Friday, November 18, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 12: Muster Fluster

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  I leaned forward in the deck chair on our tiny piece of room-balcony real estate. “Is anyone else hearing a disembodied voice?”

  Terry and Tiffany both nodded, all of us wondering exactly what might have been in the cocktails that the Foo-Foo Man served us up on the Lido Deck. Was peyote legal on the high seas?

  The voice from nowhere kept babbling about something, and our confused heads turned upwards, locating a public-address speaker perched just above the balcony door that lead back into our room. I guess whoever was in charge of the speakers really wanted to make sure we heard what was being said, because the volume was suddenly high enough that the sounds were bouncing off the ugly industrial buildings on the shore of Galveston and slamming back into the ship, annoying us in stereo.

  Perhaps we should listen then, right, because they might be warning us about horrid things like a fire on one of the decks or the life-changing fact that the buffet on the Lido Deck had run out of chocolate éclairs. We had no idea at the time that somebody would be getting on that damn speaker system throughout the day, every day, benignly informing us of shipboard special events that most people would ignore, and we incorrectly assumed that tragedy of some kind had taken place.

  We listened closer, ears perked.

  Nope, no tragedies. Just the captain of the ship personally welcoming us aboard, like he had any idea who we were or who we might have slept with in our shady pasts. He had a very thick accent, my mind zeroed in on Italian origin, possibly, so many of his words flew past us without any real comprehension. But he seemed pleased that we had given his company money and hoped that we would enjoy our financially-justified stay.

  Then he began to introduce our Cruise Director, and my mind immediately went to Lauren Tewes playing “Julie” on The Love Boat. (Couldn’t help it, it just happened. Would we get to meet Gopher?) Sadly, Julie was not in our particular deck of cards. Instead, we were being directed by one Hennie van Heerden, from South Africa.

  Really? No offense, but what kind of name is “Hennie”? Was this a dominant chicken who was really rude to all the other cluckers in the henhouse? Actually, continuing with the not meaning to offend, “Hennie” sounded like a budding-lesbian lacrosse player at a private prep school on the East Coast who was determined to win the love of the up-till-now straight cheerleader who always wondered why she became aroused in the hosiery department at Macy’s.

  But Hennie turned out to be a man, although we can’t discard the cheerleading angle because he certainly knew something about that. He major-hyped all the amazing fun that we were going to have on our shared adventures, and he was simply brimming with the excitement of it all. We had oodles of pleasure coming our way, details to be shared soon, but our focus right now should be the mind-blowing joy of the Report-to-your-Muster-Stations process. We’ll be doing that very shortly! Yay!

  Then Hennie was shoved to the side, the Italianate Captain uttered a few more unintelligible words, possibly advising of a crop infestation or a duty-free opportunity on the Promenade Deck, who knows, and the sound system went dead.

  We looked at each other. What was this Muster thing, anyway? Did we have enough alcohol in our systems to deal with that?

  Then we decided that thinking and comprehension were over-rated, especially when you were supposed to be on vacation, and it was probably best that we not worry ourselves anymore. Perhaps we should head back up to the Lido Deck, otherwise known as Alcohol Central, and partake of more beverages? That seemed festive. Especially since we could now hear other people banging into their rooms around us, meaning that the formerly-restricted areas of the ship were now open and people should be filtering off the Lido Deck, and that we shouldn’t have a problem getting to the bar. Good times awaited.

  It’s the small things in life that truly matter, people. It really is.

  So we clamor back into the guestroom itself, and I notice that the TV (which is NOT flat screen, what’s up with THAT in this day and age of modern guest-services technology) is airing more detail about this mysterious Muster business that we are supposed to be doing in the near future. It sounds kind of important, so I try to get the attention of Tiffany and Terry as they race to the outer door.

  “Dudes, I think we need to listen to this.”

  They both look at me as if I’ve absolutely lost my mind, then they turn and hightail it into The Shining hallway where vengeful twins might cut them down with a chainsaw at any moment. Okay, then. Plan B. I decide to study the TV long enough to pick up a few details.

  They were playing video of confused people wearing life vests, huddled around lifeboats, listening to crew people as if their lives depended on it. The repetitive “life” reference made me think this might be information I should retain. I watched for a bit more, then raced to join the other two in their unsuccessful attempt to leave me behind in my obsession with tiny details.

  We work our way towards the elevator area (at this point we have no idea that there are multiple elevator areas, this knowledge only comes with time), and we are quickly whisked back to the Lido Deck, which, again unknowingly, will become our favorite destination on the ship. Lots of things happen there, some of them tawdry, most of them pleasing, all of them involving alcohol to some degree.

  We sashay up to a bar and plop our asses on the comfy stools. Keeping with the trend of paying more attention to the country names of the employees rather than their actual names, we note that this bar is staffed with delightful people from Belo-Russia, Slovenia and The Philippines. They love us dearly, especially when we hand over the sacred sign-and-sail plastic cards that make price-revelations utterly unimportant. It will take a few days before we learn their actual names, and they learn that we will become their best customers. It’s the usually pointless meet-and-greet moment. Relationships will flower later.

  We settle in and enjoy our libations. We people-watch the folks around us, and it becomes abundantly clear that personal-shame concerning clothing or hairstyle choices simply does not exist in many human beings. We review redneck men eating an entire corndog in one bite, completely unaware that this is a skill that might attract the wrong following. We stare at the giant, twisting waterslide that starts near the highest deck of the ship and hurls the brave into a swimming pool a few stories down.

  “So,” I wonder aloud, “are we getting on that thing?”

  Terry: “What are the rules? Am I sober when we do this? Is there a prize?”

  Tiffany: “The twins will catch on something and I’ll be flipped over the side. I don’t have the right outfit for that.”

  Okay, then. Ixnay on the turbo-charged wet wedgie. This lovely exchange is interrupted when we spy the guy from security, that fool who tried to sneak vodka onto the ship via the case of bottled water. He was nasty then, he’s nasty now, with him and his Kenny G-tribute hairstyle wearing a skimpy, groin-clutching swimsuit that could star in its own horror movie. His girlfriend/paid-companion looks like somebody beat Elvira to death with a tree limb and then brought her back to life using Goth makeup and a cattle prod.

  Terry: “That’s why you stay in school, kids. Right there.”

  Tiffany: “They better restock this bar if they want us to keep looking at something like that.”

  Then the gods intervened, saving our lacerated eyes in the form of an announcement that it was now time to report to our Muster stations. Tiffany is perplexed. “Are they making us eat hot dogs now? Pretzels, maybe? And how do we know where our Muster stations are?” I smirk knowingly, thinking that I’m the only one with the intel, when Terry suddenly cuts me off.

  “We have to go to Muster Station A. It says that on our sign-and-sail card. I think it’s on Deck 3. There are signs that will show us where to go.”

  See, he’s always doing that, making me think that he’s paying no attention whatsoever, yet not only is he paying attention, he’s already spoken with customer service, had them email him schematics of the entire ship, and is receiving status alerts on his phone every five minutes. God.

  So we start to gather our things. (We always have things to gather in this story, have you noticed?) Tiffany reluctantly leaves her drink behind, but not before struggling with the decision like she’s Meryl Streep picking out her favorite kid in Sophie’s Choice. Slovenia, one of the staff behind the bar, just looks at her like “honey, it’ll be here when you get back. Go do the lifeboat thing.”

  We traipse toward a stairwell. There are hundreds of people dashing about, vaguely aware that they need to be doing something but not quite sure what that is. Most of them are clustered in front of the elevators in dense packs that mean you might as well give it up on the elevator option if you want to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.

  Terry veers toward the stairs instead, quickly clattering out of view. Tiffany and I just look at each other. Did you see what that bitch just did? He took the stairs. We haven’t taken the stairs since Clinton was in office. Aw, hellz no. Then we glance at the 400 people jostling for a single elevator. Okay, then. Stairs it is.

  Off we go, lumbering downward, looping our way through the half-levels of rich carpeting and finely-detailed wooden handrails. (Hey, somebody spent some money building this boat.) But there’s really no time to appreciate the quality, what with the bulls of Pamplona thundering along with us and knocking people askance.

  On one of the decks, who knows which, I encounter Bacon, one of my nieces, offspring of Roni. She’s dripping wet and wearing a surprisingly low-material bikini. “What’s going on, Uncle Brian? Do I need my card for this?”

  “Yes, you need your card for this. Do you not have it?”

  “Um, I left it by the pool.”

  You left it by the pool? Why would you do that? What part of “keep your card with you at all times” do you not get? Get your ass back over there and find it. Of course, what actually comes out of my mouth is “Honey, run fetch that thing real quick, mmmkay?”

  She glares at me briefly (you are so not my favorite uncle right now), then she stomps away.

  Anyway, we finally get to the designated deck, and eventually manage to follow the signs and work our way to an outer deck area, with the vivid imagery of lifeboats hanging right there to let us know we’re in the proper place. The lifeboat-instruction people make us line up in a single file line against the wall. At first, things are not so bad, with a nice breeze blowing and people being polite.

  But then other people keep coming, the slacker people who really aren’t taking things too seriously and are grudgingly reporting as instructed, miffed that they are being forced to do something official when they really didn’t want to do so. Hundreds of  people. So our pleasant single strand of people lined up against the wall soon transforms into a mass of humanity that is five layers deep, with the decent people who got here in a timely manner being shoved up against said wall with no room to move. Things get a little tense.

  The highlight of this moment is when a certain Asian woman, upon being instructed to stand in a specific place, completely loses her mind and screams that she must stand next to her husband. She shoves people out of her way to do so. (She might have been tiny, but those stubby legs had some serious leverage.) The fallout of her actions ripple through the crowd, with people slamming into and bouncing off of this and that.

  And it doesn’t stop there. We are now so packed in that every time a single person moves for whatever reason, everybody feels it. I’ve got random elbows and kneecaps and camera bags poking me from all directions. Via kismet of some kind, another one of my nieces, Baylor, has managed to end up just to the left of me. She looks up at me with her troubled little eyes. Why are these mean people trying to hurt me? And why does it smell like road kill out here?

  I try to smile lovingly and protectively, but this is difficult to do when a breast that has clearly had some plastic-surgeon attention is banging me in the back of the head while the breast’s boyfriend is giggling like he’s five and fondling the other honeydew as if he’s just found the Ark of the Covenant.

  All of our various thoughts are interrupted by the intercom system activating.

  And then we have that damn Italian Captain again, bellowing away with his thick accent and propensity to butcher words. He says something about this is where you need to report if we have to abandon ship. He says more about how many people can fit into each lifeboat and what snacks can be found under the seats. He moves on to general safety tips aboard ship and how one can avoid accidents. Then he says something so off the wall that I temporarily forget about a stranger’s metal-enhanced nipple being lodged in my hair.

  “Watch out for the wetbacks!”

  Excuse me?

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