This morning, I awoke in my bed, staring up at tiny Topaz staring down at me from atop a set of old stage flats that passes for the headboard of my bed. This would have been more remarkable if I had known how she came to be seven feet straight up above my head. Later, I saw her climb hand over kitty hand to the top, which explains why in a week Topaz looks fitter. Thus, my first thought this morning was, ‘Holy crap, how’d she get there?’ and my second was about canned tuna.
“But Ta,” you’re saying, “Where’ve you been?” Ah! This strange story may take a bit of telling. I wrote some notes. Join me in a bit of fresh time travel, won’t you?
I. Last Monday-ish
We had breakfast on our balcony. I can hear Anthony Bourdain scoffing at the pure pasteurized excess that is having 6 tiny wedges of grapefruit and orange join a grape on a plastic plate for complimentary room service on an 8’x4’ janitor’s closet open to an outside wall, but I can’t deny the mind-bending beauty that was sucking down coffee in 78 degree sunlight as Cuba rested peacefully on the blue horizon. Goddammit, it was wonderful.
A thousand years ago, I struggled as every freshman comp student does with the anthropologist’s notion of authentic experience. I can’t remember if the writer was Walker Percy or Clifford Geertz, but I do recall apprehending immediately the difference, lost now on many Americans, between touring Europe and It’s A Small World. Yesterday, we whooshed! through customs in the Port of Miami like the country couldn’t get rid of its nerd rock fans fast enough, while two days ago, Newark Airport – I am NOT calling it by its Newspeak name – was an armed camp full of unsmiling automatons. It’s all bullshit, you know. There’s no such thing as safety, which if you didn’t know before you might finally understand when at karaoke the first night of the cruise two utterly unconscious California housewives did a horrifying 6-minute rendition of Rapper’s Delight. One thing you should know about Barenaked Ladies fans: they are white people. I’m not saying their skin is on the melanin-light side; no, I mean they are white-white-white people who look like they’ve never even held open an elevator door for a black person. It’s like a frat party exploded on this ship, with exciting harmonies. I don’t know what to make of it. The two or three black people I’ve seen on this boat out of uniform looked a bit annoyed and, though I’m not black and I can certainly sometimes be blind to the glaringly obvious, I stared open-mouthed at those two women pretending to be the Sugar Hill Gang. Don’t get me wrong. I’m old. I went through one of the best-integrated school systems in the country at the time, and I know all the words to this song. I would never in a gold-plated million years stand up in front of a crowd and pretend to be black. How does doing Rapper’s Delight differ from doing a karaoke version of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, as a drunken damsel did two performers later? I don’t know. It just does, and I was astounded to realize I was in a room full of people who might not make that distinction. Then again, someone had the butt-clenching bad taste to torture us with My Heart Will Go On on a fucking cruise ship. I begged our waitress to bring me another beer. “I am not drunk enough for these people,” I sobbed. “Next time, get one of those buckets of four beers,” she said sympathetically. Live and learn!
What does this have to do with authentic experience? Absolutely nothing. In fact, cruising like this is designed to eliminate authentic experience of any kind. I just left 26 degrees and raw. Why is my cabin air-conditioned? There’re piles of Canadians on this boat – so pale you could read the paper through their ski – if there were newspapers. There aren’t. Contact with the rest of the world is prohibitively expensive. It costs $2.49 per minute for me to call Pete, which become much less shockingly exorbitant if I eschew swearing:
Fine! Miss you!
Miss you! Tomorrow at 11!
It’s too expensive to ask, “What?” No, that is the kind of clarification one does not demand when subject to international roaming rates. Further, texting is cheaper but when we talked about staying in touch that way, both Pete and reflexively told those kids to get off our lawn. We are essentially out of touch then because internet service runs250 minutes for $100, and I spend that much time every week reading and re-reading Orcinus because Dave doesn’t just make a point. No. Dave sharpens his point of the lathe, sending sparks flying everywhere and skittering across the floor, honing that point to razor-sharpness, to the microns-wide point beyond which there can be no narrower, sharper point without a nuclear collider and Kali help us which is wildly unlikely, arguing is a waste of time when your argument lies bleeding on the floor before you’ve noticed the filleting. Being small and covered with fur, I have to work to understand what’s going on there. This week, Dave Neiwert is a very expensive date, let alone Pete, who, no question, puts out.
Please know that in the months since we met again in July Pete and I spent two whole nights apart until I got into the cab for the airport. Siobhan and I have traveled together before: to the S.C.A.’s Pennsic War a bunch of times, to Syracuse, to radio conventions, and to Vegas. We have shared rooms, cabs, bathrooms and beds, in a pinch, not to mention a stray boyfriend or two or four. Eh, so personal boundaries can’t be a big issue with us. Even so, I left home to rest in the sun. Siobhan came here to boogie all night. What a wild duet! I spend almost every waking moment on the boat in some state of needle-pinning emotion. The boat is GIGANTIC. The ocean is SO BLUE. Breakfast on the balcony is ASTOUNDING. Dinner last night was SCRUMPTIOUS. Omigod, I’m exhausted, just thinking about leaving the cabin. A few more STUPEFYINGs and I might pass out, and while all this is thrilling, it’s 85.7% less fun than it would be if Pete were standing next to me, giggling, because I suck at math.
My heart might stop, with that much excitement. That sounds like an authentic experience.