Excerpt from "Starfish Halls: When I Drowned and Lived to Tell About It"

One must feed the machine, fuel the furnace. Incidents of total panic such as my recent swim absorb a wealth of much-needed carbohydrate energy. I imagine myself in a Snicker's commercial, squatting on a shoreline escarpment in the rain, emptying sea water from the bulging pockets of my jacket and discovering a Snicker's bar. "I'm Rick McKinney," I would say, smiling to the camera. "world traveler, adventurer and writer. See that ocean behind me? Nearly swallowed me whole just a minute ago, backpack and all. And I'll tell you, after a near-death experience in the stormy Pacific, nothing satisfies like a Snicker's bar!"

I'm ravenous. It is one of those monster Snicker's bars, and I savor every scrumptious, salty bite. As the surf pounds only a few meters away, I sit there, the proverbial drowned rat, a melting chocolate cannibal moaning as I chew. "Oh my God, oh my God. This is soooo good." I laugh at myself, able for a moment to forget that I'm shivering like a drunk recently relieved of his guts. Small pleasures burn bright in the fatigued and desperate mind.

"There's no reality here," Barfly character Harry Chinaskie informs me from a barstool in my subconscious. Right. No reality, Harry. Just symptoms of overexposure, shock and, if I don't get moving quickly, possible hypothermia. In normal circumstances, I would look to the horizon to stabilize myself, averting the nausea with concentrated mental effort. But no. Not this time. I've had enough of staring seaward for awhile. One glance to the west could elicit the appearance of some menacing sea serpent, popping Jack-in-the-box-style out of the Pacific. I stand to find that my legs, though present, are not to be accounted for.

I am a character of Dali's imagination, all spaghetti limbed and melting in various vital areas. Yet my mind is congealing again, coming around to dead center and cooling like a freshly fired brick. Soon, I'll be myself again, a staunch advocate of controlled chaos, mentally adept, impervious to nature's insidious assault.

"Fuck You!" I scream at the ocean, hollering with all my strength, chest thrust out like a boy safely distanced from a bully. Oh, how wonderful it feels to shout into the windy immeasurable. At a time like this, honest, heart-felt obscenity is infinitely more cathartic than its puritan counterpart. To hell with etiquette! Where were the minions of morality and manners when I was drowning? Pah!

I rally my strength to charge yet again. I gather my mind and scant belongings together and look past a deaf wall of obstinate earth to the invisible safety I envision beyond. Mistress Pacific howls and spits in response, ever the good sport. And when she pauses to yawn or curtsey between fits of immeasurable violence, I run. And I keep on running. And I tell myself again and again that the worst has been endured. I tell myself that to arise from the clutches of death in such a fortuitous manner as I did will relieve me from any further danger. The danger is past. I can feel the strength coming into my spaghetti legs. It is the steely muscular satisfaction of survival.

A scent fills my nostrils from within. It is a coppery odor, a blast of heat, primitive and acrid. It is the smell of napalm in the morning. Victory! A nosebleed.

As I run, I fancy myself a dancing bear, huge and absurd stumbling in mock-lithe pirouettes. I am Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron burdened in every way by self-inflicted handicaps to obscure my natural beauty, grace, balance. I have come to this place purposely under-prepared and over-weighted, eager for the sincerity of suffering at the hands of nature. The sea has granted my wish. Blood on my face and in my mouth, I dance on her silted brow.

Still dancing as I round another cliff some half hour later, I meet nose-to-dripping-nose with a grim-faced, androgynous human with a fishing pole. There are two of these fishing pole persons, one behind the other and both looking quite odd and of questionable gender in their full-bodied rain ponchos.

"Where are you uh...where are you headed?" I ask, looking over my shoulder from whence I came. "Oh no! You can't go that way. Oh my God no. You'll be eaten alive. The earth is flat...inverted! You'll fall in. Serpents! Big waves! High tide!" My mouth is unstoppable.

I continue to pursue this hopelessly jumbled vein of speech, ranting to them of the horrors I've just experienced, begging them not to go any further south until the tide recedes in the late afternoon. I want to tell them to turn back, to never enter the M.C. Escher nightmare cove-world from which I have emanated, but I see in their eyes no room for caution. I remember the nosebleed. Touching my chin with my left hand, I smile seeing the blood, imagining what they must think of me. We are of the same mindset, of the same half-witted determined breed of forward-stomping adventurers. For that very reason, they'll have none of what I'm telling them.

"We're getting off this God-forsaken coast today," says the point man, to which the other adds, "if it kills us."

I can understand this logic. I glance back over my shoulder and shiver. I also understand the proximity and very real specter of a wet death at the hands of that spitting, seething blue beast to the west. I turn back to face them, but they are already gone.

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©2001 Rick McKinney ALL RIGHTS RESERVED