I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned the fact that my husband is building a boat in our apartment. Given the layout of our living quarters, this is less totally fucked up than it sounds, but it’s still pretty damned bonkers.
My husband has a long-standing thing for boats without actually being a sailor or even particularly knowledgable about boats in a meaningful way. He is naturally a fan of Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, and reads books about life on the sea, but his own primary experiences on the ocean is limited to, say, a whale watch off the Massachusetts shore once a decade; maybe going out on a high school pal’s dad’s lobster boat (my husband grew up on Cape Cod). There was a time, around fifteen years ago, when he tried to convince me that we should sail to Europe, wicked cheap, by going on one of those miserable-looking cargo ships. Sure we wouldn’t have nice food or air or anything, but we’d be sailing to Europe.
Needless to say, I said something along the lines of “No fucking way,” and that was that.
When our daughter began to express interest in boats my husband encouraged this interest whole-heartedly. Last summer, at camp, she built a small wooden sailboat which we carried over to the river near our apartment building and sailed a bit; it’s a small boat but sturdy and well-designed. “We could build a real boat,” my husband said excitedly. Before I knew it I was getting emails from him alerting me that I should be ready to receive a package from this company or that company: these were plans and pieces of wood and large heavy bottles of God-knows-what which he would use to build his own dinghy. I was told our daughter would help, and she confirmed this. I asked dubiously if they’d be able to get said built sea-faring device out of our apartment, and was told, “It’s only going to be nine feet long, jeez.”
This is longer than our piano, which was a bear to get into the apartment, but okay. I have not put up any kind of stink about this boat-thing, at all. I’ve not been silent about it, mind you — I make fun of my husband as often as I can on the subject — but I’ve not complained.
However, one side-effect of all this boat stuff is that my husband and child began to talk more about big boats, e.g. cruise ships, and a long-standing hypothetical idea we’d had — to go on a cruise at Christmastime so as to have Christmas with the family without the strain of having to stage Christmas, per se — evolved very abruptly this past February into a plan wherein we would go on a cruise over our daughter’s spring break from school.
“Are you serious?” I asked. I wasn’t being flip; I genuinely couldn’t tell if this was something I was supposed to spring into action about — should I start researching cruise lines and travel dates and costs and things like that? Or was this just another topic of conversation that would get batted about every six months, playfully, the way it is when one of our cats notices a cat toy that he’s just noticed under the dining room breakfront. Sure, the toy’s been there for months just waiting to be played with, but only now, suddenly, is the toy of interest. It will be intensely interesting and the object of rage and the cause of much yowling for about twenty-four hours, and then the cat will lose it again under something and forget about it and I will carefully not vacuum it up for several months until the cat notices it again. So, cruise-chat now, but, ha ha ha, not really, don’t worry about it. We’re just kidding.
“Look into it,” my husband said. “I’ll figure out a budget,” he said.
Once the word “budget” is spoken then you know this shit is on, and it’s time for me to get to work.
I spent a morning poking around online and discerned that there were spring cruises that would sail out of New York the day after our daughter’s spring break started. “We could leave April 14 and come back the 21st; school starts again the 23rd,” I told my husband. “Find out precise costs for different rooms and options,” he said.
I quickly realized I had no fucking idea how to interpret the ship’s elaborate and yet utterly uninformative website. I could glean what explosive or sharp objects we could not bring on the hypothetical cruise but couldn’t for the life of me figure out what anything actually cost. My dear friend S., who used to work on cruise ships, recommended that I go to a particular website to book our trip at a tremendous discount. I went to the website dutifully, but still couldn’t make head or tail of anything.
I began to cavil, worrying about the possibility that the three of us would show up at the boat and they would say, “um, no, you only booked for two people. Sorry, kid!” and the opposite of hilarity would ensue.
“Call a travel agent,” advised my husband. Because there is a travel agent next door to the video store we still go to (we are loyalists, what can I say), I phoned them up. “Talk to me like I’m an idiot and explain to me how I can get us onto this cruise for a less than completely-horrific amount of money,” I said to the nice man on the phone, naming a dollar amount that made me feel seasick.
“We can do this,” I was assured by Dan the travel agent, and within half an hour I had an email from him with a list of various options and packages, all of which would get us onto the cruise to a warm island, leaving New York on the 14th and returning to New York on the 21st, all of which cost right around our budget cap (some a tiny bit less, some a tiny bit more). I forwarded the email to my husband and said, “Pick a plan and I’ll book it.”
I also consulted with our old pal S., who, as I’ve mentioned, worked on cruises for several years as a pastry chef, and who’s been urging us to go cruising for ages on the grounds that my husband would love the boatiness of the experience and that I’d love the food and ability to lie around doing nothing for a week. She gave her valued opinion, which I then emailed to my husband. Since S. and my husband turned out to be in agreement on the matter, the matter was settled; I wrote back to Dan the Travel Agent and said, “I guess we’re gonna do this.”
The next couple of months were spent fretting about how to pack for this trip and over who would take care of our two shithead cats and how we’d schlep all our stuff to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. You know, the logistics of the thing. I had total faith that once we were on the boat, everything would be fine. (Oddly, I was not worried about us all drowning, or the ship going down in flames, or bedbugs, or even seasickness: this makes no sense at all, but really, it’s true. I wasn’t at all worried about all the things that could go disastrously wrong. But I was worried to the point of nausea thinking about all the details of home, and the logistics of getting to the ship, that could go wrong.) I lined up a cat sitter. I realized that the Manhattan Cruise Terminal was ridiculously close to Grand Central Station, and determined that if we packed cautiously we could easily take the train to New York and walk or cab it over to W. 44th Street (cab would be more expensive but probably easier, what with our carrying heavy bags, I thought to myself). My husband spent time watching YouTube videos about cruising, our daughter curled up on the couch next to him. “That’s what our boat will look like,” he told her. There were clips of people lounging by pools, eating yummy food, eating ice cream. There were shots of cabins with balconies and remarkable views off those balconies. “We’re not getting a balcony,” I reminded my family.
“Aw,” said my daughter. I shot her a look. “We’re not paying for a balcony,” I said grimly. “We’re not even going to have a window,” my husband said, “but it really won’t matter since we’ll hardly ever be in our cabin. We’re gonna be out and about on this massive ship having a great time.”
“I won’t have to cook anything for a week,” I said dreamily, imagining a week of eating food that wasn’t great or interesting but which would have the primary virtue of not having been thought up or worked on by me, at all. “And I won’t have to do laundry, either.” “Nope! No cooking, no laundry,” my husband said. “You’ll do the laundry when we get home,” my daughter reminded me, ever the buzzkill. “That’s okay,” I told her. “It really won’t be so bad because we’re gonna pack really smart and it’ll be a piece of cake.”
“This is gonna be great,” my husband said happily, over and over again.
One thing nagged at my husband, which was the question of getting to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. We had figured out that walking from Grand Central with our (not-yet-packed, but mentally in our hands) bags would be a pain in the ass. “With train fares and cab fares,” my Excel-spreadsheet-minded husband mused, “it might be worth it to hire a driver to take us right to the terminal.” I explored hiring a limo services; it was insanely expensive. I looked into having someone drive us in our own car to the terminal and then drive our car back to our apartment; it was do-able, but also not cheap and possibly more trouble than it was worth. “Maybe we should take an Uber,” my husband said thoughtfully. Now, I always thought he’d hated Uber, but apparently this was a situation so out of our normal range that anything was possible. At that moment I remembered a particular Uber car we’d seen around our neighborhood for the last couple years. This car was occasionally parked in our neighborhood and it was noteworthy because the car’s owner has been decking it out, slowly and painstakingly, with red, black, and white duct tape: it is a kind of hyper-elaborate Mondrian painting, done in duct tape, inside the car and outside the car. It’s a mobile work of art.
It was only last fall that we discovered that this car was actually an Uber-driver’s car; we learned this because there was an article about him in the local paper. My daughter and I had mentioned the article to my husband. “Remember we told you about that crazy car with the duct tape all over it?” we had told him. “Turns out the guy who owns it is an Uber driver!” “That’s really funny,” my husband had said. We all enjoyed thinking about the funny red, black, and white duct-taped car.
My husband turned to my daughter, then, one Saturday morning in late March, and said, “What if we got this guy with the duct tape car to drive us to the Terminal? Would you like that?” Our girl’s eyes got very round and she gasped: the answer was, basically, “I would totally fucking LOVE that.”
I said, “I’ll see if I can get in touch with him to see if he’d be available to do this.” Ten seconds of Facebooking later, I had established that the driver was friends with some 45 or so of my local pals, and I messaged one of them to ask, “You know this guy who drives the Uber? How would I get in touch with him? You think he’d want to drive us to New York?”
Two hours later I was texting with the Duct Tape Driver, a very sweet Polish guy named Adam who’s lived in our little city for about twenty years. I explained that I was friends with tons of his friends — no, I’m not a local musician but I run in those circles — and that I was trying to find an efficient way for me and my family to arrive at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on April 14th to board a ship. It turned out that Adam used to drive for the limousine service that goes from Connecticut to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, he knew the route well, and he was available and tickled by the request.
The cat sitter was lined up. I knew when I’d deliver the keys to her. The trip to Manhattan was settled. All I had to do was pack and get us out the door. This would involve a lot of freaking out, but it wasn’t more than I could handle.
I sent a message to two of my mama friends. “I can’t believe we’re going to do this,” I wrote, “but we’re going to do this.” “I can’t wait to read what the Hausfrau has to say about the experience,” one of them wrote back immediately.
“You know,” I said, “I hadn’t even stopped to think about writing about this. Isn’t that funny?”