Orlando, from Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On, on the nature of cruises:  “This is the funny thing about sea voyages:  after a few days, you feel as if you’d been sailing forever.  You feel you’ve always known your fellow voyagers.”

David Foster Wallace, from his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” on the same subject:  “The promise is not that you can experience great pleasure, but that you will…. That they’ll micromanage every iota of every pleasure-option so that not even the dreadful corrosive action of your adult consciousness and agency and dread can fuck up your fun.”

Frank Conroy, on his cruise, as quoted in “A Supposedly Fun Thing…”:  “We entered a new world, a sort of alternate reality to the one on shore.”  And, when asked by Wallace why he wrote that:  “I prostituted myself.”


Who hasn’t dreamed of dining with Astors and Guggenheims in gilt Grand Ballrooms?  Dancing to the orchestra; clinking champagne glasses; chewing very, very slowly as not to distort your face while eating.  I’ve suggested a gay cruises to Matthew before, but he takes one look at the brochures, fraught with glossy men who have gestated in tanning oil, and says, “Are you kidding?”  I try to convince him that every cruise will feature an opera competition in the boiler room — but no dice.  He suspects — probably rightly so — that we would most likely be roped off on deck somewhere, like Serbian refugees.

But cruises as a sign of class status have disappeared.  But the democratization of sea voyages isn’t a bad thing, per se — it’s allowed, for instance, people like my parents to travel.  And though they may be the targets of Wallace’s good-natured scorn (retired, prone to videotape and photograph every little movement), they’re still my parents.

Their first cruise they took spun them through Central America.  They retruend with a fist full of photographs and t-shirts for the whole family.  Did I want the nautical flags under the word Panama or Panama: Puente de los Americas?  I chose the former.

I looked through the pictures.  The first was of a tiger.

“That was at the lunch buffet,” my mom said.  “It’s made out of cheese and chocolate!”

The next was an Arcimboldo-style spread.

“All fruit!” she said.  “Every breakfast, you can have all the fruit you want.”

Then came pictures of the bath towels folded into origami animals:  a swan, a snake, a giraffe, a lobster, a lobster wearing my father’s glasses, my mother sitting next to a towel lobster wearing my father’s glasses.

“Never the same animal once during the whole week,” my father said.

“Where’s the Canal?” I asked.  “Where are your pictures of Belize?”

My parents looked at each other and shrugged — “Did we tell you about the midnight buffet?”