brothercyst: September 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DREAM 9/30/09

I was getting to school (I seemed to be back in high school) and the parking area, or the area where the bus was going to drop me off, was in a wooded area a little distance away from the school. In fact, one had to pass through a little town (which looked much like the High Street/Chapel Street area of New Haven) to get to school. After I left the parking area, I realized I’d left both my phone and my shoes behind there. But I’d already walked far away, and it was past 8 a.m. (when classes started) so I was too far away to turn back and get my stuff without getting to school something like 40 minutes late. I decided not to turn back. As I walked through the New Haven-ish area, I passed a parked car that seemed to be a police car. In the driver’s seat there was a black man who was in a uniform. A knife was sticking out of his chest and he was soaked in blood. He was dead. I was scared/thrilled to see a dead body. A woman seemed to be lying next to him; she seemed to be also dead, but she was vaguer. Beside the car, on the sidewalk, there was a small, thin world atlas. Paperback. I picked it up and looked at it as I walked. I noticed that two inlets in North America (one in Mexico and one in Canada) had little arrows hand-drawn into them as if showing the route of something entering the inlet/bay. The routes were labeled “Vampire Bay” or “Vampire Route” or something like that. I decided to show the atlas to someone in the school office, then get them to write me a note excusing my lateness to class because I’d stopped by the office. When I got there, though, I decided to turn back and go all the way back to the parking area first to get my shoes and phone, because now I had an excuse for being late. I went through a different path, though—I seemed to be moving toward a coast, going along the coast, which was a little rocky, like the coast of Maine. I went through a sort of deserted basketball court that was dark and covered in vines and enclosed by chain linking, including over the top. I looked up and saw naked people in their late teens having sex on the top of the chain linking that covered the top. This was related in some way to a nude photo of a model that I saw pasted to the wall in the bathroom of Ivo & Lulu the night before. The naked high schoolers were very fair-skinned, smooth, downy, like they were not totally human but part-deer or excessively airbrushed.

MUDLUSCIOUS BOOKS COLLECTED

All the releases from Mud Luscious Press's first year will soon be anthologized in one collection.

That includes the writing of ken baumann, shane jones, jimmy chen, brandi wells, blake butler, nick antosca, sam pink, james chapman, colin bassett, michael kimball, jac jemc, kim chinquee, kim parko, norman lock, randall brown, brian evenson, michael stewart, peter markus, ken sparling, aaron burch, david ohle, matthew savoca, p. h. madore, johannes göransson, charles lennox, ryan call, elizabeth ellen, molly gaudry, kevin wilson, mary hamilton, craig davis, kendra grant malone, lavie tidhar, lily hoang, mark baumer, ben tanzer, krammer abrahams, joshua cohen, eugene lim, c. l. bledsoe, joanna ruocco, josh maday, & michael martone.

$15. Worth buying!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BLUE VELVET AT CABARETCINEMA

I'm introducing Blue Velvet at the Rubin Museum's CabaretCinema program this winter. January 15. Other folks giving introductions include Thelma Schoonmaker (Scorsese's longtime editor, cool) and J. Hoberman. Come see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

FAVORITE MEALS EVER

FOOD PORN POST: I'm awake, can't sleep, and am having trouble writing. I'm thinking about food. What were my favorite meals of all time? Not just dishes ("I like the x and y at restaurant z") but meals, the specific instances? Some of these are bittersweet...

1) Mango in the Dominican Republic, Aug 09: Further details here. Nothing but fresh mango, sliced and cold, in a styrofoam box. It's like the fruit equivalent of ice cream or cold foie gras. Unreal. Eating this in the DR this past August with Ariel after Pino got it for us was maybe my favorite food experience of all time.

2) Ivo & Lulu, Summer 2008: Ivo & Lulu is one of my favorite restaurants in New York--cheap and amazing. My favorite thing to get there is the roasted red pear with melted bleu cheese and the rabbit sausage in miso sauce. One particular time last summer I went there with my friend Laura and we ordered the above, plus a bunch of other stuff, terrine de venison and gratin dauphinois. Plus, Ivo & Lulu is BYOW, so we had a bottle of red wine which made everything taste twice as good. For some reason, the food was even more excellent than usual, and I remember this as one of the best culinary experiences ever.

3) Chilled Uni at Kurumazushi, 2006(?): Went to this place not realizing it was horrifyingly expensive. And we kept ordering sashimi at the bar, piece by piece. The uni was so good that it literally made me a little dizzy to eat it. (I wrote about it at the time.) How can anything taste that good? It made me woozy.

4) Fried Fish from shack in the DR, Aug 09: On one of our last days in the DR, we ordered plates of delicious, crisp, tangy fried fish from the "green shack" on the beach. They came with plates of pork-fried rice and beans, fried potatoes, and gigantic beers. I've never gorged with such insane food-lust, ever. Ariel was aghast.

5) Bacon, avo, brie, apple sandwich, New Haven, '03-'05: I invented my own sandwich from Gourmet Heaven, a deli in New Haven. Toast a sub roll. Then put butter on it. Then thick slices of avocado. Then crisp bacon. Then brie cheese, which should have been laid over the bacon while it was cooking, so it's melted. Then crisp slices of green apple. It is unbelievably delicious. In the summer when I worked at the call-the-alums program, we were sometimes rewarded with "incentives" of $5-$10 of petty cash if we'd gotten the most donations or something. When I got the cash incentive, I would go buy my favorite sandwich on my way home. Those were the best nights.

6) Giant Lobster, 2007: I stayed for a couple days at a friend's house with lots of former classmates, and we got a 20-pound lobster as big as a golden retriever. It was vaguely horrifying--we couldn't kill it by dropping it in a pot, so someone eventually stabbed it through the brain with huge knife, and then we put it on the giant barbecue grill--until I tasted it. It was the most succulent and delicious lobster I've ever tasted.

This list may be updated if I remember others.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

I saw three movies today at the New York Film Festival.

Samuel Moaz's Lebanon: Excellent and gripping. [UPDATE: Here's my review.]
Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective: Awful and mind-numbingly dull. [UPDATE: Here's my review.]
Lars von Trier's Antichrist: Awful and gripping.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I hit five more screenings. Or maybe I'll bail if ten hours in the dark is too much.

Friday, September 18, 2009

SICK

Got really sick last night, still sick today. Hardly moved. Semiconscious fetal position situation. Good times.

My review of Jennifer's Body went on Film Threat.


Friday, September 11, 2009

DOCKWEILER

A few months ago, I got a DVD of a 15 min. short film called Dockweiler that was directed by a guy named Nick J. Palmer. I'd met him at KGB and he happened to have a copy with him and gave it to me. Because I'm scattered, it sat in a stack of DVDs I'd been meaning to watch, and I took those DVDs with me to the DR last month. (Others included The Fall and The Hit.) The only one I watched was Dockweiler. It stuck with me then, and I just watched it again this afternoon and was even more impressed.

First of all, it stars Tony Todd, the fucking Candyman (as well as the star of one of my favorite X-Files episodes). I don't know how you get Tony Todd for your short film, but that's extremely cool in and of itself. What impressed me most, however, was how Palmer made such an elegant, intelligent, and effective short film with such economy. This looks professional but it can't have cost much--the only locations I can recall are an office, a parking lot, and a beach. Nevertheless it tells a complete and very affecting story with nuance and grace notes but no extra fat.

It's about an ex-con, played by Todd, who supervises a program a maintenance crew of guys fresh out of jail. They clean shit up on Dockweiler Beach in California. Todd's character has serious anger issues and his family's out of the picture, so he structures his life rigidly around the job, which means a lot more to him than it does to the guys who work for him. A new parolee named McQueen joins the crew and some unpleasant stuff goes down. Very simple, very gracefully done, and very much the work of a director to watch. If I were a producer or studio exec and I saw this, I'd track Palmer down right away.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

COUPLE REVIEWS; WORD SPACES POST FOR HTMLGIANT

Reviewed 9 (different thing from Nine or District 9) and Chelsea on the Rocks (a doc about the Chelsea Hotel) for Film Threat.

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I did a Word Spaces post for HTMLGiant.

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Leathery pig with the eyes of a reptile:



But seriously, how is it possible for such a shitty orator to get elected?

CATCHING FIRE

Last night I started reading Suzanne Collins’ YA novel Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, which I enjoyed much more than I expected earlier this year. It just came out. Here's a good Lev Grossman piece from Time magazine about the series.

Anyway, I picked up the book at 3 a.m. to read the first chapter or so, and I ended up reading straight through and finishing it at almost 8 a.m. Partly this is just because, being a YA novel, it’s typeset in such a way that reading a single page can take as little as 45 seconds. But it’s also because I wanted to see what happens. My feeling upon starting the book, however, was similar to my feeling on starting The Hunger Games—God, this is pretty lazy writing, isn’t it? Clumsy and silly, so obvious… okay, it’s YA, but still…. And by lazy, I mean it’s constantly like, she’ll just write something like, “They start their conversation with a few easy and funny jokes that show how comfortable they are with each other.” That’s outline writing, not book writing! You have to do the hard work and come up with the jokes! … Don’t you?

Anyway, what it feels like is she had to get the sequel finished so it could be published quickly. And she wrote a comprehensive outline, and then fucking sat down and just ZOOMED through writing the actual manuscript. For about the first hundred pages I was kind of rolling my eyes because it was silly, and the names of the characters are so stupid (“Katniss” is the main character… why would you name your main character something that rhymes with “cat piss”?) and the only thing that kept me reading was my memory of how much I ultimately liked the first book and just a reluctant sort of DNA-level, gut-based, pictures-on-the-cave-wall desire to See What Happened.

But then, gradually, I was reading again because I was actually, actively gripped by the story. I came around. I still thought the writing was “lazy” in a “Okay, you didn’t spend hours on the prose here, did you?” way—not just in terms of the rushed dialogue but in terms of the logistical description; I have no idea how the Cornucopia area of the arena was actually laid out in the second half of the book; this was utterly fucking incomprehensible to me; every time it was described, I saw it differently—BUT I began to genuinely admire the storytelling on a structural/character level.

Collins is a really fucking good storyteller. The structure of this book is impeccable. That outline I mentioned? It works. And one reason many scenes are so compressed, with a “They told jokes” feel instead of dialogue scenes containing actual jokes, is that the outline is so long and involved; as it is, the book runs 400 pages, and it could have been a lot longer. And it’s very, very gripping; the stakes and tension are expertly escalated. Storytelling like that is an art. In ideal cases it’s combined with prose-writing on the same level—but when it isn’t, that doesn’t mean it’s not an art.

She had a problem when sitting down to write this book, I think: Was she going to put the characters back into the Hunger Games? If she did, wouldn’t it feel redundant, given that the first book took place almost entirely in the arena—and the characters were already victors? But could she really write the second book in the “Hunger Games trilogy” and not have the characters be forced to play the Hunger Games? I won’t say how she deals with this problem, but I will say that they do return to the arena, and I was impressed with how/when Collins got them there.

So that’s that. I hope it’s a bestseller. Currently ranked at #11 on Amazon, so looks like it will be. Good for you, America’s Youth, keep reading. And good for you, Ms. Collins, for writing books about teenagers forced to kill each other on reality TV that America’s Youth can enjoy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

SINNER AND REBECCA

The two big-revelation books I read while I was away (that I hadn't read before) were Rebeccaand The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner. Both were totally excellent. (Am I the only person who hadn't read Rebecca before?)

The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner is a classic "double" story. I love doubles, twins, etc. A rigidly moralistic young man is befriended by his exact double, a sort of Jungian trickster character with a Satanic tinge, who convinces him that God elects mortals (the "justified") for a place in heaven, and once elected, they can do no wrong. Therefore, it's all right for him to kill anyone he wants! And so he does. The novel is told in two sections, from various points of view, and is really a masterpiece of storytelling.

My reaction to Rebecca (which I read in a used mass-market paperback edition that makes it look like a sleazy romance novel, with gold lettering and red velvety covering) went like this:

First 100 pages: Wow, I can't believe this is so good, so well-written. So rich/melancholy/vivid!
Pages 100-200: What's going to happen? What is Danvers up to?? Is Rebecca still alive? WTF??
Pages 200-250ish: Okay I get it, the narrator is self-loathing and haunted by the specter of Rebecca... let's have a little plot progression though... I predicted what was going to happen at the dress ball, I hope the end isn't so predictable... how about a little plot stuff... go talk to the madman at the beach, he clearly knows something... come on...
Pages 250-300: Whoa, that was creepy... wow, Danvers... what's the big deal with the ship--OH, SHIT, how did I not see that coming? Oh, wow, and she's still going to--
Pages 300+: Wow, her reaction to the twist was really set up brilliantly. I hope that sleazy cousin doesn't--
Ending: Whoa, great ending. Now I see why she put the denouement at the beginning.

What a great, rich novel that was. And how interesting from a modern perspective. I mean, in a version of this story told from a slightly different--and more rational, traditional--angle, Favell and Danvers are clearly the heroes, and Rebecca is a martyr for a certain stripe of feminism... Max is evil and the narrator is a vile and conniving little worm. And yet! In the version we get, the narrator's voice and descriptive powers are so compelling, and the story feels epic. Poor Max, suffering for so long...

I now love du Maurier. When i got back, I got Don't Look Now (get it!--it features the story on which the great Nicholas Roeg film is based, as well as the short story which was the basis of The Birds) and Jamaica Inn.

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Among other books, I also reread Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, which I continue to think of as basically a great novel. It's hard for me to think of another book in recent years that does internal monologue so brilliantly and so effectively capture the rhythms of year-in, year-out life as well as dramatizing very subtle changes in a person's personality and character that take place over time. It's odd to think of Prep having much in common with Rebecca, but they do share a certain expertly evoked sense of regret/wistfulness/melancholy that I'm a sucker for. Reminds me of Something Wicked This Way Comes and its sense of yearning for lost youth.

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Huh. The guy who directed my least-favorite movie of all time, Juno, has a new movie. And it looks really good. Well, Diablo Cody isn't involved, so I'm there.



I saw District 9 again. Have I mentioned how much I love that movie? My favorite of the year, easily, with The Escapist second and Public Enemies and Thirst following.

On Thursday I saw a screening of An Education. It's an axiom there aren't that many great roles for women; An Education, at least, is a showcase for actresses. Carey Mulligan, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson all have great parts ranging from star to small supporting role. Last night I saw Chelsea on the Rocks, a fascinating but sloppy documentary about the Chelsea Hotel. All good times. How is it already the middle of the afternoon? I haven't done anything today. I need to get back to work.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

BIG GOTHIC MINDFUCK NOVELS

Both for my personal pleasure and because they relate directly to an idea I’ve got, I’ve been reading or re-reading what I call “big gothic mindfuck novels” lately. These include :

The Magus by John Fowles

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Shadowland by Peter Straub

These novels have certain things in common.
  • They are long and dense, full of sensual description (particularly of lush landscape, food, and striking physical aspects of character).
  • The prose is meaty and traditional, eschewing clipped modern sentences and formal or postmodern experimentation in favor of vivid description, interior monologue, and character development.
  • The sensibility is very British
  • The protagonists are young/callow/arrogant/about to get a serious lesson via the events of the novel (not all of these apply in every case; the narrator of Rebecca, certainly, is not arrogant).
  • The plots involve…
................. - a large and opulent mansion/estate
................. - isolation at said mansion/estate
................. - rising threat of personal harm to the protagonist
................. - an older, charismatic, intimidatingly experienced mentor figure who is potentially or actually malevolent
................. - a mysterious woman
................. - sexual intrigue
................. - illusions or deceptions of some sort that force the protagonist to question his or her own senses and/or the nature of reality
................. - ominous animals
  • The stories are rich and satisfying, full of incidents and surprises.
If you have not read any of these three novels (and if the qualities listed above sound appealing) then you ought to acquire and read them immediately. I never knew that Shadowland was directly inspired by the The Magus until I read the introduction to the newest mass market paperback edition a few weeks ago. I encountered both novels independently, many years ago.

My question, anyway, is—can anyone recommend other novels that fall into this category? Novels that are as good as the ones listed above? (Because another thing they have in common is that they are all excellent.) My little mini-genre is rather small and exclusive. What am I missing?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: LAND OF PLEASURE AND AMUSEMENT

[VACATION PORN WARNING: This post is a summary of what I’ve been up to since I last posted, written on the plane home. It doesn’t have much to do with writing and is mostly an account of a blissed-out and pleasing experience, with many anecdotes. If this isn’t your thing, oh well; the normal posting pattern and tone will resume shortly.]


For the last couple weeks, I’ve been in Playa Bonita, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The country is lush and tropical, and I was about five minutes down a dirt road from the beach, which is gorgeous—and often empty, so I’d have a whole stretch of stunning coast and electric blue water to myself. I was staying at a friend’s house—a small vacation house, roughly comparable in size to a decent one bedroom apartment in New York, plus a big lovely porch—so a huge thanks to my friend PR and her family, who let me use their place, where I had two of the best/most pleasurable weeks of my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.


SATURATION EXPERIENCE

A lot of people seem to “enjoy traveling.” Apparently this means they like to go to another country and bustle via various modes of transportation to different sites in that country, or from country to country, periodically pausing to pay a guide or instructor to get them through some novelty experience (skydiving, hiking, safari) that involves a lot of sweating and discomfort. They like to see temples and cathedrals and natural wonders—the more the better. I tend to hate this.

I like to go to an unfamiliar place (it just has to be very different from my normal surroundings, although it certainly helps if it’s beautiful) and stay in one area for an extended period of time. (The minimum time, experience has shown, seems to be two weeks.) Settle in, marinate, acclimate, grow accustomed. Have a saturated experience instead of getting a snapshot.

In this case, I stayed in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in, spent the days drinking and eating and floating in the ocean, got tons of writing done at night, read a bunch of books, and spent less than $900 total, including airfare to/from the DR and transportation across the entire country. It was a vivid, overwhelming experience.

Geckos were everywhere, skittering across the porch, dashing up the gatepost, leaping into the grass. They’re like reptile mice, with their thin little tails sticking out behind them in the air as they run.

And there were huge toads. At night I would walk down the path with a flashlight trained on the ground. Every so often it would catch a bulbous beige lump—a toad bigger than my fist. One night I saw something cobalt and spiky. I turned the light back on it—a land crab, larger than my foot. Its enormous claws were upraised challengingly. I nudged it and it ran around madly like a little clicking space beast and then disappeared into the (very wet, very green) underbrush.

After a violent tropical storm, I walked down a nearby dirt road and looked into the yard of a house I passed, which had a small swimming pool. An enormous frog was slowly, athletically swimming back and forth in it.


I’d turn on the porch light and see tiny wet frogs, the size of a thumb, clinging to the wall around the light, like bugs.

Once, standing in the small front yard, I heard passionate snorting. I turned to see big chestnut horses with their heads over the gate, nodding impatiently.

In the afternoon, on bright blinding sunny days, the moon came out. It’s crazy to be in a dazzling blue ocean under a naked blue sky in the middle of the day and see the moon over the palm trees.

For the first week and a half or so I was by myself. ASB came to visit for the last stretch. I had already been there ten days or whatever, so while I wasn’t accustomed to the place yet, I wasn’t floored every time I stepped on the beach, either—so it was a lot of fun to be there when she saw it for the first time. The night before she arrived, a violent storm hammered the peninsula. The next morning, when she saw the beach, every cloud had been eradicated and the sky was stunning blue. You could walk a hundred yards out in the water and still stand. I swam across the little cove in Playa Bonita, and every time I stopped to get my bearings, I was still in water so shallow I could stand up.



SUN

I’m tan as fuck. Way more tan that I was after Morocco. I do wish I’d shaved my head before I went. I never burned, although I didn’t wear sunscreen anywhere except my nose. I did, however, get so much sun that after my skin tanned, it actually burned a little—like, as in, not a sunburn but actual blisters, like on Blondie’s face in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly when he’s lost in the desert. I now have some rough little scabs healing on my forearms.

ASB was snow-pale when she got there and turned tan & freckled in about two days. When we weren’t swimming, we mostly just lay on the beach and read books. Watching ASB physically handle a book is like watching a dog try to open a soft-boiled egg with its paws—she destroys them. Bends pages in half to mark her place… leaves books open on the sand… puts them in bags with leaking pens and sweating water bottles. I’ve realized that’s why she reads quickly—she’s got to finish the book before she demolishes it.



FOOD

Pino (an ultra-blissed-out Austrian expat who lives nearby; he used to be in the Austrian Special Forces and now lives in the DR “for the lifestyle”) had fresh bread delivered every morning, which was amazing. I got drinks from his bar and ate mango from a place he told me about in Las Terrenas, a larger town nearby. The mango was pretty spectacular. In fact the mango was probably one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had, comparable to the uni I had a few years ago at Kurumazushi on 47th and Fifth and the foie gras brûlée at Nougatine and, actually, another meal I had in Playa Bonita, which was the food at a shack on the beach that as far as I know has no name.

At the shack, they made plates of shrimp, fried fish, and Caribbean lobster, accompanied by plates of fried potatoes and beans and rice, served with a gigantic beer. It wasn’t as cheap as some things down there, but it was amazing. After swimming for hours in the bright sun you could drag yourself up to this shack and feast on great, fresh seafood. I don’t know what sauces/spices they put on these things (except that a lot of lemon and garlic and onion were involved), but they were fucking delicious. The last meal we had there was pretty much an extended food orgasm, almost a delirium. You have to wait a really long time for the food—service is not a strong point in the DR—and when it comes, you fucking attack it.



ALONE AT NIGHT

Before I went, I was a little concerned about crime, since I’d mostly be staying by myself. The first night, in the pitch dark Dominican night, someone pounded on the door. “WHO IS THERE??” I yelled in my angriest voice (in a German accent for some reason; don’t know why I did that) and they went away. No one bothered me again.



Sometimes the electricity would go out and I’d go outside and listen and read by flashlight until it came on again.

I’d be awake all night writing (before ASB got there) and those were just some very nutrient-rich hours. Much got done. The insects are very noisy and there are animals out there making noises I can’t begin to explain. Sometimes I’d hear something running around on the roof, clambering up and down like a monkey. I don’t know what that was. I’d hear it scrambling around and then I would hear a noise like a quacking duck.

Before we went, PR tried to tell us about this creature, which only increased its aura of mystery.

PR: There's a little animal, it likes to run around on the roof at night, you’ll hear it.

Me: What is it?

PR: Well, it’s—they have them in Vieques, too…

Me: But what kind of animal is it?

PR: Well—they climb around on the roof at night…

Me: Is it a mammal, a reptile, or a bird?

PR: You’ll hear them, you know, moving around up there…

ASB: Does it have fur?

PR: … I believe it has fur.

After a week there, I just pictured it as a little man on all fours with a duck-call in his mouth.


JELLYFISH ATTACK

Here’s an anecdote. On the last day, ASB wanted to go snorkeling. I didn’t have any strong desire to do this (novelty experience, etc) and resisted in the early morning because it seemed to be the only cloudy day of the whole trip. But then the clouds cleared a little, so we finally went to the little divers’ shack and convinced them to take us out to Las Islas, which are some big craggy rocks in the ocean.

The ride out was great. It was essentially a rowboat with a motor attached, jouncing and banging about on the waves, which were a little bigger than usual because of the weather’s (relative) roughness. Our captain was a taciturn, pleasant Dominican guy who spoke only Spanish. (ASB speaks it with mild fluency, I only have a few words.)

We got to Las Islas and jumped in the water. It wasn’t that clear—we could see thirty feet down to the bottom, but because the sky was a little overcast, the light didn’t look pale blue and jaunty, like you see on tourism commercials; instead, it looked murky and kind of ominous. It wasn’t that calm, either—the waves weren’t exactly rough, but you could feel them, and you had to fight them. And we were pretty close to these sharp, rocky Islas. ASB was really excited, splashing around and snorkeling, pointing at fish, oohing at little crabs and so forth.

ASB: “Ooh! Ooh! Did you see the yellow and black striped one?”

Me: “Eghhhgghghgh, fuck, FUCK, gagghhh, can’t breathe—”

ASB: “What is the matter with you?”

Me: “Phhllgghhhh, my mask doesn’t work—”

ASB: “God, all you have to do is breathe. Here, trade with me.”

Pretty soon she was the one spitting salt water, because that mask was fucked. But she still seemed to be enjoying herself quite a bit, just holding her breath while peering down at the fish as I continued to kick warily in the waves, trying to stay away from the rocks.

Then she yelped. “Something stung me, OW, OW—a jellyfish stung me,” and so forth.

She seemed to be in quite a bit of pain, so we kicked back toward the boat while the captain stoically watched us. “I felt it brush my side and then it started stinging really bad!” ASB was saying. I was worried she would swell up there in the ocean like a big thumb and die, or I might have to drag her to the boat or something, and then find some sort of emergency services in the area.

But when we got into the boat, she seemed more scared than in mortal peril. There was no mark on her side, although from her demeanor I had no doubt that something had stung her. She explained this to the captain, who looked skeptical and begun turning the boat around. “Are we going back?” I said. “I think so,” she said.

Instead, we went around to a different part of Las Islas, where we were surrounded by the rocky outcroppings. This looked like a promising area for brightly colored things, the observation of which seems to be the whole purpose of snorkeling, so ASB decided to ignore her sting and get back in; I fatalistically agreed to join her.

As soon as she jumped in, though, she resurfaced with a prolonged, yipping shriek, paddled back to the boat, and clung to its side with both arms, looking back fearfully into the water.

“There’s one right there!! I jumped in right next to one!!”

From where I stood, still in the boat, I couldn’t see anything.

“Las agua vivas no te pica,” the captain said calmly. (“The jellyfish do not sting.”)

“Algo mi pica! Algo mi pica!” ASB cried. (“Something stung me!”)

To this he responded (ASB told me later) that there might be a few small jellyfish that could sting, but the big ones were not dangerous. She was clearly not at all convinced, if the terror in her face was any sign, but so great was her desire to see brightly colored things that she let go of the boat and began to paddle tentatively back out.

“I’m not getting in the water with anything that can sting,” I said. The captain stared blankly at me. ASB popped up and yelled, “Get in!”

“Okay,” I said. I got back in. As soon as my face was underwater, I saw a pulsating pink jellyfish right near me. Instead of causing consternation by yelling about this, I swam about ten feet in the other direction, so I could tread water there and occasionally glance at the ocean floor until it was time to get back in the boat. Then I saw another jellyfish coming at me from the other direction.

“They’re all over!” I managed to yell, swimming away from that one, and further away from the boat. Nobody paid any attention. I beckoned to the captain but he just stared at me. I floated there, ducking underwater every few seconds to look around and see if any jellyfish were getting closer.

Then ASB started yelling—“Oh, ack, there’s one over here!”—and swimming quickly in my approximate direction. I ducked under again and saw a jellyfish hovering about fifteen feet away in the opposite direction. Because of the waves, visibility changed every few seconds, and I had to keep checking all the time. When ASB reached me, I pointed in the direction of the one I’d just seen: “There’s one over there.”

She ducked under to look. “I don’t see anything.”

I ducked back under and saw it again, blurry but very much still hovering there. “I still see it—right over there.”

She looked again and for some reason didn’t see it. So I looked again and, yes, there it was again, pink and throbbing, just like before. Then she looked yet again and still didn’t see it.

I waited for a wave to pass, and then ducked under one more time—but now, instead of one jellyfish I saw a HORDE of them. Easily twenty of the pink and formless alien blobs hanging in the water like an armada of those spaceships from the original War of the Worlds. I popped back up.

“There’s a huge gang of them! Oh fuck, so many! Arghgblghggh—”

I kicked away. She went under again and this time she saw them too and came up freaking out. We swam frantically toward the boat—now dodging the few loner jellyfish that were bobbing in our way—and waved at the captain, who, in the manner of some inscrutable local in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie who at first pretends to be helping but really wants to kill you, steered the boat toward us PROPELLER FIRST, so when we looked forward we could see the propeller coming to shred our faces and when we looked backward we could see the horde of jellyfish waiting to sting us to death.

I swam sideways to one side and ASB swam to the other side, as she and the captain babbled at each other in Spanish, I grabbed my side of the boat and hauled myself on board using just my arms (this is a lot harder to do, physically, than it sounds, and kind of painful; adrenaline helps), then lay there, gasping, while the captain pulled ASB out.

“I’m not going back in there,” I said.

ASB was still talking rapidly in Spanish with a touch of hysteria, and the captain was saying something very mildly, making gestures that seemed to indicate we could go to another part of the rocks and snorkel more, but ASB was vehemently saying something else, and repeating a single phrase over and over, sometimes pointing at me. Finally the captain shrugged and started steering the boat back to Playa Bonita. As we went, ASB whispered to me, “He thinks we’re such pussies.” The captain said something, and she turned around to say something in Spanish, that same phrase, in a sort of apologetic tone.

We got back to the divers’ shack and unloaded the boat. The captain said something to one of the scuba diving guys, and they chuckled.

When we walked away, ASB whispered, “I’m so embarrassed.”

I said, “What were you saying to the captain?”

“That we didn’t want to snorkel anymore.”

“Yeah, but what were you actually saying?”

She hesitated. “‘He’s so scared! He’s so scared!’”

***