Sometimes comedy turns into tragedy. I saw it last night in a sad way. While I was deciding which table to join for dinner, Mel stopped me in the hall and asked if I was going to be dining at their table. I didn’t know, I told him, Please do, he said, it’s Diana’s birthday and nobody’s going to be at the table except Roberta and me. We need more bodies, the more the merrier, and so on. Sure, I said. It wasn’t going to make any difference to me which table I sat at.
It all started out fine. Mel and Roberta and Diana and I were sitting at the table when the maitre d’ led a new couple, Joe and Mary Anne, from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to the table. They had missed the water taxi back from St. Maarten and didn’t make the early seating, so they’d be joining us for tonight. Great, I’m sure Mel was thinking…the more the merrier, right? Joe looked prototypical Jersey…you know, thinning pompadour, wise-guy sneer, street-smart swagger. He and Mary Anne were middle to late fifties and I figured they were probably familiar with American Bandstand, so during the initial intros I mentioned that Diana was a former regular on the show. Joe exclaimed: “I was on Bandstand too.” Diana gave him a dubious look and to test his authenticity began to ask him whether he knew other regulars on the show…Carol Scaldaferri?…Justine Carelli?…Arlene Sullivan? “That’s who I used to go to Bandstand with…Arlene Sullivan!” he said, and then the two of them began bantering names back and forth, and, having a hunch that this situation might be breeding future comedy material, I’m jotting all of these names down…Joe Venuti…Penny Rossi…Joe Clayton…Jimmy Joe Fesco…Jerry Blavett…Bob Horn. And of course, Dick Clark, who at the time wasn’t a lot older than a teenager himself. “Everybody hated Dick Clark,” Joe bellowed, and Diana, acting like someone whose mother has just been insulted, sprung to the defense. “That’s not true,” she said, “all of the real regulars loved Dick. You weren’t a real regular. I don’t even recognize you. What’s your name?”
Some people are perfectly named. In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock was well named. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was very well named. And in this earthly realm, Joe is perfectly named.
“Joe Sasso,” he responded. “Never heard of you,” Diana sniffed, leading to an entire soup-and-salad course of back-and-forth sniping as Mel and Roberta and I, and even Joe’s wife Mary Anne, tried to settle things down. Joe then exploded: “I hate this ship! I hate the people on it! I hate the service, I hate the food, I hate the whole damn ship!” Okaaaaaaay, the rest of us mused. “ And as if to establish his bona fides, Joe turned to Diana: “I DATED Carol Scaldaferri!” To which she replied with a non sequitur: “Carol Scaldaferri is my cousin!” To which Joe added a non sequitur of his own: ”But I never had sex with her.” “Too much information,” Roberta screamed, and changed the subject, and so we moved on through the dinner with Joe sulking and everybody else bummed out…so bummed out that Mel refused to do any of his trivia quiz at dessert, which meant the WHOLE dinner was now wrecked. When Diana’s specially ordered key lime pie arrived for dessert, Joe refused to eat it. The way things ended, Mel thought it best if everybody left Diana alone, her birthday celebration wrecked, and so he and Roberta went to the Solstice Theatre for the xylophone concert. My last vision of Diana was of a woman, divorced, lonely, disenfranchised, sitting alone in a glitzy cruise ship restaurant in front of a slice of half-eaten key lime pie. Disconsolate. All by herself. Probably dreaming past dreams about things that may or may not have ever been. I went to the casino.
Which is where the tone of this tale turns dramatically. Ah, the casino. Where… where…where…the finest 75-year-old woman I have ever met in my life decided to pick up the dice for the first time in her life and throw a 40-minute roll. “Don’t jinx me,” she kept saying as I progressively told her how great she was doing, “Shhhhhh,” she implored. I told her I would never utter another word in my life if she would just keep hitting those points, which she did over and over and over. I didn’t make all the money in the world, but I did walk our nearly $400 in the black.
Then came Friday (today), a day at sea as will be the next (and last) tomorrow. I like the sea days better than the port days because it seems a more authentic experience. But there are definitely downsides. On port days you have the pool area (more important, the pool chairs, which those New Yorkers are experts at saving early in the morning and hoarding all day) and restaurants all to yourself and the ship has a wonderful uncrowded atmosphere. After three port days this week, we are now at sea, which means that this full ship is teeming with people everywhere. Which means that rather than fight the crowds, I try to hit the pool and the restaurants at off times and spend a lot of time in the Library or the card room reading. When commenting on the ship’s features, I forgot to say anything about these. This ship has a twelve-floor open atrium at mid-ship (with glass elevators, naturally…slow glass elevators). Down on the 3rd level, there’s even a full-grown (real) tree that, to the dismay of the residents down there, constantly shed leaves. At the 9th, 10th and 11th floor levels, a beautifully furnished card room and a two-storey Library are cantilevered out into the atrium so that each of these rooms have one open-air side. Almost nobody uses them, so I’ve adopted them as my private spaces.
All week I’ve been hearing raves about the Belgian waffles at breakfast in the buffet restaurant…they come out piping hot and are delicious, according to ship lore. So I tried them this morning. Nah, the white toast is better. Skipped Foxtrot Dance Class, stopped in at Guess That Tune trivia, then went to Jackpot Bingo, where I didn’t hit the jackpot, but I did share the win on the finale, the fill-in-all-the-squares game, earning a cool $121. I tell you, with two good casino nights, my Bingo score and the front desk now offering me a $250 onboard credit for my obstruction problems (I’m holding out for a true rate adjustment), what recession???!!!
The rest of today will be a take-it-easy day. None of the afternoon activities were particularly enthralling (“Relief From Arthritis” anyone? Hey, Alison, here’s one for you: “Line Dance Class”). It’s Formal Night tonight. For dinner, I’m going back to the government people and Richard and Suzanne and a more soothing experience, then I’m going to bed early for once. I sleep each night with the door open to my veranda and the sea. The swishing hush of he ocean, the rush of water, and the hum of the ship’s engines put me in a very good place.