Wednesday. September 15, 2010
I awoke to a beautiful view of balmy, tropical islands along the starboard side of the ship. It proved the perfect backdrop to my morning coffee and obsessive playing of Scrabble on my iPhone.
“I wonder what the poor people are doing?” I mused to myself, thrilled at having played the word adz on a triple word score.
This question was answered when I ventured to the ship’s port side, which revealed a congested, smoldering-oil-scented labyrinth of tarnished industrial structures. The smog was enough to make L.A. seem like a beach on Oahu.
“Oh!” I said.
YOU WERE HERE
We had docked at Mazatlán. While the sight of such a gritty urban landscape was intimidating and caused one to question whether the most “green” thing to do was simply encourage the extinction of the human race, I was hopeful. As stated before, I’m a poor audience for the show of safe, tourist-friendly spectacles cruises contrive, and seeing some real estate that was teeming with real people (sorry, employees of Cabo Wabo) made me eager to disembark and explore.
Furthermore, I had a goal. I wanted to rendezvous with saucy barmaid extraordinaire, Spice, whom the boyfriend and I had chatted up at one of the many bars. She had promised, if I found her at the “old marketplace” to reveal unto me the secrets of making Oil Down, and I wanted to hang out with her and the ship’s staff out of their work environment, where they could treat me sincerely without fear of being locked into the dungeon I’m certain must be hidden on the bottom level of those cruise ships (it’s just past the roller-coaster, past the sperm whale holding tank, to the left of the secret blood diamond mine/Mai Tai cabaña).
The boyfriend, his father Fred and I left the ship and faced the maze of steel crates and rusted cranes. Passengers weren’t permitted to traverse this acreage of battered, banging boxes – we were required to take a tram through it to the gussied up port-mall. The tram reminded me of the now-gone Peoplemover ride at Disneyland, if, y’know, Disneyland was a stinky industrial wasteland with poisoned barnacles and imposing metal super-structures instead of Critter Country.
The ever-popular Splash Mountain attraction
Having arrived at the port-mall, we beelined our way through the tourist trap and, to the consternation of the 3.14 taxi drivers who waited to scoop passengers up, traversed the “safety” of the main gate and found ourselves in a decidedly un-touristy neighborhood in Mazatlán. The boyfriend and Fred were skeptical…
“Maybe we should take a taxi. Ask them to take us to the old marketplace?” they suggested every other breath. But I wasn’t having it. This was my first taste of something outside of the cruise’s controlled environment, and even if it meant we got raped and knifed a li’l bit, it was worth it to me!
…For about half a mile. That’s when my mouth started to taste and feel like salted cotton. The boyfriend was frustrated by following me – I am, after all, the guy who could get lost in a walk-in closet, and Fred looked like he might have a heart attack, which I just knew would make the boyfriend cross with me for days.
I finally conceded to hailing a taxi, which we did: a souped-up golf cart that looked like it might have been used for a stunt in a country club scene on an episode of The A-Team. Our driver, who’s name was tossed but which I did not catch (something like Edoáurahñgshjwhblo), was a spry, fat man whose torso grooved to this music he was blasting…
He nodded yes to everything we said to him, regardless of whether or not it was a question:
“Can you take us to the old marketplace?”
“Are most of your customers from cruise ships?”
“What time does it get dark here?”
“Are you going to take us to an S&M bar, force us to strip naked, dress us in latex tutus, then lock us in a solid chocolate Iron Maiden?”
The boyfriend punched me.
Worst face forward.
We made it to the old marketplace. It was bustling and chaotic; traffic flow was a loud and fitful embodiment of Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theories. Without knowing what and where to go, we plunged into the largest building first.
It was epic – like a lower-class, Mexican Wal-Mart. It was packed with vendors; everything was so humid and strong smelling, I began to feel euphoric. Henry Miller would have turned it into three pages of material easily, even without a whore involved. Most amazing and alien was the fresh meat section: aisles of every cut of meat and body part imaginable – tripe, hooves, thick, hairy tongues – all in open-air coolers that barely did their job – the result being a stench that was carnal, rich, and putrid. You could taste the air, and it tasted like bone marrow.
I mean, how do you manage without one?
We found ourselves in the bric-a-brac area of the market, the least busy section of the building. Every vendor’s product looked like it came from the same place (Taiwan, presumably). I shopped for souvenirs for dear friend, Smithy, who was house/cat-sitting for us back in the States, but without luck – I was pretty certain Smithy had no use for a clock that looked like a orgasmic donkey.
I did find a foot-long, plastic statue of Saint Jude. I saw it across the room and stood frozen, transfixed. The boyfriend noticed me, followed my line of sight, and knew immediately what was up. He’d seen that look in my eyes before: when we were shopping for a bathroom mirror in Little Ethiopia and I fell in love at first sight with a 3 foot tall, 100 pound lamp made to look like a drunk shepherd from the Baroque era, for example. The look in my eyes meant I saw something I must have. Yes, more than rent money. Yes, more than food. Yes, more than your respect and trust in my ability to make wise life decisions.
Originally priced at $35, I haggled the woman working the booth down to $25 (it had a large nick in the back, after all – besides, I knew from previous experience that haggling was expected). The boyfriend was displeased with my haggling a Mazatlánian street vendor out of ten bucks.
“Think of what $10 means to her,” he chided, “Think of how much she could buy with that?”
While I loved how soft-hearted the boyfriend was being, not for nothing that I saved ten dollars, which is still a lot of money to me, too. Unlike him, I wasn’t raised in the upper-middle-class of Texas, and I didn’t feel so above the vendor’s station in life. (I’m not saying I don’t have it good compared to a large portion of the Earth’s population – of course I do. But all it takes is one morning commute on Los Angeles Public Transportation, with its barfing schizophrenics and switchblade-packing, trannie sex-workers to remind you of where you’re linked in the great, human food chain.)
As we were leaving, the boyfriend spontaneously decided to run back in and buy a pack of playing cards from the woman. He admitted to me later that when the woman asked him for the $3.50 the cards were priced at, he handed her a $20 bill and told her to “keep the change”, then left before she could respond.
“Well,” I said, “She either thought you were really sweet, or really bad at math.”
Come dusk, the boyfriend and I sat on our patio to watch the ship set sail. What we didn’t expect was the multitude of locals that packed the coastline, all waving us goodbye. Apparently it’s the thing to do – pack some beverages and bring the kids and watch the huge cruise ships drift away. The boyfriend and I waved back, feeling like imposters of some royal family.
“They do know I don’t have the power to lower their taxes or pardon imprisoned family members, right?” I asked.
That night, the boyfriend and his mother, Chris, hatched a fiendish plan: to go see the ice show on the lower deck’s ice skating rink.
The very idea made my blood run cold. Watching Olympic ice skating stresses me out; I’m always afraid someone’s going to fall and hurt themselves and, as if that’s not awful enough, it will also mean a catastrophic end to all their hard work, plus this personal tragedy will take place in front of a large audience! I mean, hand me the Xanax already.
But an ice skating show on a cruise ship? That combines all the stress of worrying about the skaters with the awkwardness of bad high school musicals. No good could come of it, I was sure.
“It’s something to write about on your blog,” the boyfriend reminded me.
I thought of you, dear reader.
“Promise me we’ll get cocktails first,” said I.
If I had known ahead of time what was in store, no amount of Manhattans would have given me the courage. It was, ladies and gentlemen, a circus themed ice skating show. Do you know how I feel about circuses? I feel the opposite of anything good at all about them. Circuses and their elements –clowns, horses with ornate headdresses, clowns, creatures jumping through hoops, clowns, vaguely sadistic ringleaders, clowns, contortionists, acrobats and, oh yes, clowns – these are important ingredients for my afterlife in Hell. But! (and here’s something I had never been masochistic enough to imagine) What if we take these same elements and put them on ice skates! Even I had to admit it was too perfectly diabolical an idea to not be impressive.
Peek-a-boo! on behalf of SATAN!
Memories of the production itself remain like a nightmare half-remembered. I was, by the show’s opening curtain, already drunk from Dutch courage. I vaguely recall the opening number in which every cast member was meant to embody our planet’s diverse cultures but, much like the It’s A Small World ride (Disneyland is so applicable to life!), it left our globe seeming like it houses between five to ten very kitschy and silly cultures.
There was a plot to the show involving a sad clown who was in love with a ballerina; there was no dialogue, however, and everything was expressed through skaters dressed like drag queens, gliding and dancing to hit pop songs re-recorded by (what sounded like) an inexpensive session musician using only one synthesizer.
The middle of the show was focused on clowns, but I don’t have much to write about it, because I mostly remember looking at the inside of my hands and fighting my desire to run out of the theatre to go sob uncontrollably.
"I'm gonna pin you down and eat out your lungs when yer sleepin'! H'yuk, h'yuk!"
The boyfriend thought one of the skaters – the one meant to symbolize Russia but was dressed like a cross between a Cossack and Liberace - was “kinda cute.” It was then I realized what happens when otherwise heterosexual men, once in prison, engage in homosexual affairs. It was only day 4 of our cruise, but being surrounded by our deeply unattractive passengers made anyone who wasn’t hooked up to an oxygen tank a viable sexual conquest.
Like I said, between the booze and the trauma, I remember very little of the evening. My end-of-day notes, which I wrote to help me write this now, are cryptic and vague.
“Dear Job…” I wrote to the future me, “Please don’t ever go if theers skating to it. Youre not enough drinks, dude. Just don’t ever go…”
I assume I passed out not too long after writing that.