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04-10-2011, 05:31 PM
What follows is a transcription of a half-filled 5.5 x 3.87 inch (13.97 x 9.83 cm.) notebook that I kept with me at almost all times on my recent Royal Caribbean cruise on the Majesty of the Seas with my parents. It is unedited in its entirety, without even the use of a “[sic]”, save for some differences in spacing necessary for the format change, and one or two clarifying notes in brackets where otherwise the original text might be misleading. That, and some editing out of curse words for the board policy. The first two times of the day that I gave were in in Central Time (one hour behind Eastern Standard, six hours behind Greenwich Mean); for the rest a new difference in time zones is always announced.

Monday, March 28th, 2011. 5:12 A.M.

Another trip to the tropics begun in sleep deprivation. I’m kind of in that place Edward Norton described in “Fight Club”, in which it feels like you’re not really asleep but not really awake either. As an insomniac I’m quite used to it. I’m sitting in the most living room-like (or shall I say office waiting room-like?) airport terminal I’ve ever seen before, with well-played but uninteresting elevator music playing over the speakers. I just came out of the Ft. Smith airport’s award-winning bathrooms, which were nice and clean but also bizarre: you press a red button to spin the plastic-wrapped seat, and there are mirrors in inexplicable places. Perhaps I shall head down to the vending machine....

6:09 A.M. Takeoff is ridiculously loud. It’s a giant, grating, buzzing hum and to make things worse I’m right next to the propeller. The view as we ascended, however, was simply spectacular, the deep slate gray fog penetrated with the yellow-orange lights of the town below flickering in and out of sight like a candlelit vigil in the mist.

As we’re going to Key West I’ve decided to bring a Hemingway for reading material: “A Moveable Feast”. I’m only a very little ways in but I like it so far and I find his idea of stopping your writing for the day when you’re certain you know what’s next so as not to lose your momentum inspiring and ingenious.

9:19 A.M. by my watch, though I’m no longer at all sure what time zone I’m in. The remainder of the flight we left off on was almost as noisy as it started. It was slightly rough coming in so on the off chance I might die I kept thinking as we landed, “The cheese is burning me; the cheese is burning me,” etc. because I thought it would be nifty to be the first person in history to die with that thought.

The Dallas airport seems more mall than anything else. I could literally take photos of various parts of it, show them to people saying it’s pictures of a mall, and provoke neither contradiction nor suspicion. We had breakfast from an Au Bon Pain—the first I’ve ever seen not to sell Orangina.

Right now I’m on the flight to Miami, taking a break from the so-far underwhelming in-flight movie, “Unstoppable”.

2:19 P.M. (EST until stated otherwise) My ankle started randomly acting up again as we left the plane. Dad suggested I make my strides wider and it did help but as a result I ended up walking like Robocop trudging up a mountain on skis across half the Miami airport. They took us in a bus to the dock, where the guy next to us in check-in, who said he wasn’t from Florida, had to be rejected for not having a passport or birth certificate with him. Ouch. I have no idea how he even made it that far.

I’m at the Windjammer Café on board a couple of hours before we set sail and I’ve just tried a lot of fascinating new foods I’ve never had before: tarts, rousse, mousse, fried plantains...we still haven’t seen our room yet.

3:27 P.M. As exhausted as I am (and was, of course, to begin with), I am beginning to wonder if my beginning my ship explorations today was such a good idea. I just played “Time Crisis 4” and one of those “House of the Dead” games (I didn’t really notice which, they’re all the same) in the unremarkable yet adequate arcade, and now I’m sitting by a diagonal window almost directly beneath me in the Viking Club Lounge or whatever it’s called atop the ship. The view of the rippling waves 100 feet below me, tinted the color of those pine tree-shaped air fresheners and tugging at each other in that way that suggests an undertow, would give me vertigo were I susceptible to such things. I may do a *little* more exploring but really, I’m beat.

5:07 P.M. Man was that lifeboat drill a pain in the butt with my feet and my exhaustion! Amazing how much better one bath can usually make me feel. I am eating Chex mix and watching the Miami skyline move slowly as we depart. Now mom’s out there with the camera. The TV screen is showing the bow in some weird meta “cameravision”. The skies are overcast still but we’ll be moving all night. As I sat in the chair by the window for a better view it seemed to get the faintest bit sunnier. Perhaps the sun is just popping up for a moment to say hello and will duck back down just as quickly. I still can’t figure out whether to say Miami looks old, modern, or futuristic. Somehow it seems to be all three.

Huh. For some reason the music on the cameravision seems to have just suddenly turned into the soundtrack to a porno. Seriously, this sultry soft jazz with the pulsating backbeat is practically almost getting me hot right now. It seems almost as though we’re moving backwards now. I appear to be rambling. I should shut up and just drink it all in.

9:35 P.M. About to turn in. Very tired. Baked fish in the diner [here I meant to write “dining room”] good. Sorry I was so glib with today’s entries. Talking like Rorschach here.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011. 7:13 A.M. We are now docked in Key West, although I’m on the wrong side of the ship to see it. I’m on the balcony right now and there are maybe eight or more islands in view. I don’t know what any of them are called. The nearest and sharpest in focus is basically a neighborhood surrounded by water, like a suburb of Florida that’s randomly the one thing left above land [here I meant to write “above sea level”] after the rest of the world has become flooded. We’re waiting for room service.

8:53 A.M. We were in a near panic when it seemed one of us had lost my wallet, which would’ve put me in a very bad position for the rest of the trip. Turns out it was apparently none of us: the maids appear to have buried it under a pile of clothes where none of us would have left it. We’re out there now waiting for the Discover tour to begin.

9:11 A.M. The trolley tour is beginning as the voice-over of someone doing an Arnold Schwarzennegar impression (set to the T1 music, no less) does safety procedure. A rooster just crossed the road in front of us onto another street. I guess that answers *that* question.

9:13 A.M. We just passed by where Harry Truman lived. It looks exactly the same as every other building here.

9:15 A.M. I used to hate windy weather but let me tell you: the breezes of Paradise themselves could hardly be more pleasant.

9:18 A.M. We’ve passed Hemingway’s house, whose yard is practically a jungle with a high fence. I almost feel like whistling the “Col. Bogey March”.

9:21 A.M. We just hit the country’s southernmost point. We have a photo.

9:24 A.M. We just passed a house that showed up in “License to Kill”. Its actual number is not 007 but 707.

9:43 A.M. *Man* is the vegetation here prettier than the architecture!

9:46 A.M. We are now at Key West’s highest point—a whopping 18 feet above sea level.

9:47 A.M. Another chicken! Why are there so many chickens running about in the streets??

9:59 A.M. Hmm. Never seen a limestone church before. That thing would’ve scared the bejeesus out of me as a kid.

10:02 A.M. A liquor restaurant with a theater marquee. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

10:08 A.M. The tour’s near over and they’re piping in “Key West’s national anthem”, “Margaritaville”.

10:21 A.M. In the aquarium. This goliath grouper is the hugest fish I’ve ever seen, but it seems shy. In fact he just swam away from me. I wonder if we can get a picture.

10:25 A.M. Never mind. We got one of me with the sharks instead.

10:33 A.M. The huge nurse shark in this outdoor tank appears to be trying to escape. He’s nudging up against the old briny bars as I speak. Poor little guy.

10:38 A.M. Rocky the Green Sea Turtle seems to be taking a bath in the rush of water out of this pipe. Like the one in Hawaii this turtle is *anything* but green.

11:15 A.M. There’s an accessible silver bar here at the Shipwreck Museum with a story of being from cursed treasure and a sign saying LIFT IF YOU DARE. So I did. The texture is just like any ordinary smooth rock, interestingly enough.

12:01 P.M. My legs feel swollen and heavy as molten metal after climbing the museum’s lookout tower. We got a picture of me outside wearing an old-fashioned diving helmet. Right now I’m waiting for my food at a restaurant called Cheeseburger in Paradise. The combination of shade and cool breezes here on the patio mixed with the scent of food mingled with the faint smell of banyan, has a pleasant effect on the mind much like that of dulcet music.

2:42 P.M. After a relaxing stay in the noisy pool and very soothing hot tub I have decided to try the library today, which is located in the midst of what I could only dub a circular mall. Mall, library, restaurants, pool, spas, arcade, night clubs, and so on, with over a thousand people staying in really several mini-hotels. This ship cold only be called a city in the sea. Apart from the lack of permanence in our residence can you think of a single making of a village which this place does not have? Anyway, a random look over the books reveals an equally random selection: Robert Jordan, a badly outdated political almanac, a dictionary, several “Star Wars” books...ugh, Sylvia Browne...hello, what’s this? “Kick the Balls: An Offensive Suburban Odyssey”, by Alan Black. I open it up and read the following:

“I pulled out the Gideon’s Bible I had liberated from a motel room and began looking through the testaments for sporting advice. There was no mention of soccer, surprising when you considered the number of Italians walking around Judea at the time of Jesus. And with heads being served on plates, a kick around would have been the natural extension of decapitation.

From the barn in Arkansas, Reverend Murray mentioned the word ‘seed,’ a dangerous germ of a word, likely to cause holy havoc. There was Adam’s seed, the devil’s seed, Cain and Abel, the evil and the good. Planting or spilling seed, it was all the same. Roots sunk, shoots fired up, bellies swelled, and soon the world was a tangled, knotted mess of unwanted weeds and abandoned children.”

You know, I just may seek this book out when I get back and finish the Hemingway!

3:11 P.M. I’ve climbed the highest deck in the ship (even higher than the Viking Club Lounge, it seems) to watch us depart from Key West (which, incidentally, has even more chickens roaming the streets than I even told you about). The town looks so much more ordinary from up here than it does from its own interior! Looks just like any Floridian coast, in fact.

3:39 P.M. Back in the room and resting before I do anything else. The one major thing I can say about this ship which seriously counts against it is that the air conditioner in the suite makes a constant teakettle noise. Good thing the TV or our white noise machine is usually going when I’m in here.

5:46 P.M. Since it’s formal night in the Starlight Dining Room I’m on my own for dinner so I’m at Johnny Rockets, having just watched the waiters awkwardly do the twist. (They break into random dance numbers at every Johnny Rockets; that’s part of the reason to go to one.) I’m in a room that’s supposed to look 50’s yet somehow seems almost more 80’s instead, waiting for dessert after my burger, fries & float.

6:15 P.M. Since this stay on the ship is the longest (almost an entire 24 hours) I reckoned that this was the best time for exploration. I’m in the Chorus Line theater, sitting all alone. The place may as well be the Royal Albert Hall. It’s the classiest joint I may have ever been in. Everything is red carpets and brass rails and polished white surfaces and crystal chandeliers. It feels like the middle of the night here, even though it isn’t even sunset yet. Kind of peaceful, actually.

6:23 P.M. I’m in the casino. Never been to one of these before. It’s amazing just how much like an arcade this place is. The machines, the sparkling light, the sound effects...why, it’s almost like revisiting Little Rock’s Tilt Arcade! No wonder people can get addicted to this stuff. Ever been to an arcade?

6:28 P.M. I’ve paused for a breather and to massage my foot, in the perfectly lit Bolero Lounge, on my way to the 6th floor, which exists only on one side of the ship, the 5th story giving way directly to the 7th in the other half. That’s like something out of a David Lynch movie!

No time. I’ll be finished soon, God willing, and I want to be.

6:33 P.M. I walk across the 5th floor, without going up or down one inch, and on the opposite side of the ship find myself on the 7th floor, having to *descend* from the fifth to reach the 6th. Did M.C. Escher design this place?!

6:42 P.M. There was nothing much to see on the lower floors. The glass elevator was ever so slightly nifty. Might go down to the hot tub again. There is a show later.

9:15 P.M. I just spent the rest of my arcade money. My parents tell me that the waiters in the Starlight dining lounge danced for them too—the macarena, no less. Maybe it’s not entirely that I was at a Johnny Rocket’s after all. Maybe that’s just some Pythonesque trend with waiters now.

11:34 P.M. The show was good, all 30’s and 70’s music with psychedelic light show effects and everything. These folks were the first people ever to make me actually like that “different strokes” song by Six and the Family Stone or whatever the heck they’re called.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011. 10:57 A.M. I’m listening to an inferior cover version of “Kokomo” blaring over the closed-circuit radio loudspeakers as I recline in a shaded area by the pool with a series of chairs facing out to the sea. I just thought I’d relax here and have a coke as we slowly close in toward Nassau. This will be my first time ever setting foot in another country. I’ve always wanted to and each time I’ve tried I’ve been thwarted at the last minute. We tried to drive into Mexico from California: rental car problem. I tried to visit my sister in Germany: something always came up. I tried again: she moved back to America. Well, no more: unless the ship sinks within the next two hours nothing’s stopping me this time! And I’m being very protective of my wallet.

11:40: A.M. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like watching a new land slowly approach in the distance while you quietly laze and listen to “Turtle Island” by Mike Oldfield.

1:42 P.M. Nassau seems designed by a plethora of child architects. The buildings are most all of them in bright, vivid, loud colors, mostly primaries, oranges, pinks, and whites. I’m in a stuffy, bumpy tour bus going through town.

1:51 P.M. There is neither sales nor income tax, the guide tells us. Instead, everything is imported. I find that idea sufficiently awesome.

1:53 P.M. *Wow* is the vegetation gorgeous, the moreso the thicker! Never have I seen a place so garish and yet so gorgeous!

2:08 P.M. These Bahamian flamingoes in Ardastra Gardens are the most striking animals I’ve ever laid eyes on. They’re so vibrantly orange and white, like a burst of fire frozen and turned into orange sherbet. As you can see my writerly instincts are sort of failing me at the moment. I should just show you a picture.

2:19 P.M. The flamingo show is well underway and so far the birds haven’t really done anything other than walk in formation in a circle, but what was I expecting, Flipper? Besides, Ardastra Gardens is the loveliest, most atmospheric zoo I’ve ever visited; to heck with the show.

3:18 P.M. Ft. Charlotte was magnificent yet as its virtue lay in the ambience of its quiet stone halls rather than in anything concrete I can’t really say how. As I wrote that the guide explained that there *is* tax here—for the very, very rich.

“Juno N. Yohanna”. “Heidi”. “Genesis”. “S.E.B.A.” “Drake!” “ART-3351”. “Ladee Low”. This and much else is scratched into the walls atop Fr. Fincastle. I should be offended that anyone would graffiti a historical landmark but somehow I find it a nifty mix of old and new. Finished at 3:47 P.M.

3:54 P.M. The Queen’s Staircase was the most treacherous thing I’ve ever climbed down but the view, with the shady, palm tree-strewn cliffs on either side, is consummately spectacular.

4:28 P.M. I’m sitting at the Hard Rock Café, resting up and eating chips and salsa while I wait for the main course. Blah blah blah, I really got to learn to write in this thing a little more selectively.

5:44 P.M. Back on the boat, legs and feet feel like they’ve been on a torture rack, need the hot tub badly, show later.

8:15 P.M. I’m in the theater watching a combination magic and comedy show. The comedy is adequate but the magic is rather simplistic so far. No illusionist should ever have to resort to showing the audience magic squares and stuff. Though I admit, the color-based optical illusion he used to make his head appear to grow huge, though a well known effect, was still interesting. Right now he’s doing a long-winded card trick…he knew she thought of the jack of diamonds. Not a bad mentalist bit.

8:33 P.M. Now that Justin Flom’s magic show is over I can say for sure that the magic was much better than the comedy—he just did better and better tricks as the show went on, that’s all. My favorite was when he spread out the cards and turned them over to reveal that their backs now collectively made up a picture of Michael Jackson. The comedy, on the other hand, never improved to a level beyond slightly adequate.

10:00 P.M. I walked around the ship trying to find a place where I could chill out and listen to Mike Oldfield in peace but almost every place on board has music constantly playing already. The one quiet spot where I could sit that I could think of, the Viking Club Lounge, is on a floor with *no bathrooms whatsoever*. So the search gradually became an aimless walk. I really should’ve been resting my legs and feet.

Thursday, March 31st, 2011. 8:44 A.M. Last night there was a constant grating pitter pattering beep in the room that kept all three of us awake but both of us [here I meant to write “all of us”] feared to turn on the light and wake the other two. So until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. none of us really did anything. Apparently it was electronic interference from the ship with the white noise machine.

I’m on silent, tranquil Cococay, sitting on a bench at the end of the path leading to the nature trail. This path looks precisely like a dusty road straight out of a Vietnam war movie. I should head back, the glass bottom boat ride is soon.

11:17 A.M. The water was too murky and the sea life visible in it too lacking in variety for the actual viewing through the glass bottom to be as worthwhile as it should have been: the interesting part was when they passed around all the live specimens: starfish, conchs, a sea cucumber whose texture felt like Jabba the Hutt’s intestinal tract...It’s a good thing I refused to hold the sea slug because had I had it for very long it would have laid eggs all over me. As it was, it laid eggs on the glass bottom instead, and it looked like someone had vomited overcooked pasta. The tour guide cleaned a conch and passed its raw meat around. It was tastier than you’d think, much like crab. I’m sitting beneath the shade of a small tree on the beach trying to figure out where and if I can find food.

12:09 P.M. It was quite an experience to back float in the sea with only the sky visible and the peaceful drone beneath the brine being the only sound, much like floating through the sky itself. Though here you have to go very far out even to find water deep enough for it to be possible. There’s a BBQ going on, I need to find it.

1:42 P.M. I went on ahead of my parents back to the ship. The bill and tags and stuff are lying out on their bed. I have the rest of the afternoon and evening in which to enjoy the ship; for now I think I’m going to bathe away the brine. The food at the barbecue was tasty but the place was more crowded than Grand Central Station during a nuclear missile crisis.

4:21 P.M. The ship is scheduled to depart within the hour. My I-Pod is charging in the room and mom and dad have gone to the library to look up a bird they saw on their return trip to the boat from Cococay back to the ship. I’m standing on the balcony looking from the distance at the island, which somehow seems so much more compact from here. I may eat at Johnny Rocket’s one more time. We’ll have to pack tonight and go through customs in the morn. A lot has happened over the course of three days, and I feel no antipathy whatsoever toward the idea of it ending soon. I do not think that my mother feels the same way.

6:53 P.M. As I didn’t have to go to the bathroom the last time I was here at Johnny Rockets I did not know that there isn’t one—and you have to walk down a floor and literally halfway across the ship to reach the nearest. If they’re going to be that unreasonable (I mean, it *is* a restaurant after all) then you’d think they’d at least have the decency to put up a sign or something.

8:36 P.M. As I’m not going with mom and dad to dinner and Yudi had to stop by for a light turn (which should never have to be done at night, if you ask me, though of course I don’t blame Yudi, who is terrific) I had to clear out, so I’m listening to Oldfield again on a couch near the Adventure Ocean place for kids here on the same floor. I really would like to get in there and pack and have the room to myself. I don’t know what it is about hotels and such places—they’ve got to clean your room more often than any guest asks or thinks necessary, and always at the most inconvenient times, including when everyone is packing! I still remember staying at a hotel in Tucson (or maybe it was Santa Fe or somewhere) in which the housekeeper tried to get into my room at 4:30 in the morning. You heard me. At least, I *hope* it was really the housekeeper. I wouldn’t put it past them.

No bother; he can’t possibly take long and surely this must be the last time. Nothing can really bother me right now, but I’m still capable of being bothered just enough for it to be a minor yet undeniable grievance. I just don’t like being the victim of someone else’s unreason: it’s the same thing with that whole Johnny Rocket’s thing. It’s the last night and at a time when doubtless most people are packing: there is no more necessity than there is excuse to drive us out right now.

Friday, April 1st, 2011. 5:11 P.M. central time (GMC-6). I’m on a plane from Dallas to Ft. Smith and we’re climbing. As there hasn’t been much to report on during the journey home let’s just recap what we’ve all learned from this trip:

* If you want your bathroom to be truly clean then you must equip it with a spinning toilet seat.

* Never expect to finish on the same trip any book you bring to read on the plane.

* Rorschach wasn’t a sociopathic weirdo, he was just really, really tired.

* Key West is overrun by chickens.

* Accursed treasure is a lot less interesting than the movies would have you believe.

* Waiters of all stripes enjoy breaking into dance numbers for no reason whatsoever.

* It’s easier to perform convincing magic tricks than it is to tell convincing jokes.

* Graffiti, even on national landmarks, never makes any sense whatsoever to anyone who doesn’t know the original context.

* Never, ever, ever handle a sea slug, or be within ten paces of one as it gives birth.

* Always bother to find out beforehand if any place has a bathroom.

* In case you’re wondering, yes, the rest of “Unstoppable” also sucked.

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04-11-2011, 05:44 AM
Thanks for sharing with us your very vivid and descriptive travel journal. I am thinking about the flamingos.

A question though: where on earth is ft. Smith?

04-12-2011, 08:02 PM
At the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma. You've heard of it if you've ever read or seen True Grit in any of its incarnations.

I suppose I can give a link to an extremely misbehaving, borderline broken angelfire site where I posted a few pics from the trip, including the flamingoes, but you'll have to ask me in a private message. Human images aren't allowed on the board itself.

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