I love cruises ever since I watched the Titanic. Weird. I should’ve been scared, right?
I grew up working my way up from being the junior- most assistant to a man who serviced boats, to repairing small boats, to a meeting with the owner of a small fleet who loved my work… and the rest of my life has been a speedboat ride.
Now I collect cruises. Long ones, short ones. The best ones out there.
Kathy and I are friends since forever. She was my neighbor growing up. It’s strange to imagine my life without her somewhere around me, even if it means a phonecall away.
I buy Kathy cruise tickets and she makes sure I keep those predatorial women on the cruise away from me. Yes, that’s her job- Keeping me away from the ‘singles introduction nights’, away from ‘drunken sex post hitting the bars’ and most importantly, having her He’s Mine expression on all the time.
I’m not hers of course. That’s just her job. She’s been good at it right from the start. She has a husband and a suburban life in Coquitlam she cares about. She’s never sure how much, but enough to go back to once we are done with our life together. Beats me how a one hick town like Coquitlam can have suburbia.
Kathy and I have the best adjoining suites on board, with personal verandahs that touch each other. It’s convenient to smoke there. I think we aren’t allowed that, but we do that anyway.
We’re never awake for breakfast, we eat lunch in the suite and spend our evenings sampling fare at the fine dining restaurants on the ship. It’s not about eating food, its a process. Step 1: We dress up. Formal. Really formal. Really dressy. Tux and white shirts, pearls, emeralds, gowns and laces. Step 2: Kathy the beautiful-by-evening knocks at my door and walks in like she owns the place. And me. She misses nothing- No honey, this shirt won’t do. The desperate chicks won’t find this so hot, and I’ll be out of job. And other such. I take her bossy fussing seriously. She helps me undress, redress, reassess. Kathy knows what she’s doing.
We hold hands all the way down. Our hands fit well. It’s important they do. It’s uncomfortable holding hands all evening with someone if the fit isn’t absolutely right. Also, it feels un-sexy. I say this from having held a staggering amount of hands through my life.
Unlike most passengers who get lost on these ships that seem like towns, I have never needed directions. I understand ships from living in their dark hellish underbellies, from being a ‘boy’ to a master mechanic.
1800 Hours: Everyone dresses up for dinner. It’s mostly white or black. Almost all men slick their hair down, while almost all the women put it up. Kathy tells me its a look called ‘messy’. It’s easy to see why.
The wine is smooth but Kathy and I both dislike wine. She asks for a change to Martini for both of us. We love the sheer hedonist variety in food and yet we hold hands over the various courses of dinner. Kathy has a theory that women on the prowl identify the prey now, when food and other intoxicants push down reserves.
Both of us enjoy the quiet smiling demeanor of the service crew. They’re almost entirely Indonesian or Philippino, so much better in attitude than the crew from the Eastern Bloc. This is something we look out for when we’re planning our cruise. And massage.
There’s always a sprinkling of ethnic dresses on display at the Captains Dinner. This evening there is a gorgeous young woman wearing yards of transparent fabric they call a saree. Kathy tells me she was staring at me in the elevator. I tell her she’s imagining things, but I don’t mind, because that’s what I pay her for.
We sample all the exquisite deserts, all, but then go up to the common food deck for seconds. This is where the noise is. This is where we line up, something I enjoy even today. Kathy likes to be served. I like to wait in line. It keeps me connected to my poorer years of soup lines.
2030 Hours: Entertainment time. It’s always difficult to choose from among the shows. We both love cabaret, and most days we end up watching one, followed by jazz and blues. Tonight we’re in the special box so close to the main stage that it’s like the women are performing just for us. They remind me of pictures in a black and white smutty magazine I protected while in the bowels of an old ship between bouts of terrible sea-sickness and violence from the mechanic, who insisted I was pretending. And look at me now- tuxed up in luxe, drinking the best champagne the ship has to offer!
Yesterday we played Bingo. I hate it. I dislike the rich old ladies there with rheumy eyes, botoxed faces and globe-sized solitaires. My views on it don’t really matter because Kathy insists on it. She says she feels good to be the youngest woman in a room. Shouldn’t matter, I tell her, luxe cruises are about redoing the fillers and other gravity-defying procedures.
To return the favour, I get Kathy to attend the art auctions on the ships we cruise- a pleasant formal’ish affair, except that I end up buying art I absolutely hate the next morning. Kathy has this theory that I bid higher for undeserving art just to impress the women in the room and for the old money rich fat-cat men to look up from their notes and give me attention. Nonsense! I say to her, but we both know it’s the truth. I’m three thousand big bucks down already and now my suite swipe keys are with Kathy. They are also the cruise cash card. Basically, Kathy has done an adult “no more pocket money” on me. Considering that I’ve lost money consistently every night at the casino, perhaps it’s for the best.
It’s Kathy’s birthday tomorrow. I have a surprise for her, like I do each year. Last year it was a small boat called Kat. She pretends not to be surprised, but we both know it’s an act.
Actually I have two gifts each year. What she gets depends on how good she is to me on the eve of her birthday.
It’s close to midnight already and we’re both pretty drunk. She tells me there’s a surprise waiting for me in my room. Like every year I pretend I’ve forgotten all about her birthday.
She waves me in and steps into her own suite next door. I stand at my door and look inside. Interesting! Year after year, it’s never a repeat. I step into the suite walking tall. That smile is on.
Kathy never goes wrong with her return-gifts.