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johnnyboatshow
If one were to accurately describe the first month of settling into a ship contract, you’d do worse than to draw comparisons to the TV show M.A.S.H. But not one of the classic episodes, like the time Hawkeye and the Colonel get drunk and had to defend themselves against the North Vietnamese and they were giggling and firing their weapons willy nilly.

It would be more like the B storyline from one of the episodes where somebody has to “requisition” something, and the army makes it difficult, and Hotlips gets in the way so they blackmail her with racy pictures from a hole in the shower, and they have to somehow trick the uptight chaplain into losing at poker, and then they finally think they’ve got everything taken care of, and then some anti-climax happens, like another truckload of wounded soldiers comes in, so they never get to eat the prime ribs, and the episode just ends (except in real life it doesn’t and all they can talk about for weeks is those prime ribs).

A ship is pretty much exactly that, except with fewer witty quips and zero guys wearing dresses.

I’m going through it. I won’t bore you with the details. Basically, the line between “I’m a passenger on the ship” and “I’m a crew member on the ship” and “I have special privileges” and “I have no privileges” is as blurry as ever. And instead of trying to follow the rules and make sure everything makes sense, it’s actually in my best interest to pull tricks. Old high school tricks like “just do it until they tell you to stop instead of asking for permission,” or “do something really bad on purpose so: A. you’ll know how much you can get away with, and B. you can do things that are just regular bad and they won’t seem bad.” They’re dusty, but I was pretty good at them back then, so it’s like a muscle memory thing.

The tough thing is you can’t piss anybody off too much because you have to live with them for four months. That’s a major cramp in my style.

But yeah, like I said before, everything here is human intelligence. Even on the ship. There’s a lot of back scratching and initiative taking. For example I have to build a paper pope hat later this evening and I need to talk the youth counselors into letting me use the kids’ art supplies for free. This will be accomplished through the ancient art of buying drinks and being fun.

I’m basically Hawkeye.

Speaking of human intelligence.

Actually, totally reversing the idea into human idiocy, I’ve had a great crackpot utopian idea rattling around in my head for the last month or so, really, ever since I’ve had time to think about being back on a ship and what that will mean for me on a day-to-day basis in terms of my life being like a bad episode of M.A.S.H. It’s a totally stupid idea, like all utopias, but it’s still fun.

I call it the “Chillocracy.” The idea is that there’s a form of government that rewards the people among it who are least likely to complain. Sort of a reversal of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

This train of thought started because the guest entertainers on the cruise line I’m on have had their status irrevocably changed from crew to passenger due to, I believe, people complaining bitterly about what I think were the wrong things. At least they were the wrong things for me.

Crew members get: access to crew areas, including the crew bar, where beer is a dollar a can and other crew members hang out and then go sleep with each other. Passenger members get: easy access to nice restaurants that you have to pay extra money to get into, access to the passenger gangway, and which you can get off of without waiting in line so long.

So now I’m unable to buy dollar beers in the crew bar where people hang out and then go and sleep with each other because some people really wanted nicer meals and couldn’t wait in line nicely to get off the ship. And it’s all human intelligence anyway, so the fact that these people were denying them nice meals had more to do with them not massaging the system correctly than it had to do with their paper status. But I digress. The point is: I’m slightly bitter about not being able to buy dollar beers and hang out with people who want to go sleep with each other. There’s nothing I can really do about it, except massage the system back to the point where it works for me, but yeah. That’s how I see it. Some people put up a fuss over a set of priorities that’s different from my own, and now my life is more difficult because of it.

So. The Chillocracy. The Chillocracy is great because of how impractical it is. How it works (or doesn’t work) is, every person is allowed one official complaint for their entire lives. Only one. That’s it. And you go down to the official complaint office and you lodge your official complaint. That way you wouldn’t use it lightly. If you want to think of it in more positive terms, think of it as an “improvement.”

Then the contract you have with the other people in the Chillocracy is that everybody must honor your complaint/improvement. So there’s like a grace period of evaluation where smart people figure out if it’s practical or if it’s just contradictory or self-serving (like “My complaint is I’m not the king of everything forever” wouldn’t be allowed). If it doesn’t pass this test, you get it back.

If it passes, these smart people would figure out how to best enact your complaint/improvement. I don’t know where we get these smart people exactly (there’s one Achilles heel-level problem among many). Then your improvement is set into action, and there’s like another grace period where you see how well it works before somebody can suggest improvements to it. Also if you live your whole life without using your complaint, you get sainted or something.

Of course this whole thing is stupid. It has to be. It’s a utopian idea based on the word “chill,” for cryin’ out shit. But these are the sort of thoughts I have when I can’t drink dollar beers in the crew bar where people hang out and then sleep with each other all because, as I see it, some whiners wanted to eat steak dinners whenever they wanted and then get off the ship before 11:00am. Of course I’m probably wrong about all this, but the status change thing smacks of the type of rule change where somebody did something stupid and messed everything up for everybody. Like how there are no “pump first, then pay” gas stations anymore.

Anyway, I’m glad I thought of the Chillocracy, and I will duly file it away in the section of my brain that’s marked “stupid ideas I had once which I foolishly wrote down somewhere so I can be embarrassed about them later.”

And that is that, right?

Not quite. For there are little shining examples all across the globe of Chillocracy in action. The larger ideal of Chillocracy. The idea that going with the flow has its benefits.

I was in Portugal yesterday, walking around with a large group of people from the ship. Walking around in a strange place with a group of people larger than 4 is a huge mistake, by the way. It’s the pits. Nobody gets to spend enough time doing or seeing the things they like and everybody spends too much time doing and seeing things they think are dumb. One of the things somebody else in our group did that I thought was WAY dumb was taking pictures of picturesque beggars.

I’m not sure I can accurately count the number of levels on which I find this act reprehensible. First of all, and I know it sounds snooty to say, but it’s gauche. It just is. Especially since she didn’t drop the guys a few coins. It’s also offensive on an aesthetic level. Those snapshots are going to look like shit. No doubt about it. Pictures of Portuguese beggars fall roundly in the “touristy pap” category of modern photography. There are also the thorny ethical implications of cultural imperialism to consider.

Personally, the worst aspect of beggar snapshots in a foreign country is it triggers the idea of travel as huge inconvenience. I get this from my father. It’s a bummer to go all the way to Portugal and have some country rube in your party snapping away at Portuguese beggars in a way that reminds you all at once that there are beggars at home in Chicago that are no more or less picturesque than these guys. Especially if you’re not sure how you feel about being on this whole trip in the first place.

But it’s also none too street smart to draw attention to yourself in that way. If bums on the avenue are worthy of a digital picture, then you’re going to be taken by surprise by a number of other more dangerous commonplace urban phenomena.

So yeah, taking those pictures was a bad move.

Ah, foreshadowing.

So that lady got pickpocketed later on the tram. Big time. Portuguese pickpockets don’t fuck around. They’re good. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. Of course this lady isn’t my worst enemy. I’d like to think my worst enemy would be a less easy mark than a folksy lounge singer on a cruise ship who warbles blue-eyed falsetto Leadbelly covers and takes snapshots of a street bum’s deformed feet. Those are certainly enemylike qualities, though. I just hope my worst enemy would fit a little further into the “fiendishly clever” category than that.

Nevertheless, they got her. They nailed her. Clean and efficient and mean. Bumped her ass so she got distracted and offended and while she wasn’t looking unzipped her bag, took just her wallet, and then zipped her bag back up so she was none the wiser.

She’ll be fine. She had to cancel a couple of credit cards and she lost a good chunk of cash, but at least she didn’t lose her passport. And next time she will maybe be less likely to walk around taking pictures of bums with huge chunks of cash on her person. Who knows how early these pickpockets spotted her. They certainly got a good enough haul out of it. This was an awfully harsh way to learn the essential lesson of Chillocracy, but with luck it will sink in.

Chillocracy, people. It’s out there. Secretly. Oozing from the cracks in the streets. The gritty, gritty, picturesque streets full of Portuguese bums.
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Now I’ve had a spin through Merry Olde England. Two days in Dover with a brief trip to London included.

England is a funny place. In some ways it’s actually more foreign than Netherlands because everything’s supposed to be in English. So everything’s supposed to be easy. But it’s not. It’s weird. If you don’t think it’s weird, go to a train station somewhere in Britain and try figure out what the hell is going on. You won’t be able to.

The only way you will ever be able to figure out what’s going on in a public place in England is to ask somebody. This is why they still have manners over here. Because if they didn’t, everybody would just wander around all day with huge headaches and sore legs. Of course that wouldn’t work, so instead they’re helpful and friendly in exchange for charging you like a fifty cents to use the toilet.

I was in the train station in London trying to figure out when I should get back to board for my return trip back to Dover, and I thought I’d stumbled upon a train schedule pamphlet. But it was all weird looking and I couldn’t decipher it. It was in English, but I couldn’t decipher it. So I had to ask the guy, and he told me that I had the wrong schedule even though the pamphlet I was holding said “Schedule of Trains from London to Dover” on it. Then the guy proceeded to tell me the exact information I needed to hear in a way that made it clear that he knew the whole train schedule from memory and was a very intelligent and helpful person in his mid-forties who for some reason worked at the information kiosk in a train station in London.

Everything over here is that counterintuitive. They don’t have lawsuits and they do have health care over here, so there’s still this quaint notion of “common sense” in the way things work. Like they have smart people working at information kiosks for their entire lives because that’s a good enough job to support a person. Weird. And they have bar fights if somebody does something stupid, and there’s no lawsuits or arrests, they just go to the hospital and get the glass out of their faces for free, and then go home and laugh about it and go to work in the morning. It’s all “human intelligence” over here because the logistics are already taken care of.

This was a bit of a problem for me, because England made me clam up. I don’t know why. I guess part of me was afraid that if I opened my mouth and exposed my Yankee accent then everybody would point at me and shriek like a body snatcher. Nobody did that, but that doesn’t mean anything. I was just probably not in a body snatcher section of England. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I did. England, especially London, was oddly intimidating to me. I found myself using gestures instead of words whenever possible.

I think this was probably because everybody in England is fairly well mannered. I didn’t want to offend anybody or look like some sort of ridiculous rube. Like the “can you please pass the jelly?” guy in the Polaner All Fruit commercial.

This was also complicated in those charming situations where proper English decorum calls for a bar fight or a “sod off, you bloody tosser!” Sometimes that’s what they want you to say. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Sometimes they get right in your face and dare you to tell them off, and then when you do, they get really happy and laugh and buy you a pint. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

But, that’s not me really either. First of all, my voice sounds nasal and American, and if I said “sod off, you bloody tosser” to some “bloke” “down the pub,” he’d probably laugh in my face and then still beat the crap out of me for being American. And I wouldn’t get a pint out of it. I don’t know. Do they do that? I don’t know.

But I did go to a late night bar in Dover, which is roughly the English equivalent of Jacksonville, Florida. And like a late night bar in Jacksonville, I felt pretty uncomfortable. I set up a table for my friend and I, and it was usurped by some drunk girls and their gigantic grim looking British bulldog boyfriends. No questions asked. Just “plop” here’s our stuff and what are you gonna do about it, Mr. StrangerInAStrageLand? I would’ve said “Excuse me” back home, but here I thought it’d be a bad idea.

You see what I mean? The bars here are legitimately chippy. They operate under a different code.

For example.

I was in London a couple of days ago, just hanging out. I thought it’d be a good idea to go to an “authentic” London pub and grab myself a pint before I had to get back on the train. So I went to a fairly nondescript pub. It turned out to be a gay pub. The façade didn’t have any particularly gay markings on it, but it was a gay pub. There were gay men there talking about gay things and looking at gay magazines with naked dudes in there posing seductively. A gay pub. So I had a gay pint and settled up my tab to move on.

And then I went to the bathroom. One of those trough jobs. An older gent settled in next to me. And I got the strangest sensation that he was leering at my penis and maybe even touching his own. There was just a lot of activity in my peripheral vision. So I checked the reflection in the bathroom mirror, and sure enough, here was an old British gent giving his willy a tug. While looking at my willy.

(I don’t know what to call this act, by the way. There’s no verb for it. The best I can come up with is “molested by proxy.”)

Now here’s where England really started to intimidate me. Because the first thing I could think of was “what’s the proper English decorum for this situation?” At first I thought “Oh, I bet I could punch him in the throat or smash a bottle on his head or something.” But then it was maybe my fault for going to a gay pub in the first place. Maybe I had sent some elaborate English sign language signal for “please please follow me to the bathroom and leer indiscriminately at my penis as I urinate because we will both enjoy that oh so much.” I don’t know. Maybe I was in the wrong. It didn’t feel like it, but there was a chance.

I decided to finish up and then wash my hands as if nothing had happened. He followed me to the sink. I have never in my life made less eye contact with another human being.

He left. I left. And we walked our separate ways. I hope I did the right thing. I hope he didn’t know I was American. Boy. That would have been embarrassing for me.

I’m telling you. This country is intimidating.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/48406872@N00/1514095296/
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Well. I’m on a ship again. There’s no doubt about that.

This is quite a prank I’ve played on myself. Like a legendary one.

In general, though, I like pranks. And I love self-pranks. My all time favorite self-prank is the old “got really drunk and took off my clothes and passed out naked so that when I wake up I’m naked and I don’t remember how I got that way.” But I’m also enjoying the scale of “signing myself up for 4 months of living on a cruise ship while my mind was on other things and then later I actually have to do it.”

It really hit me how funny of a thing to do this is when I first got off of the gangway and saw the cartoon hull and overpriced gimcracks in the shop window. A sudden overwhelming feeling of “Oh my God, it’s this!” like a punch in the face.

It’s not all bad, of course. I mean, the ship I’m on now is pretty much exactly the same as the last one I was on, so there’s an easy familiarity to it that I appreciate. Plus there are a lot of crew friendly crew members here. It’s nice.

Also I’m in Rotterdam right now. Rotterdam, Netherlands. You know, in Europe. If for some reason I wanted to go to Rotterdam, Netherlands under the auspices of my regular real life that I really live for real, it would cost me thousands of dollars. I probably wouldn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to go to Rotterdam, Netherlands, but yeah, I’m here now and I didn’t pay a dime to get here. So that’s nice. It’s nice. It’s cloudy and Dutch and nice.

I can’t say exactly what I expect from the experience of traveling in Europe. I don’t know. I do know, though, that a tiny little immature corner of my brain expected me to be completely and instantly transformed. Like how you’d pause for extra consideration when looking in the bathroom mirror after losing your virginity and be slightly disappointed that you didn’t look any different.

The Dutch countryside is basically Indiana but with more sheep and an occasional swan in the fields that will be almost as big as a sheep. And Rotterdam, as far as I can tell, is Pittsburgh but with more adventurous architecture. I think Europeans like adventurous architecture because it matches their weird pants that have too many things on them.

Other than that, the only difference between the Netherlands and America is that things here have funny names with a lot of O’s in them. Like “Turd Roosterhoogeshooven” will be on a sign. And also there’s porn DVDs for sale at the gas station and weird Pringles flavors like “Paprika.” But it’s basically the same except for stuff like that.

Another thing that’s weird about the Netherlands is that there are former U.S. Presidents all over the place. I decided impulsively to get off the ship and see what Rotterdam was like for a moment, and right as I crossed the street there was Bill Clinton. So I shook his hand and decided to get right back on the ship because, you know, I only like to get off the ship to shake a U.S. President’s hand.

Then I went to the video arcade, where the games are free because the ship is full of Dutch VIP travel agents, and Dutch VIP travel agents HATE paying for video games. I got almost to the end of Target Terror, the game where you shoot terrorists and some of them are your friends, like really people that you know are in the video game dressed as terrorists because they made the game in Chicago and your friends do things like that (if you’re me), but then a Dutch VIP travel agent came in a ruined everything on the last level. I wanted to tell him “hey, get lost, I’ve been shooting my friends for an hour and a half now and my finger is sore and I just want to stop my friends dressed as terrorists from hijacking this plane and you’re ruining it,” but I don’t speak Dutch and he’s a VIP travel agent. so I should probably be nice to him.

It’s what Bill Clinton would have wanted. Diplomacy first.

Man. Let me tell you. It is weird to shake a President’s hand. The weirdest thing about it was right before I went down to get off the ship I was watching Forrest Gump. And Forrest Gump is constantly shaking Presidents’ hands in that movie. So when I shook Bill Clinton’s hand I felt like Forrest Gump. I kept waiting for his mouth to move all weird like CGI was making him say something that he never said, like “I do believe he said he had to go pee.” But he didn’t say anything. He was just thin and a lot shorter than you’d think.

The Dutch people all around there were pretty excited. I heard one guy say to his wife, “bleechin au warte BILL CLINTON! koogen foom.” So I guess he’s a big deal here too.

So, yeah, you know, no biggie. Ship life. Buffet dining and U.S. Presidents. It’s fine. But man, yeah, I’m a legend. Agreeing to another ship contract and then shaking Bill Clinton’s hand. Hoo boy. Good one, me. I am the living end.
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I'm going back on another ship.

I didn't think I would ever, but the money is so good. Toward the tail end of my time on the Pearl I got sort of mired in the "this ain't so bad"s that come when people are close to completing something long and unpleasant and they need to convince themselves that they can handle the last little bit. So while I was still in that mindframe I decided I could do another one. And then I made myself available for another one once I got off. And then I confirmed it. This is also around the time I looked at my bank account and realized that the Second City money was gone from just over two weeks of real life living and I didn't have a lot of jobs lined up and I was all of a sudden surviving on canned pasta from the sale rack.

Truth be told, it's been a weird Summer.

You walk around in your life, living your life, and you don't think about all of the complicated systems of governance that have converged to make your life into your life. If you think in these terms, it soon becomes clear that you've been inadvertantly working your ass off since birth to maintain some degree of financial and social and emotional and spiritual and philosophical stability. Just something as simple as taking a quick trip to the grocery store, humming a catchy song in your head, while on your way to a friend's barbeque is essentially the result of years and years of dedicated practice at being yourself in the place you are. You don't think about it. But you have this life where there are barbeques and grocery stores that you casually go to because you know where they are because you've lived your life the way you have and that involves knowing things like what tunes are ctachy and where grocery stores are and how much time it takes to get to Alex's house for a barbeque.

It has taken you a lot of very intensive you-being to get to the point where you are right now where you are you and you have this live of yours.

Well a ship is totally different. Ship life is not real. Everything you do there is almost completely devoid of context. A normal interaction on a ship bears only a sort of carbon-copy resembalnce to the same sort of interaction in your real life. Like all the guideposts of how to conduct yourself are there, but the actual territory that's being negotiated is completely alien. It's like taking a driver's test on Mars instead of, say, just driving somewhere.

So when you're gone on a ship for a while it's like you're sucked into a black hole of time where all the work you can possibly do doesn't really have any direct bearing on how your life ends up. Because that life isn't real. And then you get back and this life you've worked on where you do things like go to the drugstore to pick up a toothbrush before coming home from work, and there's a four month hiccup in there where you haven't been doing anything even remotely like that.

It's bizarre. Like you will walk down the street and think, "This is my life, why do I feel like I have to work extra hard at it all of a sudden?" And you realize it's because you've been working on turning your life into your life forever, and you just took a four month break on a crazy planet of nothing where no rules apply. So you have to reinsinuate yourself into your own life. It seems like that should be easier than it is, but, you know, people are busy, and old shoe stores close to make way for a new Walgreens, and life moves forward whether you're there for it or not.

So that's been my summer. I came back from the ship to find that some of my friendships had made a sort of permanent shift in the matched timing of two people's lives that often amounts to a friendship, and I had to look elsewhere. I found new people to hang out with, too, which was great, but also sort of confusing in that typical way of, "Wait, where the hell am I?" It's been strange to walk around and feel a thin guaze between me and everything that used to be so familiar. Sort of makes you reevaluate things.

Anyway, I was in a sort of miasma about all of these thoughts for a while when I signed up for this next ship. And then, all of a sudden, after I had agreed to it, things started going really well in my life. My real life. I was on a roll on the money front, started up a poorly timed new relationship that's been fantastic, you name it. I've gotten to the point where I don't want to leave anymore because the guaze is gone and I'm excited about my real life more than I had been before I even got on the first ship.

Too late now, though. I'm leaving today for Amsterdam and four more months of ship life.

Oh yeah. So this new ship. I'll be in Europe for two months, and then it'll cross the Atlantic and be based out of New York for winter runs in the Caribbean. I'm talking myself into being excited because: A. I've never been to Europe before and I can't wait to go and then come back all affected and pretentious and chime in on strangers' conversations when they're talking about things in Europe with a hearty, "I've been there!" And also, fingers crossed, in this scenario I'll be wearing a cloak; B. I'm going to have my own room the whole time; C. I'm not going to be in Miami, evereverever; D. I have more than one actual creative project to work on that will be more involved than "make a mix CD"; E. I know now what I know now, and I get to go back and use that knowledge, like when you have that dream when you're back in high school but finally it's not a nightmare because you're not worried about your SATs or anything and you're just relaxing and enjoying the ride.

So now that I know I've got no choice but to do this, and now that I've said my goodbyes and packed up my stuff, I have no practical choice but to have a good attitude about this whole "going away on a nother ship" thing, regardless of how much I actually have a pretty bad attitude about it. Oh well. I have nobody to blame but myself, and, you know, fuck it, I've got a ticket to Amsterdam with my name on it that somebody else paid for and I'm going to be in Holland in less than 24 hours because that's my life. That's pretty great.

It's time to get excited and to do things in foreign lands and to write meandering blog entries about how weird everything is.

Let's get down to it.
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Hello, friend! Well, since I’ve been blogging in this space as one of my few means of contact with the outside world from the ship, I thought I’d post info here about the Caribbean music mix I’m going to give to everybody. If I haven’t given you a copy and you feel like you should get one, then you’re probably right. Let me know.

Hopefully I’ll be giving out so many copies of this thing that it’ll be cost prohibitive and overly time consuming to print out a track listing and fun little album art with a picture of a big fat topless lady sunbathing on it. So I figured I’d use the magical unlimited space of the internet to print out not just the track list, but also a sort of personal liner note diary explanation thing for each of the tracks, for those interested in music and/or me.

I can also email a version that has album artwork if you want.

So here goes.

I hope you enjoy.


TRACK LISTING:

1. When A Man Is Poor – Lord Kitchener
2. Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Draytons Two
3. Tears On My Pillow – Rudy Mills
4. Give & Take Some – The Organization
5. Behold I Come – Culture
6. Who No Like Me – Sensi Man
7. Akwaaba – Osibisa
8. Old Lady Walk A Mile & A Half – Lord Kitchener
9. I Wrote A Simple Song – Lord Radio & The Bimshire Boys
10. So Long Babylon A Fool I (And I) - Culture
11. My Queen – Errol Dunkley (w/ Junior English)
12. You Can Have It All – Flatbush
13. Darker Shade of Black – Jackie Mittoo
14. Siempre Estoy Pensado En Ella – Leo Dan
15. Been So Long – Derrick Harriott
16. Unwilling Baby Mother – Jah Thomas
17. I Don’t Want To Have To Wait – The Draytons Two
18. Ain’t No Sunshine – Boris Gardiner
19. Fly Me To The Moon – Jackie Opel
20. The Lord’s Prayer – Joseph Niles & The Consolers
21. Dub On My Pillow – The Aggrovators

TRACK EXPLANATION THINGY:

When A Man Is Poor – Lord Kitchener

When you’re in the Caribbean, it’s kind of hard to ignore that pretty much everywhere you go people are poor. It’s especially hard to ignore when you’re traveling via gigantic floating luxury palace. A modern cruise ship is a completely extraneous expenditure. But it does serve the purpose of unloading millions of people’s dollars into the hands of local merchants in each of the ports. I don’t know much about the economies of the places I’ve visited, but I know what poverty looks like, at least, and in most cases it’s pretty obvious. Not to be a bummer here. It’s just the first thing you notice.

Later on you notice that even though people are poor in most of these places, they seem to get along with each other pretty easily. People are friendly. There is rarely a heavy police presence. I guess there are worse places in the world to be poor than in the Caribbean. I don’t know. I wasn’t at any of these places at night.

Anyway, this song ends with the oddly upbeat idea that you can’t really do too much about it if you’re poor because there always have to be poor people. Sort of a weird way to cheer yourself up, but I think it’s fairly consistent with the way things are in the Caribbean. Like when I displaced a small family from a minivan (I don’t think they were living in it, that’s just where they were at the time) to use it as a cab, and then apologized profusely and offered to share the van, and the cab driver just said “hey, it’s no big deal, that’s the way things are here.” I’m paraphrasing. Anyway, yeah, that’s just the way things are.

Oh, and in terms of the music, Lord Kitchener is a Trinidadian Calypsonian. Calypso was some of the first Caribbean music to be recorded. It was big in the 50’s and early 60’s in the states, along with Cuban Mambo and Brazilian Bossa Nova, with the crooner and nightclub set. Think Tito Puente and Desi Arnaz and “The Girl From Ipa Nima” and Harry Belafonte.


Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Draytons Two

See what I did there? It’s tough “When A Man Is Poor,” but you “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down.” Huh? Self high five.

This song is from The Draytons Two album “Raw Spouge.” The album title made me laugh out loud, and the cover is these two guys in matching suits and afros and sideburns standing in front of a cannon. I knew I should just immediately buy it based on past mistakes and dead ends asking befuddled shopkeepers about music (kind of the wrong move in the Caribbean – not necessarily because nobody knows anything about their country’s musical heritage, although I’ve suspected that a couple of times with younger vendors – because the Caribbean style of salesmanship is based on the idea of “just make sure to get the white guy’s money because you’ll never see him again” more than “carefully evaluate the customers needs and make sure this white guy gets what he’s looking for”). So I saw matching suits and afros and sideburns and a cannon and I thought “this is from the 70’s, now we’re getting somewhere,” and bought it without asking anybody anything about it.

I looked it up on wikipedia later, and it turns out “Spouge” is a form of music native to Barbados, which combines reggae, calypso, ska, and soul. Basically, “Spouge” refers to the singularly insistent cowbell beat. It was big in the Caribbean in the 70’s, but sort of failed to develop past that one beat, and didn’t survive past the introduction of digital music in the early 80’s. I’ll probably talk about the “digital revolution” later. I have theories about this. It’s very likely that they’re boring, but I didn’t have a lot of things to think about on the ship, so you’re getting an earful.


Tears On My Pillow – Rudy Mills

Not everything I got when I was out there was sight unseen. Like I knew a little bit about Caribbean music before I went on this trip. A very tiny bit. Like five guys that aren’t Bob Marley, basically.

But I did know about the existence of this song.

A few roommates ago I had the pleasure of uploading somebody else’s copy of the Trojan Dub Box Set to my iTunes. I’d recommend it highly. I’ll probably talk about dub more later, but it’s basically a weird minimalist DJ-style augmentation of reggae I can’t describe it any better than that until you hear some. But anyway, there’s a dub version of “Tears On My Pillow” on that box set that I was familiar with before I even set foot on the ship. I put it at the end of this thing as a “bonus.” I was excited to hear the original “Tears On My Pillow” song that got versioned (that’s what they call it – version the verb) on the dub set.

“Tears On My Pillow” is an old doo wop number, but here it’s been reggaefied. There are a lot of covers on this mix, you’ll notice. That’s because a lot of early reggae drew on doo wop and later soul as source material. This is before the “roots” movement of reggae that made most reggae sound like the reggae you think of when you think of reggae (Bob Marley). Basically, after years of killing themselves to sound like a Caribbean version of Smokey Robinson, everybody said “screw it, let’s just sound like us” and roots reggae was born.

But I like Smokey Robinson. Like, a lot.


Give & Take Some – The Organization

Ok, this is just a great soul song from a group out of Barbados. The Organization were a Spouge group with jazz and soul leanings that took them further afield than the typical Spouge beat. I don’t know if this is a cover or not, but it’s good.

Sorry, by the way, that there are so many sad songs on this thing. I guess sad songs work out better for my ear with the upbeat Caribbean style than a lot of the “fun is fun” type of stuff that’s popular at parties in the Caribbean now. I promise I wasn’t super sad the whole time on the ship.

Oddly enough, I listened to this song a lot in the last month of my contract. Sort of a “breaking up with the ship life” kind of thing.


Behold I Come – Culture

So another big breakthrough on the quest for music happened when I found Corporal Mantana’s reggae shop in St. John’s, Antigua. Corporal Mantana is this smiley rasta dude with dreadlocks so long they drag on the ground even after he tucks them into the back of his belt. He’s basically never cut his hair before in his life. Which sounds pretty gross, in fact it is pretty gross, but you can’t really get mad at the guy over it because he used to do production for reggae bands in Kingston in the late 80’s before everything “got too commercial.” And he owns a reggae shop in Antigua. And he’s really nice. Plus most of the time he keeps his dreads locked up in a big black cloth thing that’s the size of a small exercise ball, which makes him look sort of like a giant life-sized comma.

Anyway, when I walked into his shop I noticed two things: one, life-sized comma, and two, he has actual records on vinyl. He was the only person I met who had vinyl for sale. So I knew he was the real deal and would be a good guy to talk to about what I was looking for. He played “Behold I Come,” which is the first track from Culture’s second album “Baldhead Bridge,” and I thought I was going to overdose on good.

I hadn’t heard of Culture before, but they’re absolute giants in the reggae world.

I started out this whole music quest thing with the idea that I’d only get music that was recorded on the islands I was visiting, by artists from the islands I was visiting, and that would not be available in any form in the states or over the internet. I would have been fine with this if the ship had stopped in Kingston, Jamaica. But it didn’t. So my standards relaxed quickly from “strictly local only” to “stuff I couldn’t get in the states” to “stuff I wouldn’t think to get in the states” to “whatever’s good.” Just because most of the places I visited didn’t have the resources to record music until recently.

For example, the oldest possible music you can get (and it’s so rare you might as well be hunting a ghost) that was recorded in St. Lucia is Calypso from like 1987. And it’s probably crappy anyway. That’s sort of a common thread with rare and collectible music. There are a few diamonds in the rough, but in general the rarest stuff is rare for a reason, and if it’s good enough for somebody to reissue it, somebody will.

Anyway, Culture was sort of my first “cheater” record where they’re not from anywhere I visited, they’re not rare, and you can definitely get their records off the internet and probably even at some stores in the states – for instance Reckless Records in Wicker Park, who bought my copy. But it’s not technically cheating if I’m playing my own game, right? Right?

Don’t judge me.


Who No Like Me – Sensi Man

This is by far the most successful result of the “strict rules” phase of music hunting. It’s also the very first CD I purchased, from a street vendor in Antigua. I blame it for giving me false confidence that getting great music would be the easiest thing in the world if I just asked “what’s good?” Sensi Man owes me like 50 bucks.

This song is as close as I’m going to get on this compilation to dancehall reggae, which is the current most popular variety in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. It’s basically hip hop with a reggae based beat and crazy lyrics about hacking at enemies with machetes and girls shaking their asses and stuff. At least that’s what the rawer stuff sounds like. You’ve probably heard the more popular Dancehall tracks in the states, like Sean Paul and that sort of thing.

Anyway, Sensi Man definitely fits into the “rawer” category. I don’t know exactly what the current Antiguan slang means, but I get legitimately flustered when somebody feels the need to tell me they’re going to “peel boy’s skin.” I mean, that’s probably not “buy my friends a delicious milkshake.”

I can also say that this track, sort of a dubbed out dancehall, doesn’t sound like anything else I heard in the four months I was on the ship.


Akwaaba – Osibisa

This is the cheatingest of the cheater records. I bought it online after reading about Antiguan musicians. Osibisa was a sort of afro-funk group in the 70’s based out of London and led by a Ghanaian. But they did have an authentically Antiguan guitar player. So I bought it.

The official line on Osibisa is that it was afrobeat funk with a “Caribbean” flavor to it. You can hear that pretty well on this track (it’s in the horn section).

A lot of things I’ve read about Caribbean music talk about the ever-present “African rhythm” influence, which to me always sounds slightly racist for some reason. I mean, can’t we just accept the fact that there is not a single significant form of popular music today that’s not based on “African rhythm?” If it weren’t for the slaves, the only music available would be Celtic folk, which is gross. Caribbean music is no more “African rhythm” based than hip-hop, rock n’ roll, jazz, blues, and soul. Calling Caribbean music “African rhythm based” is like saying that people in the Caribbean are “extra black.”

But yeah, this track is from an afrobeat funk band led by a Ghanaian, so it’s African rhythm based.


Old Lady Walk A Mile & A Half – Lord Kitchener

There are plenty of old ladies in the Caribbean who are walking a mile and a half right now. If they’re anything like me, they’re hot and their balls are sweaty.

You might notice that this is the second Lord Kitchener song on this mix, and you might think “poor mix form.” And to that I say, “go to hell, rules!”


I Wrote A Simple Song – Lord Radio & The Bimshire Boys

So here’s a jaunty little spouge tune that I prefer to think of as a protest song about what’s happened to Caribbean music since everything went digital in the 80’s.

Basically, digital synthesizers are a lot cheaper and easier to deal with than real instruments. So Caribbean music is now almost totally digital. You know, because of the general poorness of the region. If you’re a Caribbean musician and you want a real horn section, you’re going to have to move away from home. Otherwise your songs will be accompanied by the crappiest sound in the history of music: synthesized horn-like sounds. And your beats will be sped up past the point of human possibility and recycled over and over again through the same drum machine. It’s not pretty.

And it’s all over the place. Like for example I looked up the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, which is apparently like the fourth largest Jazz festival in the world, and all of the artists were these digital era “Smooth Jazz” guys with overproduced electrical instruments and stuff. And one of them, I’m not kidding, was Malcolm Jamal Warner (Theo from the Cosby Show), who apparently plays bass and has his own Smooth Jazz backing band. Learning this news made me barf laughter.

So yeah, you could say I have a bit of a bone to pick with the digital music revolution’s effects in the Caribbean. There’s a reason “digital soul” is not a commonly referenced musical genre.

There is of course good Caribbean digital music, and I would have put some on this compilation if I found some. But I didn’t. Oh well.


So Long Babylon A Fool I (And I) – Culture

What’s that? Don’t put an eight minute field song on your mix? Go to hell!


My Queen – Errol Dunkley (with Junior English)

Apparently the evolution of reggae music went like this: ska, rocksteady, reggae, splintering into roots, DJ/dub, dancehall, spouge, etc. I’m not exactly sure what rocksteady was, though I have a hunch that it’s all that Smokey Robinson stuff I was talking about. What I have read for certain is that ska came first, in the early 60’s. I can hear some ska-like sound in “Old Lady walk A Mile & A Half,” so I’ll just assume for the purposes of oversimplifying things and then forgetting about them that ska came from a combination of calypso and “African rhythms.”

I do know for a fact that this song was recorded in 1963 and the guy singing in it is like 14, which is pretty great.


You Can Have It All – Flatbush

Here’s where covers are funny. This is a cover of an old Tommy McCrae song from 1974 that I know primarily as a Yo La Tengo cover from 2000.

So to me it’s like this Bajan (from Barbados) band listened to Yo La Tengo and then went back in time to do a spouge cover of it in the late 70’s. I actually find it strangely alarming.


Darker Shade of Black – Jackie Mittoo

Jackie Mittoo was the bandleader for the house band at Studio One in Kingston, which is, like, way important.

All I know is that the best song on his big “Keyboard King of Studio One” we love this guy retrospective compilation is basically a cover of “Norwegian Wood.”

But I like it better than the real “Norwegian Wood,” so I’ll give the guy a break.

Also he’s dead.


Siempre Estoy Pensado En Ella – Leo Dan

So I didn’t really get off the ship too often in Cozumel, which is a shame because I actually really liked Cozumel, it’s just that our shows were always on Cozumel day and if I had a big day I’d usually end up regretting my very existence by the end of two shows.

It’s funny how my tolerance for a certain amount of daily activity was driven WAY down. Like now I need to take it easy for a couple of hours afterwards if I have to go to the bank or something. It’s traumatic.

I bought this in nearby Playa Del Carmen after puking on a ferryboat based on the “big hair and sideburns” criteria, and I’m glad it worked out. This guy was a big time crooner in Mexico, and I chose this track because it sounds the most like Mexican Serge Gainsbourg of anything else on this album.

Four years of Spanish in High School have yielded an understanding of this song that amounts to “I think it’s about how much he’s thinking about this girl.” Whatever. It’s pretty.


Been So Long – Derrick Harriott

Here’s another one I listened to and though about my friends and family back home. Because is actually has “Been So Long.” Duh.


Unwilling Baby Mother – Jah Thomas

I’m not sure exactly how much leaving babies in places is a social problem in these countries. I’m also not exactly sure what this song is really about. I really hope it’s not about abortions. If it is, then I’m sorry. Please accept my apology in advance. I think the basic message here is “take care of your kids or don’t have kids.” Which I guess I can live with.

I do know for a fact that the background music was produced by King Tubby, who was a kingpin of the dub movement. And it’s catchy. And it’s got the single best album cover of anything I purchased in the Caribbean.


I Don’t Want To Have To Wait – The Draytons Two

I also didn’t want to have to wait until I could get off the ship. Nor did I want to have to wait for Norma Jean McNeverbeenanywhere to figure out what she was looking at (hint: food) before I could get to the cookie section of the buffet. But I did have to.


Ain’t No Sunshine – Boris Gardiner

So this is the only song on here that’s from a CD I bought in Belize. I thought I was going to make amazing discoveries in Belize, and everything would have been incredible. This is based on the Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up reissue compilation from the excellent Numero Group, seen here:

http://www.numerogroup.com/

These are the guys who go to places all over the world and because they’re not living and working on a cruise ship, they can spend time and money tracking down the really rare records that are amazing and very very hard to find. Rather than the “medium hard to find” records I’ve compiled here. They’re the ones who got me into this whole mess in the first place.

I ended up going to this one record store in Belize City a bunch of times, and I kept insisting that they should be able to make me happy by finding me some ultra rare Belizean records from the 70’s. I might as well have asked them if they could please do me a favor and invent cold fusion.

Which is a shame, because I had a pretty sweet deal with them in that I’d let them have any music I bought that they wanted in exchange for giving me free copies of stuff I was interested in. I should have exploited the situation and asked for all of their afro and sideburns records. Instead I only got this one.

It’s pretty perfect, though. It’s hard to cover a song like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” that everybody already loves, and make it your own and even offer some improvements, but Boris Gardiner’s pulling it off, isn’t he?


Fly Me To The Moon – Jackie Opel

Jackie Opel is Barbados’s answer to Sam Cooke. Like he even died tragically in order to prove his “I’m Barbados’s answer to Sam Cooke” point. He’s also credited, largely by himself, although a lot of people who write about this stuff on the internet agree, with inventing what came to be spouge.

So beat that, Sam Cooke.

Also, if you’ll let me indulge my inner rock critic here: this version of “Fly Me To The Moon” makes Sinatra seems like an asshole. I mean, the way Jackie sings it, it’s like he’ll die if he doesn’t get to the moon.


The Lord’s Prayer – Joseph Niles & The Consolers

So this region of the world is very religious. I saw at least as many Christian and Gospel record shops as I did secular ones. And keep in mind, the secular record shops have music in them about “peel boy’s skin.”

Anyway, I liked this Caribbeanified version of the Lord’s Prayer.


BONUS

Dub On My Pillow – The Aggrovators
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So I’ve been absent from blogland recently for what I consider to be a good reason.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had almost nothing but time (what else is new) to think about coming back to Chicago. What I’m going to do. That sort of thing. It’s a common subject of conversation on a ship.

People mention that they’re getting towards the end of their contract, and then somebody asks them what they’re going to do, and then there’s this long reminiscence about things missed, like putting an actual key into a front door, and grocery shopping, and walking at night from place to place, and yelling a cuss word in a bar without that little “don’t offend anybody, remember, these are all clients” voice in your head, and purposefully bumping into somebody a little on the sidewalk because they’re in your way and your late and they’re looking at a Chicago subway system map and they’re oblivious and/or indifferent to the existence of other human beings on the face of the planet and it’s both a little stress relief for you and a valuable life lesson for them, or so at least you’ll convince yourself. There are a lot of little nostalgic talks about things like those. It’s like jail that way.

But I mean I’ve also had time to think about what exactly will happen to me in the first couple of days I’ll be back. Places I’ll go to eat. People I’ll see. The manner in which I’ll do things. And I’ve decided that I want my arrival back in Chicago to be a surprise, like a reverse surprise birthday party, where you somehow gather all of your friends together in one place without them getting suspicious, and then pop out and say “Surprise! It’s my birthday! That’s why you’re here!”

Well I didn’t want to post a blog entry because I didn’t want some wisenheimer to figure out when and where exactly I’d return. I know that most of you reading this are wisenheimers. So if you’re a wisenheimer that loves decoding mysteries and figuring things out, like what’s going to happen in the next Harry Potter book (hint: record sales and like 48 hours you’ll never get back), then I beg you to keep your theories and opinions to yourself in favor of my return being an actual surprise. This is all I’ve had to think about for the last couple of weeks, and wisenheimering it into a semi-surprise that everybody’s in on in order to humor me is totally lame. You’re basically a prison snitch if you tell somebody. Basically.

But the problem is thinking about this stuff doesn’t take up quite enough time, and I’ve actually wanted to post a blog entry for a while now.

I remember posting about Andy’s leaving and about Martin Garcia coming on to replace him, but not talking much about Martin. In fact, he wasn’t on yet at the time of my last post. Well, he’s on now. And he’s over it. This is his third ship contract and three thousandth show, and he’s not having any trouble blending in with a bunch of cooped up actors who are tired and heading towards the ends of their contracts. Let me tell you. In fact, he’s so “fuck it” it’s actually refreshing. In the words of .38 Special, he’s “Hold[ing] On Loosely.” Very loosely.

It’s good for me, because everybody else in the group has worked with him already and they kind of know the drill with Martin, and he’s almost (holding fingers about as far apart as they can go) as likely as I am to yell cuss words in a bar and bump into people on purpose. So the scrutiny I was feeling on that front has relaxed a little, because Martin’s having been around the block and being comfortable with it is putting everybody at ease. In some ways it’s like having Andy back.

Also he sleeps later than I do, which I didn’t think would have been possible, but it is. I guess after three ships, you no longer fight The Laziness. You just sort of merge with it and become one. I’ve spent my fair share of time in that state. Not blogging. And it’s fine. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Getting toward the end of things now, I’m having some “better do the things I put off until now” activities to keep myself busy. I’ve been just sitting in the sun so I’d look tan when I came back, for instance. (I left the tense of that last sentence confusing on purpose, by the way. Because maybe I’m already back—mystery!)

A few days back I took a trip with Jen and Larrance to a snorkel beach in St. Lucia they’d recommended. I think I’m just not as big on snorkeling as them, which is fine, and a good thing to know about myself. I’m more of a lie around in the sun and do nothing and swim and then and not spend a whole lot of money on it type of beach guy. They’re snorkel addicts. I thought I’d go and check out their snorkel beach, which to be fair was quite idyllic, and it was a scenic hour’s cab drive away from the dock.

Anyway, along the ride through rural St. Lucia, there are all manner of roadside merchants vying for attention and money. One of whom is a guy who found a large snake in the rainforest and will put it on you and charge you money for a picture with it. I had heard of my castmates having had a run in with one of these snake guys, so I thought I was prepared for it. When you’re in a cab, though, driving up a mountain road, all you see is what appears to be a crazy man in ragged clothes in the middle of the road screaming gibberish and brandishing a gigantic boa and machete. It’s an alarming sight. What made it particularly enjoyable was the cab driver’s calm demeanor when, as soon as the screaming man with the boa and giant knife became apparent to the rest of us, with an air of indifference equal to that of a deli counter attendant announcing the next “now serving” number, he turned backwards and announced “de snake mon,” while swerving gently around the guy. Like “oh, Monday” or something.

So I guess that experience can be crossed off my list. Not that I had it down there in the first place.

That’s the funny thing about all this stuff I’d been putting off until now. It’s all sort of underwhelming in a “I guess I hadn’t done it yet because I wasn’t too keen on it in the first place” kind of way. And the stuff that I hadn’t planned on doing in the first place, like taking a cab to a cheap, nearby beach in Antigua and walking down the beach through a cow pasture to a totally remote corner of the island and eating some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life out of an little empty shack on the sand, has been the real reward of the trip. So much for rock climbing and Mayan ruins, I guess.

From now on it’s all planning and worrying that maybe I should get gifts for people and trying to think about what gisfts work with which person, and whether or not the Caribbean music mix (all but complete and wholly satisfactory as both an ongoing diversion and an end product) is enough of a gift for certain people or if they’d think it inconsiderate. And how I should deal with customs and taxes and scheduling stuff again and that sort of thing. It’s both welcoming and distressing, the return of logistics to my life. It doesn’t quite feel normal yet, and I guess it never really quite does, as I look back on what it’s like to be back on land. Huh. But the boat experience, both being on it and feeling like I’m on it, is fading fast and ending soon.

That is if I’m still on the ship and not just bluffing from my apartment in Ukrainian Village.

Mystery.

Tick tick tick.
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I figure I should get back to work on this blog thing. It’s been a while.

The big thing in my world right now, other than being tantalizingly close to coming back home (21 days away, but who’s counting?) is that one of the ship’s stabilizers is broken. I don’t know exactly what a stabilizer is or what you use it for, other than stabilizing something, but I know it’s important.

I know this for two reasons. Reason one is that the ship has been moving more than it ever has recently. Which in the great scheme of nautical history has not been much. I’ve never mentioned seasickness in this space, or at least if I ever have I’ve forgotten, but it’s a subject I suppose I could write a bit about.

My expectations for myself in the “not getting seasick all the time once I get on this ship” department were optimistic without being unrealistic. I expected a certain amount of queasiness to be handled with understatement and aplomb. That’s about what has happened, which probably explains my not writing about it. If I treated the mild nausea I’ve been dealing with at times as a newsworthy event, then it’d be an unnecessary admission of defeat. Or so I thought. Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I get mild nausea at times when the ship is moving. There. I’ve said it. It doesn’t make me any less of a man.

I also expected that I’d adapt and get better at dealing with it as time went on. That’s also happened. So far so good.

But I did also expect for it to be more of a problem than I’d care to admit. I have a theory about that magical, almost imperceptible period of aging that the body goes through between age 18 and age 30. Actually, I have several theories about it, but the major one that’s applicable here is this: the gut goes first. Something happens to you between 18 and 30 where your gut turns into an adult’s gut. First you notice that you’re no longer capable or willing to have only Cheetos for lunch just by choice alone. Then subtle things start happening. You start enjoying roller coasters less. You decide that maybe you should eat something after your fifth beer. Little things here and there.

And I’ve been through some of these gut changes and each time remarked to myself, “Hey, I’m still so young that it doesn’t make any sense for me to be thinking this way, but, let’s face it, I’m not as young as I used to be.” And then, aloud, “No sir, no I don’t think I will have another shot of Jagrmeister. Three is more than enough, as it turns out.”

So I wasn’t foolish enough to think that I’d have a weatherbeaten sailor’s iron belly for the incessant rolling of the high seas right from the start. I thought I’d work up to it a little.

And so I have, more or less.

But this broken stabilizer business. It’s bad news. The ship has been choppy in the past, and even gotten me close to vomiting, especially on day when I’ve overindulged the previous night. The ship is no great friend to hangovers. Just looking at the carpet patterns is enough to cause serious abdominal strain sometimes. The broken stabilizer, though, results in a new kind of seasickness that I hadn’t counted on. Because with a broken stabilizer the ship is more prone to what are known in the business as “tilts.” A tilt is when the ship sways in one direction and then stays swayed in that direction, and instead of swaying back to a balanced position it sways even more in the direction it was already tilting, then stays there, and the process is repeated until either it stops or everybody dies. At least I think that's the scientific explanation. That's what it feels like.

And it’s not so much seasickness in the form of nausea that this causes, so much as a more “keepitcoolthisisnormalkeepitcoolthisisnormalkeepitcoolthisisnormalohjeezohjeez” kind of a thing. It’s like the feeling you might get when a friend or relative says something horribly inappropriate at a work-related event and you’re stuck there, except it’s all happening inside of your chest. Tilts are not fun. But the funny thing about them is the ship is actually calmer during a tilt than it is when it’s merely moving back and forth and up and down. So they're actually easier to deal with when you're up and walking.

Anyway, that’s one way I know that stabilizers, whatever they are and however they work, are important.

The other way I know they're improtant is we’ve been staying late at our ports recently while teams of underwater welders do things to the belly of our ship. I’ll focus on the positives here, because underwater welding is a world that terrifies me for some reason. If I had to guess why I’d say that’s because it combines my fear of fire with my fear of drowning in a way that should be impossible, but I'm not guessing. And it also seems an extreme measure to take, as if a broken stabilizer requires around the clock effort from a skilled team of supermen (underwater welders are supermen as far as I'm concerned) to fix immediately. Best not to deal with the ramifications of these thoughts. I trust Norwegian Cruise Lines to avoid the potentially catastrophic public relations disaster of a "you killed everybody" lawsuit. Anyway, avoiding such thoughts, among the positives of staying late is the fact that I’m getting to spend some time on land during the dusk hours, which is quite nice.

Let’s face it, everybody loves dusk. I mean, if you had to pinpoint your favorite time of day, it’s gotta be dusk, right? Except in the winter when dusk means “oh, it’s almost time for my 3:30 meeting,” dusk is a great time of day. Well I haven’t got a chance to be on dry land during dusk very often in the last few months. And it’s a nice feeling.

Just yesterday, for example, I went to the Antiguan Rasta guy’s reggae music hut and bought some excellent old music, then went to the beach with some of my dancer friends (who went topless – bonus), ate a delicious lobster roll right on the beach, ate pizza on the open air second floor of a great little restaurant in St. John’s with my buddies, and had time for some ice cream as the sky went dark and we all walked back onto the ship. It almost seemed normal, like the exact way I’d prefer to spend a summer’s day back home in Chicago. Something about dusk made it possible, too. So that’s worth a couple of tilts, I guess.

The other big thing that’s going on is with the Second City cast.

Castmate Andy Eninger left a couple of weeks ago in order to be present for the birth of his daughter. She made her debut on Sunday, and from the pictures he sent she’s cute as a button. I wish there was a shortened word for the relationship you have to somebody where you’re gay and you artificially impregnate one of the women in a lesbian couple so they can have a baby that you’ll be somewhere between marginally and officially involved in the upbringing of, but there isn’t. Anyway, happy biological fatherhood Andy! Way to provide your lifegiving genetic material!

Aside from the birth of a newborn baby, which is cool but, let’s face it, doesn’t really change anything for me, there is now a palpable lack of Andy on the ship for me to deal with. Andy was the guy in the cast that kept people loose and smiling. He occasionally said something outrageous, but rarely did he do or say anything that had a polarizing effect on us, and he always kept super positive. So things in the cast have been a little more tense than usual recently. I don’t think I’m making this up either. Part of it is Andy being gone, and a part of it is the fact that we’re all fairly fatigued by now and we’re within smelling distance of the end of our contracts. Anyway, we’re spending more time apart now than together. Or possibly it just seems that way because there’s one less of us and I haven’t been sharing a room for a while. I don’t’ know.

All I know is we’ve been doing four person shows recently, and that Andy’s replacement Martin is going to join us in four days. So that’ll be interesting. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, even though it means having a roommate, because getting to know Martin will at least be something to do. And having a roommate is a good way to have somebody to eat sushi with,. I’ve been eating a lot of sushi alone recently. The sushi bar guys are good company, but it’d be nice to get someone else in there too.

I’m also in a position to get a phone again. Finally. I mean, if I can find a Cingular somewhere in Miami that’s open on Sundays, that is. I don’t have my hopes up yet. But I might as well mention here that if you haven’t given me your phone number recently, you might want to. Maybe. No biggie.

I think that’s about all you’ll get out of me for now, friends. I’m trying my very hardest, now that I’m getting toward the end of this contract, not to break down and spend the rest of my time here ordering room service and saving my urine in jars like The Aviator. So I might be a little small talky from here on out. I just have to maintain. Maintain,

Oh, who am I kidding?

It’s not that difficult.

Ooh look. Forrest Gump is on.
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I don’t know where to begin here.

Well, for one, Beth from Second City offered me a ride on another ship from late May through late September. I turned the offer down, which on one hand I know for sure was the right thing to do for the sake of my own sanity, but on the other hand I’m full of dread that I’ve just destroyed my “career.” I like to put that word in quotes because I haven’t yet heard of a comedian’s pension.

Of course the buyer’s remorse side does seem to be an overreaction. I mean, I’ve got plenty of time to do whatever work and succeed in whatever ways I can. And there’s no guarantee that another ship job will be any better for my future than scrounging about in Chicago. It’d certainly be better for my immediate financial future than scrounging about in Chicago. But…

But since being on this ship I’ve learned a very important lesson from a little film starring Adam Sandler called “Click” in which he buys a magic remote control that automatically fast forwards his life until he makes certain important strides in his career, and at the end he has a Scrooge-like epiphany that “family comes first.” Of course the film sucks out loud, but it’s a valid lesson anyway. You never know what’ll happen to your financial fortunes, but it’s true that keeping close to your family and friends will make you happy no matter what happens. So yeah, I said no to another boat so soon after this one will end. But I also said yes to any other boats a while down the road.

I mention “Click” because it was one of the movies on the ship’s movie channel. There are only like 10 of them, and they repeat over and over again all day long. So I’ve seen “Click” approximately nine times. So I’m not sure if “family comes first” is an actual epiphany I’ve had, or if I’ve just been brainwashed like the guy from “A Clockwork Orange.”

I do know for certain that my brothers are graduating from college in May, and my Granddad, who’s had some serious health issues recently, is turning 80 as the centerpiece of what may perhaps be his last ever family reunion, a family reunion I’ve missed for four consecutive years due to work. So yeah, after missing Christmas this year and in general being a fairly crappy son, brother, grandson, and nephew for the last few years of toiling away in a law firm and working my ass off doing six comedy projects simultaneously, I think it’s entirely reasonable to beg off of another ship commitment. Or so “Click” told me. If it turns out that I’m wrong, I can sue Adam Sandler.

There’s a new slate of movies now, which is a recent change, circa this cruise. It’s like a breath of fresh air to turn on the television and not see Keanu Reeves and Sarndra Bullock in “The Lake House” (featuring the back of fellow Rattlesnake High Schooler Bill Boehler’s head—he was Keanu’s double for the filming) or Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson in “You, Me, and Dupree.” Not that those movies are the worst movies I’ve ever seen, it’s just that after two and a half months of repeated viewings I can honestly say they’re the worst movies I’ve ever seen that often.

I’d say the new slate of movies is an almost unanimous improvement, except for one instance. I lost “The Aviator.”

I know I haven’t mentioned anything about this here on the blog, but I’ve developed a certain attachment to “The Aviator,” directed by Martin Scorcese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as obsessive compulsive aviator and film producer Howard Hughes. You could even say that I’m like “The Aviator” for “The Aviator.” It was an on-ship quest of mine for a long time to try and catch an entire showing of “The Aviator” without consulting the TV guide. It wasn’t easy, since the normal rotation of the films had “The Aviator” on infrequently and at inconvenient times. Twice during the five day cruises it aired at 4:00am, for example. The cruel rotation of the movie channel also played it often on show nights. But I eventually completed my quest, on a par with getting the top score in Penguin Wars, and I have come to regard “The Aviator” with the respect and admiration of an old friend and former rival. I pictured “The Aviator” and I as two ball busting seniors playing chess in the park everyday.

And now “The Aviator” is gone and I feel like a stranger at the wake who unexpectedly moves the family to tears by saying something like “You don’t know me, but I feel like I know all of you. That’s because ‘The Aviator’ was probably the best friend I ever had. My name is Randall Price. Me and ‘The Aviator’ played chess in the park everyday for the last four years. He spoke very warmly of you all and I wanted to come by and extend my condolences.” Randall Price is my old guy who plays chess in the park name.

I’m exaggerating of course. But not as much as you’d think. There’s not a whole lot on the ship to hold onto, and “The Aviator” was kind of like a security blanket. I don’t know if there’s a suitable replacement among the new batch of movies, but I certainly hope so. I’ve got my fingers crossed for “Seabiscuit.”

The next thing I have to tell probably shouldn’t have any sort of sly transition, since it’s pretty bizarre and it took me by surprise. I will let it do the same for you.

Today I was tickled by a strange toothless man in Barbados.

There’s a guy I’ve seen before along the nice gardened walk between the dockyard and the downtown area of Bridgetown. He’s usually lying down under a tree, and sometimes he speaks to tourists. Next to him he’s got a sign that says “Barbados poet.” So I talked to him, figured out what his deal was, told him I worked as a comedian on the ship, and left him on my way to town after looking at some of his poems. They were pretty terrible.

On the way back I ran into him again and he was a lot more friendly. As I said goodbye to leave he jumped up and shook my hand and hugged me way more tightly than I wanted him to. Then he put his arm around my waist and asked me to tell him a joke from my act. I get this request quite often, and it’s always hard to explain how I do improv and sketch comedy, with theatrical scenes rather than a series of stand-up jokes, and even then it’s hard to sidestep telling one of the punchlines from the scenes, but it’s especially hard to do this when there’s a toothless guy with little grey dreadlocks smiling at you with his face that smells like horse meat only inches away from your own as if he wants a kiss more than he wants a joke, and then to your horror you realize that as he’s asking for a joke and giggling through his horrible mouth his strong arm is tickling your side as he repeats “Eh? A joke eh? Comedian? A joke? You, comedian?”

So I twisted away and started walking to the ship and waving goodbye and promising to come back in a couple of weeks and laughing the distinct laugh of somebody who’s been made genuinely uncomfortable in what may have been either a threatening situation or a sociable practical joking situation, and was probably a mixture of the two, though to what extent one couldn’t accurately judge due to the altered cultural atmosphere of the transaction. Also I am ticklish, so that was part of the laughing. It was definitely one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me.

But while I was in town I did manage to pick up some Caribbean music that I actually really like. The CD section of the duty free department store (Bridgetown is a very modern city compared to many of the other ports we visit) had a reissue of an album called “Raw Spouge” by a group called The Draytons Two, who have matching outfits and afros with sideburns on the cover. It’s excellent. I think I’ve stumbled upon a new rule for music shopping. It’s a little known corollary to the “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” maxim, “you can judge a book by the hairstyle of it’s author.”

For instance, I’m in trouble if the artist on the cover has either long dreadlocks or like a mullety jherri curls thing. I’m in relatively good shape if the guy’s got short dreads and an acoustic guitar. I’m in hog heaven if the guy’s got an afro and sideburns and/or he’s posing on some kind of local monument with or without his actual instrument that he plays and it’s clearly the 70’s.

I didn’t mention, though, why this album is so great. Other than the fact that it’s so great. Beyond its own mere greatness, it’s great for the value it might have for me. Because I’ve successfully struck up a relationship with a Mr. Elder Hyde, owner of Stone’s Muzik Outlet in Belize City. I have assurances that if I stop by every two weeks and share the CD’s I buy in the various ports I visit, then he will try to locate and trade me some of that old punta rock music I’m so keen on. So I’m now part of an international Caribbean music exchange, which I’m pretty excited about.

I’ll go so far as to admit that I’ve always had rock ‘n roll delusions of grandeur, and this little record store in Belize City is turning into the main staging area of some extremely self-indulgent fantasies which eventually result in my “passion for music” being written up in the liner notes of some great reissue some day. Of course liner notes are patently self-indulgent, and reading them would lead one to conclude that every single piece of music they describe is probably the most revolutionary song to ever hit human eardrums, even if they’re describing some droll calypsoan’s cover of “The Hokey Pokey,” which, in my limited experience of Caribbean music so far, they often do.

So needless to say the music hunt has picked up considerable steam. So that’s good.

I’m looking forward to St. Lucia tomorrow, because I’ve heard good things about a jazz trumpet player from there named Moe Henson, whose name the St. Lucian tech guy who works on the ship pronounces “Moo” Henson. So tomorrow I’ll probably pick up some Moo Henson.

I really hope he’s got an afro and sideburns.
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I am, for the purposes of not turning this into my weekly bitch about things post, not going to say a whole lot about the fact that my phone broke and I never get to use it anyway and there's no U.S. Cellular stores in Miami so I have to either pay to break my contract or continue to pay U.S. Cellular monthly but use a prepaid phone from another company. I'm not going to mention much about this because it's boring and it's making my life a little inconvenient in that seemingly symbolic way where you just want something to be easy (keeping in touch) and it isn't.

But. But for purely functional reasons I'll mention that you should email me your phone number if you think I should have it. We can start and end it there.

And now the rest of the blog.

Well the mid contract blues are fading and survival mode is descending. I’m trying not to count days, and in return for this display of respect, they have rewarded me by going by a little more quickly. There’s a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel now.

My friend Heather’s family is around for this cruise, which is quite a blessing because they’re friendly and of an astute enough mindset to distrust the cruise ship environment almost as much as I do. So there are good conversations to be had there about “what’s it all mean” and that type of thing.

Actually, let me backtrack. I had an excellent night last night of making new friends on the ship. Since living on the ship is essentially the same thing as college, socially and culturally at least, I’ve been somewhat cloistered in a closely knit peer group since I’ve been aboard. Well, I’ve been venturing out and trying to hang out with as many different people as possible in order to maintain my sanity a little better, and it’s been rewarding.

For example, last night I heard the earthshattering news that there’s a prostitution ring on the ship. I mean, I guess it’s not entirely earthshattering. There’s a 3 to 1 male to female ratio on the ship, and the typical crew contract is 10 months, which is a pretty long time to go without a little action, even if you’re married, and everybody’s slammed into fairly close quarters, and not everybody speaks the same language or looks good or acts charming enough to beat out two other guys for a shot at some legitimate over-the-counter romance. Plus, you know, a little money on the side is always nice. So I guess it’s not totally earthshattering to know that there’s a ring of Phillipino and Romanian prostitutes on the ship. Actually it makes prefect sense.

But on the other hand: there’s a ring of Phillipino and Romanian prostitutes on the ship! I live, essentially, in the same building as a secret brothel. I’m giddy.

I haven’t been this pleased by a piece of prostitute-related gossip since my Mom told me about how when she used to work at the Savings and Loan lobbyist organization (the one that deregulated the industry to the point of massive and irrecoverable scandal in the 80’s) some of the secretaries would bitch and moan and cuss at their desks all day and then go turn tricks during their lunch break.

So I met some new friends last night who work at the front desk and therefore should be seriously considered for sainthood. They’re the ones who told me about the prostitution ring. Like “oh yeah, no big deal, there’s one on every ship.” Anyway, these new friends of mine work at the front desk and therefore have to deal with the various squeaky wheels among the passengers who each cruise frantically clamor for as much grease as they can greedily suck down their petulant, demanding little faces. If you ever get the chance to share a drink with anybody who works on the front lines in the hospitality industry, I recommend it. They will cackle at you like a demented crypt keeper from “Tales of the Unreasonable” and tell you things that will put a serious dent in your faith in humanity. These girls actually get kind of a kick out of pasting a smile on their faces and pretending to be respectful of some snarling cur dog of a vice president of marketing for a glue company whose personal “philosophy of success” has got him to where he is today because he won’t take no for an answer, even if the “no” in question is the cold hard fact that there are no available balcony suites on the ship. I have no idea how they do it. One of them said to me that she’d been on ships for seven years.

Takes all kinds, I guess.

I’m horrible with names, but I memorized a guy’s name last night. Prejith Poovapadathil. So if I ever see Prejith again, I’ll know his name. I guess I no longer have an excuse for being bad at names. I feel new year’s resolution 2008 coming on slowly but surely.

Oh yeah, so my friend Heather’s family. Well, I was talking to Heather’s sister Hillary about what the ship is like and what minor epiphanies I’ve had about it (college dorm of the seas, fun for the fun averse, flashiness over substance), and during this conversation I came to another minor one.

Remember when I was talking about the shows, and even the ship itself, and how they’re not designed to make anybody think? Well if you don’t, it’s cool, no biggie. But I did. But anyway, it’s true. The ship is designed to create revenue for itself by setting up a non-thinking environment for patrons who will happily oblige by buying stuff without thinking. It’s true. No big revelation there.

But.

But if you’re actually interested in having a genuine cultural experience and giving yourself something to think about while you’re out and about on this ship (and I’m interested in that probably more than anything else, really, since I’m on the ship anyway and I might as well at least try to have something to say about it), you can fight like hell and create leads and follow up on them like a journalist, and you’ll have something genuine to experience. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Well, what do I mean by this? Am I going to go sleep with some Philllipino prostitutes because I’m so bored it sounds like a good idea, if not merely for the sex, at least for the story? Well, probably not. That’s a very strong probably at this point, but who knows. I might still go totally batshit crazy. I doubt it, but there you go.

No, what I mean by this is that by meeting new people and talking about stuff, both on the ship and off of it in the ports, I can maybe build up enough knowledge to actually learn something from my journey.

For example, as I was despairing from my quest for good locally recorded music in the Caribbean, I decided to follow up a little on both the basic available research from the internet and from human intelligence. Well, some of that paid off a little and I had a genuine cultural experience recently. In Belize.

Belize is basically what got me into this “hey, I’m going to see what music there is in each of these countries I’ve never been to” thing in the first place. Largely because, and I want to stay on the safe side of nerd status here so I’ll be careful, of the excellent “Belize City Boil Up” compilation that I purchased about a year ago. Every song on it is this great sort of mishmash of old soul and reggae and a little psychedelic rock and funk and calypso folk, all mixed together as if through a “Ben’s taste in music” machine. They call it punta rock. And this is all stuff that happened in the 70’s in Belize City and has been found and rereleased. So I’ve always known that at the very least there would be some great music in Belize somewhere.

So when my Mom was on the ship and we went on our butterfly tour I asked our guide where to find music. And she said Stone Jam Records on George Street.

So the last time we visited Belize I went to Stone Jam records on George Street.

I asked on of the omnipresent port cabbies to take me there, and he led me to a rusty Dodge Caravan with two small children and a nonplussed wife in it. When I insisted it would be fine if they wanted to stay in the van, the driver said “you don’t understand, mon, this is life in Belize” with sad eyes, and then proceeded to unload his family, fiddle under the hood until the thing started, and drove me about 10 minutes to a tiny record shop in a trash strewn alley, where he left the car and walked away.

So I talked to the guy in Stone Jam about how I was looking for some old punta rock and he looked at me as if I had asked him for heroin. Old punta rock doesn’t exist. All the records were made in extremely small pressings and then they spread to wherever they went and that was it for punta rock. Now, he said, the movement has been torn asunder by money and greed. He said I’d have to find somebody that has the music and get them to make me a copy, and being a record store it’d be against the law for him to sell me a bootleg. He mentioned a section of town that I couldn’t quite understand his pronunciation of, where all the musicians from that era still live, and then I thanked him and left.

So I’m going back to Stone Jam Records on George Street next week, and I’m bringing all those Soca CD’s that I didn’t like, but which were apparently exactly what people listen to in other areas of the Caribbean, and I’m going to talk to the Stone Jam guy about a trade. And I’m going to bring a pen and paper with me and actually write down what he tells me about how to track down a couple of these musicians, and I’m going to continue my quest for both the music and the genuine cultural experience of trying to find it.

I’m excited about all of this. Which is nice, because after a couple of months on a cruise ship going to the same port towns over and over again for 6 hour stretches once every two weeks, you tend to get unexcited about things. If you’re anything like me, that is. So yeah, it’s good to have something I’m excited about now. A quest, some new friends, and Phillipino hookers in my same building. The world is my oyster.
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Hey everybody.

Sorry it's been a while.

Hey guess what?

I'm now officially half done with my contract. It feels like I've been on the ship for 7 years, but it's only been 2 months. And I have 2 months to go. Yeesh.

So this of course calls for a mid-cruise report of some kind.

The problem here is that being on the ship for long enough, you stop noticing things and your surroundings cease to seem interesting to you and time just passes and you feel as though you have little to report. It's that old concept you hear about from cognitive scientists about the brain experiencing just about every human sensation at some point by around age 18, and then after that time seems to pass more quickly because nothing seems new anymore. This explains why 18 year olds are still idealistic and obsessive and bright eyed with fervor and the rest of us are drowning in our own neuroses. Or some less gloomy version of that. Anyway, I think that's what's going on with me on the ship to a certain extent. I'm ship 18. Plus The Laziness. The incessant, ever tempting Laziness. More on The Laziness later.

It turns out I'm actually leaking money to the point of barely saving anything anymore. So at least I have that going on. I spent a lot while my Mom was here, and have made up for that by continuing to spend indiscriminately. Miami is dangerous for this. Feeling detached most of the time, I feel the need to participate as much as I can while I'm on American soil. That means spending money like a billionaire on things I don't really need, like DVDs off of Amazon that I can't even get for another two weeks because the stupid post office is closed on Sundays.

Anyway, I've somewhat turned a corner on my cruise experience in that now I want to get off the ship in every port and do something non-shippy while I can. Before I was all about staying on the ship and enjoying my time without the passengers. Now I'm more "well, I should see the Carribbean I guess." So now I'm doing stuff. I climbed a mountain and hiked through coastal caves and snorkeled and climbed an inflatable iceberg and that type of thing. Good stuff. Of course all that costs money.

I've been thinking about travel in general. I always had the attitude that travel is overrated, and that seeing all the sights in the world doesn't mean anything if you're out there travelling alone without any friends or loved ones. And it's better to be home with your family than someplace exotic that costs thousands of dollars to get to just to say you've been there. Well, yeah, I guess that's still true. But the fact remains that I am travelling right now, and I'm not spending thousands of dollars, or at least if I am then I'm atleast breaking even because I'm also getting paid. And since I'm travelling I might as well really make the most of it. While I'm young. And let the money be damned. There'll always be money.

Why the change of heart? Well, I've seen too many old people on these cruises who can't do anything fun when they get off of the ship. They have to sit uncomfortably on a plastic bench in some open-sided bus while a disinterested Antiguan mumbles about chief exports through a rusty, crackling speaker and come home and pretend they're adventurers because they've spent their whole lives sitting in an office chair and now they can't walk without a rascal scooter because their butts got so big their hip had to be be replaced. And that's no way to see the world. If you're going to see any of it.

So I find myself teetering between frugal homebody and devil may care young traveller. At the very least I've tried to cut down on the boozing in favor of spending more on getting out and doing things while I can. Hopefully I'll come home with a little extra money AND a head full of memories. Fingers crossed.

I believe I just mentioned drinking. Hoo boy.

I've been doing my share of it. It's what you do, more or less. Think of every night you've ever had where you finish dinner and you've got no plans and there's nothing on TV and you could sit in and read or, I don't know, knit a scarf or something, but you're kind of restless and you find yourself out and then you blink your eye and it's last call and you're out 50 bucks and you're doing shots of Jagr and talking about "I loooove booooobies" with some girl from Germany and you go to some dude's house even though you have to go to work the next morning and you're like "How the hell did this happen?" Think of one of those nights, subtract the whole "going to work the next morning" thing, and maybe change a couple of the variables so that it's something you can identify with better, and then string a whole bunch of those together. Because if you're not careful on a ship, that can be your whole lifestyle.

Of course I have always had a fairly sensitive "wait, this is pathetic" meter. Maybe it's set a little higher than other people. I'm not going to kid myself into thinking that I'm the type of person who gets wasted by accident on one Mangotini that they ordered once because they're on vacation and "Oooh, that sounds fun." No. I'm a drinker. But I tend to shy away from making it a more often than not, even when it's not really all that fun lifestyle choice. I just get the willies after a while. So that's still going, and I'm keeping myself reasonably in check. Reasonably. The beers at the crew bar are only a dollar. Have I mentioned that?

How am I doing on my other goals and quests I've decided to pursue on the ship?

Well, I've all but given up on the whole "work out until I look like a male model" goal. I just don't respond to the artificially active environment of a gym. It does nothing for me. I shrink away from it. I would rather ride my bike 6 miles through 2 degree Chicago weather than spend five minutes on a exercycle in a gym on a ship in the Carribbean. That's just how I'm wired.

This is another reason why I've been more active off the ship recently. I need it to dispell my excess energy, since I've decided I'm not going to labor away on a treadmill. I climb mountains and calmour over rocks. No thank you, climbing wall. You're pretend. At least this is what I tell myself.

I'd say I'm pretty healthy. I'm eating a lot better than I usually do, which is "quick double cheeseburger that I eat on my bike on the way to rehearsal." I'm pooping an awful lot. I'm sorry if you don't want to hear it. In fact, you can skip ahead to the end of the paragraph if you don't want to hear it. Because I'm going to talk about it. I'm pooping an awful lot. Like I will poop out a big, big poop and then say to myself "I think I still need to poop" and I will go back and poop a big poop that's still pretty big. I never ever find myself in the position where I think "gosh, I really don't need to poop." A big poop. It's always there, like one big neverending poop. And I'm talking these are big poops. Not like the kind that feel big but aren't or the kind that spray everywhere and feel raw and hot in the pit of your gut, but these are fully qualified post-Thanksgiving poops I'm talking about here. And they're happening all the time. Like I can feel one that's almost ready right now. That's what I'm talking about. It's kind of astounding, actually. So now I'm done talking about that. Now you know.

Other quests?

Well, I haven't admitted it to anyone on the outside, but my big idea coming out here was that I'd try to pick up a bunch of really interesting music from all the ports we stop at, and then make a mix and give it to all my friends and family as a gift. Which sounds all kinds of awesome in my head, but the actual quest itself has been terribly, terribly disappointing so far. To the point where I'm getting close to giving up and I might as well reveal it to you guys because it's not going to be much of a surprise gift and I should probably start reducing expectations now. So far I've bought eleven CD's and found one song I really like, and maybe a couple dozen others I'd be willing to listen to more than once. Ever. And the one song I really like is about "ow we myake dem behnahna clips ehmpty" (that's a Carribbean boast about the murderous use of automatic weapons) and I don't think Grandmother P-Nut will appreciate it. So I'm kind of back at square one right there.

I'm going to keep at it, though, because I'm in too deep now. The plan is now to arm myself with as much information as possible before even getting off the ship so that I can make more informed decisions and ask more specific questions.

I don't know what I was expecting. Actually, I do. I ask the nearest cab driver where I should go to hear some local music and maybe buy a CD or two, and he directs me to a corrugated tin shack in a village somewhere that on the inside looks exactly like Roadhouse Records in silver Spring, Maryland, and is presided over by some guy who looks like Cornell West and knows everything there is to know about the history of Carribbean music and he's got grab bags of rare 45's on sale for a dollar and he takes to me and shows me his private stash and gives me CD transfers of the rarest and most fantastic bootlegs he took of some unheard of band playing psychedelic island Calypso ragga from 1971 that sounds like Jimi Hendrix produced by Peter Tosh with the live energy of The Stooges, and when I thank him profusely, he's like "dyon'tcha worry nyow" and winks at me. I guess that's what I was expecting.

What is actually the case is I'll go up to a card table and tell some stoned dude in a Yankees cap about my quest and then ask him what people in Belize listen to and he'll give me a burnt CD of R. Kelly remixed to sound like Soca music, which is a kind of music they listen to in the Carribbean that sounds like Bobby McFerrin with a keyboard guitar after a five day meth bender (in a bad way), and ask me for $20, and then I'll get home and listen to it and it's actually (as in it doesn't just sound like it) just the same track over and over again. And at the end I'm none the wiser about anything. That's what's been happening to me. I hope Reckless records will buy my misfires, but I doubt it. The CDs are all designed by Memorex.

Anyway, I haven't totally given up, but I think I'd rather spend my money on cab fare to some crazy natural rock formation at this point. I figure I can still get some pretty good stuff off the internet and pretend I discovered it. Sorry if you end up hating the mix I make for you. At this point I have to choose between authentic and crappy or faking my way through it and the mix turning out good. I'll probably put the banana clip song on it, too.

I've also, I think, given up on the walrusmen. They're sitting there in their bag burning a guilty little hole in my heart, but they're not the comfort I thought they'd be whenever I pull them out for some photos. It ends up being a hassle, if not in a physical sense, at least in the philosophical sense where I feel harried and hassled by the fact that I'm in a position where I need, and I mean really need, to pull out a bunch of walrusmen in order to feel spontaneous and normal again. I'd rather it not feel like some kind of big teenage "fight the power" gesture. I guess I just don't want to dwell on where I am too much.

This is a sort of a hint at explaining The Laziness. I know I mentioned The Laziness earlier. You may have noticed that I've capitalized it. This is because you have to show it repsect or it will swallow you whole. For it is not mere laziness. It is The Laziness. You know when you go home to visit your family for Thanksgiving and you end up booking flights a week and a half apart because it's cheaper, and then by around day three you get so lazy and bored you actually can't get out of bed until you have a headache from sleeping too long and your body forces you to get out of bed because if you didn't you'd actually cause brain damage? And then you go downstairs and eat a bowl of Cheerios and then go grocery shopping with your Mom and then come home and watch an A&E Boigraphy about Charles Lindbergh and maybe go whack a tennis ball against the wall at the courts in the park for a little while and then take a nap, and in the meantime you're checking your email once every three seconds, to the point that when you actually get an email you don't respond to it because it'd get in the way of all the email checking you have planned? You know that feeling? The one where doing any one thing sounds like a bad idea when you think about it?

Well, that's The Laziness, and I more or less live in it. There are things one can do to avoid it or put it off, or minimalize it. But you have to respect The Laziness. At least give it that. the only thing you can really do is make appointments. Like instead of just not having any plans and ending up at the ship's bowling alley, you have to make plans to meet somebody at the bowling alley tomorrow at 8. And then when your mind is thinking "what the hell am I supposed to do with myself" and The Laziness is breathing down your neck, you can calmly take a breath and say to yourself "Bowling at 8. I have to bowl tomorrow at 8." And it actually works.

So you might be guessing by now that I'm pretty close to admitting that I'm having kind of a rough time of it on the ship. Well, maybe, but I have to pretend like it's a secret for a while for my own sanity. You try doing nothing all of a sudden for an extended period of time and see what wonders it does for your mind. If you're so tough. Tough guy.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound comabtive. I need you guys. Please call and email and text message me if something reminds you of me. And please let me know your address. I'd love to set myself to the mission of finding a postcard I think you'll like. Please. For my sake.

Oh yeah, and tough luck about the Bears. I can't wait to listen to a whole offseason of Rex Grossman talk. I watched the Super Bowl. I think I remember that happening. A week ago and it feels like ten years.

I actually bloggede about it and then didn't post because I'm stupid. But here's the post about the time I wandered around in Miami during Super Bowl week:

2/3/07

Alright, so I said I’d post about something fun.

Well, the Super Bowl is in Miami this week so that’s an excuse to talk about something fun. Right?

Well, yeah, I guess. I mean I could probably make it fun for you, but that made things decidedly unfun for me. That’s right. It’s time for another round of “Ben complains about a thing.” I’m turning into, I don’t know, somebody who complains about a thing all the time. Who does that? Andy Rooney. I’m Andy Rooney.

I went to South Beach yesterday to check out the Super Bowl craziness and buy clothes at American Apparel.

I only brought like four shirts and two pants out here with me. I’m always a fan of packing light, and when I was putting things together for the trip I ended up jettisoning clothes in favor of books. Now I have more books than I can possibly read and four shirts because I’m a genius. So I’ve been jonesing for an American Apparel for a month now because I’m tired of my four shirts all the time.

I should mention that I planned to go to South Beach with a few friends who decided it’d be a good idea to meet at 9:30. So what did I do the previous night? Well, I got drunk as a skunk until 2:00am, and therefore awoke (if you could call it that) at 9:00 with bar none the worst hangover I’ve had since being on the ship.

Now Miami, especially South Beach Miami during Super Bowl week, is not what you’d call a hangover-friendly town. Everything’s brightly colored and hot and sticky and there are all these big loud monolithic kiosks with Motorola logos on them screaming to you about Super Bowly corporate things. They shut down Ocean Drive and extended each of the al fresco cafes a couple of lanes deep into the street. As you walk you’re doggedly approached by fake-breasted hostesses urging you to try their mimosas. Gay men scoot by on those weird Nordictrac cross country ski scooter things that make their tushes waggle back and forth, and even this personality type is so bright and garish and unapologetic it makes you want to lie down. That type of thing. Not a hangover town.

And I think my whole group was pretty well upset by the entire day’s proceedings. It was like spending an entire day in that one disgusting moment when it’s hot outside and you just realize that you’ve stepped in gum.

I won’t get into specifics but here are the bullet points:

-The entire downtown section of Miami is under construction right now. The whole thing. I have a sad inside joke with myself that brings me more pain than joy in that whenever I see the skyline I say to myself “Downtown Miami: a city on the move!” It is a lie and a fraud and I only half think it’s funny. Plus there’s nothing sadder than a self inside joke.

-The opening shift waitstaff at Flannigan’s Pub hates working for Pamela. They hate it. They won’t do it. If you’re a customer and you’re looking to refill your coke because it’s the only thing keeping your head from caving in, then you’re going to have to wait because all things are secondary to the act of hating Pamela and somehow, at that moment, you represent Pamela and all she stands for. Just FYI. That’s how it is.

-I was too tired and headachey to even heckle Skip Bayless, even though he’s my least favorite sportswriter in the history of the world and I’d like nothing more than to puke on his stupid face. He was there on South Beach, sitting on the ESPN set to film “Cold Pizza.”

-Celebrity sighting: Tim Meadows.

-What is it about air conditioning that makes you feel better and worse at the same time? Like the first couple of moments are a dream, and then you get nauseous because you’re sucking Freon and you wish you were outside again.

-Warm Sunkist Orange Soda.

-Clerks going “on break” at the Post Office.

-120 Decibel ship’s alarm, featuring the universally understood by nobody “seven short and one long blast” emergency signal used for the mandatory boat drill, pumped directly into my ear from my cabin’s loudspeaker. Mid nap.

It was not a good day.

But of course I have nobody to blame but myself. And the beautiful city of Miami.

I will calm down and root for the Bears and be happy that everything back in that bustling Metropolis of salsa music and pastel colors and irritatingly unreliable but nonetheless present cellular phone service is about as back to normal as it ever gets for next time. I have no choice.

And in the meantime I’m in the middle of a 9-day cruise. Which means old people. Bring on the old people.

Last 9-day the old people complained bitterly about the presence of grinding and “urban” music in the showgirl revue that was patently choreographed to contain both grinding and “urban” music. To the point that the cruise director asked the dancers if they could perform the second of the two shows (there’s an hour break in between them) without any grinding or “urban” music. A reasonable request that was denied.

My point: old people are a real treat.

Also: can we just replace the term “urban” with “black people” please? I think it actually sounds a little less racist. I mean, let’s be honest here, it’s not like there’s no such thing as hip hop in the rural areas outside of, say, Macon, Georgia. Those black people down there get like fifty times more “urban” than any average family of wealthy Jewish Manhattanites. We’re now getting so politically correct that we’re not even allowed to acknowledge the existence of black folks.

That’s just a Joe Biden inspired sidebar. If you want to point the finger at Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for being media whores with more interest in getting their names in the paper (with the specious justification being that getting their names in the paper is the only way to remind America about the causes they’re advancing) than in actually working to advance their causes in a grassroots way (I’ve never gotten a call from the Rainbow Push coalition—The Human Rights Campaign calls me once every two months), then go ahead. You’d be justified even if you’re white. But Joe, say it. Don’t hint at it. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. But Joe Biden’s right. Those guys knew exactly what he was talking about.

Sorry, I just took a trip to HuffPost land.

Yeah. Anyway, here’s to 9 days of old people. Yesterday, against my better judgment, I was on the internet at the passenger computers. I suppose I must look a bit like an office worker while I’m there, although they always seem to ask me questions rather than the other passengers, and the following things took place:

-A guy asking me if there was a restaurant nearby, and then when I told him about the asian places and the main dining room nearby, he loudly corrected me: “No. RestROOM. I’m looking for a REST ROOM.”

-A woman asking me if there was a restroom nearby, which I pointed out to her. This prompted her husband to confront me by saying, “Yeah, but it doesn’t go to the fourth floor!”

-Drunk woman loudly asking the internet manager how to “get these pictures of her doggie.”

-I just got asked about whether or not they’ll be playing the Super Bowl on the ridiculous big screen in the lobby (17 feet by 25 feet). My qualifications for answering this question are apparently that I’m on a laptop with earphones in. Seems official enough.

Old people!

I’m sorry for the bitchiness here, guys.

This is where everything trailed off because I didn’t want to post a totally negative blog and I was getting tired and laziness took over once again. Nothing I could have done. Sorry.
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