Since I was a kid, four dreams have played on a loop in my head, all of them bad. The usual going-to-school or work-in-my-underwear dream (that went away during The Man Show, when I actually did go to work in my underwear); a dream in which something invisible grabbed me and tried to pull me away from my parents (that faded when I realized I was in better hands with the ghost); a dream in which the Death Star suddenly and inexplicably looms over my neighborhood (I still have that one every once in a while); and a dream that has stuck with me through thin and thick. Tidal wave.
The dream goes like this. I am outside. Without warning, the tide starts to go out. As the water is sucked away, I know what is happening. The sea pulls back, loading up. For a moment, it disappears. Then a wall of water a thousand feet high towers over me. It is too big to run from. All I can do is watch, frozen by fear. And then I wake up. It's scary. It's a very bad dream and the fact that I lived in Las Vegas, where the only tidal waves are hydraulically pumped through a funnel into the pool at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, made it especially puzzling, but that's how it goes every time. For thirty years, I have the same nightmare once every few months.
Not too long ago, I described this to my father, who excitedly told me that he regularly dreams the same thing. My guess is that many people do. According to dream interpretation, the tidal wave is a symbol of stress, anxiety, feeling swamped and not in control. That sums me, and most everyone with a job, up pretty well.
I have trouble relaxing, but have long been attracted to the island of Bora Bora -- specifically, the huts that hover over very clear, very blue, very calm water. I called my travel agent and booked a trip to coincide with my girlfriend Molly's birthday. Molly was excited to go and I was too... until I typed the words Bora Bora into Google Maps. At first, I couldn't even see it. The island is so small and so far out in the middle of the ocean. And so small. I zoomed in as far as my browser would let me but still, it seemed too small to visit. I wasn't sure I'd even fit on it. But it was too dumb a reason to change plans, so we went.
I knew we'd be fine because I operate under the (logical) presumption that tsunamis never strike while one is talking about them or even soon after. So, to keep us safe, from the moment we touched down in Tahiti, I talked about tsunamis non-stop. At least 25 times over five days (ask Molly, she counted). At 5:00 pm on Thursday March 10, Molly and I were caught in a sudden rain shower. The following is an actual conversation recorded on videotape.
MOLLY: (re. rain) This is crazy... I love it!
ME: Yeah, I love drowning too.
(Author's note -- I'm a lot of fun.)
MOLLY: Oh my God, you are so crazy. It's fun, it's rain, it's awesome. And it's gonna be gone in like three minutes! Drowning... there's not gonna be a tidal wave.
ME: This island is like three feet tall!
(I stop tape, annoyed.)
We go back to the room where my computer informs me that an enormous earthquake has hit Japan. I dread what's next. A tsunami warning is issued for the islands of Hawaii. We are in French Polynesia. I begin feverishly scouring the Internet for the words "tsunami" and "French Polynesia" together. At first, all I get back is an article titled: "Matthew McConaughey Says Camila Alves Hikes in Sandals," and as usual he's right, she does. Then I find what I was hoping I wouldn't: "Tsunami Warning for Pacific Area."
"You've got to be kidding! A tsunami. A tsunami. Is coming. To us!"
Molly knew I wasn't kidding. Did I blame her for this? No, but yes. Kind of. Yes. No. Suffice it to say she knows she screwed up. Terrible things were happening in Japan and while I felt bad that I wasn't entirely focused on them, my nightmare was now getting started before I went to bed. Tsunamis make me very tself-tcentered.
I spent the next 8 hours lying to my family via email (everything is fine! No, we're not in the path at all), watching the news, tweeting, googling every nine seconds, screaming "where the fuck is Wolf Blitzer?!" at the television, packing, and calling the guy at the front desk. I called so many times I could tell he was already laughing when he'd pick up. That made me feel a little better, but at 3am, there was still no plan to evacuate and the World Wide Web was very clear -- a tidal wave of undetermined size was scheduled to hit Bora Bora at 7:14 am.
I took a shower. I called the guy at the front desk. He chuckled again. I tweeted to keep my fans apprised of my situation. The outpouring of love and concern I got in return was overwhelming.
@Douchebag007 The main thing we ALL learned from this horrible Tsunami is that Jimmy Kimmel is a major pussy, lets use this to come together
@doggiedoc19 If you die can I have your pizza oven???
...and, my favorite of them all, from @hurricane420: "jimmy send your energy out to gallagher...he collapsed on stage tonight here in Rochester, MN"
Score one for the watermelons.
This is where it starts to become (more) embarrassing. Bora Bora might be the most beautiful place in the world, especially if you are fortunate enough to stay at The Four Seasons Hotel. It is spectacular. Everything about it makes me feel guilty. Kimmels don't stay at the Four Seasons. We stay at the Six Motels. On family trips, my parents would wrap our dog in a blanket and smuggle him into the room like mobsters ditching a corpse to dodge the dreaded $1.95 "pet fee." (Why blow two bucks a night when you can instead take that opportunity to teach your children to be sneaks?).
I justify exorbitance now by convincing myself that I feel guilty, even though I'm not really convinced. It helps me to enjoy life less. Everyone wins. But I digress. Also enjoying life and the many amenities of the Four Seasons Bora Bora was a group from the LifeCell Corporation. LifeCell is a company that supplies the world with, among other interesting products, AlloDerm®. AlloDerm® is processed human tissue used for hernia repair, breast reconstruction, and, on occasion, penile augmentation. It works like this: cadavers "donate" their skin to science, science harvests and removes cells from the skin, then sells it to doctors who wrap the skin, not unlike a pig in a blanket, around another man's genitals and affix it there until that person dies and pays it forward. Hakuna Matata. (Note to President Obama. Can we please get a box on the organ donor card that says "check here if you consent to being made into a Fruit Roll-Up and crazy glued to undersized genitals"? Thanks.)
Apparently there is big money to be made in penis plumping, because the Four Seasons Bora Bora was teeming with LifeCell team members and their spouses there on the company dime. Nice enough people, but that's when it hit me. Clearly, God was targeting the gang from LifeCell to punish them for turning somebody's sweet Grandma into a fat penis and we were caught in the middle of it. Small consolation, but Molly was off the hook.
At 4:30am, the phone in my hut rang and the guy wasn't laughing. We were to be evacuated immediately. "Bring only your valuables!"
When we got to the lobby (four seconds later), valuables (iPhone, iPad, passport, wallet, Swarovski crystal goblet) in tow, two couples were already there. The men were in life jackets. The women were in hell. The first man, a terrified-looking Indian, said nothing. His flotation device said it all. The second, who may have been an AlloDerm® rep, announced loudly to each who entered that he and his wife had been sitting there since midnight awaiting evacuation. I harkened back fondly to a simpler time, when men felt shame. The announcement served to inform us indirectly that, since he was first to the lobby, he was to be first on the rescue boat. I still don't know where he got a life jacket at midnight.
We waited as the other guests, many blissfully unaware of world events to that point, many still drunk from a night of LifeCell-sponsored drinking, staggered into the lobby. Life jacket guy got on the first of five boats and the rest of us followed the managers, concierges, bellmen, and waiters who now assumed the responsibility of saviors.
The plan was to get us to higher ground. We were told we'd take a short ride to the "big" island (only 19 miles around), hike to the top of a hill, and wait it out. The blue sky and water were now pitch black. Our boat started and began to move. Then it stopped. Then it started again. And stopped. The boat started and stopped no less than fifteen times. Other boats, also full of privileged refugees, passed us. Nervous now gave way to scared. I resisted the urge to shout a string of Jesus-themed profanities to avoid upsetting the sleepy and adorable little boys with buzz cuts sitting next to us. The motor stopped again. Now another guy in a life jacket loudly demanded to know what was going on. The crewman seemed confused by our confusion. "There is no problem. We are just waiting for a spot to open up." More boats passed us. For ten long minutes, we sat still. We were now waiting for the wave in the water. Molly was scared. I comforted her by not vomiting.
The motor started and, two minutes later, we were at the dock (it turned out we'd been a stone's throw from the shore the whole time). The staff herded us to the Polynesian equivalent of a roadside rest stop, home of more dog shit than I've ever seen outside of a Saturday morning Petco parking lot. Men with French accents told us not to worry. I had mixed feelings about that. The waiters marched us up a hill. Two locals sitting under a roofless structure watched and passed a joint the size of a plantain back and forth.
What would Oprah do in this situation, I wondered? Answer: Oprah would not be in this situation. The scene as we trudged up the trail reminded me of the first two episodes of Lost. I looked around, wondering who would be whom. I would be Jack, of course, despite the fact that I am fat, not a doctor and no one ever listens to me (thanks to Molly for alerting me to those key differences). I found a Hurley, a Locke, several Suns and Jins, a Desmond, and even a smoke monster -- the town dump, where garbage burns day and night and feral dogs (lots of Vincents!) eat their meals.
Some of my fellow boat people felt the need to express surprise that ABC wasn't sending a Chinook helicopter in to rescue me. But, overall, the rich people were model evacuees. That is, until the amenities arrived. A bellman pushing a luggage cart stacked with fresh white towels made his way to higher ground.
Higher ground was a dirty cement slab, the foundation of a house that wasn't meant to stand. But the Four Seasons staff was there and then, so was a table with a table cloth, water, coffee, trays of warm banana and walnut breads, even linen napkins.
A man walked around distributing towels. "Towels!" he offered, "I don't know why, but towels." It was ridiculous. They turned our evacuation into a garden party in the Hamptons.
When the food came out, the mood changed. I overheard the following statements
(offered coffee) "Could I get tea?" "Is chamomile OK?" "Uh... I guess so."
"Is that guava juice?"
"I've got a massage at eleven. I wonder if they're gonna push it back?"
The staff of the Four Seasons took a brilliant position, one that every customer service operation should consider. They acted like the tsunami was their fault. They apologized at every turn. They made what should have been a harrowing experience into the nicest picnic I've ever been on. If the Four Seasons ran FEMA, things would be very different between George Bush and Kanye West.
As the time of impact (7:14am) drew nearer, locals started to gather on the hill. Along the road, families sat in, on, and around their cars, radios blasting the same AM talk radio station (AM radio is always there for us in times of trouble -- but when are we ever there for it?). We spread out on the cliffside (that's what the towels were for!), jockeying for position as if we were at a community-sponsored fireworks show. It occurred to me then that, now that we were safe, some in our group were actually hoping to see a tsunami.
I wasn't. I see them enough in my sleep.
7:14 passed. Nothing. At 7:30, a ripple roughly the size of a peanut M&M was identified as the wave we'd been waiting for. We had to wait for the follow-up waves before getting the all-clear to boat back. The second wave was even smaller. A third wave never came. The ordeal was over. I turned to Molly and said, "from now on, I'd like you to call me Sky Lord." She refused. Back on the dock, the life jacket guys from the lobby posed for pictures together, as if they'd been joking from the get-go. Another guy, now very brave, said, "I wanted to take my chances and sleep in." Molly and I got on the fourth of five boats back to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant. I felt guilty when a member of our rescue team, now disguised as a waiter, took our breakfast order. Even though he'd been up all night getting us to safety, he had a full shift ahead of him.
The hotel manager warned us not to get in the water because the current was strong, but otherwise, it was another perfect day in paradise. We departed for home late Friday afternoon. I am very thankful to the staff at the Four Seasons for making us feel comfortable in a time of great uncertainty. As I organize these thoughts on our flight from Tahiti to LAX, I have been awake for 41 hours straight and still don't feel like sleeping. We were and are very lucky, almost shamefully so. Going forward, I will try hard to remember that. The minor scare I experienced gave me a glimpse of the intense horror Japan is still experiencing. Help them if you can. Give to the American Red Cross here and send your good wishes and prayers Japan's way. Sincerest thanks those who sent their wishes and prayers my way and to my daughter Katie, who gave news of our safe return a "like" on Facebook.
And remember kids, dreams really do come true.
Jimmy Kimmel is the host of