The plan was scuba diving and surfing. Ryuki met us in front of the hotel. He was late, having drank all night and his wife had to wake him up. We followed him away from the hotel, down the sidewalk a little ways. He hadn’t come in yesterday’s van, nor with Audi. Instead him and a different friend had brought two scooters. Zucchini and I were to ride one and them the other.
I hadn’t ridden a scooter or bike in nine years, not since my first time in Thailand, and never before with a person on back. I worried I’d kill Zucchini. It would have been different if we were in the countryside, and although Bali isn’t a big city, there’s still plenty of traffic to kill you. I considered suggesting she ride on the back with Ryuki, but I didn’t want to look like a bitch. Besides, if anyone was to kill her it should be me.
I backed the bike away from the curb, adjusted the mirrors, turned the key on and pressed the starter button. Get on and hold on tight, I told her. I gently eased the throttle and we were off. Like the first time I’d ridden one, it was easier than I thought. Still, I wished I’d had health insurance and glasses or contact lenses.
We stayed close behind Ryuki, who rode behind his friend. On the one-way road, taxis stayed on the right and bikes passed on the left. Sometimes it became narrow between taxis and parked motorbikes, which was a bit scary because my handling was a bit shaky, and I thought I might clip something with the handlebars and take us to the ground for a little road rash. And no telling how much cash these Indonesians might have tried to extort from me for damages.
We turned onto a fast, three-lane street. I kept us on the far left, on the shoulder next to a curb. A taxi in the middle lane passed us. Then without warning, the driver cut right in front of us and stomped his brakes.
I hit both brakes hard. Zucchini’s head slammed into the back of mine. She was okay. Good thing we wore helmets. Good thing nobody had been right behind us.
Cars honked. The taxi let out a passenger and sped away. Ryuki and his friend had pulled over to let us to catch up.
We climbed a toll bridge that shot straight out over Benoa Bay. Then it split left and right. We looped right. We had a private lane for scooters and motorcycles. It was fun riding, beautiful too. The bay and sky matched in color.
Zucchini wanted to reach into her pocket, take out her phone and take a picture. I told her she better not or I’d wrench down on the throttle and throw her ass off the back.
By the time we reached land, due to exhaust or my intense concentration, I had a headache. We turned left, went down a ways, then turned right on a dirt road. A herd of people walked towards us on our left and a single van approached on our right. The van honked. I barely squeezed between the two.
We parked the scooters at a beach. Boats pulled in and out, almost non-stop, some dragging tourists on rafts across the water and some dragged tourists with parachutes across the sky.
Parallel to the beach, descending fast and screaming, was a walrus-sized woman. Gravity pulled hard on her. She needed a bigger parachute. Seven Indonesians rushed forward to catch and break her fall.
A big shack, open at the front and back, provided shade, tables, lockers, showers, and beer. We sat down and someone gave us a laminated menu of pictures of activities with prices on the back. He, like many of the Indonesians I overheard, spoke good Japanese.
There was a lot to choose from. Flying in the sky on a parachute was $30 for 15 minutes. They even had a sky board, that thing that shoots a powerful jet of water out the bottom and has you hovering 10 feet over the water and looking like Iron Man. It was around a $100 for less than half an hour.
Our first pick, the only thing I cared to do, was scuba diving. It was one thing I’d been wanting to try ever since being on this side of the world, and I thought Zucchini would enjoy it too; a new hobby that we could share besides basketball and snowboarding. One hour of scuba diving in Bali, where we were, was $100 each. Too much, I thought, but if we didn’t do it then we might not have ever.
We also picked the flying inflatable searaft—$15 for 15 minutes. If we chose one more activity we’d get a discount, we were told. I was against it, in favor of saving money and returning early to Kuta Beach to surf, but Zucchini chose to ride behind a boat on a plain-old raft. “It’s only $15,”she said. The three of them, Ryuki, the man, and her looked at me like I was cheap.
We got into our swimsuits. I was the whitest person there. Much whiter than the sand on the beach. Sunblock wouldn’t save me. I brushed naked shoulders with an Indonesian, robbing him of some of his natural god-given melanin, then I told Zucchini to spread and rub it in over the rest of my nakedness.
We walked out into the water and stepped into the flying sea raft, our feet facing the beach. An Indonesian, with wild long hair like Tarzan, sat up in front of us, facing the boat. Had he had been any more suncooked, he could have passed as an early quadrupedal African. “Hold on tight to the straps,” he said, “and keep your feet here pressed against the edge.”
The boat dragged us out to sea, picking up speed, while water splashed over the side and onto our faces, burning our eyes and quenching our thirst for salt. I didn’t yet know why Tarzan rode along with us. He, after asking if we were ready, gave the boat driver a hand signal. Then, just like that, with a little more speed, we went up in the air. We were almost vertical, looking down at the ocean, which was no small distance below. Here and there, in the green shallow spots, were coral beds to fall upon and die.
Then I witnessed something amazing. Tarzan, while flying through the sky with us, jumped back and forth from Zucchini’s side to mine, balancing out the raft. So he was an early quadrupedal African!
Zucchini cheered and had fun. We landed smoothly and went up one more time. On the way back to shore, after what was more like five minutes than 15 out at sea, I asked Tarzan if anyone had ever fallen out. He said no.
Next, we were sized for shirts and flippers. Zucchini and I, including an Indonesian guide for the both of us, went out to the diving spot. On the way there, one of them briefly explained in Japanese how scuba diving works. He taught us three hand signals; one if we wanted to resurface, one if we were okay, one if we were not okay. If our ears hurt we could equalize the pressure by pinching our noses and blowing.
The diving spot was roped off. We weren’t free but captives. Several boats were anchored there already, and we parked on one end and made preparations.
They strapped oxygen tanks to our backs and a belt of lead around our waists. I thought we’d sink to the bottom like two bricks in a sack with a litter of unwanted puppies.
We jumped in the water, bit down on the air regulator and practiced breathing with our heads underwater; made sure our goggles were water-tight. Mine were too tight. They squeezed the brains out of my ears.
I tried to dive down, kicking and working my arms, but it wasn’t easy. “Why’s it so hard,” I asked one of them.
“Because of your wetsuit.”
“Is it hard for you?”
“What the hell,” I said out loud. We were only wearing a skin-tight shirt. He wasn’t even wearing a weighted belt.
We were ready. We dove under together. I thought, if we could manage it we’d swim down at our own pace—but no. The guides, with one hand on our backs, quickly pushed us straight to the bottom. It wasn’t that deep. Maybe 25 feet tops. But my ears hurt right away. And the pain exponentially increased with every foot deeper. At the bottom, I felt like my head was going to explode like a Martian’s.
I looked at Zucchini. She looked fine. The instructors looked fine. Meanwhile, I wanted to bolt to surface. But that would have been like losing an arm wrestling match to a girl, a really weak Asian one—and in front of other men.
I felt flighty. I concentrated on my breathing. I had to. It was strange through that mouthpiece. INHALE. EXHALE. INHALE. EXHALE. I sounded like Darth Vader. It was the only sound I could hear.
I wanted to pinch my nose and blow to equalize the pressure in my ears, but I was afraid if I did my teeth would let go of the regulator and I’d get a mouthful of the ocean, and there would go my oxygen. I was experiencing the sort of panic an Alaskan salmon does when scooped out of the water and tossed on a bed of rocks, I imagine.
If I lost the regulator, could I simply put it back in my mouth and continue breathing? Could I expel the water out of my mouth with whatever air remained in my lungs? Would I have to swallow the water before breathing again? Or could I push the water out and through the regulator somehow? I’d seen it done it the movies, I just didn’t know the proper way.
Anyways, I decided to see if my ears would equalize themselves. They did and the pain was gone for a short while.
There were two handrails on the seafloor. The guide confined us between them. At first I thought we were on the deck of a buried shipwreck. But really it was just two rails that encircled some boulders and aquatic life, an easy way for us to move around and stay underwater. Fast food scuba diving.
While hooking a leg under the rail, we took out little bags of bread we’d stuffed under our shirtsleeves, ripped one end open and held them out like an ice cream cone. Small tropical fish nibbled at it with their tiny mouths. Bored, I ripped the second bag of bread into pieces and let it all go at once. A fish or two bit at my hairy legs. Felt like I was being pinched. I kicked at them with my flippers.
Zucchini remained feeding them, her guide having gave her a third bag of bread. I explored underneath a few rocks and in between crevices, looking for treasure our giant eels and octopuses. The guide pulled me back to the rails. I wasn’t allowed to swim freely, apparently.
He pointed to pink anemone on a rock. We pet it. The pink tentacles retracted when touched. It was a soft and fleshy feeling, every little tentacle alive, and I’d bet my bottom dollar some lonely diver has raped one.
Just like in the movie Nemo, it was home to two clownfish. Zucchini tried to feed them.
I looked away from the rocks, away from the rails, to as far as I could see under water, out into what was a wasteland of nothing. You couldn’t see far. There was a Los Angeles smog. You wouldn’t see a shark coming until it was too late.
My guide took me away from the rails. We swam over a cliff, his hand on my back the whole time, and then he suddenly plunged me down into a 10 foot drop off. The pain was worse than giving birth, it had to be. There was nothing there. Zucchini and her guide weren’t even with us. He was just an asshole.
We resurfaced. We were under for maybe a half hour. I was glad it was over.
Last activity—we sat in a float, four of us, a Muslim couple in the back. A boat dragged us slowly and boringly around the ocean. The women smiled and were all yippee about it. A quick $30 gone.
As we hadn’t expected to spend so much, we hadn’t enough cash to pay our $270 bill. Zucchini hadn’t brought her wallet. Zucchini had thought all the prices were per person. I gave them all my cash, which paid half, and we’d go to an ATM back at Kuta Beach. Ryuki, being a regular acquaintance there, was trusted to return later with the rest of the money while we surfed.
To return to Kuta Beach faster, to gain us more surfing time, I rode on back of the scooter with Ryuki. It was his suggestion. While stopped at a stoplight, he asked if I’d planned to return to Bali anytime soon. He knew Zucchini was returning to Japan in December, and he said next time he could take me to nightclubs with $6 whores.
“Wow that’s cheap,” I said.
“I mean $60.”
“Oh . . . An oil massage and a handjob in Thailand is $30 and better than sex with without a condom.”
“You can get that here too.”
We arrived back at Kuta Beach. An ATM at the shopping mall declined my card. Zucchini had to use hers. She wasn’t happy about it because I already owed her money. She called me a “himo,” which means “string” in Japanese and is slang for a guy who uses women for money.
She got a massage. I ate a fired banana, the best thing I ate in Indonesia, and drank beer. Ryuki returned later and the three of us ate dinner at a cheap Muslim place that was opened to the outside by a steel shutter. It was part of their home. Behind a glass counter were many plates with different food. The Hijab woman scooped whatever we wanted on our plates.
I had rice and chicken wings and corn. A couple flies buzzed around us. In one corner a t.v. played praise Allah music while a woman on the screen repeatedly prostrating herself in prayer.
Food kept getting stuck in my teeth, in the top back left corner. Some of it had already been there for days. I had no floss. Zucchini had been saying my breath reeked when I tried to kiss her. I picked back there with toothpicks but couldn’t get it all out.
Then we went to a bar. We ordered three-for-the-price-of-one long island iced teas. We paid for Ryuki, of course. I mean Zucchini paid. There was a billiards table. Ryuki beat me the first game. The female staff, like in Thailand, racked the balls for you. The second game, a game of nine-ball, I won. For the third game I suggested we play cut-throat, a three player game, so Zucchini could play too. One player is balls 1-5, another 6-10, another 11-15. The goal is to knock everyone else’s in. The last person remaining with his balls on the table wins.
Ryuki was drunk after only one iced tea, and we had to stop him from hitting in his own balls. Still, he beat the both of us, the lucky guy. He talked on the phone and played a game with a stranger.
Zucchini and I sat at the bar, where I saw a game of Connect Four. We played it for the next hour. It was more fun than scuba diving. We exchanged win for win, neither of us really better than the other, although I thought I would destroy her because this was game of war and strategy, and I’d been reading a ton about famous Roman and Greek generals.
The older woman behind the bar challenged me. She destroyed me. A young guy played us too. He was just as good. I got them to play each other so I could watch and learn their secret strategy. She’d drop her first piece down in the middle. He’d drop his on her’s. Then she’d drop her’s on his. And so on until they had one vertical row to the top. It was a fight for the high ground. That’s the secret to Connect Four. I used it on Zucchini. She tried to use it too, but she was drunk, and I beat her.
I’d beaten motorbiking in Bali. I’d beaten a panic attack while scuba diving in Bali. But tomorrow surfing would beat me. I’d suffer the worst chaffing in the worst of places.