Friday, December 08, 2006

Koh Samui, Soccer Balls And My Near Death Moment--

Posted by Picasa I found this live link for Koh Samui's Lamai beach while googling around-- my friend Wizard is heading off there on Tuesday, ready to avoid three weeks of cold and rain and maybe snow. Even though the beach itself has undergone major changes since I was there, the water still looks the same-- warm and inviting with mild waves and no serious currents. The perfect place for a swim and not at all a dangerous bit of water. But the amusing thing was, with me being a strong swimmer, this calm, quiet, complacent bit of water almost killed me for real...

I started a series of stories about my time on Koh Samui which I am writing mostly for myself, and I was going to end it with the tale of my near drowning, but since I was ragging on some poor guy who made mistakes and judgement failures just yesterday, I thought I'd tell you one of my own.

The second time I went to Koh Samui, I spent another couple of months there, and came in via Bangkok and took a bus to the train station and rode a night train all the way to the ferry that took me out to the island. The bus ride was memorable only in that I lost my balance and stepped back a few inches while standing and hanging on to a ring. I put almost all of my weight directly onto the toes of this little tiny Thai woman wearing sandals. She was maybe four foot ten, and looked to be seventy, and I had no idea how to apologize to her as my heel dug into her toes and her face wrinkled up to the point of turning inside out, simply because I don't speak Thai. I said Gomen nasai-- which is Japanese-- out of habit, and the woman pushed on my ass and said, in perfect West coast English-- "Get the hell off of me, you big oaf!"

I swear. Talk about being bowled over...

And then I sat the entire night between two railroad cars, watching the tropical night fly past, avoiding the... oh shall we say... pungent odors that the train cars possessed while crammed with people and arrived to catch the ferry in the morning.

I was coming from a nne month stint in Tokyo, and was feeling pasty white and out of shape. I bought a soccer ball in Bangkok for a few dollars that I figured I'd dribble and juggle around on the beach for exercise. Little did I know at that time that I was in possession of the item that was to teach me about mortality. I had in my bag a black and white text book on what NOT to do with my young life. I had a koan, written in the round...

When I was growing up, I played goalkeeper for the local all-star teams. I traveled and played in tournaments. I got professional coaching the year we lived in Miami by the goalkeeper coach of the Miami Torros professional team.

I could punt a soccer ball a long way, in other words.

And I was punting this ball into Koh Samui waters for exercise the day I almost died. Just punting it high in the air and then swimming after it, bringing it ashore like a water poloist and then gooofing off and doing it again.

I had been on Koh Samui for about three weeks, and was feeling a little in shape again after nine months of living and partying in Tokyo. The girl I was dating, a Japanese girl with strong shoulders and an excellent swimmer, had arrived and was watching me go through this ritual while she studied English and found people on the beach to talk to.

Her name was Hiro, and she didn't put up with any shenanigans from me, which is why I liked her.

SO THERE I WAS... (I sure love that!) kicking this ball out into the calm waters and swimming out after it, then swimming in and mucking around, juggling it on my knees and toes, just hanging out, kicking it again, swimming after it again. I was feeling good because I was not tiring after each swim which meant I was coming together as a young man in shape, and I just kept going through this ritual, kicking it high, watching it splash, swimming after it, until I was exhausted.

You know that feeling when you tell your muscles to move and they ignore you? They just burn and feel like lead and you know you are spent so give it up and go in and order a banana pancake and a coke? That feeling? I felt that feeling. I was done. I was tired. I was spent. Time to call it quits, which I did. And as I was about to collect Hiro and go eat something with her, she said so innocently-- "Kick one for me!"

OK, So this is where dumb guy comes in. Part mischievous goofball and part male ego who likes to show off. She said kick one for her, so I did. In fact, I booted one. In fact, I nailed one and it went out about 65 yards and landed with a splash, almost too far to identify in the water as a soccer ball.

"Fuck you!" Hiro said and grabbed her towel and walked back away from the water toward the restaurant, which is where I wanted to be heading too.

Crap. That didn't go over well.

And I really wanted to have a banana pancake and a coke at that moment, too.

But my soccer ball.

Holy shit, it was out there a ways. And Hiro was not about to go get it.

So I was now peeved at her and anxious about my soccer ball, because the currents drifted across the beach and were a bit stronger out there, and I really wanted to have it for another month or more because I found it amusing and beneficial to my health.

I dove in and started swimming after it. I swam fifty yards with my head mostly down and peeked up to locate it, it had drifted down the beach some and was still thirty yards from me. I put my head down, and swam what I thought to be thirty more yards, and put my head up. A wind had come up. Not real strong, but a breeze that blew my ball away from me another twenty yards. It was that time of day and that time of the year where afternoon rainstorms came up and we got wind and heavy rain.

You see where this is going, don't you?

My legs were cramping up, my arms felt like lead, my soccer ball was drifting out and down the beach, the water was starting to get choppy and the rain was starting to fall heavily the way afternoon tropical rains do. I was now about a hundred yards from the beach. I swam hard to the ball, knowing I could use a little air to help me float if I could just get there. I swam about as fast as the ball drifted in the wind. My legs cramped even more. My arms were not functioning. I could do nothing but look back and scan the beach and note that there were no boats on Lamai that could be used to come and get me. I also knew I had nothing left for swimming that far back. The rain made me almost invisible to Hiro, who I could barely make out walking frantically on the shore, looking with her hand over her eyes, trying to spot me. I choked on a bunch of water.

I was about to drown, I thought.


I'm an idiot.

This is how the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper...

I rolled on my back and inhaled deeply to make be buoyant, and just stayed like that, coughing at times but keeping afloat, for four or five minutes. The waves were small chops trying to get into my mouth, but I avoided them for the most part. The current was moving me along the beach, and taking me slightly away from the island which was curving away from me anyways as I traveled straight while the island was curved.

I was now a few thousand yards down from where I dove in and about a hundred and fifty yards out. I was drifting away from my island paradise and my girlfriend and my banana pancakes. I was running out of island.

But I was alive.

I turned and saw the soccer ball about twenty yards from me. We were drifting at the same rate, it seemed. I made one valiant effort using everything I had in my arms and shoulders, dragging my dead legs along in a frantic fit of desperation, and I actually got to the soccer ball which I grabbed like it was the only thing capable of saving me and then I rolled on my back and gasped and panted and floated.

I tried a few frog kicks while on my back with the ball hugged to my stomach, and I could do those ok because they used different muscles than I had been using and I had rested. I kicked myself in, slowly and staring up into the rain, nearly running out of island and finding Hiro frantic and crying with a small crowd she had gathered all ready to pull my dead tired ass out of the water when I got near shore.

But I had my soccer ball, and I hugged it for an hour before walking shaky legged back up the beach to order what I coveted so long before.

Banana pancakes and a coke.


Hammer said...

Sheesh, next time I'll wire you 22.50 for a new ball.

I have a lot of respect for the water from when I was 6 and and the school insisted I jump off the 12 foot board after I told them several times I couldn't swim.

Barely made it out.

Cheesy said...

Did you name it Wilson and Fed Ez it home?? Loved the story!