The SF Chronicle did a nice write-up of the LitCrawl Reading from Saturday night at 12 Galaxies. Tom Barbash and I were the co-hosts, though I must say Tom was the alpha host, corralling people to read (including me) ahead of time and printing up the intro scripts. I was pretty keyed up about my reading, being sort of a rookie at the whole public-reading-of-personal-essay thing. But it went quite well, all in all. The crowd was great - must have been a couple hundred people there or more, and the whole crew of Grotto readers was fantastic.
Due to jocular demand, the approximate text of my reading follows:
Touched by a Dolphin
We got up early to make the 60-mile trip from Miami down to Key Largo. Trisha, my aunt, drove. My great aunt Mary, in from California with a suitcase-ful of new-age dogma and always a little imperious in her gold cat's-eye glasses and matching hairdo, assumed the shotgun seat.
My grandmother, my aunt Tina, my mom and I wedged ourselves into the back seat Trisha's air-conditioned white Corolla. It was my spring vacation and I was a scrawny 12 year old - old enough to be aloof and vaguely embarrassed by the proximity of my family, but not enough to have plans of my own. I hummed a Hall & Oates song and used my hand as a spyglass pressed against the window. I watched the railings of the Route 1 causeway undulate as we headed south into the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 178 square nautical miles of shipwrecks, lagoons and mangrove roots grasping at coral reefs.
We were going to swim with dolphins.
The good part was that my mom was the kind of mom you could talk to about anything. Later, that became a minor drawback when my friends would invite themselves over and brush past me to discuss their weird problems with my cool mom, but in the sixth grade those problems hadn't come up yet.
I was excited about swimming with dolphins. At the time, somehow it didn't strike me as falling into the grooviness continuum. I'd been to Sea World, a thoroughly normal scene, and witnessed dolphins doing cool stuff like synchronized backflips. I'd also seen the show Flipper – perfectly normal – and making friends with a dolphin seemed like a cool idea.
little how-to in preparation for our encounter. The main idea was that you'd tread water until a dolphin swam up beside you, then you'd grab hold of the dolphin's dorsal fin, and it would tow you around the
Each of us pulled a pair of flippers, a mask and a snorkel out of a basket on the dock. We could see several fins surging around a part of the lagoon separated from the main area by an underwater chain-link
gate. At Sea World, the dolphins seem to be a manageable size, partly because of the comparison to Orca and Shamu, partly because you're sitting dry and safe up in the bleachers. But at close range you realize that dolphins are huge, 7 or 8 feet long and weighing half a ton. Aunt Mary took one look at them and scuttled her plans to engage in dolphin telepathy, opting to stay in a chair on the dock. The rest of us climbed down a little ladder into the lagoon.
Protruding from his ventral slit was an appendage the size of a fleshy billy club. Stuff was emerging from it and trailing away in the water. He - and it - were headed straight for me.
I gasped, sucking a quart of lagoon water through the snorkel into my lungs and recoiled, swinging my swim fins around to kick away from him. I surfaced, yanked off the mask and splashed over to grab onto the side of the dock.
I looked around. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time - getting towed around the pen, laughing, splashing. Maybe it was a weird one-time thing, some kind of Key Largo howdy.
He came after me again. This time it brushed its belly against my leg – then I felt a snag as it hooked me behind the knee with its dolphin penis. That was enough for me. You don't call it quits when the neighbor's dog starts humping your leg, but the neighbor's dog isn't the size of a refrigerator and trying to hump you underwater with a pink whiffle bat.
"Wasn't it fun?" she asked.
"No," I said. My face got very hot.
"Why not?" she said.
"It sucked," I said.
It was the last thing I said during the very long 60 miles back to Miami.