by Randall Beaird
In 1989, one of my sisters talked me into moving to San Diego. For Texans, San Diego is scuba diving paradise. Certified in Nacogdoches while in College, I found a scuba club in the shoreline city. On Easter weekend I attended a bizarre “Easter rock hunt.” Three hundred multicolored two pound rocks were scattered in six to twenty feet of water. Only snorkelers were allowed outfitted with nylon mesh lobster bags to collect the rocks.
My first trip past the breaking waves had me tasting the Pacific–the excitement produced some untimely breaths. My mind drifted back to a Houston backyard and a kid charging around like a boiled egg addict. Now, the ocean was boiling. Dozens of bobbing wet-suits disappeared, madly searching for colored rocks. Thirteen stones later I was about ready to sink.
Teary eyed, I swam over countless others going back to shore. I knew one more duck dive to the sandy bottom would be all she wrote. Afterwards, I laid under a twisting pine, thankful my belching was about over and for not drowning. Each rock represented a raffle ticket for assorted scuba gear. I walked away with a dinky lime flavored mouthpiece.
My first real dive in the Pacific found seven of us sixty feet deep, circling a sunken steel tower. Quite a variety of fish hovered around the tangled beams. My dive buddy led the way, slowly weaving through the rusty derrick. At one point, with my head turned, I floated too close and his frog kick slammed a fin into my face-mask. Freezing water instantly filled my mask. Sixty feet deep, it was a surprising and deadly situation.
Some divers panic and drown. I considered cashing things in with a dramatic series of convulsions, but my mind flashed back to practicing in the pool. I looked up, took a deep breath and inched my mask open. With nostrils flared like a scared sheriff’s pony, a deliberate stream of air purged the wet death out the cracks. The thread of life grew to a cable; I was going to live. But, salty eyelids ripped any comfort apart as they begged for the back of my hand. As a good-will gesture, I rubbed the tempered glass.
While in San Diego, I worked in Micrographics with a second job on a San Diego Bay boat line. As a bow-tied waiter, I began working the dinner cruises. Wanting more than one night/week (overstaffed), I switched to the deckhand position and became the back-up tour guide.
With minimal deckhand hours, I talked my boss into letting me fill the dishwasher opening. It was humble pie defined but six days of pay. The debonair diners danced the night away as I purged their dishes in a cloud of steam below.
After a month of washing down porcelain mountains there was an opening for assistant cook. I got the job! I couldn’t wait to wear the cool chef’s hat. I was now working for the grand master of edibles and orders. The head chef had his own TV show and barked out commands like a drill sergeant. My frantic dish washer shuffle turned into a proud gallop; I was running with the big dogs now. I eagerly slid cold steel through hills of vegetables, striving for the same impressive head chef stroke.
Toward the end of the dinner cruise the wait-staff would often dance with each other. All the cooks were guys and my hat embarrassed the waitresses, so I looked on content but hopeful. I’m not too shy but it was too much to ask of a dinner guest, considering my giant hat and I smelled like the main course.
The band began “Lady in Red,” the last song of the cruise, when this lovely woman approached. Shuffling across the hardwood floor, I felt on top of the world. Maybe it was her compliment on my hat, the conversation, or maybe her shiny red dress. Whatever it was, life was firing on all cylinders. I smelled like dinner but danced like dessert.