Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 15: Rock-A-Cry Baby

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  So I’m in the witness box, and the prosecuting attorney directs his beady eyes toward me, a skill that he learned in pseudo-lawyer classes at Beaver Valley Community College. Then he takes a long, leisurely stroll toward my little box, because heightening the drama is another skill set learned at BVCC. Finally, after the entire jury is nearly rabid with expectation, he gets to his question.

  “Are you really expecting us to believe that the rocking of the ship is entirely responsible for all of the events on the night in question?”

  I turn to the judge, a severe-looking woman who has most likely had limited sexual activity during the course of her bitter career, and wait for her to do something reactionary and legal-like, such as accuse the prosecuting attorney of “leading the witness” or have the bailiff shoot him in the head.

  This does not happen. Severe-Etta just looks at me and waits, her ugly glasses perched on her mammoth nose, similar to a fly sitting atop a watermelon. Not getting any help from that direction.

  I clear my throat. “Well, you have to admit that cruise ships do rock. This is part of the package, what with cruise ships floating on water and all. And water is not, well, stable all the time. Rocking is going to take place, yes?”

  The prosecuting attorney, who goes by the horrid last name of Gruntley, which doesn’t surprise me at all, makes a scoffing noise. “Mr. Lageose, some of us cannot afford the luxury of going on a cruise. Therefore we have no idea what a cruise ship may or may not do.” Then he waves his hand off-handedly, in a manner that indicates he is here for the little people, not the rich, soulless citizens who have the means to float on a boat for no reason other than personal pleasure.

  Half of the jury nods in kindred spirit, agreeing with the uppity lawyer about the lowity of people who have spare cash lying around which they then use for exploits both sinful and evil. Perhaps they haven’t noticed that said lawyer is wearing designer footwear that has a purchase price higher than the entire road-repair budget of 16 state governments.

  Gruntley steps closer to my little box. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lageose. I don’t believe I heard your answer…”

  I glance at my own attorney, who appears to be playing Angry Birds on his phone and is unaware that a trial is even taking place. This is what happens when you use the yellow pages for judicial matters, duly noted. But I’m completely on my own, it seems. Time to take matters into my own slightly-sweaty hands. “I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten the question, what with having to gaze upon your tie, a solid example of what happens when you allow French designers to create fashion accessories in their studios without any type of oversight committee keeping things in check.”

  One of the jury members gasps rather theatrically, and then fans herself in a vigorous manner, using her oversized ID badge that bears startling marinara stains from the Italian restaurant she managed to discover after we recessed last night. She’s actually not all that offended, but she’s a first-time juror and has lain awake at night during the preceding week, practicing her gasping should the developments in the case require such.

  As for Gruntley, well, he’s paused in the jurisprudence playground in front of the judge’s bench, not quite sure of his next move. He understands that it’s his volley, this much is clear, but he’s never heard that many words in one sentence before, and survival instinct tells him to tarry a bit and pretend to formulate his next move.

  Judge Severe-Etta sighs and addresses Gruntley. “You were asking about the rocking of the ship. Are you still asking?”

  Gruntley, clutching the life preserver: “Yes, the rocking interests me greatly. Was it real, or just a desperate attempt by the witness to distract us all from the matter in question.”

  “Like your tie?” asks Severe, in a bit of a mood because she’s done this so many thousands of times that she really only cares about anything that breaks the monotony.

  Chastened, Gruntley nods. “Point taken.” He makes a motion at his assistant, one Miss Jeannette Paul-Gauthier, that his current stylist must be fired immediately, and Jeanette discreetly whips out her cell phone and barks a few orders. Gruntley then rips off his tie and hurls it asunder, an action resulting in a podiatrist in the third row of the viewing audience suddenly requiring ocular surgery.

  Gruntley then approaches the bench. “I am now tie-less, and shamed. Please make the gay man in the witness box answer the question.”

  Severe makes a slight snorting noise, because she also practices before trials, and then turns to me. “You may now commence with the entire story of why the rocking of the boat led to the subsequent suspicious events. Do not leave out any details, whatsoever or however pointless.”

  Gruntley grunts. “The entire story, your honor?”

  Severe looks at him, full of stink eye. “Yes, the entire story. Ellen is in reruns this week while she and Portia are off in Malawi feeding the homeless. Are you not on Twitter?”

  Gruntley, once more with the chastening, bows his head. “Of course, what was I thinking. We must hear all of the tawdriness and sin-committing.”

  Severe looks back at me. “Proceed.” Then she signals the bailiff to bring in the popcorn, extra butter.

  We now switch to personal-diary mode.

  So, as the embarkation date of the cruise approached, I had been in a bit of a quandary about the rocking of the boat and the possible motion-sickness. It was a real thing, obviously, and I didn’t want to spend my time aboard in a state of discomfort and wretchedness. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be shoving pills down my throat, developing an addiction, and thusly ending up in a Lifetime movie starring Meredith-Baxter-Now-Proud-Lesbian. (You go, girl!)

  I chose the no-pill option. And at first, everything was just peachy. Of course, we were still in port and the boat was just sitting there, not moving. It was very easy to think that life was grand, and that appreciative gifts would soon be coming my way, honoring me for my valiant ability to not get seasick. It was not out of the question that I might receive a Humanitarian Award for valor and non-upchucking.

  But then the boat finally left port, and we had a different spin on things. Yes, it was exciting, what with embarking on our journey and feeling the immense power of the ship, cutting through the waves with strength and mightiness. (And there were actual dolphins accompanying our departure, splashing about and squeaking well-wishes for safe travel, because dolphins haven’t learned to be bitter about life like so many humans have chosen to do.)

  Yet it was that “cutting through the waves” that gave me pause, this repetition of being slightly airborne and then dropping back down. (I’ve been on much-smaller sailboats before, with that wicked bouncing and rolling and extreme moments of the sailboat tilting almost parallel with the surface of the water. Not a fan of that at all, nearly wet myself too many times.) The interplay of sea and vessel is much more subtle with a big-ass ship. And much more insidious.

  After all, when you’re frolicking about on something the size of a Chicago city block, with all that massive weight stabilizing things, it’s often easy to forget that you are floating around in the middle of nowhere. It can feel like you really are sitting in a pseudo-Parisian café in the trendy section of a popular town (assuming you can ignore the overabundance of fellow patrons wearing bikinis and flip-flops). The illusion is gaudy but effective.

  Then here comes one of those rolling-shift sensations, and suddenly your croissant is now sitting in front of your neighbor instead of you. Nothing dramatic, mind you, with smashed crockery and high-strung housewives from Phoenix screaming and clutching at their rosaries. But you definitely feel it, that slow-motion lurching.

  And it gets even more fun when you are actually mobile and stupidly trying to traverse the ship. The swells come out of nowhere. One moment you are simply walking down one of the endless stateroom hallways, nodding politely to passersby, and suddenly you are bouncing painfully off a wall and them slamming into one of those passersby, both of you human pinballs getting to know one another with a degree of physical intimacy that was perhaps not on the agenda.

  There was the sound of vehement throat-clearing.

  I blinked twice as my mind reconnected with the current day, misty memories of careening madly replaced by the harsh glare of the overhead courtroom lights. As my vision sharpened, I spotted a young woman, wearing a smart pantsuit and standing up in the middle of the audience, her hand raised above her head in a questioning manner.

  I looked over at Judge Severe, and found her in deep concentration over an apparent popcorn kernel that had become lodged inappropriately, finger shoved in her mouth and prodding about. She suddenly noticed me noticing her, and the digit was removed with an audible pop. “What is it, Witness Person?”

  I nodded my head toward Pantsuit in the audience. “I believe that woman wants your attention.”

  Severe, wiping her finger on the cheap judicial robe that she hated anyway, studied Pantsuit for a few seconds, then barked out “Why are you doing that, with the waving?”

  Pantsuit’s face brightened with expectation and potential fulfillment. “I just wanted to ask a question.”

  Severe turned her head briefly and spat the finally-freed kernel in the general direction of what was presumably a waste receptacle before addressing Pantsuit once again. “You have nothing to do with what is going on in here. You are supposed to sit quietly and just watch. This isn’t a real estate seminar where someone is trying to sell you an overpriced timeshare that you will never use. There are no questions from that side of the fence.”

  Pantsuit did not seem deterred in the slightest. “I fully understand that, and I appreciate you acknowledging that I even exist. I just have a tiny little question.”

  Severe, obviously regretting the acknowledgement, nevertheless did not cut the woman off entirely as she typically would have done. (Perhaps the judge had an underlying interest in finding out where the smart pantsuit may have been purchased.) But she also had a question of her own. “Who ARE you?”

  Pantsuit beamed. “My name is Claudette Freebush. I am a reporter for The El Paso Gazette. And I would just like to know… why is the witness taking so damn long to get to the point? We’ve been here four pages already and we still don’t know what he did or why. There are only so many hours in the day.”

  Several members of the audience grumbled in unity with this position, others nodded their heads in agreement, and two nuns sitting on the far left high-fived each other and then looked skyward and sent silent prayers of thanks to Big Daddy.

  I gulped discreetly and turned back to the judge, expecting admonishment and possible additional felony charges against me. But Severe wasn’t even looking at me.

  Her eyes were still focused on the impatient Freebush woman. “Do you not believe,” asked Severe, “that sometimes the journey is far more important than the actual destination?”

  The Freebush woman’s eyes lost a wee bit of their slightly-manic sparkle. “Well, I wasn’t aware that I had stumbled into a philosophy course-”

  “And that,” continued Severe, “if you just relax and trust in the driver, you may find out everything you need to know, and not just what you want to know.”

  Freebush Woman: “But what if we don’t learn a damn thing? And this is a courtroom, not the Travel Channel.”

  Severe smiled. “You are correct, this is indeed a courtroom. One where I am in charge, in case that was not clear to you. As for your objection concerning the length of time this is all taking, let me add this: We shall now recess until this afternoon. Or possibly tomorrow. I’ll let you know when we come back from lunch. Court is adjourned.” Bang.

  Most of the people in the room, who weren’t really invested either way but were certainly hungry, dashed toward the available doors, tossing aside any concerns over length versus content, a debate that has raged since man discovered his own ego.

  Severe turned to the official gentleman on the other side of her bench from me. “Oh, Bailiff?”

  The man paused in his escape, clenched. “Yes, your honor?’

  “Next time, I’m assuming that there won’t be any kernels in my popcorn?”

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