Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Things I Just Realized While Wrapping Christmas Presents

1. It sucks.

  Granted, there was a time and place when I greatly enjoyed swaddling carefully-selected gifts in whimsically-printed paper. I would spend hours ensuring that each box o’ joy was so meticulously enshrined in festive wrapping that angels would descend from Heaven and sing praises about the craftsmanship. That is no longer the case. Now I just want the dang things done and shoved under the tree as quickly as possible.

2. The discreet use of tape is highly overrated.

  I used to be an acolyte of the school which believed that if you could see the Scotch tape lovingly applied to yuletide packages, then you just didn’t care enough. The tape should be placed so precisely that the gift recipient would swear that artisans of great fame were responsible for the finished product. But I dropped out of that school. Now the tape is used as a binding tool, physically forcing the wrapping paper to do what I want it to do, even if it means we end up with weird wads of paper mashed into the ends of the package.

3. I can no longer cut in a straight line.

  Another skill that has eroded over time is the ability to slice off the required bits of wrapping paper at perfect 90-degree angles from the baseline, thus ensuring that the next person to use the tube of paper has a clean and geometrically-pleasing starting point. My snipping with the scissors starts out swimmingly for the first few inches, but then things go terribly awry and I end up with a ragged edge that looks like the San Andreas Fault. My partner is not amused, and there are heated discussions.

4. I apparently had a fetish concerning the purchasing of “after-Christmas” discount wrapping paper at some point.

  We have tons of this stuff. There are countless bins of paper that I don’t even remember buying, shoved into random corners of the attic. I think it’s fair to say that I won’t need to purchase more wrapping paper until 2027. And some of the patterns I picked out? I have no idea what inspired me to purchase the New Kids on the Block “Figgy Pudding” tribute roll of paper. Maybe I had bronchitis.

5. The TO and FROM areas on gift tags are entirely too small.

  Dear low-paid people who make these tags: Not everybody in America is named “Ann” or “Biff”. Expand, please. And while you’re at it, quit making those glossy tags where the ink smears and it looks like I have some motor-skill issues.

6. I have lost interest in bows.

  These things just irritate me now. Visiting the past again, I actually used to make bows, using rolls of ribbon and this plastic thing with spokes that, after several hours of threading and twisting, would create intricate displays of glossy art, resulting in treasures that would send Patti LaBelle running to the nearest hair salon.

  I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I don’t do bows at all. Just flat packages, because the bows are just going to get crushed when you cram all those presents in the back of the car and drive 20 hours to the house of the relative who is hosting this year’s awkward gift-exchange extravaganza. Nobody likes smashed gift-toppings. Save yourself the pain.

  7. There’s no shame in random gaps in the wrapping.

  So the square of paper that you just cut out is apparently FUBAR and doesn’t adequately hide the entire thingy you are trying to cover? No worries. Just make sure that critical words on the packaging are nicely obscured, and you’re good to go. It’s not like anybody is actually going to care, what with the entire planet being afflicted with attention-deficit disorders of one kind or another. They’re just going to rip the thing open, squeal with fake Southern Belle delight, and then toss the thing aside and never look at it again. At least you didn’t waste any time putting a bow on it.

8. I made the mistake of actually sitting on the floor while doing the wrapping.

  This would not have been a problem in my more limber years. But as well know, things and bodies don’t work quite the way they used to function. Once I was in the lower altitudes, I was pretty much staying there unless a fire broke out in the house. So I’m wallering around on the floor, grunting and trying to reach for the next present that needed to be wrapped, usually one that I had stupidly placed way on the other side of the room. (Side Note: How is it that the scissors that you just used disappear the instant that you set them down and you have to search for five minutes every time you need them?)

  And when I needed a fresh beverage? I rued the day, just sayin. Try convincing Scotch the Cat to go get Daddy another beer. The success rate with that endeavor often leads to disappointment, hurt feelings, and a restraining order. Ungrateful little hairball launcher.

9. Some companies maliciously create products that are difficult to wrap.

  Why can’t they just put the item in a standard box and be done with it? Doesn’t that make more sense for everybody? But noooo, these evil manufacturers insist on the most jacked-up packaging they can design, with odd angles and things that stick out and sharp pointy bits that will rip the wrapping paper to shreds. I think these companies should have to pay hefty government fines until they knock it off and act right.

  Yes, I know that I could just put the unruly gift into a wrap-technician-pleasing box and go from there. But it’s a known household fact that you can never find a box when you need one. Two days ago, of course, there had been hundreds of empty boxes all over the house, tossed in piles by irresponsible people who didn’t care, leading to me bellowing things like “who the hell left these boxes EVERYWHERE!” and to a very quiet evening meal where the perpetrators didn’t say much after I made them haul the boxes to the trash. Clearly, I wasn’t planning ahead.

  And I could also take advantage of those “holiday” gift bags, with their symbols of high-cholesterol Santas and fornicating reindeer. But using a gift bag just seems like a cop-out to me. The bags might as well come printed with a disclaimer stating “It’s two in the morning, I’m tried of wrapping, so I’m just going to throw your over-priced Pier 1 ornament into this bag and cram some tissue on top of it. I still love you, though. Kiss, kiss.”

  Maybe it’s that tissue paper that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can never get that crinkly mess to look right. Some folks are a wiz at it, sculpting delicate snow angels and an origami Baby Jesus out of the stuff. My tissue paper looks like I ran over it in the driveway and then shoveled it into a designer bag featuring dancing chipmunks and special dots that, if you scratch and sniff, smell just like fruitcake.

10. Despite all of the above, I actually do like to wrap Christmas presents.

  I just have to force myself to set aside a big chunk of hours, pick a room where I can seal myself off from the rest of the house and all those prying eyes (“Yes, you were trying to peek, now get out of here you little urchin.”), make sure I have everything I need so I don’t slip out of the wrapping chamber and get distracted by things like a Will & Grace rerun or a Facebook request that somebody needs materials for their suppository factory in BodyCavityVille, stay focused, and get the job done.

  Oh, and at some point I must play the entire “Christmas Portrait” album by The Carpenters. It’s not the holidays without it, and it takes me back to those innocent, less-bitter, child-eyed times when I really did care about not being able to see the tape on the packages as I wrapped up the tiny, dime-store goodies I had carefully picked out for my family after I saved my allowance for months and months.

  And that strategy worked just fine this evening. I managed to get twenty gifts prepped and ready to go, an admirable amount if I do say. But now I have to get up off this floor, and that’s going to take a while. Thankfully, I was able to convince Scotch to bring me my laptop so I could blog about my experiences while I build up the strength to get back on my feet.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Backup Dancers From Hell: Lady Gaga - “You And I”

  We start out with Gaga marching down a dusty road, decked out in some tribute-to-Skeletor getup, complete with coordinated veils and death mask. Seems girl has been trudging down that road for some time, long enough that her feet are all bloody and she’s got a bit of an attitude. But before we can tell her “honey, if you’d just take those eight-inch heels off it wouldn’t be so bad” we whisk to another.. I’m not sure what it is.

  And then the images and costume changes start flying. Somebody’s hiking up her skirt, some corpses are getting married, something about fingernails, melting ice cream cones, ugly street vendors, possible cattle-prod usage and public tinkling. Gaga goes at it all with gusto, in that amazing knack she has of creating startling but mesmerizing images that may not mean anything but she’s having such a hell of a good time that you’re right there with her.

  Anyway, the song proper starts, and we’re back with the original Gaga character, she of the black veils, now standing in the middle of what passes for an intersection in Podunk, Nebraska. She poses for a while, because her outfit is really striking and we need to study all of it, then she starts prancing around with an attitude, sashaying, while at the same time trying to fix one of her arms that has apparently short-circuited. Then she throws down a black rose and goes stomping toward an ice cream truck, which is exactly where I would go if my arm was making buzzing noises and didn’t have any flesh.

  Cut to another Gaga, this one wearing very little makeup and playing a piano in the middle of a cornfield at night. Sitting on top of said piano is Jo Calderone, the alter ego that Gaga has created as a means to… well, the jury’s still out on that one. But kudos to the special effects person that blended these two into the scene. You really believe that Jo is right there, smoking cigarettes and guzzling beer while Gaga bops her head dangerously close to Jo’s crotch. They look sweet together.

  We spend a little time with them, because when you stumble across a piano from the corn rather than a child, you might as well make the best of it. (We get some jump shots of Black Veil Gaga stomping around on those roads, but she doesn’t seem to know where she’s going so we can check back on her later.) While Gaga tinkles, this time with the piano keys and not herself, Jo does manly things like spit and grab at his crotch and not bathe.

  Hold up, more whirring images again. Some shirtless guy (good costume choice, sayin) is messing around with Gaga dressed as a severe RuPaul angel, another shirtless guy (or maybe the same, we’re just seeing torsos here, fine by me) is kissing a Gaga dressed as a dead nurse, and there’s something about a barn. Then we’re back to the RuPaul angel, and Shirtless is fiddling with chemistry-set looking things while RuPaul tries not to be eaten alive by her costume.

  And the possible barn theme is confirmed when we cut to a Green-Haired Gaga leading a line dance. (It’s just not a Gaga video without one.) Leave it to Gaga to all out hoof it up in a big production number involving horse stalls and haylofts. She and her girl posse flop around for a bit, stirring up dust that probably doesn’t feel good once it’s trapped under those leather outfits they are all barely wearing.

  While the Horsey Hoes pivot and twirl, we drop by one of the other set pieces in the video for a status update. RuPaul appears to be getting her mouth oiled by Shirtless, followed by something to do with an old-timey hypodermic being shoved into RuRu’s neck and causing her to…

  Turn into a mermaid? I think. All that’s certain is that we now have Gaga as FishWoman, reclining in an antique bathtub that would probably run you 25K at Restoration Hardware, while Shirtless is dumping pails of water on her. (He’s a very busy boy.) She’s also managed to lose her top somewhere along the line, testing the patience of censors with the creative use of a tiny strip of mer-flesh that just barely covers her nipples. (What’s the point, at this point, about even bothering to hide the points? Just asking.)

  Back to the Horsey Hoes and their Equus tribute. Everybody’s still hunching the hay with complete professionalism, showing no signs of stopping, so we can just let them be for now, although at some point they’ll need to find another place to dance because the cows are due for milking shortly. Bessie don’t play when it’s pail time.

  And we visit with Mer-Gaga once more, to find that she is hopelessly devoted to her breasts, caressing them with a love that usually only takes place on certain pay-per-view channels. We also have some mess with Shirtless shoving a gas mask at her, but there’s already so much going on that we’ll just let that go for now.

  Oh, look, it’s time for another montage. Black Veil Gaga is still stomping around that dusty intersection, so I’m not sure that she’s being all that productive. Mer-Gaga is splashing around in her tub in a manner that would have had me sent to my room as a youngster. And Jo and Plain Gaga are still mooning at each other under the harvest moon in the cornfield without children.

  Then the pace kicks up even more, and the jump cuts are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that, in general, Shirtless is really invested in transforming Gaga into something else. We’re just not sure what that else might be or exactly which Gaga he is working on at any given time, especially since some new Gagas start cropping up, like Black-Haired Gaga who seems to be doing aerobics in front of a giant wooden wheel while wearing a leftover Barbarella outfit.

  Hold-up, soft-porn alert. Shirtless and his tattoos are gettin’ busy with one of the Gagas, probably Mer-Gaga if you base it on breast-identification. But before the loosely-draped towel on his behind slides off like we want it to, we go back to that damn montage. Now we have images of splashing water, Plain Gaga leading a line dance in the cornfield (you knew it was coming), and a shot of Jo spitting off the back of the piano (how nice of him/her).

  Next we have another teasing snippet of that towel sliding lower on Shirtless, then scenes of Black Veil Gaga still not finding what she’s looking for, more cornfield choreography, Plain Gaga playing the piano with her foot, self-loving mermaids, questionable aerobics, religious references involving the signs of the cross and some hair gel, and a very convincing trick shot of Gaga kissing herself via Jo.

  Did I mention that things were a little busy in this video? Yep, they be.

  Oh, I almost forgot about the Horsey Hoes. We check in on them a few times, including a startling scene where Green-Haired Gaga has apparently managed to get herself stuck high up on a really aggressive stripper pole, and the other Hoes race up a convenient staircase to cut her down. Or something like that. It may have just been a political statement of some kind.

  Brief interlude where Shirtless is sitting around in flimsy, soaking-wet pajama bottoms while Mer-Gaga throws more water on him, then the montage fires up again. Barbarella Gaga is having some type of reaction to shellfish, Plain Gaga suddenly decides it would be fun to run a marathon in the cornfield, Dead-Nurse Gaga is still getting married or some such in the most confusing scenario of many confusing scenarios, and the towel finally gives it up and we get a partial booty shot of Shirtless atop Mer-Gaga. (Pause at 5:08, for those who roll that way, sayin.)

  The tilt-a-whirl finally starts to slow down, and we’re back with Black Veil Gaga, still on that road to nowhere, warbling the slower end of the song. The music fades, and we get one last look at Shirtless and Mer-Gaga, all cozy in their bathtub of lust, a glimpse of Dead-Nurse Gaga and her apparent groom, and a lonely, abandoned farmhouse where little boys and girls used to dream of growing up one day and doing whatever the hell they wanted and people would love them anyway…

Click Here to Watch the Video on YouTube.

Friday, December 9, 2011

10 Strategies From The Republican Jacked-Up Playbook

1. Pray Away The Gay Today, Hey Hey

  This is one of the cornerstones of our cult. Any time you are in a situation where you need to misdirect guilt, blame the gays. Gays are responsible for everything that is wrong in our lives and this great corporate nation of ours. Point fingers and talk about Jesus casting them out of paradise. (Side note: Mixing Jesus and homophobia should be at the top of your Republican recipe list, up there with Fake Soldier-Support Soufflé and Anti-Abortion Antipasto.)

  If someone wants to know why you are trying to de-fund Medicare, explain that it’s the only way to stop same-sex couples from holding hands in a recovery room. If people question your slashing of school budgets, tell them it’s the only way to prevent classes on interior design and humanities, two breeding grounds for homosexuality. And if one of the two remaining reporters in the world who has not been bought off happens to spot you slipping out the back door of a gay nightclub wearing nothing but a studded-leather jockstrap and a satisfied smile, say you are doing “research” for Marcus Bachmann.

2. Taxes Are The Devil’s Work

  Under no circumstances should you ever appear to be supporting tax increases, at least for the super-rich and our citizen corporations. (Be sure to keep taxing the lower and middles classes, because somebody has to pay for all the crap we have, right?) And don’t be troubled by the stupid poor people who die because they can’t afford to pay their medical bills. (Fewer living poor people means less votes for the opposition and better parking spaces for our Humvees. Yay!)

  Remember, never back down from this stance, no matter what. This is the only idea we can ever get an entire room of Republicans to agree on, so it’s like our official motto and stuff. If we waffle on this, then people might question other things we do, and we sure as hell don’t want some of those rocks looked under. Got it?

3. Say Whatever You Want On Television

  We own the media, so we can take whatever dumb-ass thing you said and spin it into something else completely, preferably a rebuttal that blames Obama for something we did. So just relax and be the bigot we all know you are. Ain’t no shame in the hatred game, sayin.

4. Pay No Attention To History Books

  Thankfully, most people don’t read those nasty things, anyway. But if you run into someone who insists on quoting from that trash, be prepared to deny that whatever they are talking about actually happened. Things like the Holocaust, Emancipation and Separation of Church and State. Besides, a homosexual probably wrote those lies, and Jesus doesn’t want you to read such flighty filth. If all else fails, we can just revise the voting districts so that the common people have no actual say in what their insipid children learn. (Like they can even afford to go to college anymore. Puh-lease.)

5. Fundamentalism Is Fierce!

  In any situation where you need to inject religion into the discussion (which is every situation), always take the most extreme anti-progress position you can. As we all know, enlightened human thought is a critical threat to our mission statement. Stick with the basics: fire, brimstone, enslavement of the masses, and unimpeded power at any expense. It doesn’t matter if you actually believe what you are saying, the important thing is to say it and get the votes. The end justifies the desecration.

  Oh, but even if you don’t really buy all that biblical stuff, be sure to go to church at least twice a month and wave at the cameras as you go in. (See special section in the appendix concerning “How to protect yourself from spontaneous combustion in the House of the Lord”.)

6. Responsibility Is Highly Over-Rated

  With only a few possible exceptions (sorry about all that “ethics violation” mess back in the 90’s, Newt, we didn’t own as many newspapers back then, our bad), you will probably not be held accountable for your actions. Do whatever you need to do to further our agenda, even if you don’t understand the agenda or you break several laws in the process.

  There is only the tiniest risk that you might be arrested, and that risk is far outweighed by the healthy balance on your bank account statements. Besides, if people start nosing around, look for the nearest Democrat, lesbian, or welfare recipient and blame them, even if they were out of the country or not even born when you screwed people over. We’ll take it from there.

7. Pander, Pander, Pander

  Read the polls. Immediately change your speeches to agree with those poll findings, even if they are the complete opposite of your past, documented standing. (Unless the poll says rich Republicans are getting away with robbery. We will shoot you if you agree with that. Dick Cheney is on standby.) Swear that you will never change your new position. Then immediately change it if the next poll has a different outcome.

8. Equality Is Evil

  We were not all created equally. That’s just some communist crap that Thomas Jefferson came up with before we deleted him from history, at least in the Texas schoolbooks. Men are better than women. (With a hall pass given to Michele and Sarah, who have managed to bring in a contingent of horny male voters who inexplicably find them attractive.) Men have the full right to govern a woman’s body in whatever way they see fit. It says this in The Bible and in Playboy, and that’s all we need to know.

  Side note to the females we sleep with when our wives are off having plastic surgery: Don’t get bitchy. For clarification, see the articles in the appendix entitled “Testosterone Is God’s Natural Selection” and “Balls Are Da Bomb, Even If They Be Tiny”. And don’t forget that we can take away that 19th Amendment just as easily as we took away the rights of most Americans with that Patriot Act thing we shoved through when everybody was busy mourning and not paying attention.

9. Special Section On The Rick Perry Thing

  Let’s just say that some part of George Bush Two understood that he had some manner of misfiring in his noggin, and mostly chose to allow others to speak and do for him. But Rick? Well, he actually feels that the “Book of Rick” was somehow left out of the Bible, and that he is indeed the Messiah of the Morons. And we’ll let him have that title, because he does get brownie points for the sheer arrogance he displays, and us Republicans sure do love to love ourselves.

  Still, we’re not really happy with him right now, because you can’t fix stupid. But if he does manage to get our nomination (hey, Newt could get caught with another hooker at any moment), you still need to vote for him. Because we would much rather see our country destroyed than have a Democrat in the White House for a second term. (See article in appendix: “Don’t Let a Democrat Win Again Or Homosexuals and Vegans and Actual Patriots and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and People Who Are Just Decent and Fair-Minded Will Get This Country Back On Track Again and We Will Actually Have to Pay Our Fair Share of Taxes and Do The Right Thing.”)

10. “The Stepford Wives” Movie

  Why didn’t we include this concept in the Patriot Act? WHY? Send memo to Karl Rove demanding explanation. Arrange for extra bailout checks to national banks so that one of them can fund research into automated dummies to replace common citizens. Lie to reporters that we are doing this. Cross fingers that we once again get away with a total crapfest of wrongdoing, hypocrisy, white supremacy, blatant disregard for those not born with a trust fund shoved up their ass, and inability to understand that just because I said it, it doesn’t make it true.

Hold up, folks, our broadcast is being interrupted by a message from Occupy Bonnywood Manor, as they briefly take control of our airwaves before being arrested by Koch-Murdock Security:

  “Now is the time for all good men and women and however you identify to come to the aid of their country. One human, one vote. Live it. Be it. Refreshments are now being served in the non-denominational atrium. The cheese puffs are especially tasty. End trans…”

  Peace, y’all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 20: I’m Too Sexy For This Deck

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  Tuesday was the day that I became an international male sex symbol.

  Well, at least in my head, I did.

  And it went something like this…

  It was another “at sea” day, which meant that once again we had no firm structure and could do whatever we felt like doing all day long. So of course we started things off with a visit to the breakfast buffet, where I shoved anything containing the tiniest speck of grease into my mouth, a habit that would probably bring me great regret if I kept it up for much longer. As usual, our morning meal was accompanied by the imagery of petulant children throwing juice at each other while the parents completely ignored them and instead moved one day closer to an imminent, bitter divorce.

  Tiffany and I walked off some of the grease by traveling to what was becoming one of our favorite rooms on the ship, Vincent’s Lounge, a nightclub that was basically deserted during the day, being a nightclub and all. But they kept it open all the time, and it was quite relaxing to just slip in there and ogle the incredibly bizarre décor. Something to do with Vincent Van Gogh and his “Sunflower” period. (There are glass flowers hanging from the ceiling, people. Not making this up.)

  So we sat for a while, idly wondering exactly what type of drugs were responsible for the visions of both Vincent and the obviously-flamboyant interior designer who tried to channel him on a cruise ship populated mainly with folks who had no idea who Vincent Van Gogh might be and, more importantly, did not really care as long as the greasy buffets remained open and alcoholic beverages continued to appear magically before them.

  Speaking of libations, we reviewed our tentative (everything is always tentative on a cruise) agenda for the day, to ensure that we had adequately done whatever we needed to do to make things flow smoothly and not lead to shocking moments of shame and degradation.

  We knew that we were doing the zip-line thing in Jamaica early the next morning, which meant that we needed to respect that “early” theme this evening and get ourselves to bed at a decent hour, which in turn meant that if we were going to do any serious drinking today, then we would have to get started with that…

  Right now! Oh my God, did everybody realize this? Tiffany and I looked at one another with slight panic. We have a definite method to our madness, and one of those methods pertains to the protocol surrounding proper and classy binge drinking. There’s a certain pacing as well as requisite dance moves during key moments. You have to do it right or you won’t get the merit badge.

  We had to remind people of the schedule change or there would be chaos.

  We leapt to our feet and raced toward the door of Vincent’s, pausing a moment to let another passenger come in said door and stand there momentarily in shock. (It was clearly the poor woman’s first time reviewing the décor. We considered holding her hand and graciously helping her adjust to the environment and get her bearings, but there really wasn’t time for that. We spied the motion-sickness bracelet on her arm, knew she would eventually be fine, and fled.)

  We clattered out of the elevator on the Lido Deck and instantly began a complex search-and-seizure mission of locating other members of our party (well, at least the members who could drink), with Tiffany doing an expert imitation of Jill Munroe from Charlie’s Angels, complete with hair-flipping and bell-bottom jeans-wearing. (She really wanted to go all out and pursue a gunman whilst riding a skateboard, but neither was available at the time.)

  I played Charlie. Which meant I didn’t really have to do anything other than talk on a phone.

  Our mission proved both stylish and successful, as we quickly located Dawn, Darrin and Tara loitering around a table quite near Fuchsia’s House of Liquor and Lust. Great, perfect arrangement. Maybe we could get things in motion with the mojitos before it was too late.

  We thundered up to the table to find that there really was no need to accelerate the program to an adult level. These three horses had apparently done left the barn some time ago.

  Tara: “Heeeeyyyy! Where the hell have you been?” (She knocked something over, but no one complained, so it was all good.)

  Tiffany: “Oh. We were just going to remind you that-”

  Dawn: “I loooovvveee Bloody Mary’s!” (Then she was briefly distracted, thinking that her celery stick had just asked her a question, but she recovered quickly, tossing the celery behind her so she couldn’t hear it.) “Don’t you?”

  Me: “-there’s the zip-line thing early in the morning and-”

  Darrin: “…..”

  Tiffany: “Okay, then. Guess you’re on schedule.”

  Tara: “Go get some sunscreen, girl. We are gonna lay out all afternoon and DRINK! Woooaagga!” (Fair disclosure: That last word was completely made up, I have no idea what she said.)

  And thusly, we had an agenda.

  Suffice it to say that it was a very enjoyable agenda at that. The weather was perfect and sunny, the boat was behaving and not tossing people about like rag dolls with focus issues, and every single person on the entire ship was suddenly absolutely comfortable with their bodies and what they could do with them. (Did I mention that drinking was involved?)

  Example of that last bit? The “Hairiest Chest” contest. This business kicked into gear at some point, details are sketchy, but it was clearly a huge hit once things were under way. The women in the crowd (and a few of the men, equal opportunity obnoxiousness here) were screaming with zealous passion as a handful of men who were smashed enough to not care paraded around nearly naked. I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to learn that none of these men should ever quit their day jobs.

  While that mess was going on, Tiffany and I noticed that Dawn was off to one side, allowing Tristany to get one of those temporary, air-brushed tattoos. Well, thought the Tiffster and I, we certainly can’t let the young and the restless have all the fun. So we swigged down the rest of our current cocktails, hollered at Terry that we had a mission, and our Trilogy of Terror headed toward the sound of compressed air being squirted at human flesh.

  (Not that you could actually hear such a noise, what with a live band on the balcony of an upper deck, playing music whose soul purpose seemed to be that of providing a steady, thumping beat so that the hairy-chest contestants could better attempt to swivel their hips and try to look even remotely seductive.)

  We got to the little tattoo stand and began poring over the many books containing the wondrous artwork that could be stained onto our bodies for a promised five or so days (assuming that we didn’t rub too hard, bathe, or breathe during that time). In a moment of stunning originality, we decided to all go with yin-yang tattoos, because nobody ever does that, right? Fifty bucks later and we were officially in a gang. An Asian-Oklahoman-West Texan gang with minimal purpose or skill, but a gang nonetheless. We be street and stuff.

  We rejoined the family and continued to quench our bottomless thirsts and the sun continued to shine as complete strangers became life-long friends while standing in line for a Blue Hawaiian. Everybody was very, very happy.

  At some point, Tiffany and Tara managed to obtain tropical drinks that had been wedged into coconuts that had been carved and painted to minimally resemble monkey-heads. The duo loved these little creatures, christening them Cocoa and Crispy. With only slight slurring, they even came up with very detailed biographies that included a torrid romance and some possible espionage in the south of France. There also might have been a guest appearance on an episode of “The Facts of Life”, but I might have garbled that message with periodic status reports from Dawn’s Tristany-tracking walkie-talkie.

  As I smiled faintly while listening to their tender words of wooden-headed life adventures droning in the background, it became evident that Cocoa was a girl (this one was parented by Tiffany, natch), but I never quite learned the fabricated gender classification assigned to Crispy, so I don’t know if their Mediterranean fling ended in a marriage, a civil partnership or just your standard open relationship where they could see other monkeys on the side.

  And the sun kept up with that beaming down business, distributing the lazy sensation of freedom and short-term irresponsibility that is the traditional gift of UV-Rays and alcohol. My lulled and mulled mind began to wander, taking hazy note of the other things going on around me, images of frivolity and mayhem that would intrude briefly and then fade, leaving wispy, fragmented impressions that somehow coalesced into absurdity.

  We had that odd sense of accidental intimacy, with random people running about in skimpy bits of bathing attire, where you are presented with far more uncovered anatomy than you typically get in your daily routine. And there was sweat, also courtesy of the sun, which, for me anyway, enhances exposed musculature in a pleasing manner, shining things up a bit. Well, certain musculature. As in the men folk.

  But then I shifted around in my deck chair (Wait. When did I get here?) and began to analyze the flesh parade with a sharper eye, or at least as sharp as one could get when the alcohol is baking in your veins. The drumming of the live band intensified as I studied the carnality of happy, liberated hedonists presenting their wares for all to see. And I came to a sobriety-deficient conclusion.

  They weren’t really all that attractive, these people with their thongs and straining board shorts and strategically-exposed patches of this and that. These people were out of shape and had crammed themselves into structurally-stressed attire, looking like some church benevolent mission had air-dropped a shipment of free bathing suits over a really trashy trailer park where people considered bathing to be too much exercise. In fact, it was a little bit rude of them to parade around with such confidence and self-love. They didn’t deserve the spotlight, no sir. The rhythmic, pulsing drums weren’t beating for them.

  They were beating for me.

  I was sure of it. As my drums kept up the beat, I stretched my arms out over my head, assuming a provocative pose in my deck chair, convinced that at any moment hundreds of men would be rushing to my side and begging me for a chance to worship my mind-blowing physique. I would toy with each of them, work them into a frenzy, and then-

  There was a scraping sound to my left.

  I looked over and realized that Tiffany had just repositioned the deck chair next to me, and then reclined as well. She also adjusted the horizon of her body to allow the sun to kiss her curves at just the right angle of illumination. “Feeling good right now, are you?”

  I smiled. “Oh, yeah. I am having the best time. I am so glad we came on this cruise.”

  She adjusted herself just a tiny bit more, as there had apparently been one square inch of her luscious-ness that was not properly displayed. Then she planted Cocoa the Coconut next to her on the chair, because a good parent always keeps tabs on their offspring, wooden or otherwise. “Really?”

  I nodded my head, leaning in conspiratorially. “Yes! Have you seen all these people around here?” (I may have made an unnecessary arm flourish to indicate the masses at this point.)

  Tiffany gazed about, taking note but not quite sure where I was headed.

  I clarified. “I am feeling so sexy right now. Compared to them.”

  She smiled understandingly, although I wasn’t sure if she meant it. Then her sunshades slipped down just the tiniest bit, and I caught a reflection of myself in her lenses. My pale-ass white body and a beer gut where whaling ships could probably dock during a sudden squall. The rhythmic drums were suddenly beating for someone else, disillusion dissipating. Damn demon alcohol. Inspired and then killed another dream.

  I sighed and flopped back in my chair. “Well, it was fun feeling hot for at least a little bit.”

  Tiffany smiled again, this time with understanding that was clear. “Well, you are what you believe, and you can believe anything you want, right? And for the record, my Cocoa is always hot.” And then she patted her little love monkey.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 19: Cleopatra And The Paparazzi

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  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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Friday, December 2, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 18: No Splashing Allowed

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  My eyes popped open.

  I had no idea where I was, and it was completely dark. I was lying in a bed, that was my only certainty. And I did appear to have a slumbering bed partner, so hopefully somebody had a good time at some point. Then the entire room rose in the air and plopped back down with a splash.

  Ah. The boat. It was the middle of the night, and I had finally managed to drift off for a few seconds, only to be jerked back into wakefulness as the ship slammed through another patch of rough sea. And there were a lot of those patches the first night on the boat. Far too many for my satisfaction. I have a hard enough time sleeping in a strange bed. It’s even worse when the bed thinks it’s in a scene from The Exorcist.

  Speaking of Linda Blair, my eyes finally adjusted to the dimness and I glanced over to see how things were going with Tiffany in her little Tiffany-size couch-bed. Hmmm. Her eyes seemed to be really wide-open, staring at me with giant whiteness like that Annie chick in the cartoon strip from way back in the day. Was she in shock? Did I really look that bad with bed-head?

  Suddenly, I heard a tiny, Tiffany-size snore, along the lines of a mosquito rubbing a few of its legs together. Was she sleeping with her eyes open? Girl had some madd skillz. Then I realized she was wearing a sleep mask, one of those puffy things that Joan Crawford would wear before she ripped it off and went to beat on some of her unwanted children.

  I looked the other way, checking on Terry and his snoring. We definitely had something more than mosquito legs going on over there. But at least he and Joan were getting some much-needed sleep, unlike tossing-and-turning me. Hated them a little bit. I sighed and stared at pointless things, firmly convinced that this night of unwelcome rocking and rolling would never end.

  But eventually dawn broke, and I leapt out of bed, completely un-refreshed and cursing mankind’s decision to ever leave land. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, and after the first one the nights kept getting better until I actually enjoyed being lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat. I just wasn’t there yet.)

  I stepped out on to our little balcony, and my mood improved greatly. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling, and the promise of a completely unstructured day was at hand. This was an “At Sea” day, wherein you could participate in tons of optional activities that were being offered, or you could do absolutely nothing other than sit in a deck chair and drink. Plan B sounded pretty good at the moment. But when does it not?

  Eventually our little trio was freshly-scrubbed and presentable, and we left the cabin in search of pleasure. We had a leisurely breakfast (duly noting that the thousands of screaming children had not disappeared over night as hoped), explored the ship some more (which turned into a daily activity, an always-surprising journey of discovery), and tried to get a status check on what the other members of the tribe might be doing.

  One thing about being on a ship this size, with hundreds of different diversions? You can go long stretches of time without seeing people, including members of your own party. (I didn’t see two of the nieces for several days in a row, and even then our encounters would be brief and peripheral, as they scurried to the disco or other places where young people could avoid meddlesome things like parents and gay uncles.)

  Of course, all this vastness made it somewhat difficult to find someone if you wanted to do so, unless you had a vague idea of where they might be. And this was not necessarily a good situation for parents with younger children, kiddos who required more supervision than the teenagers who could mostly supervise themselves, rushing to social functions and wearing trendy clothing. So, in what I considered a brilliant move, Dawn and Darrin brought along walkie-talkies to keep tabs on the youngest member of our tribe, Tristany.

  And these walkie-talkies were critical elements in what became known as Operation Super Slide.

  See, the ship featured a massive, twisting water slide that hurled occupants downwards through three decks and then plopped them next to a shallow swimming pool, which they could then leap into with abandonment and excessive screaming. Naturally, any child with the tiniest bit of adventurous spirit simply could not go on living if they didn’t get to ride this thing at least 700 times.

  Trouble is, there were some complex operational regulations involving this enticing slide, something about wind shear and ocean turbulence and the angle of the sun, some mess like that, and the slide was often out of commission. This led to extended periods of unsatisfied yearning and bitterness amongst the tempted tykes.

  For example, on the day we first boarded the ship, and after we had all gotten initially established in our rooms and were already breaking in our eventual second home on the Lido Deck, a cutely-clad Tristany appeared, sporting modest bathing attire and an exuberant grin. As we watched and waved, she raced up several flights of stairs, stood in line with other vibrating urchins, and plunged downward with pigtails flying in the wind.

  Then they shut the slide down.

  One ride. That’s all she got the first day, and then her happiness was cruelly crushed. This was actually worse than if she hadn’t gotten to ride the thing at all, because, as we all know, once you’ve tasted exotic fruit and really enjoyed it, the dismay of not getting a second bite is more painful than if you’d never tasted the fruit at all.

  They didn’t open the slide back up for the rest of that day. Or the entire next day.

  Poor little Tristany and her pigtails. Dreams temporarily put on hold, she constantly monitored the situation, one eye always on the distant, empty slide, whenever possible, searching for signs of official activity. If she spied something even remotely promising taking place, a hint that maybe she could finally get a chance to be happy again, she would grab her walkie-talkie and race to the twisting tower, seeking intel and updates.

  Unfortunately, for days on end, the report was the same, with her sad and dejected voice coming out of the little speaker in Dawn’s unit. “It’s still not open.” Then she would wander back our way, slowly, her head constantly whipping around to look back and confirm the horrible the nightmare was still happening. Finally, she would rejoin us, sighing dejectedly as she took a seat at the table.

  Where the adults were happily guzzling alcohol with total abandon, attacking their beverages with a predatory viciousness one usually only sees in wildlife videos, not caring at all that the damn slide wasn’t working. But that particular day, we did care about one thing, and that was the dress code for dinner.

  We had arrived on the ship, unsure about how one should clothe oneself whilst shoving food in one’s mouth. We had initially been under the impression, based on what we could glean from the Carnival website, that we were all required to “dress” for dinner.

  I was thoroughly unimpressed with that discovery. I don’t like to get dressed for weddings, let alone dinners. Additionally, this meant we had to take even more crap with us on the ship, basically two outfits per day. If I had known about this angle before we booked the cruise, I would have had to seriously think about even going. This “dressing” bit sucked. But I just sighed and threw some “business casual” gear into one of my suitcases (now that I had to take two) and hoped that was good enough.

  Then we get on the ship, and we learn several things. The “dressy” angle only applies to the fancy dining rooms onboard, of which there are several, but does not apply to the non-fancy eateries, of which there are many more. And even in the fancy rooms, the code was rather lax. You could wear jeans, if you wanted. The only things truly frowned upon were flip-flops, bathing suits, full-frontal nudity, and people who didn’t tip.

  This pleased me greatly, although I was still irritated about the extra suitcase that now no longer had a purpose and probably would never even be opened. But some of the ladies were actually a bit blue about not getting to get gussied up, having spent time picking out clever frocks and all. Surely something could be arranged that would satisfy everyone and still allow for prettiness and some pseudo high-society action.

  Several cocktails later, and after a somewhat lengthy interruption where we all stopped to study an especially-shocking example of Families Gone Bad as a troop of heathens belched and tooted across the deck in a walking white-trash dictionary, we came to a decision. We were going to put on our finery this very night and invade one of the shmancy dining extravaganzas, thusly allowing those who wanted to be belles of the balle to get their fix, and also getting the whole mess out of the way so the rest of us didn’t have to worry about it for the remainder of the week. Yay!

  Cheers erupted. Mostly from a nearby table where the people were sick of us babbling endlessly about something that could normally be decided in four seconds,  but still. We had a plan. We finished our latest round, and then the girls rushed off to get an hour or two of skin-tone-enhancing sun, design an appropriate wardrobe, and begin the intricate makeup application process that would elevate their natural beauty to even more astonishing heights. They guys just sat around and waited until it was time to change their underwear, at which point they would be good to go.

  But actually, the prep work did turn out to be more exciting and fun that I would have admitted earlier in the day. This change of attitude can be attributed, at least in part, to those swilled beverages. The golden rule of travel is that all experiences are much more interesting if your performance levels and expectations have been lowered due to intoxicants.

  Before you knew it, we were all thundering back and forth between each others rooms, fixing this and borrowing that and making critical last-minute alterations that completely changed the wardrobe from suspect-slutty to chic and swank. There was a moment of high-pressure when Crispy arrived in our room, wanting Uncle Brian to tie his tie for him. At first I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore a tie, let alone tied one. Things were even more challenging because I was standing on the wrong side of the tie. But it quickly came back to me, it really is like riding a bicycle. Backwards, in this case.

  Finally, everyone was basically presentable, and we gathered in the hallway, oohing and aahing over how sharp everybody looked. Even Roni had pimped out her ride, slapping some bling on the spokes of her wheelchair. Feeling good, we started the long tromp to the elevators, giggling and chattering and nodding at other clumps of families that had also decided to glam it up. Those other families looked nice and all, but our family was clearly going to win the sweepstakes. At least that’s what my last margarita had told me.

  As our snake of swishing couture wound past our cabin door, I did briefly glance at it, with a small voice in the back of my head advising that it might be the last time I ever saw it. Our family can never simply go get something done and then come back, mission accomplished. Something was eventually going to go wrong, we just never knew the full scope and scale of the badness until it happened and insurance adjustors had been consulted. And disaster could strike when just two of us were let loose on society.

  Yet now there were fifteen of us marching along, hungry but pretty, excited but slightly-buzzed, and headed toward a place on the ship where we were expected to behave with at least a pretense of decency. This was going to be a challenge.

  It was probably a good idea that they had made everyone on the ship do that dang lifeboat drill on the first day. Just sayin.

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