Monday, December 5, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 19: Cleopatra And The Paparazzi

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  So there we are, a train of gussied-up people, chugging our way to the elevator in anticipation of a semi-formal dining experience courtesy of a presumably world-famous chef. (At least this person was world-famous according to the way they crowed about him in the daily itineraries that were shoved under our doors every night. I didn’t know him from Eve.)

  We pile out on Deck 3 because, in theory, there’s one of the fancy watering holes somewhere around here. We notice a line of similarly-gussied folks inching their way toward something, and decide that joining the queue is probably our best option. But we’ve only been sort of in line for about 7 seconds when Mom spies a photographer taking group photos, and she basically loses her mind.

  Mom has been pushing for a group photo all day. She’s one of those people. Nothing would please her more than to have a permanent record of us being pretty, smiling, and forced to stand together amicably for a minute or two without a round of bickering and/or constant rehashing about who actually got treated more pleasantly when we were children.

  For the record, I loathe getting my picture taken. Cannot stand it. I was apparently not put on this earth to be photographed. No matter how hard I try, I always end up looking like a drunken child molester. It happens every time. There’s the flash of a camera and next thing you know there are representatives from America’s Most Wanted who would like to have a word with me.

  But there was no escaping the mug shot this time, Mom made that very clear, mainly by shoving us toward the photographer with an amazing strength that Moms only have when contemplating family photos or rescuing Little Johnny after he managed to get stupidly trapped under an overturned washing machine whilst chasing a lint ball that he had named Bosco.

  The photographer, also apparently world-renowned based on the smug expression he was sporting as he jacked around with his expensive camera, looked up from said camera and noticed our thundering herd, and the expression went from “I am simply fabulous” to “Good God, there’s just not enough vodka in the world to deal with this.”

  “How many?” he asked, a slight twitch of fear beginning to flutter in one eye. Surely these people aren’t all together, right?

  “Fifteen!” proclaims Mom, with a joyous inflection that one normally only hears when people have just won presidential elections, unaware that such a large number probably just gave the man a small stroke. Getting two people to smile at roughly the same time is difficult enough, especially with alcohol flowing freely on the ship like it does. Convincing fifteen people to adequately perform synchronized swimming is nearly as challenging as convincing a single Republican that he might actually be wrong about something.

  But then the photographer summons inner strength, probably realizing that with this big of a bunch, then there’s certainly going to be one or two misguided souls who will hand over outrageous sums of money for the final prints. He barks a command. “Gather thusly!” Or sum such. (Did I mention that he thought he was something rather special, flitting about in that pompous, pseudo-European way?)

  So we shuffled about, doing our impromptu best to acquire the look of a high-school chorale class on picture day. We apparently failed miserably, probably because our family happens to be composed of very tall people and very short people. We don’t have any average-height representatives that can fill in the gaps between the two, leaving large and unattractive empty spaces.

  Henri sighed, as the burdens of his life as an artist were positively unbearable at times, especially when dealing with obvious country folk who would never amount to anything from a cultural perspective. He stepped over and began wrenching us apart and then reorganizing, not being the nicest person about it and increasing my dislike for his existence on this ship.

  And I think he took the easy way out, shoving Roni and her wheelchair into center stage. Anybody could have made that decision. After all, she comes with her own vehicle, so it’s too obvious of a choice. A real artisan would have pursued a more unique path. But I wasn’t consulted and therefore held my tongue as were moved about like chess pieces, basically ending up just where we started. (Like I said, really tall and really short, you can’t get away from it.)

  There’s some clicking and some flashing and eventually Henri gets a few shots that he considers at least tolerable, then dismisses us with a wave of his egotistical hand. I turn to run toward the nearest bar, because this is just instinct with me, but Mom has other ideas. Let’s take pictures of all the husbands-and-wives and domestic partners and packs of children who can claim the same baby-daddy!

  One of my own eyes starts to twitch.

  But we finally get through that as well, with things taking long enough that all the alcohol guzzled during the afternoon, back when we were just talking about doing this fancy dinner thing and not really having to do it, has been used up and tossed aside by my body. We aren’t even at the table yet and I’m depleted. There’d better be somebody with a big old bottle of something waiting at that table.

  We get back in the line of dandy diners and work our way to the little hostess area, the place where they always stash somebody who’s pretty but not necessarily the brightest bulb on the staff. (No offense to the smart and savvy members of Hostess Association International, but you know what I’m talking about, that business of hiring “Britnee” because she has pleasing cleavage but couldn’t add up a lunch tab to save her life.)

  Britnee and her breasts smile fakely at us. “How many for dinner?”

  The horrifying number is uttered, and the scramble begins. Britnee immediately signals her backup dancers, Syndy and Foo-Foo Ron. There is a huddled discussion, during which one of them utters “oh my God” at least twelve times. Then Syndy dashes off one way while Foo-Foo Ron prances in another direction, off to do who knows what, a range of possibilities that probably includes an extra does of medication on someone’s part.

  Britnee’s breasts smile again. “It’ll be just a moment.”

  So our little Red Sea is temporarily parted, allowing the people who had the decency to show up in more manageable numbers to be seated before we are. I’m fully expecting us to still be standing in this line when we get back to Galveston.

  Surprisingly, the backup dancers are quickly back with us, muttering something to Britnee, then all three of them turn to face our population of a small country. “Right this way!” exclaims Brit, who then proceeds to simply turn around and wave her hand at two large tables that are on a raised platform just behind her.

  Right there. Empty tables that can hold all of us. And yet they had to video-conference with the home office just to work all this out?

  Oh well. We gather together and start to follow Breastee, and we manage to get roughly two seconds into our trek before there’s a complication, in the form of three steps up to the platform where the tables beckon wantonly. Hello? One of us can’t get up those steps. We motion toward Roni and her wheelchair.

  Brittknee is completely flummoxed. “Oh.”

  What, you didn’t notice the woman in the wheelchair? A wheelchair, Britnee, not just a person with a slight limp that you could understandably overlook. And it’s not like we slipped her in at the last moment, trying to deceive you in some way. She’s been here the whole time. Yep.

  Britnee is still immobile with confusion, so I try to help us toward a resolution. Do we have any type of wheelchair access up to this flight deck?

  Britnee starts looking around and we follow her gaze. The entire reception area is lower than the restaurant proper. The only way in is up. Who the hell planned this?

  The backup dancers rush to Britnee’s side, patting her consolingly for the horrible tragedy that has just stricken her life, muttering in another huddle. Britnee finally nods her head, hugs them as breasties forever, then turns back to us. “You can take the elevators to the upper level of the restaurant. No stairs there. We can find you some other tables.”

  Then she smiles once again, because that was apparently part of the skill set she exhibited at her job interview and she feels safer falling back on that whenever she’s uncertain of what to do.

  I’m just about to lose it. Normally, I put up with a lot, I’m usually the last member of the family to say anything when confronted with bad service. But when it comes to the wheelchair thing, I have very easily-pushed buttons. I open my mouth, ready to tell Diana Bress and the Supremes to run fetch a manager, when this comes out instead:

  “We’ll just carry her.”

  Heads swivel toward me. Pardon?

  “Come on, guys. It’s just a few steps and we’re there.” (With there being out on the main floor with all the other patrons, and not shunted off to a secondary location in the restaurant because some fool of an engineer only designed things for able-bodied people and not everybody.)

  So the guys gather round and we hoist, parading Roni and her wheelchair into the restaurant like Cleopatra has just arrived to review the Wheat Festival on the left bank of the Nile. I’m sure she was partly mortified by the whole mess, and at the same time very pleased that we were there. Because that’s how it always goes with families, right?

  The family-dichotomy thing continued throughout the meal. Through some happenstance (and some probable manipulation by certain people who shall remain nameless but I will not forget their actions), I ended up at the table with the younger nieces and nephews. Not that I minded sitting with them, I just didn’t think they would find me very interesting, since they considered me un-hip and very ancient, being three and four times their ages. (Wow, I almost choked getting that bit out. Time flies.) What would we talk about?

  But it turned out to be just fine. We had a really nice time at our table. (I have no idea what those hussies were doing at the other table, and I actually stopped caring after a while.) At one point, as I was telling a rather long story (imagine that), something that I don’t even recall now but I think it involved Mom, the whole table erupted into a round of laughter where they couldn’t stop. And I couldn’t stop telling the story, making it worse (or better, really), and it just went from there.

  And as I looked at their happy faces, waiting for Uncle Brian to keep going, I thought, wow, this is exactly what it’s all about. Right here.

  Perfect. Moment.

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