As Majel Barrett used to say on Star Trek: The Other Shows when they finished up a two-parter: And now, the conclusion.
Grand Cayman may have its charms, but they were not promiscuously displayed in our brief tour of the urban center. As with most of these places, the presumption seems to be thus: My diamond needs have been woefully undermet. Perhaps there is something about the lull of the sea, the bleating heat, the comfortable ramshackle nature of the villages, the bright gay colors – in the normal human breast they instill a powerful need for compressed carbon. These elements have yet to affect me, though. I’m also uninterested in Tanzanite, which just seems like a stone they invented to give you something to look at between diamond stores. Diamonds are steak, Tanzanite is also steak, but of the Salisbury variety. But still steak!
I also feel curiously immune to the desire, perhaps overwhelming for some, to acquire an ugly T-shirt emblazoned with a piratical emblem. It was Pirate Week on the island, but from the permanent nature of some of the signage I suspect it is always Pirate Week. Men dressed as pirates moved through the crowds, administering ARRRRs to all and sundry. At one point I decided to give as good as I got, and started shouting ARRRR at the pirates as they approached. No reciprocal ARRRS were forthcoming. We handle the ARRRs, pal. Union rules.
I think my contribution to the economy was the purchase of a can of diet Dr. Pepper, for a dollar. I passed up the opportunity to buy a $7500 necklace with a Greek coin. A long and fascinating story must attend that particular item – minted in Roman times, clutched by ancient hands while the shopkeepers gossiped about Hadrian and that fancy-boy cult he’s so keen on, lost for centuries in a buried vase, upturned by a plow, given to Lord Byron in loose change when he paid for a drink, carried to England by a tourist, left alone in the dark in a drawer for decades, sold to a curio shop for a few pence by a relative who light-fingered the goodies from a doddering aunt – but you’ll never know it. Best perhaps that you don’t know. You can speculate; you can invest the coin with a history it never had. Anything is possible when you don’t know what actually happened.
Probably would have liked Cayman more if we’d swum with the stingrays, but I don’t want anyone putting a stingray on my back. I don’t care if they’re smooth. It would just feel like an enormous tongue. And we would have had more fun if I’d deposited a few million in an offshore account, but that wasn’t on the agenda either. We took the tender back, wondering why it smelled of orchids – perhaps the lifeboats on the ship are painted with a substance that constantly emits a floral smell, so you won’t entirely panic if you have to use one for evacuation. Whenever I pull away from the ship on a tender I think of seeing the ship half in the water, stern down, band playing, people leaping – am I the only one? When I first boarded the ship and smelled all the fresh paint I was reminded of the same observation made by a Titanic passenger.
One evening I came across some people trying to get out on the Promenade deck to smoke cigarettes, just as people who want to Promenade probably go to the Cigarette Deck, and they couldn’t get the door open. They started drumming their fists against it, laughing in that charming way drunk people have, and I shouted “That’s White Star property! I’ll have you arrested for that when we get to port!” The reference was lost, alas.
The captain just came on the PA to informs us of these details, and note that since Cayman Island had no anchorage, we had “been at antipodes and thrusters all day,” a marvelous phrase I will have to work into my retinue. He also noted that since the Gulf Stream starts to have an effect around Coz, the approach and the docking will “concentrate the mind.”
The ship is new, has the very latest in nautical innovations, I’m sure. Yesterday off Cuba we stopped for three hours and did circling maneuvers to test vibrations and calibrate this or that. It was odd to see Cuba so close, and look so empty; made you wonder if you could take a lifeboat, skip over the sea to their shore, and wait for someone to notice.
The rest of the day was a blur of trivia, talking, interviews, meat, and – I think – a big cigar-and-cognac party on the back of the Lido deck. The most amazing discussion: talking about Fargo with a guy who actually knew some people there. We were talking about Fargo’s not-entirely-substantial Jewish community. I recalled I’d had one date with a Jewish girl, and it had not gone well. She was very nice, but I tried to get somewhere and I didn’t get anywhere. Believe it or not, the old yawn-stretch-in-the-movie-theater routine to get the arm around her shoulder. Could tell right away this wasn’t going to work. They might as well have stopped the movie and put the words THE DATE IS NOW A FAILURE AND THERE WILL NOT BE A SECOND up on the screen. I remember little more that a few agonizing minutes spent wondering how to withdraw it with the same sort of casual action. I mean, you want to saw it off, you’re so embarrassed.
Turns out she’s not only living in the same town as they guy I was talking with, he’s her urologist.
It was that kind of evening. Took me about two hours to make it around the deck.
Last night was one of the best; they’ve all been good, but this time we had some new blood. Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s “Red Eye” show joined the crew. Great guy, my height. I might be 2 or 3 centimeters taller, to be frank. I now have a standing offer to do the show when I’m in New York, and I intend to make that happen in February or March. Had a long conversation with Michael Walsh about film noir and Bruckner. Seriously: if I could design perfect days, one of the options consists of “French toast, day at the beach, talking construed as employment, then 1 AM cocktails with really smart people who know Bruckner.”
We docked in Cozumel in the morning, and after the latest in a series of enormous breakfasts (offered everything, you take one of everything; the meal becomes a catalogue of breakfasts, an international exposition of breakfasts, the definition of everything that can be defined as breakfast. Compared to the meager meals I take at home this is just stupendously gut-busting, and I feel like I joined the ship as Peter Lorre and will be winched off as Sidney Greenstreet) we went to Chankanaab, the state park down the island.
There was a sea lion show that was just delightful; the animals were so skilled you suspected they were actually humans in sleek costumes. A gigantic bull – if that’s what they’re called; don’t know why I reached for that word – slid out, got to his feet, stood up at a podium like a preacher, raised his arms, basked in the applause, then pushed himself up and balanced on his front arms. He’d even been trained to milk the crowd for applause, waving one flipper in the gesture of a shameless performer demanding more adulation. So much personality came from these creatures you couldn’t quite reconcile their performance with the strictly mechanical aspect of the show, the way it proceeded through the steps with fish tossed in their mouths every minute. Then everyone got to have their picture taken with the beasts. They were trained to come up behind you and stare at the camera with their bright eyes, then bark and slide back into the water. Excellent performers. There’s no there there, though. They don’t know what they’re doing. I mean, they do, but they don’t know what the script means, what the lines mean, what the laughter means, why this is all so amusing to us. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I mean, dude, it really makes you wonder! What if we’re all like performers in a play, okay, and there are like these superintelligent beings walking among us making us do stuff, and it’s all being watched by aliens who are laughing their asses off. Money would be our fish, dude. Think about it.
Then to the beach for reading and Bruckner. Listened to the entire 7th, then walked around the park with daughter. Then I got the twitches. I knew the ship was leaving at 11 PM; I’d read it in the booklet. I knew it. Really, I knew it.
But what if I was wrong?
What if the ship left at 4, like it always did?
It was 3:30 now.
So . . . we’re done here, right? Right? Everyone gathered up their stuff, slowly, and then we walked back to the cab stand, slowwwlllly, it seemed, and then we got a driver who wasn’t hellbent on rear-ending a scooter and sending an entire family somersaulting in the air, so he went sloowwww, and I fully expected to get to the dock and see a vast empty space where the ship had been. Then what? Shorts and tank top, no money. Then what? I’m still surprised ships don’t lose people all the time – how can they possibly disgorge thousands, then get every single one of them back? You’re telling me that among the population there aren’t two or three idiots who lose track of time and find themselves on the other side of the island, waiting for a cab, thinking, “oh, they’ll hold the ship.” But it never seems to happen.
No one really wanted to go into town, since we’d been here for two days earlier this year. Later I went back to the shopping area for trinkets, since I’ve nothing to commemorate the trip. The rain was falling, and the streets looked tropical and romantic and unlike all the other places the ships have stopped.
That was it, more or less. Oh, two more dinners; two more nights in the Crow’s Leg or the Piano Explorer or the Crystal Cove or the Mucky Duck, or wherever I ended up. A long day at sea; off to the airport, and four hours waiting and reading. I could still feel the motion of the ship; I was also so tired I was wavering in place, desperate to sleep. Ended up sleeping during takeoff. Woke, watched some TV, read a book, then slept during landing.
Outside. Snow. Cold. Crusty ice. Bleak black sky.
For once I didn’t think the house would be fully emburgled, and it wasn’t. It felt odd to be home, though – you bustle around, settling in, turning off things, turning on things, putting stuff away, and the house somehow feels indifferent to your return. I went outside to see if any packages had been delivered, and discovered something interesting: you can arrange to have your walk shoveled; you can put on security lights; you can arm every system you have; you can set the timers. This you can do. You can also stop your mail, but apparently that’s hit-and-miss. For all my attempts to make the house look inhabited, the mailbox was full of a week’s worth of circulars, catalogs, Netflix disks, and magazines.
All sopping wet.
Thus endeth the story. I’m happy to be back. By the end of the cruise I felt like I’d been on board for six months.
The next one’s in six weeks.