Monday. September 13, 2010
The boyfriend and I woke-up to the sounds of two billy-goats fighting to the death using spoons, blankets and old cassette tapes as weapons. At least, that’s what it sounded like; in actuality it was room service delivering our breakfasts.
I use the term “breakfast” lightly, as what our silver-domed trays revealed was something more akin to after-birth than food. What must have been powdered eggs had a texture that reminded me of the phlegm I used to cough up back when I smoked clove cigarettes. And the bacon? It was like really juicy, succulent, pan-fried Dr. Scholl’s inserts.
Chop and fry and add to omelette!
The boyfriend, too sleepy to deal quickly with the delivery, neglected to tip and felt guilty as a result.
“I’ve got a tip for them,” I growled, “Don’t bring me this garbage to eat!” We determined then and there to forgo the “luxury” of room service and take our morning meal at the buffet, where we could be discerning, from then on.
Our first excursion of the day was to the upper deck for hot-tubbing. There were options: there was one side of the ship with swimming pools and hot tubs for people who wanted a “party feeling” – this is what you always see on TV commercials for cruises; the fantasy: a bunch of twenty-somethings jumping around in their bikinis (showcasing trim abdominal regions), laughing and splashing as teeth-bleached service personnel graciously hand them exotic beverages.
Here’s the reality: Hoards of obese, fifty-somethings collapsed onto rows of chaise-lounges, quickly licking melting complimentary ice cream cones or snoring as their pasty, puffy skin burns in the unforgiving sun-fire, or reading John Grisham novels while speakers blast a torturous, fifteen minute remix of "Who Let the Dogs Out."
(Obesity is astonishing on a cruise. I saw people so fat it looked like they were made entirely of breasts; breasts of pink meat gushing out of swimsuits, hanging off every contour of their skeletal frame, like scarecrows stuffed, not with straw, but hundreds of pounds of raw chicken. I’ve said it before: if your body is just average, but you want to feel like a supermodel, go on a cruise.)
Thankfully, there was an alternative – it was called the Solarium. Inspired by Roman baths, it offered pools and hot-tubs for folks who wanted a more mellow atmosphere. It was populated by frail, white-haired seniors, many of whom traveled with oxygen tanks. Totally the scene for the boyfriend and I. We soaked in the expansive hot-tub and played “which of the guests are cat-napping, vs., which have actually died.”
At one point, a man ventured into our hot tub who – and this is going sound mean, but – he looked like Golem from Lord of the Rings. He might have been albino – his skin certainly seemed without pigmentation. His eyes were huge and looked wildly around like he was considering which of his fellow passengers might be the most scrumptious to eat. He wore a flesh-tone colored swim cap, which only accentuated his monstrous appearance, but nothing was more unsettling than the thick layer of sunscreen he had painted his whole body with. I mean, he looked like he just taken a bath in Duncan Hines ready-made vanilla frosting. The boyfriend and I looked at each other, each trying to keep from squealing in shock. I lasted about one minute before I had to leave the tub – I just couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t lose control, turn on the man and suddenly scream out “WHY DO YOU LOOK LIKE YOU EAT PEOPLE’S SOULS?!”
Not one for sun-bathing, I left the boyfriend behind and returned to the air-conditioned splendor of our cabin. Left to my own devices, I like a room so crisply cold you could shoot re-takes of March of the Penguins. I turned down the thermostat, turned up my music, and sat back to read a biography of Gene Kelly.
Eventually the boyfriend returned and we went to the buffet for lunch. Now normally, I am not a picky eater. When it comes to trying food – even the odd and upsetting – I am the bravest person I know; I am compelled to try anything once. Just put it on a plate, add a spring of parsley, give it a French name, and I’ll at least taste your fingernail clippings. Add mayonnaise and I might even finish them. What most often trips me up with food is not flavor – it’s texture. If I think the texture’s off or ill-fitting, my lips will seal shut. For this reason, I rarely enjoy a buffet, because the food’s texture is almost always compromised in favor of its accessibility over a prolonged period of time. Meat becomes too leathery, desserts too warm, vegetables too dry, monkey brains too oily.
As a result, I spent a lot of day-time meals eating one bite of lots of things. I thought I might be the first person to actually lose weight on a cruise. Happily, I found two edible items I love that weren’t ruined by exposure: krupuk and papadums! Yay, Mom!
After lunch we went back to our cabin. I put on some of this…
…and continued reading about Gene Kelly while the boyfriend perused The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacobi.
Later that evening we joined Chris and Fred for drinks at one of the eight kerjillion bars the ship had to offer. (Each bar had its own theme, such as Medieval English tavern, or ritzy, Art Deco champagne lounge, or tropical-style gynecological exam room, replete with pap-smear inspired petits fours.)
Our server was a sparkling, Grenadian woman who introduced herself as Spice. It took half an hour for her to take our drink order, because we couldn’t stop talking to her. Once she found out that the boyfriend and I were a couple, she gushed about how much she’s come to love and look forward to working more gay cruises.
“They’re so much fun, they don’t seem like work!” she exclaimed. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I felt exactly the opposite – gay people are exhausting – and kept my cynicism to myself, especially since her enjoyment of gay people was a fun surprise for her. As she put it, where she came from, people just weren’t open about their sexuality. Working a gay cruise was her first experience of gay culture, and she was hooked. She phoned her ancient mother and told her, “Hey Mama! Deez gays, y’know, dey rally great!” Plus, she added with a sly grin, they’re the best tippers ever.
I forget how we got on the topic, but at some point I grilled her for instructions on how to prepare Oil Down, a traditional Granadian dish she claimed to excel at making. We made plans to rendezvous with her and her co-workers in Mazatlan, so she could show me how to prepare fish in true Caribbean style.
After another fine meal with Ionut and Friday in the formal dining room, the boyfriend and I joined Chris in the casino, where she instructed me in the fine art of slot machine gambling.
Thanks to her grooming (and good, old fashioned black magic) I came out ahead with a winning of $4.50!!! Hello, retirement fund!
Later, we dared to attend the nightly live show at the ship’s main theatre – a music act whose name I didn’t quite catch but sounded something like “The Schitz Family” – who were billed as "the first family of Las Vegas." I can only assume they meant Las Vegas, New Mexico. This act was the worst. Three middle-aged, chubby, Olive Garden Italians stuffed into glittery formal wear that made them look like the free show at the Circus Circus midway; they didn’t so much sing as they shouted at us. In disbelief, I took a brief video with my phone to show you how dreadful it all was…
I mean, it sounds like if colon cancer could be taught to sing.
The boyfriend and I returned to our cabin to discover a towel made to resemble an elephant on our bed. We assumed it was a fun gesture from the house-keeping department, though something about it was vaguely menacing – like some kind of obscure Mafia signal indicating we would be dead by dawn, strangled or buried alive or, worse, forced to listen to a Lionel Richie single.
We would later learn that Chris, who we left at the casino, would go on to win $500 at poker.
More to come…