1988 - Das FINISH!

Life in the fast lane #6 in a series

Hello once again, and welcome to that despised piece of ( literary hell known as the form letter. However, this is a form letter of the highest caliber, discussing some of the most fascinating and controversial topics of our times, namely the life and times of Dave "writing is better than doing laundry" Dickie. And let us not forget that form letters are better than that other despised piece of literary hell known as the form Christmas Card, which you may also receive from me if I decide you are worthy enough to deserve further torturing (and I have laundry to do).

I spent Labor day weekend in San Fran, visiting Alex, Neil, Phylis, Jennifer, Jeffery, and Larry Finkel. This was fortunate as the temperature in LA during that weekend made many believe that they had entered the afterlife on the downside... Even San Fran was hot. I spent most of my time at pool parties, using lots of sun tan lotion and only burning off a few layers of skin.

I had a chance to go down to UC Irvine and see my cousin Margaret for a while. Margaret was still in the midst of getting over "Louise" (aka "Luis"), another bio/ecology grad student who she had gotten rather attached to before leaving for a three month expedition to Alaska. He was apparently not interested enough to wait for her return. Currently, some associate professor at the University of Louisiana was attempting to establish a more serious liaison with Margaret, but she couldn't seem to get excited about it. "That, my dear cousin, is because you are still bitter about Louise" I said. Margaret replied "Bitter? Who's bitter? I'm not bitter. No, I may even let this guy come out and visit if I get interested in ruining my life again".

I shook my head. Margaret pointed at a Bloom county cartoon. "That's a pretty good indication of what I think about relationships nowadays". I read the comic. In it, Opus is asking a Librarian for a book that describes what men and women expect out of each other in the late eighties. The librarian suggests "The men who hate women and the women that love them". Opus says "No no no... that doesn't sound like it at all". The librarian next suggests "The men who hate the women who love men other than them". Opus once again rejects it. "I'm looking for something that captures the essence of relationships between men and women in the eighties" he exclaims. The librarian looks for a moment, and then selects a book. "We have this one... 'tighter buns in thirty days'"... and Opus screams "THAT'S IT!". The obvious point being made is that relationships are nothing more than sex. I shook my head sadly. "Margaret, Margaret. You should know better after this entire thing with Louise. If relationships were nothing more than sex, they'd be fun".

We went out with a group of Margaret's friends in the bio/evolution department to a little known bar in Irvine. It was a relaxed kind of place, where a guy could have a friendly knife fight in the corner while onlookers made enthusiastic remarks and bet on who the winner would be. The kind of place where real men in real cowboy hats attempted to overpower one another with the manly essence of unwashed-in-this-century male body odor. A classy sort of place where... well, you get the picture. A real dive. But hey, you could have a food fight, drink until you puked on the floor, and be generally rowdy and obnoxious without anyone complaining (since they were busy throwing beer mugs at one another). Afterwards we headed for a reasonably upscale bar and dancing spot that had the feel and atmosphere of a tin of sardines. It allowed participation in that favorite modern practice, minimalist dancing, were you make expressive and graceful moves with eyebrows, nose twitches, and an occasional finger wriggle when some really powerful move is called for.

On the 8th of October, Char and I went shooting with Todd Spotti, a friend of hers. Silhouette shooting, to be exact. This is a formalized type of pistol match where contestants attempt to knock over 80 pound 1/2 inch steel plate targets cut out in the shape of various animals. I brought my Colt Police Python .357 magnum revolver with a 6" barrel and a hundred high velocity semi wadcutter bullets. The .357 is expensive to shoot, but this was immaterial in comparison to the macho status associated with shooting a bullet the approximate size and weight of a volkswagon beetle every time you pulled the trigger. Most shooters at pistol ranges shoot .22, .38 or 9mm rounds; occasionally you would see a .357 magnum, and once in a while a "Dirty Harry Special" .44 magnum. So I was fairly confident that the Python would create a stir. As I pulled it out of the carrying case, the other silhouette shooters looked on, curious as to what this newcomer would be using. The Python was greeted with a few moments of silence. Finally Todd said "A Python. Nice pistol, but a little lightweight for this kind of shootin'. And that six inch barrel just isn't going to make it... you'll need at least a ten incher to do anything to those puppies", pointing at the targets. He looked at the ammo I had brought. "These aren't any good either... these wimpy factory made high velocity slugs just can't hack the load. Sorry, I would have fitted you out with a .44 mag if I'd thought to bring it, but my 10" barrel Dan Wesson .357 will have to do, along with a box of steel jacketed 158 grain hyper velocity rounds that I hand loaded... they'll be a little hotter than any of the ammo you've fired off before". I looked around in disbelief. "Does everyone here shoot .44 mags?" I asked incredulously. "Oh no", Todd replied, ".44's are lightweight enough that only people looking for a real challenge use them". Then he opened his pistol case, removing a Remington XP that was vaguely reminiscent of a U.S. 155mm howitzer. The XP is a single shot bolt action pistol that fires a round you can't hold without using both hands. Todd was using the 10" barrel that day, instead of the 14" barrel for real competition shootin'.

The actual match was an experience. I've shot competitively before, and it gets intense. It takes incredible concentration and focus of attention in order to get tight groupings of shots on target. You can't allow the sound of the other shooter's firing disturb your single minded devotion to getting the sights lined up, on target, grip firm but not tight, slow breath out, slow squeeze of the trigger, the actual shot... In this case, it was a little more difficult. I would be settling in, taking three deep breaths, starting the squeeze, when the guy next to me would fire his bazooka. WHHHAAAAMMMMMl! !  The concussion would slam into you like a giant fist, rocking you like an earthquake. The guy on the other side let go. WHHAMMM! ! ! The smack of the second shock wave would rock you in the other direction. BABOOMMMMMMi!!! Your shot would go off, leaving the feeling of having had a grip on a stick of dynamite as it went off in your hand, the bullet scoring a clean hit on one of the turkey targets when you were supposed to be shooting the boars...

The next few weekends were spent at various activities. A final trip to the Mammoth Ski condo to get it in shape for the winter, lots of windsurfing (three weekends in a row!), running, occasional dinner parties, and the rest of the standard routine. I became reasonably proficient at windsurfing, fortunately just in time for a long overdue vacation.

On Saturday, the 22nd of October, I and Char departed for sunny Sonora Bay, Mexico. It was finally time for our one week of "the antidote to civilization", Club Med. We flew in a chartered Continental flight piloted by someone I wouldn't trust to drive my lawn mower. The landing in Gauymas consisted of a screaming forty five degree dive to within ten, maybe twelve feet of the ground, followed by a 2 G pullout at full throttle, a bone jarring thud as the plane hit the ground, and the furious wail of turbojets jammed into full reverse. We had twenty, thirty feet of runway left by the time we came to a stop. More than enough space for the pilot to have done a barrel roll before slamming the wheels onto the runway. . . I was so disappointed. As my stomach slowly ceased its attempts to jump out of my throat and the old heart settled back from trying to punch a hole through my ribcage, the pilot cranked the plane around and taxied back up the runway to the terminal building.

After exiting the airplane, I was happy to see a fatigue clad, grim faced man with a machine-gun waiting at the entrance to the terminal building. It was clear to me that the wise Mexican authorities had decided to terminate the clearly insane pilot. My mistake; it was just your ordinary, run of the mill Mexican police officer packing enough firepower to eliminate an entire third world nation. Inside the terminal building the customs check in proceeded quickly, the bored glance - stamp -wave by of the customs inspector making it clear that it was a mere formality. As we walked through the building, the group of people leaving Club Med on the jet we arrived on began to hoot and holler from the other side of the customs partition. Our group added to the noise level, cheering and shouting. It was already clear that things were going to get a bit rowdy over the next week.

The drive out to Sonora Bay was interesting. The desolate junkyards of Guaymas quickly gave way to the desolate landscape of the Mexican desert. It was actually beautiful, in a rugged, brutal sort of way. As we approached the coast, signs of civilization returned. San Carlos came and went quickly, a quaint little town that had "TOURISTA" stamped all over it. San Carlos bay was a brilliant blue circle, the white gleaming hulls of the yachts standing out in stark contrast. We turned back into the mountains as we passed a sign that said "Club Mediterranee 5km". Finally the road wound through a pass, and the Club Med village came in sight. Dusty rose colored cubes against a startling deep blue shoreline, white sandy beaches, flashes of vivid rainbow colors from sailboats and windsurfers... it certainly looked like paradise.

The bus pulled into the long crushed stone driveway. At the front gate, three gorgeous woman riders on horses with the American, Canadian, and Mexican flags waited. They lead the buses down the path, forming an honor guard, as we passed grassy sports fields with soccer nets and picnic tables. Finally we reached the complex. The entire staff waited at the entrance, with the sort of restrained enthusiasm that immediately'told you that for them this was a requirement, not a pleasure. These were the "G.O.s", the sports instructors and staff that would work sixteen hour days for the next week to make our stay as pleasant as possible. Actually, some of them seemed genuinely glad to see yet another group of demanding, arrogant, self centered vacationers to coddle, a definite tribute to their acting ability.


We were the "G.M.s", the members. G.M. and G.O. were acronyms for french terms meaning "big spenders" and "incredibly tanned body" respectively. There was a third category of person that was never talked about, the "G.S.s". These were the local Mexican help that you would blurrily see sweeping the beach (no kidding 1! I think they were the seaweed removal team... have to keep those beaches lookin1 good!) in front of the complex at 6:30 in the morning as you returned from the disco. "G.S." was an acronym for "slave labor".

The G.O.s were invariably attractive, tanned to a golden brown, had solid muscle in good proportion, were young (20-25), and exhibited surprising intelligence. Most of them were recent college grads looking for a little fun before joining the real world and getting a job. Most of them (at least the female half) made me want to establish permanent residence in Sonora Bay. Suzzanne, for instance, had legs that looked like they could break your spine in six places and make you enjoy every minute of it. She was one of the water-skiing instructors, an activity that I decided it was time for me to take up. Jesting aside, they were a pretty impressive lot physically. Something about teaching water-skiing, windsurfing, scuba diving, tennis, and other physically intensive sports... They were also, however, real people. There were many chats on the dive boat or in the main lounge that were just as real as the initial welcome was phony. You quickly learned to differentiate the dedicated instructors from the lazy drifters, the enthusiastic from the unmotivated, the sex starved from the... well, never mind.

The rest of the first day was spent in lines. Lines for keys to rooms. Lines for signing up for the next day's sports. Lines for a medical check-out needed for scuba diving. Lines for scuba diving equipment. The hurry up and wait syndrome turned out to be fairly standard for the first three days or so. . . not enough equipment to go around meant waiting for windsurfers, your turn on the water skiing boat, a chance at the ping pong tables. It was never a serious problem, fortunately, because if one activity became too popular you just moved onto something else. After three days enough people had burned out on sports to virtually eliminate the waiting, but it was tough to take initially, with the annoyance exacerbated ten fold by the burning desire to get out and try things.

Our room turned out to be optimally located ... as close to the water skiing, scuba diving, and windsurfing areas as you could get, on the bottom floor, and looking away from the club and out to sea. The rugged functional simplicity of the furniture and facilities spoke volumes about Club Med; you were clearly not expected to spend alot of time in your room. There were no phones, no TV, no newspapers, no clock. This was as advertised, but turned out not to be the complete boon one might expect. The clock was a real problem, since Club Med did operate on a strict schedule in many cases (like when the dive boat left, when the tennis exhibition started, etc) . End result was everyone wearing watches, and those without (including me) asking everyone else what time it was. Likewise, the concept of using little plastic "bar beads" to buy drinks instead of money (beer mm and wine was available for dinner, but not between meals) was a constant annoyance. Whether you use cash or tokens to purchase a Margarita seems a rather meaningless distinction to me.

The second day provided an opportunity to get into the swing of things. I tried water-skiing at Char's insistence. She had to do some serious arm twisting, let me tell you. There were four instructors, three men and Suzzanne. Two of the men instructors made it obvious that they were not to be bothered by silly requests for instruction. The other guy, Aldo, was very friendly and spoke a fluid and graceful english that was completely incomprehensible. Suzzanne was really helpful, and was the only instructor who would jump in the water to help out a floundering beginner. I had a real hard time when I jumped in the water, and had to be rescued. This didn't stop me from trying it six hundred and thirty seven times, however. No, really, I was up on my second try (I didn't think of the floundering ploy until it was too late) . They usually give you three before they send you to the back of the line to wait for another turn. This turned out to be fortunate later on in the week when I was attempting to get up on one ski.

Suzzanne and Aldo were off, and the other two instructors gave helpful hints like "you just gotta try it and see what happens" and "just don't fall over". Getting up on one ski compares too getting up on two in the same way a nuclear blast compares to a matchhead. A few orders of magnitude difference in difficulty. The first two times in the water it was up and down, one two three, all in about four milliseconds. On my third time in the water, however, the G.O.s finally felt sorry enough to give me a few pointers. The easy way for men to get up on one ski is too only have one foot in the ski; the other is bent back behind you and once you are out of the water stays out to balance you. Once you have your balance, you slide the foot over, slipping it into the back binding. I attempted this technique. The first try resulted in another boat assisted power dive into the water. Number two went smoother than silk. I was up, the free foot out behind me, the balance between the pull of the rope and the force of water on the ski perfectly tuned, with a small crowd of people clapping and cheering on the water skiing platform. I brought my foot across carefully, sliding it slowly into the binding, focusing my attention the balance of the entire system and how it was going STRAIGHT TO HELL as I tipped to the right. Tilting the water-ski had the expected effect, and I immediately ripped out of the boat's wake, zooming far to the right, a spray of water behind me. Screaming in terror, I used the pull of the rope to the left to pull myself upright, tipping far in the other direction as a result. WHOOOSSSHH, back into the wake I went, cutting a sharp arc with my body at a thirty degree angle to the water. I could hear the crowd behind me, their cheers and clapping redoubled in this obvious display of finesse as the man who had just started on one ski swished through the water like a professional... Then I front-flipped into the water at about three thousand miles an hour. When they brought my battered and bleeding body back to the platform, everyone clapped and exclaimed what a fearless guy I must be to ski so aggressively when I clearly had no idea of what I was doing...

Char and I also went windsurfing. She took lessons on the shore while I zipped around on the bay. After a while I noticed her in the water, attempting to uphaul (get the sail out of the water) near the shore. I headed in to give her a little instruction. The next sequence of events was unbelievable. Char did things on that board that I had never seen before, that I would have sworn were completely impossible. It wasn't that she was looking like a pro; she was an obvious beginner. But in her hands that damn board just violated the laws of physics. She would be standing, sail up and full of wind, and the board would just stand there, unmoving. She would start to cruise, and come to an instantaneous stop (throwing her off the front of the board). She did three sixties on a dime, spinning slowly in place. I had her do standard windsurfing moves only to see them fail miserably as the windsurfer did something completely unexpected. I finally told Char that I couldn't help her, because she was doing something that I couldn't fathom to make that board act like it was possessed. Char starting grinning. "It's moored to the bottom" she said. I replied with a brilliant "huh?". "Its moored to the bottom, Dave..." she repeated, adding "its tied with a rope to the bottom so beginners don't get blown out to sea". I looked more carefully, and there was a rope clearly visible in the glasslike water, stretching from the bottom of the windsurfer to a hook that had been set in the sand a few feet off the shore. At my look of chagrin, Char started laughing. So I dunked her.

The evenings at Club Med were wonderful. That perfect temperature, just cool enough that you could walk around in a short sleeve shirt and shorts without sweating, warm enough that there wasn't even the thought of a chill. The sports activities usually shut down at 5:30, and dinner didn't start until 7:30, providing two hours of the kind of atmosphere that invites, almost demands, relaxation. We sipped Tequila Sunrises as we watched the sunset from the west-facing patio outside the main lounge. The main lounge was the center of the Club Med village. It was less a series of adjoining rooms than a large pavilion artfully separated into different areas by careful arrangement of stairs and furniture. A theater for the nightly shows, the pool area with scattered tables and chairs, the main floor with broad, comfortable leather seats and low wooden coffee tables, all open to each other and the warm, salty breeze blowing in from off the ocean... it was really nice. It also supported another blatant Club Med goal of making people mix. Dinner emphasized this; you were seated by a hostess at a table for seven. Other people were shown in as they arrived, with the result that you always sat with a new group of people. I had no complaints; the other G.M.s were usually very reasonable people. The average age was a little older than me, around 35. But invariably these were professional, athletic, healthy, outgoing individuals. They were also typically couples, which I found surprising considering Club Med's reputation. Some of the G.O.s confirmed this; Sonora Bay is less high strung and less singles oriented than most of the other locations.

By the end of the third day, everything was settling into the Club Med rhythm. Wednesday was a pretty typical day. We started with breakfast at 7:00, hit the water-skiing platform at 8:00, skiing for about two hours, then headed for the windsurfers. Windsurfing for two hours, an hour break for lunch, and an hour lying on the beach took until 2:00, when the windsurfing opened up again. Windsurfing for three more hours, a short break, and on the dive boat for the one scheduled night dive at 6:00pm. We returned about 9:00pm, just in time to grab some dinner. A quick shower made us late to the show, catching the last half or so. 11:3Opm, we headed for the disco, dancing until 1:30 in the morning, and at long last bedtime, leaving the curtains open to allow the sunlight to wake us the next day at 6:45.

The nightly shows were probably the weakest part of the Club Med concept. They were usually performed by the G.O.s, and fell in two general categories. One type was "lip synching", where they would perform some dance routine while pretending to sing to the music. This required some serious suspension of disbelief, particularly when a guy "lip synched" tap dancing with sneakers on. The second type were a set of comedy skits that rivaled the ones put on by my old boy scout troop for quality of the humor. They were really bad.

That was pretty much the standard daily routine, although there were plenty of minor variations on the theme. Tennis instead of scuba diving, a trip to San Carlos for shopping instead of windsurfing, walking along the beach instead of watching the sunset from a lounge chair. Whatever the activity, it carried a relaxed intensity that really provided the feel of being on the bright edge of life. No startling revelations, perhaps, but a pervading happiness, a sparkle to the things surrounding you, the pleasant pain of overused muscles and glow of slightly overexposed skin... I, at least, am ready to go back!
Returning to LA was a culture shock. It occurred to me that LA was a dirty, dingy, overcrowded, smog infested, crime intensive sort of place, something obvious to anyone over the age of two. But I also realized that I didn't like living in a dirty, dingy, overcrowded, smog and crime infested place. Time to win the lottery, I guess!

Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'll continue the saga sometime next year, assuming irate postmen don't burn me at the stake for sending letters with the equivalent mass of a forest the size of New England. Hope to hear from all of you!