The hot tropical sun, a long day of touring with people whom I could not communicate with, and the welcome air-conditioning on-board ship conspired against me so that when I flopped onto the bed in my stateroom I fell asleep immediately. When I woke an hour later, I realized two things. My sunscreen had not been effective as I could begin to feel the heat and tightening of skin that a sun burn brings and that I did not have the emotional energy required to sit through another dinner with Diego. There were options including eating at one of the cruise’s two fancier restaurants where you were charged a supplemental fee; several snack bars on the ship offered menus in which you could construct a meal, room; a pizza bar that was open 24 hours a day or room service.
I decided to go up to the Pizza Buffet on deck 9 as it was the easiest and at least there I could read the book on my iPad, eat at my own speed and I knew the conversation would not be any worse than it had been the night before.
It turns out the Pizza was pretty good, not NY Pizza good, but good enough. I probably ate a couple slices more than were good for my waist line but I was feeling a little sorry for myself. It had been another solitary day for me. While I am used to being alone as I live alone and I am often on the road for business being alone here felt different. It seemed that everyone on board were couples or part of a large group. As a consequence, it was more than being alone. It was not being part of a group. A lone wolf following a pack. I had hoped for more from trip. I had from the start realistic expectations. I knew that at the absolute best I would be a plus one. The odd single person in a group of couples. But I had confidence in my gregariousness. That I would be able to break social barriers and engage with people on board. I had failed to realize that the vast majority of my fellow travelers would not be from English speaking countries. Most of my fellow passengers were Brazilians, Italians, Germans and Dutch with a smattering of French. As a consequence, my hopes for engagement were limited. I could not even sit near a person at a bar and overhearing their conversation jump in with a pithy remark or witticism that would allow me to join a group.
I am nothing though if not an optimist. After I had my fill of pizza, I decided to go to the main lounge on deck 3 and have a drink and listen to a live band play soft Brazilian music. One caipirinha later I was gone. The lounge was dead, and the music was too loud for me to even make a conversation with the bartender.
Still in hopes of meeting someone I walked up the central stairway to deck five where there were a number of bars. The first one I came to was the Grand Bar Rhapsody. It had a large seating area of plush seats surrounding an wood dance floor and adjacent stage. There was an oompah band playing a polka and I concluded, rightly or wrongly that the Germans had taken over this bar. German’s are notoriously rude travelers and while I speak and understand some German I had no desire to Polka so I kept on walking.
The next bar was a “salon” with velour chairs and couches where couples and small groups of people had after dinner drinks ate “Viennese Pastries” and listened to a Kenny G style Jazz. I am in favor of after dinner drinks. I have a genetic attraction to pastries. I don’t even mind listening to “smooth” jazz now and again. However, sitting here amongst couples or couple of couples enjoying a mellow moment of indulgences seemed particularly lonely to me. So I moved on.
The next stop way station on my way to finding a little companionship was the casino. I am not a gambler and the physical attributes of those playing the slots machines was less than attractive. Imagine Hunter Thompsons most horrifying descriptions of casinos denizens as drawn by Ralph Steadman in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I didn’t have enough drugs nor nearly enough drinks in me to stay. So I pressed on.
Rick’s Piano Bar might have been interesting as it has a very intimate feel and the music seemed pleasant, but they were only serving wine and I definitely need something with a more active ingredient. I kept placing what foot in front of another.
Finally I came to the Rock Around the Clock Bar. I liked the room immediately. It had a large bar arranged in a large oval near its entrance. It was dark and the band that was playing sounded as if they might have had a few music lessons and the lead singer was very pleasant on the eyes. I perched myself on one of the bar stools and a tuxedoed Phillippino barman immediately asked what I was drinking. I asked about his selection of Vodka and he said he had Smirnoff and I told him I would have a double. It is not my favorite vodka and I laughed at myself again when I thought “Any ship in a storm….”
I did a survey of the room. It is a large taking up the entire fantail of the ship on deck five. It could easily seat 500 people on multiple levels of banquets and free-standing tables. The band played from a small podium adjacent to the arched windows and in front of them a small dance floor. Other than me there were just 9 other people in the joint. Two were sitting adjacent to me in the circular bar. There was a couple seating near the band apparently enjoying the show. There was a waitress, two barman and two people in the band.
I asked the barman if it was always this crowded at the bar and he told me that no that I should have been on the trip the week before. It had been Carnival and the place was jammed to the rafters with Brazilians getting their party on. On that cruise the boat had been packed with over 4000 guests. This voyage, there were less than 1800.
I ordered another double and thought about my fate. I had to face the facts that with so much of the ship empty and the rest filled with people whom I did not even share a language with that the chances of meeting new people was going to be very slim if not impossible. I rationalized that the real purpose of this trip had always been to have an adventure, to be able to write everyday…to improve that craft and to finally start the book that has been bouncing around my head for years….that I should enjoy that aspect of the trip and use it to listen to that inner voice that all writers hear. As a consequence, I did what good writers do. I ordered another double.
I awoke the next morning to brilliant sunshine reflecting over a teal sea coming through the partially open curtains on my windows. I realized two things almost immediately. First, if being a good writer was dependent on drink I would be a failure. I felt like a sponge after three days in a desert. My cardio vascular system was on speaker. My head stuck in a vice. This was compounded by a wicked sunburn from yesterday’s tour. The skin on my arms was on fire and my face felt like I had applied blush with habaneros. Brilliant… day two of the trip and I was already on injured reserved.
Deciding that coffee was needed and breakfast was called for I went up to the Breakfast buffet on deck 9. It was there and then I became familiar with the feeding habits of the German tourists. They seemed to have little regard for lines. I was pushed aside a number of times without so much as a grunt of an apology by a number of them when I was standing in front of item that happened to catch their fancy. Standing in front of the pork products, sausage and bacon was particularly hazardous so I settled for some bread , butter and honey and retired to the port side gallery to eat my breakfast in peace and to nurse my newly acquired bruises.
Rehydration, caffeine, and simple carbohydrates did their trick and I soon began to feel remarkably similar to a human being. I decided that if I could not spend the day out in the sun, I would try to make the best of it by continuing to write the piece I had been working on so I returned to my cabin and flipped open my computer and began to write.
The piece I was writing had been inspired by a visit a few days prior with my cousins in Sao Paolo. They had pulled out a file of old photographs that their grandmother, my fathers mothers sister, had been sent my grandmother. Most of the photographs I had never seen before. One photo in particular, a portrait of the two sisters had particularly moved me. It had been taken in 1922. They were young woman in full bloom who were about to say goodbye to each forever. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful picture.
There were also various pictures of my childhood showing my parents in their youth which brought back memories of the most innocent and wonderful times of my life.
But I had broken and cried when at a picture of my father as shave tail lieutenant. The contrast of him so young so close to the beginning of his life with the man I left in New Jersey, frail and old, had rung my emotional bell and I wanted to write about the feelings that the photographs had raised in me.
I knew when I tackled the project it would be hard to write. It would be wading through a lot of complicated emotions. That morning was particularly tough. Partially because the photograph I was working at describing touched the holocaust and my families unpleasant history in it. Combined with my adventures of the night before, despite my recent revivification, my emotional threshold was low.. Several times I need to physically take a break from my writing and go out to my balcony and steady my emotions and plot the course to the next paragraph.
The writing was going well and when my stomach began to beckon lunch. I am very reluctant to leave my keyboard. Eventually an empty stomach and cramping muscles from being huddled over a laptop keyboard forced me to a stop. I braced myself for German tourists and I made my way to the lunch buffet. I brought my iPad with me and attacked a Jasper Fforde novel along with my pasta.
Long ago on some trip to New York City my mother in attempt to keep her small boys occupied had taught me the game of trying to guess the back story of the people we saw on the subway. The game had stuck and when I am by myself, usually in airports, I play the game just to past the time and perhaps amuse myself. I am playing the game as I pass through the big open area by the Calypso Pool on my way back to my stateroom.
The first person I see is a man who is tanned the color of teak, as wide as he is tall, wearing a Speedo bathing suit that is barely visible through his rolls of fat. He has his cell phone in his hand and as I approach he slowly pitches forward asleep half resting on the table he is sitting in front of. I imagine him a small business owner from Stuttgart whose wife has convinced him to come on this trip and he is spending his days drinking beers by the pool hoping that one his employees calls him in need of a solution to a problem he is sure they cannot handle on their own.
At a nearby table sits a woman with brightly dyed red hair that is arranged in cut that looks like a mullet making love to a Mohawk. She is nearing seventy years old and is wearing make up that looked to have been applied with an overloaded airbrush . She is also wearing a bikini that might have looked good on her 50lbs and 30 years ago but now was a testament to the fact that she had not found a mirror in her cabin. I imagine she is from a small city in Italy and is on the cruise to see if she could find husband number five or at least make good use of what ever gigolo’s happened to be aboard. I avoid eye contact with her.
Then just off the pool deck, where the overhang creates a shaded area from the biting tropical sun, I notice three women trying to arrange their chez lounges on the crowded deck. The first is the blonde I had noticed dockside in Rio taking photographs. Talking with her is a petite red head who is visibly giving the other instructions in Portuguese about how her chair should be arranged. With them is the brunette I had seen by the gangway the day before. She is wearing a bikini which she fills out nicely, large sunglasses that made her look glamorous with luxurious thick black hair that comes to the middle of her back. Wow.
She looks up at me as I pass by but before I can make eye contact with her I lose my situational awareness and almost bump into one of the waitresses who is carrying a tray fully loaded with drinks. Back in my room, I lay on my bed and try to nap. But for a long while all I can think of is the brunette.