Nanoseconds to Eternity

Instinct is a funny, crazy thing. I had a friend who was about ready to strangle me for a minute on a hike in the Cascades many years ago when we crested a small ridge and I came to a slow but certain halt.

“Wait,” I said.
“What?” he asked, looking around.
“I saw something.”
What?!
<long pause>
“I don’t know yet.”
He blinked and started to say something, but I held up a finger.

It took me a good 15 or 20 seconds to suss it out, carefully examining everything in front of us. As it happened, what I saw was a bear about 50 yards ahead, upwind, in light scrub cover. Some reptilian part of my brain that wasn’t fully connected to my consciousness managed to send up a flare to get my constantly wandering attention and saved us the trouble of careening headlong into her. Of course, I’m pretty sure she would’ve skedaddled long before we actually got too close, but with bears it’s a good idea to be cautious.

Similarly, we all know when something isn’t quite right with our bikes – even if we can’t articulate what that might be. Something feels “off.” Pay heed, friends: Your gut is trying to tell you something, and with two tiny rubber contact patches keeping you upright at speed, it warrants listening to that niggling feeling. Such an occasion arose today on our Saturday group ride.

It’s December 2nd, my first December in San Diego, and I am absolutely basking in the glory of not having to winterize my bikes. For those of you baffled by what that might mean, “winterizing” is the act of draining the fuel (or stabilizing it,) hooking the bike up to a battery tender, and (ideally) getting the tires up off the ground. There, the bike will remain inert for the next four to six months while the weather plays cruel tricks on those unfortunate enough to reside in chillier climes.

I know, right? Madness.

During those dark, somber months, Northern riders are afflicted with PMS – Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. We.. rather, they… watch YouTube videos, “Long Way Round,” and whine. A lot.

But I digress. Here in glorious San Diego, the sun continues to bathe us in warmth and delight, and temperatures make even the southern routes not only bearable but sublime. Today was just such a day.

Most of the group took off after The Chairs to help a club member move, but those of us unhelpful slackers who carried on blasted down Wynola and Sunrise Highway, then stopped for lunch at an ice cream shack nearby. There, we ran into new club member “My Bike Blew Over at Borrego” Eric and had a nice, relaxed meal. I promise I did not kick his bike over, you jerks.

Post-lunch, Scott D. led us through some of the most gorgeous sweepers and hills I’ve thus far seen (every new road is a favorite for me) at what I assume was, for him, an incredibly relaxed pace, because the only way I could have a chance in hell of keeping up with Scott is if I shackled him to a Road King.

Towing a trailer.

With one eye covered.

At any rate, I did not even look at my speedo, and just focused on keeping lines and so forth. On Lyon Valley Road, not too far past the little shop where we often stop for breaks, there’s a pretty sharp left-hand corner. As I slowed a bit, thinking about the upcoming lean/roll-on, my reptilian self said, “oh, shit.” Taken aback and totally uncertain what had caught my eye, I rolled off and gently applied some brakes. My back tire immediately began fishtailing, and, while my memory might be playing tricks on me, it seemed like the front got a little squirrely, too. [expletive]

Welp, time’s up – It was either turn or go through the guard rail, so I gingerly eased the bike through the turn, everything feeling loose and horrible the whole time. While it was assuredly only about a half-second for which I was at risk of launching myself over the cliff, I must have said “don’t look at it don’t look at it don’t look at it look where you want to go look where you want to go” a thousand times in three nanoseconds, which stretched into an eternity.

For those however many split-seconds, the bike was fishtailing like a son of a bitch, something she Does Not Do, Ever. The FZ1 is a solid bike, and she loves fast curves. The Pilot Road 4’s have served me incredibly well, and continue to do so: Something was definitely Not Right. Experimenting with gentle braking while my cohorts vanished in the distance, I realized there was something most definitely amiss – hell if I knew what.

There was a small amount of loose gravel in the center of the lane, but the two sides seemed free of any debris. The behavior exhibited itself regardless of the gravel. Slowing, way, way down for the right-hander ahead, I damn near bit the dust again as the rear end tried to wash out beneath me. “WHAT THE EFF,” I yelled into my helmet, heart in my throat, resisting the overpowering urge to stiffen up and clench the grips. The next left-hander was worse. I envisioned myself hurtling over the edge to my demise, and thought for a moment that would actually be a pretty cool way to go – provided I was guaranteed a swift death at the bottom, and not some tormented, vegetative state: I’m not afraid of death, but mercy, save me from Lingering.

I had to stop to see if I’d gotten a flat or worse. A pullout presented itself, and, fortunately, it was “just” a nasty streak of something wildly slippery coating both tires – maybe oil, maybe diesel, maybe ATF, who knows, but the end result was the same: Bad Shit was present. I hoped my colleagues wouldn’t be so worried as to turn around and come back for me, even though it had only been a few minutes – I’m a fairly new member to the club, and hadn’t ridden with this particular set of dudes terribly often.

Wiping off what I could with the cuff of my glove, I got back on and rode, very sedately, for a time, trying to wear off whatever crud was trying to ruin my day. After a couple of miles, I began leaning slightly more and more with every turn, until finally everything seemed more or less back together. Not perfect, not the rock-solid normal, but “ok.”

Then, I rode like hell to catch up, still taking it pretty easy in the curves. Thankfully, that amazing four-cylinder puts out enough power to make up time in the straights, and the group had likely slowed a bit; maybe five or seven miles down the road, there they were.

Some of you might know that awful feeling following such an event – every tiny dip or bump or change in surface texture makes me wonder if something else is going wrong with the bike. It turns into this cascading vortex of doubt that steals my focus and pretty much kills the joy of the ride. Fortunately, we were winding up and it was mostly in-town roads and freeway for the rest of the way home.

Once safely parked in the underground structure (man, do I miss having a proper garage!) I checked everything over and found the substance had worn almost entirely away – a few dark spots on the far edges of the rubber were the only evidence (ok, those, and my elevated blood pressure.)

We’re creatures with 4280 million years of evolution behind us – instincts and reflexes we aren’t even aware of are all there, serving their functions. Our eyes blink before we  feel the mote of dust brush past our eyelashes; our brains and bodies are processing a metric honkload of information every single moment, and we only fully experience a fraction of it all. The rest usually slips past unnoticed and unannounced, but I tell you what – when that primal portion tries to tell us something, boy howdy, we need to pay attention.

While nine times out of ten it might be a false alarm (Google “cats afraid of cucumbers video” for examples – https://youtu.be/pXv44YL_Gio?t=14s ) that other time might be something truly dire. Whether my subconscious recognized an almost-invisible oil patch or some other tiny detail my consciousness had overlooked, that added moment of caution before I would have actually hit the turn at speed probably saved me. Phew. I’ll have to save my need for plummeting headlong toward the ground for my next skydive.

Whether it was the heightened emotion from all of that or whether it was something else, about 15 minutes later I found myself breaking one of my cardinal rules: Never give a cage driver the finger. EVER. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I try to be a good motorcycle ambassador as much as I can be. Flipping people off serves no purpose and just makes me look like an asshole. Better to let the other asshole do whatever assholey thing he was doing and ignore him.

  2. I never know who the first person to arrive at the scene of my accident is going to be. Do I want it to be someone I just flipped off? Nope.

Regardless, a green Kia driver wouldn’t let us pass him, so we passed one by one on a reasonably safe stretch of double-yellow. As Dave rode by, the driver stuck his hand out the window and invited him to go eff himself, then held that invitation aloft for me. As I passed, before I even realized what I was doing, my own left hand lifted up and offered the same salute in kind. BAD RIDER!! BAD!!!

I should have just left him and his flipped bird hanging impotently in the breeze, but no – my dander and my hackles were already up. Shit. Note to self: Stop it.

Tomorrow is the BMW Owners of San Diego holiday party, so no morning ride for me. This is probably just as well; I need to put myself in the penalty box for a minute for that lapse of poise.  While I am not much of a Holiday Person, I do sometimes enjoy getting gussied up and hanging out with my friends; I’m very much looking forward to it!

Motorcycles, Politics, Camping, Sex, Compassion, and Bees

Part One: Bees

Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.

As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)

Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.

On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?

Ok, now the bees.

That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen.  I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.

“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.”
~Mary Oliver

Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.

I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.

As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.

“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.

I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)

I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.

Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.

I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:

Part Two: Compassion

We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering

Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good.  Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.

Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:

They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)

Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)

All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.

That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.

I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.

Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…) 

Leopard Shark Snorkeling Tour

In about an hour, I’ll be heading up to La Jolla Cove for a leopard shark snorkeling tour which was rescheduled from Saturday due to poor visibility. These sharks are entirely harmless unless provoked, so I’m not even a little bit nervous about them. What I am nervous about, as one might surmise from two posts ago, are Other Sharks, most notably Great Whites.

Thankfully (and very deliberately,) I will be in a group – I don’t know how many will be in it, but I won’t be alone – which reassures me. Safety in numbers, and so on.

In addition to The Shark Issue, I also want to make sure I have basic snorkeling instruction before I go leaping into unknown waters alone: Reading things on the internet can only get one so far. I’m very keen on more snorkeling but have so much to learn. While La Jolla is the hotspot around here for this activity, it is also home to caves and currents and swell and surge and sometimes enormous surf.

There are many huge rocks on the shore into which the surf could gleefully pound a soft mammalian body. This guy below was diving off the rocks into the surf and didn’t get pummeled, but he sure did make me nervous. Look at the action of the water around him:

I’d like to learn where is safer and where to absolutely avoid (other than the caves – nofuckingway am I going into a damn cave in the ocean.  Nope! That’s reeeeeeally way up on my List of Things Which Terrify Me. I watched some videos yesterday of people snorkeling, kayaking, and just swimming in the caves up there, and it made me insanely uneasy – who knows what could be in there? What if a crazy tide/swell/surge comes up? What if I brush up against some horribly poisonous/sharp/spiky cave creature thing? <shudder> All the Nope. For now, at least, and probably for considerable time in the future.


And we’re back! Shark-wise, the tour was a little light (we saw only 5 or 6, and briefly,) but I learned a lot about La Jolla and about snorkeling in general. Benji, our tour guide, met me at Kellogg Park which is right next to the beach. He explained the other two members of the group were running a bit late, so we stood around and talked for awhile. I had brought all of my own gear, so he said, “You’ve obviously got a lot of experience, right?” Ha! I told him it was my first time other than 20 minutes in Mission Bay. and that I’d love all the advice he can give me.

He’s been diving here for about 13 years, and in all that time he has apparently never seen any dangerous sharks at all. Phew. He used to have a huge fear of Great Whites, too, but that has faded over time.

Our companions arrived about 20 minutes late, and Benji said he would extend our time in the water to compensate – very nice guy. They were a very sweet, absolutely beautiful Muslim couple, and the woman had not thought about how to keep her headscarf on in the water. We eventually got things sorted, though, and off into the water we went.

I couldn’t get my wetsuit zipped up for some reason, so I asked Benji to help just as a wave knocked me off-balance in my flippers and down I went. “Pride goeth before a fall, eh?” he chuckled.

As we were wading in, a medium-sized leopard shark cruised slowly by. Strangely, it’s much easier to see them from above the water than below – they appear to be really dark from above the waterline, and not nearly as dark below.

The other woman was having a terrible time with her fins, so Benji and I spent a lot of time on our own while we waited for the other two to catch up or do their own things. Benji was great at spotting wildlife, and asked “Did you see that huge sea bass?” “Did you see that big spiny lobster?” “Did you see that $THING?” and my answer was almost uniformly “…no…”

Turns out the mask I bought isn’t great – it fogs up very quickly and just doesn’t seem to have great optics. Benji switched with me, and from there on out it was a much better, clearer experience.

Visibility didn’t seem fantastic to me, but he said it was actually really good for the area. I think it was disappointing because when I think of snorkeling, I think of the videos I’ve seen of crystal-clear tropical waters, rather than this silty stuff.

As I practiced diving down, I realized my chubby body coupled with a neoprene suit is actually an excellent floatation device – I can’t stay down at all without continuously kicking, and those big leg muscles, of course, burn a lot of oxygen. When I get into better shape, that will be less of a problem for several reasons, but for now, I’ll probably pick up some weights to help keep me down. And a better damn mask. >.<

Right now, sitting still, I can hold my breath for just over a minute before I start getting uncomfortable – that’s not a very long time, and when I’m moving I’m sure it will be cut about in half. I’ve been watching some freediving YouTube videos and am starting to do some breath hold exercises.

My main goal with this tour was learning basic snorkel/ocean safety tidbits – the wildlife was just a nice extra bonus. I did manage to see Garibaldi fish, some kind of small, sandy-colored ray (probably a Round Ray, maybe a Thornback,) sea bass, opal eyes, and other things I didn’t recognize. Benji said there were a bunch of vermillion fish right by me he couldn’t believe I missed. I also didn’t see a small seal that was apparently cruising nearby. Cursed.  I will be going back and I will see these things!

There were enough people on the water to make me feel fairly safe from predators, and the passing thought of dangerous sharks only popped into my head a couple of times. Had I been alone, I’m certain it would have been more paralyzing.

This was the only shark I managed to capture on video. She was almost as long as I was, and was a bit skittish. Still, it was a neat experience, and I’ll definitely go back soon to try my luck again.

Settling In

[I started writing this post quite some time ago and never finished.]

It has been one week and three days since I first arrived in San Diego.

Those of you following along on Facebook know the journey has not been without its trials, but on the whole… I am so happy.

To catch the non-FB’ers up:

I had a very nice going-away party the Saturday prior to departure, and greatly enjoyed the company of my friends who were able to come. I was especially touched by people I hadn’t seen in some time who went out of their way. There was a lot of booze:

What people didn’t drink was given away. I took only one photo, and wish I’d taken more, but enjoying the moment was more important:

The movers arrived three days early, with three days’ advance notice of that fact. I figured what the heck – the earlier they picked up my stuff, the better the chances they’d get there sooner rather than later. Right? Ha. Read on.

Within ten minutes of their arrival the guy in charge of loading the truck hit me up for some weed. That raised an eyebrow, but ok. I had contracted through Colonial Van Lines, but they sub-contracted me out to Allied. Ok, fine. They loaded me up, and gave me a revised estimate of twice the weight I’d thought. I was unconvinced – yes, there were things I hadn’t weighed, but twice the amount? Seems unlikely.

They had taken the weight right before the pickup, and were supposed to drive immediately to the nearest scale to get a fresh weight, thereby giving the total weight of my belongings. This did not happen. More on that later.

I left my tiny house empty:

The day before I left, I got in touch with the still-absent motorcycle hauler to see why he hadn’t picked up the bike yet. He was going to be delayed, and hadn’t thought to let me know. I let him know I was unhappy in fairly diplomatic terms, and he outright canceled on me. FUCK. I found another hauler that night, but now my step-mom has to deal with them when they arrive for the loading up.

The drive out was quite lovely. It was great to spend time with my dad – I hadn’t spent that many hours with him since I left for college in 1988. He is truly a warm, wonderful, outgoing, and loving person, and I’m proud he’s my dad.

Whether it was leaving the oppression of Michigan, the weariness from the road, or some other factor, I started falling asleep early and waking up with the sun. At first, it was 530am, now it’s between 6 – 7am — without an alarm. You guys – that’s not me. I don’t simply “wake up in the morning” like a normal person. Only once have I slept until the alarm went off at 7, and holy wow did I feel like I’d wasted the day. If I’m not in bed by 11pm, oh shit – I’m up past my bedtime.

We drove about 700 miles per day, a very comfortable pace, and had some unexpectedly wonderful encounters along the way, including a period-correct, stupendously wonderful hotel on Route 66, complete with vintage magazines, and (fresh) Moon Pies in the rooms:

The astonishingly good-looking, and astonishingly kind young man at the front desk recommended a restaurant just a few blocks down for dinner. It, too, was remarkable. Just the right amount of kitsch, amazingly food, huge drinks, good prices, even better service. The waiter earned a 50% tip.

Breakfast across the street matched the impressiveness of the night before on all levels – kitsch, service, food, prices.

Should I ever pass through Tucumcari, New Mexico again, I will revisit each of these places.

We saw beautiful clouds and scenery once West of the Mississippi, some of which I tried to catch at 75 mph when I wasn’t driving:

We passed through a perfect parting between rain storms:

We spent a lot of time like this in various construction zones near cities – Tulsa, in this case:

The Mighty Maxima had nary a free inch of room inside the cabin or in the trunk. We squeezed water bottles into every available nook and cranny, leaving only room to see out the rear-view mirror:

As we neared what was to become home, the scenery became more dramatic:

Yuma was literally on fire as we passed through, but no photos of that.

We passed through a section of the country I can only describe as “god’s cat’s litterbox:” Giant mounds of huge rocks and gravel:

And then, suddenly… we were here. Nancy, the wonderful leasing agent, was on vacation, so Dan the Imposter showed me around my new home. The view is better than I could have hoped:

Even the walk from the elevator to my door is lovely:

The courtyard is very pretty, and its centerpiece, an enormous fountain, is relaxing and beautiful:

There is, however, a train stop literally right outside my bedroom window:

While this makes accessing the public transit system incredibly convenient, there is a near-constant stream of electric trolleys going by 24 hours a day. Before departing the station, the driver must signal his or her intentions by beeping an electronic horn. Some of them are quite polite and brief; others, however, must be having bad days, because they can lay on the horn for several seconds.

For the most part, this is just another aspect of the experience of living here, much like being in an apartment rather than a house. There are people everywhere all the time, but mostly I don’t hear them. The walls and floors are quite solid, and only very infrequently do I hear a neighbor, and then only briefly.

There is very little I cannot find within a mile of my apartment. There’s a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt 3 minutes away – my green hair makes me stand out a bit, and they already recognize me. Uh-oh. YES, IT IS THE GREEN HAIR AND NOT THE FACT THAT I HAVE BEEN THERE ABOUT 5 TIMES SINCE MOVING IN, SHUT UP.

One of the first things Dad and I did was to run across the street to a furniture store to gather up a chair for him to sit in, a desk so I could work, and a nightstand to store stuff in. I had not realized the extent to which Mid-Century Modern had come back into vogue – it was either that, or 1970’s Country. I opted for the MCM look, as I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it either way, and it might be fun in the long run.

The Flexsteel recliner is super comfortable. Turns out, the color of the chair quite nicely matches a quilt top I made years ago, and recently had finished. Dad broke it in with a nice nap:

The nightstand I bought was on clearance and, as such, could not be delivered – despite the fact they were delivering the other stuff. It would not fit in my car. Thus, I borrowed a dolly and walked it home – fortunately, it was only about a quarter of a mile.

It was on the way back home when things began to go awry with The Movers. My account manager, Alecia, called to say that, despite picking my stuff up several days early, they were going to be late. She also did not have a final weight for me, but promised a.) to have the weight by the end of the day (false) and b.) to have a final arrival date by Friday (also false.) Fine, fine – I have the essentials. I can make it work. I bought a coffee maker, though, because fuck no coffee for a week.

Thursday night, I got to introduce Dad to some of my favorite people: George, Sam, Kevin, Chuck, and Lorraine:

The new motorcycle hauler had given me a window of “before 8/14” to pick up the bike. On the 12th, I called to see how that was going to work out. It wasn’t. Delayed by a week. Great! New arrival window is “sometime before 9/10.” I’m totally not itching for my motorcycle at all, nope. Not with this perfect weather and gorgeous, perfect roads. This is fine. (fuck)

Rolling with the MCM theme, I bought some additional seating: Two counter stools, and one regular one:

I have a roommate. She is approximately the size of a Volkswagon:

So far, she stays in her corner, and I stay in mine, and it’s working out alright.

Every night, about a million crows pass overhead on their way to wherever they roost at night, which is really cool to watch. Dad stayed until Saturday morning, when I saw him off at the Surfliner train. He went up to Fullerton to visit one of my step-sisters and her kidlet, and then went on to Sacramento to visit the other.

Most mornings, it’s slightly to moderately overcast when I wake up, but it burns off by ten or eleven. Then, one day, the craziest thing happened:

Rumor has it, it has happened before. It is likely to happen again.  God help us all.

—–

And then Charlottesville happened, and everything darkened. Holy shit, how is this our world, our country, right now?

Yesterday, I spent a few hours at La Jolla Cove, which reminded me on a very primal, profound level how much I love the Pacific coast. This is where I belong – everything in me knows it, feels it. I posted this:

I had an appointment at 5pm out near La Jolla, and to hide from the rush-hour traffic on the return home, I, along with everyone else in the state of California, decided to hit to the beach. 

There is no better drug, no better cure for depression or anxiety, no deeper, more peaceful feeling for me than when I am near the pounding surf of the Pacific. My soul calmed, my mind quieted, and my body relaxed. I melted.
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It did’t matter there were a hundred other people around – everyone was happy, and playing in the spray, taking photos, and enjoying the overwhelming beauty. I could have fallen asleep on the sun-baked sandstone, listening to the surf, for the rest of my life.

While I’m really impressed with the camera phone on the Pixel XL, I can’t wait until my actual camera arrives. These would be well-served by running them through a quick post-processing, but it’s getting late, and my brain doesn’t want to computer anymore.

One of the things I love about life in the West is there is precious little in the way of protections against killing yourself doing something stupid, either knowingly or unknowingly. This ocean and many things in it will kill you. The rails to the edge are easily climbed over or under, though, and most people do. One slip, and into the churning waves you go, likely getting knocked unconscious by the rocks and quickly drowning. I love it. One day, that may kill me, too.

How many pictures of waves and people and sea lions can you stand? Enjoy a little bit of paradise with me.

I took over 500 photos – rest easy, I’ll just link to the album:

A few hours of bliss. Photos straight from the Pixel XL for FB, post-proc on some for Flickr later..Videos in the next album; these are just stills.

Posted by Erin Darling on Thursday, August 17, 2017

I’m not sure what language that is there at the bottom, but it’s pretty.

Those hours reaffirmed everything about this move.  I plan to spend many more there.

Now that I’ve been here a week, it should feel more real. Still, when a beautiful, friendly barista over on Mission Beach asked if I was on vacation, I still reflexively said, “yes,” followed by, “wait, no – I just moved here, it just doesn’t feel real yet.”

I feel like it all could be taken away at any second for any reason. It’s a little terrifying, but I know whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and I’ll be ok regardless.

I thrive on change – almost immediately upon arrival, my creative urges came stampeding back: I want to paint, I want to quilt, I want to write. I started reading a book for the first time in about three years (no, I’m not kidding; I wish I were.)  I’m learning Spanish. I’m dying to get a new camera to spend hours shooting, but that will have to wait until my finances recover, because… oh yes, we haven’t gotten back to The Movers, have we. Yes, yes.

You see, I have been jerked back and forth by these asshats for over a week now. We’ll be late. We won’t be late. Your final weight wasn’t taken until 21 hours later. Can I see the fuel receipts to make sure some of that unexpected weight isn’t diesel? No. Also, we’re going to be late again.

Long story short, I’m probably going to owe about $2,000 more than expected. So much for almost having paid off my credit cards! I will be SUPER fucked financially for awhile here. I had over $10,000 in the bank when I left Michigan. After the travel expenses, move-in check to the apartments, groceries, and basic furniture essentials, I now have $2,500, plus almost $2,500 more in credit card charges.

Movers finally called with my final weight, which is more than twice the estimate. I asked when the truck was weighed after they loaded me – 21 hours later. They were supposed to go to the nearest certified scale, and I have a difficult time believing there wasn’t one closer, because they weighed the truck shortly before it arrived at my house.
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“What assurances do I have nothing else was loaded in that time?”
“Well, that would be illegal.”
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I did not mention the guy who loaded me asked me if I could hook him up with some pot 10 minutes after arriving.
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“I was told they would weigh the truck at the closest scale. In fact, you just told me that less than 5 minutes ago – the closest scale.”
“Technically, they have up to 24 hours to get that final weigh-in.”
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Remaining balance: $3600.
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I am One Unhappy eDar right now, very thoroughly researching my options.

That really is the only stress factor right now – money. There are other niggling things – I’m still sleeping on an air mattress and wake up sore every morning, and I’m working at my desk from a camp chair, so my back is just miserable all the time. I can’t vacuum. My internet is only 120Mbps at its best. On several nights, there have been some loud people near or at the trolley stop when I’m trying to go to sleep. It gets dark at 8pm. All of that is laughably minor compared to the overall exuberance – I’ll pay this tax.

Flashback to Day One in California:
We went shopping at Ralph’s, the Kroger of California. Gathered up a full cart of STUFF, proceeded to self-checkout…

Me: “Oh shit, where are the bags?”
Dad: “There are no bags.”
Me: “…what?”
Dad: “They’re illegal here.”
Me: “*BAGS* are illegal?!”
Dad: “Plastic bags are, yeah.”
Me: “Oh – that’s actually kind of cool, but… I sort of need them.”
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I ended up buying 6 or 8 very nice reusable ones, but My Face When. 
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Good on ya, CA – nicely done.

 

Welp. I just walked face-first through my patio screen door. A not-insignificant amount of skin scraped off the tip of my nose, and an even larger bruise to my ego, as the door is probably toast and I’ll have to get a replacement. Derp.

Met with my first truly unhinged trolley rider just now. He got on, ranting and raving about self-defense, trying to teach “the class” a thing or two about defense. Naturally, nobody was interested. I stopped reading and started paying attention to where this was going. He didn’t initially single anyone out, and no one seemed particularly upset, but the driver opened his cab door, asked him to calm down or depart.

The guy, of course, did neither, and the trolley continued on. There were some timid tourists who looked uncomfortable, but he left them mostly alone.

He moved right next to a young jock, who took umbrage at the yelling guy’s proximity, and then escalated things quite a bit. He yelled back, swore at the guy, threatened him, and finally began to shove him. The driver hollered that security was on their way at the next stop. One of the shoves just about landed the homeless guy in my lap. I sighed, and readjusted to free up my hands.

I caught the jock’s eye and said, “it’s not worth it, man. Just take a step back and breathe.” He ranted about how personal space, being tired of losers, and kept at it. “Dude, this isn’t helping, just chill. It’s not worth getting arrested over.” The three of us went back and forth a bit, then he puffed up his chest, but moved away, and got off at our next stop. The homeless guy went back to bothering the car at large. Yay, small victories.

However, he next fixated on a younger guy who pretty clearly had some developmental issues. He towered over the kid, tapping his hand over his head, asking him intrusive questions, and making the kid uncomfortable. The kid didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone and tried really hard to ignore the guy, who just redoubled his efforts.

Enough. I asked the ranting guy to come talk to me. He didn’t initially want to, he was more interested in harassing the kid, and pretty much told me as much flat-out. I kept at it – not with much skill, mind you, but I was determined.

“He doesn’t want to talk to you, but I do. I’ll listen.” I motioned him toward me.

“Nah, fuck that, I don’t want to talk to you, I want to know what’s going on with him.”

“Come over here and teach me about self-defense.” That got him. He switched from towering over the kid to towering over me. Hanging from the overhead railing with both hands. Those armpits, though.

“Well the first thing about self-defense is not talking to people you don’t know.” He put his face fairly close to mine, but I didn’t change my relaxed posture or expression. I was, however, glad to be wearing dark sunglasses, lest my eyes give away my unease. I nodded – “good idea.”

“NEVER FUCKING TALK TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW!!”

“I see, ok. So I’m curious what you were doing when you got on the train and started talking to everyone you didn’t know?”

<pause> “PRACTICING. But now you all know me, right? So it’s fine.”

“Ok, right on. Tell me how to…”

“You’re just a woman, you’re just a woman who don’t know nothing about shit, your whole job is just to be a woman and annoy the shit out of everyone you meet. What do you think about that?”

“I think I know a lot of people who would probably agree with you.” The guy in the next row tried and failed to hide a smile.

He carried on about the same topic, and I nodded, said “sure,” and kept asking him questions while the kid he’d been harassing moved to the other end of the car.

“You women just want to tell people how to live their lives and give your opinions and make everyone around you miserable. What do you think about *that*?!”

“I think you’ve had some bad experiences with women.”

By that point, we’d reached the next stop, and security got on the train. The security guard watched us for a moment, and then escorted the dude off the train. He had to get one parting shot in, though, so he stuck his head back through the doors, and shouted, “JUST A WOMAN!!” before vanishing.

An older gentleman seated across from the kid who’d been the target gave me a quick thanks, and that was the end of it. I have a feeling that won’t be the last time, though. Safety pin: Gotta be one. That’s a promise.

It’s been over two months since I wrote the above, and a great deal has happened since that time. The movers arrived with “most” of my stuff, but a lot was missing and even more destroyed. Still trying to get that sorted out.

Plenty of other things to talk about, too, but I’ll save that for another time.

The Stuff of Fucking Nightmares

Literally.

I grew up on NOVA and Jacques Cousteau and Cosmos and other wonderful PBS documentaries, so even at a very young age, I understood shark encounters are rare; however, ever since I first saw “Jaws” at a tender elementary school age, I have been terrified and fascinated with sharks, particularly Great Whites.  While I knew it couldn’t possibly be, I was still convinced there were sharks in our inland Michigan lakes, especially on overcast days. I was absolutely certain a dorsal fin would erupt from the bubbles in my bath. And, naturally, huge White sharks patrolled the house at night, mostly circling around my bed in the hopes I would dangle a limb over the edge of the mattress. Relentless shark nightmares haunted me into college, though thankfully I haven’t had one in decades. Cue tonight’s dream agenda, probably. NEVERTHELESS.

Decades of Jacques Cousteau, other documentaries, and countless books, magazines, and scientific journals educated me well about sharks and our best understanding of why they do what they do, but none of this has quite reached my primal, lizard brain, which is content to believe the following: As soon as I set foot into water above my knee, I will be attacked. It is certain. My lizard brain is a stubborn, stubbon asshole.

An irrational fear of sharks was all fine and well when living in Michigan, a place utterly bereft of not only sharks but oceans entirely. Not really a problem. I enjoyed fantasies of “someday” diving with White sharks. In a sturdy cage. No, I have not seen “47 Meters Down,” nor do I plan to until I get more comfortable in the sea. My imagination is too good at inventing horrible things and requires no further fodder.

Here, in San Diego, this fear has become a bit more pressing. Last week, I went up to La Jolla and swam in waters about up to my shoulders. Briefly. Mostly, I stuck to knee-depth shallows. When I was deeper than that, I was very acutely aware of how fragile the human body is, but forced myself to laugh off any thoughts of actually seeing, let alone being nibbled upon by, a shark.

La Jolla is home to a large colony of sea lions and another of harbor seals, so there is sufficient reason for larger Whites to prowl, I suppose. But shallow water is safe water, right? One of my favorite assholes people in the world insists otherwise:

Later, at home and quite safe in my fourth-floor, five-miles-from-the-sea-and-therefore-probably-shark-proof apartment, I did some research. Oh holy fucking shit, you guys. Big, stupid, brain-weasel-feeding mistake. Now, I knew Southern California was a Great White nursery – there are sharks here and lots of them. I assumed, however, they were a goodly ways offshore. AND THEN I SAW THIS:

One sure-fire way to turn my intestines to liquid:

“Attention in the water: This is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.… You are paddleboarding next to approximately 15 great white sharks.”

Yes, they were pups and juveniles. Yes, juveniles eat fish, not mammals. But seriously – 15 fucking great white sharks at the bloody surf line. That got the ol’ nightmare juices flowing.  Undeterred, I plowed ahead and found this from earlier this year:

A 16-foot great white shark feeds on scarlet, a whale that recently died off the coast of Southern California.

That was a sixteen-footer. At Data Point. Jinkies.

The litany of sightings is enormous, the list of attacks or mistaken identities vastly shorter. The odds of getting bitten, let alone killed, by a shark are infinitesimal. HOWEVER. You want to talk about High Stakes, kidlets? Should that one-off situation happen… well. Nightmare fuel.

I did find this hilarious image taken during a non-hilarious event – fortunately, the surfer was unharmed. Be honest now – if the red circle weren’t there, could you possibly find the shark in this photo?

Given the prevalence of Whites off the coast of South Africa – the big, breaching ones – I can’t imagine anyone ever surfing there. Watch the full video in the link – it’s amazing, and also quite moving as literally everyone on the water immediately came to his rescue, despite the danger to themselves.

The story which is lingering the most in mind is this, which I found just now on a page by the Shark Research Committee:

“On Wednesday, 4 December 1991, commercial urchin diver David Abernathy, age 25, was attacked by a White Shark at Shelter Cove, between Eureka and Fort Bragg in northwestern California (40°01.7’N; 124°05.0’W). Abernathy, accompanied by boat owner Joe Lara and tender Gerald Vickers, had been diving for about six hours. He was dressed in a black wetsuit, hood, boots, swim fins, mask, and weight belt. The diver was attached to a hookah airline and carried an urchin rake. Under a sunny sky, the sea surface was calm with 1-to-2-meter groundswells rolling rhythmically over the sandy ocean floor. Air and water temperatures were estimated at 15ºC and 10ºC, respectively. The water was 8 fathoms deep with visibility of 5 meters.

“Abernathy started his dive day collecting urchins off a reef at the Point Arena Buoy. Picking was consistent, but not as good as other spots in the area, so he decided to try at Black Sands Beach and work his way south. At 1500 hours, he entered the water 100 meters off Abalone Point, near the airport in Shelter Cove. Abernathy and his fellow crew members saw a “single clump of kelp” in open water and maneuvered the boat alongside. Abernathy entered the water. As he started his descent, about 4 meters below the surface, he noted the kelp stipe was attached to the top of a pinnacle that was 5 to 7 meters in width and at least 10 meters in breadth. While slowly descending to the bottom, the diver reported observing “a couple of tons of urchins on this pinnacle.” Upon reaching the bottom, he scouted the area for urchins, then slowly began his ascent. Abernathy had been in the water about six minutes.

“Upon surfacing above the pinnacle, Abernathy spat out his regulator and turned to tell his companions on board the boat to drop anchor. The diver recounted, “When I looked at the guys on the boat their eyes were huge and their mouths wide open.” Lara and Vickers watched in disbelief as a large White Shark surfaced directly behind Abernathy and charged very quickly. The shark struck the diver in the middle of his back and simultaneously bit down, pushing him 2 to 3 meters across the surface of the water.

“Abernathy recalled, “When the shark hit my back, shoving me across the surface, I was spun around. I felt my diving hose become caught in the shark’s mouth as it began pulling me across the surface. I ended up against the shark’s side and could see its gills and enormous gray body. I started thrashing wildly before realizing my legs were not in its mouth. I went limp as the shark continued to pull me across the surface by my hose. My companions later told me that the shark would look me up and down and then lunge at me, bending its head almost back to its tail. Each time it would lunge I was thrown up onto its back. I realized the boat was getting farther and farther away. I started yelling, ‘Come and get me, I’m alive,’ but they were in shock and unable to respond. During the surface struggle, the shark would, from time to time, look over toward my friends on the boat. Finally, after yelling Lara’s name, he snapped out of it and started the boat’s engine. As they headed toward me the shark dived, pulling me five to 10 feet [about 2 to 3 meters] below the surface before my hose was severed. When I surfaced I found the shark had pulled me 75 to 100 feet [about 25 to 30 meters] away from my boat. I started screaming ‘Hurry, hurry!'”

“While Lara and Vickers sped toward Abernathy, they saw the shark surface 20 to 30 meters behind him, then quickly charge. They maneuvered the boat past the diver to cut off the shark’s approach path. In response, the shark sounded and swam under the boat and past the diver. The shark then surfaced, turned and charged Abernathy again. The diver’s perspective, from the water, was no less dramatic.

“He recalled, “Joey [Lara] sped up and they went past me by about 15 feet [5 meters], then reversed abruptly. I thought they were trying to get closer to me until they started screaming, ‘Come on! Come on!’ When I reached the rail of the boat I was unable to pull myself on board. They started yelling, ‘It’s turning around. Hurry!’ as they ran toward me to pull me into the boat. No sooner had I been pulled aboard than a large swirl and splash erupted next to the boat.” Once on board, the three badly shaken men sat down and took stock of Abernathy. As he sat in the bow of the boat, Abernathy told his companions, “I’m whole, I’m whole, I’m whole.” Abernathy and his companions thought the White Shark was 6 to 7 meters in length. The diver’s right swim fin had several slices to its upper surface. David Abernathy was most fortunate to have escaped his White Shark attack with only shattered nerves and several bruises.”

I have been given to understand most shark “attacks” are cases of mistaken identity or are “merely” curiousity, something akin to us touching something unfamiliar to get more information about it. Of course, given our fragility and their strengthy and pointy-toothedness, that’ll cause some damage. Witness:

When dealing with something of this size, which can move so quickly and cause so much damage.. how does one prepare? One uses a cage, preferably, but it’s difficult to surf in a cage. Check this footage of Deep Blue, the largest White caught on film to date  – “We realized immediately that she was very big.” Indeed, behold:

One remarkable shark researcher, Mike Rutzen, actually free-dives with Whites outside a cage, because he has learned their body language. Wow – talk about balls. I’m so awed by this man on all the levels. “Don’t try this yourself,” the video admonishes – NO PROBLEM.

I watched his full documentary about body posture and behavior and was absolutely captivated. If you’re interested in learning how he “puts sharks to sleep,” look up “tonic immobility.”

Most of us aren’t so lucky. From another Shark Committee page:

“It was a pleasant Sunday morning, 20 August 1961. David Vogensen, age 16, decided to go for a swim, accompanied by several friends. They had swum out to a sandbar about 75 meters from the beach and were returning to shore. The young swimmers crossed over a channel to a location about 6 meters from the beach near Salmon Creek, Sonoma County, California (38°20.8’N; 123°04.5’W). It was about 0930 hours and the water was cold and very clear. Vogensen was wearing dark blue swimming trunks.

“He saw the shark swim over the sandbar and parallel the beach until about 10 meters from his location. The youth observed a large dark shape, a few feet below the surface, approaching him head-on. The shark circled Vogensen twice before grasping the lower groin and upper inner thighs of both legs. It held its victim for several seconds before it began mouthing his left leg down to the ankle. The youth was unaware of any sensation of pain, only a great deal of pressure, until his foot went numb. It was then that he knew a shark had bitten him. What he did not know was the extent of his injuries. Vogensen made his way up the beach, where he collapsed, clutching his bloody trunks. From this time until hours later in the hospital, events were unclear to the young man.

“The swimmer was taken by automobile to Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol for emergency trauma care. Following emergency treatment, he was transferred to Hillcrest Hospital in Petaluma. Vogensen had received numerous slash wounds to his groin, with secondary lacerations to his left leg and foot. Several tendons and nerves were traumatized, requiring several hours of surgery to repair. Vogensen’s physicians expected a complete recovery without any physical limitations. The shark’s description and measurements of the wounds are indicative of a 4-meter White Shark.”

First: THIRTEEN-FOOT WHITE SHARK SIX METERS FROM THE BEACH, PEOPLE. That’s less than twenty feet from shore! FUCK! A curious shark of that size, no thank you, please. Mistaken identity or no, I would move to the middle of the damn desert and never touch water again. I would probably sponge-bathe for life.

That Abernathy attack above, though? That, to me, speaks of something else. My imagination says ANGRY KILLER SHARK AFTER PEOPLE, but that’s unlikely. Still, I have to wonder what provoked the animal to continue its attack after realizing what he had was probably not a seal, after all. Maybe because he didn’t get his teeth into Abernathy’s flesh to realize, but one would think it wouldn’t go to that much trouble for a meal unless it was absolutely desperate or irretrievably stupid.

I cannot even fathom what it was like for all parties present, let alone the incredibly lucky survivor. How does one ever swim again? Sleep? Ha!

One would think this might keep me out of the water. Fuck all that. Naturally, what I have done is to sign up for a leopard shark snorkel tour and surfing lessons. I am going to be absolutely terrified the whole time, probably, but at least I won’t be alone.

Until I learn more about The Various Ways the Pacific and Everything In It Is Going to Try to Kill Me, Perhaps Accidentally, I’m sticking to insanely safe solo activities. Mostly. The main risk is my own inexperience/ignorance. For example, in my first swim at La Jolla mentioned above, I got absolutely drilled by the first large-ish wave I encountered because I sort of forgot waves are a bit powerful. This was the sort that hammered me off my feet, into the sand, and dragged me along for what felt like an eternity (but which was actually about 5 seconds.)

The one thing I remembered as I got swept under was to remain calm – I wasn’t going anywhere but back to the beach, after all. I was fairly convinced I’d lose my prescription sunglasses given the perceived violence of the thing, but they miraculously remained on my face.

My first leopard shark tour was supposed to be this past Saturday, but was canceled due to utterly crap visibility (1-2 feet max.) I would have seen nothing. Eager, however, to get into the water and test out the new snorkeling gear, I went to the rather safe Mission Point Beach area, which is heavily-trafficked by swimmers, paddlers, and boats, and is also completely sheltered from the surf by a nice spit of land.

I donned my gear, did the stingray shuffle into waist-deep water (one generally should not just walk across the sand, lest one be stung by a very perturbed ray in our path,) and pushed off. The wetsuit was glorious – I was so warm and barely felt the water at all. The snorkel, mask, and fins all worked exceptionally well. I could make out my hands in front of my face and that was about it. In the video below, it’s pretty impossible to hear me – mostly, just photographic evidence that I’m in waters of unknown depths without the ability to see anything lurking near me. 😀

Sharks absolutely did cross my mind, but they would have so many other targets to choose from before they got to me, I felt almost safe. Quick fun fact: Did you know Sleeper Sharks may live up to 700 years? Wow.

Given the nothing to see, I swam back to shore after 15 or 20 minutes, thoroughly unbitten. Yay. Baby steps, y’all.

Baby steps.

Thursday, I’ll reattempt the shark dive. Saturday, surfing lessons. I kind of love this local shark celebrity: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/san-diego/sd-me-leopard-shark-20170716-story.html

I know Leopard Sharks are completely harmless unless provoked – but it’s not the leopards I’ll be watching anxiously for: Hammerheads; Makos; Great Whites; Seven-gills. While it would be freaking amazing to see one of those, I don’t think I’m quiiiiiiiite ready for that yet. I’m the person who needs to touch the stove to see if it’s hot, and no amount of “no really, they won’t bother you” will placate me until one does, indeed, leave me alone (and even then, I’ll probably assume it was a fluke and that the next one will grab me.)

Fuck you, brain weasels. And, in the incredibly unlikely event of some sort of shark-related mishap occurring, I hope I have the presence of mind to at least appreciate the irony before I either die of a heart attack or am consumed.