I have learned that there are actually intensities of blue beyond very



Download 229.45 Kb.
Date04.03.2021
Size229.45 Kb.

I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have

seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan

lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as"Mon" in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale' Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked

computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined a conga line.


I have seen a lot of really big white ships. I have seen schools of

little fish with fins that glow. I have seen and smelled all 145 cats

inside the Ernest Hemingway residence in Key West, Florida. I now know the difference between straight bingo and Prize-O. I have seen

fluorescent luggage and fluorescent sunglasses and fluorescent pince-nez and over twenty different makes of rubber thong. I have heard steeldrums and eaten conch fritters and watched a woman in silver lame projectile-vomit inside a glass elevator. I have pointed rhythmically at the ceiling to the two-four beat of the same disco music I hated pointing at the ceiling to in 1977.


I have learned that there are actually intensities of blue beyond very

bright blue. I have eaten more and classier food than I've ever eaten,

and done this during a week when I've also learned the difference

between "rolling" in heavy seas and "pitching" in heavy seas. I have

heard a professional cruise-ship comedian tell folks, without irony,

"But seriously." I have seen fuchsia pantsuits and pink sport coats and maroon-and-purple warm-ups and white loafers worn without socks. I have seen professional blackjack dealers so lovely they make you want to clutch your chest. I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the ship's Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the trapshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is. I now know the precise mixocological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a Fuzzy Navel. I have, in one week, been the object of over 1,500 professional smiles. I

have burned and peeled twice. I have met Cruise Staff with the monikers "Mojo Mike," "Cocopuff," and "Dave the Bingo Boy."
I have felt the full clothy weight of a subtropical sky. I have jumped a

dozen times at the shattering, flatulence-of-the-gods-like sound of a

cruise ship's horn. I have absorbed the basics of mah-jongg and learned how to secure a life jacket over a tuxedo. I have dickered over trinkets with malnourished children. I have learned what it is to become afraid of one's own cabin toilet. I have now heard--and am powerless to describe--reggae elevator music.
I now know the maximum cruising speed of a cruise ship in knots (though

I never did get dear on just what a knot is). I have heard people in

deck chairs say in all earnestness that it's the humidity rather than

the heat. I have seen every type of erythema, pre-melanomic lesion,

liver spot, eczema, wart, papular cyst, pot belly, femoral cellulite,

varicosity, collagen and silicone enhancement, bad tint, hair

transplants that have not taken--i.e., I have seen nearly naked a lot of

people I would prefer not to have seen nearly naked. I have acquired and

nurtured a potentially lifelong grudge against the ship's hotel manager

(whose name was Mr. Dermatis and whom I now and henceforth christen Mr.

Dermatitis[1]), an almost reverent respect for my table's waiter, and a

searing crush on my cabin steward, Petra, she of the dimples and broad

candid brow, who always wore a nurse's starched and rustling whites and

smelled of the cedary Norwegian disinfectant she swabbed bathrooms down

with, and who cleaned cabin within a centimeter of its life at least ten

times a day but could never be caught in the actual act of cleaning--a

figure of magical and abiding charm, and well worth a postcard all her

own.
I now know every conceivable rationale for somebody spending more than

$3,000 to go on a Caribbean cruise. To be specific: voluntarily and for

pay, I underwent a 7-Night Caribbean (7NC) Cruise on board the m.v.

Zenith (which no wag could resist immediately rechristening the m.v.

Nadir), a 47,255-ton ship owned by Celebrity Cruises, Inc., one of the

twenty-odd cruise lines that operate out of south Florida and specialize

in "Megaships," the floating wedding cakes with occupancies in four

figures and engines the size of branch banks.[2] The vessel and

facilities were, from what I now understand of the industry's standards,

absolutely top-hole. The food was beyond belief, the service

unimpeachable, the shore excursions and shipboard activities organized

for maximal stimulation down to the tiniest detail. The ship was so

clean and white it looked boiled. The western Caribbean's blue varied

between baby-blanket and fluorescent; likewise the sky. Temperatures

were uterine. The very sun itself seemed preset for our comfort. The

crew-to-passenger ratio was 1.2 to 2. It was a Luxury Cruise.
All of the Megalines offer the same basic product--not a service or a

set of services but more like a feeling: a blend of relaxation and

stimulation, stressless indulgence and frantic tourism, that special mix

of servility and condescension that's marketed under configurations of

the verb "to pamper." This verb positively studs the Megalines' various

brochures: " . . . as you've never been pampered before," " . . . to

pamper yourself in our Jacuzzis and saunas," "Let us pamper you,"

"Pamper yourself in the warm zephyrs of the Bahamas." The fact that

adult Americans tend to associate the word "pamper" with a certain other

consumer product is not an accident, I think, and the connotation is not

lost on the mass-market Megalines and their advertisers.
PAMPERED TO DEATH, PART I
Some weeks before I underwent my own Luxury Cruise, a sixteen-year-old

male did a half gainer off the upper deck or a Megaship. The news

version of the suicide was that it had been an unhappy adolescent love

thing, a shipboard romance gone bad. But I think part of it was

something no news story could cover. There's something about a

mass-market Luxury Cruise that's unbearably sad. Like most unbearably

sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes yet

simple in its effect: on board the Nadir (especially at night, when all

the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety ceased) I felt

despair. The word "despair" is overused and banalized now, but it's a

serious word, and I'm using it seriously. It's close to what people call

dread or angst, but it's not these things, quite. It's more like wanting

to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I'm small

and weak and selfish and going, without doubt, to die. It's wanting to

jump overboard.
I, who had never before this cruise actually been on the ocean, have for

some reason always associated the ocean with dread and death. As a

little kid I used to memorize shark-fatality data. Not just attacks.

Fatalities. The Albert Kogler fatality off Baker's Beach, California, in

1963 (great white); the USS Indianapolis smorgasbord off Tinian in 1945

(many varieties, authorities think mostly makos and blacktip)[3]; the

most-fatalities-attributed-to-a-single-shark series of incidents around

Matawan/ Spring Lake, New Jersey, in 1926 (great white again; this time

they netted the fish in Raritan Bay and found human parts in gastro--I

know which parts, and whose). In school I ended up writing three

different papers on "The Castaway" section of Moby-Dick, the chapter in

which a cabin boy falls overboard and is driven mad by the empty

immensity of what he finds himself floating in. And when I teach school

now I always teach Stephen Crane's horrific "The Open Boat," and I get

bent out of shape when the kids think the story's dull or just a jaunty

adventure: I want them to suffer the same marrow-level dread of the

oceanic I've always felt, the intuition of the sea as primordial nada,

bottomless depths inhabited by tooth-studded things rising angelically

toward you. This fixation came back with a long-repressed vengeance on

my Luxury Cruise,[4] and I made such a fuss about the one (possible)

dorsal fin I saw off starboard that my dinner companions at Table 64

finally had to tell me, with all possible tact, to shut up about the fin

already.
I don't think it's an accident that 7NC Luxury Cruises appeal mostly to

older people. I don't mean decrepitly old, but like fiftyish people for

whom their own mortality is something more than an abstraction. Most of

the exposed bodies to be seen all over the daytime Nadir were in various

stages of disintegration. And the ocean itself turns out to be one

enormous engine of decay. Seawater corrodes vessels with amazing

speed--rusts them, exfoliates paint, strips varnish, dulls shine, coats

ships' hulls with barnacles and kelp and a vague and ubiquitous nautical

snot that seems like death incarnate. We saw some real horrors in port,

local boats that looked as if they had been dipped in a mixture of acid

and shit, scabbed with rust and goo, ravaged by what they float in.
Not so the Megalines' ships. It's no accident they're so white and

clean, for they're clearly meant to represent the Calvinist triumph of

capital and industry over the primal decay-action of the sea. The Nadir

seemed to have a whole battalion of wiry little Third World guys who

went around the ship in navy-blue jump-suits scanning for decay to

overcome. Writer Frank Conroy, who has an odd little essay-mercial in

the front of Celebrity Cruises' 7NC brochure, talks about how "it became

a private challenge for me to try to find a piece of dull bright-work, a

chipped rail, a stain in the deck, a slack cable, or anything that

wasn't perfectly shipshape. Eventually, toward the end of the trip, I

found a capstan [a type of nautical hoist, like a pulley on steroids]

with a half-dollar-sized patch of rust on the side facing the sea. My

delight in this tiny flaw was interrupted by the arrival, even as I

stood there, of a crewman with a roller and a bucket of white paint. I

watched as he gave the entire capstan a fresh coat and walked away with

a nod."
Here's the thing: A vacation is a respite from unpleasantness, and since

consciousness of death and decay are unpleasant, it may seem weird that

the ultimate American fantasy vacation involves being plunked down in an

enormous primordial stew of death and decay. But on a 7NC Luxury Cruise,

we are skillfully enabled in the construction of various fantasies of

triumph over just this death and decay. One way to "triumph" is via the

rigors of self-improvement (diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery, Franklin

Quest time-management seminars), to which the crew's amphetaminic upkeep

of the Nadir is an unsubtle analogue. But there's another way out, too:

not titivation but titillation; not hard work but hard play. See in this

regard the 7NC's constant activities, festivities gaiety, song; the

adrenaline, the stimulation. It makes you feel vibrant, alive. It makes

your existence seem non-contingent.[5] The hard-play option promises not

a transcendence of death-dread so much as just drowning it out: "Sharing

a laugh with your friends[6] in the lounge after dinner, you glance at

your watch and mention that it's almost showtime. . . . When the curtain

comes down after a standing ovation, the talk among your companions tums

to, 'What next?' Perhaps a visit to the casino or a little dancing in

the disco? Maybe a quiet drink in the piano bar or a starlit stroll

around the deck? After discussing all your options, everyone agrees:

'Let's do it all!'"


Dante this isn't, but Celebrity Cruises' brochure is an extremely

powerful and ingenious piece of advertising. Luxury Megalines' brochures

are always magazine-size, heavy and glossy, beautifully laid out, their

text offset by art-quality photos of upscale couples'[7] tanned faces in

a kind of rictus of pleasure. Celebrity's brochure, in particular, is a

real two-napkin drooler. It has little hypertextish offsets boxed in

gold, with bites like INDULGENCE BECOMES EASY and RELAXATION BECOMES

SECOND NATURE and (my favorite) STRESS BECOMES A FAINT MEMORY. The text

itself is positively Prozacian: "Just standing at the ship's rail

looking out to sea has a profoundly soothing effect. As you drift along

like a cloud on water, the weight of everyday life is magically lifted

away, and you seem to be floating on a sea of smiles. Not just among

your fellow guests but on the faces of the ship's staff as well. As a

steward cheerfully delivers your drinks, you mention all of the smiles

among the crew. He explains that every Celebrity staff member takes

pleasure in making your cruise a completely carefree experience and

treating you as an honored guest.[8] Besides, he adds, there's no place

else they'd rather be. Looking back out to sea, you couldn't agree

more."
This is advertising (i.e., fantasy-enablement), but with a queerly

authoritarian twist. Note the imperative use of the second person and a

specificity out of detail that extends even to what you will say (you

will say "I couldn't agree more" and "Let's do it all!"). You are, here,

excused from even the work of constructing the fantasy, because the ads

do it for you. And this near-parental type of advertising makes a very

special promise, a diabolically seductive promise that's actually kind

of honest, because it's a promise that the Luxury Cruise itself is all

about honoring. The promise is not that you can experience great

pleasure but that you will. They'll make certain of it. They'll

micromanage every iota of every pleasure-option so that not even the

dreadful corrosive action of your adult consciousness and agency and

dread can fuck up your fun. Your troublesome capacities for choice,

error, regret, dissatisfaction, and despair will be removed from the

equation. You will be able--finally, for once--to relax, the ads

promise, because you will have no choice. Your pleasure will, for 7

nights and 6.5 days, be wisely and efficiently managed. Aboard the

Nadir, as is ringingly foretold in the brochure, you will get to do

"something you haven't done in a long, long time: Absolutely Nothing."
How long has it been since you did Absolutely Nothing? I know exactly

how long it's been for me. I know how long it"s been since I had every

need met choicelessly from someplace outside me, without my having to

ask. And that time I was floating, too, and the fluid was warm and

salty, and if I was in any way conscious I'm sure I was dreadless, and

was having a really good time, and would have sent postcards to everyone

wishing they were here.
BOARDING
A 7NC's pampering is maybe a little uneven at first, but it starts right

at the airport, where you don't have to go to Baggage Claim, because

people from the Megaline get your suitcases for you and take them

straight to the ship. A bunch of other Megalines besides Celebrity

Cruises operate out of Fort Lauderdale, and the flight down from O'Hare

is full of festive-looking people dressed for cruising. It tums out that

the retired couple sitting next to me on the plane is booked on the

Nadir. This is their fourth Luxury Cruise in as many years. It is they

who tell me about the news reports of the kid jumping overboard. The

husband wears a fishing cap with a very long bill and a T-shirt that

says BIG DADDY.
7NC Luxury Cruises always start and finish on a Saturday. Imagine the

day after the Berlin Wall came down if everybody in East Germany was

plump and comfortable-looking and dressed in Caribbean pastels, and

you'll have a pretty good idea what the Fort Lauderdale airport terminal

looks like today. Near the back wall, a number of brisk-looking older

ladies in vaguely naval outfits hold up printed signs--HLND, CELEB, CUND

CRN. You're supposed to find your particular Megaline's brisk lady and

coalesce around her as she herds a growing ectoplasm of Nadirites out to

buses that will ferry you to the piers and what you quixotically believe

will be immediate and hassle-free boarding. Apparently the airport is

just your average sleepy midsize airport six days a week and then every

Saturday resembles the fall of Saigon.


Now we're riding to the piers in a column of eight chartered Greyhounds.

Our convoy's rate of speed and the odd deference shown by other traffic

give the whole procession a vaguely funereal quality. Fort Lauderdale

proper looks like one extremely large golf course, but the Megalines'

piers are in something called Port Everglades, an industrial area zoned

for blight, with warehouses and transformer parks and stacked boxcars

and vacant lots. We pass a huge field of those hammer-shaped automatic

oil derricks all bobbing fellatially, and on the horizon past them is a

fingernail clipping of shiny sea. Whenever we go over bumps or train

tracks, there's a huge mass clicking sound from all the cameras around

everybody's neck. I haven't brought any sort of camera and feel a

perverse pride about this.


The Nadir's traditional berth is Pier 21. "Pier," although it conjures

for me images of wharfs and cleats and lapping water, tums out here to

denote something like what "airport" denotes; viz., a zone and not a

thing. There is no real view of the ocean, no docks, no briny smell to

the air, but as we enter the pier zone there are a lot of really big

white ships that blot out most of the sky.


From inside, Pier 21 seems kind of like a blimpless blimp hangar,

high-ceilinged and echoey. It has walls of unclean windows on three

sides, at least 2,500 orange chairs in rows of twenty-five, a kind of

desultory snack bar, and rest rooms with very long lines. The acoustics

are brutal and it's tremendously loud. Some of the people in the rows of

chairs appear to have been here for days: they have the glazed encamped

look of people at airports in blizzards. It's now 11:32 A.M., and

boarding will not Commence one second before 2:00 P.M.; a P.A.

announcement politely but firmly declares Celebrity's seriousness about

this. The P.A. lady's voice is what you imagine a British supermodel

would sound like. Everyone clutches a numbered card like identity papers

at Checkpoint Charlie. Pier 21's pre-boarding blimp hangar is not as bad

as, say, New York City's Port Authority bus terminal at 5:00 P.M. on

Friday, but it bears little resemblance to any of the stressless

pamper-venues detailed in the Celebrity brochure, which I am not the

only person in here thumbing through and looking at wistfully. A lot of

people are also now staring with subwayish blankness at other people. A

kid whose T-shirt says SANDY DUNCAN'S EYE[9] is carving something in the

plastic of his chair. There are quite a few semi-old people traveling

with really desperately old people who are clearly their parents. Men

after a certain age simply should not wear shorts, I've decided; the

skin seems denuded and practically crying out for hair, particularly on

the calves. It's just about the only body area where you actually want

more hair on older men. A couple of these glabrous-calved guys are

field-stripping their camcorders with military expertise. There's also a

fair number of couples in their twenties and thirties, with a

honeymoonish aspect to the way their heads rest on each other's

shoulders.


Somewhere past the big gray doors behind the rest rooms' roiling lines

is a kind of umbilical passage leading to what I assume is the actual

Nadir, which outside the hangar's windows presents as a tall wall of

total white metal. The Chicago lady and BIG DADDY are playing Uno with

another couple, who turn out to be friends they'd made on a Princess

Alaska cruise in '93. By this time I'm down to slacks and T-shirt and

tie, and the tie looks like it's been washed and hand-wrung. Perspiring

has lost its novelty. Celebrity Cruises seems to be reminding us that

the real world we're leaving behind includes crowded public waiting

areas with no A.C. and indifferent ventilation. Now it's 12:55 P.M.

Although the brochure says the Nadir sails at 4:30 and that you can

board anytime from 2:00 P.M. until then, it looks as if all 1,374 Nadir

passengers are already here, plus a fair number of relatives and

well-wishers.


Every so often I sort of orbit the blimp hangar, eavesdropping, making

small talk. The universal topic of discussion is "Why Are You Here?"

Nobody uses the word "pamper" or "luxury." The word that gets used over

and over is "relax." Everybody characterizes the upcoming week as either

a long-put-off reward or a last-ditch effort to salvage sanity and self

from some inconceivable crockpot of pressure, or both. A lot of the

explanatory narratives are long and involved, and some are sort of

lurid--including a couple of people who have finally buried a terminal,

hideously lingering relative they'd been nursing at home for months.
Finally we are called for boarding and moved in a columnar herd toward

the Passport Check and Deck 3 gangway beyond. We are greeted (each of

us) and escorted to our cabins by not one but two Aryan-looking

hostesses from the Hospitality Staff. We are led over plush plum carpet

to the interior of what one presumes is the actual Nadir, washed now in

high-oxygen A.C. that seems subtly 'balsam-scented, pausing, if we wish,

to have our pre-cruise photo taken by the ship's photographer,

apparently for some Before and After souvenir ensemble Celebrity Cruises

will try to sell us at the end of the week. My hostesses are Inga and

Geli, and they carry my book bag and suit coat, respectively. I start

seeing the first of more WATCH YOUR STEP signs than anyone could

count--it turns out that a Megaship's flooring is totally uneven, and

everywhere there are sudden little steplets up and down. It's an endless

walk--up, fore, aft, serpentine through bulkheads and steel-railed

corridors, with mollified jazz coming out of little round speakers in a

beige enamel ceiling. At intervals on every wall are the previously

mentioned cross-sectioned maps and diagrams.[10]
The elevator is made of glass and is noiseless, and Inga and Geli smile

slightly and gaze at nothing as together we ascend, and it's a very

close race as to which of the two smells better in the enclosed chill.

Soon we are passing little teak-lined shipboard shops with Gucci,

Waterford, Wedgwood, Rolex, and there's a crackle in the jazz and an

announcement in three languages about Welcome and Willkommen and how

there will be a compulsory Lifeboat Drill an hour after sailing.
By 3:15 P.M. I am installed in Nadir Cabin 1009 and immediately eat

almost a whole basket of free fruit and lie on a really nice bed and

drum my fingers on my swollen tummy.
UNDER SAIL
Our horn is genuinely planet-shattering. Departure at 4:30 turns out to

be a not untasteful affair of crepe and horns. Each deck has walkways

outside, with railings made of really good wood. It's now overcast, and

the ocean way below is dull and frothy. Docking and undocking are the

two times the Megacruiser's captain actually steers the ship; Captain G.

Panagiotakis has now wheeled us around and pointed our snout at the open

sea, and we--large and white and clean--are under sail.
The whole first two days and nights are bad weather, with high-pitched

winds, heaving seas, spume lashing the portholes' glass. For forty-plus

hours it's more like a North Sea Cruise, and the Celebrity staff goes

around looking regretful but not apologetic, and in all fairness it's

hard to find a way to blame Celebrity Cruises, Inc. for the weather. The

staff keepsurging us to enjoy the view from the railings on the lee side

of the Nadir. The one other guy who joins me in trying out the

non-leeside has his glasses blown off by the gale. I keep waiting to see

somebody from the crew wearing the traditional yellow slicker, but no

luck. The railing I do most of my contemplative gazing from is on Deck

10, so the sea is way below, slopping and heaving around, so it's a

little like looking down into a briskly flushing toilet. No fins in

view.
In heavy seas, hypochondriacs are kept busy taking their gastric pulse

every couple of seconds and wondering whether what they're feeling is

maybe the onset of seasickness. Seasickness-wise, though, it turns out

that bad weather is sort of like battle: there's no way to know ahead of

time how you'll react. A test of the deep and involuntary stuff of a

man. I myself turn out not to get seasick. For the whole first rough-sea

day, I puzzle over the fact that every other passenger on the m.v. Nadir

looks to have received identical little weird shaving-cuts below his or

her left ear--which in the case of female passengers seems especially

strange--until I learn that these little round Band-Aidish things on

everybody's neck are special new super-powered transdermal

motion-sickness patches, which apparently nobody with any kind of clue

about 7NC Luxury Cruising now leaves home without. A lot of the

passengers get seasick anyway, these first two howling days. It turns

out that a seasick person really does look green, though it's an odd and

ghostly green, pasty and to a dish, and more than a little corpse like

when the seasick person is dressed in formal dinner wear.
For the first two nights, who's feeling seasick and who's not and who's

not now but was a little while ago or isn't feeling it yet but thinks

it's maybe coming on, etc., is a big topic of conversation at Table 64

in the Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant.[11] Discussing nausea and

vomiting while eating intricately prepared gourmet foods doesn't seem to

bother anybody. Common suffering and fear of suffering turn out to be a

terrific ice-breaker, and ice-breaking is pretty important, because on a

7NC you eat at the same designated table with the same companions all

week.
There are seven other people with me at good old Table 64, all from

south Florida. Four know one another in private landlocked life and have

requested to be at the same table. The other three people are an old

couple and their granddaughter, whose name is Mona. I am the only

first-time Luxury Cruiser at Table 64. With the conspicuous exception of

Mona, I like all my tablemates a lot, and I want to get a description of

supper out of the way fast and avoid saying much about them for fear of

hurting their feelings by noting any character defects Or eccentricities

that might seem potentially mean. Besides me, there are five women and

two men, and both men are completely silent except on the subjects of

golf, business, transdermal motion-sickness prophylaxis, and the

legalities of getting stuff through customs. The women carry Table 64's

conversational ball. One of the reasons I like all these women (except

Mona) so much is that they laugh really hard at my jokes, even lame or

very obscure jokes, although they all have this curious way of laughing

where they sort of scream before they laugh, so that for one

excruciating second you can t tell whether they re getting ready to

laugh or whether they're seeing something hideous and screamworthy over

your shoulder.
My favorite tablemate is Trudy, whose husband is back home managing some

sudden crisis at the couple's cellular-phone business and has given his

ticket to Alice, their heavy and extremely well-dressed daughter, who is

on spring break from Miami U. and who is for some reason very anxious to

communicate to me that she has a Serious Boyfriend, whose name is

apparently Patrick. Alice's continual assertion of her

relationship-status may be a defensive tactic against Trudy, who keeps

pulling professionally retouched 4 x 5 glossies of Alice our of her

purse and showing them to me with Alice sitting right there, and who,

every time Alice mentions Patrick, suffers some sort of weird facial tic

or grimace where the canine tooth on one side of her face shows but the

other side's doesn't. Trudy is fifty-six and looks--and I mean this in

the nicest possible way--rather like Jackie Gleason in drag, and has a

particularly loud pre-laugh scream that is a real arrhythmia-producer,

and is the one who coerces me into Wednesday night's conga line, and

gets me strung out on Snowball Jackpot Bingo. Trudy is also an

incredible lay authority on 7NC Luxury Cruises, this being her sixth in

a decade; she and her best friend, Esther (thin-faced, subtly

ravaged-looking, the distaff part of the couple from Miami), have tales

to tell about Carnival, Princess, Crystal, and Cunard too fraught with

libel potential to reproduce here.
By midweek it starts to strike me that I have never before been party to

such a minute and exacting analysis of the food and service of a meal I

am just at that moment eating. Nothing escapes the attention of T and E:

the symmetry of the parsley sprigs atop the boiled baby carrots, the

consistency of the bread, the flavor and mastication-friendliness of

various cuts of meat, the celerity and flambe technique of the various

pastry guys in tall white hats who appear tableside when items have to

be set on fire (a major percentage of the desserts in the Five-Star

Caravelle Restaurant have to be set on fire), and so on. The waiter and

busboy keep circling the table, going "Finish? Finish?" while Esther and

Trudy have exchanges like:
"Honey you don't look happy with the potatoes. What's the problem."
"I'm fine. It's fine. Everything's fine."
"Don't lie. Honey with that face who could lie? Frank, am I right? This

is a person with a face incapable of lying."


"There's nothing wrong Esther darling, I swear it."
"You're not happy with the conch."
"All right. I've got a problem with the conch."
"Did I tell you? Frank, did I tell her? [Frank silently probes his ear

with pinkie.] Was I right? Trudy I could tell just by looking you

weren't happy."
"I'm fine with the potatoes. It's the conch."
"Did I tell you about seasonal fish on ships? What did I tell you?"
"The potatoes are good."
Mona is eighteen. Her grandparents have been taking her on a Luxury

Cruise every spring since she was five. Mona always sleeps through both

breakfast and lunch and spends all night at the Scorpio Disco and in the

Mayfair Casino playing the slots. She is six two if she's an inch. She's

going to attend Penn State next fall, because the agreement is that

she'll receive a four-wheel-drive vehicle if she goes someplace where

there might be snow. She is unabashed in recounting this

college-selection criterion. She is an incredibly demanding passenger

and diner, but her complaints about slight aesthetic and gustatory

imperfections at table lack Trudy and Esther's discernment and come off

as simply churlish. Mona is also kind of strange-looking: a body like

Brigitte Nielsen or some centerfold on steroids, and above it, framed in

resplendent blond hair, the tiny unhappy face of a kind of corrupt doll.

Her grandparents, who retire every night right after supper, always make

a small ceremony after dessert of handing Mona $100 to "go have some

fun" with. This $100 bill is always in one of those little ceremonial

bank envelopes that has Franklin's face staring out of a porthole-like

window in the front, and written on the envelope in red Magic Marker is

always "We Love You, Honey." Mona never once says thank you. She also

rolls her eyes at just about everything her grandparents say, a habit

that very quickly drives me up the wall.
Mona's special customary gig on 7NC Luxury Cruises is to lie to the

waiter and maitre d' and say that Thursday is her birthday, so that at

the Formal supper on Thursday she gets bunting and a heart-shaped helium

balloon tied to her chair, and her own cake, and pretty much the whole

restaurant staff comes out and forms a circle around her and sings to

her. Her real birthday, she informs me on Monday, is July 29, and when I

quietly observe that July 29 is also the birthday of Benito Mussolini,

Mona's grandmother shoots me kind of a death-look, although Mona herself

is excited at the coincidence, apparently confusing the names Mussolini

and Maserati.


The weather in no way compromised the refinement of meals at Table 64.

Even in heavy seas, 7NC Megaships don't yaw or throw you around or send

bowls of soup sliding across tables. Only a certain slight unreality to

your footing lets you know you're not on land. At sea, a room's floor

feels somehow 3-D, and your footing demands a slight attention that good

old static land never needs. You don't ever quite hear the ship's big

engines, but when your feet are planted you can feel them a kind of

spinal throb, oddly soothing.


Walking is a little dreamy also. There are constant slight shifts in

torque from the waves' action. When heavy waves come straight at a

Megaship's snout, the ship goes up and down along its long axis--this is

called "pitching." It produces the disorienting sensation that you're

walking on a very slight downhill grade and then level and then on a

very slight uphill grade. Some evolutionarily retrograde reptile-brain

part of the central nervous system is apparently reawakened, though, and

manages all this so automatically that it requires a good deal of

attention to notice anything more than that walking feels a little

dreamy.
"Rolling," on the other hand, is when waves hit the ship from the side

and make it go up and down along its crosswise axis. When the Nadir

rolls, what you feel is a very slight increase in the demands placed on

the muscles of your left leg, then a strange absence of all demand, then

extra demands on the right leg.


We never pitch badly, but every once in a while some really big,

Poseidon Adventure-grade wave must have come and hit the Nadir's side,

because the asymmetric leg-demands sometimes won't stop or reverse and

you keep having to put more and more weight on one leg until you're

exquisitely close to tipping over. The cruise's first night, steaming

southeast for Jamaica, features some really big waves from starboard,

and in the casino after supper it's hard to tell who's had too much of

the '71 Richebourg and who's just doing a roll-related stagger. Add in

the fact that most of the women are wearing high heels, and you can

imagine some of the vertiginous staggering-flailing-clutching that goes

on. Almost everyone on the Nadir has come in couples, and when they walk

during heavy seas they tend to hang on each other like freshman

steadies. You can tell they likeit: the women have this trick of sort of

folding themselves into the men and snuggling as they walk, and the

men's postures improve and their faces firm up and they seem to feel

unusually solid and protective. It's easy to see why older couples like

to cruise.
Heavy seas are also great for sleep, it turns out. The first two

mornings there's hardly anybody at Early Seating Breakfast. Everybody

sleeps in. People with insomnia of years' standing report uninterrupted

sleep of nine, ten, even eleven hours. Their eyes are childlike and wide

with wonder as they report this. Everyone looks younger when they've had

a lot of sleep. There's rampant daytime napping too. By the end of the

week, when we've had all manner of weather, I finally see what it is

about heavy seas and marvelous rest: in heavy seas you feel rocked to

sleep, the windows' spume a gentle shushing, engines' throb a mother's

pulse.
THE FOUR-COLOR BROCHURE, PART II


Did I mention that famous writer and Iowa Writers' Workshop Chairperson

Frank Conroy has his own experiential essay about cruising right there

in Celebrity's 7NC brochure? Well he does, and the thing starts out on

the Pier 21 gangway that first Saturday with his family:[12]


With that single, easy step, we entered a new world, a sort of alternate

reality to the one on shore. Smiles, handshakes, and we were whisked

away to our cabin by a friendly young woman from Guest Relations.
Then they're outside along the rail for the Nadir's sailing:
. . . We became aware that the ship was pulling away. We had felt no

warning, no trembling of the deck, throbbing of the engines or the like.

It was as if the land were magically receding, like some ever-so-slow

reverse zoom in the movies.


This is pretty, much what Conroy's whole "My Celebrity Cruise or 'All

This and a Tan, Too'" is like. Its full implications don't hit me until

I reread it supine on Deck 12 the first sunny day. Conroy's essay is

graceful and lapidary and persuasive. I submit that it is also

completely insidious and bad. Its badness does not consist so much in

its constant and mesomeric references to fantasy and alternate realities

and the palliative powers of professional pampering--
I'd come on board after two months of intense and moderately stressful

work, but now it seemed a distant memory .... I realized it had been a

week since I'd washed a dish, cooked a meal, gone to the market, done an

errand or, in fact, anything at all requiring a minimum of thought and

effort. My toughest decisions had been whether to catch the afternoon

showing of Mrs. Doubtfire or play bingo.


--nor in the surfeit of happy adjectives and the tone of breathless

approval throughout--


Bright sun, warm still air, the brilliant blue-green of the Caribbean

under the vast lapis lazuli dome of the sky... For all of us, our

fantasies and expectations were to be exceeded, to say the least. . . .

When it comes to service, Celebrity Cruises seems ready and able to deal

with anything.
Rather, part of the essay's real badness be found in the way it reveals

once again the Megaline's sale-to-sail agenda of micro-managing not only

one's perceptions of a 7NC but even one's own interpretation and

articulation of those perceptions. In other words, Celebrity's P.R.

people go and get a respected writer to pre-articulate and -endorse the

7NC experience, and to do it with a professional eloquence and authority

that few lay perceivers and articulators could hope to equal.[13] But

the really major badness is that the project and placement of "My

Celebrity Cruise . . ." are sneaky and duplicitous and well beyond

whatever eroded pales still exist in terms of literary ethics. Conroy's

"essay" appears as an inset, on skinnier pages and with different

margins than the rest of the brochure, creating the impression that it

has been excerpted from some large and objective thing Conroy wrote. But

it hasn't been. The truth is that Celebrity Cruises paid Frank Conroy

up-front to write it,[14] even though nowhere in or around the essay is

there anything acknowledging that it's a paid endorsement, not even one

of the little "So-and-so has been compensated for his services" that

flashes at your TV screen's lower right during celebrity-hosted

infomercials. Instead, inset on this weird essaymercial's first page is

a photo of Conroy brooding in a black turtle-neck, and below the photo

an author bio with a list of Conroy's books that includes the

1967-classic Stop-Time, which is arguably the best literary memoir of

the twentieth century and is one of the books that first made poor old

humble yours truly want to try to be a writer.


In the case of Frank Conroy's "essay," Celebrity Cruises is trying to

position an ad in such a way that we come to it with the lowered guard

and leading chin we reserve for coming to an essay, for something that

is art (or that is at least trying to be art). An ad that pretends to be

art is--at absolute best--like somebody who smiles at you only because

he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what's insidious is

the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a

perfect simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill's real substance, it

messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in

cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel

confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes

despair.[15]


But for this particular 7NC consumer, Conroy's ad-as-essay ends up

having a truthfulness about it that I'm sure is unintentional. As my

week on the Nadir wears on, 1 begin to see this essaymercial as a

perfectly ironic reflection of the mass-market Cruise experience itself.

The essay is polished, powerful, impressive, clearly the best that money

can buy. It presents itself as being for my benefit. It manages my

experiences and my interpretation of those experiences and takes care of

them for me in advance. It seems to care about me. But it doesn't, not

really, because first and foremost it wants something from me. So does

the cruise itself. The pretty setting and glittering ship and sedulous

staff and solicitous fun-managers all want something from me, and it's

not just the price of my ticket--they've already got that. Just what it

is that they want is hard to pin down, but by early in the week I can

feel it building: it circles the ship like a fin.


PAMPERED TO DEATH, PART II
Celebrity's brochure does not lie or exaggerate, however, in the luxury

department, and I now confront the journalistic problem of not being

sure how many examples I need to list in order to communicate the

atmosphere of sybaritic and nearly insanity-producing pampering on board

the m.v. Nadir. Take, as one example, the moment right after sailing

when I want to go out to Deck 10's port rail for some introductory

vista-gazing and thus decide I need some zinc oxide for my peel-prone

nose. My zinc oxide's still in my big duffel bag, which at that point is

piled with all of Deck 10's other luggage in the little area between the

10-Fore elevator and the 10-Fore staircase while little guys in

cadet-blue Celebrity jumpsuits, porters (entirely Lebanese, it seems),

are cross-checking the luggage tags with the Nadir's passenger list and

lugging everything to people's cabins.
So I come out and spot my duffel among the luggage, and I start to grab

and haul it out of the towering pile of leather and nylon, thinking I'll

just whisk the bag back to Cabin 1009 myself and root through it and

find my zinc oxide. One of the porters sees me starting to grab the bag,

though, and he dumps all four of the massive pieces of luggage he's

staggering with and leaps to intercept me. At first I'm afraid he thinks

I'm some kind of baggage thief and wants to see my claim check or

something. But it turns out that what he wants is my duffel: he wants to

carry it to 1009 for me. And I, who am about half again this poor little

herniated guy's size (as is the duffel bag itself), protest politely,

trying to be considerate, saying Don't Fret, Not a Big Deal, Just Need

My Good Old Zinc Oxide, I'll Just Get the Big Old Heavy Weather-Stained

Sucker Out of Here Myself.
And now a very strange argument ensues, me versus the Lebanese porter,

because, I now understand, I am putting this guy, who barely speaks

English, in a terrible kind of sedulous-service double bind, a paradox

of pampering: The Passenger's Always Right versus Never Let a Passenger

Carry His Own Bag. Clueless at the time about what this poor man is

going through, I wave off both his high-pitched protests and his

agonized expression as mere servile courtesy, and I extract the duffel

and lug it up the hall to 1009 and slather the old beak with zinc oxide

and go outside to watch Florida recede cinematically a la F. Conroy.
Only later do I understand what I've done. Only later do I learn that

little Lebanese Deck-10 porter had his head just about chewed off by the

(also Lebanese) Deck-10 Head Porter, who had his own head chewed off by

the Austrian Chief Steward, who received confirmed reports that a

passenger had been seen carrying his own bag up the port hallway of Deck

10 and now demanded a rolling Lebanese head for this clear indication of

porterly dereliction, and the Austrian Chief Steward had reported the

incident to a ship's officer in the Guest Relations Department, a Greek

guy with Revo shades and a walkie-talkie and epaulets so complex I never

did figure out what his rank was; and this high-ranking Greek guy

actually came around to 1009 after Saturday's supper to apologize on

behalf of practically the entire Chandris shipping line and to assure me

that ragged-necked Lebanese heads were even at that moment rolling down

various corridors in piacular recompense for my having had to carry my

own bag. And even though this Greek officer's English was in lots of

ways better than mine, it took me no less than ten minutes to detail the

double bind I'd put the porter in--brandishing at relevant moments the

actual tube of zinc oxide that had caused the whole snafu--ten or more

minutes before I could get enough of a promise from the Greek officer

that various chewed-off heads would be reattached and employee records

unbesmirched to feel comfortable enough to allow the officer to

leave;[16] and the whole incident was incredibly frazzling and

despair-fraught, and filled almost half a spiral notebook, and is here

recounted in only its barest psychoskeletal outline.


This grim determination to indulge the passenger in ways that go far

beyond any halfway-sane passenger's own expectations is everywhere on

the Nadir. Some wholly random examples: My cabin bathroom has plenty of

thick fluffy towels, but when I go up to lie in the sun I don't have to

take any of my cabin's towels, because the two upper decks' sun areas

have big carts loaded with even thicker and fluffier towels. These carts

are stationed at convenient intervals along endless rows of

gymnastically adjustable deck chairs that are themselves phenomenally

fine deck chairs, sturdy enough for even the portliest sunbather but

also narcoleptically comfortable, with heavy-alloy frames over which is

stretched some mysterious material that combines canvas's quick-drying

durability with cotton's absorbency and comfort--certainly a welcome

step up from public pools' deck-chair material of Kmartish plastic that

sticks to your skin and produces farty suction-noises whenever you shift

your sweaty weight on it. And each of the sun decks is manned by a

special squad of full-time Towel Guys, so that when you're well-done on

both sides and ready to quit and you spring easily out of the deck chair

you don't have to pick up your towel and take it with you or even bus it

into the cart's Used Towel slot, because a Towel Guy materializes the

minute your fanny leaves the chair and removes your towel for you and

deposits it in the slot. (Actually, the Towel Guys are such

overachievers that even if you get up for just a second to reapply zinc

oxide or gaze contemplatively out over the railing at the sea, when you

turn back around your towel's often gone and your deck chair has been

refolded to its uniform 45-degree at-rest angle, and you have to

readjust your chair all over again and go to the cart to get a flesh

fluffy towel, of which there is admittedly not a short supply.)
Down in the Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant, the waiter[17] will not only

bring you a lobster--as well as a second and even a third

lobster[18]--with methamphetaminic speed but will also incline over you

with gleaming claw-cracker and surgical fork and dismantle it for you,

sparing you the green goopy work that's the only remotely rigorous thing

about lobster. And at the Windsurf Cafe, up on Deck 11 by the pools,

where there's always an informal buffet lunch, there's never that bovine

line that makes most cafeterias such a downer, and there are about

seventy-three varieties of entree alone, and the sort of coffee you

marry somebody for being able to make; and if you have too many things

on your tray, a waiter will materialize as you peel away from the buffet

and will carry your tray (even though it's a cafeteria, there are all

these waiters standing around with Nehru jackets and white towels draped

over left arms watching you, not quite making eye contact but scanning

for any little way to be of service, plus plum-jacketed sommeliers

walking around to see if you need a non-buffet libation, plus a whole

other crew of maitre d's and supervisors watching the waiters and

sommeliers and tall-hatted buffet servers to make sure you don't do

something for yourself that could be done for you).
Every public surface on the m.v. Nadir that isn't stainless steel or

glass or varnished parquet or dense and good-smelling sauna-type wood is

plush blue carpet that never has a chance to accumulate even one

flecklet of lint because jumpsuited Third World guys are always at it

with Siemens A.G.(R) vacuums. The elevators are Euroglass and yellow

steel and stainless steel and a kind of wood-grain material that looks

too shiny to be real wood but makes a sound when you thump it that's an

awful lot like real wood.[19] The elevators and stairways between decks

seem to be the particular objects of the anal retention of a whole

special Elevator and Staircase custodial crew. During the first two days

of rough seas, when people vomited a lot (especially after supper and

apparently extra-especially on the elevators and stairways), these

puddles of vomit inspired a veritable feeding-frenzy of wet/dry vacs and

spot remover and all-trace-of-odor-eradicator chemicals applied by this

elite Special Forces-type crew.
And don't let me forget room service, which on a 7NC Luxury Cruise is

called "cabin service." Cabin service is in addition to the eleven

scheduled daily opportunities for public eating, and it's available

twenty-four hours a day and is free: all you have to do is hit x72 on

the bedside phone, and ten or fifteen minutes later a guy who wouldn't

even dream of hitting you up for a gratuity appears with: "Thinly Sliced

Ham and Swiss Cheese on White Bread with Dijon Mustard" or "The Combo:

Cajun Chicken with Pasta Salad, and Spicy Salsa," or a whole page of

other sandwiches and platters from the Services Directory and the stuff

deserves to be capitalized, believe me. As a kind of semi-agoraphobe who

spends massive amounts of time in my cabin, I come to have a really

complex dependency/shame relationship with cabin service. Since finally

finding out about it Monday, I've ended up availing myself of cabin

service every night-- more like twice a night, to be honest--even though

I find it extremely embarrassing to be calling up x72 asking to have

even more rich food brought to me when there have already been eleven

gourmet eatingops that day.[20] Usually what I do is spread my notebooks

and Fielding's Guide to Worldwide Cruises 1995 and pens and various

materials out all over the bed so that when the cabin service guy

appears at the door he'll see all this belletristic material and figure

I'm working really hard on something belletristic right here in the

cabin and have doubtless been too busy to have hit all the public meals

and thus am legitimately entitled to the indulgence of even more rich

food.
My experience with the cabin cleaning, though, is perhaps the ultimate

example of pampering stress. The fact of the matter is that I rarely

even see 1009's Cabin Steward, Petra, which is why, on the occasions

when I do see her, I practically hold her prisoner and yammer at her

like an idiot. But I have good reason to believe she sees me, because

every time I leave 1009 for more than like half an hour, when I get back

it's cleaned and dusted again and the towels replaced and the bathroom

agleam. Don't get me wrong: in a way it's great. I'm in Cabin 1009 a

lot, and I also come and go a lot, and when I'm in here I sit in bed and

write in bed while eating fruit and generally mess up the bed. But

whenever I dart out and then come back, the bed is freshly made up and

hospital,cornered and there's another mint-centered chocolate on the

pillow.
I grant that mysterious invisible room cleaning is every slob's fantasy,

like having a more without the guilt. But there is also a creeping

uneasiness about it that presents--at least in my own case--as a kind of

paranoia. Because after a couple days of this fabulous invisible room

cleaning, I start to wonder how exactly Petra knows when I'm in 1009 and

when I'm not. It's now that it occurs to me that I hardly ever see her.

For a while I try experiments, like all of a sudden darting out into the

10-Port hallway to see if I can catch Petra hunched somewhere keeping

track of who is decabining, and I scour the whole hallway-and-ceiling

area for evidence of some kind of camera monitoring movements outside

the cabin doors. Zilch on both fronts. But then I see that the mystery's

even more complex and unsettling than I'd first thought, because my

cabin gets cleaned always and only during intervals when I'm gone for

more than half an hour. When I go out, how can Petra or her supervisors

possibly know how long I'm going to be gone? I try leaving 1009 a couple

of times and then dashing back after ten or fifteen minutes to see

whether I can catch Petra in delicti, but she's never there. I try

making an ungodly mess, then leaving and hiding somewhere on a lower

deck, then dashing back after exactly twenty-nine minutes--again when I

come bursting through the door there's no Petra and no cleaning. Then I

leave the cabin with exactly the same expression and appurtenances as

before and this time stay hidden for thirty-one minutes and then haul

ass back--again no sighting of Petra, but now 1009 is sterilized and

gleaming, and there's a mint on the pillow's new case. I scrutinize

every inch of every surface I pass as I circle the deck during these

little experiments: no cameras or motion-sensors or anything in evidence

anywhere that would explain how They know.[21] So for a while I theorize

that somehow a special crewman is assigned to each passenger and follows

that passenger at all times, using extremely sophisticated

personal-surveillance techniques and reporting back to Steward HQ my

movements and activities and projected time of cabin-return. For about a

day I try taking evasive actions--whirling to check behind me, popping

around comers, darting in and out of gift shops via different doors,

etc.--but I never see one flaming sign of anybody engaged in

surveillance. By the time I quit trying, I'm feeling half-crazed, and my

countersurveillance measures are drawing frightened looks and even some

temple-tapping from 10-Port's other guests.


MY CABIN
I, who am not a true agoraphobe but am what might, be called a

"borderline agoraphobe" or "semi-agoraphobe," come therefore

understandably to love very deeply "Cabin 1009/Exterior Port."[22] It is

made of a fawn-colored enamelish polymer and its walls are extremely

thick and solid: I can drum annoyingly on the wall above my bed for up

to five minutes before my aft neighbors pound (very faintly) back. My

cabin is thirteen size-eleven Keds long by twelve Keds wide. The cabin

door has three separate locking technologies and trilingual lifeboat and

jacket instructions bolted to its wall and a whole deck of multilingual

DO NOT DISTURB cards hanging from the inside knob. Right by the door is

the Wondercloset, a complicated honeycomb of shelves and drawers and

hangers and cubbyholes and a Personal Fireproof Safe. The Wondercloset

is so intricate in its utilization of every available cubic centimeter

that all I can say is it must have been designed by a very organized

person indeed. Inside are extra chamois blanket hypoallergenic pillows

and plastic Celebrity Cruises bags of all different sizes and

configurations for your laundry, optional dry cleaning,etc.
The cabin's porthole is indeed round, but it is not small, and in terms

of its importance to the room's mood and raison it resembles a

cathedral's rose window. It's made of that kind of very thick glass that

tellers at drive-up banks stand behind. You can thump the glass with

your fist and it won't even vibrate. Every morning at exactly 8:34 A.M.

a Filipino guy in a blue jumpsuit stands on one of the lifeboats that

hang in rows between Decks 9 and 10 and sprays my porthole with a hose,

to get the salt off, which is always fun to watch.


Cabin 1009's dimensions are just barely on the good side of the line

between very very snug and cramped. Packed into its near-square are a

big good bed and two bedside tables with lamps and an 18-inch TV with

five At-Sea Cable(R) options. There's also a white enamel desk that

doubles as a vanity, and a round glass table on which sits a basket

that's alternately filled with fresh fruit and husks and rinds of same.

Every time I leave the cabin for more than the requisite half-hour I

come back to find a new basket of fruit, covered in snug blue-tinted

plastic wrap, on the glass table. It's good fresh fruit and it's always

there. I've never eaten so much fruit in my life.


MY BATHROOM
Cabin 1009's bathroom deserves extravagant praise. I've seen more than

my share of bathrooms, and this is one bitchingly nice bathroom. It is

five and a half Keds to the edge of the shower's step up and sign to

WATCH YOUR STEP. The room is done in white enamel and gleaming stylized

brushed and stainless steel its overhead lighting is some kind of

blue-intensive Eurofluorescence that's run through a diffusion filter so

that it's diagnostically acute without being brutal. Next to the light

switch is an Alisco Scirocco[R] hair dryer that's brazed right onto the

wall and comes on automatically when you take it out of the mount; the

Scirocco's HIGH setting just about takes your head off. The sink is

huge, and its bowl is deep without seeming precipitous or ungentle of

grade. Good plate mirror covers the whole wall over the sink. The steel

soap dish is striated to let sog-water out and minimize that annoying

underside-of-the-bar slime. The ingenious consideration of the

anti-slime soap dish is particularly affecting. Keep in mind that 1009

is a mid-price single cabin. The mind positively reels at what a luxury

penthouse type cabin's bathroom must be like.
Merely enter 1009's bathroom and hit the overhead lights and on comes an

automatic exhaust fan whose force and aerodynamism give steam or

offensive odors just no quarter at all.[23] The fan's suction is such

that if you stand right underneath its louvered vent it makes your hair

stand straight up on your head, which together with the abundantly

rippling action of the Scirocco hair dryer makes for hours of fun in the

lavishly lit mirror.
The shower itself overachieves in a very big way. The HOT setting's

water is exfoliatingly hot, but it takes only one preset manipulation of

the shower knob to get perfect 98.6-degree water. My own personal home

should have such water pressure: the shower-head's force pins you

helplessly to the stall's opposite wall, and the head's MASSAGE setting

makes your eyes roll up and your sphincter just about give.[24] The

showerhead and its flexible steel line are also detachable, so you can

hold the head and direct its punishing stream just at your particularly

dirty right knee or something.
But all this is still small potatoes compared with 1009's fascinating

and potentially malevolent toilet. A harmonious concordance of elegant

form and vigorous function, flanked by rolls of tissue so soft as to be

without perforates for tearing, my toilet has above it this sign:


THIS TOILET IS CONNECTED TO A VACUUM SEWAGE SYSTEM. PLEASE DO NOT THROW

INTO THE TOILET ANYTHING [SIC] THAN ORDINARY TOILET WASTE AND TOILET

PAPER
The toilet's flush produces a brief but traumatizing sound, a kind of

held high-B gargle, as of some gastric disturbance on a cosmic scale.

Along with this sound comes a suction so awe-somely powerful that it's

both scary and strangely comforting: your waste seems less removed than

hurled from you, and with a velocity that lets you feel as though the

waste is going to end up someplace so far away that it will have become

an abstraction, a kind of existential sewage-treatment system.[25]
THE OCEAN
Traveling at sea for the first time is a chance to realize that the

ocean is not one ocean. The water changes. The Atlantic that seethes off

the eastern United States is glaucous and light-less and looks mean.

Around Jamaica, though, it's more like a milky aquamarine. Off the

Cayman Islands it's an electric blue, and off Cozumel it's almost

purple. Same deal with the beaches. You can tell right away that south

Florida's sand comes from rocks: it hurts your bare feet and has that

sort of mineralish glitter to it. But Ocho Rios's beach is more like

dirty sugar, and Cozumel's is like clean sugar, and at places along the

coast of Grand Cayman the sand's texture is more like flour, silicate,

its white as dreamy and vaporous as clouds' white. The only real

constant to the nautical topography of the Nadir's Caribbean is its

unreal and almost retouched-looking prettiness. It's impossible to

describe right; the closest I can come is to say that it all looks:

expensive.
TABLE 64'S WAITER
Our waiter's name is, as previously mentioned, Tibor.Mentally I refer to

him as "the Tibster," but never out loud. Tibor has dismantled my

artichokes and my lobsters and taught me that extra-well-done is not the

only way meat can be palatable. We have sort of bonded, I feel. He is

thirty-five and about five four and plump, and his movements have the

birdlike economy characteristic of small plump graceful men. His face is

at once round and pointy, and rosy. His tux never wrinkles. His hands

are soft and pink. Menu-wise, Tibor advises and recommends, but without

the hauteur that has always made me hate the gastropedantic waiters in

classy restaurants. He is omnipresent without being unctuous or

oppressive; he is kind and warm and fun. He is the Head Waiter for

Tables 64-67 at all three meals. He can carry three trays without

precariousness and never looks harried or on the edge the way most

multitable waiters look. He seems like he cares.


Tibor's cuteness has been compared by the women at Table 64 to that of a

button. But I have learned not to let his cuteness fool me. Tibor is a

pro. His commitment to personally instantiating the Nadir's fanatical

commitment to excellence is the one thing about which he shows no sense

of humor. If you fuck with him in this area he will feel pain and will

make no effort to conceal it. On the second night at supper, for

example, Tibor was circling the table and asking each of us how our

entree was, and we all regarded this as just one of those perfunctory

waiter-questions and perfunctorily smiled back and said Fine, Fine--and

Tibor finally stopped and looked down at us all with a pained expression

and changed his timbre slightly so that it was clear he was addressing

the whole table: "Please. I ask each: is excellent? Please. If

excellent, you say, and I am happy. If not excellent, please: do not say

excellent. Let me fix. Please." There was no hauteur or pedantry or even

anger as he addressed us. He just meant what he said. His expression was

babe-naked, and we heard him, and nothing was perfunctory again.


Mornings, the Tibster wears a red bow tie and smells faintly of

sandalwood. Early Seating Breakfast is the best time to be with Tibor,

because he's not very busy and can be initiated into chitchat without

looking pained at neglecting his duties. He doesn't know I'm on the

Nadir as a pseudojournalist. I'm not sure why I haven't told

him--somehow I think it might make things hard for him. During E.S.B.

chitchat I never ask him anything about the Nadir (except for precise

descriptions of whatever dorsal fins he's seen), not out of deference to

Mr. Dermatitis's injunctions but because I'd just about die if Tibor got

into any trouble on my account.


Tibor's ambition is someday to return to his native Budapest for good

and with his Nadir-savings open a sort of newspaper-and-beret-type

sidewalk cafe that specializes in something called cherry soup. With

this in mind, two days from now in Fort Lauderdale I'm going to tip the

Tibster way more than the suggested $3 U.S. per diem, balancing out my

total expenses by radically undertipping both our liplessly sinister

maitre d' and our sommelier, an unctuously creepy Ceylonese guy the

whole table has christened the Velvet Vulture.


PORT CALL
Mornings in port are a special time for the se-mi-agoraphobe, because

just about everybody else gets off the ship and goes ashore for

Organized Shore Excursions or for unstructured peripatetic tourist

stuff, and the m.v. Nadir's upper decks have the eerily delicious

deserted quality of your folks' house when you're home sick as a kid and

everybody else is gone. We're docked off Cozumel, Mexico. I'm on Deck

12. A couple of guys in software-company T-shirts jog fragrantly by

every couple of minutes, but other than that it's just me and the zinc

oxide and hat and about a thousand empty and identically folded deck

chairs. The 12-Aft Towel Guy has almost nobody to exercise his zeal on,

and by 10:00 A.M. I'm on my fifth new towel.
Here the semi-agoraphobe can stand alone at the ship's highest port rail

and look pensively out to sea, which off Cozumel is a kind of watery

indigo through which you can see the powdery white of the bottom. In the

middle distance, underwater coral formations are big cloud-shapes of

deeper purple. Out past the coral, the water gets progressively darker

in orderly stripes, a phenomenon that I think has to do with

perspective. It's all extremely pretty and peaceful. Besides me and the

Towel Guy and the orbiting joggers, there's only a supine older lady

reading Codependent No More and a man standing way up at the fore part

of the starboard rail videotaping the sea. This sad and cadaverous guy,

who by the second day I'd christened Captain Video, has tall hard gray

hair and Birkenstocks and very thin hairless calves, and he's one of the

cruise's more prominent eccentrics.[26] Pretty much everybody on the

Nadir qualifies as camera-crazy, but Captain Video camcords absolutely

everything, including meals, empty hallways, endless games of geriatric

bridge--even leaping onto Deck 11's raised stage during Tuesday's Pool

Party to get the crowd from the musicians' angle. He is the only

passenger besides me who I know for a fact is cruising without a

relative or companion, and certain additional similarities be-tween him

and me tend to make me uncomfortable,and I try to avoid him.


From Deck 12's star-board rail you can look down at the army of Nadir

passengers being disgorged by the Deck 3 gangway. They keep pouring out

of the door and down the narrow gangway. As each person's sandal hits

the pier a sociolinguistic transformation from Cruiser to Tourist is

effected. A serpentine line of 1,300-plus upscale tourists with currency

to unload and experiences to experience stretches all the way down the

Cozumel pier, which leads to a kind of megaquonset structure where

Organized Shore Excursions and T-shirts and cabs or mopeds into San

Miguel are available. The word around good old Table 64 last night was

that in primitive and incredibly poor Cozumel the U.S. dollar is treated

like a U.F.O.: "They worship it when it lands."
Locals along the Cozumel pier are offering Nadirites a chance to have

their picture taken holding a very large iguana. Yesterday, on the Grand

Cayman pier, locals had offered them the chance to have their picture

taken with a guy wearing a peg leg and hook, while off the Nadir's port

bow a fake pirate ship plowed back and forth across the bay all morning,

firing blank broadsides and getting on everybody's nerves.


Off to the southeast, now, another Mega-cruiser is moving in to dock. It

moves like a force of nature and resists the idea that so much mass is

being steered by anything like a hand on a tiller. I can't imagine what

trying to maneuver one of these puppies into the pier is like. Parallel

parking a sero, into a spot the same size as the semi with a blindfold

on and four tabs of LSD in you might come close. Our docking this

morning at sunrise involved an antlike frenzy of crewmen and Shore

personnel and an anchor that spilled from the ship's navel and upward of

a dozen ropes, which the crew insists on calling "lines," even though

each one is at least the same diameter as a tourist's head.


I cannot convey to you the sheer and surreal scale of everything: the

towering ship, the ropes, the anchor, the pier, the vast lapis lazuli

dome of the sky. Looking down from a great height at your countrymen

waddling into poverty-stricken ports in expensive sandals is not one of

the funner moments of a 7NC Luxury Cruise, however. There is something

inescapably bovine about a herd of American tourists in motion, a

certain greedy placidity. I feel guilty by perceived association. I've

barely been out of the U.S.A. before, and never as part of a high-income

herd, and in port--even up here above it all on Deck 12, watching--I'm

newly and unpleasantly conscious of being an American, the same way I'm

always suddenly conscious of being white every time I'm around a lot of

non-white people. I cannot help imagining us as we appear to them, the

bored Jamaicans and Mexicans, or especially to the non-Aryan and

hard-driven crew of the Nadir. All week I've found myself doing

everything I can to distance myself in the crew's eyes from the bovine

herd I'm part of: I eschew cameras and sunglasses and pastel Caribbean

wear; I make a big deal of carrying my own luggage and my own cafeteria

tray and am effusive in my thanks for the slightest service. Since so

many of my shipmates shout, I make it a point of special pride to speak

extra-quietly to crewmen whose English is poor. But, of course, part of

the overall despair of this Luxury Cruise is that whatever I do I cannot

escape my own essential and newly unpleasant Americanness. Whether up

here or down there, I am an American tourist, and am thus ex officio

large, fleshy, red, loud, coarse, condescending, self-absorbed, spoiled,

appearance-conscious, greedy, ashamed, and despairing.
Up on 12-Aft, Captain Video isn't filming now but is looking at the

harbor through a square he's made of his hands. He's the type where you

can tell without even looking closely that he's talking to himself. This

other white cruise ship is docking right next to us, a procedure that

apparently demands a lot of coded blasts on its world-ending horn. But

maybe the single best visual in the harbor is the group of Nadirites

learning to snorkel in the lagoonish waters just offshore; off the port

bow I can see a good 150 solid citizens floating face-down, motionless,

looking like the massed and bloated victims of some hideous mishap from

this height it's a macabre and riveting sight. I have given up looking

for dorsal fins in port. It tums out that sharks are never seen in

pretty Caribbean ports, though a couple of Jamaicans had lurid if

dubious stories of barracudas that could take off a limb in one surgical

drive-by.


Now right up alongside the Nadir, on the other side of the pier, is

finally docked and secured the m.v. Dreamward, with the peach-on-white

color scheme that I think means it's owned by Norwegian Cruise Line.[27]

Its Deck 3 gangway now protrudes and almost touches our Deck 3

gangway--sort of obscenely--and the Dreamward's passengers, identical in

all important respects to the Nadir's passengers, are now streaming down

the gangway and massing and moving down the pier in a kind of canyon of

Shadow made by the tall walls of our two ships' hulls. A lot of the

Dreamward's passengers turn and crane to marvel at the size of what's

just disgorged them. Captain Video, inclined now way over the starboard

rail so that only the toes of his sandals are still touching deck, is

filming them as they look up at us; and more than a few of the

Dreamwardites way below lift their own camcotriers and point them up our

way in a kind of retaliatory gesture, and for just a moment they and

Captain Video compose a tableau that looks almost classically

postmodern.


Because the Dreamward is lined up right next to us, almost porthole to

porthole, with its Deck 12's port rail right up flush against our Deck

12's starboard rail, the Dreamward's shore-shunners and I can stand at

the rails and check each other out like muscle cars lined up at a

stoplight. I can see the Dreamward's rail-leaners looking the Nadir up

and down, their faces shiny with high-SPF sunblock. The Dreamward is

blindingly white, white to a degree that seems somehow aggressive and

makes the Nadir's white look more like buff or cream. Its snout is a

little more tapered and aerodynamic-looking than our snout, and its trim

is a kind of fluorescent peach, and the beach umbrellas around its Deck

11 pools are also peach, whereas our beach umbrellas are salmon, which

has always seemed odd, given the white-and-navy motif of the Nadir, and

now seems to me ad hoc and shabby. The Dreamward has more pools on Deck

11 than we do, and what looks like a whole other additional pool behind

clear glass on Deck 6; and its pools' blue is that distinctive

chlorine-blue, whereas the Nadir's two small pools are both seawater and

kind of icky.
On all its decks, all the way down, the Dreamward's cabins have little

white balconies for private open-air sea gazing. Its Deck 12 has a

full-court basketball setup with peach-colored nets and backboards as

white as Communion wafers. I notice that each of the little towel carts

on the Dreamward's Deck 12 is manned by its very own Towel Guy, and that

their Towel Guys are ruddily Nordic and wear neither sunglasses nor a

look of Dickensian oppression.
The point is that, standing here next to Captain Video, looking, I start

to feel an almost prurient envy of the Dreamward. I imagine its interior

to be cleaner than ours, larger, more lavishly appointed. I imagine the

Dreamward's food being even more varied and punctiliously prepared, its

casino less depressing, its stage entertainment less cheesy, its toilets

less menacing, its pillow mints bigger. The little private balconies

outside the Dreamward's cabins, in particular, seem far superior to a

porthole of bank-teller glass, which now seems suddenly chintzy and sad.

I am suffering here from a delusion, and I know it's a delusion, this

envy of another ship, but still it's painful. It's also representative

of a psychological syndrome that I notice has gotten steadily worse as

my Luxury Cruise wears on, a mental list of dissatisfactions that

started off picayune but has quickly become despair-grade. I know that

the syndrome's cause is not simply the contempt bred of a week's

familiarity with the poor old Nadir, and that the source of all the

dissatisfactions isn't the Nadir at all but rather that ur-American part

of me that craves pampering and passive pleasure: the

dissatisfied-infant part of me, the part that always and

indiscriminately WANTS. Hence this syndrome by which, for example, just

four days ago I experienced such embarrassment over the perceived

self-indulgence of ordering even more gratis food from cabin service

that I littered the bed with fake evidence of hard work and missed

meals, whereas by last night I find myself looking at my watch in real

annoyance after fifteen minutes and wondering where the fuck is that

cabin service guy with the tray already. And by now I notice how the

tray's sandwiches are kind of small, and how the wedge of dill pickle

always soaks into the starboard crust of the bread, and how the port

hallway is too narrow to really let me put the used cabin service tray

outside 1009's door at night when I'm done eating, so that the tray sits

in the cabin all night and in the morning adulterates the olfactory

sterility of 1009 with a smell of rancid horseradish, and how this

seems, by the Luxury Cruise's fifth day, deeply dissatisfying.


Death and Conroy notwithstanding, we're maybe now in a position to

appreciate the falsehood at the dark heart of Celebrity's brochure. For

this--the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS--is

the central fantasy the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that

the real fantasy here isn't that this promise will be kept but that such

a promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie.[28] And of

course I want to believe it; I want to believe that maybe this ultimate

fantasy vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and

pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my

infantile part will be sated at last. But the infantile part of me is,

by its very nature and essence, insatiable. In fact, its whole raison

consists of its insatiability. In response to any environment of

extraordinary gratification and pampering, the insatiable-infant part of

me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out

at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction. And sure enough, after a

few days of delight and then adjustment on the Nadir, the

Pamper-swaddled part of me that WANTS is now back, and with a vengeance.

By Wednesday, I'm acutely conscious of the fact that the A.C. vent in my

cabin hisses (loudly), and that although I can mm off the reggae Muzak

coming out of the speaker in the cabin I cannot turn off the even louder

ceiling speaker out in the 10-Port hall. Now I notice that when Table

64's towering busboy uses his crumb-scoop to clear off the tablecloth

between courses he never seems to get quite all the crumbs. When Petra

makes my bed, not all the hospital corners are at exactly the same

angle. Most of the nightly stage entertainment in the Celebrity Show

Lounge is so bad it's embarrassing, and the ice sculptures at the

Midnight Buffet often look hurriedly carved, and the vegetable that

comes with my entree is continually overcooked, and it's impossible to

get really numbingly cold water out of 1009's bathroom tap.
I'm standing here on Deck 12 looking at the Dreamward, which I bet has

cold water that'd turn your knuckles blue, and, like Frank Conroy, part

of me realizes that I haven't washed a dish or tapped my foot in line

behind somebody with multiple coupons at a supermarket checkout in a

week; and yet instead of feeling refreshed and renewed I'm anticipating

how totally stressful and demanding and unpleasurable a return to

regular landlocked adult life is going to be now that even just the

premature removal of a towel by a sepulchral crewman seems like an

assault on my basic rights, and the sluggishness of the Aft elevator is

an outrage. And as I'm getting ready to go down to lunch I'm mentally

drafting a really mordant footnote on my single biggest peeve about the

Nadir: they don't even have Mr. Pibb; they foist Dr. Pepper on you with

a maddeningly un-apologetic shrug when any fool knows that Dr. Pepper is

no substitute for Mr. Pibb, and it's an absolute goddamned travesty,

or--at best--extremely dissatisfying indeed.
SOME ORGANIZED FUN
Every night, Cabin Steward Petra, when she tums down the bed, leaves on

your pillow--along with the day's last mint and Celebrity's printed card

wishing you sweet dreams in six languages--the next day's Nadir Daily, a

little four-page ersatz newspaper printed on white in a royal-blue font.

The ND has historical nuggets on upcoming ports, pitches for Organized

Shore Excursions and specials in the Gift Shop, and stern stuff in boxes

with malaprop headlines like QUARANTINES ON TRANSIT OF FOOD and MISUSE

OF DRUG ACTS 1972.


We've rounded the final tam and are steaming on our return vector from

Cozumel toward Key West, and today is one of the week's two "At-Sea"

days, when shipboard activities are at their densest and most organized.

This is the day I've picked to use the ND as a Baedeker as I leave Cabin

1009 for a period well in excess of half an hour and plunge headfirst

into the experiential fray and keep a precise and detailed log of some

really representative activities:
* 10:00 A.M.: Three simultaneous venues of Managed Fun, all aft on

Deck 9: Darts Tournament, take aim and hit the bull's eye! Shuffleboard

Shuffle, join your fellow guests for a morning game. Ping-Pong

Tournament, meet the Cruise Staff at the tables, Prizes to the Winners!

Organized shuffleboard has always filled me with dread. Everything about

it suggests infirm senescence and death: it's a game played on the skin

of a void, and the rasp of the sliding puck is the sound of that skin

getting abraded away bit by bit. I also have a morbid but wholly

justified fear of darts stemming from a childhood trauma too

hair-raising to discuss here. I play Ping-Pong for an hour.

* 11:00 A.M.: Navigation Lecture. Join Captain Nico and learn

about the ship's Engine Room, the Bridge, and the basic "nuts and bolts"

of the ship's operation. I am there. The m.v. Nadir can carry 460,000

gallons of nautical-grade diesel fuel. It bums between 40 and 70 tons of

this fuel a day, depending on how hard it's traveling. The ship has two

turbine engines on each side, one big "Papa" and one (comparatively)

little "Son." Each engine has a propeller that is 17 feet in diameter

and is adjustable through a lateral rotation of 23.5 degrees for maximum

torque. It takes the Nadir .9 nautical miles to come to a complete stop

from a speed of 18 knots. The Nadir can go slightly faster in certain

kinds of rough seas than it can go in calm seas (this is for technical

reasons that won't fit on the napkin I'm taking notes on). Captain

Nico's English is not going to win any elocution ribbons, but he is a

veritable blowhole of hard data. He's about my age and height and is

just ridiculously good-looking.[29] Captain Nico wears but without a

touristic fluorescent cord. This is also the day my paranoia about Mr.

Dermatitis contriving somehow to jettison me from the Nadir via Cabin

1009's Vacuum-Suction Toilet is at its emotional zenith, and I've

decided in advance to keep a real low journalistic profile at this

event. I ask a total of one little innocuous question, right at the

start, and Captain Nico responds with a witticism--"How we start

engines? Not with the key of ignition, I can tell you!"--that gets a

large and rather unkind laugh from the crowd.
It turns out that the long-mysterious "m.v." in "m.v. Nadir" stands for

"motorized vessel." The m.v. Nadir cost $250,310,000 U.S. to build. It

was christened in Papenburg, West Germany, in 1992 with a bottle of ouzo

instead of champagne. The Nadir's three onboard generators produce 9

megawatts of power. The ship's bridge turns out to be what lies behind

the very intriguing triple-locked bulkhead near the aft Towel Cart on

Deck 10. The bridge is "where the equipments are--radars, indication of

weathers and all these things." Two years of postgraduate study is

required of officer wannabes just to get a handle on the navigational

math involved; "also there is much learning for the computers." Captain

Nico explains that the Nadir subscribes to something called GPS: "This

Global Positioning System is using the satellites above to know the

position at all times, which gives this data to the computer." It

emerges that when we!re not negotiating ports and piers, a kind of

computerized Autocaptain pilots the ship.[30]
The all-male audience here consists of bald solid thick-wristed fiftyish

men who all look like the kind of guy who rises to CEO a company out of

its engineering department instead of some MBA program. A number of them

are clearly Navy veterans or yachtsmen or something. They compose a very

knowledgeable audience and ask involved questions about the "bore" and

"stroke" of the engines, the management of "multi-radial torque," and

the hydrodynamics of "midship stabilizers" They're all the kinds of men

who look like they're smoking cigars even when they're not. Everybody's

complexion is hectic from sun and salt spray and a surfeit of Slippery

Nipples. A 7NC Megaship's maximum possible cruising speed is 21.4 knots.

No way I'm going to raise my hand in this kind of crowd and ask what a

knot is.
* 12:40 P.M.: I seem to be out on 9-Aft hitting golf balls off an

Astroturf square into a dense-mesh nylon-net that balloons impressively

out toward the sea when a golf ball hits it. Thanatopic shuffle-board

continues over to starboard; ominous little holes in the deck, bulkhead,

railing, and even my little Astroturf square testify to my wisdom in

having steered clear of the A.M. Darts Tourney.

* 2:00 P.M.: Now I'm in Deck 12's Olympic Health Club, in the back

area, in the part that's owned by Steiner of London, a kind of floating

spa, and I'm asking to be allowed to watch one of the "Phytomer/

Ionithermie Combination Treatment De-Toxifying Inch Loss Treatments"

that some of the hertier ladies onboard have been raving about, and I am

being told that it's not really a spectator-type thing, that there's

nakedness involved, and that if I want to see it I'm going to have to be

the subject of one. Between the quoted price of the treatment and some

pretty troubling references in the Steiner of London brochure to

"electrodes using faradism and galvanism," I opt to forfeit this bit of

managed pampering. If you back off from something really big; the

creamy-faced staffers then try to sell you on a facial, which they say

"a number" of male Nadirites have pampered themselves with this week,

but I decline this as well, figuring that at this point in the week the

procedure would consist mostly in exfoliating half-peeled skin.

* 2:30 P.M.: Now I'm down in Deck 8's Rainbow Room for "Behind the

Scenes." Meet your Cruise Director Scott Peterson and find out what it's

really like to work on a cruise ship! Scott Peterson is a tan guy with

tall rigid hair, a high- watt smile, an escargot mustache, and a

gleaming Rolex--basically the sort of guy who looks entirely at home in

sockless white loafers and a mint-green golf shirt--and is one of my

very least favorite Celebrity Cruises employees, though with Scott

Peterson it's a case of mildly enjoyable annoyance rather than the

terrified loathing I feel for Mr. Dermatitis. The very best way to

describe Scott Peterson's demeanor is that it looks like he's constantly

posing for a photograph nobody is taking. He mounts the Rainbow Room's

low brass dais, reverses his chair, sits like a cabaret singer, and

holds forth. There are maybe fifty people attending, and I have to admit

that some of them seem to like Scott Peterson a lot, and to enjoy his

talk, a talk that, not surprisingly, turns out to be more about what

it's like to be Scott Peterson than about what it's like to work on the

good old Nadir. Topics covered include where and under what

circumstances Scott Peterson grew up, how Scott Peterson got interested

in cruise ships, how Scott Peterson and his college roommate got their

first jobs together on a cruise ship, some hilarious booboos in Scott

Peterson's first months on the job, every celebrity Scott Peterson has

personally met and shaken the hand of, how much Scott Peterson loves the

people he gets to meet working on a cruise ship, how much Scott Peterson

loves just working on a cruise ship in general, how Scott Peterson met

the future Mrs. Scott Peterson working on a cruise ship, and how Mrs.

Scott Peterson now works on a different cruise ship and how challenging

it is to sustain an intimate relationship as warm and in all respects

wonderful as that of Mr. and Mrs. Scott Peterson when you work on

different cruise ships and lay eyes on each other only about every sixth

week, except that now Scott Peterson's grateful to be able to announce

that Mrs. Scott Peterson happens to be on a well-earned vacation and is

as a rare treat here this week cruising on the m.v. Nadir with him and

is, as a matter of fact, right here with us in the audience today, and

wouldn't Mrs. S. P. like to stand up and take a bow.

* 3:05 P.M.: I've darted for a minute into Deck 7's Celebrity Show

Lounge to catch some of the rehearsals for tomorrow night's climactic

Passenger Talent Show. Two crew-cut and badly burned U. Texas guys are

doing a minimally choreographed dance number to a recording of "Shake

Your Groove Thing." Assistant Cruise Director Dave the Bingo Boy is

coordinating activities from a canvas director's chair at stage left. A

septuagenarian from Halifax, Virginia, tells six jokes and sings "One

Day at a Time (Sweet Jesus)." A retired Century 21 from Idaho does a

long drum solo to The climactic Passenger Talent Show is apparently a

7NC tradition, as was Tuesday's Special Costume Party. Some of the

Nadirites are deeply into this stuff and have brought their own costumes

and props. A lithe Canadian couple does a tango complete with pointy

black shoes and a rose in teeth. The finale is apparently going to be

four consecutive stand-up comedy routines delivered by very old men.

These men totter on one after the other. One has a three-looted cane,

another a necktie that looks uncannily like a Denver omelette, another

an excruciating stutter. What follow are four successive interchangeable

routines where the manner and humor are like exhumed time capsules of

the 1950s: jokes about how impossible it is to understand women, about

how very much men want to play golf and how their wives try to keep them

from playing golf, etc. The routines have the same kind of flamboyant

unhipness that makes my own grandparents objects of my pity, awe, and

embarrassment all at the same time. One of the senescent quartet refers

to his appearance tomorrow night as a "gig."

* 3:20 P.M.: The ND neglects to mention that the trapshooting is a

competitive Organized Activity. The charge is $1 a shot, but you have to

purchase your shots in sets of ten, and there's a large and vaguely

gun-shaped plaque for the best score. I arrive at 8-Aft late; a male

Nadirite is already shooting, and several other males have formed a line

and are waiting to shoot. The Nadir's wake is a big fizzy V way below

the aft rail. Two sullen Greek NCOs in earmuffs run the show. I am

seventh and last in line. The other guys refer to the targets as

"pigeons," but what they really look like is little discuses painted the

Day-Glo orange of expensive hunting wear. The orange, I posit, is for

ease of visual tracking, and the color must really help, because the

trim bearded guy in aviator glasses currently shooting is wreaking

absolute devastation in the air over the stem.
I assume you already know the basic trap-shooting conventions from

movies or TV: the lackey at the weird little catapultish device, the

bracing and pointing and order to "Pull!," the combination thud and

kertwang of the catapult, the brisk crack of the weapon, and the midair

disintegration of the luckless pigeon. Everybody in line with me is

male, though there are a number of females in the crowd (nat's watching

the competition from the 9-Aft balcony above and behind us.
From the line, watching, three things are striking: (a) what on TV is a

brisk crack is here a whooming roar that apparently is what a shotgun

really sounds like; (b) trapshooting looks comparatively easy, because

now the stocky older guy who's replaced the trim bearded guy at the rail

is also blowing these little fluorescent plates away one after the

other, so that a steady rain of lumpy orange crud is falling into the

Nadir's wake; (c) a clay pigeon, when shot, undergoes a frighteningly

familiar-looking midflight peripeteia--erupting material, changing

vector, and plummeting seaward in a corkscrewy way that all eerily

recalls footage of the 1986 Challenger disaster.


All the shooters who precede me seem to fire with a kind of casual

scorn, and all get eight out of ten or above. But it turns out that, of

these six guys, three have military-combat backgrounds, another two are

L. L. Bean-model-type brothers who spend weeks every year hunting

various fast-flying species with their "Papa" in southern Canada, and

the last has got not only his own earmuffs, plus his own shotgun in a

special crushed-velvet-lined case, but also his own trapshooting range

in his backyard[31] in North Carolina. When it's finally my turn, the

earmuffs they give me have somebody else's ear-oil on them and don't fit

my head very well. The gun itself is shockingly heavy and stinks of what

I'm told is cordite, small pubic spirals of which are still exiting the

barrel from the Korea-vet who preceded me and is tied for first with

10/10. The two brothers are the only entrants even near my age; both got

scores of 9/10 and are now appraising me coolly from identical prep

school-slouch position against the starboard rail. The Greek NCOs seem

extremely bored. I am handed the heavy gun and told to "be bracing a

hip" against the aft rail and then to place the stock of the weapon

against, no, not the shoulder of my hold-the-gun arm but the shoulder of

my pull-the-trigger arm. (My initial error in this latter regard results

in a severely distorted aim that makes the Greek by the catapult do a

rather neat drop-and-roll.)
Let's not spend a lot of time drawing this whole incident out. Let me

simply say that, yes, my own trapshooting score was noticeably lower

than the other entrants' scores, then simply make a few disinterested

observations for the benefit of any novice contemplating trapshooting

from a 7NC Megaship, and then we'll move on: (1) A certain level of

displayed ineptitude with a firearm will cause everyone who knows

anything about firearms to converge on you all at the same time with

cautions and advice and handy tips. (2) A lot of the advice in (1) boils

down to exhortations to "lead" the launched pigeon, but nobody explains

whether this means that the gun's barrel should move across the sky with

the pigeon or should instead sort of lie in static ambush along some

point in the pigeon's projected path. (3) Whatever a "hair trigger" is,

a shotgun does not have one. (4) If you've never fired a gun before, the

urge to close your eyes at the precise moment of concussion is, for all

practical purposes, irresistible. (5) The well-known "kick" of a fired

shotgun is no misnomer; it knocks you back several steps with your arms

pinwheeling wildly for balance, which when you're holding a still-loaded

gun results in mass screaming and ducking and then on the next shot a

conspicuous thinning of the crowd in the 9-Aft gallery above. Finally,

(6), know that an unshot discus's movement against the vast lapis lazuli

dome of the open ocean's sky is sun-like--i.e., orange and parabolic and

right-to-left--and that its disappearance into the sea is edge-first and

splashless and sad.
THE HEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT
Other Celebrity Showtime headline entertainments this week have included

a Vietnamese comedian who juggles chain saws, a husband-and-wife team

that specializes in Broadway love medleys, and, most notably, a singing

impressionist named Paul Tanner, who made simply an enormous impression

on Table 64's Trudy and Esther, and whose impressions of Engelbert

Humperdinck, Tom Jones, and particularly Perry Como were apparently so

stirring that a special Popular Demand Encore Performance by Paul Tanner

has been hastily scheduled to follow tomorrow night's climactic

Passenger Talent Show. For tonight, though, the Nadir Daily announces:

CELEBRITY SHOWTIME Celebrity Cruises Proudly Presents HYPNOTIST NIGEL

ELLERY.
Hypnotist Nigel Ellery is British and looks uncannily like a 1950s

B-movie villain. Introducing him, Cruise Director Scott Peterson informs

us that Nigel Ellery "has had the honor of hypnotizing both Queen

Elizabeth II and the Dalai Lama."[32] Nigel Ellery's act combines

hypnotic hijinks with rather standard Borscht Belt patter and audience

abuse. And it ends up being such an absurdly suitable microcosm of the

week's whole 7NC Luxury Cruise experience that it's almost like a setup,

some weird form of pseudojournalistic pampering.


First off, we learn that not everyone is susceptible to serious

hypnosis: Nigel Ellery puts the Celebrity Show Lounge's whole 300-plus

crowd through some simple in-your-seat tests to determine who is

suggestibly "gifted" enough to "participate" in the "fun" to come.[33]

Second, when the six most suitable subjects--all still locked in their

complex contortions from the in-your-seat tests--are assembled onstage,

Nigel Ellery spends a very long time reassuring them and us that

absolutely nothing will happen that they do not wish to have happen. He

then persuades a young lady from Akron that a loud Hispanic voice is

issuing from the left cup of her brassiere. Another lady is induced to

smell something ghastly coming off the man in the chair next to her, a

man who himself believes that the seat of his chair periodically heats

to 100 degrees Celsius. The other three subjects, respectively,

flamenco, believe they are not just nude but woefully ill-endowed, and

are made to shout "Mommy, I wanna wee-weel" when Nigel Ellery tells them

good night. The audience laughs very hard at all the right times. And

there is something genuinely funny (not to mention symbolic) about

watching these well-dressed U.S. adult cruisers behave strangely for

no-reason they understand; it is as if the hypnosis enables them to

construct fantasies so vivid that the subjects do not even know they are

fantasies, which is of course funny.
Maybe the single most strikingly comprehensive 7NC symbol, though, is

Nigel Ellery himself. The hypnotist's boredom and hostility are not only

undisguised but incorporated kind of ingeniously into the entertainment

itself: Ellery's boredom gives him the same air of weary expertise that

makes us trust doctors and policemen, and his hostile stage-persona is

what gets the biggest roars of approval and laughter from the crowd. He

does unkind imitations of people's U.S. accents. He ridicules questions

from the subjects and audience. He makes his eyes burn Rasputinishly and

tells people they're going to wet the bed at exactly 3:00 A.M. Each

moment of naked ill-will is fob lowed by a palms-out assurance t-hat

he's just kidding and that he loves us and that we are a simply

marvelous audience. The spectators-- mostly middle-aged, it looks

like--rock back and forth with mirth and slap their knees and dab at

their eyes with hankies.


For me, at the end of a full day of Managed Fun, Nigel Ellery's act is

not particularly astounding or side-splitting or entertaining. What it

is is weird. There's something crucially key about Luxury Cruises in

evidence here: being entertained by someone who clearly dislikes you,

and feeling that you deserve that dislike at the same time you resent

it. The show's climax has the six subjects all lined up doing syncopated

Rockette kicks. Because my own dangerous mesmeric susceptibility makes

it important that I not follow Ellery's hypnotic suggestions too closely

or get too deeply involved, I find myself, in my plush seat, going

farther and farther away, sort of creatively visualizing an epiphanic

Frank Conroy--type moment of my own, trying to see the hypnotist and

subjects and audience and ship itself with the eyes of someone not

aboard, imagining the m.v. Nadir right at this moment, all lit up and

steaming north, in the dark, at night, with a strong west wind pulling.

the moon backward through a skein of clouds--the Nadir a constellation,

complexly aglow, angelically white, festive, imperial. Yes, this: it

would look like a floating palace to any poor soul out here on the ocean

at night, alone in a dinghy, or not even in a dinghy but simply and

terribly floating, treading water, out of sight of land. This deep

disassociative trance--Nigel Ellery's true unconscious gift to

me--lasted all through the next day and night. This period I spent

entirely in Cabin 1009, in bed, mostly looking out the spotless

porthole, with trays and rinds all around me, feeling a little bit

dulled but mostly good-- good to be on the Nadir and good to know that

soon I would get off the ship, that I had survived (in a way) being

pampered to death (in a way)--and so I stayed in bed. And even though

the trance made me miss the final night's Talent Show and Midnight

Farewell Buffet and Saturday's docking (at which there was apparently

even more crepe and waving and explosive goodwill) and a chance to have

my After-photo taken with Captain G. Panagiotakis, reentry into the

stresses and demands of quotidian landlocked real-world life wasn't

nearly as bad as a week of absolutely nothing had led me to fear.


1. Somewhere he'd gotten the impression that I was an investigative

journalist and wouldn't let me see the galley, bridge, or staff decks,

or interview any of the crew in an on-the-record way, and he wore

sunglasses indoors, and epaulets, and kept talking on the phone for long

stretches of time in Greek when I was in his office after I'd skipped

the karaoke semifinals in the Rendez-Vous Lounge to make a special

appointment to see him, and I wish him ill.

2. Of the Megalines out of south Florida there's also Commodore,

Costa, Majesty, Regal, Dolphin, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Renaissance,

Royal Cruise Line, Holland America, Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Line,

Crystal, and Regency Cruises. Plus the Wal-Mart of the cruise industry,

Carnival, which the other lines refer to sometimes as "Carnivore." The

present market's various niches--Singles, Old People, Theme, Special

Interest, Corporate, Party, Family, Mass-Market, Luxury, Absurd Luxury,

Grotesque Luxury--have all pretty much been carved and staked out and

are now competed for viciously. The 7NC Megaship cruiser is a genre of

ship all its own, like the destroyer. The ships tend to be designed in

America, built in Germany, registered out of Liberia, and both captained

and owned, for the most part, by Scandinavians and Greeks, which is kind

of interesting, since these are the same peoples who have dominated sea

travel pretty much .forever. Celebrity Cruises is owned by the Chandris

Group; the X on their three ships' smokestacks isn't an X but a Greek

chi, for Chandris, a Greek shipping family so ancient and powerful they

apparently regarded Onassis as a punk.

3. Robert Shaw as Quint reprised the whole incident in 1975's Jaws,

a film, as you can imagine, that was like fetish-porn to me at age

thirteen.

4. I'll admit that on the very first night of the 7NC I asked the

staff of the Nadir's Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant whether I could

maybe have a spare bucket of au jus drippings from supper so that I

could try chumming for sharks off the back rail of the top deck, and

that this request struck everybody from the maitre d' on down as

disturbing and maybe even disturbed, and that it turned out to be a

serious journalistic faux pas, because I'm almost positive the maitre d'

passed this disturbing tidbit on to Mr. Dermatitis and that it was a big

reason why I was denied access to places like the ship's galley, thereby

impoverishing the sensuous scope of this article. It also revealed how

little I understood the Nadir's sheer size: twelve decks up is 150 feet,

and the au jus drippings would have dispersed into a vague red cologne

by the time they hit the water, with concentrations of blood inadequate

to attract or excite a serious shark, whose fin would have probably

looked like a pushpin from that height anyway.

5. The Nadir's got literally hundreds of cross-sectional maps of

the ship on every deck, at every elevator and junction, each with a red

dot and a YOU ARE HERE. It doesn't take long to figure out that these

are less for orientation than for reassurance.

6. Constant references to "friends" in the brochure's text; part of

this promise of escape from dread is that no cruiser is ever alone.

7. Always couples, and even in group shots it's always groups of

couples. I never did get hold of a brochure for an actual Singles

Cruise, but the mind reels. There was a "Singles Get Together" (sic) on

the Nadir that first Saturday right, held in Deck 8's Scorpio Disco,

which after an hour of self-hypnosis and controlled breathing i steeled

myself to go to, but even the Get Together was three-fourths established

couples, and the few of us Singles under like seventy all looked grim

and self-hypnotized, and the whole affair seemed like a true

wrist-slitter, and I beat a retreat after half an hour became Jurassic

Park was scheduled to run on the TV that night, and I hadn't yet looked

at the whole schedule and seen that Jurassic Park would play several

dozen times over the coming week.

8. The press liaison for Celebrity's P.R. firm (the charming and

Debra Winger-voiced Ms. Wiessen) had this bold explanation for the

cheery service: "The people on board--the staff--are really part of one

big family. You probably noticed this when you were on the ship. They

really love what they're doing and love serving people and they pay

attention to what everybody wants and needs." This was not what I

observed. What I observed was that the Nadir was one very tight ship,

run by an elite cadre of very hard-assed Greek officers and supervisors,

that the staff lived in mortal terror of these bosses, who watched them

with enormous beadiness at all times, and that the crew worked almost

Dickensianly hard, too hard to feel truly cheery about it. My sense was

that Cheeriness was up there with Celerity and Servility on the

clipboarded evaluation sheets the Greek bosses were constantly filling

out on the crew. My sense was that a crewman could get fired for a

pretty small lapse, and that getting fired by these Greek officers might

well involve a spotlessly shined shoe in the ass and then a really long

swim.

9. Journalistic follow-up has revealed that this is the name of a



band that I feel confident betting is: Punk.

10. Like oll Megaships, the Nadir has given each deck some

7NC-related name rather than a number, and already I am forgetting

whether the Fantasy Deck is Deck 7 or 8. Deck 12 is called the Sun Deck;

11 is the Marina Deck and has the pool and cafe; 10 I forget; 9 is the

Bahamas Deck; 8 is Fantasy and 7 is Galaxy (or vice versa), and they

contain all the venues for serious eating and dancing and casinoing and

Headline Entertainment; 6 I never did get straight; 5 is the Europa Deck

and comprises the Nadir's corporate nerve center--a huge high-ceilinged

bank-looking lobby with everything done in lemon and salmon and brass

paring around the Guest Relations Desk and the Purser's Desk and the

Hotel Manager's Desk, with water running down massive pillars with a

sound that all but drives you to the nearest urinal; 4 is cabins;

everything below is all business and off-limits.

11. This is on Deck 7, the serious dining room, and it's never

called just "the Caravelle Restaurant" (and never just "the

Restaurant")--it's always "the Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant."

12. Conroy took the same Celebrity cruise as I, the Seven-Night

Western Caribbean on the good old Nadir, in May 1994. He and his family

cruised for free. I know details Like this because Conroy talked to me

on the phone, and answered nosy questions, and was frank and forthcoming

and in general just totally decent about the whole thing.

13. E.g., after reading Conroy's essay on board, whenever I'd look

up at the sky, it wouldn't be the sky I was seeing, it was the vast

lapis lazuli dome of the sky.

14. Phone inquiries about the origins of Professor Conroy's

essaymercial yielded two separate explanations: (1) From Celebrity

Cruises' P.R. liaison Ms. Wiessen (after a two-day silence that I've

come to understand as the P.R. equivalent of covering the microphone

with your hand and leaning over to confer with counsel): "Celebrity saw

an article he wrote in Travel and Leisure magazine, and they were really

impressed with how he could create these mental postcards, so they went

to ask him to write about his cruise experience for people who'd never

been on a cruise before, and they did pay him to write the article, and

they really took a gamble, really, because they had to pay him whether

he liked it or not, and whether they liked the article or not, but . . .

[dry little chuckle] obviously they liked the article, and he did a good

job, so that's the Mr. Conroy story, and those are is perspectives on

his experience." (2) From Frank Conroy (with the small sigh that

precedes a certain kind of weary candor): "I prostituted myself."

15. This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a

pandemic in the service industry, and no plae in my experience have I

been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as 1 was on the

Nadir: maitre d's, chief stewards, hotel mangers' minions, cruise

director--their P.S.'s all come on like switches at my approach. But

also back on land: at banks, restaurant, airline ticket counters, and on

and on. You know this smile--the one that doesn't quite reach the

smiler's eyes and signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to

advance the smiler's own interest by pretending to like the smilee. Why

do employers and supervisors force professional service people to

broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only person who's sure that

the growing number of cases in which normal-looking people open up with

automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical

complexes is somehow causally related to that fact that these venues are

well-known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile?

16. In further retrospect, I think the only thing I really persuaded

this Greek officer of was that I was very weird, and possibly unstable,

which impression I m sure was shared with Mr. Dermatitis and combined

with that same first night's au-jus-as-shark-bait request to destroy my

credibility with Dermatitis before I even got in to see him.

17. Table 64's waiter is Tiber, a Hungarian and a truly exceptional

person, about whom if there's any editorial justice you will learn a lot

more someplace below.

18. Not until Tuesday's Lobster Night at the 5* C.R. did I really

empathetically understand the Roman phenomenon of the vomitorium.

19. The many things on the Nadir that were wood-grain but not real

wood were such wonderful and painstaking imitations of wood that a lot

of times it seemed like it would have been simpler and less expensive

simply to have used real wood.

20. This is counting the Midnight Buffet, which tends to be a kind

of lamely lavish costume-partyish thing with theme-related

foods--Oriental, Caribbean, Tex-Mex--and which I plan to mostly skip

except to say that Tex-Mex Night out by the pools featured what must

have been a seven-foot-high ice sculpture of Pancho Villa that spent the

whole party dripping steadily onto the mammoth sombrero of Tibor, whose

waiter's contract forces him on Tex-Mex Night to wear a serape and a

straw sombrero with a 17-inch radius (he let me measure it when the

reptilian maitre d' wasn't looking) and to dispense four-alarm chili

from a steam table placed right underneath an ice sculpture, and whose

face on occasions like this expresses a combination of mortification and

dignity that seems somehow to sum up the whole plight of postwar Eastern

Europe.


21. The answer to why I don' t just ask Petra how she does it is

that Petra's English is extremely limited and primitive, and in sad fact

I'm afraid my whole deep feeling of attraction to Petra the Slavonian

Steward has been erected on the flimsy foundation of the only two

English clauses she seems to know, one or the other of which she uses in

response to every question, joke, or protestation of undying love: "Is

no problem" and "You are a funny thing."

22. "1009" indicates that it's the ninth cabin on Deck 10, "Port"

refers to the side of the ship it's on, and "Exterior" means that I have

a window. There are also "Interior" cabins off the inner sides of the

decks' halls, but I hereby advise any prospective 7NC passenger with

claustrophobic tendencies to make sure and specify "Exterior" when

making cabin reservations.

23. 1009's bathroom always smells of a strange but not unnice

Norwegian disinfectant. The cabin itself, on the other hand, after it's

been cleaned, has no odor. None. Not in the carpets, the bedding, the

insides of the desk drawers, the wood of the Wondercloset s doors:

nothing. This, too, eventually starts giving me the creeps.

24. This detachable and concussive showerhead can allegedly also be

employed for non-hygienic and even prurient purposes. I overheard guys

from a small University of Texas vacation contingent (the only

college-age group on the whole Nadir) regale one another with tales of

their ingenuity with the showerhead. One guy in particular was fixated

on the idea that somehow the shower's technology could be rigged to

administer fellatio if he could just get access to a "metric ratchet

set." Your guess here is as good as mine.

25. The Nadir's Vacuum Sewage System begins after a while to hold

such a fascination for me that I end up going hat in hand back to Hotel

Manager Dermatitis to ask once again for access to the ship's nether

parts. But once again I pull a honer with Dermatitis: I innocently

mention my specific fascination with the ship's Vacuum Sewage

System--which boner is consequent to another and prior boner by which

I'd failed to discover in my pre-boarding research that there'd been,

just a few months before this, a tremendous scandal in which a Megaship

had been discovered dumping waste over the side in mid-voyage, in

violation of numerous national and maritime codes, and had been

videotaped doing this by a couple of passengers who subsequently

apparently sold the videotape to some network newsmagazine, and so the

whole Megacruise industry was in a state of almost Nixonlan paranoia

about unscrupulous journalists trying to manufacture scandals about

Megaships' handling of waste. Even behind his mirrored sunglasses I can

tell that Mr. Dermatitis is severely upset about my interest in sewage,

and he denies my request to eyeball the V.S.S. with a complex

defensiveness that I can't even begin to chart out here. It is only

later that night at supper, at good old Table 64 in the 5* C.R., that my

cruise-savvy tablemates fill me in on the waste scandal, and they scream

with mirth at the clay-footed naivete with which I'd gone to Dermatitis

with what was in fact an innocent if puerile fascination with

hermetically evacuated waste; and such is my own embarrassment and

hatred of Mr. Dermatitis by this time that I begin to feel that if the

Hotel Manager really does think I'm some kind of investigative

journalist with a hard-on for shark dangers and sewage scandals, then he

might think it would be worth the risk to have me harmed in some way.

And, through a set of neurotic connections I won't even try to defend,

I, for about a day and a half, begin to fear that the Nadir's Greek

episcopate will somehow contrive to use the incredibly potent and

forceful 1009 toilet itself for the assassination--that they'll, I don't

know, like somehow lubricate the bowl and up the suction to where not

just my waste but i myself will be sucked down through the seat's

opening and hurled into some kind of abstract septic exile.

26. Other eccentrics include: the bloated and dead-eyed guy who sits

in the same chair at the same 21 table in the casino every day from noon

to 3:00 A.M., drinking Long Island iced tea and playing 21 at a

narcotized underwater pace; the hairy-stomached guy of maybe fifty who

sleeps by the pool every minute, even in the rain, a copy of Megattends

open on his chest; and the two old couples who sit in upright chairs

just inside the clear plastic walls that enclose Deck 11, never moving,

watching the ocean and ports like they're something on TV.

27. The Nadir itself is navy trim on a white field. All the

Megalines have their own trademark color schemes--lime green on white,

aqua on white, robin's egg on white, barn red on white, white being an

invariable constant.

28. It might well be The Big One, come to think of it.

29. Something else I've learned on this Luxury Cruise is that no man

can ever look any better than he looks in the white full-dress uniform

of a naval officer. Women of all ages and estrogen levels swooned,

sighed, wobbled, lash-batted, growled, and hubba'd when one of these

navally resplendent Greek officers went by, a phenomenon that I don't

imagine helped the Greeks' humility one bit.

30. This helps explain why Nadir Captain G. Panagiotakis usually

seems so phenomenally unbusy, why his real job seems to be to stand in

various parts of the Nadir and try to look vaguely presidential, which

he would except for his habit of wearing sunglasses inside, which makes

him look more like a Third World strongman.

31. !

32. Not, one would presume, at the same time.



33. I, who know from hard experience that I am hypnotizable, think

about sports statistics and deliberately flunk a couple of the tests to



avoid getting up there.


Share with your friends:




The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page