Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Backup Dancers From Hell: Foster The People - “Pumped Up Kicks”

  Note: Another mix of concert footage and random scenes of people and food, so we’ll do the timestamp thing…

0:03  Man falls out of sky and crashes into lake. This is probably symbolic of Rick Perry’s chances of becoming President.

0:08  One of the band members is being attacked by a laser-wielding robot in the distance.

0:17  Enthusiastic fan is missing part of her top, doesn’t care.

0:19  Nearby restaurant is totally empty. Making mental note to avoid.

0:24  Startling appearance of Capri pants.

0:27  Robot still pissed.

0:31  Cubbie drives getaway car after incident at convenience store.

0:36  Band members not sure if this is the right bus stop.

0:44  Cubbie very pleased with his choice of black shirt.

0:45  Something about a snapping turtle.

0:50  Capri redux.

0:56  Mark violates sea creature, feels no remorse.

0:58  Tennis shoe given walk-on part, ends up in credits.

1:06  Cubbie performs magic trick with vague purpose.

1:12  Confusion over where the camera might actually be.

1:16  Abandoned latte weeps pitifully.

1:28  Overdue for potty break.

1:34  Still looking for that camera.

1:38  Gratuitous shot of water.

1:44  Crowd scene involving darkness and possible sweating.

1:47  Possible blurry image of Elvis, fueling rumors once again.

1:52  Lone member of audience is still very dedicated.

2:01  Possible fornication with keyboard. Discuss.

2:09  Overuse of moisturizer.

2:19  New dance craze sweeps nation, dubbed “Bow-legged Bebop”.

2:22  Nun escapes from monastery, becomes street walker.

2:29  Robot is still way back there, proof of issue with motor skills. Danger element diminishes.

2:36  Cool shades accent cultivation of mustache.

2:39  Lost episode of… Lost.

2:40  Desperate resistance fighters attack enemy with flattened bombs.

2:48  Band member locates missing jockstrap from eighth grade, celebrates.

2:53  Another politician stumbles during Republican debate.

3:03  Whistling makes your head heavy.

3:07  Dreams of becoming a star on Broadway briefly resurface, alcohol most likely the culprit.

3:09  Recovered jockstrap proves to be a bit binding.

3:18  Creative attempt to put on shoes receives low performance numbers from judges.

3:22  Tree.

3:28  Over-exuberant smile hides dark secret about stolen French fries.

3:31  For medicinal purposes, of course.

3:37  It is apparently very important that somebody get something done right now.

3:45  Crowd mistakenly thinks they are in Pamplona, waits for signal to start running.

3:51  Signal is given.

4:01  This is why you don’t ride around in open convertibles, people. Bugs.

4:10  Whoops, guess that robot finally made it here. Pain ensues.

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Cruise Control - Part 17: Rock-A-Cry Baby 3

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  I just stared at my lawyer, greatly confused over the sudden turn of events, his sudden accusation, and the fact that some people in the audience still thought that plaid was a good idea. “I’m sorry, what did you ask?”

  My lawyer sighed (although I probably should stop calling him that, what with his traitorous move to the other side). “Did you kidnap your sister or not?”

  I looked at the judge. “Is that what I’m on trial for? I thought this was about the incident with the quiche.”

  Judge Severe leaned towards me, greatly intrigued, no small feat considering she had seen just about everything there was to see in her courtroom and had grown bored with it all years ago, even the surprising number of times men in the jury had been discovered pleasuring themselves instead of paying attention. “Well, it was about the quiche, and the damages to the ship, but this sounds much more fascinating. Do tell.”

  I looked back at my ex-lawyer, then over at the jury where some of them actually seemed to be awake now, over to the prosecuting attorney who appeared to have actually wet himself slightly with unexpected joy, over at the court reporter because I still couldn’t believe she would wear something like that in public, and finally back to my Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  Ex quickly ran to his little table, shuffling about in the piles of paper. “We have pictures, taken by one of the ship’s officers.” He snatched up several prints and then scampered up to the witness box. “First, this is your sister, is it not?” He waved something at me.

  I turned to the judge again. “Doesn’t he have to officially introduce that to the court, call it Exhibit A or something?”

  Judge Severe sighed. “It’s obvious that he’s exhibiting something. We’ll worry about the alphabet later. Answer the question.”

  I took the waving thing from Ex, muttering “this was supposed to be about the quiche” as I did so. In the picture, I did indeed find one of my sisters, Roni, perched in her wheelchair and wearing an expression that she wasn’t particularly impressed with the picture-taker because they weren’t handing her anything tasty to eat or turning on the TV so she could watch something with Keanu Reeves in it. She may not have been in a jovial mood, but she certainly didn’t look kidnapped.

  I handed the photo back. “Yes, that is my sister.”

  Someone in the jury gasped. Obviously someone that didn’t get out much.

  “The very same sister that you kidnapped on the night of October 17th?” queried Ex, with far more drama than his measly evidence should have allowed.

  “I did not kidnap my sister. Why are you saying that? What are you basing this information on?”

  Ex whipped out another photo. “On the words of this man.” Then he shoved that at me as well.

  I reviewed the picture. Contained within was the image of a man crisply dressed in the white uniform sported by official-looking people from the cruise ship. He did look slightly familiar, but I really didn’t see what this had to do with… then it hit me. “Oh.”

  “Oh?” repeated Judge Severe, curiously.

  “Oh?” repeated Ex, smugly.

  “Ohhhh!” repeated Gaspy in the jury, adding an inflection indicating she had immediately found me guilty on all charges, whatever they might be.

  “Well,” I said, “there was a small situation that may have been interpreted in a suspect manner. But it was purely coincidence.”

  “That will be for the jury to decide,” clarified Judge Severe, adjusting her chair for comfort and settling in as she apparently expected me to tell the tale. “Do let us know what happened, won’t you?”

  Out in the audience, Claudette the court-appointed bell-ringer leapt to her feet, proffering her implements proudly toward the sky.

  “Ah, yes,” said the judge. “And don’t forget that the Freebush woman is here to ding if you dally. Proceed.”

  So I began.

  I was on the Lido deck of the ship, and it became imperative for me to return to our cabin on a quest for something that I no longer actually recall. (This was always happening onboard, the quick runs to the cabin, because you didn’t want to lug your crap around with you all the time but you invariably had need of some such or other.  It was a constant battle.)

  I signaled to Terry and Tiffany that I would be back shortly. They signaled that it was mostly likely a free country, whatever country we were in at the moment, and I could scamper at will without a need for the filing of travel reports. Besides, they were drinking, and this was far more important than any activity I might be contemplating.

  Fine. I worked my way across the Lido deck, fighting upstream through a sudden onrush of women all wearing t-shirts proclaiming that this was the annual family reunion of some gaggle of apparently very loud people. I got past that mess and reached the elevator bank, an area that is usually also packed with people, but was oddly deserted at the moment. I punched a button and soon found out why people were not milling about in a mix of wet bathing suits and formal attire.

  The elevators were not moving. I studied the various indicator panels and found all of the cars to be bopping between the fourth and fifth decks. You ran into these situations from time to time on the ship, when they would be throwing some big shindig and tons of folks were trying to mass relocate from one floor to another and people on the other decks were essentially screwed.

  Great. This meant I had to take the stairs, an activity that I loathed despite the full realization that doing so would help to somewhat counter-balance the excessive amount of time I had been spending at the feed troughs in the buffet lines. I just don’t care for physical exertion unless there’s a prize of some kind at the end.

  Oh well. I still needed to get whatever from the cabin, so off I tromped toward one of the richly-detailed but annoying wooden stairwells that meander downward in little half-flights, journey undertaken. Halfway to my destination deck, the ship did one of those lurch things, and as I was already in the midst of twisting and turning, the nausea instantly kicked in. Here comes the rain again. The fact that I had been imbibing did not help matters at all.

  So by the time I got to Upper deck, I was sweating and emitting pressure-relieving belches, not a pretty sight. My appearance was not enhanced by the super-long trek down the endless hallway toward the cabin, increasing the sweat factor and the paleness and the bodily disquiet. Topping things off was another round of ship-lurching, resulting in additional unattractiveness like staggering and bouncing off the walls. Suffice it to say that I probably looked like David Hasselhoff that time he really, really wanted that cheeseburger on the floor.

  I was just about to slide my card into the key lock of the room, when something registered to the left of me, further down the hallway. I turned to review, and spied several of the Carnival room attendants in a huddle. They seemed to be studying something in the midst of them, a something that appeared to involve what might be a wheelchair.

  Wait a minute. I recognized that wheel.

  I headed their way, just as the ship tussled with another swell, resulting in a lurch that propelled me forward and had me nearly knocking the group over. Some of them scrambled out of the way, and there was Roni in her wheelchair, looking very, very mad. She also had her good hand on a the knob of a door leading to one of the mysterious places where the service people did whatever they did, a hand-position that was making the workers very, very nervous.

  I leaned down to converse with Roni. “Sweetie, what are you doing out here alone? Where’s Mom?” (She can’t actually speak, but she can answer in other ways.)

  Roni just kept glaring at the door, refusing to look at me, anger flushing her face. She tried jiggling the doorknob again, determined to achieve whatever goal she had in mind.

  This caused the workers around me to burst into chatter, in a language that was not English. Terrific. No wonder there was a stalemate, here. I’m sure that no one was really impressed with the situation.

  But we could still communicate. One of the young men touched me on the arm and nodded his head at Roni. “Your?”

  I shook my head. “Yes, it’s my sister. I’ll take her back to her room.”

  As a unit, they all turned and pointed at the correct cabin door, just around a small corner. Well, then. Apparently this wasn’t the first time Roni had gone on a spontaneous adventure and they all knew where she came from. We had barely been on the boat 24 hours and already our family had a reputation. Yay!

  I thanked them for staying with Roni until someone had come along. They thanked me with their eyes for finally taking away the Rolling Lady Who Does Not Speak. I got Roni into her room, though she put up a heck of a fight to prevent this from happening, that good leg of hers can take down a small building if she wants it bad enough. During the struggle I didn’t realize that the cabin door did not close.

  I tried to figure out what had happened. “Where’s Mom?” (It was very possible that Mom had stepped out to get something, just for a second, but long enough for Roni to feel the call of the open road.)

  No response from Roni, just the glaring at the floor that means she is furious about something.

  “Where’s Crispy? Is he supposed to be with you?” (Her son. It seemed I had seen them together just a bit earlier in the evening, maybe it was his shift to look after Roni.)

  No response, just the glaring. It was like we had been married twenty years.

  There was another lurch and the cabin door suddenly swung all the way open. A man was standing there, wearing an outfit that identified him as probably an officer of the ship. What was this all about?

  He said something to me that sounded Italian, maybe Portuguese, one of the Romance languages. I could only rule out French and Spanish, and I really wasn’t even sure about that, I was a little unfocused.

  “I’m sorry?”

  “You take the lady?” He nodded at Roni. “You take the lady?”

  “Yes… I brought her back here. She’s my sister.”

  He considered my words, then his eyes seemed to narrow. “Your card?”

  My card? My room card? Why did he need that? Something was off and I was feeling a little uneasy about this, like things had suddenly become very serious. Did they think I meant Roni harm? I reached into the pocket of my shorts where I kept the “don’t lose this” essentials. But I didn’t feel the already familiar rectangle of plastic. I checked the other pocket. Nothing.

  I had no idea where my card was. And an officer of the ship really wanted to see it. Right now. Was I about to be thrown in jail? Or at least a windowless room with harsh lighting and mean people with rapid questions.? “Ummm…”

  “Your card,” he repeated, then he handed said object to me. “There was dropping in the hallway.”

  Oh. Apparently I had lost control of it whilst struggling to prevent Roni from taking over the ship using a lugnut from her wheelchair. I graciously accepted the errant card, thanked him profusely, and the Man in White wandered off to do something elsewhere.

  I turned to Roni, she of The Great Escape. “Okay, I’m going to go find Mom and figure out who is supposed to be here with you right now. Okay? I will be right back.”

  She didn’t care. She had already moved beyond the trauma and was now watching the constantly-blaring TV, something involving loud explosions and people running, her favorite theme. She waved dismissively. Go forth and do what you must.

  I began to scurry down the hallway once again, that massively-long thoroughfare, when I suddenly remembered what I had originally needed when I first came down here, and I slid to a halt in front of our own room. I unlocked the door, shoved the key card deep into my pocked and hoped it would stay there, and went inside.

  Wait. Was somebody in the shower? That was odd. I had thought everyone was still up on the Lido deck, but there were definitely sounds of wetness and body-cleansing coming from the tiny hygiene closet. Oh well.

  I pulled out one of my suitcases and began to rummage. Whilst digging through hundreds of things that I really hadn’t needed to bring, I heard the water being shut off and a towel being grabbed. Then the bathroom door popped open and I turned to see if it was Tiffany or Terry. But it was neither.

  It was Bobby Ewing.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 16: Rock-A-Cry Baby 2

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  Judge Severe banged her gavel a second time, hoping to quell the antics of the heathens in the audience, and then turned to me. “Now, then, Witness Person, let’s try this again, continuing with your testimony. I trust that you got my notes on the matter after we recessed last night?”

  I nodded my head.

  The judge sighed.  “The court reporter can’t really hear that. Try again.”

  “Yes, your honor, I received your documentation at 3am this morning, after getting a truly extensive 7 minutes of sleep. I thoroughly reviewed both volumes, including the 93 pages of footnotes. I now understand exactly how you prefer that proceedings take place in your judicial arena, and I will strive to meet those standards, although I must say that the one bit about the-”

  Judge Severe held up her hand. “You’re doing it again, using 400 words instead of one. Would you like to try answering again?”


  “Did you receive my notes?”


  “Very good. See how that works?” She offered something that might have been a brief smile, but could just as easily have been an intestinal disturbance. “Now, let’s continue where we left off, something about the rocking of the boat.”

  “But I did have one question, about that one bit.”

  She sighed. “Let me guess. The bell. You are troubled by the bell, and could easily expound on your troubles for days on end.”


  The judge did something flippant with her hair, a remarkable feat considering we hadn’t seen a single strand move a millimeter over the last two days. “I like the bell, and we’re keeping the bell. But thank you for reminding me about the bell, as I nearly forgot about it, what with all the excitement of getting to hear you speak again.” She now did something sarcastic with her hair, and then turned her attention to the viewing audience. “Has Ms. Freebush arrived?”

  Claudette had, leaping to her feet in a spasm of attention and validation, wearing an even smarter pantsuit than the previous day. (She had also made a rather surprising choice in lipstick color, but this would probably prove irrelevant in the end.) “Yes, Your Judgmenttress, I am present and prepared for my assigned duty.”

  “Please approach the bench.”

  Claudette promptly scurried forth, practically knocking the little “unimportant people stay behind here” gate from its hinges and crossing to the bench at lightning speed. (Now that we could see her more clearly, the unfortunate lipstick choice was more apparent, and could still be an issue at some point.) “I am ready for the bell.”

  Judge Severe pulled out a satchel from the dark and mysterious place under her desk (Anne Frank probably handed it to her) and began to shuffle through it. After tossing aside a tire iron and a hefty container of cooking spray, she produced a tiny silver bell and an even tinier little hammer. Both of these items were presented to Claudette with a flourish generally reserved for state functions attended by royalty.

  Claudette took possession of said items with equal reverence, her eyes shining with awe and future blog posts. “And the instructions are the same as we discussed in the chat room?”

  Judge Severe nodded, then skillfully recalled her own admonishment to me about the court reporter and her lack of visual interpretation. “Yes. Yes, they are. If the witness strays from the testimonial path with pointless anecdotes and useless imagery, you are to strike the bell soundly, and the witness must immediately curtail the pointless uselessness and return to a more valid plot objective.”

  Claudette looked as if there was nothing in the entire world she would rather do more, getting to make me stop talking whenever she wanted. (Side note: That sound you hear in the background is hundreds of my friends and family members rushing to find out if this magical bell was available on the Internet.) “I understand completely.”

  “I don’t,” I said, with perhaps a more grating flavor of insolence than recommended.

  “Your issue?” inquired the judge, although she clearly didn’t care.

  “Why does she have to ring a bell? Can’t she just say something?”

  Judge Severe sighed, as it was such a bother having to explain things to stupid people all the time. “Because this is a much more sophisticated manner of raising an objection than crude bellowing. Besides, I happen to like bells.”

  “I love bells!” enthused Claudette. “And I greatly enjoy hitting things.”

  Judge Severe beamed down upon the irksome Claudette, pleased that she had cultivated another convert to musical adjudication. “That’s wonderful, Ms. Freebush. Now, if you would return to your seat in the Unimportant Section, we can finally begin.”

  Claudette retraced her enthusiastic steps with haste, only pausing twice to allow other jealous audience members to briefly touch the power-status bell. Then she got settled, perching on the end of her chair and clutching her sonic alert system.

  I glanced over at my attorney to see if he was getting any of this, with an expression of “isn’t this a bit wrong, what with the judge allowing complete strangers to edit my testimony, especially a stranger with an undue fondness of pantsuits?”. He just looked back at me with his own expression of “dude, you made me stop playing Angry Birds when you’re on the witness stand, so I think I’ve contributed more than enough to society today, don’t push me”.

  “Mr. Lageose?” inquired the judge, somewhat icily, “if you’re done flirting with your lawyer, we should proceed with the rest of your story. Let’s get back on the cruise ship.”

  (“Thank God,” muttered a previously-unknown member of the audience, a Frenchman named Olivier who had only come to the courthouse after hearing a rumor about Tomato Tart Provencale being served in the cafeteria, but instead ended up in Courtroom B listening to this increasingly frustrating tale.)

  I took a deep breath. “Okay, it’s still the first night on the ship, and we haven’t yet-”

  A clear but echoing chime rang through the courtroom.

  All eyes turned toward Claudette. “What? I was already bored.”

  Judge Severe smiled sourly. “Sweetie, let’s at least let him finish a paragraph, shall we? Then you can commence with the judging.”

  Claudette nodded. “Got it.”

  All eyes turned back to me. “So, it’s the first night, and the rocking of the ship is causing me to feel a little bit nauseous. Not real bad, but I can tell things are brewing and we might have a potential issue. But I don’t want to take any Dramamine, because then my body would depend on it and I’d have to keep taking it, and besides, that stuff can make you sleepy and I didn’t want to spend my whole time in the cabin.”

  (“Just take the pills, you fool,” muttered Olivier. “Pills can be little, round miracles.”)

  Claudette raised her bell, hammer poised. “Was that a paragraph? Can I hit it now?”

  Judge Severe shook her head. “I’ll grant that he’s rambling, but instinct tells me that he might be slightly headed toward a point, and since we haven’t really seen him do that yet, I’d like us to get there. Objection over-dinged.”

  I nodded in agreement. “Yes, I was talking about the nausea because I did have it off and on, never for very long, but long enough that I would get sweaty and pale and I would stagger a little bit. That’s what was happening when that one witness saw me and later said that I looked a little… unkempt.”

  Judge Severe flipped through her notes. “I believe the phrase was ‘wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth’, does that sound right?”

  “Foaming? I wasn’t foaming, you’d think I would remember something like that. Oh wait, I also had a little bit of acid reflux going on, because there had been a lot of fried food on the dinner buffet and I have a hard time passing that up even though I know some of it is going to repeat, and maybe that’s what-”

  My lawyer suddenly jumped up from his table, marched through the little social-segregation gate, grabbed the bell away from Claudette, and then began to ring it like a Salvation Army worker on crack.

  This surprised even the usually-nonplussed judge. “Counselor, are you interrupting your own client?”

  “That I am,” confirmed my lawyer. “This story is still days away from the time of the crime and we are never going to get there at this pace.” He shoved the bell back into Claudette’s hands, with her looking devastated that her moment in the sun had been snatched away. He then stomped back up through the gate and right up to my startled face in the witness box.

  “On the night of October 17th, did you or did you not try to kidnap your sister?”

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Friday, November 25, 2011

20 Reasons Why Republicans Are Just Like Thanksgiving Turkeys

1. They both make a lot of pointless noise about nothing.

2. When you put them in the same room they all look exactly alike.

3. Both groups could float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, one for the theme and the other for the hot air and the fact that their movements are controlled by somebody else.

4. They both try to distract us from the real issues by sporting unnecessary things on their head.

5. They both are very popular in rural areas of the country.

6. When confronted with something they don‘t recognize, like the truth, they just stand there and blink, not sure what to do.

7. Some members of both species have wattles around their neck, but with the Republicans this is often just a euphemism for a past history of working for behemoth oil companies, claiming they never said something until the video surfaces, or having spouses who are deeply in the closet.

8. Both of them make you sleepy.

9. Despite claiming to stand for moral values, they are often found flat on their backs in the middle of a dining table, with their legs in the air and strangers touching their body parts.

10. Some people can agree with eating certain parts of them, but nobody likes the whole thing.

11. Neither group actually understands that if they don’t pay taxes they won’t have roads to drive on to get to the Nascar races.

12. They both expect somebody else to clean up their own droppings.

13. Both groups firmly believe that if you just keep repeating something, it will become true. Like the turkeys with their gobbling and the Republicans with their insistence that the current economic situation magically happened at the very second Obama opened the front door of the White House.

14. Both groups are associated with congealed cranberry sauce, one for the side dish and one for the content of their speeches.

15. Both groups are skilled in the art of fake support, like the turkey who pretends to love the farmer for the food he brings every day until it’s hatchet time and then he runs, and the Republican who waves the flag for our troops just to get votes and then he runs when the troops come home looking for decent benefits.

16. Both of them are very good at standing in a line and not making any sense, like turkeys trying to do math or Republicans at a presidential debate. And they will both claw you to death rather than admit they are wrong.

17. If somebody comes at them with an axe or a grand jury investigation, they both point at less-fortunate animals in the barnyard and blame them.

18. When you get fed up with either one, there is still way too much left over the next day.

19. No matter how pretty and right you think you are, time and circumstance will eventually catch up with you, and you will shoved someplace where it’s very, very hot. And no one will ever come to help you out, even when the little red things pops up.

20. They both have things stuffed up their ass. This might explain why their head is missing.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  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 caf√© 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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Monday, November 21, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 14: Yinning The Yang

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Note: Continuing with the fever dream from the last episode, then we’ll get back to the real story in the next post…

  As is usually the case, Tiffany eventually tired of subtly leading on yet another doomed-to-fail suitor. She allowed Fuchsia to attend to all of her possible needs for a few more drinks, then, when Fuchsia was temporarily distracted whilst attempting to chisel an ice sculpture in Tiffany’s image, Our Favorite Diva leaned toward me and muttered. “I’m bored. Let’s go.”

  I considered the implications of travel plans right at this particular moment in time. “Are you sure? Fuchsia will be devastated.”

  Tiffany waved a disinterested hand. “She’ll be fine. Besides, we can’t let her get too comfortable and think she has already won me over. We have the whole rest of the week ahead of us, and we need to keep the yearning factor very high or the service will get sloppy. I don’t like drinks where the ice is already melting.” Tiffany grabbed a few things off the bar counter (Tiffany always has things), threw them in her pretend-designer bag, and slid off her stool.

  Over near the ice machine, Fuchsia sensed a change in the atmosphere, and she whipped around to face us, chisel still raised in the air. Her eyes were filled with shock, horror, and a possible bit of serial-killer madness.

  “Oh,” I muttered back to Tiffany. “Perhaps you should at least lie to her and pretend that we are coming right back. Maybe she’ll calm down long enough for us to get to a Panic Room.”

  Tiffany, loving the delicious combination of potential drama and being the center of attention, took her cue and stepped back up to the bar, carefully running one hand through her hair and then cocking her head slightly to one side, permitting the sun to highlight her natural beauty. “Fuchsia, we’re just gonna run snatch up a wee bite to eat. Perhaps we’ll see you later?”

  Fuchsia immediately hurled the chisel to the floor (where it embedded in the thick rubber mat, remaining lodged there until later that night when another employee tripped over it and spilled mango juice on a startled couple from Toledo) and then hurled herself at the counter. “I’ll be right here!” she squeaked. Rather trite and mundane words, I’ll admit, but she said it with such passion she might as well have uttered “I shall save my virginity until the soul-uniting night of our legally-recognized same-sex wedding day!”

  Tiffany just smiled briefly, then she and her flowing caftan sashayed away, her hair and the billowing material caressed by a breeze that hinted of salt and SPF 70. Wait, something was a bit off. I know these things instantly with La Tiffania.

  I caught up to her a bit further down the deck, batting that damn caftan out of the way so I wouldn’t get in my mouth. “Hold up, what’s going on? I can tell by the way you’re not looking at people looking at you that something is wrong.”

  Tiffany waved another hand. “I’m fine. Nothing is wrong whatsoever.” Then she hauled off and slapped a complete stranger who was walking by wearing a thong. (Okay, she didn’t really, but she would have done so if there hadn’t been so many dripping-wet witnesses dashing about around the nearby pool.)

  I sighed. So we were doing a mood swing, were we? Fine. Best to work our way through this and then get back to the cocktails. “No, really, why are you going all Sybil?”

  She sighed as well. “It’s just hard sometimes.”

  “And we’re talking about…”

  “Everybody always wants me.”

  We had to step around a woman with a harmonica (no idea, but you get used to odd little scenes on this boat) and join back together on the other side. “Missy, why are going there? We’ve talked about this. There is just something mystical about you that brings the boys to your yard. And really, this is a problem?”

  There was a conversational pause as we arrived at another bar (big surprise, right?), ordered some beverages that were foofy but not too foofy, and slipped onto another set of barstools. Tiffany then returned to her neurosis. “Well, I try to tell myself not to worry about it, but I was on a website the other day, Divas and Dilemmas dot Com, and there was a whole page of people with the same issue. So I joined their club.”

  “Their club? There’s a club for this too much love thing?”

  “Yes!” exclaimed Tiffany. “Wonderful Women with Wooing Woes. You can ask a question and everybody tries to help you with answers. It’s very supportive, and I managed to make a profile pic that I really like.”

  I truly could not think of a response, so I just drank.

  “But the bad part about this,” continued Tiffany, “is that a lot of the people keep saying that you have to try not being so attractive all the time.”

  “And… this bothers you?”

  She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Of course it does. How could I possibly not be beautiful? It just doesn’t work with me.” She then made a sad little face, as if the terrible weight of her personal tragedy was causing endless pain. “I’m just naturally beautiful.”

  Tiffany then pulled out her pretend-designer bag, rummaged around, selected several items, applied lip gloss, touched up her eyelashes, powdered some flesh here and there, trimmed one strand of hair that had dared to become slightly frizzy, gargled with some teeth-whitening mouthwash, self-performed some out-patient plastic surgery, and then threw everything back into the bag. “See? Natural.”

  I knew exactly what was needed at this point, after years of being groomed by Tiffany in the art of just-say-what-I-wanna-hear. “It must be terrible, the suffering. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m so proud of you.”

  She beamed. “I knew you’d understand.” She patted my hand on the bar, but was then distracted by the tiniest nub of a hangnail on one of her own fingers, and reached for the pretend-designer bag again. She hauled out an industrial sander and began to look around for an electrical outlet.

  Once the sander was cool enough to be placed back in her satchel without igniting the lip gloss, Tiffany announced a firm resolution. “So, anyway, that’s it for the rest of the cruise. No more worrying about pleasing my adoring fans. No more flirting just to ensure a steady flow of alcohol. No more inadvertently arousing the men folk by simply being in the same room with them.”

  We toasted on that.

  Two seconds later, one of those men folk, a stunning example with tanned muscles, hairy chest, and tightly-fitting trunks came waltzing down the stairs from the deck above and into the bar, glanced around in a way indicating that he didn’t really know anybody but was just stopping by to see what might be going on, and then slid onto a stool directly opposite from us. Just picking up the drink menu caused 77% of his muscles to ripple enticingly.

  I heard a gasp from Tiffany beside me. “Oh my God, I can’t breathe.”

  Me: “Why would you want to as long as you can look at that?”

  And a years-long conversational theme kicked into gear, a topic that we greatly enjoy, pushing the discourse along with great relish. Tiff: “Do you think he wants me or you?”

  Me: “I don’t care, as long as he stays right there.”

  Tiffany analyzed the situation with her practiced eye, studying the stud for a few minutes. “I think he’s looking more at you than at me, damn it.”

  Me: “I don’t know. He seems to be looking your way quite a bit. Maybe if you weren’t shoving your breasts in the air.”

  Tiff: “I’m not shoving, they rise naturally.”

  Me: “We’ve been friends too long, and I know their exact elevation in all situations. You are shoving, and you’re going to give yourself back strain if you don’t stop it.”

  Tiff: “I’ll stop if you stop.”

  Me: “I don’t have breasts, poodle.”

  Tiff: “You’re shoving your crotch forward. Showin’ the monkey, mmm hmmm.”

  Me: “I am so not doing that. Besides, he can’t even see my crotch, the bar’s in the way.”

  Tiff: “He could see it if he really tried, and that’s what you’re counting on, you little stealth slut.”

  The man suddenly signaled for the bartender, having decided on a drink. His voice was very deep. We couldn’t hear all of the words, but we could hear the growling.

  Tiff: “Well, he doesn’t sound like Cindy Brady.”

  Me: “That doesn’t mean anything. I have a deep voice.”

  Tiff: “And that doesn’t mean anything. You’re always doing all the gay things wrong. You’re a really bad queen. We’ve talked about this.”

  Me, catching another detail: “He trims his chest hair. That’s one for my team.”

  Tiff: “It’s not just the gay boys, some straight men do that, too.”

  Me: “Yeah, but straight men don’t know what the hell they are doing. They shave everything completely down to the skin, even the guns and ammo, making them look like overgrown 12-year-olds. You’ve got to leave something to hang onto.”

  Tiffany gasped again. “He’s getting up!”

  The man stood and stretched (okay, he’s obviously a tease) and then started to round the corner of the bar. During his ambling journey, Tiffany christened him “Heath” (because she thought that would look hot on wedding napkins) and I named him “Cliff” just to complete the Wuthering Heights reference.

  Heath/Cliff paused right in front of us, his pearly teeth glistening in the sun. “Could I ask you a question?”

  “Of course!” Tiffany nearly shouted.

  “Have you found Jesus?”

  Two beats, as we processed the situation being flipped on its ear.

  Then Me: “Well, I haven’t seen him lately. Do you think he’s with Waldo?”

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 13: Passion Flowers

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  So I’m standing there, with body parts of complete strangers somewhat blocking my vision, trying to figure out if the captain of the ship just said what I think he said. I glance down at niece Baylor beside me. She’s got that mid-teen expression of being firmly convinced that anything that comes out of an adult’s mouth is essentially pointless or offensive, so she’s good. Then I hear Tiffany make a noise that would not be out of place in the primate exhibit at a local zoo.

  Oh God.

  My eyes cut in her direction, and I see that she and Terry are in the throes of full-spasm hilarity, clawing at each other and the wall just to keep from dropping to the ground and rolling around. Tears are streaming and cackles are echoing up and down the ship, with their immediate neighbors quietly edging away from them and looking for available exits. Okay, then. I guess I did hear something a little untoward tumble out of the captain’s mouth.

  I glance the other way, and I see one of the Benetton-ad Carnival workers toss aside her demonstration life jacket and try explaining to a passenger what the captain actually meant. “He was saying to use caution around the wet decks. Wet decks!” (Judging by the slightly-irritated tone of the worker, it was clear that the captain hits this particular enunciation speed-bump quite often.)

  Trouble is, Benetton was directing her words towards the tiny Asian woman who had insisted on standing right next to her husband, all Tammy Wynette and pushy. Tammy looked like she didn’t understand a wet anything, glaring at Benetton like a bug just smacked into the windshield of her overpriced convertible. (I made a mental note to avoid Tammy at all costs for the remainder of the trip. She was wearing too much jewelry for us to ever be friends.)

  I studied the rest of the jostling and sweaty crowd, and no one else seemed to be expressing dismay or confusion. What they were expressing was an intense desire for this whole mess to be done with so they could get back to whatever overindulgence they were partaking in when the horrid Muster Summons had interrupted their various revelries.

  As if on cue, Captain What-Did-He-Say came back on the intercom, thanked us for our extreme patience during this critical meeting and related time of temporary drought (no alcohol was allowed to be served throughout the exercise, the horror), urged us to now enjoy ourselves (like we needed any encouragement on that angle), and then he turned things over to Hennie the Cheerleader so the captain could go get this boat out to sea.

  Perky Hennie (probably performing a herky while he did so) let us all know that we had completed the last official thing we had to do. We could now be completely irresponsible for the next two and a half days until we got to Jamaica. As for entertainment options, there were simply oodles of things (another herky, this time with cowbell) that we could do, such as-

  The rest of Hennie’s words were drowned out by the sound of thousands of guests racing to get off the Muster decks. You don’t tell people they are free to do whatever they want and then expect them to keep listening to you babble about activities you have no desire to experience. Hennie eventually just turned the intercom off and went to go watch old reruns of Blossom.

  And with that, ladies and gentleman, my personal enjoyment factor on this cruise began to rise. It was just the drudgery of that first half day, what with getting those millions of people on to the boat and getting them situated. I don’t do well in crowds. Or standing in line. But now that all sections of the ship were open (way more sections than I realized even existed), massive amounts of people simple disappeared and were never seen again. (Until we got back to Galveston, but that’s a whole different story worth at least 5 separate blog posts.)

  Of course, that’s not to say that we didn’t run into some misadventures on the high seas (Teaser foreshadowing: Tiffy sticks her finger where it doesn’t belong. Yep, she do.)

  But for the next few days, the primary goals were relaxation and decompression. So of course we immediately raced back up to the Lido deck and resumed our seats at our already officially-favorite bar before some other fools stupidly attempted to take our positions. Another round was ordered and we got to work on that important relaxing and decompressing.

  Now, let’s venture into a little side story, one involving a torrid love obsession that grew in strength as the days rolled by. It was a decidedly one-sided affair, and no physical transgressions actually took place, but there was definitely an attraction, one resulting in innocent but increased flirtation as the ship plowed onward, much to the extreme amusement of myself and the other family members who were paying attention.

  Tiffany found herself a little girlfriend.

  Of course, Tiffany was not in the market for an international lover, especially one with body parts that match her own. Tiffany is only interested in callers of a gentlemanly nature, shall we say. But La Tiffany, a sophisticated woman who is accepting and supportive of all the colors in the rainbow, is not above slightly working things to her advantage, should the opportunity arise. And if that opportunity should involve the quality and expediency of bar service aboard a cruise liner? Well, all the better.

  And now let’s introduce Fuchsia, a charming woman from an exotic land not our own. (This is not her real name, naturally, we must protect her identity from the overlords at Carnival, especially that hyperactive and cheerleading Hennie the Cruise Director, who has far too much time on his jazz hands.) We met Fuchsia the very first day, working as she was behind the counter of what became “our bar” on the Lido Deck. She had a blazing smile, a pleasing personality, and we loved her instantly. We loved her even more as the drinks kept coming.

  Fuchsia treated all of us with professionalism and charm, promptly satisfying all of our needs. But it soon became evident that Fuchsia’s sparkle was brightest when Tiffany had a libation request, especially once Fuchsia determined that Terry and I were not possible suitors of Tiffany. (This revelation was probably most obvious when the two of us would drool as yet another finely-muscled member of the male species would walk past shirtless. Or the Madonna references. Or the singing of show tunes. Quite a lot to pick from, actually.)

  Anyway, the one-sided tropical crush soon took on a decided rhythm when Tiffany and Fuchsia would encounter one another, and it went something like this…

  Tiffany, always mindful of paparazzi that she envisioned surrounding her, would purposely choose the further away and less-convenient elevator bank on the other side of the deck, away from our bar. This would increase the amount of sun-kissed wooden planking that Tiffany had to cross in order to quench her lushly-glossed lips, allowing her ample acreage on which to stroll saucily while pretending to be disinterested in all her adoring fans in the deck chairs along the way.

  Fuchsia, upon spying her beloved making such an enticing entrance, would rush to clear a section of the counter, even if it meant lying to a patron about the availability of free iPads at the back of the ship, just so they would vacate a barstool. Fuchsia would then thoroughly sanitize said section of counter, polish said stool, and plop down a small crystal vase holding native flowers that Fuchsia had brought all the way from her home country for just such an occasion.

  Tiffany, once done with her promenade among the fans (and this alone could take hours), would finally wander toward the bar and then pause just shy of it, glancing around contemplatively, as if not certain where she wished to purchase her next cocktail, there were so many choices. If necessary, she would pepper her performance with a dramatic, unresolved sigh.

  Fuchsia, quivering in anticipation, would stand as tall as she possibly could, doing her best to look warm, welcoming, and completely available. If one of her co-workers stupidly walked into the visual gap between her and Tiffany, Fuchsia would shove that person under the counter or over the side of the ship.

  Tiffany, releasing another small sigh along the lines of “well, I suppose this will do, in a pinch”, pretends to reach a decision that she fully intended to reach all along. She sashays up to the open barstool, and then pauses again, as if she can’t actually see the engraved, golden nameplate and the single rose that has been lovingly placed in the seat by her trembling admirer.

  Tiffany finally makes full eye contact with Fuchsia. “May I?”

  Fuchsia, sporting a smile so big it nearly splits her head in two, nods vehemently, unable to speak, what with how the glorious gods have just blessed her day and her libido.

  Tiffany smiles briefly, then proceeds to arrange herself artfully on the stool, making sure everything is just so, and remembering to hold each movement for the requisite three seconds the paparazzi will need to get an adequate photo. Finally settled, she parts her shining lips to make a request. “Could I trouble you for-”

  Fuchsia instantly slams down a drink in front of Tiffany, one carefully concocted of such exquisite flavors and colors that merely contemplating the consumption of such beauty is more than enough satisfaction to last a lifetime. Fuchsia tenderly and carefully removes the last bit of paper from the straw, instantly jealous of the lucky plastic that will soon be nestled between Tiffany’s lips, and worshipfully slides the treasure forward.

  Tiffany embellishes her performance with more dramatic delaying tactics, pausing to turn and intimately wave at what she thinks is Gwyneth Paltrow standing near the chili dog station (“Let’s do lunch, sweetie! Call me!”) but it’s totally not. Then she deftly uses her manicured hand to insert the straw into the favorite part of her anatomy and begins sucking, extending one pinky outwards, because really, shouldn’t you always do that?

  Tiffany pauses again, this time unplanned. “Oh my, Fuchsia, darling. This is extraordinary, simply beyond words. My tongue is tingling with satisfaction. What does one call this?”

  Fuchsia is barely able to remain standing, thoughts of Tiffany’s satisfied tongue battling with her need to remain coherent and eventually marry her fashion bride. “It does not have a name, I leave that for you to bestow, if you find it worthy. It has 22 different liquors in it, 12 of which I distilled myself, last night, using a colander and a hair dryer.

  “Oh heavens,” mutters Tiffany, basically unable to stop with the sucking because the liquid glory is satisfyingly irresistible. “You really shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, with the distilling and all.” She pauses yet, again, this time to belch discreetly, and eyes her now half-empty container. “But since you did, how about we fetch another one, yes?”

  Fuchsia, gratefully willing to do anything that is remotely thrilling to her beloved, immediately races to the ice machine and begins hacking away to break the chunks, with great exuberance, thusly relieving at least a small amount of her burning desire. Little chiplets of said ice go flying through the air, tinkling down on the two co-workers at the other end of the bar, but they aren’t really a part of this particular story and therefore we don’t care.

  Speaking of unconcern for the lesser characters, it is at this point that I arrive on the scene. Well, not arrive, exactly, because I’ve been standing just off to the side the entire time, mentally filing blog notes about the tawdriness and desperation. My own beverage has become depleted, and steps must be taken.

  So I take steps to the bar.

  Fuchsia is busily adding love-scented garnishes to Tiffany’s second offering when she notices me standing there. Her eyes briefly spark with the horrible implications of what my arrival might bring. (“Go away, little gay friend of Tiffany. Do not take her away from me. Bad gay boy!”) But then she recovers and retains her professionalism. “What can I get for you?”

  I wave my empty beer bottle. “Another one, when you have a minute.”

  Now her eyes are expressing another situation. Of course she has a minute, that’s what she’s here for, once Tiffany is happy. But replenishments for my particular brand of beer are way at the other end of the bar, with the ice-chip people. If she leaves Tiffany’s front for any length of time, horrible things could happen, like distracting gay friends suggesting other places that Tiffany might wish to visit, places that correspondingly do not have a Fuchsia. Her eyes hate me again.

  On the other hand, if I have something to drink, maybe I’ll just go away. Or at least sit down and be quiet and say witty gay things that are mildly amusing. So Fuchsia takes her chances, and takes off running.

  I turn to Tiffany. “What should we do next? Should we go see what everybody else is doing?”

  Down at yonder bar end, Fuchsia hears my words, her ears being finely-tuned to all things Tiffany, lying in bed late at night and listening to the sounds of Tiffany’s eyelids fluttering several decks away. (Whoosh, whoosh.) She turns and races back, leaping over a co-worker who chose that moment to bend down and retrieve a dropped maraschino cherry.

  “I don’t know,” breathes Tiffany, absently fondling her second offering of love nectar. “What do you think?”

  Fuschia crash-lands in front of us, practically hurls my unopened beer at me, and completely fails at any pretense of nonchalance. Her eyes implore me beseechingly. Please do not abscond with the fair maiden.

  “Well,” I say. “I suppose we could just wait right here and see if anybody comes along. Sound good?”

  Fuchsia’s eyes, instantly dewy with mingled lust and gratitude, whip toward the damsel.

  Tiffany pauses, artisan of pausing that she is, taking another slurp before responding. “I believe I find that satisfactory. For now. We shall see.”

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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 √©clairs. 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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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 11: Cocktails and Chatter

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  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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