The surf bug

I guess you could call it an itch.

After 40 years as a die-hard landlubber, something deep, down inside of me yearned for sand, waves and warm ocean breezes. Endless horizons, salt water, seashells and skin other than a bad farmer’s tan. So, I decided for once to listen to my inner voice, packed up the family and the minivan, and headed for the nearest coast, in this case San Diego.

However, upon arrival, I learned it’s not so easy for a mountain dweller to jump right in and get her feet wet. For starters, you’ve got to lose the wool socks and hiking boots, and maybe bust out the razor before you go. But, as luck would have it, the spouseman, a native Californian, eased my transition to sea legs.

“I signed us up for a surf lesson,” he declared on the second day of our maiden pilgrimage.

Fortunately, there was little time to protest as I was whisked off, given the abridged history of surfing, and handed a wet suit. (I was also told not to worry about size and that Elle McPherson’s suit was “even bigger” when she had her surf lesson.) Before my mind could catch up with my actions, I was lying prostrate atop the surfer’s equivalent of a giant cooler top (pink for further shaming) and awkwardly paddling like a spaz. “Get up! Get up!” my instructor – apparently part Navy Seal, part merman – yelled as he gave me a final shove into the foam pile. What happened next can only be described as pure elation, something I hadn’t felt since the day my dad removed the training wheels from my green Schwinn, gave me one last push and waved goodbye from the driveway.

With butt out, eyes a-bug and arms flailing like a deranged seagull, I gripped the foam top with white-knuckled toes for a few, glorious, slow-motion seconds before crashing and burning in a spectacular faceplant.

OK – so it wasn’t exactly a scene out of “Blue Crush,” but there was no denying, I had forever caught the surf bug. (Or “smurfing” as I like to call it since I only dabble under 2 feet.)

Unfortunately, is a tough one to treat living thousands of miles from the nearest ocean. As such, me and the spouse, who also caught a bad case of the white water fever, began plotting our next expedition. Seeing as how we had two full lessons under our rashguards, not to mention almost an entire week of longboard time, we set our sites higher. This time, Santa Cruz, where there were plenty of “gentler” breaks (read “pitifully small”) for us super weenies to flail without the risk of being eaten alive by monster curlers (the locals and sharks are a different story.) Fortunately, and despite my most valiant efforts, I emerged from the day intact and even managed not to skewer anybody with my 9-foot, fiberglass projectile. Anyway, as any bum who’s ever been on a surf safari or assorted low-budget adventure knows, accommodations are sort of an afterthought, if at all. As such, we ended up in a boardwalk motel with no yellow police tape, strange odors or visible hypodermic needles. In other words, good enough for a few hours of shut-eye.

In fact, I slept surprisingly well that night, lulled into a deep sleep by the lingering bobbing that comes from a long day on the board. But sweet dreams of perfect pop-ups were ruined when I was yanked from my peaceful slumber by the uncontrollable urge to claw the skin from my arms. The more feverishly I scratched, the more new lesions appeared, in large clumps that soon swelled into red, raised welts.

And that’s when I had the first inkling something was horribly wrong. Such damage was not the work of a stray winged insect or two. No, this was the work of real predators, an army of blood-thirsty, filth-ridden, traveling scavengers of the worst kind: bed bugs.

Granted, I did not actually see any bed bugs. Mostly, because once I had the realization, I scrubbed my body like the metal-brush scene in “Silkwood,” grabbed my belongings (which had been placed on a luggage rack, thank god) and fled the Bates Motel like a screaming banshee.

Even so, growing up in Minnesota, where the mosquito is the unofficial state bird, I’ve seen winged bloodsuckers the size of Volkswagens, able to carry off small children and pets. If, in fact, this was the work of mosquitoes, we’d be talking frankensquitos on steroids and maybe a little crank for good measure. The buzz of such a creature surely would have sounded like a small Cessna coming in for a crash landing, sure to wake me from my deep slumber at least once throughout the night.

Yet, I slept through, oblivious that I was the host to an all-night flesh buffet. This was the work of crafty, sneaky vermin, like teeny, tiny vampires – except instead of killing you, they make your life a living, tormented hell for the next several days. If the itching doesn’t drive you insane, the psychotic fret over “phantom itching” will.

(And just for the record, I would like to clarify here, that bed bugs, aka Cimex lectularius, although extremely creepy and gross, are not the same as lice, or their lower-on-the-foodchain kin, “crabs.” Nor are bed bugs similar to “scabies,” which a trusted source assures me are sexually transmitted and take up residence near bodily orifices. Bed bugs do not set up housekeeping so much as dine and dash. While my heart goes out to people who contract lice [and crabs and maybe even scabies, although I say it’s your own damned fault], given the choice, I would take bed bugs any day.)

Sure, I was dumb enough not to do a thorough mattress inspection (which I will do religiously from now on), but hey, at least I was smart enough to discard the bedspread (I believe I used the words “sceebed out” when defending my actions to the spouse) before hitting the hay. I can only hope this action, as well as immediate and scalding-hot washing of all personal belongings, followed by several days in the deep freeze, spared me any opportunistic stowaways.

As for the surf bug, it may not be quite so easy to get rid of. But next time I get another itch, I’ll definitely think twice before hanging 10 in any old dive.

– Missy Votel



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January 11, 2024
High and dry

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