Monday, February 18, 2013

Yeast Infections, Brine Shrimp, Non-Floaters, and Swimming in the Great Salt Lake

On one of my family's numerous and infamous  trips to Utah, my father decided that an experience  every person should have at least once in his or her lifetime is to swim in the Great Salt Lake. This particular trip occurred, I believe, when my brother and I were five. The Great Salt Lake's  water contents are  supposedly something like seven times saltier than that of  the Pacific.  Supposedly, according to my dad, the water is so incredibly salty that even a Carnival Cruise ship would not sink in it, which has yet to be proven.

On the afternoon of our journey to the Great Salt Lake, we were mostly in somewhat foul-tempered moods. My mother was  mad because  while we had been at my grandparents' home earlier in the day, my Uncle Mahonri, the known common thief or kleptomaniac of the family (which diagnosis was and is accurate is under debate to this day)  had invaded my mother's suitcase and had helped himself to her Soft and Dry Baby Powder Anti-Perspirant and her cell phone charger. The theft of the antiperspirant angered her more as a matter of principal, but her phone needed a different charger than did my dad's, and we would need to make an unscheduled stop at the SLC Verizon store -- known for its inefficiency -- and would have to shell out whatever ridiculous price was demanded for a new charger. The obvious question may have been  how did we know Mahonri was the one who took the items.   That, however, would be similar to asking after a person decided to invade a hive of bees, then ended up with all sorts of painful red bumps with stingers poking out of them all over his body, if it really was the bees that stung him and not that he came down with chicken pox or a painful case of hives. Mahonri's prior offences were sufficient to convict him even had there not been a witness, and my two-year-old cousin Clarice, very articulate for her age and probably too young to lie about anything so bizarre and specific,  said she saw Mahonri applying my mom's Soft and Dri to his underarms.

There's an old proverb on a plaque in one of my relative's homes that reads, "If Momma Ain't Happy, Ain't No One Happy."  Crudely worded though it might be, it contains an element of truth. When something is really bothering my mom, she tends to pick at all of us until we're all eventually  sniping at each other even though we really have no issue with anyone. It was one of those days. Somehow these unpleasantries seem to bypass my dad.  He was as cheerful as the rest of us were crabby. As far as he saw it, we were going to have a fabulous day floating in the Great Salt Lake. He whistled as he drove along the freeway leading us there, and even a car cutting him off and nearly causing us to crash into an embankment did little to dampen his spirits.

We hadn't changed into our suits because we expected some sort of facility with bathrooms and changing rooms, and even places to purchase food. Perhaps it was just the wrong side of the lake we chose, but we found no such facilities.  We changed into our swimsuits in the cramped quarters of the car.

"I have  to go to the bathroom," Matthew complained almost immediately after getting into his swimming trunks.

"Just go in the water,  Matthew," my mom told him. "I don't think there's a whole lot you could do to make it any more polluted than it already is."

Matthew stepped up to the edge of the water,  pulled his appendage out, and presumably prepared to empty the contents of his bladder just as though the Great Salt Lake were a giant urinal. (There may be more truth to that thought than most people are aware.)  Even I didn't think that was what my mom meant by "Just go in the water," though.

"Matthew!" my mom and dad exclaimed simultaneously.

My dad pointed at a large boulder maybe fifteen feet away.   "Go behind that rock over there."

Matthew came back. My dad plunged in as though it was the Olympic-sized pool at BYU, in which we had swum the previous day. The rest of us inched our toes in. "Come on, you guys! This is great!" my dad effused. "Just like bathwater."

"Maybe like bathwater after ten million brine shrimp have urinated in it," my mom muttered, taking only the smallest step further.

"Do brine shrimp bite?" asked my brother, who was genuinely afraid of being bitten by butterflies.

"No," answered my dad.

"Do you know that for a fact?" my mom whispered to him.

"Have you ever heard of a person being bitten by  a brine shrimp?" my dad answered her question with his own question.

"No," my mom answered,, "but then, I don't know very many people who swim in brine shrimp-infested waters."

"You're all paranoid," my dad declared, by this time floating on his back.

My mom stepped in a bit deeper. "If I get a yeast infection from this, " she hissed at my father, "you will pay for it in ways you've never  even imagined."

"What's a yeast infection?" my brother and I asked simultaneously.

"Never mind," my father said, glaring at my mom. He had introduced us to every one of the seven words George Carlin said you can't say on television, plus about a dozen more (we knew them, but we also knew that we dare not say them if we knew what was good for us)  yet he was perturbed that my mom had used the term yeast infection in our presence.

Dad uttered an irritated sigh. "Ocean or natural lake salt actually kills yeast organisms."

"That makes no sense," my mom argued..  "The PH of this lake is probably somewhere around 9."

"And when did you get your license to practice medicine?" my dad asked my mom. "Was it before we met, and  you just neglected to mention it, or did you somehow manage to sneak it in between everything else you've done since we met?"

My mom thought my brother and I  weren't watching, apparently, as she gave my dad a prominent display of her right middle finger.

"Erin," my dad said to my mom  in  a voice he uses when he wants someone to think he's being patient but isn't really feeling patient in the least, "It's a bit of a paradox. Yes, salt water is a base. When it's sea salt, or natural lake salt, it has entirely different properties in water. Sea salt mixed with water is actually a homeopathic cure for a vaginal yeast invention, and is recommended by the medical community as analgesic for yeast vaginitis symptoms."

"It sounds like something you're making up off the top of your head," my mom scoffed, but she stepped in a little deeper.

"Ewww!" my brother wailed.  "There's a leech on me."  (Matthew had been obsessed with leeches ever since seeing the movie Stand by Me.   while spending the night at my cousins' house. I don't know what the movie was rated, but it probably wasn't G.)
"Get it off me! Now!" he screamed as he flung himself onto the beach,  if the  rocky surface covered with a half-inch layer of sand could be called a beach.

My mother stepped from of the water and walked to where my brother was flailing on the sand/rocks. "Where is it?" she asked Matthew. He pointed  just beneath the hem of his swimming trunks.

My mother plucked it off with two fingers and held it up for closer inspection. "It's a brine shrimp," she said flatly, flinging it  as far as she could in the opposite direction of the water.

"Wuss," my father muttered, apparently in response to my brother's near-death experience with a brine shrimp.

My mother was dealing with Matthew, who thought he was in need of a 9-1-1 call. She says she assumed my father was paying attention to me.

I decided it was a good opportunity to gain parental favor.  If  Dad was irked with Matthew, it might be worth my while to endure a bit of  impure water and a few brine shrimp  to demonstrate that I was the braver of the two children. I waded in neck-high, then leaned back to float. I promptly sunk to the just over two-foot depth of that portion of the lake. Coughing ,sputtering, and spitting brine shrimp from my mouth,  I even pulled  a brine shrimp from my nose.  I found my footing, and made my way to the shore. So much for being my dad's favorite spawn for the day.

"What made you think she could float?" my mom barked at my dad.

"It's the freaking Great Salt Lake! Everyone can float in it!"  he answered, realizing that everyone did not necessarily include his daughter.

"John, " my mom said in her most exasperated tone, "You could fill the bathtub half full with sea salt,   put some water in it, and put floaties on her arms, and Alexis would still sink. She's not a floater."

"I know she's usually not a floater,"  my dad rationalized, "but I thought anyone could float in the Great Salt Lake."

My mother started to respond, but stopped herself,  . Her point had been made, she must have realized.

We used our towels to clean the brine shrimp off ourselves as best we could. My mom and Matthew had relatively few to remove, but my dad and I were coated with the things. We even had them in our hair.

The plan had been to spend that night with Aunt Elyse and Uncle Brad,  but  neither of my parents was in a sufficiently  positive state if mind to humor Mormon relatives. We checked into a Radisson, where we showered and thoroughly de-brine-shrimped ourselves. My dad traded in the rental car for a different one so we wouldn't have any residual pests reminding us of our ordeal, and paid the cleaning fee for a car that was not returned in the condition that it was borrowed. The cleaning deposit was the least of his concerns, he said.

The rest of the vacation was spent day hiking through the Rockies, visiting an amusement park on one day, spending a little time with the family of one of my dad's former college roommates, and enjoying the amenities of the Radisson by night,  . Any swimming from that point on happened in a pool, and I've never, to this day, seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted another brine shrimp.


  1. That's a pretty funny story, Alexis. I have never been to Utah, so I have no idea how salty the water is in the Great Salt Lake. I would have been game to try it, though... And I am definitely a floater.

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