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MY LIFE OUTDOORS

Surrender to the sea of Flippers soaring by

September 09, 2003|Cintra Wilson | Special to The Times

ABOUT EIGHT years ago, I was sitting outside a deli in San Francisco with a friend. We were across the street from the Mitchell Brothers' nude theater, where she had worked, and a blond ran over to say hi.

"You got them!" my friend shouted, referring to the blond's new breasts, round and sturdy as softballs.

"Yeah! Wanna see?" asked the girl, and she flipped up her shirt, right there. The new breasts were handled appreciatively, like nice calfskin handbags.

"I just got back from the Bahamas!" the blond enthused, pulling down her shirt. "I swam with dolphins. It was the most spiritual experience of my life!" Her epiphany, if not her breasts, appeared genuine.

Years later, in 1997, I traveled around Indonesia with my best friend, who loves animals. All our lives, she has dragged me to sea-lion rescue centers and zoos, and told me how otters have orgasms, etc. In the warm water, I happily snorkeled while she scuba dived around the coral reefs that hadn't been dynamited into lunar clots of Malt-O-Meal.

I'd heard stories about dolphins: that they had psychic connections to kids with Down syndrome, that they could teach autistic kids the alphabet with flashcards. I wondered what they might do for me. In Bali, we went to a hustler with rocker hair and acne who called himself "Dolphins" and claimed to have a special relationship with them. But the mating noises he made toward the empty sea -- skree-kik-kik-kik-kik -- drew no porpoise-love to our boat. We tried again, in Sulawesi, north of Java, chartering another boat from a guy with a wide, intelligent forehead.

Fifteen minutes out to sea in the short, flat skiff, the sea began doing the kind of unbreaking rolls that kids draw: a wobbly line, in even oscillations, like sewing rickrack, only the bumps were almost two stories high. We'd both grown up on houseboats, so it was nice -- like a roller coaster -- slow, upsy-daisy, then down, wheeee.

We'd both become city girls whose main outdoor activity was smoking, so it was exhilarating being at the mercy of big water again.

The dolphins came, a few at first. Minutes later, we were dead center in a pod of hundreds of them in these big dopey waves, as crowded as Italian traffic. A swell would rise, and numberless dolphins would spill out, side by side -- muscular, excited, as big as the boat, jumping so close you could see their little teeth, and feel the mist from their blowholes. They could have capsized us easily, but they were careful. I felt an ineffable awe and thrill that makes me want to lift up my shirt when I tell about it. Really, in a city, it would be the only adequate way to convey the visceral surprise, the jolt of scary, primordial fun: Nature! Quick! Look! Ha!

Cintra Wilson, a veteran Salon.com columnist, is the author of "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease."

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