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There's No Place Like Ship for the Holidays - johnnyboatshow
There's No Place Like Ship for the Holidays
Happy New Year and Merry Christmas and all that. I had a Christmas and a New Year, too. Out here on the ship I live on.

They both made some degree of sense, which was a nice change of pace for me.

Christmas was semisensical due to the arrival of my family. They were aboard for the Christmas cruise. It was a very nice thing for them to do. First of all, it was expensive. Second, we don’t like cruise ships much. Sort of a byproduct of our core family values type of thing.

My mother had been aboard for my previous cruise ship contract, so she knew more or less what to expect, and she found the cruise environment to be pretty much more of the same, although she was pleasantly surprised by the bizarre phenomenon of muted Christmas commercialism on the ship. She’s right.

You wouldn’t expect Christmas to be slightly more tasteful on a cruise ship than it is in your average American town, but it is. It’s not actually more tasteful, of course, but it seems that way because on a ship Christmas commercialism takes a backseat to just regular old fashioned secular commercialism. Sort of like how a non-Christmas shopping mall is kind of less offensive than a jam-packed Christmastime shopping mall. At least if you care about Christmas in that traditional, personal, Bing Crosby by the fire with the family kind of a way. But then once you think of it, a shopping mall is always pretty depressing.

There are reasons for the suppression of crass Christmas-related exploitation on the high seas. From what I can tell on my side of things, success in management of a cruise ship is wholly gauged by how many complaints you get. The fewer the complaints the better. This is actually how they do things within the company, and it’s a reflection of how travel agents do things in their businesses. Basically, if you send somebody out on a trip that costs them a couple of thousand dollars and they don’t enjoy themselves, you’re going to have a hard time selling them on another trip. Ever. And travel agents need repeat customers. So the cruise ships have their reasons.

Two patterns emerge.

One, people get wise to this after going on a couple of cruises and realize that they can get anything they want if they just complain loudly enough. At a certain point, they’re going to back a poor Brazilian front desk attendant into saying those magical pro-bitchy-consumer words “What can I do to ensure you’re satisfaction.” Then you’ve got them by the nuts. All you have to do is elevate your stress response to running-from-a-tiger-in-the-Serengeti levels over minor inconveniences, and the world, and all the shitty free wine in it, is your oyster. You also have to be completely uncaring about the mental health of a poor Brazilian who’s had the misfortune to land herself in a service position on a cruise ship in order to help finance her father’s kidney operation. She will cry herself to sleep later.

So you’ve got a large group of people on board the ship who’ve earned a sense of entitlement in the most American of ways, through street smarts. And why shouldn’t they? They work damn hard as a paralegal back home and nobody ever pays them any attention, except for the odd mailroom guy who they’re pretty sure wants to have sex with them (a possibility they consider in their most secret fantasies without regard to the fact that they’d probably treat the mailroom guy like dirt if he didn’t flirt with them every once in a while).

I’m not saying all cruise ship passengers are chronic, serial complainers. Just the ones who are “good at it.”

The other pattern that emerges is that the culture on a cruise ship is a sort of self-preservation inspired mediocrity in all things. Whenever something crosses over the abstract line where a complaint is possible, it’s nixed forever. This includes things like spicy entrees on the menu and rap music in the dance club and Christmas music and decorations blossoming forth from every corner of available surface area. The loud carpet designs are there, gloriously hiding wine stains in all their cost-effective grandeur, and the “grand” atrium is decorated to within an inch of its life in order to convey cost-effective majesty, and the beautiful hustling cost-effective commission-based spa workers are luxuriantly extolling the virtues of unnecessary cellulite-reducing aromatherapies, and the apparentness of a hidden oasis available for only a few dollars more is never in question.

What is in question is whether or not Christmas music will or will not offend a Long Island Jew who may or may not be clued into the whole complaints=amenities trick. Best not to risk it. Let’s just put up a few tastefully ignorable wreaths in early December and maybe have a Christmas Mass presided over by an aging priest on sinecure assignment and a Christmas Eve sing-along and have Santa arrive via jetski on the private island so the Christians won’t complain either. That ought to level things off. Then on December 26th everything will be pretty much back to “normal,” and we can go back to squeezing money out of these suckers without the thorny issue of religion intruding.

And in a way, this was a nice change of pace for my Mother. She’s got delicate aesthetic sensibilities about things like Christmas exploitation and motorized noises and postmodern architecture. In the absence of taste, she prefers ignorable tastelessness.

So that’s an element of the family disaffection for cruise ships. They’re not ignorable. Not when you’re on one. They have their moments, but it’s hard to approve of how often those moments are interrupted by bingo announcements.

My father had a gripe about The Laziness that I hadn’t quite considered.

I know about The Laziness. The Laziness is what happens when you spend four months in a situation where your every need is attended to whether you’d like it to be or not. It’s what happens when everything you see and hear and experience is screaming, “Relax, you’re on vacation!” And not abstractly. There are actual signs that say stuff like that. What happens is eventually you just shut down and find yourself completely incapable of completing a task. You can fight it all you want to, but The Laziness is going to get you sooner or later if you spend enough time on a cruise ship. You’ll find yourself thinking of mild chores like shaving or showering as if they were insurmountable obstacles between yourself and the sweet release of sleep you hope to somehow earn that night.

If these sound like symptoms of depression, you’re not wrong. There is just so much lolling about in luxury (and boredom counts as the Great American Luxury) a person can do before their Seratonin levels drop to “just above vegetative.”

Anyway, my Father, ever the inquiring scientific mind, came about The Laziness from a sociological perspective. He says it’s not good for us. Not “it’s not good for you,” rather “it’s not good for us.” As a species. The collective us. He says that the whole idea of striving for the greatest luxury available, of working solely for the attainment of ease, is destroying mankind.

It’s hard to disagree when you see the buffet lines. These people look and act like cows. Like beings who were once wild humans but have now, through generations of training, become domesticated and dependant on their captors, and if you set them free in the wild with no credit rating they’d wander aimlessly back to their insurance company job for a paycheck.

Maybe that’s a little far to go, but I swear it’s not that far. A cruise ship is where out of whack priority systems go to be feted. Where else could it be considered quietly suspicious if you have a strong unspoken aversion to the busboy unfolding a napkin into your lap for you? Uncouth, even. Fuck that. It’s my napkin. It’s seven inches from my lap. I can take it from here. Sorry if that flies in the face of your social ambitions.

And yes, after four months on this ship, I’m still unfolding my own napkin. The Laziness won’t control me completely as long as I’m unfolding my own napkin. But I’ll be damned if I’m shaving today.

My brothers were maybe a little less insightful, but more direct with their opinions. They said, “After reading your blog, I was like ‘dude, it’s a cruise, get over it,’ but now I totally get it.”

So you guys will just have to trust my brothers on this one. They don’t say stuff like that unless they mean it. Usually we just get drunk and call each other gay and then homoerotically try to whack each other in the balls. We’re boys. It’s what we do. But, you know, if the level of discourse gets more elevated than drunken schoolyard taunting and ballwhacking (kind of a paradox as far as I’m concerned), it’s usually to convey some direct message. We’re just not a cagey, repressed type of family.

And of course having a bunch of yahoos who are more or less like me on board was a godsend. Even if it was just for a week. Basically my family came on the ship, looked around, and said, “yup, you’re sane, all this is weird to me too.” What a relief. The ship is like a bad relationship with a crazy person. You’re embarrassed to invite your friends to hang out with the two of you because you know all the compromises you’ve made in order to continue to have hot sex with this crazy person will be glaringly obvious in contrast to the ease of interacting with your buddies. And you know you’ll have to face facts and end things and you’re not quite ready for that, but in the end it’s better to drag these things out into the light. So my family did that, and it was good, because I was really talking myself into this whole “ship” thing.

Not really, but, you know, metaphorically. I was saying, “this is somewhat acceptable on a good day.”

I also had a New Year’s Eve go by, and New Year’s Eve is a good holiday for a ship. Not that I’d recommend it, but it’s nice that there are all these people who are stuck on the one ship, and they’re going to have to go out and try to have fun because it’s New Year’s Eve and it’s all completely arbitrary but that’s what they’re supposed to do so they do it. Perfect. It’s a shocking contrast with business as usual in my life to see cruise passengers taking a little initiative on the fun front instead of just waiting around to be herded into a “Mr. Hairy Chest” competition or a perfunctory Electric Slide.

So now I can just retreat into the privacy of my own room and let the days quietly pass. I’m really battening down the hatches, here. I don’t have much else to do.

I’ve decided to cool it on the drinking front. Mostly for economic reasons. I might be a lush, but my sense of indignity over paying the ship an inordinate percentage of my earnings for the privilege of feeling slightly less like a rat in a cage has overwhelmed my desire to imbibe. It’s having unexpected health effects. Like now I have to exercise if I’m going to have any hope of getting to sleep. So that’s two things. I’m working out now because I’m not drinking. Funny how that works. I’m also, as you might notice, writing. Because it turns out my mind is also understimulated when I don’t routinely commit mass murder on my brain cells. It’s like a vicious cycle, really.

Oh, I also didn’t mention that my TV stopped working for about 12 days. It’s a ridiculous cycle of logistics where my TV broke, and then it took 10 days for the first guy to look at it, and he fixed it somehow, and then it took less than two hours to break again, and then in two days another guy came and looked at it more thoroughly and replaced it and then it was fixed for four days, and then it just broke again just now. I’d be more upset about it if I actually cared at this point. It’s good. I’m like a fit hermit with a razor sharp mind.

You’re probably not going to hear a whole lot of updates from now on.

Maybe. This week we’re going to places in the Caribbean that I’ve been to before. It might inspire some thoughts. Do me a favor and wait with baited breath.
4 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 15th, 2008 04:58 am (UTC) (Link)


Help me comprehend. This tortured, low-life existence has been forced upon you? Your inquisitive mind has led you to sustain in such a sub culture?
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 23rd, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hey Ben...

Hey Ben, how does this commenting work? Will you get a notice about this? Or will it just sit here unread? I wanted to send you an email, but I couldn't find your address anywhere, and then I gave up pretty quickly. Anyway, this is Rennie from Emerson...

I have been thinking of you recently because I moved from Baltimore to NW DC and (for fun) still commute to Baltimore, so I drive by Silver Spring every day. Anyway, I know you're all settled in Chicago, but you must still come home sometimes and you should get in touch when you do. My email is: cml AT pha.jhu.edu. Anyway, hope ya get this! BTW I don't have facebook or myspace or anything that's why I couldn't find you through any more high-tech means. Also, I got married so now my name is Kramer, instead of Lamb, (it sounds a little tougher, doesn't it?); I didn't want you to get confused.
(no subject) - flugsportiopa - Expand
From: hiqiscup Date: April 9th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

4 comments or Leave a comment