Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marine Attack and the Eyeball Incident

Finally I had a NY weekend in Sydney. Not a SydneyisNewYork weekend but one filled with an Aussie rollercoaster of unexpected highs and lows. It was anything but tepid and might have been worth losing my wallet, cash, keys, wigs, heels and makeup somewhere between Darlinghurst and home. That did actually happen, but so did experiences, which are what, let's face it, this hour upon the stage is all about.


I had a pre-Mardi Gras Party at the office where I dressed in galactic drag and won $50 in the costume contest! That would soon disappear, along with all my other belongings after high-tailing it to Oxford Street for more dancing and shots until I changed back into a boy and that's where it all ends - at least for my bag of belongings. And let me tell you how much Bam likes being woken up in the middle to me "screaming and yelling" (it's never just the one, apparently).


I wake without my belongings to discover my eye, which has been hurting for several days, is worse. It's starting to look and feel like that angry red vagina from Lord of the Rings.
So I march to an optometrist who begins by flipping my eyelid inside-out... an ewwwww-inducing maneuver which was the least of my revulsion after he tells me I have a "foreign object" embedded into my eyeball. It gets all very sci-fi (syfy?) as he explains (did you know?) that corneas regenerate and because I left it for days, there were layers (of slimy cornea?) over said object, and unlike an oyster, my eyeball was not planning on turning it into a pearl I could retire off of. So he sent me direct to the eye hospital ER, explaining the foreign object would have to be removed using a "little spoon".

The idea of a little spoon coming for my eyeball sent me to the pub for a couple beers before hitting the hospital where the doctor said mister optometrist was just being kind. "It's not a little spoon," he explained. "It's a needle that I'm going to use as a spoon." No doubt next up is a fork-feeding of the antibacterial eye drops.

After the good doc spooneedles my eyeball, it's discovered the foreign object is a tiny shiny fleck. It appears to be a fleck of glitter! Uh-huh. Let it be known: glitter - it's not just hard to get out of your sheets anymore!

Eyeball much less angry, my friend Jack gets Bam and I tickets into the fabulous Harbour Party...
This kickoff party to Mardi Gras which is perennial fun minus the swarms of police and sniffer dogs surrounding it. The police don't have much else to do, certainly not track down my missing drag bag! Let's prioritize.. and arrest partiers for club drugs!

It's a summer evening with the best views in Sydney, right on the harbour and I unexpectedly bump into people I haven't seen in ages... from around the world. And I see my friend Gerald who's supposed to compete in an ocean swim with me in the morning. He just stares in my eye (the good one) and says, "jesseeeeee" when I remind him. Jessseeeee... I think you're on your own.

So besides the gestapo, the party was perfect.
And I'm busy on both dance floors, sweating, totally off my tits and suddenly the alarm goes off.


It's 7am. I haul my bones out of bed when the alarm goes off because I knew I wouldn't want to wake up for the 2.5km Tamarama to Clovelly "cliffside odyssey" ocean swim. So I plotted against myself. I paid the entrance fee online and told all my friends I was doing it. Because if Jesse can't party his ass off and still keep his commitments he will have to reconsider giving carte blanche permission to the prior. Survival is a wobbling tightrope between molten combustion and self-preservation. In other words, growing up is a terribly dreary last ditch option.

So I get up and walk to the bus stop thinking, hoping, even praying...that the bus doesn't come. I can't be blamed for a failure of public transportation. But the bus does arrive and at Bronte, I get out and walk along the cliff toward Tamarama Beach when I see clusters of people in the sand and hear voices over a loudspeaker: "Good news, swimmers. We haven't sighted any sharks along the course yet!"
Swimming off the Aussie coast naturally carries this danger, and yes I did sign a waiver stating that a) I might drown, b) I was responsible for my own physical fitness and c) I might be taken in a "marine attack".

A shark attack would be a pretty awesome ride from top to bottom of the food chain and definitely the way I want to go. I just don't want to see prehistoric gnashers lurching for me from out of the deep. Visualizing this has me considering doing backstroke for 2.5km, but even with your back to danger, even with your eyes closed, you still imagine terror and isn't that all fears and phobias really are? Only something the mind consciously allows to enter and to linger; an all-consuming tenant who vanishes the second he's confronted. That spoonneedle didn't hurt, just the idea of it. I won't do the backstroke.
More importantly, wouldn't Marine Attack make a sensational drag name?

There are hundreds of swimmers milling about the beach in bright neon caps, to be easily spotted in case of drowning, distress or marine attack. I'm given a anklet with a chip to calculate my race time. Affixed with velcro, I picture as Jonah, beeping deep within the guts of a nondescript leviathan.

Groups of swimmers plunge into the water en masse. The way they crash into the surf recalls The Last Unicorn, at the end when all the unicorns surge forth, released from the ocean, saved, sparkling, free.
 Only now the swimmers tumble forward, right into the churning water, making one with the waves.
There are many more boys than girls, their speedo'd asses emblazoned with the names of their swim clubs: "Bondi Icebergs" "Coogee" "Hammerheads". These are stunning surf gods - tawny, brawny, beautiful. James is here, he's the only person I know or recognize. He told me about the race, knows it's my first. We both wear neon green caps. He's heat 16. I am heat 18. The water is 21 celcius. Jocular voices on the speakers announce, "It's an easy course to follow," they say. "Just one right turn!" They also mention that the cliffside odyssey (around "shark point"!) has been rated the most beautiful ocean swim in the world.

But how far down the coast is 2.5km? How far out? James asks, "Do you see the boys?" How could I miss them? His wife is here supporting him, I'm all alone so maybe he's trying to provide a measure of comfort, a distraction to calm the fear in my fuzzy hungover head. "Follow the pink boys," he says to me and I now understand he's referring to the big pink buoy out in at sea - the right turn. That's how to pronounce buoy here, it's "boy". Just exactly like that.

Once in the water, there is no more fear. There is only one thought: let's finish this fucker! Well that's not entirely true. I do briefly envision how I might dress Miss Marine Attack (scales of shimmering sequin pallettes with a Busby Berkeley-esque acquacade cap outfitted with a prominent dorsal) but for the most part I'm present, in the moment, bobbling about the open ocean. I've never swam close to 2.5km. I've never swam in the ocean before today, not like this. And the ocean, unlike a pool, is uncontained, moving, heaving. Mighty. I struggle to move forward, eating seawater like a shipwreck as swells hit and pull and twist me round like a single sock in an overfilled washing machine on stir.

I can't enjoy the scenery of the most beautiful swim in the world because I breathe to the left, toward New Zealand. I don't worry about spotting a white-tipped dorsal fin in the big blue beyond; not even when smacked in the leg or rib because it's just another swimmer, all of us trying to finish this - stroke by splashing stroke. At times we swim alongside one another and I get the impression I've made a new friend even though it is only a pair of goggles and a gaping mouth. Occasionally, I pop up to see if I'm on track, to gauge how much further (I can never tell), to look for a buoy. Lifeguards sit on surfboards at intervals, pointing me which way. There is a large cemetery atop a lonely cliff.

I have no idea how long I'm actually in the ocean. The next day I'll discover I was clocked in at :51 minutes. Back on land I suck on some orange slices and down a banana, but I'm queasy. It's not dead tired or sore but I can't string together sentences and I realize it's residual motion sickness. Kinda like when you hop off the treadmill, but feel you're still on it. 

In the afternoon, I introduce the Aussie premiere of Half-Share for the Mardi Gras Film Festival. It's fun to see this funny film we shot on Fire Island, half a world away, now a historical document because after a devastating fire this winter, some of its locations no longer exist. The audience is great, and I'm with friends old and new, including Sydney drag star Roma Therapy, a vision in powder pink.
The weekend is almost over, but not quite. I'll have dinner with Bam (he's forced to pay, I've got no $!) and think to myself that a shard of glitter in the eye isn't a tragedy; losing cash and credit cards is not a cause for rueful regret and that perhaps it's all wrapped up in the price of admission. Without epic ups and downs, without a few spills and thrills, just what kind of ride are we on?


Gold Star said...

Very well written and a pleasure to read. Harbour Party was a blast!

Looks like Sydney is turning you after all...

Marie Antoinette said...

Wish I was there to see you swim! Remember when I stood on the corner to see you run the NYC marathon?..seems like yesterday...so proud of you...maybe one day I'll compete with you!....while I still can! xo Barb

Auntie M said...

Gee. Your time exactly matched my Emerald City mile a few years ago. That makes you 2.5 times as fast as me. But then, I was an old woman and you are not. xoxo.

Jesse Archer said...

Barb, can you believe that marathon was 2004?! You must come down under for an ocean swim... and Auntie M will follow us on foot! XXX