Bon voyage, bitches.
For the boyfriend and myself, going on a second cruise was like a couple of World War II veterans returning to Truk Lagoon – we knew in our hearts we were headed for a piece of paradise, but past experience kept us on edge, worried for the worst. (It’s hard to come back from a cruise where you order 1 bowl of chicken soup and, instead, are brought 14 bowls of rice and 26 hard boiled eggs.) At least this time, we had company: his mother, Chris, and his father, Fred – two people with lots of cruise experience.
Chris and Fred flew in from Texas, where they reside. Early in the morning, the four us took a shuttle to Los Angeles Pier. The driver of the shuttle was the slowest I think I’ve ever witnessed. I mean, kudos on being safe, but when your passengers start thinking they’d make better time on foot, you’ve got a problem. Seriously – he made the Peoplemover seem like the Starship Enterprise.
Once at the Pier, we were guided through a bewildering array of checkpoints, gates, lines, forms and again, more checkpoints. To add to the confusion, there were both mandatory forms and photos to be taken, and optional, “fun” photos and forms. The whole ordeal was kind of like being led to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, if, y’know, instead of wanting to exterminate people, the Nazis were obsessed with tricking them into buying family portraits superimposed on commuter mugs.
Our ship, The Mariner of the Seas, was epic. Among its amenities was a rock-climbing wall, miniature golf course and an ice skating rink – because who doesn’t wanna ice skate on their trip to Mexico? Our room was comfy and felt surprisingly spacious, aided immensely by having a personal, outdoor deck. Already, and without even having set sail, this cruise was better than our last experience – a floating version of San Quentin Prison (without the cool music acts).
Before the ship could depart, its occupants had to report for the mandatory “muster drill." Here’s what that entails: Everyone is assigned a lifeboat and instructed what to do in the case of emergency (apparently just Twittering while sinking isn’t enough). However, before any of this information is imparted, one must wait for everyone on-board to be accounted for and placed in their assigned areas. This proved to be far more complicated than one would hope from a group of creatures with a good 2.3 million years between them and their Australopithecine ancestors.
"Is my lifeboat just past the daiquiri stand? Or next to the pizza buffet?"
For about half an hour, the majority of the ship’s passengers, us included, stood in organized clumps, facing our lifeboats and assorted members of the crew. The full force of the LA sun was on me, and I pondered the cruel irony of dying from sun-stroke while waiting for a safety drill to commence.
Standing in a line next to us was a middle-aged woman, carelessly holding a redundant martini as she was very f-wording drunk. She was awful; one of those people with no concept of boundaries who thinks if she’s having fun being loud and overly familiar, everyone else should, too. This person is the opposite of me. Within ten seconds of engaging my boyfriend in (what passes for) conversation, she already had her hand clutching his upper arm and was leaning into him, all gross and flirty. Years working retail has sharpened my skill in spotting “energy vampires” – people you want to avoid because all they want is to drain your time, thought, and life essence – and she had Head Vampire written all over, so I kept my back. Unfortunately, she had noticed the boyfriend and I interacting earlier, and asked about our relationship. Once she learned we were boyfriends, the thing happened. Here’s the thing:
There’s a certain type of person who, upon learning you’re queer, explodes in a kind of “gay thrill” which runs the gamut from complimentary to condescending. It can make you feel like a Leprechaun – someone finds out you’re gay and suddenly it’s assumed you will take them to your pot of gold, except in this case the pot of gold is a constant stream of catty witticisms and backstage passes to aging divas’ comeback concerts.
I am not a Leprechaun. I am slow to get to know, disinterested in judging people based on fashion, and the sound of Judy Garland’s voice is the only thing that can give me motion sickness. I am not what a fag hag wants. Add to that my knee-jerk disdain for people who are too quick to touch me or ask personal questions, as this woman was and did, and you see how un-gay I can be.
In her drunken haze, she could perceive I wasn’t bowled over by her charm, and began to ask my boyfriend why I “was so serious.” She informed him that this was a cruise, that I needed to relax and have fun, etc, belch, etc. I repressed the desire to inform her that I fully intended to have a good time, but that my concept of fun didn’t include getting wasted with a thin-lipped cow who couldn’t hold her liquor. The boyfriend was far more polite and patient than I, and allowed her his attention, asking friendly questions such as “Is this your husband?,” indicating the biker standing in front of her who’s balls she was playfully cupping with her free hand.
“Oh no!” she giggled, pointing to the meek, pasty guy behind her, “This is my husband. This,” meaning the biker, “Is just our friend!”
[insert inevitable "sea men" joke here]
Finally, everyone was in their proper place and the safety procedures could be explained. Unfortunately, this information came blasting out of muffled speakers, dictated by a man who was either also drunk or had a thick accent, or both. I seem to recall being instructed, in the case of fire, to “buy coconut jelly and run without tampons.”
Done, and done.
Once dismissed, the boyfriend and I sussed out the upper-deck buffet. Mayonnaise packets were plentiful, so I knew I was gonna be okay, ‘cause I can eat anything – no matter how unpleasant – if it’s with a dollop of mayo. I know this sounds gross, but really, when you think about it, screw you.
Like loving grandparents or a trusted minister, whipped up and put in a jar.
We didn’t eat, however, until that night, when we met his parents in the formal dining room. The room was actually elegant, a pleasant surprise considering that nowadays "elegance" often translates into "How much polished brass can we stuff into this room?"
The service was impeccable, excluding the hard liquor bartender, who I’ll get to later. We were introduced to our wait-staff, who were assigned to our table for the duration of the seven day cruise. We couldn’t have been luckier. Our main waiter, a charismatic Romanian dude named Ionut, spoiled and entertained us. His assistant waiter was a petite man named Friday; quite possibly the most effeminate man I’ve ever met, he had a sweet and generous smile, made a point of memorizing our names immediately, and had the charming compulsion of saying “Bon appetite!” to us throughout the evening and at any point during our meal, including the end of it. I think someone may have told him “bon appetite” is French for “Okay, I’m leaving for a bit but I’ll be right back to bring you whatever else you need.” Regardless of its appropriateness, it never failed to make me grin.
English was Friday’s second language, which led to some amusing miscommunications, such as Fred, who wanted to place an order for a cocktail, asking Friday if he was “from the bar,” to which Friday answered, sincerely:
“No, I’m from Indonesia.”
After a fine meal, the boyfriend and I retired to our cabin, leaving his parents to gamble, drink and make friends at a pace we could not, as we are old before our time and prefer to soak our feet in Epsom salts, suck on horehound drops, and listen to Fibber McGee & Molly. Okay, so we had sex and watched Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it amounts to the same thing.
And so ended a promising first day of our cruise to Mexico. More to come!