Todd, the Buck, told me weeks earlier, that we were in for a day of swimming, diving, snorkelling, lunch and beers on a chartered speedboat. He then asked me which of those activities I would be participating in and seemed surprised when I replied, categorically, lunch and beers.
The Captain yells ‘In case of an emergency….’ over the roar of the boat and that’s about all I hear. I’m not concerned because if this boat capsizes or crashes or is attacked by sea monsters the result will be the same for me whether I understand the emergency procedure or not – death, so I pretend I'm listening, nod seriously and turn to Jamie, Todd’s brother and best man, who is tapping me on the shoulder.
“You have to snorkel,” he says.
“I don’t see any point in snorkelling,” I tell him. “It’ll make me wet and then I’ll have to dry myself.”
“Everyone will be doing it. Are you scared?”
As all visible sign of land disappears I have the impression that the sea is overwhelming us – like cookie dough overwhelms a chocolate chip – and I see no reason to change my decision.
“I’m not scared, I just have a care factor of zero for this particular activity. I’m happy to sun myself and drink beer on the boat. Are you okay with that?”
“I’ll lose a little respect for you,” he says.
“Respect for me? I won’t be the one splashing and squealing like a little girl in the water,” I tell him. “How about I bypass the snorkelling and when we get back to Phuket I’ll find a sprinkler to spread my arse over. You can be the one to turn it on if you want.”
Jamie laughs and even though I’m appearing as blasé as possible I am stuck on the ‘respect’ thing. I like Jamie – he’s a cool dude in a doofusy, Clarke Kent-ish, Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island kind of way and Todd is one of my best mates from right back to High School days and I am suddenly struck by my predicament – I can do what makes me happy or I can do something, marginally painful, to make the groom and the best man happy on what is an important day for them.
I decide to consult the oracle and so reach for a can of beer and pierce the end with a pen. I shake it just a little and then shotgun it in what I feel is under three seconds. Even before I lower the empty can-slash-oracle my 2009 Geelong Premiership Cap is blown right off my head and out of the boat and I take this as a clear message to stay on board and refuse any water activities until Jock – Todd’s father – hands me my cap back and says, ‘It just blew into the back of the boat.’
I swallow a wellspring of emotion and am certain of two things – Geelong will win back-to-back flags 2009/2010 and I will be dipping myself into the ocean for the benefit of my long term friend.
The boat boy waddles past and starts collecting diving equipment as we round Phi-Phi Island and find a ‘good’ diving spot. I reason that he is a good choice for a boat boy for this particular group. Most of the guys have taken their shirts off already and this has to have something to do with how good we feel about our own abs in comparison to his.
Todd is in his element, surrounded by his friends and family – beer drinking foul-mouthed mostly Aussie lunatics – and he leads the diving group into the water. I pull on a pair of flippers and a snorkel and waddle my way to the edge and I can’t help but think that if the boat-boy ate an all meat diet for a month and did some basic exercise that he could switch from Buck’s groups to Hen’s groups and probably make a lot more Baht.
Suddenly I’m in the water. Several fish swim by, I can see right to the bottom of the ocean and am aware that this is what divers and snorkelers talk about – the clear water, the colourful fish – as the carrot of the experience, so I do my best to get taken away. I see a school of barracouta, a big flat fish, some skinny white fish and a very fast fish with yellow stripes. The chorus from The Dream Police is replaying itself over and over in my head. I have no idea why.
What strikes me, apart from the fact that I am just about brain dead bored, is that all the fish are so fricken calm. Why aren’t they eating each other? Where’s the violence? The Dream Police is replaced by the echo of a radio advertisement designed to raise awareness of people with disabilities with the catchphrase - ‘See the person not the disability’ and as I float lifelessly, so disinterested that I can’t even be stuffed paddling, I have to be honest with myself and say that every time I meet someone with a disability I always see the disability first and it is only with great effort that I then see the person, if time and circumstance permits. I also notice the fat in fat people first, the old in old people, the bushy eyebrows on hairy people, the height of the very tall or very small and the pus-filled zits on the pimply. I feel semi-guilty about this until I consider the fact that when I look at myself in the mirror the first thing I notice is the baldness, the sickly whiteness of my skin and the very very slight appearance of bitch-tits on the bald, white, nearly bitch-titted man looking back at me.
Four really big brown fish swim past and look right at me and I barely notice until I see the look in their eyes. They’ve encountered yet another snorkeler and they’re thinking, ‘Oh, there’s another one of those, again.’ They’re as bored with the activity as I am.
Some ocean gets in my snorkel and I lift my head choking and spluttering as Jamie swims by. I look back at the boat. Ten minutes of snorkelling has to be enough to get the respect Jamie has on offer.
The boat boy offers a hand to help me on board and in this position I can see five very distinguishable rolls of fat. I decide that five will be the official number. The flippers and snorkel are discarded and I decide I will now revert back to my University attitude for the rest of the day/night and so open another beer. I have at least half an hour to empty several cans. The Captain turns on the radio and sits down next to me. We look out over the expanse of what is the most beautiful scenery – Islands, massive rock formations, clear water, blue sky – and within minutes he is telling me how he picked up a Phuketian lady-boy by accident.
“Like you pick up your mates keys instead of your own?’ I ask, ‘That sort of accident?”
“No, man,” he says, a little pained, "I mean, I bought her for the night – 1500 Baht – but I thought she was a real woman."
“What did you do to her?" I ask.
“Just about everything,” he says and then goes into detail. “(Content removed by author).”
“How’d you find out she was a lady-boy?”
“I just realised when I woke up in the morning.”
I think, Bullshit to that. You wanted to sleep with a lady-boy and now you want to talk about it. You really really love lady-boy but I really say, “That’s crazy man.”
The Captain continues his frank discussion about lady-boys and even though I am now aware that there’s a strong chance he is trying to pick me up I start to look forward. Soon we will leave this boat behind and get sucked into the night-life of Patong where there’s a constant atmosphere of insanity, where everyone seems to be laughing at one another as they bargain money, sex, experience and time from each other. It’s going to be crazy and as the rest of the boys climb on board and start reaching for the cold beers I get this tingly, drunken, excitable flutter about the night ahead.