Herewith an account of the adventures in England in 2017, written on the spot with scant reworking. The events depicted took place two weeks ago.
Penultimate full day at sea. We must be getting close; it’s warm out today. While it’s never been cold, there was always a hint of the chill behind the noon sun when we were in the middle of the Atlantic. Now we’re just three time zones away from NYC - although we turn our clocks back again tonight. It’s a nice way of preventing jet lag. It also means you feel as if you’re constantly slipping back in time and the trip will take 12 days instead of seven, or perhaps we will arrive a few days before we left, which would be good; I could ring my room at the Botley and tell myself not to have the pizza.
No one knows what day it is. It doesn’t matter what day it is.
The mirror in the bigger version doesn't show me, which is just as well, as I’m probably a red-nosed fright. The cold has reached its apogee of aesthetic miseries, and to be frank I’m almost glad I won’t be doing the dinner tonight. “Doing a Charlie,” as we say now.
And that’s not fair. Charles C. W. Cooke was laid low by grippe or catarrh early in the crossing, and missed a few dinners. Ran into him just a few minutes ago and asked how he was; “fit,” he replied with typical English crispness. Well nice of you to rub it in, what with your rude health and all; some of us are not so lucky. I don’t think I’d seen him since the Night of the Closed Bar at the Botley, which now seems like a year ago.
Finished my work this morning, at noon. Another panel. Went well. I had Sen. Coburn to my immediate left, and a few chairs down, Mark Halprin, the novelist. (“Winter’s Tale,” “Soldier in the Great War,” and others.) I’m awed and honored, because he’s a great writer, but at one point he references a Star Trek episode, and I have to correct him with exaggerated annoyance. Okay so you’re Mark Halpren big-time writer but the name of the episode was the Corbomite Maneuver, and the Sargon was the name of the paper-macho model, the little guy was played by Clint Howard -
What was his character’s name? Halpren asks.
BALOK shouts someone from the audience.
So yes, that was a moment. I think I bought myself a few more cruises this outing, and my new job is moderator. Better than sitting on a panel waiting for my turn; I can quip when I move the question to the next person.
Once done I had the whole day ahead of me, so I finished two books and tried to nap. Hard to sleep when you can’t breathe. Later I will go put on my formal clothes so I can apologize to the table in person, but at a distance. It seems rude not to show up. I will have a small dinner here in the Kings Court, which in a way is a blessing. I have had five nights of sumptuous dining while wearing a tie and I am sick of it.
It’s 1920s night and the ship is full of extras from the haunted scenes of “The Shining.” I should be asleep but I am not tired. I am sick and not tired, so I’m obviously not that sick. Went to the table and begged off, apologized, and felt a great relief. Got a cup of coffee in the Kings Court, and was making my way to my seat when I felt a sneeze come on; got the cup down and blew into the crook of my arm, and then picked up the cup only to feel a second detonation en route; I almost threw the coffee in my face to get my nose into my sleeve, and succeeded neither at stifling the sneeze nor keeping the coffee from flying everywhere. Gah.
I’m better now. Or perhaps I’m just happy because I’m closer to home, and something seems to have been realized and accomplished. Just had a moment where I let everything go. I was up in my room writing and decided it was time to go out back and look at the moon . . .
. . . and I called up the Eno Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album , which is literally about the moon, and sat on the back deck listening to my favorite piece, filled with wonder.
Go on, play it. I was looking at this.
It was the best moment of the voyage. It was the first moment when all the aches emptied out. Felt all those things you think you can express and communicate, because that’s the point of all this, isn’t it? Letting everyone know that others feel this too. But surely they know that, and if they don’t, well, it doesn’t matter, then: they’re stuck in their prison of bone.
As are we all, though, and that’s the thing. These feelings, this moment, this wonder, it’s born and dies with me, and its essence cannot be shared. Absolutely so. But the human thing is, you go back to your room, and you write it down anyway.
You can put it in a bottle and throw it over the rail. Or post it on a blog. It’s the same thing in the end.
Reading last night’s fit of sodden emotion I realized it sounds as if I haven’t had a good trip, or enjoyed myself. I have! I love ships, and the QM2 was fantastic. It was relaxing, entertaining, instructive, and it was a joy to see old friends and make new ones. And I felt useful, and felt as if I did a good job. All of the above is all a man needs.
All packed. Heading to the Commodore Club to see if there’s anyone in the Diehard Clique at the bar, and have that last long AM conversation. I have my sailing-day bottle of free champagne, which I’ve saved for the end. Best get to work, then.
Tomorrow: landfall in Gotham.
I am sitting at LaGuardia having no sympathy for the screaming boy or his parents, who have taken the “ignore the tantrum” philosophy and brought everyone in the food court into their world. We are all to ignore the tantrum, I guess. The child cannot be taken to a quieter area and allowed to empty his rage, but that would just encourage him. So everyone stares straight ahead with something close to absolute exhaustion. Even if you showed up perky and excited for your trip, you are suddenly reminded that a good deal of your life is now out of your control. The illusions have fallen away. The world is a random place with pop music you don’t like, a screaming child, and $14 hamburgers.
Got off the ship a bit ahead of time, because I went with Purple 1 and Brown 2 instead of waiting for Red 4. There was something about that group that sounded like a doomed attack wing from a Star Wars movie. We were awakened at 6:45 when Captain Phillpott came on the blower and said, more or less, WAKE UP AND GET OUT. It’s the busiest day for them, and it just can’t be fun. They have to get everyone out, reprovision, clean, and pretend they’re happy to see the next batch of people wander on with wide eyes or confused expressions, and after six days knifing across the Atlantic they turn around and leave again, back for England.
I had decided not to have my bags taken off. It just means you have to find them in the big hangar, which has the appearance of the place where the Ark of the Covenant was stored. So I had a quick breakfast then went to the Auditorium and stood by the door, off to the side, so I could get out quickly when our group was called. People entered the lounge and did what they always do on cruise ships: advance through the door three steps then stop and look around, confused. Eventually there was a bolus of confused people with large bags milling around, unwilling to find a seat or await instructions, and when they called Purple or Brown or Puce 6 I said “well, to hell with this,” and just left the ship. Was beeped out. Customs line was fast. Off to the bus.
“Which airport?” said the bus-director-type young lady.
“Why, the one named after New York’s most beloved mayor!” I said, because I am just that guy so much I should be caned on general principle. She had no idea what I was talking about. “LaGuardia,” I said.
Sat in the bus for 40 minutes. It filled up slowly. The driver kept his sports radio channel blasting for us to enjoy. Note: no one enjoyed it. Finally we left, and the driver talked to himself all the way, periodically checking in with the dispatcher to get highway congestion updates. Everything over his radio sounded like a different language that approximated English but spoke entirely in code.
“Carve wood with force lightning? At’ll work”
“Cherry good, no bone to the steak.”
“Furry churches, furry churches”
Driver: “Seventy five”
“Take warhole outta warhole but 42nd is leaking i dunno where it’s going”
“Brooks, brooks, that’s bad, it’s past tense. Conform now”
“Carve wood with force lightning? At’ll work”
“Sending a cab, not sure of its age. Vote Totals.”
Driver: “Beware of number 13”
“Sending a cab, not sure of its age. Vote Totals.”
We passed this old factory / warehouse:
You're never disappointed by New York's quantity of large unknown buildings. I have no idea what they made there, but I'll bet it was turned into offices, and will next be turned into housing.
En route to the airport, hallowed ground.
I’ve never been here. Except I’ve been here a hundred times in my dreams.
It took half an hour, at least, to navigate LGA and get rid of the passengers. It’s a complete mess, due to construction, but also due to the fact that everything around here is old, congested, packed, stacked, impassible, old, narrow, and generally not the world the Fair predicted in 39 or 64.
Well, two hours to boarding, so I’d best find an outlet.
AND SO Boarded, sat, flew, landed. And there it is. Done. Glad to be home. Walked through the airport with my noise-cancelling headphones still on, listening to “Shadows” by the Chromatics, feeling elevated and apart, as if I had been on some great adventure and had a big secret. I suppose the first is true: it was a unique family summer vacation, to put it mildly, and the awful last month was over. Summer was done.
Time to start something new, and no idea what it might be.
Thanks for reading! Back to regular Bleatage on Monday.