We were nearing 31,000 feet below sea level when it hit me. My obscure but ridiculously expensive wristwatch would never survive exposure at this depth. Years of trekking across endless, blistering deserts, scaling cliffs so steep that if you looked up you’d see your own feet, plummeting through the atmosphere clothed in nothing more than a fireproof turtleneck; my watch had emerged unscathed through it all. But all that was moot. Moot, I say! If the submersible my pal Mack was piloting suddenly, I don’t know, developed a pinhole leak and violently imploded, there was no way in Hell my watch was going to survive. Even if there was no implosion – if the sub just disappeared (and it wouldn’t be the first time a vehicle I was riding in vanished while I was in it), my treasured timepiece wouldn’t stand a chance. Damn the lowly water resistant technology of the 21st century! Almost twenty grand of titanium and ceramic Swiss craftsmanship would be sent to the ocean floor.
Cruising altitude for a commercial airliner is 31,000 feet. If you’ve ever looked out the cabin window on your way to Topeka or Fiji, you have a visual idea how high you are. Cars disappear. Huge swaths of earth carved and tilled into vast farmland look like the patchwork quilt Auntie Val gave you for Christmas that year she came to visit. You remember her, with the cigarette breath and her hairnet at night. The guest bedroom still has that lingering smell no one talks about. Now, flip that quilty farmland perspective and that’s how far underwater we were. Oh, and we were going deeper.
“Remember the first time we were here?” asked Mack.
I said, “In the sub?”
“No, the Mariana Trench.” It had been, in fact, almost fifteen years to the day since we’d first been to the Trench. A wealthy French mime had tasked us with recording the sights and sounds of the Trench. He planned to incorporate the bleak soundlessness and isolationism into his mime routine, or whatever it is that mimes call their schtick. We didn’t allow him into the sub for two reasons. First, the “Burly Starfish” was a three man submersible. If he came along, where would we stow the cello and bagpipes? Second, well, who wants to be in a three man sub with a French mime for almost 20 hours? And third, we only had two reasons.
“Sure, I remember”, I said. “Those were good times.” We were young. Well, we were still young, but back then we were somewhat younger. And we had all our hair. We had a zest for life that no rich mime could sully with his crazy demands, like a full refund because, as it turns out, the bottom of the ocean isn’t quite as desolate as one would think. Crustaceans and fish and mollusks and things no one has a name for yet all make clicks and hoots and whistles. The end of the ocean is a noisy place. A mime had no business there.
At 36,000 feet, our proximity sensors tell us that we are nearing the bottom of the world. The Challenger Deep, it’s called, named after the British survey ship that pinpointed the deep water in 1951. So far the only challenge for us had been waiting out the 8 hours it took us to get there and trying to play Rachmaninov works for piano (substituting bagpipes) and cello in the pressurized artificial atmosphere of the sub. The damn cello wouldn’t stay in tune.
Mack rifled through the picnic basket and found the brisket with lemon crème sauce sandwiches. He grabbed one for himself and threw one to me over his back without looking up from the basket.
“You want pesto with yours, just like old times?” asked Mack.
“That’d be great.” I snatched the pesto out of the air and proceeded to prep my sandwich. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different; nothing tastes better than food eaten under the ludicrously crushing pressures of the ocean floor. It’s dangerous, sure. But it makes you feel alive, and you can make a quick buck or two, to boot. If you want it safe, stay home. Me and the Reverend Mack McMackey are two of the Great Adventurers. Scientists. We live on the edge. We eat sandwiches on the bottom. We do what we do because it needs to be done and we like the money we get doing it. Plus the ladies love the leather lab coats. Sure we’re famous. And we have some bank. And we have a smoothie named after us at Jamba Juice. And Mack has a top selling signature line of moustache waxes even though he doesn’t have a moustache. But, God damn it, it’s still dangerous and tough. We get hurt. We even get killed. But then we get better and may feel a bit woozy for a while. And then it’s back to doing what must be done for the truth and humanity and the fat paycheck. No one has it easy and we don’t sit around waiting for life to happen. We grab life by the head, open its jaws, climb in and chainsaw our way out if its chest cavity, eating the choice pieces along the way. It hurts and it makes us ponder the unpondedrable and we gnash teeth.
Mack and I make the most out of it, because, even though the high points are so sweet, there are always the lows. For God’s sake, as a baby I was left to die in a field. But I was saved and raised by weasels.
By Jon A. Clarkson