WARNING: this post contains discussion of unpleasant body functions.
I’ve scarified any number of items or body parts to the sea over the years. A rough estimate says this includes at least 10 contact lenses, three necklaces, two rings, too many hair ties to count, unknown amounts of cash, in addition to varying levels of skin, hair and a lot, lot of blood. All these usually are related to surfing, or rather, the many years I spent being tossed into the air and raked across the sea floor up and down the east coast trying to become minimally proficient at surfing.
But something happened to me on the waves this morning that I’ve never had to deal with before: I threw up.
Tropical Storm Fay is stirring up an impressive amount of wave activity, particularly for the typically flat and joyless Hilton Head surf. So I got up early to catch the tide and joined the dozen or so others who ducked into the strong winds and jumped into the turbulent waters. About an hour in, I started feeling nauseous, so much so that I could barely lie with my stomach on the board without worrying about intestinal reverb. I tried to wait it out but decided to pathetically doggie paddle my board back to the shore, probably looking like a confused kook in the process. It was then that I retched, out of nowhere.
Luckily, this is one of the least embarrassing places I’ve ever performed the Freshman Flush (higher on that list are various bathrooms at workplaces; a Walgreens parking lot; the outside of a Chinese restaurant when I was 9; in front of our girls’ team at the finish line in a cross country race in high school; about every 50 miles along I-95 between Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and Boston last fall [thank you, whiskey]; and, the all-time, still-can’t-live-it-down, gold medal holder: the side of my mom’s Chrysler Concorde at a toll plaza on the Garden State Parkway on the way back from Medieval Times on my 12th birthday).
The hurl this morning was masked by waves and ocean spray, and it wasn’t much more than stomach juices, so I doubt anyone else noticed. The entire situation, however, was disconcerting. I hadn’t felt sick earlier that morning. I had a few drinks the night before but was far from hungover. I put my board down next to the dunes, where I sat contemplating this situation for a long while while more surfers and tourists continued arriving at the beach. Possible scenarios:
1) Lack of food — Dinner on Tuesday night consisted of two Yuenglings and several handfuls of Hsieh’s white-cheddar-flavored popcorn at Tropic Thunder. This seemed adequate sustenance at the time. I did not go to bed hungry, at least.
2) Geography-related muscle atrophy — Living on Hilton Head has surely made me soft. In a place like Jersey or even Maryland, where the waves break with somewhat more consistency and the ocean has more than a 20-inch depth, you actually have to paddle your way through the breakers to reach the lineup — a process that everyone I’ve tried to show how to surf has agreed is by far the most difficult and frustrating part. I reference the normally docile Matt Remsberg, lying defeated wearing his new rash guard and clutching onto a 9-foot sponge board like a lost sailor in Santa Monica in 2002, informing the ocean at the top of his lungs that it could go fuck itself as it continued to mockingly push him closer back towards the shore every minute. In Hilton Head, it’s rare there’s even any outside waves to find your way to. Even if there were, the water is usually so shallow you would look ridiculous paddling your way out, with your head level to some Ohio tourist’s ankles.
Facing an actual strong current and steady sets required calling upon muscles that have not been used in some time, and this exertion, combined with aforementioned lack of even a sampling of the 1,200-calorie Michael Phelps diet, may have caused the stomach to erupt in sudden revolt.
3) Horrible, ghastly, job-related depression — You know that scene in Titanic where the ship’s sinking fast and the only ones left on board are the band? I’m pretty sure I’m that band’s roadie at this point. In the span of one week, we found out McClatchy was freezing wages for a year, that more job cuts are expected and that three (EDIT: Now four, as of Thursday) key staff members at our sister paper The Beaufort Gazette including the executive editor, are quitting, likely not to be replaced. The lower-level staff resignations have been coming hot and fast since then, creating more positions that probably won’t get filled. To recap: the strategy to save newspapers and make them profitable again is to hire fewer people, offer them less money and give them fewer resources and less space to work with. This is similar to the Milwaukee Brewers’ strategy to win more games this year by only using seven players, giving them whiffle ball bats to play with and making them sell hot dogs in the stands in between innings.
I, too, am debating quitting and making the next few months until my lease runs out more profitable by waiting tables, cleaning toilets, catching alligators or selling fake diplomas via e-mail. Surely this nest of ill-tidings could easily manifest itself in unpleasant gastro-intestinal ways.
4) The forest for the trees — I’ve been experiencing unhealthy mental necrophilia in the past few weeks about the breakup with Andy, particularly after spending a weekend at home amid the forest of childhood friends turned into husbands, wives, parents, PTA members and broad-smiling, contented adults, when all I can do is stare up and wonder how the tree canopy grows so fast. Then I keep poking and prodding at fresh scabs and wondering if I’ll ever be lonely enough to look back and classify this as the foundations of a towering pile of regret.
I sat on the board for a little while longer before finally deciding it was probably the second scenario that caused the unexpected upchuck. It was nearing 10:30, about half an hour before the tide turned and the waves would start to dissipate. I strapped my leash back on my leg and marched into the churning ocean. A slight nausea returned when I pressed my stomach to the board, and my biceps were screaming for relief with much paddling left to do before getting to the line up. But I was not leaving without the satisfaction of sliding down at least one decent wave, to feel that ocean rhythm and it’s overpowering force rise up and propel the board on its own course, completely indifferent to all the throw-up, contact lenses and blood it claimed from me over the years.