Moodswing - Mob scene

Cruising for trouble in the South Pacific

Thank God I still get fairly excited at the onslaught of an angry mob. At least there’s still that, because I’ve been worried lately that maturity sucked all the whimsy out of my life.

For example, I even forced Chris to go on a cruise with me this month. A Hawaiian cruise. I bought the tickets off the Internet during some post-9-11 panic sale and paid for them, literally, by selling second-hand crap on eBay. How the hell do you turn that down?

Chris, though, is too sardonic to have wallowed in the cruise experience like I did. He hung out with the staff most of the time, smoking Cuban cigars with a Greek bartender he befriended named Nick. Nick told Chris all about his side business brokering whores to passengers at the various ports we visited, which couldn’t have been too lucrative an enterprise, because the average age of the other passengers on the ship was about 800 years, and I’m figuring it’s fairly impossible to fuck a mummy.

And this might not seem like your idea of fun, either, to be on a big boat with a bunch of mummies, wondering things like, “Does diabetes really take all the feeling out of your feet?” But it’s nice, I tell you, to be out in the middle of the Pacific on a padded lounge chair with a perpetual Mai Tai at your side, the poolside calypso band almost drowning out the sound of scuttling metal walkers and wheezing portable-oxygen units. With a good book and enough booze, who cares that the near-naked bodies all around you look in need of ironing? The ocean is still blue, the sky is still an acid-trip of colors every sunset — it was heaven, I tell you, absolute heaven, so no wonder there were walking dead people everywhere.

Nothing like a buffet to bring them to life, though. I swear, each night the chow bell rang and everybody bolted for the food trough as if jolted by wattage from Frankenstein’s lab. They were unstoppable, like that zombie throng from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

I personally got a little bubbly at the thought of a mob scene every night, but a waiter from Bosnia named Mete would routinely stand in the corner with a coffee pot and quake until the fracas died down. That’s saying something, too, that a survivor of war atrocities could be cowed into a corner by a bunch of codgers clamoring for the last crab-leg appetizer.

“It’s a good thing they don’t have guns,” he said one night, wide-eyed. Mete didn’t consider me part of the mob, and one night he confessed his job was not so bad, and it certainly beat being buried in a mass grave.

Damn right, I say. At the last port they practically had to pry me from my cabin, so attached I was to floating on the ocean a whole hemisphere away from my responsibilities. This was a far cry from my usual vacation, which basically entails encroaching on other people’s plans and sleeping on the floor of their hotel room for five days. In short, I am not accustomed to luxury at all. My little sister Kim and I once backpacked through Europe and took turns sleeping with our heads in each other’s laps because we could rarely afford a hotel room, instead we mostly napped in trains on the way to something.

I had earned most of the money for the trip the year before by begging for it from my mother or, when that didn’t work, selling Christmas wreaths door-to-door. My older sister’s boyfriend, Ricardo, was a part-time pimp at the time just like Nick, and he’d offered to let me to join his stable, but Kim reminded me that Ricardo’s business went against my basic credo — which is to lead as lazy a life as possible — and, seriously, can you think of a harder job than being a whore? She was right, of course. Damn.

Our first stop was London, where we spent almost our last dime on tour tickets in a double-decker bus. When Kim recalls the tour she envisions Big Ben and the London Bridge. I, on the other hand, only know what those landmarks look like because of their replicas built at the bottom of the Peter Pan ride in Disney World. Instead I was enthralled with a swarm of coal miners picketing their poor work conditions that day. The mob descended upon our street like a big angry wall of lava, paralyzing traffic. The bus just stood there, stuck like a bison in a tar pit, while I ran up and down the upper deck, trying to find a way to climb down and join them.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” I shouted. God, I was up for a fight, even if it wasn’t mine. I actually got over the side at one point, but my sister held me by my shirt, trying to yank me back onto the deck. The miners, not knowing I wanted to join them, aided Kim from below by pushing on my heels to help her hoist me back aboard, and then they were gone, their angry cries wafting through the air from a distance.

“We missed it,” I whimpered.

“Christ! You’re not part of the mob,” my sister implored. She was right, of course. Damn.

Hollis Gillespie’s commentaries can be heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at ??