Just Bill and the Mister

February 11, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 10:56 am
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That evening, an accurate inventory of your motives for this trip is completed during preparations for the Captain’s cocktail party. 

These preparations involve the esoterica of shirt studs and cuff links, bow tie, pants with satin stripes, funny shoes that will get you killed on any slick surface.  You bought a tuxedo five years ago, and have worn it twice since.  You think it’s wrong that your low-roller social life never requires black tie.  The ship’s nightlife, purchased for five days, will permit you to correct this problem.  You’re sure the yuppy at the traffic light owns a tux.  You are tired of awards shows on TV, and toffs on the society page, all in tuxedos.  It is not impossible that the bad day last week led to a cruise so you could wear a monkey suit.

Your wife, though, is not plagued by pretense—just a certain justified irony you detect as she stares down at your opera pumps.

“Very smart,” she says.

“What am I supposed to wear, penny loafers?

“No no, you look terrific.  You look finished.  Complete.”

A good effort.  She doesn’t need to play dress-up.  She manages to look holiday-inspired in clothes you’ve seen her wear a dozen times.  Much the best thing, considering we are now penniless.

She also manages to look much more like everyone else at the cocktail party.  Sartorially, the romantic past turns out to be just that.  Aside from the captain, a white-uniformed, hirsute Greek version of Gavin MacLeod in “The Love Boat,” only half a dozen others besides yourself are duded up.  Plus four flamboyant young men traveling very much together.

So what?  You are happy looking like an extra in a gaslight-era movie.

And with your private deck secured, the trip’s success is more or less assured.  There, you and your wife retreat morning and afternoon with your books.  For the rest of the cruise you are released to a routine of nap-‘n-read luxury.  There’s the occasional drink and turn around the deck.  And three, four or more times per day, you continue the demanding regimen aimed at determining the tensile limits of your stomach.

 You also visit the casino.

 Neither of you is a gambler, or could afford to be.  Unless you include shelling out for Miss Smartypants’ gold-plated college tuition.  Here, though, you try it.  In an atmosphere of bleeps, bells and clattering roulette marbles, you team up with Dan and Diane, the couple from Traverse City.  They show you how to play craps.  Both of them have gotten a lot of sun and it looks good on them.

But scanning the room, you notice that no one seems to be having fun.  Maybe they are, but all the faces are stony.  Jowls hang, eyes are hooded or glower.  You also notice how fast the games end.  Blackjack is dealt at a blur, players peel off the stools before anything seems to have happened.  Just as quickly others take their place.  I spot big Frank, the golfer.  He and his wife have Tupperware bowls full of coins and are feeding them into slot machines.  A three-hundred-pound man with a bowl of change is pushing a button over and over, and appears to have stopped blinking.

But, then, this is not arguably crazier than a 170-pound man traveling thousands of miles to wear a tuxedo and read about Ronald Reagan.

And there’s George, the escort-service husband.

Under the garish lights, he looks dangerously sunburned, a waif abandoned by his sick wife.  She hasn’t appeared since the first night.  Sheepishly (we haven’t missed her), we ask after Belle.  George just shakes his head: “F-geddaboudit.  Why she wants a boat trip, go figure.  This woman gets sick if I brake the car wrong.”

But on the third day, Belle appears at dinner.  Compazine, she tells us, has stopped her motion sickness.  George at her side looks happy to be liberated from himself.  We are happy for Belle.  And for Compazine.  It has done something to the speech centers of Belle’s brain.  All through dinner she half smiles at something from the distant past or future.


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