There was a guy in my unit who was a diver. I mean, he didn’t dive for the Army, but whenever he had any leave, he was off somewhere to go diving. The guy was from Iowa, a farm boy too. He was older than me — in for more than ten years. Didn’t go to college — most of those guys didn’t. Straight from high school into Army and then diving. Didn’t have a family or anything.
I said, “You went into the wrong service. You should have joined the Navy. Then you could probably do it every day.”
He said, “Yeah, but who from Iowa goes into the Navy? Most people haven’t seen water bigger than their stock pond.”
He a picture of himself in all this gear — a black suit, tanks, mask, that mask for the oxygen. Almost like a space suit, except it was him somewhere in the South Pacific. He showed it to me one night while we were out having beers. I said, “You should do a promo for the Navy, for people in Iowa, and you could walk out of a stock pond in Iowa.” He didn’t think that was as funny as everyone else. I said, “You could be holding a string of fish. Then people would sign right up. Everyone likes a better way to fish.”
He always talked about diving whenever we were off duty. Over meals in the canteen. My friend Craig who roomed with him said he talked about it in the dark to put himself to sleep. If we were out with other people, he’d pull that picture out and tell a story about a dive somewhere. He liked that picture. It was like his whole personality was wrapped up in scuba gear. I said, “I thought the South Pacific was all warm and tropical. This looks like you should be swimming with Polar Bears.”
He said it was because of jellyfish. He’d gotten stung somewhere once, Australia or something, and almost died. I didn’t know anything about jellyfish. I thought maybe they just stung real bad or something. He said that if he’d gotten stung worse or there’d been more of them, he could have died in five minutes. You didn’t want to get him talking about jellyfish. After diving, it was his favorite topic. If you got tired of hearing about diving somewhere or what kind of tanks to use or how deep he had been, you’d steer him onto jellyfish. I used to know a ton about jellyfish, way more than I ever wanted to know.
He told me they were taking over the oceans. He said they had always been a problem in warm places like Australia, where you couldn’t swim in the ocean in the summer on the north because they were so thick you’d die in five minutes in the water. But now they were taking over everywhere. He said the Black Sea was full of them — they were killing off all the sturgeon. Nobody was going to be able to get caviar any more. He said someone had told him there was an area off the coast of Africa where they were so thick it was like a wall of poison jelly the size of South Carolina. He said when they were having the Sydney Olympics a huge school of them appeared out in the ocean right where they were going to have the swimming part of the triathlon. I guess they have to swim in the ocean. They thought all the triathletes were going to get killed. Then this huge swarm, like the size of a small city, suddenly disappeared. This guy was always talking about jellyfish like that, like they were the monster in some kind of zombie movie. Maybe it is that bad, I don’t know. I’m up here and there’s no ocean for a thousand miles in any direction. I don’t exactly have to worry about them.
I said that to him once and he said, “Oh, but you’re making a new home for them.” He talked about the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi. I’d never heard of that, but he said it was a huge area where the Mississippi went into the Gulf of Mexico, where there was so much fertilizer runoff and other chemicals from the river that nothing could live. There was no oxygen in the water for fish or crabs or whatever else lives out there. Except jellyfish, I guess. I guess they can slow down or something so they can survive where there’s not enough oxygen. So huge swarms of them are forming out in the dead zone in the gulf. He said, “Just wait till they come near shore during Spring Break some year. Then everyone’ll know about it.”
I said, “Well, I don’t know if the runoff is that bad from where I’m from, but anyway it flows north. The creeks where I’m from drain into the Pembina and then into Red River, and they all flow north. Into the Hudson Bay. The Arctic Ocean.
He said, “Just wait. Pretty soon they’ll be jellyfish clogging Hudson Bay, too. The Arctic ice is melting. Who knows what will grow up there?” It was like he was rubbing his hands together, all excited at the prospect. That’s what this shit does to people.