YOUR DAILY AT SEA NEWSPAPER
Derrick Doolitle, the former Dwayne Druel of Norman, Oklahoma, stood at the top of the entrance tunnel in his perfectly cut, startlingly white uniform with the over-size name plate, identifying himself to the emerging dazed, anxious, confused, overwhelmed, already inebriated, already exhausted, over-energized, barely walking, almost skipping, hardly moving, video-cam recording, animal cracker box assortment of new passengers, now flopping onto the deck reminding him of barrels of freshly caught fish, each flipping and thrashing and jerking about in various states of final confusion.
Lambs to the slaughter, Noahans to the Ark, termites to the mound, ants to the mother of all hills; these were the images gliding across the inside of his head, while the outside featured a wider than a rictus headed smile, exposing most of his cosmetic bonding and the cause of all those crow’s feet that he now had Collie in the spa botox out of his head every couple of months.
Showtime. He smiled even more broadly, hoping the sweat already forming on his also botoxed brow wouldn’t make those disgusting ridges in-between his hair transplants. Fifty-five hundred old passengers departed at 9:00. Fifty-five hundred new passengers arriving at 2:00. And his job, all their jobs really, but especially the hands on-staff, was to make it all new again every seven days.
This was a milestone for him; one that would undoubtedly be pointed out by the captain himself, the new captain from Naples was it? Capt. Salmetti or, Sal-ami? Another in the long and seemingly endless supply of short, strutting Napoleonic little greaseballs who really saw the ship as their cock.
Well, he was the captain, but in a ship like this, the biggest, fanciest passenger cruiser afloat (for the moment), he was such a remote being, no one really knew what he actually did besides meet and greet, hold forth at the Captain’s table, seduce members of the crew and the occasional passenger.
This was his 600th cruise and from the thoughts floating across his brain, maybe he was getting close to the checkout line. Dead fish and termites? How would he ever get it up for another week of shipboard Bingo and The Newlywed Game (“So—now after 40 years, I bet you just talk to keep the dog from getting bored!”) and all those unbelievable questions.
He’d even thought of writing a book after he retired: The Stupidest Cruise Questions Ever Asked, by Anonymous. “Does the elevator go to the front of the boat?” “Does the crew live on board?” “Is the water in the pool so choppy because it’s sea water?” “Why isn’t there a bowling alley?” “Do you generate you own electricity?” “No, we’re connected to San Juan by a very long cord.”
It did make him sad, though. It was not how he had started, not how he had felt for the first twenty years. Why now, when he’d reached his pinnacle as the cruise director of the biggest ship in the world? How ironic.
Bigger was certainly not better. Bigger would be the end of civilization. The American Dream morphed into the ultimate horror movie. More, more, more. Money, people, things, a demon-driven (oh those Baptist roots) need to out-do.
He saw it as a symbol of the despair of the Twenty-first century; nothing was enough. Has the world grown that tired? Have we over stimulated ourselves into a kind of joy deadened torpor, a TOP THIS need with everything in our lives? Now it takes a cruise “city” hurling 220,000 tons of ice skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, discos, casinos, theaters, spas, fitness centers, pools, basketball courts, man-made surfing waves, full scale shopping arcades, movie complexes, activities for every imaginable (and unimaginable) interest and enough to eat, drink and keep one entertained to see the entire population of Kabul through a very long winter.
If the ships got much bigger and the at-sea condo developments everyone in the water-based travel biz was buzzing about were built, it might not be long before people could simply walk from ship to ship without ever dealing with what might be left of the ocean.
What an awful thought, he thought watching the cattle-slightly-prodded look of the streams of new arrivals, many of whom were asking where the ship was, having no sense that the beast on which they were standing could possibly move, let alone whiz them across the Caribbean for seven unforgettable days of sensory and gastronomic overload.
He stretched his smile, glad no one had asked him, yet. But the truth was Americans loved big. They staggered forth, full of once-in-a-lifetime expectations; thrilled by the new. Blow those whistles, ring those bells. Where would it end?
On they poured, types and archetypes. He gazed out at the mass of humans moving his way, looking for anyone interesting. The rare few, he could spot by day two, and so could most of his crewmates. Amazing how fast they could sort; a kind of psychological triage they all did to save their energy.
He took the manifest out of his pocket and scanned the group lists. The groups, of course, were their bread and butter, and they also came with their own tour guides who, if they were not total jerks, made his job far easier. They soothed the entry process. He let his smile slip. One hundred black Baptist church women from Mobile; 75 Downs Syndrome singles from Buffalo; a Holistic Healers tour from Sedona; 230 honeymooners; 20 weddings-at-sea and their bridal parties; the usual array of family reunions and 50th anniversaries. He could make up a manifest and stack it against a real one.
The dipsos who use the cruise to drink without standing out and the four-hundred-pounders who use the cruise to eat without standing out and the compulsive gamblers who use the cruise to bet without standing out; the swingers who use the cruise to swap without standing out; the bickerers who use the cruise to fight without standing out and the other side of the quarter: the plastic surgery couples and the aging beauties who use the cruise to Stand Out; the exhibitionists who use the cruise to flaunt their lavish jewelry or designer duds; the spinster schoolteachers and overweight manicurists who have saved for this since high school; the doubled-up “Cof-bin” dwellers, cheerfully crammed into the cheapest cabins with blasting ACs and mirrors designed to deflect the fact that they have no windows.
The elderly who cruise compulsively to stop time; the Love-to-Dancers who cruise to re-create their Fred and Ginger fantasies “Nightly in the Sky Lounge;” the spoiled rich kids who want to play and “slum” away from Momsey and Popsey’s private yachts. And the most annoying of all, the “Isn’t-This-the-Most-Fantasticers” who spend the entire trip behind their snap-and-clicks or video cams, recording everything and seeing nothing, the whole trip being an elaborate photo shoot for the Less Fortunates back home, who will endure hours of railing shots and drink trays being carried, rope-pulling contests, and Mom on the first rung of the Rock Wall, looking excited, terrified and bloated from the midnight buffet. Oh boy, Derrick, get a grip. You have fifty more to go before you can retire.
Where are we going anyway? He re-checked his notes. Depart San Juan; then St. Thomas; St. John’s, Antigua; Bridgetown, Barbados; Castries, St. Lucia; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; at Sea and back here.
He hadn’t divided up the fun and sun duties for his staff. Not that 99% of the passengers would know the difference. They could probably take the boat in a big circle, docking at various parts of the same island.
How different is surfside volleyball or a steel drum picnic on the beach or a kayak ride down a mangrove estuary from island to island? Who would know or care? More and more of the passengers never even got off the ship. Why risk getting mugged or sick or sunburned or lost or hawked by endless and aggressive locals proffering cheesy baskets and bras made out of coconut husks, when onboard they had more than enough to keep them entertained.
He re-stretched his smile, straining his cheeks. People were starting to make eye contact, and his last moments of reverie were about to end. Risk-free, now there’s a hooter. Little did they know. Well, they knew a lot more now, since the stomach flu nightmare that had various cruise crews scrubbing down entire fleets as they were operating suites at the Mayo Clinic. So ridiculous. As if they could really stop anything from spreading or anyone from falling off one of these floating city states.
Food poisoning? The only thing that surprised him was that hundreds of people weren’t puking their guts out all the time. They provisioned 90,000 pounds of pork alone every week. They went through a half ton of bananas and ice cream every day. How could anyone think it was all really safe? Just last week the captain of one of their sister ships came in too fast, made a very quick, hard turn and almost flipped 160,000 tons like a buttermilk pancake.
There were rapes and assaults of crewmembers and guests; a coffin-equipped morgue hidden discreetly beneath the clinic to deal with the average of three or so anticipated deaths on every trip; the racism beneath the pecking order (Italians or Caucasians at the top, Filipinos usually on the bottom). Everyone finding someone beneath them to push around, so Darwinian it all was.
Plus, the legal and illegal dumping of sewage which was growing out of control with the ever-expanding numbers of new ships. The solid waste produced by each passenger each day was, what had he read? 7.5 pounds? BIGGER must be better! 60,000 gallons of raw sewage alone every day just from their ship? And the exhaust equaled about what 13,000 cars spewed out. Ah, the sea air!
Derrick caught his reflection in one of the stainless steel panels and sucked in his stomach. When had he turned into this middle-aged person with the thick gut and the soft chin? Horrifying. No hint of the former college fencer or John Wayne look-alike. All that remained was his height; at least he was still tall. Tall and employed. One of the lucky ones.
But he was so tired. This was new; tired had not been one of his things. Low energy types did not become Cruise Directors. Cruise Directors were like permanent Game Show hosts, like that movie with that really annoying guy with too many teeth, whose entire life was being filmed and he was the only one not in on it. That’s what his job was like. Only he was in on it!
Terror was being tired. Tired meant resting. Resting meant being alone. Terror was closing that cabin door at night. Gotta get down to the infirmary and get some B-12 shots. Besides, he had three more cruises before he could take a break. Break from what? To do what? To go where? Where do floaters go when they hit land? His life was like a continual vacation, so what exactly would be the point in taking “time off?” Don’t want to think about that. Do not need to think about that. Think about what lies ahead. Think about the Esplanade reception. Think about the champagne party and the Captain’s table seating for tonight. Think about cutting down on the mashed potatoes and hitting the gym, that would be helpful. Don’t think about the sublet in Key West with no pictures on the wall.
“We’ve been on board for two hours, and we do not have our luggage, buddy. Do you know who I am?”
Derrick turned, glad to be out of range. A muscley little man with a dark, hawky face and a nervous, equally hawky wife, was pushing his thumb into a cabin steward’s chest. The cords on his birdy neck were strained. Ah, his first “Do-you-know-who-I-amer” of the new manifest.
Yes, Derrick did. “I do know, sir. You, sir, are nobody. If you, sir, were somebody, you wouldn’t be caught in a coma on the same pier with the Palace of the Dolphins, sir. If you were anybody, you’d be on your own yacht with your luggage being laid out by your personal valet, or chartering one of the Big Boys for more per week than you, sir, probably make in a very good year. And you would certainly know, sir, that except in rare exceptions—like the suites on B-Deck—if serious money cruises commercial, they go small. Ah, small. Smaller is all the rich have left these days to protect them from the likes of you, dear sir. Small cruise ship. Big bucks. Privacy costs, sir. Keep those guys in the khaki shorts and baseball caps AWAY from me!! Is how they see you, sir.
Whoa. Was this him? This was more than tired. What was happening to him? He loved people! He was easygoing and accepting and accommodating. That was his job, to charm and disarm. Anger at the passengers was not his thing. Difficult people are my specialty. In four languages
“So sue me, I’m vain. I don’t give a crap what my wife thinks, so I work out a lot. Nothing is gonna come between me having a 33 inch waist and a constant weight of 170! I’m gonna maintain my ‘plant’, okay?
“She’s all on my case because I wanna take Brutus our Great Dane in for a dye job and maybe a little work on his chin. When I see him looking old, it bums me out; not the image I project, man.
“I had my eyes done, why shouldn’t Brutus look good? It’s depressing to see him looking old and I’m in my prime. Forty is the new 25.
“I get almond scrubs and sea algae facials, and weekly massages and mannies and peddies. Any opportunity for the nasty, I know I’m tip top I’m good to go at any time, if you catch my drift. My wife can’t stand it, thinks it’s fruity and she gets all competitive, ‘You look better than I do,’ and I do.
“So it’s really her fault if women want me, ya know? If she jiggles and has chipped toenails, why wouldn’t I stray? So it may all go down over Brutus. She says she’ll leave me if try to de-age him, so let it be. Old dog, old wife, get past it and on with life.
“I made that up, sort of my morning mantra for the trip, though she’s still clueless and I gotta tell ya pal, with the Botox and Viagra, I’m gonna be like, ageless!
“Check out that suckable little babe in the red thong over by the bar. No more than what? 19? Did her in her cabin first night out. Banged her boobies off. She thought I was 28! Ah, life is sweet. And I even have a pre-nup. So, it’s all cool. Good genes, good jeans, 4 hours per in the gym, no pain, no gain and the rest is medical science, what a great time to be living.”
Rory turned her head as far to the side as possible to see the reciter of this revolting but captivating little biography. His back was to her but he looked pretty much as advertised. He was wearing a too tight tank top, of course, gotta maximize all that gym time, four hours a day! She was still working on four hours a week as a goal, talk about jiggle.
The back of his tank top said, “If you can read this, the bitch fell off.” Very cute. Wonder if his wife picked it out. Maybe they were Hell’s Angels from the Yuppie division. Did Hell’s Angels have divisions? Probably not.
A tiny, slickly bronzed, top heavy brunette stumbled along into his lear range on huge, clunky, cork–soled gold platform sandals, that looked almost like stilts with laces that wrapped half way up her well-muscled calves.
How long would that take, Rory wondered. All that winding things around and tying them up? Did the girl actually think no one could tell she was really short? It was like the fake boob thing… we know. So then what’s the point, hobbling around like that with your calves cramping and rope burns probably on your skin and all the time it must take to get them on and off and we know you’re short. Nothing made any sense to her anymore. Face lifts for dogs? Maybe they offer twofers, poochie and parent, under the knife together, an anthropomorphic family rate.