and so I was suddenly in too.

No matter how much I might want to, I will never forget this trip. The boat was about 30 feet long or so, and the sky was slate-gray as we TOOK TO THE WAVES! And it was fun! For about fifteen minutes. P. was the first to fall as we met the swells. You all know the common theme of stories like these: Uuuuup, dooooowwwn, uuuuup, dooowwn. P. went down almost instantly; he retired to the meager little cabin and lay on a bench like a discarded valise. He was about the same color, too; he moaned like an old door.

I assumed I was made of sterner stuff than that, and jauntily strode the pitching deck, occasionally jauntily falling down to relieve the growing mood of unease. M., a vivacious blonde, was the next to succumb, and she daintily donated her lunch over the side of the boat. "I feel a lot better!" she exclaimed, which earned her some glares from other passengers. I was still doing okay, but I must say I was feeling . . . off.

M.'s yarking had, of course, moved others to similar reactions, and the dominoes were now starting to fall; temporary friendships were formed among the side-by-side vomiters, with much earnest back-clapping and shoulder-massaging amongst former strangers who found sudden solidarity with the people emptying their stomachs right next to them. The passengers were also beginning to unite in the feeling that this sucked.

We hadn't seen any whales at all. The crew clearly didn't give a shit; this was par for the course.

By now, I couldn't ignore that I was being affected. It wasn't nausea, really--I'll go ahead and let you know now that I did not throw up on this trip. It was more like an all-consuming awfulness of the entire body. My head felt swollen and ached, my skin felt taut and uncomfortable, and I had an uncomfortable feeling of dissociation from my legs, as if they existed independently of my upper body. I had no idea what to do about this. I quickly realized what not to do, which was to look at anybody else. By this point, fully four-fifths of the passengers were the color of dingy underwear; many were creeping around the deck on hands and knees, supplicants to a God that either wasn't listening or, alternatively, was hugely entertained. One woman, who herself seemed to be immune to the pitching seas, was shouting at any crew member who would listen (zero) to turn the boat around, this on behalf of her stricken husband, who was red-facedly vomiting nearly continually, because of his "bad heart."

Can you puke to death? I wondered. I figured we were going to find out. Some middle-aged fellow pitched forward with such force that his eyeglasses leapt off his face and joined his last meal into the waves; he waved at them weakly and forlornly. He helplessly and touchingly rubbed his unhappy face for a moment, feeling the unfamiliar nakedness briefly, before once again leaning over to unmaw. Closest to me was another guy who wore a khaki-green rain slicker, and it wasn't until that moment that I fully realized the meaning of the phrase "turning green." He was almost literally the same color as his jacket. He looked like the villain from I Know What You Did Last Summer if here were the Gorton Fisherman and also a face-painting fan of Army football.

For my part, I had my own strategy. I couldn't stare at the waves; they just made me vertiginous. I couldn't look at anyone else; that just made me invent strained, ridiculous comparisons. Plus, they looked worse than I felt, at least the sufferers. Worse were the smug fuckers who were feeling no effects at all. They strode proudly around the deck, and we were all too weak and miserable to do the right thing, which would have been to throw them screaming overboard. So I did this: I stared.

I found a distant set of hills on the horizon from which we had set from (I told you it didn't take long for us all to go wobbly). I fixed on that set of hills. And I stared at it, and stared at it, and stared at it. I could probably draw the precise shape of that set of hills from memory to this day. Those hills were my referent for sanity. I didn't feel better for doing this; the point was, I didn't feel worse.

Eventually--we never saw any fucking whales, of course, unless someone barfed up just the right undigested Animal Cracker--the crew relented in the face of our wretched faces, and they turned back. It took us six days to return to the shore. By which I mean probably forty-five minutes. I maintained my bug-eyed watch on the hills the entire time, clutching a post on the deck like a strangler. The next day, my nerveless fingers could barely pick up a pen, not even to stab the people who had kindly paid for my whale-watching ticket.

It's helped me out a lot writing this. It really has. For one thing, I now know what I'll be putting on my father's headstone. And even better, I know what I'm putting on mine.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


They both beat Ahab's sorry-ass lament:


Comment number: 017294   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on April 30, 2008 09:49 AM from IP:

Umm what are you doing posting more then once less then two weeks? Stop teasing hehe.

Comment number: 017295   Posted by: Chris C on April 30, 2008 06:00 PM from IP:

There are a lot of people from that boat that deserved a beating that day...

our friend S who came to announce that the motion of the boat didn't bother her at all, but all the people puking around her made her kind of nauseous

oh.. and whoever it was who took my picture leaning over a bucket.

Or the person who ushered M's vomiting with the phrase "can you smell the diesel fumes"?

Or back to S for the life threatening drive back to the hotel.

I left my lunch in san francisco.

Comment number: 017299   Posted by: Amy on May 3, 2008 11:46 PM from IP:

Since you're interested in him enough to give him a shout-out on your tombstone, I thought I'd let you know that one of the best Halloween costumes I have ever seen was just this past October -- a Gorton's Fisherman. And he was accompanied by a Morton Salt girl It was old timey capitalism at its finest.

Comment number: 017303   Posted by: Amanda on May 5, 2008 03:01 PM from IP:

I just laughed till I puked.

Comment number: 017305   Posted by: Bonnie on May 6, 2008 08:13 AM from IP:

"Unmaw" is my new favorite word.

Comment number: 017309   Posted by: Craig on May 6, 2008 05:21 PM from IP:

Oh, you hurt me! This is so funny. You provoked memories of a boating trip where I would have had to die to feel better. I wrote a post recounting my experience, but of course gave you credit for sparking that (no words evil enough) day. Thanks for the great laugh.

Comment number: 017314   Posted by: Pamela on May 9, 2008 09:49 PM from IP:

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