AMBASSADOR OF COOL
WHAT IS THE HUMAN QUALITY most rated by Californians? The one prized above love, charity, courage, honesty, even depth of tan and tax-efficiency? It's Cool.
Cool is more than a cult - it's a fully-fledged religion.
And its acolytes include divers, just as much as surfers, in-line skaters and Venice Beach bums.
Of this, I was acutely aware as I bobbed and thrashed about on the surface of the Pacific, 20 miles off Ventura CA, like a tompot blenny with a ruptured swim-bladder.
"How much weight do you need?" the svelte Goddess of Cool asked me as I completed the seven-page legal waiver aboard the Spectre.
"Oh," I replied with cheery nonchalance,"not a lot."
She smiled thinly. "Well, we usually work to ten per cent of body weight, plus five pounds."
She returned with a weightbelt so substantial that I staggered when she dumped it across my outstretched arms. I smiled knowingly at my buddy, Todd. "Enough bloody weight to sink the Titanic, mate."
And as the Spectre carved its way out of Ventura harbour towards the legendary Channel Islands, I slipped off six pounds.
After two humiliating returns to the boat for more weight - the original six pounds and a further four - Todd called out to the crew: "Got any spare kitchen implements thar? A stove, maybe? Or how 'bout automotive parts?"
When I finally did get down, it was for a princely six minutes. Then the inlet valve on my BC began to free-flow and I shot back up to the surface like a Trident missile.
The second dive was marginally better. Encumbered by the equivalent in lead of an Aga, spot-welded to the differential from a Mac truck, I finally managed to sink.
I did see the biggest bloody fish I have encountered in 22 years of diving - a black sea bass, I'm told, and the size of a Suffolk cottage. But then the amorous harbour seal tried to French-kiss me, knocked off my mask and sent me gasping and gurgling to the surface again, for a repeat performance of my now-legendary burst blenny impression.
I would like to say that I made up for being a witless chump in the water by coming over like James Dean's doppelganger on the shore.
Sadly, I can't.
I turned up at the dude ranch in jodhpurs, to the derision of cowhands and guests alike. Scarlet-faced, I fled to the local mall (three hours' drive away in Los Angeles) to buy a pair of Levis.
As I tried them on, I was assailed by a booming, disembodied voice from the next cubicle. "Hey, dude! Y'all buyin' jeans in thar? So here's what ya gotta do. Ya buy 'em one size too big, then ya sit in a tubba water as hot as you can stand and let 'em shrink on you."
I later did as he suggested. Then I got up and wandered about and let the jeans dry on me, a profoundly unpleasant procedure. Sure enough, 12 hours later, they fitted me like a glove. (Well, not exactly like a glove, since I don't possess five penises. Alas.)
However, the dye had turned my legs bright blue. Combined with the lobster-red sunburn of my torso and the lily-white band about my middle created by my downturned long-john, I resembled a cylindrical French flag. Or a complete twat, depending on your point of view.
It was at this point that I came to an important conclusion: that is, on no account announce that you write for Diver until you've established your Cool credentials.