5. Social Life and Anti-Social Life: On a Cruise You Really Can Have It All!

As I have expounded on at length already: It was clear to me and my husband, within a couple hours of boarding this ship, that the apparent majority of the guests were Red Sox fans from Massachusetts. We didn’t have to interview anyone to figure this out; we did not ask the cruise director, “Can you give us a demographic breakdown of who’s traveling with you this week?” Simply walking around, we heard the nearly inimitable squawk of Massachusetts everywhere we went; and the Red Sox t-shirts, caps, and conversations were all around us. One evening I stepped into an elevator and there were a few people standing in there silently; the man against the back wall looked at me and said, “15-2 Sox!” (I think that’s what he said. Frankly, it went in one ear and out the other.) I said as politely as I could, “Yes? I don’t really follow the Red Sox.” A woman on the wall opposite me said, laughingly, “A Yankees fan!” I grinned and said, “No, no. I’m from Connecticut and to be completely honest, I just don’t give a crap about baseball.” A woman standing to my right let out a whoop and held her hand up for me to high-five. “I did go to Fenway Park once,” I admitted, “when my husband dragged me. But I read a book through the whole game.” The man at the back wall looked chagrined and mystified, and everyone else in the elevator laughed.

It wasn’t that there was no one on the cruise who my family could “match” with socially — but we were definitely outliers of some kind in this artificial community. As such, we did not socialize with others in any kind of organized way — there was no “hey, you all wanna go to Family Karaoke tonight?” or “How about we meet you at the outdoor chessboard on Deck 7 tomorrow afternoon?” No: we kept ourselves to ourselves, for the most part.

The Red Sox fan of our household is the least socially outgoing person of the three of us; the more outgoing adult member of the household (that would be me) doesn’t give a crap about sports and uses sportsball games mostly as punchlines to comments either insulting to sports fans or marginally self-deprecating. This combination put us at a disadvantage on this particular ship. Nonetheless, my husband I enjoyed walking around people-watching. There was, for example, the time we were strolling through the atrium and saw a guy who was dressed, head to toe, including tips of hair, exactly like Rod Stewart ca. 1982. We smiled and walked on, waiting until we were a discreet distance away before we began to giggle and discuss “how weird do you have to be to be a guy in his late 60s walking around outfitted to look exactly like Rod Stewart?” We figured, “Benign loon”; agreed that he definitely added to the ambience of the place; and moved on.

The more time we spent hanging around the big public spaces, like the dining rooms and the pool areas, it became clear that most of the people in our age group were traveling in large packs — family reunion type situations, or the kind of thing where two or three families had banded together to do a huge group vacation. It was obvious to me and my husband that we would be spending a lot of time just the two of us, or just the three of us, with our daughter folded in, since we didn’t have automatic friends on board. This was fine, but I did think it’d be nice to have someone else to talk to once in a while.

This did happen a few times. One fine morning when most people were on port excursions, my husband and I went to sit in one of the hot tubs and we spent a few minutes talking with a woman in her 60s from Massachusetts, who joined us after we’d been in the tub about five minutes. She told us that she was part of a very large group of travelers who were on the cruise to see a show being put on by a group of pop singer impersonators. “They’ve got a huge fan base where we live,” she told us. “They’re doing a show Friday night, you should go!” Apparently somewhere in central Massachusetts there’s this crew of guys who get up regularly at various clubs and they do Rod Stewart concerts, Elvis Presley concerts, and one of them is, we were told, an excellent Mick Jagger. “That explains the Rod Stewart lookalike we walked past the other day,” I said to my husband. “It also explains the Elvis I saw last night,” he remarked. I said, hurt, “You didn’t tell me you saw Elvis last night!” He said, “I guess it slipped my mind.”

I met one woman, from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, who was traveling with one of her girlfriends. “Usually there’s four or six of us who travel together,” she told me. “We been doing this twice a year for years. This time it’s just me and my one friend, and she’s not coming out of our room — she’s been in bed every day so far.” “Is she sick?” I asked politely. “Nah, she’s not sick, she’s just got some problem, I dunno.” The lady was having a terrible week because she’d thought she’d have company on the trip but in essence she was traveling solo. Talking to me was probably the most fun she’d had since she’d left Woonsocket, and that’s really not saying much. I felt bad for her. That night I saw her from afar in the dining room and she was seated all alone at a two-top, eating and looking out the window very sadly. It was obvious that for some people, like the lady from Woonsocket, this was a vacation that was just a huge flop. There wasn’t anything I could do to fix it but I did cross paths with her a couple more times, as the week went on, and I always stopped to chat with her. When I ran into her on Friday afternoon, I told her to go see the Legends show, happening that night, which it turned out she didn’t know about. She seemed genuinely happy to have something to look forward to — besides getting back to Woonsocket, I mean.

The matter of “who you dine with” is apparently a big deal on most cruises. I’ve read Tina Fey’s essay about going on a cruise many times, and she had a lot to say (pretty much all negative) about how it sucks to be on a cruise where you have to eat all your meals at an assigned table with assigned tablemates. David Foster Wallace’s classic cruise essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” also talks about this phenomenon. One aspect the three of us really liked about the cruise we went on was that we didn’t ever once have to sit at a table with anyone else. Call us anti-social snobs if you must; but we really wanted to just eat by ourselves. Our meals were the times when we re-grouped as a tight family unit: it was basically just like eating dinner at home, except, duh, I didn’t have to cook and no one had to clean up afterward (except those getting paid to do so) and we didn’t have cats yowling up at us trying to stick their filthy little paws into our chicken cutlets. (We did all miss our cats, to be honest, and spent a lot of time speculating as to what our cats might do if set loose in the dining room.) I think that for more extroverted people, the assigned-seats style of cruise dining might be a pleasant thing, novel and exciting. For us, it would have been utter fucking hell. In this very important sense, it is very clear to me (in retrospect; I hadn’t really thought about it before we actually booked the trip, astonishing but true) that the “freestyle” cruise mode is the only way we can go, if we’re going to travel this way. Otherwise, to be blunt, I think my husband will have a nervous breakdown. If he has to be charming to strangers for more than about three hours in a row, he gets too tired; to have to engage in that kind of thing, three meals a day, for 7 days, might kill him. I get it.

Our household motto might be something like “You don’t annoy me too much, I won’t annoy you.”

There were a few mottoes, spoken or unspoken, of the majority of the guests on this ship. These mottoes were not second nature to us, since we are boring quiet people who don’t wear shirts with obscenities printed on them. These mottoes were, roughly, in no particular order, “Party All the Time,” “Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Drink,” and “Don’t Worry About How You Look.” As a general rule, people traveling without children were either buzzed or downright drunk, regardless of the time of day, and this same population seemed to have little care for what we might call personal dignity. It astonished me to see the manners of dress (or lack thereof) people didn’t mind putting out there. My qualms aren’t based on prudishness but are obviously based on something we could attribute to, I suppose, class snobbishness or my own general sense that there is a way to present oneself and a way to never present oneself. The men on this ship were so sloppily attired, it left me at a loss. Married, as I am, to a man who basically cannot bring himself to wear shorts in public, on the grounds that it’s undignified, if not downright slatternly, I’ve gotten used to a certain look on men to whom I stand in close proximity.

That look was hard to come by that week; proximity, easy. I saw a lot of men walking around in ill-fitting t-shirts, ill-fitting tank tops, both often printed with slogans and images not printable in a family paper. (My husband told me about some that he’d seen, horrified, and asked me, “Who wears these things in public? Who?” All I could say was, “Well, those guys do, I guess?”) You can just imagine the sorts of shorts I saw all over the place. It was Thursday, I believe — the cruise was almost over — before I saw a man other than my husband strolling about the ship wearing pants and a button-down shirt. (He looked good.)

Where I live, there’s definitely a lot of sloppy clothing, and God knows there are a lot of people who are not interested in being fashionable or stylish. Even so: it’s clear that even without taking these things into consideration, there is a kind of decorum assumed, across this city, across ethnic, class, and other demographic lines, that just did not exist on this ship. I spend time in posh neighborhoods here, I spend time in seriously not-posh neighborhoods. I’m all over the damned place. I’m on foot, walking around all the time, I’m on buses, headed crosstown. I see every kind of person there is to see in this little city, and I’m telling you, the attire that was normal on this ship would be garnering some clucks of disapproval here in New Haven, regardless of neighborhood, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. Now maybe, maybe it’s true that if we took New Haven and said, “pack for a week-long cruise to the Bahamas” we’d wind up with some people who dressed the way these people on this cruise did. But in all seriousness: I don’t think there would be nearly so many t-shirts with boob jokes on them. A few, maybe. But not this many.

Some of you may be wondering, “What did the Hausfrau wear on her vacation?” and the answer is, I wore pretty much exactly what I wear when I’m going about my business at home in the summertime. I wore a black cotton blend pencil skirt, black or grey t-shirts, and comfortable shoes (on this trip, mostly leopard print clogs). When it got chilly I put on a denim jacket. There was nothing at all shocking about what I wore, nor did I look sloppy or slatternly, thank you very much.

Much as my wardrobe did not change while I was on the ship, my basic behavior did not turn toward the particularly hedonistic, though I was politely urged to let my hair down many times. I had two drinks, on two separate occasions; this is the equivalent, on a cruise, of being teetotal. My husband had a few gin and tonics over the course of the week, a couple of beers. The majority of guests, however, were — and I really don’t think I’m exaggerating — always walking around with some big tall drink in their hands, and I’m not talking about a Dunkin’ iced coffee. When I noticed people swaying as they walked, I had to think about whether this was a question of sea legs or sobriety. It was, if I stopped to think about it too hard, a bit of a bummer. Men seemed to party harder than women, and have less sense of propriety overall, perhaps because they were partying so much harder. And I write all this, mind you, as someone who didn’t spend time hanging out in the casino at night, or at any of the dance clubs or karaoke bars or anything like that. This was just me, a matronly type, skulking about the boat looking for places to read my book between the hours of, say, 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

There was one time when my husband and daughter asked me to meet them for dinner at a restaurant and I wound up getting horribly lost on the ship and had absolutely no clue how to get to my desired location. There are maps and guides all over the place but the fact remains, fore and aft don’t come naturally to me and given the multiple elevator banks on any given deck, it’s easy to get confused and disoriented very quickly. Thus it was that at 7 p.m. I found myself weaving back and forth on the ship — stone cold sober, mind you — trying to figure out how the hell to get to this one restaurant that I thought I knew how to get to.

I mean, here’s the thing about being on a cruise: your options are deeply finite. You can only go so many places on a ship, and it has a definite beginning, middle, and end. It’s not like being on a lonely road someplace where you think, “Well, I’m in Springfield, if I keep riding I’ll wind up in Northfield, that’s not so bad, right?” No. You’re on a ship. Eventually you will hit a wall or a railing and on the other sides of those walls and railings are ocean. So you will turn around and start over again.

Honestly, I think I spent twenty minutes circling around, walking through the casino (iccchh) and then thinking, “Aha, I’ve found it,” heading confidently toward the right only to realize I had landed myself in a very dimly lit bar where people were gearing up to sing Aerosmith and Taylor Swift to the best of their abilities. I walked up half-staircases and down half-staircases and I went hither and thither and yon and I only found my family by the grace of good luck when they found me, actually, coming through the Photo Gift Shop, or whatever they call the place where you’re supposed to drop wads of money on pictures of you and your family and friends having such an awesome time on your cruise.

“Where’ve you been?” my husband asked me.
“I have no fucking idea,” I said truthfully.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that we were not willing to pay whatever astronomical charges would be asked if we wanted to use our cell phones on the ship. Roaming charges, wifi fees, whatever: we were too stingy to rack up these charges. As a result, we could not communicate with each other in the manner to which everyone’s accustomed nowadays. I couldn’t text my husband saying “Jesus, I just got lost in a karaoke bar, how do I get to you?” and have him reply, “You moron, you go LEFT at the karaoke bar, then left again, and we are here.” Not that my husband would ever text me telling me I’m a moron, that’d be deeply out of character.

No: for us to keep in touch with each other, we got in the habit of leaving handwritten notes — written on paper — on the bed in our cabin. “Gone to read and look at water,” a note might read, “meet you at cabin at 12.” “Meet you for dinner in Garden Cafe at 6.” “Gone to return library book, back soon, 4 p.m.” It was, to be honest, all very quaint.

It might be, I suppose, that everyone else is drinking so much because they can’t find the people they’re traveling with and they don’t know what else to do with themselves, so they figure, “What the hell, I’ll just go have a drink, Bob is sure to walk by eventually….”

Life on a cruise is, in a lot of ways, a throwback-to-the-year-1995 experience. For example, I met someone and became friends with them purely on the basis of chance. How often does that happen these days?

This was one of the Port Days, when most people scurried off the ship to go do wholesome things with their kids or to go get snockered on an actual beach somewhere. On this morning, my daughter went off to hang with whatever small number of kids signed up for the cruise kids’ program that day, my husband went off to go read his book, and I went to get a pedicure at the cruise ship’s spa. This would turn out to be an enlightening experience — I learned, a la the heroine in Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, that I am not taking care of myself the way real women do*. I was seated in the waiting area filling out paperwork when a woman with greying-blonde wavy hair sat down across from me with her own little clipboard of paperwork. “Taking advantage of the massage special today?” she asked me conversationally. “Oh, no,” I said, “I’m just getting a pedicure. That’s more than enough excitement for me.”

The woman chuckled and as we finished our paperwork we chatted. It turned out that she was from New York City, and had worked in publishing for many years. I said where I was from, in Connecticut, and that I’d been a bookseller for a long time, and she told me that her in-laws lived in my small city, too. It turned out we had quite a few overlapping life-elements — little interests, common tastes — and she said, “We should get together and have coffee sometime! Like we would if we’d met in real life.” I agreed wholeheartedly, and we exchanged first names just as my name was called: it was time for me to enter the spa and become a new woman. Or get some newly painted toenails, anyhow.

I followed the petite salon staffer, a woman with perfect hair and nails, natch, into a room where there were a few of those big puffy vinyl-covered salon chairs lined up facing a bank of windows; I had a remarkable view of the Atlantic. I picked out my nail polish color and as I sat in the chair the beautician turned on the massage panel and the chair began to beat up my back. There must be people who like that sort of thing, but I really don’t; however, I would have felt bad saying anything about it, so I let my back get mauled by the chair while the lady soaked my feet and clipped my nails and began to try to draw me out. It was clear to me immediately that this young woman was mystified by me: at the time I sat down in her salon, I did not already have polish on my feet. “How long has it been since you had a pedicure?” she asked suspiciously. “Maybe three years? Four years? It’s been a while,” I said. She examined my feet. “You have a lot of calluses,” she scolded me. I tried to explain that I walk everywhere and as such my feet have calluses, but she would have none of it. She soaked my feet and worked on my nails and eventually took up a cheese grater to scrub at my feet. “That’s a Microplane grater!” I said with amusement. “How do you know that?” she asked, looking at the device in her hand. I explained that I own several Microplane graters and that I use them in my kitchen. She seemed skeptical that a Microplane would ever be used for something other than removing calluses. “For grating cheese, or ginger, or chocolate,” I explained. “They’re very well-made.” “Well,” she said, scrubbing at my feet, “they are. And they are very easy to clean,” she added pointedly. I watched as my dead skin piled up on the paper toweling at the foot of the puffy chair. It was vile, but also fascinating. She worked so hard,  with religious zeal: she was obviously shocked and horrified by me, and mystified as to how an adult woman could not care about her feet this much.

Mind you, I feel like I take fairly good care of myself. And I do care about my feet; it’s just that foot beauty isn’t one of my highest priorities. I clip my nails and stuff like that! Other aspects of personal aesthetics rank more highly. My hair, I can assure you, is in great shape. Since far more people see my hair than ever see my feet, I really think I’ve got my priorities straight.

The beautician, having painted my nails, then tried to get me to purchase a number of expensive skin-and-nail-care products, none of which I considered for even a moment. I walked out of the salon with my new feet and as I walked past the waiting room I remembered the lady, let’s call her Beverly, who I’d met an hour before.  I paused, and then went up to the reception desk. “Hi,” I said. “There was a blonde lady who was about to get a massage this morning, is she still around?” I explained that if she was, I’d like to leave a message for her. The staff established that she was, in fact, still on-site, and kindly gave me a piece of paper and a pen so I could write her a note. I scrawled, “It was nice to meet you — if you’d like to get in touch to have coffee sometime, here is my room number.” I left the spa feeling cheerful. Even if our paths didn’t cross again, I’d made a good-faith effort to make a new friend, and there’d be no hard feelings if she didn’t get in touch (after all, time is limited, on a cruise); it seemed like a mitzvah, really, to even make the gesture. Also excellent: as it was only 10.30 in the morning, I had the rest of the day to loll about on lounge chairs reading. 

I was ambling across Deck 12, thinking I would head back to the cabin to meet my husband and then we’d find our daughter and go have lunch, when I ran into Beverly, the blonde from the salon. Translated into my local vernacular, this would be like running into a new friend on Orange Street, the morning after meeting at a cocktail party at which you’d discovered that you’ve both been living in the neighborhood for six years, two blocks away from each other. In other words, it should have been inevitable, yet somehow it wasn’t.

“I got your note!” she said happily. We compared notes on our mornings (unanimous positions: pleasant; though I imagine she enjoyed her massage more than I enjoyed having a cheese grater applied to the soles of my feet) and I said I was looking forward to having my family make fun of my toenails. “Speaking of which, I need to find my family,” Beverly said. She had a vague idea of where her husband was, but her son and parents had gone off together and she was unable to locate them. “They’ve gotta be around here somewhere,” I said. “The library? The games room?” “That’s what I’m hoping,” she said. She said she’d phone me after she conferred with her family about their plans for the next day or two, I said Fabulous, and off we went.

Late in the afternoon when my family convened in our cabin for the pre-dinner changing of clothes and so on (adding a sweater, changing shoes, going from bathing suit into shirt and pants), the phone rang. Everyone in the room froze. “Who could be calling us?” my daughter asked, real alarm in her voice. She had been led to understand, thanks to us, that phones were useless on the ship.

“I bet it’s my new friend!” I said. Everyone looked at me with surprise: I’d made a friend? Who would phone me?

Sure enough, it was Beverly. “Hi!” she said. It was like a totally normal phone call from someone I knew, except it was happening on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, with a total stranger. My husband and child listened, bemused, as I made plans for an actual social occasion. “It’s great that you made a friend,” my daughter said when I got off the phone. “I made a new friend at my program today too.”

My daughter, by far the most gregarious of the three of us, had made so many new friends by the end of her week on the ship that she could fill an autograph book with notes from them all. My husband — surprise, surprise — made no new friends, though, true to form, I’m not sure he cared or even noticed. I am now Facebook friends with Beverly, and we’ve had some amusing little exchanges online, and discovered that her husband knows a guy who used to live down the street from me, whose ex-wife is still a day-to-day friend of mine. I expect that if Beverly ever comes to town to visit her in-laws, she’ll send me a Facebook message when she needs a break from family, asking, “You wanna meet for coffee while I’m in town?” and I’ll say, “sure, there’s a place about three blocks from your in-laws….”

We will, of course, exchange phone numbers, then, in case we need to text each other, and we will bring our acquaintanceship up to 2018 standards. But it will always have begun in an old-fashioned way. It’s just a shame, really, that when we met for our breakfasts (bagel and lox for me, a croque madame for her) we couldn’t really dress for the occasion the way it deserved — and we were, unfortunately, still surrounded by people wearing dopey baseball caps and t-shirts with crass slogans. We needed hats worthy of Rosalind Russell and Myrna Loy; we needed car coats and dress gloves.

Beverly, when you come to New Haven, we’ll go shopping. I know just the place

*there’s a scene in this novel when Our Heroine goes to a salon and is told by the facialist that she’s RUINING HER FACE by not using special skin care products and that using soap on one’s face is a moral failing on a scale you cannot begin to fathom because it’s so awful. 

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3. The Hausfrau is Not From Boston, and Officially Has No Comment. (However, she’s got a lot to say — off the record.)

An ongoing theme of our trip on this cruise was “How Bostonians Act While on Cruises,” a matter that can be summed up pretty succinctly: on the whole, they act like drunken boors. I suppose this is how Bostonians often act when they’re in Boston too, so I don’t know why I should have been jarred by this, but yet I was. It may be that ships dominated by New Yorkers, or even people from Minnesota or Indiana, also suffer this problem, but as I’ve not experienced such cruises, I cannot verify or deny this. I can only attest to what I saw in this Boston-dominated crowd.

In this case, by the way, Rhode Island counts as Boston.

I don’t have hard numbers but it definitely appeared — my husband remarked upon it daily — that at least 70% of the people on the ship were from Boston or the nearby environs. We sailed out of New York City but it was for sure a Red Sox Nation event, not a Yankees crowd at all. Occasionally people would ask me where I was from, and my response, “Connecticut,” definitely caused moments of confused need-to-ponder-that-for-a-moment; Red Sox Nation has a complicated relationship with Connecticut.

At one point, while I was waiting for an elevator, a man struck up a conversation with everyone else who was standing around waiting and asked me if I was a Red Sox or a Yankees fan. I said, “I’m from Connecticut, and I really don’t care,” I said; I was beginning to weary of this Red Sox bullshit. “No really,” he asked me. “Really,” I said. “I don’t care.” “Republican or Democrat?” he asked me. “No comment,” I said, and he hooted. “You really are from Connecticut!” he said appreciatively. “Smart lady.” I had passed, but it was a close call.

In general, by the way, people did not discuss politics in public spaces on the ship, which was a relief to me.

When I went to the ship’s library* (which is kept under lock and key 95% of the time, like a medieval collection, even though the stuff here is utterly worthless and could be replaced in toto for about $300) I noticed that there was one copy of Connecticut writer Randy Howe’s “Why I Hate the Republicans” and three copies of his “Why I Hate the Democrats.” (Both published in 2004, by the way.) I found myself grimly wondering, “might things get ugly on this ship? Do fights break out on cruise ships?” — but as I said, not once did I hear anyone discuss anything explicitly political in nature, let alone witness any social tension between guests based on race, ethnicity, or anything like that (and the population was more diverse than I’d’ve guessed it would be). I imagine that wives and girlfriends boat-wide had said to their husband, “Just shut up this week, okay? Talk about sports. Talk about Avengers movies. Anything except politics, just this once!” And the husbands heeded their wives.

It could also be that people were distracted from politics by virtue of being blotto for hours and hours on end. By four in the afternoon, the first day, I’d say 75% of the boat’s guests were absolutely snockered. Remember that we only boarded at 1.30. The ingestion of alcohol by most cruisers was clearly swift and efficient, like a novocain shot before dental surgery.

To be honest: throughout the week it often felt like the only sober guests on the boat were children, me, or my husband. Every person we saw seemed to be holding an alcoholic beverage.  All the time. Ten in the morning — “Bloody Marys!” For someone like me who doesn’t drink a lot under pretty much any circumstance, and who finds drunkenness deeply unamusing, it was a little depressing. Everyone was in very high spirits, and friendly enough, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but there was also this sense of being in a place where — well, the last time I can remember feeling this way was when I was a student at the University of Connecticut, and it was Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. The dominant theme was “everyone here is fucked up and loving it, except for you.” If you don’t want to be fucked up-drunk, being on a cruise can be a little awkward, socially speaking.

We learned how to avoid the worst locales for this sort of thing; we learned how to stake out comfy spaces for ourselves that buffeted us to some degree from the churning hordes. A cruise is a delicate dance for the introverted.

The first night we all wanted to test the road a little, so to speak, and we decided to try to go have a fancy sushi dinner at one of the specialty restaurants. Unfortunately, it took us a rather long time to establish that it wasn’t going to work out, and by the time we understood that we couldn’t be seated for sushi until 9.30 p.m., it was after seven p.m. By this point I was feeling overwhelmed and cross, and my daughter — who had dressed up prettily for the occasion — was feeling overwhelmed, cross, and a little seasick — and we fell back on going to the vast, complimentary, buffet for dinner. This felt like a massive failure, but in retrospect I don’t know why. I guess we had such high hopes, but the reality was that we didn’t know how to arrange things so as to make the hopes come true. There are all these protocols about making reservations and plans that we just didn’t understand until it was basically too late. We were all bummed out about this, but shouldn’t have bothered feeling this way, because going to the big huge buffet was really pretty damned great. My husband and I talked it over a couple of nights ago, standing in our kitchen. “The company really doesn’t give you a good guide to how the food situation works on the ship,” I said. “I think it’s one of those things where you do it once, you learn the ropes, and after that you have a grip on things and you know how to do it right.” “I guess so,” my husband said. “I mean,” I went on, “I only realized after we were home that one of the restaurants on the ship that I thought looked good — it wasn’t one of the extra-cost places, it was complimentary! Complimentary Thai food. We would have liked that!” My husband’s eyes widened. “Aw, man!” he said, genuinely wounded. “I know!” I said. “But it’s really on us at some level for not having figured it out.” “Well,” my husband said — and I knew what he was thinking, but wasn’t saying: “Next time we’ll get it right.”

The fact was, despite our cruise-incompetence, we ate quite well. I don’t know what we were expecting to find at the huge cafeteria-style restaurant, but what we found was, I want to say, infinitely better than I thought it would be. All of us cheered up, to be quite honest, when we realized that even the “free” food would involve lots of very, very decent options. This was not a place where we’d face sad microwaved meals and or things that looked like TV dinners. (Ok, actual in-the-foil-tray TV dinners would have been a novelty, I admit, but considering the money we’d shelled out, it would not have been amusing for more than about 20 minutes.) My daughter was particularly enchanted by the pasta station. That first night, after the Major Sushi Disappointment, I was hugely relieved to see her home in on the pasta (serious comfort food for a sad little girl), laser-like and practically slobbering when we watched a chef assemble a plate of spaghetti for a blue-haired teenager on line in front of us. “Excuse me,” I asked the girl, “but is that an Alfredo sauce he’s putting together for you?” “It is!” she said, turning and giving me a big smile. “Doesn’t it look good? And they have all these things you can add on, if you want, too.” She stepped to the side a little and gestured: there were pans with cooked spinach, chopped up bacon, green peas, chopped olives, grated Parmesan, all with little spoons, and you could put as much as you wanted on your plate of pasta. “I want that!” my daughter said, having totally forgotten the Sushi Fiasco. The blue-haired teenager smiled at her and said, “Alfredo’s my favorite.” “Mine too!” said my daughter. And I thought, “We’re gonna be okay here: God Bless You, blue-haired stranger.” The blue-haired kid was all right; my daughter would be all right; I would be all right.

I agonized over the lost sushi dinner over the next few days, by the way. Several times I tried to get us in; I never succeeded. We did attend a sushi-making demonstration, after which my girl snagged about three pieces of sushi, but it wasn’t the same thing, and I knew it. I made plans in my head to make this up to her in the next few weeks, once we were home, because I felt so terrible about it — having a sushi dinner on the ship was one of the three things she most wanted to do during this vacation. But every single time we tried to get to the sushi place, we couldn’t get a seat. I don’t really want to harp on this restaurant-incompetence thing (whether the problem was with us or the cruise line) but it was really frustrating. We just couldn’t get it right with the “specialty restaurants,” most of the time. The one time it worked out was a night when it was just me and my husband dining because my daughter had decided to do the kids’ program thing during the dinner hour (an additional $6 fee, totally worthwhile).

Several times we had this experience, wherein my daughter would dress up for dinner, we’d make a go of it, and fail miserably. She’d wind up at the big buffet, feeling weirdly overdressed because everyone else in the room was wearing shorts and t-shirts. She was a good sport about it because she is, truly, an exceptionally good-natured kid, but if we had a different sort of child, this kind of thing would have meant week-ruining disaster.

Our second evening, we did go to one of the fancier places, which also turned out to be one of the “complimentary” restaurants. Not that we understood this at the time we asked to be seated, mind you. But that was the night my daughter fell ill just as our meal was served to us, and in the end she never ate it. (She didn’t puke, thanks for asking, and I made sure we left the table before the horror of puking in public became a possibility. But she sure didn’t feel good, and seeing her sitting at the table with tears in her eyes, the food in front of her, made it clear to me that The Evening Was Over for me and for her.) My poor husband ate his dinner alone in a grand dining room at an elegantly set table. He brought me my meal on a takeout platter, for me to eat in the room. (Incidentally that meal was one of the two I consumed that I deemed not quite as good as it should have been — I had a lovely dish, a risotto, but as I ate it I came to realize it had been over-salted. As quibbles go, this is very minor, and no one should take it as a slam against the food on this cruise.

A number of people have asked me what it was like sleeping on the ship, and I’ve said that for the most part it was quite pleasant. That night of the failed Fancy Dinner, however, was also the night that the ship sailed through some very turbulent waters. None of us slept well. It was quite dismal. It was comparable to the bad sleep you get as the parent of a newborn. We would start to drift off to sleep, doze for half an hour, and awaken, feeling awful. As with our not knowing how to get into one of the special restaurants, we couldn’t tell if we felt awful and couldn’t sleep because we were loser naive newbies or if this was just objectively speaking bad sailing and everyone on the ship was having the same kind of trouble. It turned out it was very bad indeed — later in the week my husband and I chatted with a woman who had gone on multiple cruises, yearly, for more than thirty years, and she said that that night was by far the worst night she’d ever had on a ship. This made us feel a lot better: the problem was just that it had been a horrible night, not that we were unusually pantywaisted. Obviously it’s not that we were happy to’ve learned that everyone was so miserable, per se; but there’s a relief in knowing that the fault isn’t yours for being stupid or not planning well.

The day after that bad night, we were kind of dragging our asses around, but it was all right because, after all, we weren’t obligated to do anything. Anything. Our daughter, who awoke feeling groggy but strangely game, ate breakfast and went happily to the children’s program — she was in the Dolphin group and having a blast — and my husband and I took our books and read in various cozy nooks scattered around the ship. We met up for meals, but otherwise, we each did pretty much what we pleased.

The day we landed in Florida, at Cape Canaveral, the ship emptied out. It seemed that most people had decided to shell out what I felt were ludicrous amounts of money to go on various stupid excursions. You could go to Disneyworld or you could go to a beach someplace or you could go scuba diving or whatever the hell; I don’t even know what the options all were, but I’d glanced at the list and said, “I’m not paying $250 so we can go do that!” and declared that this was a day for us to just enjoy the ship. Unwind. I made an appointment to get a pedicure, something I hadn’t done in possibly three years (fuck, it might have been five years). Everyone got into lines on Deck Four or whatever it was to disembark to have Organized Fun, and we settled in for a happy day of, I don’t know, Disorganized Non-Fun, which is, of course, our idea of a nice time.

So we hung around. The weather was warm, the sky was sunny and blue, and much as New Haven in the summertime is lovely because the Yalies are gone, the ship was a much more pleasant place to be with so many people on land. The three of us met up for meals, taking most of them at the large buffet-style cafeteria that ran down the middle of the 12th deck, near the outside area where there were swimming pools and hot tubs. My husband and I tried out one of the hot tubs; it was okay. We sat in the surprisingly crowded library and watched a dancer try to help people sign out books. We walked through the duty-free shopping area and gawped at the things you could buy: booze, cigars, perfume, jewelry I would never wear personally, ongepotchket watches. Everything was, even if duty-free, priced to involve fairly serious money, and while I know enough about booze to know that there were some good deals to be found, on the whole, this wasn’t a place where I wanted to shop for fun. What’s more, I really don’t have any use for Life is Good t-shirts or beach towels. Basically, all the merchandise was there for people whose tastes were not like ours. We spent a solid 90 minutes trying to find something we’d want to splurge on, and left empty-handed. If we ever go on a cruise I’d like to see things like racks of, I don’t know, Chuck Taylors, or 100% cotton oxford cloth shirts in dignified colors and prints, or bowties. Other things I’d be happy to shop for: jewelry made out of old watch parts; aprons and tablecloths from the 1940s; table service from cruise lines of the 20th century. (That could be a goldmine, people. Think about it.)

*The ship’s library is maintained, as best I can tell, not by an actual librarian but by members of the ship’s Entertainment Crew. The young woman who watched as I checked out a book was a blonde dancer. I didn’t have to ask her if she was a dancer to know  that she was a dancer. She was obviously a dancer. My suspicions were confirmed some nights later when we saw her and her colleagues perform an incredibly energetic Tribute to the 70’s, one of the most glittery shows I’ve ever seen, and I’m no stranger to glittery shows.

2. The Hausfrau Packs It In, and All of It Weighs Less Than 50 Pounds

The literature from the travel agent and the cruise line advised me that each passenger on the ship is permitted to bring up to two suitcases, none weighing more than 50 lbs. It speaks volumes about how little I travel that I was completely fucking freaked out by this. How could I pack enough books to read if I could only bring 100 pounds of stuff? I wondered if it would finally be worth it for me to buy a Kindle and download a lot of books to it. I began to make LISTS.

Because we do not travel much, and when we do travel it’s usually by car, and always to places where we know we can buy things we need if we’ve left stuff at home by accident, we do not have the kind of rolly-suitcases everyone has these days. We don’t have suitcases, in fact. My husband likes to pack in a small canvas duffel bag I scored him at a nursery school tag sale when our daughter was four, and I like to pack in a largish black leather doctor’s bag I got in the 1990s. It has style and is quite spacious but there’s no question it’s not the most efficient thing one could pack in, and it’s awkward to carry. My husband used to use a twin to my doctor’s bag, which I found for him in the early 2000s when he admired my bag, but ever since he got his duffel bag, he prefers that and the second doctor’s bag is most often used by our daughter. I wondered grimly if we could fit everything we’d need into these three bags plus one small carryon for each of us (my husband would use his messenger bag, I would use my usual big black tote bag I schlep with me everywhere, my daughter would use her school backpack).

The weekend before we were to leave, I said to my daughter, “Let’s figure this out.” I took out the two leather bags (my husband would have to figure out his own shit) and my lists and we began to organize our stuff. Many pairs of underwear, many t-shirts. A couple nice outfits for my daughter; separates for me that could be dressed up or down depending on what was going on; one actual nice dress for me. Several pairs of shoes for each of us (Keens, cute flats, and Chuckies for my girl; ugly-but-comfortable clogs for me plus two pairs of cute flats; I do not do sandals except in the most unusual circumstances, and this did not qualify as unusual enough, and that gives you a sense of how I feel about sandals, though I do own a pair). Two bathing suits each. Several pairs of shorts for my daughter; a million ponytail holders; barrettes; six books for me; two for my daughter, who doesn’t read as fast as I do; a fresh blank notebook for my daughter and good drawing pencils in a sturdy box, because she draws the way I read. Toiletries; Dramamine (kid and adult dosages); computer; phone; cords; DVD player to plug into the computer (so that we could choose our own movies to watch, if we needed downtime — this turned out to be a very smart decision, bringing this stuff though it was heavy) and three DVDs chosen with the directive, “Pick out three things you’d want to watch if you were feeling like crap and wanted to watch something cozy to help you feel better.” (Discs chosen by my girl: “Best in Show,” a season of A Bit of Fry & Laurie; and “The Princess Diaries.”) We packed everything carefully into our two bags. I borrowed a bathroom scale from our neighbor Sarah (no, we don’t own a bathroom scale) and to my astonishment, our bags weighed exactly the same amount: 16 lbs., 4 oz.

“The weight limit is 50 pounds!” I said. The realization that we’d packed everything we absolutely needed, bare bones, and come in at not even thirty pounds was sobering. What on earth was everyone else planning to bring that they’d hit a 50 x 2 baggage limit? My mother had given us, as a bon voyage gift, these nylon packing cubes that are designed to help you pack as much stuff as you can into very finite spaces. I was skeptical about their utility, but had to admit that I was able to cram a phenomenal amount of stuff into the three cubes that came in our set: I had 7 t-shirts, two pairs of bicycle shorts, one pencil skirt, one dress, all my underwear (including bras and two pairs of socks), two bathing suits, one kimono (it’s what I use as a pool cover-up), two pairs of flats, a set of pajamas, and one summer-weight sweater crammed into two of those little cubes. They fit effortlessly into my suitcase. I was then able to put six books into the bag, along with toiletries. My daughter packed into her cube almost everything she planned to bring, period. Her bag had actual room to spare, and she took her favorite stuffed animal with her, too.

On arriving at the terminal we realized that we wouldn’t even have to check our bags, which was a big time-saver. We waltzed right down the paths through all the paperwork checking (passports? passports? passports?) and before we knew it we were boarding the ship. The whole process took maybe fifteen minutes. It was incredibly well-organized, on the cruise line’s part, but also our having almost nothing with us made everything very simple. I watched as families wrangled massive, complicated collections of baggage onto big carts and made sure the tags said whatever they were suposed to say. We didn’t even need luggage tags! I kept thinking, “What do these people know to bring that we didn’t bring?” I genuinely have no idea what they all brought that we didn’t. Probably more clothes, more pairs of shoes, bigger bottles of shampoo and jars and bottles of hair product we don’t use. I have no idea. All I know is, I was really glad we didn’t have that much shit to lug around. We felt very light and carefree as we bounded onto the boat. The only thing I didn’t have with me, that I really wished I had with me, was a copy of David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” his cranky essay from 1995 about going on a cruise.

****************

It turned out to be a very good thing we’d brought so little stuff on our trip because our cabin turned out to be so tiny that I don’t know what we would have done with any extra stuff anyhow; we’d’ve had to throw it out into the ocean and then been arrested for polluting international waters or something. Our cabin, which was, as requested, one of the itty-bitty windowless jobs, was a small rectangle that contained mostly a bed. There was a bunk bed on a hinge that when closed folded flat to the wall but when open hovered over about a third of the primary bed. The bathroom was equipped with slightly miniaturized versions of everything necessary — sink, toilet, shower — the shower was actually slightly bigger than I expected it to be, not merely a stall, which is smart because doubtless a lot of cruise guests need to bathe with their young children and this allows for enough space to do that (a regular stall would not). A retractable clothesline extended from one end of the shower to the other, also very smart. The “hallway” into the cabin was lined floor to ceiling with closet space, shelving, and drawers, all designed with curved edges so that there were no drawer handles to take up even a centimeter of clearance space in the very narrow hall. This was a situation where tidiness was mandatory; any sloppiness in the household would reduce our living conditions to total chaos. My husband was absolutely fucking thrilled. “I want our house to be just like this,” he said happily, over and over again.

Our daughter was initially alarmed by how tight the bed situation seemed to be — the big bed wasn’t the king-size bed she’s accustomed to sharing with us when we travel, but a queen. “Don’t worry,” my husband assured her, “Look!” He defied maritime law by not waiting for housekeeping to open the bunk bed and lowered it himself. Our girl was immediately charmed by her little loft/bunk bed and placed her stuffed animal against the pillows we tossed up to her there. “The two of you are gonna fight over who gets to sleep up there, aren’t you,” I mused as I began to unpack my things. “We can share,” my daughter said.

We unpacked our things, which took about fifteen minutes, and slid our bags under the large bed; having mastered the cabin (and learned that flushing the toilet would create a sound so echoing and booming that we vowed to flush it as infrequently as we could get away with) we decided to go for a walk and see what there was to see.

The ship we were on is not the largest or the fanciest of cruises, but it’s pretty nice. It certainly gets cleaned a lot. Everywhere you looked there were crew members cleaning things, making things just so; there are crew members standing in doorways holding spray bottles of Purell or similar, calling, “Washy-washy!” so that you’ll accept a spritz of hand sanitizer. It is clear that hygiene on the ship is a constant concern; no one wants to have an outbreak of norovirus or God knows what while traveling. All guests are constantly urged to wash their hands in the liberally-scattered-about bathrooms, and submit to Washy-washy, and as far as I can tell the guests pretty much submit.

It was around 2 p.m. when we boarded our ship, and the ship set sail at three. We were all notified that we had to learn what to do in the event of an emergency, and all 2300 of the guests assembled in a very large, grandly decorated dining area to get a lecture and demonstration of life jacket procedure. Then, we were told, we should go relax. “LET’S PARTY!” hollered some bonehead, already sounding drunk. I looked at my husband; he looked at me. “Red Sox fan,” he said. And we were off.

1. Hausfrau, Ahoy! Or, The Hausfrau Takes a Vacation.

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?”

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