December 7, 2005
I am on the Grand Princess. I am doing my best to keep my sprits up. This is the type of place that makes me seriously worried that I suffer from depression. No matter how I explain what is awful about it and no matter how good my counter arguments are that rage in my head all day long about why it is pleasant and comfortable with even a smattering of great and lively moments, no matter how much I tell myself it’s not so bad, I can feel myself slipping down – almost into the ocean beneath me, into a paralyzing sadness. Even writing that sounds so extreme, I am already angry at my actrressy penchant for hyperbole, my lack of ability to calm myself and see the bigger picture, my snobby attitude towards everything about this trip. Then I rage again at myself – who am I and why can’t I just enjoy it – why must everything be such a big deal?
Okay, I’ll back up. My first thought, after spending a few hours on this ship, was that I had wandered happily into a Denny’s restaurant, when the doors suddenly slammed shut behind me. And my smile vanished and my eyes widened at the wave of realization: I couldn’t leave for seven days. The horror! The horror!
Maybe not Denny’s. Okay, this: a TGIF with a Doubletree hotel above it and a Circus Circus type gambling deck lodged into it’s side with a Bally’s gym in it too. And a band that is screeching day and night; songs like, “Margaritaville” and “We Built This City On Rock and Roll” too loud to allow for any conversation, not that you’d want to have any. Have I mentioned yet that the motto for the Princess line is, “Escape Completely”? Escape. Completely.
Oh, I am so snobby. Why can’t I relax? I want to jump into the ocean and swim away, away, away instead. Mulan is having the time of her life and so is my mother. And I enjoy my aunt so much – what a saving thing it is that she came on this boat too. And my brother and his wife and their kids. And my brother’s wife’s family – I really, really like all of them.
And yet, at night, I wonder how much money it would cost to be airlifted off the boat. What kind of malady I would have to conjure up? How long I would have to keep the lie going?
Eventually, some muscle relaxed and I just accepted my lot and got really lethargic and sad and I drunk up my books and couldn’t’ stop reading. And eating chocolate chip cookies. That don’t taste all that good. Neither does the lemon meringue pie. That didn’t stop me from finishing them, though. Oh no. Not me. I finish the bad food to be nice. To be nice to…the food. Because what if the food realized I didn’t like it? It would be sooooo hurt.
Not everyone on this boat is overweight. Not everyone. I, myself, am among those that could lose twenty – thirty pounds. I have found that I need a certain quality of food – fresh, well made, carefully prepared. That’s what makes me feel full. If I don’t have that kind of food, my body mistakes quantity for quality. I eat and eat and eat, trying to get some satisfaction, but none comes. I look at all the larger people on this boat and they actually seem to be starving to me. I want to kidnap them and take them home and make real food – let them feel truly sated for once! Then maybe we could all stop this grazing, compulsive, desperate, constant desire to eat and eat. Trying to fill something inside that is un-fillable.
By the way, I hate Ayn Rand too. Yes, it was completely unexpected. I imagined us to be wonderful friends – I so looked forward to the philosophy book I brought with me. But it too was a major disappointment. I hate when people write and ask me if I’m mad at God, or “what happened to me” to make me turn away from Jeeezhus. It always seems so beside the point and a reflexive jab on the part of a threatened reader. But honestly, I, myself, kept thinking, “what the fuck happened to Ayn Rand?” The exaltation of capitalism is disturbing. The deification of individualism seems naïve. It reads like she’s saying, “All you mediocre people out there are just standing in us geniuses way!” At then end of the chapter on capitalism, Piekoff writes: “Capitalism is practical, Capitalism is moral. Capitalism is true.” I dropped the book when I read that. Literally dropped the book on the floor. I waited a few seconds to pick it up again. I agree that it’s practical. I’m not sure if it’s moral. I am wary of anyone who uses the word “true” in this way. I’m not sure what “Capitalism is true” really means. That it exists?
I don’t get philosophy, I guess. It seems quaint and old fashioned to me – all those ‘isms’ this and ‘isms’ that. It doesn’t seem to reflect what we know about ourselves scientifically – that we are social animals who collectively create societies using strategies that range from altruism to selfishness. And the result is a successful survival of the species. It seems to me like Ayn Rand didn’t know a lot about biology and consciousness and how species survive. Rand doesn’t acknowledge the enormous efforts, the gigantic collective efforts that got her reared and educated and even in the U.S. with an ability to drive on roads and drink clean water and breath clean air. Unrestrained capitalism does not protect the common interests of individuals; it subjects them to the sociopathic greed of the marketplace, which values profit over long term sustainability. That seems so obvious to me.
Okay, don’t lecture me about Ayn Rand yet. I haven’t even really read her. I haven’t read the novels. I just read a PART of this survey of her philosophy. I know, I know, I shouldn’t say I “hate” her. That’s too extreme for someone I don’t really know. Or even have given a chance to.
There are some things that are great here on the boat. Guinness beer, for example. They have it in all the bars. It costs $5.50 a can, but it’s worth it. And then one night the pizza buffet had a garlic pizza with real big chunks of garlic and mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and it was so good I nearly cried and ate three pieces and actually, for the first time, felt wholesomely full. I remembered the taste and lingered over it for hours afterwards. Garlic pizza. Mmmm…
Also, there’s a gym here. I walked an hour on the treadmill for two days in a row – it won’t let you go longer than sixty minutes. I suppose I could have started up the machine again, but I didn’t. And you watch the water go by as you walk because the machines look out the window on the upper deck and it’s pleasant. I fall asleep early -- I am sleeping so much, it’s indecent. I go to bed at eight thirty or nine or ten and sleep twelve hours. I think it takes a lot of energy for me to hate everything all day and then yell at myself for hating everything all day. Exhausting. But if I could stay awake at night I would go look at the stars. Everyone says how wonderful they are – more stars than they’ve ever seen before. I am so angry at myself for having missed it so many nights, but I can’t leave the cabin with Mulan asleep. We don’t have a view – well we have an obstructed view – there’s a life boat just outside our window – next time we’ll splurge for a balcony – wait what am I saying, next time? I suppose I could convince Mulan to go with me to the deck – sleep outside perhaps? Maybe I will try it tonight.
Today, right now, we are at Cozumel. It’s our last stop. Then two more days and we are back in Galvaston.
I won’t leave the ship again. I did for two outings, one in a place called Playa Maya and then in Belize. It was miserable. It took over a 90 minutes just to disembark the ship – there are two thousand six hundred passengers. We had signed up for tours and after getting off the boat we went into groups and stood in line for another hour before getting on busses and driving for another hour. In Playa Maya – a completely made up city by the way, in the last three years, by developers who cater to the cruising industry, I went to the ruins of Checkaban. I went alone, Mulan didn’t want to see it. Good thing too, the bus ride was long and there were no other children on the tour. Along the way there were lots of signs for the housing developments that they are building along the coast. The signs have pictures of kidney shaped swimming pools and women floating – blonde, white, American women of European descent. Clearly they are trying to woo more than the cruise ships here.
The ruins were moving to look at. I couldn’t help but think that their lost culture was so much more sophisticated than ours as we stood there looking at the pyramids overgrown and beautiful, us in our culottes and big t-shirts and pink sweaty faces and floppy hats, mouths agape, coca cola in hand, taking pictures of each other before we heard the guide even explain what we were looking at.
In Belize we signed up for a bird sanctuary tour. The guide kept making the most awful jokes, it was excruciating. “We have the biggest stork here, do you Belize me?” Ha ha ha ha ha. The “sanctuary” took two hours to get to and was swampy and hot and with lots of little sad houses here and there, garbage strewn along the streets, old closed up stores, and rusting ancient cars…and hardly any birds. My aunt Bonnie and I and Mulan stayed on the bus with a few others while the larger group trampled around and all looked at this and that bird who was always flying away and out of site and unremarkable and depressing.
I realized something too, I buy things to just make people stop selling them to me. This is a new insight into myself. I realized it here on this ship. In one of the “nice” dining rooms the waiter kept trying to get me to buy this box of three bottles of wine that they were selling for passengers to take home. He kept telling me what an amazing value it was. It cost something like $140.00 I have no idea if it’s a good value or not. It could be lime vodka in the bottles for all I know. But I find it so deeply uncomfortable, people trying to sell me things. I am embarrassed for them – like I’m seeing them naked, like I’m looking at their dirty underwear or something and I just want them to stop it. And so I buy the damn thing they are selling to me, just to make them go away. I am sure I have spent thousands of dollars on things this way. So, I bought the wine.
Last night, without planning it, several of the members of our party met together in one of the bars. People were drinking and happy and suddenly, without expecting it, I was happy too. I had some Chianti Reserve and potato chips – the only “appetizer” they were serving in the bar. I could feel my cheeks get red and hot and that lovely lilt and my sister in law, Tammy, was being very sincere and sweet and we were talking about how our children all adored each other (the kids were off together in this Kids Club day/night care thing they have). We began to talk about when Tammy got pregnant and before she knew she was having twins. And we had all gone on to a cabin on the beach for my dad’s seventieth birthday. And how Tammy had this enormous appetite. And how my dad teased her about it and bought her this long extending fork because she was eating everything in site. And we were laughing and remembering my dad. And I suddenly was reminded how much my dad loved Tammy. I think he was really proud of his son for marrying Tammy. And then I glanced in the mirror at my gray hair and glasses and had this acute feeling of being so old – that even my father would be struck with how I’ve aged. How un-young I’ve become. And how alone I feel. And then it was almost time to go get the girls and I volunteered to go get them and take them back to my room and wait while the other adults stayed at the bar and continued partying. And part of me thought I was so sad I might die. The ocean beneath us was how sad I was and the only thing that kept me from being engulfed into it was this thin little piece of ship wandering around the Caribbean.
I think I’ll go get on a treadmill now. My brother has taken Mulan into Cozumel with Tammy and the twins. After they left I laid on my bed for hours dozing and thinking and reading a bit here and there. I think people are beginning to drift back onto the ship because I’m seeing those enormous terry-cloth cover ups with appliqués on them and “Cozumel” written out across the front. I always wondered who bought those things and now I know. There are four or five other ships as big as ours in the water right now. Very big destination for the cruise industry. There’s all these fake Christmas trees all over the ship – not that I’m putting down fake Christmas trees, to me it’s the only way to have one. But it’s so incongruous—the spruce’s with the pine cones and just past them the harbor at Cozumel. In Belize, at the bird sanctuary, there were plastic santa clauses nailed onto the roofs of a few of the houses. It was so hot that the Santa’s were melting onto themselves. I wondered if the Santas were made in China, I bet they were. I wanted to find out. I’m not sure why. As if that would mean something.
I can’t stop hearing couples yelling at each other. I walk behind them and they bicker and snort at each other. Not a big advertisement for marriage, this place. Or maybe I’m hyper aware of it, something that makes me feel better about being single. I’m not sure. But it feels like everyone had this euphoria as the trip began: Here we are! Adventurous! Trip-taking! And then… now… four, five days into it, they are reminded that they are in fact married to each other and they hated each other just the same here as they did back home. It’s so hard to be with another person all the time. And yet, it’s all you want to do. I myself get sick of being with Mulan, all I want is some relief, and then when she is gone, I feel blue and empty and I miss her laughing, ringing, ebullient voice. I wish she were with me now, it feels a year since I’ve seen her and it’s only been a few hours. Where is she? Is she going in the ocean?
This morning at breakfast Mulan said that in “real” families people look like each other. Like how the twins look exactly like Tammy. I mean, the twins look precisely, almost freakishly like Tammy. They are identical triplets, only one of them is thirty years older than the other two. It makes you wonder if any spec of Sweeney is even in those girls, these identical replicas of their mother: blonde, full lipped, hazel eyed, long faced little Tammys. And luckily Tammy is gorgeous.
But anyway, Mulan said, “my real family is in China, but I guess they couldn’t take care of me.” I said, “We are your real family. Your real family is the family that raises you. But yes, you have parents in China, biological parents, who couldn’t take care of you.” She said, “But our hair is so different. And our skin is different. And the twins look just like their mom because they came out of their mom’s stomach.” “Yes.” I said. What more can I say to her? She has to deal with her situation. I tell her how loved she is everyday. She knows it too, but still. I think about her biological mother all the time. How beautiful she must be. Was, or is, she sensual the way Mulan is? Hyperactive too? Flexible, laughing, crafty, defiant, loving? What did she do today? Is she even alive? We’ll never know.