This afternoon I tried to bribe my eight-year-old son $6 to kiss an aging performer named Dixie. He refused, but eventually agreed to give her a hug. This was a difficult prospect in and of itself, as his arms are short, and she weighs about 500 pounds, most of it raw muscle. Dixie took the hug stoically.
I did this because I wanted pictures of my son kissing Dixie.
Dixie, by the way, is a dolphin, a resident of Discovery Cove, a small Sea-World affiliated park that lets about a thousand guests a day swim with dolphins, snorkel with fish and rays, and float on a lazy man-made river that circles the park. The dolphin-swim only takes up about a half-hour, but it's the headline attraction.
I kissed Dixie. If you are wondering, dolphin kisses — even just on the dolphin's chin — are salty. My wife also kissed Dixie. And on the first date! I feel robbed.
It was an exhausting day, but a fun one. We floated around the river, borne on its gentle currents, four times. A significant portion of it is only wading-deep, but there are stretches as deep as eight feet. It was on one of these stretches that I learned an important lesson about water safety. I've heard that one of the most dangerous things you can do in the water is try to save a drowning person, because they will pull you down with them. Also dangerous: trying to swim with small, playful children. We had just hit one of the eight-foot dropoffs when Evan and Elaina both decided to try to climb on me to help them float, and I suddenly discovered that thirty-five years of swimming and a formidable natural buoyancy did not make me as unsinkable as I had previously assumed. I surfaced, sputtering, my glasses dripping and my hat soaked, to hear one of the lifeguards posted every forty feet suggest politely that I might want to zip my swimming vest, just to keep it from falling off, you understand.
Swimmers on the river or with the dolphins were required to wear either the swim vests or actual life jackets. Eventually we put Elaina in a life jacket, making her, in effect, a noisy cork. My wife elected to go with the wetsuit, which must have been uncomfortable in the blood-warm water. I went with what seemed the path of least resistance, which was the swim vest. Regrettably, the vest is made in a cut that leaves a gap between its bottom and the belt line, creating the muffin-top effect popular with gladiators everywhere. It's really not my look. But the prospect of trying to squeeze into a wetsuit in front of an impatient line did not appeal.
The kids loved it all, and eventually found the courage to pet the dolphin and even accept a dolphin ride, which involves holding on to the dorsal fin while the dolphin pulls you rather remarkably fast across the lagoon. Dixie hauled the kids without visible effort. After hauling me, Dixie looked rather put out, as if such a task deserved something more substantial than thawed sardine. If I had a Chilean sea bass to give her in appreciation, I would have.
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