Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 11: Cocktails and Chatter

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  This much is true: Alcohol can be a sacred a beautiful thing.

  I was chanting this to myself as I sucked down the lovely cocktail recently gifted to me by the Carnival person who had now vanished into the sea of people around us. It was just what I had needed. I turned to my ravishing companion, Tiffany. “Better?”

  She finished slurping up every last molecule of her beverage. “Much, mon cher. I am now ready for anything. Bring it.”

  Just then, Terry came stumbling back to the table with his own pickings from the buffet line, his eyes wild and his hair slightly mussed. “What is wrong with those damn cow people grunting at the trough like that? Have they never eaten before in their lives?”

  I slid one of the tropical concoctions across the table. “Drink. Let the spirits calm you.”

  Terry gulps down half of the gallon-size drink in two seconds, the stress visibly melting away almost as fast as the tacky pancake makeup plastered on a fashion-challenged woman at a nearby table. “Well, then,” he says, eyeing the remaining contents of the cheap plastic cup, “I believe I’ll be needing a few more of those.”

  I look around for… I’m not sure what his name was, the Soul-Saving Man with the foo-foo drinks. I’m sure he’s around somewhere, he couldn’t have gotten far with this crowd pushing and shoving. I’ll just have to be on alert and tackle him if he reappears.

  “So,” queries Tiffany, done with her buffet plate and sliding it away, “what are we doing now?” She whips out a compact mirror to ensure that she remains stunning and desirable, then promptly throws it back in her purse, thoroughly satisfied. “When are the rooms going to be ready? I didn’t know that we would have to wait for them. You’d think they would put something like that in the brochure.”

  An hour earlier, I would have been irritated with this waiting, this outrage against humanity, cramming us all together on one deck whilst apparently sluggish housekeeping and baggage people took their lethargic time prepping the rooms. But pretty drinks in cheap plastic can make a world of difference. (Wait, did I just come up with my own epitaph?) “Poodle, it doesn’t really matter. We’re finally on the boat, after all that hell, and we should just relax.”

  Tiffany just looks at me, her mascara-laden eyelids batting away like a giant combine threshing wheat in a Kansas field. Woosh, woosh. “That’s sweet, glad you found your inner Pippy Longstocking. Now, can we find some more of these drinks so I can join you on that delusional island of yours?”

  And thus began another theme of our journey, the finding of alcohol when things got a bit messy or awkward. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Ain’t no shame in the cruise survival game. Sayin.

  As if on cue, the perpetually-smiling Foo-Foo Drink Man twirled into view with a freshly stocked tray of beverages. Interested?

  Of course we were. Sign the cute little receipt, numbers ratchet up on my plastic card, and merriment is ensured for at least the next 30 minutes. Foo-Foo thanks us for shopping at Wal-Mart, rearranges the remaining items on his little tray just so, then twirls away with a flair and grace that would make many leading ballerinas weep with envy.

  “Hey,” queries Tiffany, pulling the lipstick-accented drink straw out of her powerful lips with a squelching pop that normally would have been heard across the room, if it wasn’t for another irksome little tyke banging on the window behind us like he just spotted Waldo floating by on a raft, “where did his name tag say he was from?”

  I’m apparently not as invested in this bit of knowledge as she is. “What are you talking about, Hooverine?”

  Tiffany sighs, realizing that once again I was not paying full attention to her, despite the agreements found in our friendship pre-nup. “His name tag. All of their name tags have their country on them.”

  “Oh, I hadn’t noticed.” Probably because I had spent the entire time since we boarded keeping my eyes averted from any strangers that I didn’t want to talk to, which was all of them. “That’s kind of cool.”

  And it really was, in that essentially unimportant but fascinating way that some trivia can have. I started studying the staff as they darted and twirled about. Philippines, Sweden, Brazil. The variety of nationalities was eye-opening, and it put a world perspective on things.

  Trouble is, it also put a perspective on the country names and not the people names. As the week would progress, we would get to know a few of the thousand-member staff rather well, like the fine folks who worked our favorite bar. But the country names were easier to remember than the people names, especially when the people name looked like you’ve drawn a really bad load of tiles in Scrabble.

  This would lead to odd bits of dialogue like “Panama left the cutest little towel-bunny on the bed last night!” and “That trashy Canada isn’t wearing a bra again” and “Has anybody seen Croatia? I need another margarita.”

  After letting the alcohol marinate and gently allow us to be civil again, we decided to walk around a bit until those damn rooms were ready. We gathered up our things, glanced around to see if we were just supposed to leave our trays on the table like pigs (yes, we were), and then we staggered out a door that looked like it led somewhere.

  And it led to another restaurant, this one apparently a diner-based kind of thing because these folks over here were shoving hot dogs and hamburgers in their mouths while the kiddies were squirting each other with those red and yellow plastic bottles. (This became another theme of our time on the boat, stumbling upon a previously-unnoticed door or hallway and discovering yet another new restaurant, bar or dimly-lit trysting spot where unregulated teen couples were discovering new things you could mutually do with your pierced tongues.)

  Then we traipsed past a supposed adults-only pool that was packed with youngsters who had somehow changed into swimsuits despite no one theoretically having their luggage yet, a pizza parlor, another bar, some place that might be serving deli sandwiches, not clear, another bar, up a flight of stairs just to see where it went, out on a deck where adults were sunbathing and also sporting mystifyingly-gotten swimsuits (some of the suits no bigger than teabags and a piece of thread), around a corner to one of the official smoke holes (Yay! Leave some bread crumbs back to this place!), down this one long gallery thing, the purpose of which was murky, and then-

  “Hold up,” I suddenly barked. “I’ve had it with these carry-ons banging into my legs and my side. I’m tired of walking around with all this mess and all these people. I want to put this stuff down and stop sweating and get back to my happy place or I’m going to go INSANE!

  Tiffany and Terry eyed each other. (Did he take his meds? I think so. What do you mean, you think so? Well, I would assume he did. Dude, he cannot be un-medicated right now, do you hear me? Okay, let’s get his ass to the room and shove pills down his throat until he goes into a coma.) They turn to me. “Should we see if the room is ready?” They smile sweetly, hoping to hide the subterfuge in their eyes.

  “Yes, I would like that very much, thank you.” (Little skanks. I can shove things, too, you know.)

  So we make our way to one of the elevator banks, and easily find a downward-headed traveling box that is completely empty. (Of course it is, the drinks are on this deck and everybody is already here.) We arrive on the Upper deck (a name which makes no sense since there are decks higher than that), our home for the next week, and try to figure out how to maneuver around. We vaguely know that our room is toward the front of the ship on the right side (I don’t know the nautical terms yet) due to some investigative Internet clicking, but that’s about it.

  It’s eerily quiet down here, mainly because most of the passengers are still up on the Lido deck, drinking fruity things and becoming increasingly convinced that somebody needs to pull out a limbo bar, unaware that somewhere below them a trio of pushy but fashionable dissidents are scampering around in places they really shouldn’t be. (Occupy Carnival! We are the 99%!)

  We round a corner and find the main hallway that runs down the length of this side of the ship. The hallway shoots off in both directions, for miles, with things at the opposite ends appearing tiny and fuzzy. I notice it’s a little claustrophobic, in that hotel-hallway manner where natural sunlight is prohibited and all the doors are nondescript. I also notice that the color scheme of this hall is unsettlingly similar to one of the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. If twin girls suddenly appear, holding hands and wearing vintage frilly dresses, I’m going to wet my pants.

  We head toward the front of the ship, creeping along slowly at first, then speeding up as we realize that if we don’t move any faster, we won’t get to the door of the room before the ship gets to Jamaica. After several days, we find ourselves outside said door, panting. We slide one of the magic keys into the slot, glance both directions to make sure no one is recording this in case there are legal complications, and then slip inside.

  Cruise ship cabins are notorious for their non-largeness, and this example was no exception. There was a queen bed (which was really two twin beds shoved together, a fact we later discovered while searching for an errant bottle cap), where Terry and I could lay and not speak to each other after one of us inevitably did something irksome or even mean-spirited. There was a small couch with a cute little table that might be able to hold a gumdrop. And there definitely wasn’t enough floor space to get a decent game of Twister going.

  But really, not bad at all. Everything was very clean, we had tons of storage along one wall, and there was just enough acreage that we could avoid bumping into each other, something that would prove useful on those potential mornings when we would all wake up with hangovers, dreading sunlight and human contact.

  Opening a door, we discovered our little balcony patio, and things brightened considerably. There were some decently comfortable chairs and another diminutive table, just right for beverages and a tube of sunscreen. Walls on both sides  meant that we didn’t have to deal with our neighbors unless we felt like leaning out and saying hey.

  We plopped in the chairs and gazed over the protective railing, envisioning the vast expanse of blue ocean that we could gaze upon in serenity once we left port. (Right now our eyes rested upon the industrial crapfest of the Galveston port. Why does everything look so rusty?) I knew right away that I would be spending a lot of time out here, just watching the water and emptying my mind. I glanced at Tiffany and Terry, and their eyes said the same.

  Then Jesus suddenly spoke to us from the sky.

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