Just a Funny Story

Work It Out 

January first brings many things: a brand new year, different promises and possibilities, and probably the world’s worst hangover ever. I experienced only one of these on the first of January. Can you guess which one?

It wasn’t until the 8th, a full week later, when I realized I needed to make some life adjustments and improvements. I am not one for making a list of New Year’s Resolutions, because it just sets me up to fail. Every year I say I am going to quit smoking. I refuse to buy a pack, I get mentally prepared, and I try to focus on something else. But, thirty minutes after the ball drops you can find me bumming a cigarette from someone outside.

Which is exactly what happened this year.

I also don’t like the word “resolution” because it means the act of resolving, settling, and completing. It’s basically saying “I will stop eating chocolate this year”. If you have been eating chocolate your whole life, you cannot just quit eating chocolate. When we make these resolutions, or promises, to ourselves, we are trying to eliminate an act or interest we have been doing for some time (AKA, the smoking).

I prefer the word ‘revolution’ because to revolve is to change, to enhance, and to adjust. These are much better actions than to just diminish and end completely.

So, a week after the beginning of a new year, I woke up, looked in the mirror and said, “James, what the hell are you doing with your life?” This wasn’t the first time I have asked myself that question. It usually follows a one-night stand. But this time it was different. I didn’t have a stranger in my bed. And I wasn’t covered with semen. Well, one out of the two. But I asked myself this question because I was in desperate need of a life change.

I have been living in the New York City area (I am required to say that by New Jersey Law) for over a year and a half now, and while my Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and drunken texting show that I am having the time of my life, the reality is that I was in a slump of depression. I know, I know. Me?! James Archibald Lane, depressed? Crazy. But I was. I would spend hours watching television in bed while eating macaroni and cheese out of the pot. The first day it was great. The seventy-fifth day, it was a problem.

Many people would never have guessed I was having issues with my happiness. I’m kind of like Katie Holmes in that way. So, that morning of January eighth, I vowed to myself I would make a change. I would revolve.

I had to start out with my career. I have been happily unemployed for the past seven months. I work part time for a start-up website from home where I write posts, edit posts, and post things to Facebook.

Since I had that crutch, or “post”, I never really cared to get back out there and find a job. I was comfortable with waking up at one in the afternoon, just in time to catch the two hours of Sex and the City on the E! network, and then tune into Ellen, and then make my macaroni and cheese, and then take a nap. It was a beautiful cycle. But, like I said, this cycle had its negative side effects.

One being I gained seventeen pounds since my unemployment began. I know seventeen pounds doesn’t sound like much, but I’ll show you a picture of me shirtless and you can be the judge.

So, after I applied to three jobs on Craigslist (What? It was my first day of productivity. I need to take baby steps) I decided that I needed to get “back” into shape. I use back in quotation marks because I have never been in shape, but saying “I need to get in shape” as a 26 year old makes one sound pathetic.

Omg, I’m 26. Ugh.

I went outside to go for a run, but then remembered I live in hilly New Jersey with a temperature of 31 degrees. Who can run in that type of weather? I’m no Kenyan. So I went onto Google – The worlds #1 search engine for over ten years 😉 – and typed in “Gyms in Weehawken, NJ.” And to my surprise, there is a gym located ten minutes away from me in the same shopping mall as the movie theater and Pizza Hut. I don’t know how I missed it.

So, I put on my best walking sneakers and headed on over to the L.A. Fitness. Well, after I went to the Pizza Hut. And saw Monsters Inc. in 3D.

I was greeted by two amazingly fit workers at the front desk who looked at me like I had pizza sauce on my face. I walked up to the counter and said, “Hi. I would like to join this gym.” Easy enough, I thought. I would sign a piece of paper, hand over my credit card, and that would be it.

Well, yes, I did have to sign a few pieces of paper (some liability crap that says if a machine falls on me, I cannot sue) and yes, I did hand over my credit card (twice, for some reason) but I was not close to being finished.

The guy wearing spandex shorts and a tank top, let’s call him Jim (get it? Ok) went over eleven of the best plans for me. “If you sign up today and put $40 dollars down, your monthly payment will only be 30$, but if you don’t put any money down today, your monthly payment will be $42, but if you put half the money down, and want to buy this water bottle, your monthly payment will be $55.”

I just shook my head in confusion and said, “Look, I just want to join the gym and pay a flat fee right now. I probably won’t be living in New Jersey for that much longer (fingers crossed) so, can I please just sign up for the three month program for $100 please?”

He nodded his head in a disappointed way and started typing in my information. “You know, you won’t get the water bottle with this plan. Is that okay?”

I responded yes, that I have my very own water bottle. After receiving my L.A. Fitness key chain card, and taking my picture, I was a gym member!

“Just one more thing before you go,” Jim said. “We need to set you up for a personal training consultation.”

“Ohhhhhh, that’s okay. I am not looking for a personal trainer. I just need somewhere I can run indoors with a television so I can watch Kathie Lee and Hoda. But thanks!”

“It’s just a free meeting with one of our personal trainers so they can show you around, teach you how to use our machines, and measure your body fat.”

“I already know how to use the elliptical machine, and I already feel pretty bad about myself, I don’t need someone telling me in a percentage just how overweight I am.”

“We have an open spot on Thursday at 4pm.”

“Fine. That’s fine.”

_______________________
On my walk home from the gym (I was too exhausted to stay and work out after that ordeal), I realized that I needed to get some clothes to work out in. The only pants I have that aren’t jeans are green corduroy pants I wear every St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t even have t-shirts that don’t have 30Rock quotes written on them.

I spotted an Old Navy store down the street and figured they would have some sort of an exercise wardrobe collection. I personally haven’t been in side of an Old Navy store since I was eleven and tech-vests were not in style.

I walked in and realized that in fifteen years, the store hadn’t changed a bit. There were still clothes piled in bins and signs that read “Clearance” everywhere. Literally, every item on the store had a “Sale” sign above it. As mentioned before, I don’t have any money, so “clearance” and “sale” have become my two favorite words. Well, besides “free” and “into?”

I ambled an over to the Men’s section and spotted an outfit that resembled a track suit. It was 100% nylon and 50% off. Now that I had clothes, I needed to find better running shoes. And a damn water bottle since I lied earlier.

I spent the rest of the week waking up at a decent time, going to the gym for an hour, and then going to the public library to search for jobs online. Yes, if you read my previous story, I was allowed back into the Weehawken Public Library on a temporary basis. I am actually writing this story from the library. Isn’t it funny how things can change? Or revolve? See, I just went full circle.

Oh, sorry. This story isn’t finished yet.

After two days of applying for jobs, I was called in for an interview for Wednesday evening for an entertainment writing position. It was just the kind of job I was looking for, since I do spend a lot of time watching Access Hollywood, E! News, E! News Weekend, and stalking Mario Lopez.

Instead of meeting at an office, we met at a Starbucks. It made me feel less intimidated because I am usually more comfortable around coffee beans, foaming milk, and Michael Buble CD’s.

My interviewer, who asked to remain nameless for all blogging purposes, told me about the job, about what my tasks and requirements would be, and basically what a typical day is like. Everything Benjam…everything he said sounded great and I felt that I would fit in perfectly. We shook hands and left the Starbucks, with him promising to contact me later on that week – We’ve all heard this one before, am I right ladies?!

It was now 2:30pm and I had plans to meet up with my friend Laura for dinner and drinks at 6. Instead of spending the six dollars to go back to my apartment in New Jersey, I decided to take myself to a movie and celebrate an interview well done.

The only movie playing at the time I was free was Les Miserables. I have heard nothing but great things about the film, and decided I should give it a watch. I walked into the dark theater not knowing anything about the movie plot. I sat down in my seat and put my bag and jacket on the chair next to me so people would think my date was in the bathroom, or buying me popcorn, or, I don’t know, writing me poetry.

It was now 5:45pm. The movie had just ended. I was more confused now than I was in the boys locker room in fifth grade. I am sure some people who are reading this post have yet to see the movie, so I won’t spoil anything for you. But, damn. Did you know they sang the entire movie?! Not one word was spoken! And Anne Hathaway! She was in the movie for eleven minutes. She won a Golden Globe award, and is nominated for an Oscar for being in a movie for eleven minutes?! I don’t get it. And the story line! What the hell was that about?! All of that for stealing a loaf of bread? Seriously? I have stolen way more than that and you don’t see me singing about it. Ugh.

It was now 6:00pm and I was meeting Laura outside of her fancy new office to go out and celebrate her new job. When Laura and I first moved to New York, we didn’t really know that many people, and we didn’t really know the cool places in the city. On our very first outing, in 2011, we stumbled into this tiny little bar in the West Village that has a wing night every Wednesday and you can drink beer out of a boot. We were sold.

So, for tradition, we went back to our hole in the wall and guzzled Bud Light and as many 25 cent wings we could eat. Laura ordered six, and I, twenty-eight.

After my second plate was filled with chicken bones and bits of bleu cheese, I stopped ignoring Laura and continued in on conversation.

“Sorry, I missed half that story. I cant concentrate on the t.v., the chicken, the beer, and your story about the M train all at the same time. So, start over from the spot where you got on at Herald Square and saw Carson Daily.”

Laura rolled her eyes and said, “my story is about my first day of work and I was trapped in an elevator for thirty minutes.”

“With Carson Daily?!”

“No. Carson Daily is not in this story. I haven’t mentioned his name since 1999. Where the hell are you getting Carson Daily from?!”

“Aw, I miss TRL.”

Laura ordered another white sangria, exhaled a little too loudly for my taste, and asked me if I would like to come to Queens for dinner the next night.

Is it just me, or does everyone else just get squeamish when they are invited to Queens? I know, I live in New Jersey. But I don’t go around inviting people to come over. And whenever I roll my eyes or pretend to vomit when I hear the words “Astoria” or “the NQR”, the person who resides in Queens goes on a huge tangent about how great it is. We get it. There is a beer garden. Enough.

“I wish I could! I love Astoria! But, I have my consultation with a personal trainer tomorrow at my gym, so I cant.”

“You have a what? Since when do you work out?” She asked in between spurts of laughter.

“Since Sunday, thank you very much. I am trying to get ‘back’ into shape this year, so I joined a gym over the weekend and have gone twice since. So, that’s almost every day.”

“Ah! I am so proud of you. Look at you working out, and only ordering 28 wings on wing night. You are a whole different person!”

“I know, I am really excited about it. So, I can’t go crazy tonight because I want to be well rested and not hung-over when I go in tomorrow.”

It was now 2:45am and I was just leaving the bar trying to hail a subway to get hack bome to Nersey.

I woke up the next afternoon with an awful hangover and an empty bag of McDonalds lying on the pillow next to me. Talk about a ‘Nappy Meal’, huh? Okay, taking that joke out once this book goes to print.

I had a few hours before my training session began so I hopped in the shower to wake myself up and then sat on the couch to mentally prepare.

My alarm woke me up at 3:30pm, so I threw on my brand new Nike Air Jordan Max 3000’s and headed out to the gym.

I walked up to the counter where a twenty-something was sitting behind reading last months UsWeekly. Last months! I scanned my ID card and told her I had a meeting with a personal trainer.

“Yes, Gustavo is upstairs, first office on your left. He is expecting you.”

“Okay, great.” I turned to walk away, but quickly turned back around. “I’m sorry, his name again?”

She replied, “Gustavo” like she was saying John, or Robert, or another common white person’s name.

I walked up the stairs to the offices and my legs were already starting to hurt and cramp. Gosh, I hope he doesn’t have me doing anything physical today, I thought to myself. I found the first office on the left, and the door was ajar, so I lightly knocked to get his attention.

He spun around on his chair so quickly it scared me and said, “Yes?”

“Hi, I am looking for, uh, Gustavo?” I asked.

He stood up, outstretched his hand and answered, “that is myself.”

I waited until he turned around to give one, big eye roll and mouthed ‘Oh, brother!’

I am sure I have mentioned this in many of my articles, stories, blog posts and bathroom wall writings that I live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. And by predominately, I mean I am one of the only white people in a 2 mile radius. I saw a fellow Caucasian at the Dunkin’ Donuts the other day and I just sat down across from him and formed an alliance.

After Gustavo told me to have a seat, we started going over my ‘fitness goals’ that I wished to achieve. Frankly, I don’t have any fitness goals. I want to look okay naked. That’s it.

“Why did you join a gym? Do you have anything special coming up that you want to look good for?” he asked. (Oh, by the way, I am writing everything in Gustavo’s voice in proper English so my readers will understand. He was not that eloquent.)

“Well, I don’t know. I have a wedding in April I’d like to look okay for. So, yeah. I guess that’s a special occasion.” I answered while staring at the piece of paper he was writing on. He literally wrote down the word “wedding”.

“Ah, a wedding. Congrats!”

I was confused, but then understood what he meant. “No, no, no. It’s not my wedding. It’s a friends wedding.”

“Oh, a friends wedding. So, you’re not getting married?”

“Nope. I’m single, can you believe it?” I asked to lighten the mood.

“Well, you said you have never been to a gym before, so yes, I believe it. Are there any areas you want to work on specifically? (This was a fun word for him to pronounce).

“Well, I definitely want to lose weight, I wouldn’t mind having a flatter stomach. And arms. I want to have bigger arms. My eleven year old niece can beat me up. Pretty much, I want to take off my shirt and not have people scream.”

“I see, I see. Well, we can definitely work on that. But anyways Yames, first things first, we are going to weigh you and then check your body fat percentage.”

“Can we just skip that part? I clearly know there is a problem. That is why I am spending over a hundred dollars to come to this facility.”

“Ah, Yames, Yames. It is the procedure. Come. “ Gustavo then walked me over to the scale and weighed me. It wasn’t an accurate number because I was clothed and had my keys in my pockets. So, I just told him to deduct five or ten pounds to the number given. He didn’t. Next, we went back into his officina where he handed me a strange device that reminded me of a video game controller and told me to hold it out straight and squeeze tightly. We’ve all heard that before, am I right ladies?

I did this for twenty seconds until a percentage popped up on screen. A number I was actually happy about. “Well, that isn’t bad!” I said with excitement in my voice. “I was expecting it to be 50% Ha!”

He gave me a sideways glance and took the device out of my hands and opened up a book. “No, it’s not bad, but it’s also not good, either. You are two percent above the average body fat percentage for your age group.”

“Oh.” I was now realizing Gustavo was a dream crusher.

He filled out the rest of the form and in the box labeled “Physical Ability” he just put a question mark. “Okay, now that the form is filled out, let’s go out and I’ll show you some workouts.”

I got up out of the chair just when I was getting comfortable and we headed out to this restricted area in the gym that had a sign “Training Sessions Only”. Me, at the height of my naivety, thought good ole Gus was going to demonstrate a few exercises that would help me reach my goal and then I would be free to go about my workout as planned. (Elliptical, Elliptical, Elliptical).

The first thing Gustavo had me do was jumping jacks for one minute. For a normal person, this would seem like not a big deal. But, I am not a normal person. I haven’t done a jumping jack since my sixth grade physical fitness test.

After the most grueling 60 seconds I have ever endured in my life, I was then made to hold a 15-pound ball, lifting it above my head while doing lunges simultaneously. What?

The crazy exercises continued for thirty minutes, from one-handed push-ups to jumping rope. I was exhausted. I had to stop for water nineteen times and I swear I felt my heart stop at least twice.

We then went back into the office where I was bombarded with pamphlets and brochures trying to recommend different plans for me to choose. “If you pay the $50 initiation fee, your weekly price will be $40 a week for one session, $60 for two sessions, and so on.”

I knew by my third push up that Gustavo was a salesman, trying to sell me on the joy and thrill of personal training sessions, and the whole time I was trying to conjure a great excuse as to why I cannot buy into it.

But, now that all of these facts, figures, and body fat percentages were lying in front of me, I could feel myself about to give in. I was sitting in the chair contemplating all of the different options. I thought to myself, “Well, maybe I could afford two sessions a week…The workouts weren’t that bad…This is probably the best option for me to get ‘back’ in shape…”

Luckily for my credit card (and my body) I politely declined Gustavo’s proposition. “I just really don’t think this is the type of workout I want to do. I am sorry. Plus, I am an out of work writer. I have eleven dollars in my wallet. And that eleven dollars is probably going to buy me a pizza for dinner. So, thanks, but no thanks.”

I stood up and walked out of his office, and didn’t look back. I went to the locker room to collect my belongings and call Pizza Hut for a carry out order. I could barely pick my choice of toppings, I was so out of breath.

I got home, turned on a rerun of “The Office” and started digging into my large supreme pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni and thought to myself, “Ah, this is the life.”

Halfway through my first slice, I was interrupted by my phone ringing. It was the guy I interviewed with the previous day and he offered me a position writing for a website. I was beyond excited. At the interview, I really felt that I could excel in the position, and couldn’t have accepted the job offer any faster.

I woke up the next morning with a pain in every muscle, joint, and tooth in my body. Gus told me I would be sore the next morning, but this was a little crazy. I couldn’t raise my arms above my head, so there go my high-five rituals. I could barely walk to the bathroom and it hurt so badly when I sat down to pee.

But, after all the pain and all the struggle, this time when I looked in the mirror I saw a different person. Sure, the hairline had receded a tad bit more. And sure, I was still covered in semen, but I looked at a man who was doing something to fulfill his goals. A man who had joined a gym, and tested himself. A man who had applied for a job, and was offered a position. A man who sits down when he pees.

So, I may not have the best body, and I may not have the best job, but all I know is that everything, soon, will all work out.

 

How I Got Kicked Out of a Public Library

This is the story about how I, James Lane, got kicked out of the Weehawken Public Library. How, you may ask (Or why the hell are you writing a story about it?) Well, it all started in September 2012. And I am writing a story about it because I am just that bored.

I moved to the beautiful [sic] city of Weehawken, New Jersey in 2011. All big eyed and dreamy, I was a Florida boy moving to the outer skirts of New York City to fulfill my dreams of being a backup dancer.

When I wasn’t in the studio practicing my hip-hop footwork, I enjoyed taking long walks in Central Park, drinking over-priced cups of coffee and avoiding homeless people at all costs. When I wasn’t in the city, I relished in the days when I could relax in the quaint New Jersey town, aimlessly browsing for used socks and old cassette tapes in the small Cuban-owned shops. Or the “tiendas”. (I’ve become so fluent in Spanish since living here, I sometimes replace English words with Spanish ones, without even noticing. So, lo siento in advance).

Another favorite pastime of mine is reading. For anyone who knows me or has checked out my OkCupid profile, I love books. I like writing them. And I love reading them. That being said, one of my favorite places are libraries.

One of the first stops I made upon arriving in New York (aside from the apartment building used in Friends) was the New York Public Library located on 40th and 5th: a New York City landmark, which solely became famous because of the Sex and the City movie. I spent most of my free time between rehearsals and callbacks walking the aisles of books by such great authors as Tori Spelling, Kris Kardashian, and Lauren Conrad.

This library had it all.

I went to the front desk, located way in the back, and inquired about obtaining a library card so I could have access to all of these great titles and authors. And so I could check my OkCup…Facebook account in the computer center.

When I was prompted to give the man my address, the only form of identification I had was my Florida driver’s license, and to be a member of the New York Public Library you had to actually live in New York. Which I didn’t.

So, I shrugged my shoulders, returned “Breaking Dawn” back to it’s place, and humbly left the premises. “There must be a library in Weehawken” I thought to myself while standing in line at a Shake Shack for the second time that day.

As it turns out, retaining a library card in Weehawken was almost as difficult as curing herpes. Oh, wait, there isn’t a cure for herpes, is there? No wonder those five empty sticks of Abreva have done nothing whatsoever. I guess getting a library card is as difficult as…opening a brand new CD. You know, that unmanageable strip of thick sticky plastic aligned on the top of the CD making it almost impossible to open, so you’re screaming in the Target parking lot to yourself, “I just want to listen to the new Taylor Swift album on my drive home, God damnit!”

Wait, no one buys CD’s anymore? Oh. Okay, well shit. Getting a library card is just hard – no similes or metaphors.

But, I digress.

I located the Weehawken library online, MapQuested the address, and discovered it was a very short distance from my apartment. So, I threw on my expensive Old Navy fleece jacket and walked on over.

It turns out the library used to be an old mansion that has been restored, renovated, and refurbished. Much nicer than that one in the city. If Carrie would have had the wedding there, I am certain Big would have shown up.

When I entered, I saw an information desk off to the left side with an elderly lady sitting down reading “Fifty Shades Freed”.

“Ah, you’re almost to the end. Does Anastasia stay with Grey or does she leave him for Jose?”

Without hearing a word I uttered, she continued to read her book, fervently turning the page in search of an actual plot line. I stepped up further to the desk, waiting for her to notice my presence. Or cologne.

Finally, she finished the chapter she was on and looked at me. “Oh, hello there. Have you been standing here long?”

“No, ma’am, just eighteen or nineteen minutes.”

“Well, how can I help you?” she asked, dog-earring her place in the book. Instead of answering right away, I suddenly found myself wondering why she didn’t have access to a bookmark. It was a library for whispering out loud. Shouldn’t there be ample book-place-saving devices at hand besides folding down a corner of a page?

“I would like to get a library card, please.”

She gave me a look of “Ugh, I have to get up out of my chair and go to the filing cabinet”, like I was the forty-third person that day opening up a library account in Weehawken, New Jersey. “I just need a photo I.D. and proof of residency.”

Hm…Proof of residency. I didn’t have any of those. I had only just moved to the area a month ago, and none of the leasing documents or utility bills were in my name because of my warrant. “Well, I do have a drivers license. But, unfortunately I do not have any documents that state that I live here. But I can assure you that I am a resident of Weehawken.”

“Your drivers license is from Florida, young man.”

“Yes, I know. Like I was saying, I only just moved here a month ago. I can’t get a New Jersey license, and I don’t have any bills in my name. But, again, I can assure you that I live in the city of Weehawken” I said with a convincing smile.

“I am so sorry, but I really need a photo I.D. and proof of residency. Maybe something at home will show your address and you can come back and show it to me.”

I ran out of the biblioteca (ugh, see?!) and sprinted down the street to my apartment. Something in this apartment must have my address on it. I wasn’t working at the time and all of my credit card bills were still being sent to my parents house for them to ignore. I was now faced with one of the most important and significant challenges of my adult life.

I ransacked all of my files, which was just a recipe for Chicken Caccitorre and an old Banana Republic catalog. In the midst of my search, the apartment buzzer rang. This being the first time I have been home while this happened, I became giddy and excited. Just like on tv, I pushed the ‘TALK’ button and said, “Yes?” and then I pressed the listen button and heard, “I have a package for a James Lane”. I, again pressed the talk button and said gleefully, “Come on up!” and buzzed them in. This was so cool!

Five minutes later, still standing by the closed door waiting for a knock, my buzzer rang again. I was then told that the door downstairs was broken and that I would have to come downstairs and retrieve the package. Damn.

So, I ran down three flights of stairs and greeted Paul (I don’t know if that was her name, but it sounds about right). I signed for the box and hurriedly scuttled up the stairs, wondering what was inside. I grabbed the box cutter out of my left sock and tore open the cardboard box. It was a T-shirt I had ordered online a week ago with a big black cat on the front and the words “You’ve got to be kitten me” written underneath. After trying on the shirt, and playing with the bubble wrap for fifteen minutes, I noticed something inside the box. It was the itemized receipt. An itemized receipt with my address on it! My New Jersey address! I grabbed the piece of paper and my keys and hauled ass back to the library.

When I finally made it back, twenty-five minutes since I was there last, I went back up to the information desk and spoke with the same lady. “I’m back, and I have proof of my residency!” I said as I pulled out the receipt.

“Can I help you?”

“Uh, yeah. I was just in here. A few minutes ago. I wanted to get a library card?” Clearly, she had some short term memory problems, along with psoriasis and gout.

“Okay, I just need a photo I.D. and proof of residency.”

I handed her my drivers license and the T-shirt receipt. “Here you go!”

She looked over both of my documents. “You are the second person today to come in with a Florida drivers license. Small world, huh?” I nodded sympathetically while she scrutinized the paper I handed her. “I am sorry, but we need a bill or lease or something. This doesn’t tell me you live here.”

“Yes it does. Right there, see? Below my name it has my address: Hudson Avenue, Weehawken New Jersey”. I made sure to stretch the word Weehawken out as long as I could. She wasn’t buying it.

“Yes, I see that. But, this is just a piece of paper with your address on it. Anyone can get anything mailed somewhere. I need an official document. I’m sorry.”

“You have got to be kitten me!”

A month later, I was happily [sic] employed and working at a restaurant in Times Square serving cheeseburgers for seventeen dollars. Two weeks after being employed, I finally got my first paycheck. And what was on that paycheck? My address. If a paycheck isn’t official, I don’t know what is! So, I returned back to the library, for the third time, and requested a library card.

Naturally, it was the same old lady working. And naturally she didn’t remember me. I handed her my I.D. and paycheck and she awarded me with a library card. She had me sign three different forms, photocopied my information, and typed my information into the system. After what seemed like an hour, she had completed this mundane task and handed me an un-lamented paper library card. But I didn’t care. I was now a library member. I could check out three books at a time, use the computers, and attend monthly seminars and activities.

A week later, I received a letter in the mail from the Weehawken Public Library that read:

Dear Janes Lame,

Thank you for you’re interest in the Weehawken Public Library. We are honored to have you as a member. You’re account is now active. Happy reading!

Sincerely,

Pam

Director of Library Operations

I didn’t care that they spelled my name Janes Lame. And I didn’t care that they didn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”. I was just happy to be a member. I had some great times at that library, writing articles for my job, writing stories for my blog, reading delightful books and interesting magazines in plush big couches, and even attending a singles knitting class. I have to say, it was worth all of the hassle. And that is the story of how I got my library card.

Oh wait. This is the story of how I got kicked out of a public library, isn’t it?

It was the end of fall/beginning of winter in 2012 and I was still living in Weehawken, New Jersey. While being ridiculed for over a year from my friends (and some family) I found that I really enjoyed where I lived. It’s quiet and comfortable, yet only five minutes from the city. I was even starting to make friends out this way – friends who I used because they had access to cars.

My serving job ended in the early summer due to bankruptcy, although their reasoning was “repainting the walls to eventually reopen”. And my dance career was quickly falling to a demise. This left me out of a job and out of money. And out of hope. I eventually found myself a part-time job writing for a company’s website, and doing freelance work on the side. But, usually my days were spent watching Gossip Girl and reading a book a week. I carried on this activity from June all the way through December, eventually switching Gossip Girl for something a tad more real.

By mid-December, I was already halfway through with Desperate Housewives when my mom called me to ask a favor. She is flying into New York to spend Christmas with me, and she purchased Radio City tickets for Christmas Eve. The only problem was that she didn’t know how to print them off herself, so she asked if I could do the small task.

Like all struggling writers in New Yo…Jersey, I am without a printer. I left mine at home, not wanting to take excess stuff with me. And plus, it wasn’t going to fit in the moving van, especially with those two bean bag chairs. It was at that moment I had a realization: The library has a printer! So, I threw on my winter chaqueta and made my way.

I went straight up to the second floor where the computer center was and logged on to an available computer. After typing in my account number to be logged on, a message of “Inactive Account” appeared on the screen. “Hm, that’s weird” I whispered to no one. So, I re-entered. Same message. I re-entered again. Same message again. Finally, I went to the man behind the desk and explained my problem.

“That’s awfully strange. I don’t know much about computers, so I don’t know what to tell ya. Uh, let me call Janice to see if she can help you. Hang on tight, buddy.”

So, I sat there at my computer, hanging on as tight as I could, waiting for Janice to solve this problem. A few moments later, she came scurrying over to me at computer #4. I was very relieved to see that Janice was in her early forties, and computer literate. She re-typed my account information into the computer only to receive the same message. She scratched her head and told me the library was switching software programs and that was probably the reason for the glitch. I explained that I just needed the Internet for five short minutes to print out a document, so she logged me in as a guest user and went on her way.

I opened the attachment my mother had sent with the concert tickets. I clicked print and walked up to the counter with my thirty cents to pay.

The old man went to check the printer and told me nothing had printed. So I went back to the computer and clicked print again. Same thing. Printer not working. So, I went back a third time and clicked print, and this time one of the three concert tickets printed. I explained to him that I needed those other two tickets. I was trying to have patience with the old man, because clearly this was not his profession. He just took a volunteer job at the library to get him out of the house and away from his nagging wife. I get that. But, this was a library. A place where signing onto the Internet and printing documents was supposed to be easy. Not like opening up a brand new CD or curing herpes.

After a few more tries, he told me that the printer was just not working and that I should find another means of printing off whatever I needed. I nodded in agreement, but told him that in the event of my pages actually printing out later on in the afternoon, for him to shred them, or rip them up and toss them in the garbage. I didn’t want some library patron finding these concert tickets and having a free entrance pass to the greatest Christmas show on Earth!

Begrudged, but not ready to leave, I perused the “New Non-Fiction” shelf and found a few winners I had yet to read. “The Best of Me” by Nicholas Sparks, “The Heart of the Matter” by Emily Giffin, and “My Life is So Raven” by Raven Symone. I put all three hardcover books in my arms and walked downstairs to check them out.

I arrived at the front desk, books in one hand, library card in another, ready to get home and read what it exactly was like working on The Cosby Show. The woman behind the desk was new to me; a face I had never seen before.

“Hello, how may I help you?”

“Hi. I would just like to check out these books, please.”

“Most certainly. Library card?”

I handed her the card, and while she was scanning the books, I looked around for the elderly lady that helped me last year to say a quick hello, even though I doubt she’d remember little ole me.

The woman, let’s call her Doris for legal reasons, interrupted my gaze. “I’m sorry sir, but your card is inactive. You need to re-activate your account.”

“Oh, okay. Sure. No problem. Do I need to sign something, or…?”

“Well, I just need a photo I.D. and a proof of residency”.

<Insert over the top eye roll> Oh, brother.

“Well, I have my photo I.D. with me, it’s my Florida drivers license, but I don’t have anything on me that shows I am a Weehawken resident. But, I am!” I said, as I smiled my please-let-me-out-of-a-speeding-ticket-officer smile.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lame, but I must have a paper that states you are a resident of Weehawken.”

I suddenly had déjà vu. It was coming through my earphones. Damn, Beyonce. I explained to her that I was not on my lease, nor did I have any bills in my name, but that my address was so-and-so, but she kept nodding her head.

“But, you must know I am a resident here, because I was given a library card already. You’re holding it in your hand. It just expired or something. The woman upstairs told me you guys were changing software programs. Perhaps this has something to do with it. I don’t know why my card would be inactive. I was just here a month ago.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but—“

“Is there another lady here? The older lady? She assigned me my card. She would remember me” I lied.

“No, she isn’t. Gayle has gone on to a better place.”

“Oh. Is she working at the library on 40th and 5th?”

“Um, no. She passed away, sir. But I doubt she would be any help.”

“Clearly. So, what you’re saying is that I need a paper with my address on it before I can check out these books?”

“That is what I am saying. I can hold them here for 24 hours until you prove that you live here.”

“Okay. I just find it a little ridiculous that I need to bring my papers here again. I live on Hudson Avenue, right above Monetti’s pizza place.”

“Monetti’s is not in Weehawken.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not. Great pizza, though. Have you had the garlic knots?”

“Yes! They are delicious, aren’t they?”

“So so good. I like to dip them in the alfredo sauce and —“

“Okay, we are getting off topic. That place is in Weehawken. My mail is addressed in Weehawken. I know what I am talking about.”

“Ah, you get mail delivered to your house in Weehawken?” She said the town name like she was using invisible air quotes.

“Yes. I get mail delivered there.”

“Then bring me something to show it, and I will gladly let you check these books out. Thank you.”

And with that, I was dismissed. I went back to my apartment, with no concert tickets and no books. How was an errand so easy in theory turning out to be so damn difficult? I ransacked my bedroom looking for anything with my name on it. The truth is, no one really sends me mail, so I had no hard evidence. And since I was out of work, I had no paycheck stub to bring in.

I then thought to myself, “Did I really need those books? I mean, I didn’t want to read them until I saw them at the library. And I could always order them on Amazon. Or go to a used book store. Do I really need to be going through this much hassle?” From which I concluded: Yes. It wasn’t about the books anymore. It was about the principle. I was a resident of Weehawken, God Damnit! And I am entitled to all Weehawken has to offer. The banderas, the barras, the mercados, and yes, even the bibliotecas.

I looked through an old binder I had in the back of my closet I tried to keep important documents in, but it was just newspaper clippings of Taylor Swift, an old play I wrote, and birthday cards. When I closed the binder, a piece of paper flew out and landed at my feet. It was my W-2 from my restaurant job. And, low and behold, it had my name AND address on it. Perfect.

I walked back in with my head held high and approached the front desk. Someone else was sitting at the desk when I arrived and I asked to specifically speak with Doris. He informed me she was upstairs on her lunch break. “I’ll wait” is all I said to him.

Fifteen minutes later, Doris came walking back downstairs with her Igloo lunch box draped on her left arm. “You’re back.”

“Yes, yes I am.” I placed my I.D. and W-2 on the counter like I had a winning had at poker. “Here are the documents you asked for.”

She picked up my W-2 and let out a long, exhale. “Sir, I don’t think you are listening to me. I asked for a recent document. This was issued in 2011. This is not recent. I need something from, I don’t know, the month of December 2012. Can you do that for me?”

Oh, so this is how you want to play, huh? Now I was mad. And, to be quite honest, I did not like her tone.

“Listen. Right now, at this moment, this is all I have. I understand it is not recent, but it is a document with my name and address on it. I am not on a lease. And I do not have any bills addressed to me here. But, I live at that address right there on the form. I already have a library card. And my name is in the system.”

“Well, actually, in the system your name appears as Janes Lame.”

“That’s the result of a ninety year old and a computer. Not my fault. James Lane and Janes Lame are one in the same. Why is this so difficult?!”

“I’d like to ask you the same thing.”

I picked up my I.D. off the counter, placed it back in my wallet, and started to walk away. Quickly, realizing I still had some fight left in me, I turned back around. “I just, I am so amazed at how outrageous this process is becoming. I just want to check out those books. I really needed those books today.”

She picked up the three books I had waiting on hold. “Oh, you do? You need ‘My Life is So Raven’ really bad?”

“Yes! I’m a fan.”

Doris began to laugh and waved her arm at me. “You have heard what I need. If you can fulfill those teeny tiny requirements, you can check out these books you ‘really need’”. And yes, she did the air quotation marks. Now, my voice was raised.

“Do you think this is some sort of game? Do you think I just go around to different libraries throughout the county and try to trick and deceive helpless librarians? Throw all the books I’ve illegally checked out into a pile and jump up and down?! Brag about it to my friends?! This is crazy. This is insane! This is NOT Germany!”

“Sir, I am sorry you feel that way, but this is our policy. And apparently you cannot abide by our policy.” She picked up my library card off the desk, and tore it in half. “We are not interested in having you as a member here anymore. You can go now before I call library security.”

“Library security? You mean the eighty year old with the walker upstairs?”

“Please leave.”

“You are kicking me out of the library because I don’t have proper proof of residency?”

“No, I am kicking you out for shouting in a library. Good day.”

And so, that is the story of how I was kicked out of a public library. I walked by it the other day on my way to get lunch. I stood on the front steps, looking at the beautiful building, watching little children go inside with their backpacks on, ready to embark on a new day of fun and reading, and I couldn’t help but to feel a bit sad. I had some good times in that place. Times I wouldn’t trade for the world. They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and boy, did I agree.

 

Project Paradise 

I Need a Vacation!

The winter in New York City was never-ending. For 6 months straight, I had to bundle up in scarves, puffy jackets, long johns and knit hats just to take on the brutal frigid weather. I needed a break. I think for the first time since moving to NYC I uttered the phrase, “I miss Florida.”

I expressed my feelings of missing the sun to my friends, family, and the person who works at the 24 hour gas station. But no one really cared.

One night in February, my friend, Sebastian, told me that he was planning a trip to Hawaii in the summer and that I should come. Having never been to the islands of Hawaii, I put down my chicken wing and said “I’m in!!”

Two weeks later, when the plans for Hawaii were becoming finalized, Sebastian informed me that it would cost a total of roughly $2,500.

“$2,500?” I exclaimed. “I could get Invisiline with that money! Why so expensive?”

He told me that between the cost of the flight, the hotel, and the different excursions they were booking every day, $2,500 would be the best estimate he could give me.

I checked my bank account that night, seeing if I could swing this trip. I couldn’t. Maybe if I didn’t eat, pay my rent, or if I cancelled my monthly donation to the Animal Humane Society, I could afford it, but I couldn’t do that to those poor animals. I called him that night and told him he would have to vacation without me.

He didn’t seem too upset.

About a month later, with the weather still freezing, I cried to him saying I needed to get out. I needed to go on vacation. I had not been on a real vacation in over three years. Sure, I go to Florida every so often to visit my parents, but I don’t consider driving my dad to his cardiologist appointments a vacation. I needed to get away and use my passport that has been collecting dust in my nightstand.

We got to talking of ideas – affordable ideas – and the two that we came up with was a weekend in Washington D.C. or a cruise to the Bahamas. Clearly, we all knew which one I preferred, but the weather in D.C. wasn’t going to be any warmer than it was in New York. So, with much debate, we finally agreed on a cruise.

I don’t want to brag, but I have been on many cruises. I’m from a small town just south of Cape Canaveral in Florida, so going on a cruise was as easy and affordable as going to Taco Bell for a fourthmeal. I used my experience and knowledge to help Sebastian pick a cruise that would be fun, exciting, and again, affordable.

“All I want is a picture standing in the ocean with the cruise ship behind me” he said. “That’s the only thing I want.”

I assured him that his wish would be possible, but then also explaining the other hundred things a cruise is good for. “There are so many shows, and there’s a casino on board, and the food. Let me tell you about the food. Rows and rows of free food, laid out buffet style at all hours of the night. You will never go hungry or thirsty. It’s amazing.”

“…But can I get my picture taken in front of the ship?”

I already was having second thoughts.

 

Let’s Book This, Damnit

The following week, we both started actively searching the interwebs for different cruise lines, destinations and deals. I have been on both Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise, and out of the two, I leaned more towards RC because it was nicer and cleaner. Oh, and it didn’t get stuck in the middle of the Atlantic for 2 weeks. Sebastian, on the other hand, was more into booking a gay cruise.

“Whhyyyyyy?” I exhaled, while chewing on my chicken wing (yes, I am aware that I eat a lot of chicken wings).

He wanted to, as he put it, “show off his body and meet a husband.” I, on the other hand, hadn’t been to the gym since 2011 and eat chicken wings bi-weekly, so I was not going on a cruise to show off my body. I wanted to go on a tourist cruise: One that would be filled with pale families from the UK and overweight families from the Midwest, and ugly families from Florida. I didn’t want to be in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by men in banana hammocks with 6-packs, hairless bodies, and judgments.

Luckily (for me) the gay cruise was the same price as the trip to Hawaii, so we decided to find something a little bit more in our (my) price range.

I scoured the internet, checking every deal and discount I could find. I found some amazing deals for Royal Caribbean leaving out of Cape Canaveral. I liked this option because I could go home and visit my parents for a few days and maybe (hopefully) scrounge some moolah from their retired pockets. Sebastian was fine with the RC cruise, but wanted to leave out of Fort Lauderdale, so he, too, could visit his family. We decided to compromise and leave out of Miami. For me, this wasn’t a compromise at all because I would be flying into Central Florida, visiting my parents for a day, then driving to Miami (a mere three hour trip), and picking him up along the way. But, as a foreshadowing for the trip, I learned to just say “Okay, sure, whatever you want.”

I went over to Sebastian’s house one Sunday night to watch the Academy Awards, and more importantly, to book our cruise! I had my credit card and passport in hand, ready to make my purchase. Like idiots, we went on the actual cruise line website to book. The final price wasn’t awful, but I knew with my internet savvy and Jew-like spending habits, I could find the same exact cruise for less money and a better room.

We decided to put a hold on booking that night so I could spend my next day at work researching. I called up my sister-in-law, a business travel agent down in South Florida, for help on where I should look. She recommended Cruise.com. I found a Superior Ocean View room for the cruise we wanted to go on for $300. “That’s an amazing deal!” I screamed in my office, to which no one except the mail man acknowledged. I grabbed my wallet, took out my credit card, and started to enter in my information. I texted Sebastian saying, “I found it! I found the cruise! Give me your CC number.”

I entered in all of the required information, did a quick proofread, and hit the Submit button. The next screen told me to wait patiently as my reservation was being completed. I didn’t like that I was being told what to do, but I obliged their request and sat at my desk, waiting patiently. Finally, after what seemed like 10 minutes – in reality, only 50 seconds – the next page loaded and said, “Unfortunately, we could not complete you request. A travel agent will be in contact with you. Thanks!!”

What the hell?! I was so confused as to what went wrong and why this booking process was becoming an actual process. A little side note about me (which will be applied to the rest of this story) is that I am an extremely anxious person. I do not like obstacles or change or hindrances, so when something doesn’t go the exact way I plan, I freak out. This applies to almost all everyday situations. While waiting in line at Starbucks, I’ll repeat my order in my head so when it is my turn, I will be prompt and ready, but mostly, I get so anxious that when I go to order, it comes out sounding like “grandy roast pike milk on the side.”

Needless to say, I was extremely annoyed that the cruise was not booked on the spot. But, a half hour later, I received a phone call from a travel agent from Cruise.com and she told me that she could get me the same room and the same deal, all I needed to do was give her permission to authorize our credit cards. I told her yes and she said she would send me an email invoice in just a few minutes.

As promised, a few minutes later I had an email confirmation of the trip, itinerary, and receipt. There was just thing wrong: she ended up charging my card twice and didn’t charge Sebastian. I realized this wasn’t the end of the world, I could just ask him to write me a check later on in the week. Upon reviewing the invoice for a third time, I noticed one more discrepancy: yes, my credit card was presumably charged twice, but it seemed Debbie (this is what I will refer to her as because of legal reasons…and that I just cannot remember her name) entered in my credit card number once correctly, and incorrectly the second time. I hurriedly checked my bank account and saw that I was only charged once for the trip.

Now, for someone who is anxious, a control freak, has a slight case of OCD, and always plans for the worst, I called up Deb to inform her of her error and to get it rectified as soon as possible. She reviewed the invoice and realized the expiration date on the second charge was wrong. “Oops” was all she replied.

Oops?! Who the hell was I working with? I tried to remain calm and asked her to fix it, but she told me that there was nothing she could do until RC and my bank realized the error. I called up my sister, frantically, and explained the situation. I begged and pleaded with her to call on my behalf and speak to a supervisor. I was not going to go to bed unsure if my vacation was booked or not.

She called me back after she hung up with Cruise.com and said “All you can do is wait patiently.”

If one more person told me to wait patiently, I was going to scream. But, that’s all I could do. That night at dinner, I explained the situation to Sebastian, waiting for a reaction close to my own, but it never came. He just shrugged his shoulders. Why wasn’t he getting as angry as I was? Why didn’t he care? Why wasn’t he outraged? And where was my Sprite?

Well, I guess he didn’t have a reaction because it wasn’t really that big of a deal. He just said that everything will work out and that I should take a few more Xanax. So I did.

He was right. Everything did work out. A week later, everything was fixed and the entirety of the cruise was paid for (on my debit card) and we were ready to start planning our trip. I went back over to Sebastian’s house to fill out the necessary forms and read over all the paperwork we needed. This was it. It was happening and I was so excited. Our cruise was leaving the Port of Miami in just 3 weeks and I had so much to do: shopping, lose weight, get a base tan and trim my body hair. There was nothing else to do but wait. Patiently.

 

Prepping for Paradise

Once the reservation was booked and my plane ticket was confirmed, I knew there was no turning back. In just a few weeks, I would have my toes in the sand on some island while holding a coconut. Since I didn’t have much time, I knew I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle. Being on a beach meant having to be shirtless, and having to be shirtless meant having to be shirtless. I needed to workout.

Being a gym member that never actually went, I decided it was time I unpacked the running shoes from their box, put on my elastic-waisted pants, and trudged in two feet of snow to the gym. Once inside, I was so exhausted from my walk there that I sat down on the bench in the locker room for a bit. A half hour later, I decided to go upstairs where they kept the TV’s and do some time on the elliptical.

The Ellen Show had just begun, so I found a machine with an excellent view of the television and started to climb. Not even at the first commercial break, I was already dying. I looked to the woman next to me and saw she had been on her machine for 45 minutes, with no signs of stopping. “How the hell do you keep going?” I asked her. She mumbled something about dedication and perseverance, but I was in no mood to decode words with more than two syllables. I ended up staying on the machine for another ten minutes before moving on to the treadmill.

I actually enjoy the treadmill because running clears my head. It also makes me pant uncontrollably. Again, the most I could endure of this ‘dread-mill’ was ten minutes, so I went downstairs and hit the showers.

I told Sebastian about my workout the next night at the Cheesecake Factory. “How long do you think I will need to exercise in order to look like you?” I inquired while shoveling a piece of Adams Fudge Ripple cheesecake into my mouth.

Sebastian has an incredible body; complete with broad shoulders and enormous arms, ones that make me curious how he fits into t-shirts. He told me that he had been working out five times a week for over six years and that for me to even look like I made a dent of a difference, I would have to dedicate at least one hour, four times a week for close to a year. “So, I wont have a six pack by the time of the trip?” I asked. He just shook his head no and said, “Definitely not.” So I ordered my third piece of cheesecake and realized I would just have to embrace my curves – because they weren’t going anywhere.

Aside from losing a few pounds, I needed to gain a few new pieces to my wardrobe. The next weekend, we went to this huge mall in New Jersey to shop for cute cruise wear. While Sebastian was browsing the racks of speedos and tank tops, I was over in the clearance section looking for a colorful hoodie. Knowing I was in desperate need for a new bathing suit, I found a really cute Nautica one with a navy blue gingham print. I had to have it. I swiftly went through the seven or so they had out on the floor and realized they didn’t have a small (yes, I can still squeeze into a small, thank you very much). “Miss! Miss!” I screamed to the sales associate folding polo shirts a few yards away. “Do you have this in a small in the back?”

When she told me that everything that they had was on the floor, a lie I assumed, I asked if she could check all of the other Macy stores within a 100 mile radius for my size. “There’s one in Paramus and two in Hackensack” she informed me. I thanked her for her time and walked back over to the winter wear.

Before we left for the free samples at the food court, I realized in that moment that I needed a backpack. I had never really had a backpack and thought the size and portability of one would be essential while traveling the Bahamian Islands. In the luggage section, I looked around for a nice clean Jansport backpack, but no luck. This shorter African-American gentleman swagged over to me and asked if I needed any help. “Yes, I am looking for a backpack. Do you have any here? I don’t see them.”

“Backpacks are over here. Follow me sir” he said. So I followed him. The backpacks he showed me were actual backpacks – ones that you would use…backpacking. The one I needed was a little bit smaller than these. When I expressed to him my preference, he gave me a condescending look and said, “Well, the only other ones we have are a little out of your price range. But I am sure Wal-Mart has what you are looking for.”

Oh. Did this salesman just tell me, to my face, that I was poor? Tempted to say, “Um, I’m actually going on a Royal Caribbean cruise, so…” but that would have just proved his point, so I just hung my head in shame and walked out. I was pretty upset about this exchange, but when I saw the neon lights of a Nathan’s, my day seemed to turn around. I may not have gotten my cute bathing suit, backpack, or awesome beach body, but I sure as hell got a hotdog.

 

Florida, Here I Come!

It was finally time for my vacation to begin. With the weather still not warming up in New York, I was ready to get out of there and experience this illusion referred to as “the sun.”

My flight left out of LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday afternoon and had a layover in Atlanta. While waiting to board the first round of flights, the man on the intercom informed us that this was going to be a “completely full flight” and they were offering “complementary checked baggage” and that if not enough people offered to participate, they would be checking everyone’s bag toward the end of the line. I have never seen so many grown adults fight to get into a single file line since I worked at Baskin Robbins.

Every single time I fly Detla, I have this same issue. I used to fly with a big suitcase, so I would always check it, but I spent more time waiting at the baggage claim carousel than I did on my actual vacation, so from now on I pack lightly and only bring a medium sized duffle bag.

Did I want to bring my extra-large suitcase for a 4 day vacation? Absolutely. I hate having to go through my exuberant collection of clothes and choose outfits I think I may want to wear. I like bringing at least 11 pairs of shoes and numerous outfit changes just in case, because you never know when you will win free tickets to the ballet or be invited to a white party on a yacht. But usually it’s because I get Cheetos dust on 70% of my clothes.

Once this announcement was made, everyone in the airline gate hustled and rushed to get in line to make sure their carry-on luggage made it onto the plane. Me, being the anxious type that I am, started having a mini panic attack, thinking of scenarios in my head I could use to beg and plead with the flight attendant to not take my precious duffle bag away. “But I am going to a funeral tonight and my suit is in this bag. I can’t risk it being lost. I’ve already lost my grandmother. Don’t make me lose my bag, too.”

Luckily, I was not chosen to check my bag. The guy in front of me, however, was. And he didn’t like it one bit. He was one of those Long Island types – where he felt better and more privileged than anyone else on the plane. Naturally, instead of just exhaling and turning over his Samsonite roller bag to the flight crew, he threw a temper tantrum that got so out of hand, 2 security members had to come by and assess the situation. Well, at the time I thought they were security guards, but as it turned out they were just two cashiers from Au Bon Pan.

He ended up holding the line up for a good 15 minutes, so he was not on anyone’s favorite list. Especially mine, because he was directly in front of me and kept turning back, looking at me and saying “You’re bag is bigger than mine. This is ridiculous. I’m being picked on because I am a white male.” I just shrugged my shoulders and hoped he would get the point I didn’t want to engage in conversation.

Finally, when I got to my assigned row, I saw that the poor picked on white male was sitting directly in front of me. “Oh brother” I sighed. He sat there, like a hawk, watching every single person try to fit their oversized carry on into the overhead bin. It was like he was a commentator on Sports Center. “That one will never fit,” “Ha! Good luck pal!” “What are those, golf clubs? Not on my watch!” He was relentless. I kept sighing loudly, to hopefully attract someone who thought this guy was as obnoxious as I did. But no one looked my way.

I put in my earphones, blasted some Taylor Swift, and tried desperately to relax. An hour after take off, the flight attendants came by with the drink cart. When they approached the guy in front of me, he said in true Long Island fashion, “I deserve a free drink for everything I’ve been through. You know, I’m a frequent flyer and I am treated like garbage.” The flight attendant, not wanting a scene, kindly asked what he would like to drink. “Just a coke please” he responded. “But I want the whole can. None of this half-can bullshit.” She placed the can of coke on his tray table and moved on. When it was my turn, I said to her, “I think I deserve a free drink because I’ve had to listen to him complain for the entire flight.” She smiled politely, but said no. Trying to watch my figure before the cruise, I ordered seltzer water because I heard the bubbles help you lose weight.

Once we landed in Atlanta, I had exactly eleven minutes to make it from one end of the airport to the other in order to make my connecting flight. Sweating and out of breath, I made it on and found my seat, hoping to get a quick powernap in before I saw my family. No such luck. The lady to the left of me was a talker, and kept waking me up in my REM state to ask, “What do you think that cloud looks like?” or “Ever read anything by Tom Clancy?”

Finally, when the wheels touched the tarmac of the Melbourne “International” Airport, I had the biggest smile on my face. I was actually here – on vacation. I walked out of those revolving doors and was suddenly welcomed by the warm weather, the hot sun, and my mother snapping a picture of me with a Polaroid camera.

 

Day 1 of the Cruise: Welcome to Miami

As I mentioned, our cruise, The Majesty of the Seas, was leaving out of the Port of Miami. Sebastian flew down to Fort Lauderdale the day earlier to spend time with his family, so I drove down to his grandmother’s house to pick him up on the way to the boat early Friday morning.

The boarding time was from 11am to 3pm and I was a nervous wreck that we were going to miss it. I left my parents’ house at 9am, drove like a mad man down to South Florida and picked him up fifteen minutes after twelve. He got in the car, closed the door, and I said, “This is it. No turning back now.”

It was a little joke, because the weeks before the trip, Sebastian and I were getting into little squabbles, if you will, leaving both of us scared, nervous and worried to spend 72 hours together with no possible way to escape. #besties

Three minutes after driving toward Miami, he mentioned that he was hungry. “Can we please stop at a Panera?” he asked. I shook my head furiously, no. “We are going to be late” I told him. “What if we get stuck in traffic and miss the boat? Then I will be out all that money and I would have to return my fedora, because wearing a fedora anywhere but a cruise ship is lame and passé.”

Again, here comes the anxiety monster. Already fifteen minutes into the trip and him and I are arguing on whether there was enough time for him to get a Chicken Frontega sandwich and cup of broccoli cheddar soup. But, I took a deep breath and repeated my mantra: Okay, sure, whatever you want.

Again, he was right. We ended up getting to the ship at 2:00pm with plenty of time to check-in, go through security, and board the ship. Having this be Sebastian’s first cruise experience (and first James vacation experience) he decided to pop two of his anxiety pills, making him appear more like Anna Nicole Smith than as an excited traveler.

Our first stop on board was to drop off our bags at our stateroom. We were lucky enough to be on the ninth deck in a Superior Ocean View room. He liked this deck because nine is his lucky number. I liked this deck because it was one below the Johnny Rockets.

We entered our room and the first thing we noticed was the bed. Yes, singular. When we made the reservation, we checked the box “2 single beds”, but we were left with just one queen bed and two single men. “Which side do you want?” I asked, while giving him the closest thing I have to bedroom eyes.

After he made a disgusted face, I opened the blinds and peered out the window to check out the “superior ocean view” but all I could see were life boats, pipes, and a hint of the sky. When I turned around from the window, there was a Macy’s box lying on the bed. “What is that?” I asked him.

“Just a little something for the trip,” he responded. Thinking it was anxiety medication, I opened the box to see the Nautica navy blue gingham bathing suit I so desperately wanted in a size small. I was in such a state of shock and appreciation; I was at a loss for words – for maybe the first time in my life. I gave him a big bear hug and thanked him profusely, thinking what in the hell could I pull out of my suitcase as a gift for him.

We changed into our pool deck attire and headed upstairs to check out what was happening on the Lido Deck. Upon exiting the doors, I turned to the left and saw the love of my life. We stared at each other for a few minutes before I gained enough courage to go over and say hi. Eventually I did, and we hit it off and spent the remainder of the cruise together. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am referring to the soft serve ice cream machine. “Want to just hang out here?” I asked.

We ended up walking around the pool, trying to find a good spot to set our stuff down and relax. The DJ, referred to as DJ Good News, was blasting The Macarena, The Cupid Shuffle, and Gangnam Style on repeat. We ended up sitting next to a very nice couple from Naples who informed us of the all-you-can-drink package deal I must have overlooked when booking this vacation.

Susie, the wife of the couple, told us in a constant slur that for just 55$ a day, you could drink all the beer, wine and liquor you could hold. Her and her husband, Dave, had only been on the boat for an hour and had already drunk as much as I planned to the entire weekend. But, seeing how much fun they were having and how little they cared, I deemed to get on that level of inebriation.

A Filipino gentleman came by and asked if we wanted anything to drink, to which I replied, “2 Bahama Mamas, please.” When in Rome, right? By the time we finished our second round, we were instructed to head to our muster station for the life boat safety drill. I have always secretly loved this part of the cruise because I find it so entertaining to watch drunken idiots put on their life vests and have to stand in a single file line for thirty minutes while trying to listen to all the ways one may die on the upcoming adventure.

This time, though, we did not need to wear our life vests, so we just headed straight to our muster station from the pool and stood there, waiting to hear what to do in case of an emergency. Having had only two drinks, I wasn’t too buzzed, but Sebastian on the other hand, looked like a high school junior leaving her first ever prom party. He got yelled at numerous times for playing on his cell phone and sitting down and throwing up into his backpack.

Luckily for me, we were placed right next to a group of black girls who responded to everything our muster guide told us with an “Mmmmmhmmm,” “Heard dat right there,” and “I better not get my weave wet.” It made this usually ordinary and boring ritual quite fun and entertaining. And I, too, did not want to get my weave wet.

When the drill was finally over, we were told to head to the pool deck for the “Sail Away Party.” This is always my favorite part of a cruise because you get to stand by the railings, drink in hand, and wave to the people on the shore not middle-class enough to sail on a Royal Caribbean cruise. The ships horn blew three times and we were off. Everyone started waving and cheering while DJ Good News blasted Will Smith’s iconic song from 1998, “Miami.” It wasn’t until the chorus that I realized how ill-timed this song was being played. This should have been played on a constant repeat while everyone was boarding the ship…not while it was pulling away from harbor. The line, “Welcome to Miami, Bienvenido a Miami” is essentially telling the world (or The Majesty of the Seas) “Welcome to Miami!” However, the more the song played, the further we were getting from the actual city of Miami. I brought this up to Susie and Dave, to which they replied, “H-h-h-h-h-e-e-y-y-y-y! Let’s get anuffferr drankkk!”

Fifteen minutes and 100 selfies later, we finally decided to take this time to walk around the ship and get familiar with all the amenities available. We walked over to the back of the ship which housed the basketball court, rock climbing wall, and full gym. “I don’t like this part of the ship” I stated while a basketball hit me on the head. “Let’s find the buffet.”

We got in the elevator and saw a button for the 14th floor. “Should I push it?” Sebastian asked me in a dull whisper. “Not if you want 5 random people in the world to die” I responded. He pushed it anyway.

The elevator doors opened to a circular lounge at the topmost point of the ship. It seemed pretty empty, with the exception of a few stragglers wandering around. “This is beautiful” Sebastian said while jumping over a velvet rope. Not to be that boring kid from Stand by Me, I too jumped the velvet rope to see what was going on, and it turned out to be nothing – just five or six couples sitting down, drinking wine and eating appetizers. While passing one of the couples, I looked down at their plates and noticed there were chicken wings, spring rolls, and mozzarella sticks. That’s right, mozzarella sticks.

Now, if anyone knows me, you know my true feelings on this delicious fried cheese finger food. It was at that moment when I decided I had to have one. We found a waiter walking by, so we stopped him. His name was Wayne and he was from Nigeria. That’s not important to the story, but I just feel that you, the reader, should know how culturally diverse this ship was.

We stopped him and asked where the mozzarella sticks were. He paused and then responded inquiringly, “Are those the little cheese things?” Oh, Wayne, so naïve. Is Nigeria that bad of a country where they don’t offer the simplest of foods?

(I just Googled Nigeria and apparently, no: They do not have a T.G.I. Fridays or a Chili’s. But they do have Malaria, so there’s that).

We told Wayne that yes, we wanted the little cheese things and asked where we could find them. I don’t know why, but Sebastian and I were acting like if we did not ingest a mozzarella stick at that very moment, we would die.

Wayne, seeing our hunger and frustration, informed us that the people sitting up here enjoying appetizers and drinks were part of the Royal Caribbean Diamond Club. “How do we get to be in the Diamond Club?” we both asked simultaneously, refusing to break eye contact with Wayne.

“You have to be a valued customer to the cruise line – someone who cruises often and spends the money to stay in one of our suites. Can I see your Sail Pass Card?” he asked. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my card and handed it over to Wayne. He looked at it and chuckled. “Oh, now I see. Yeah. You are not in the Diamond Club” and then continued to laugh more.

Feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I hung my head in embarrassment while placing my Sail Pass back into my wallet. “I guess we will go back to our cabin in steerage and feast on a rat running by.”

He could see how upset we were (yes, we were literally this upset over not getting mozzarella sticks) so he told us to wait here and he would see what he could do. Sebastian and I found a cute little spot by the window and waited – praying – for his return with good news. Sebastian started laughing, “These people cruise every year and stay in suites, and their big reward is a plate of mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers? Where’s the caviar? Where’s the champagne?” I shrugged my shoulders in agreement.

Minutes later, we saw Wayne round the corner holding a small plastic plate with an assortment of free appetizers for us. He put the plate down on the table and said “I hope one of these is that cheese thing you wanted.”

We started digging in right away. “You did good, Wayne. You did good,” I said with my mouth half-full of mozzarella. When Wayne walked away, I looked at Sebastian and asked, “Shit, should we tip him?” Me being the stingy one, I was praying he would say, “Nah, forget it. It’s just a mozzarella stick.” But he didn’t. He said that we definitely needed to tip him, but he conveniently forgot his wallet in the room. I pulled out my wallet again and saw I only had 20$’s (that’s right, bitch) and told him I was not giving him a 20 dollar bill, nor was I going to ask for change back.

He told me to run to the room and grab a few singles and come back. I quickly shoved two more bites into my mouth and took one for the road. I returned to find the plastic plate sitting in front of Sebastian completely empty. “Hungry?” I barked.

“Not anymore” he replied. “I can’t find Wayne anywhere. Did you get the money?”

“Yeah, I only could find a silver dollar. Let’s give this to him so we can get out of here. These Diamond Club members are looking at us funny.”

We stood there, awkwardly by the elevator for ten minutes, hoping to spot Wayne and give him a tip, but apparently he was on his break, so we just left. We told ourselves we would come back later that night after dinner and give it to him. We never did.

After another hour of walking around the ship and looking at our picture from when we boarded, we ran back to the room to shower and change for dinner. We had the late seating for the dining room, which I always prefer because you are sat with young, cool, and hip people and there are no children around. The other thing about cruises is that you are assigned to a group dining table of hopefully people around your age, height, or sexuality.

We walked up to our table, table 129, and we were the first ones to arrive. The table held 10 seats, so we had a 1 in 8 chance of finding someone funny, interesting, or more importantly, attractive. We sat there, perusing the dinner menu and waiting for the other guests to arrive for about ten minutes. “Is it going to be just us?” I thought. “I need a full table of new ears, dying to hear funny stories about living in New York City. This was my time to shine!”

Luckily for me, two couples approached our table and sat down. We introduced ourselves, found out that they were all from Miami and just booked a cruise for a nice weekend away. After a few minutes of small talk, mostly consisting of the weather and how the soft serve machine was out of chocolate, the foursome turned their attention to each other, and Sebastian and I were left alone to sit in silence.

Not that him and I had nothing to talk about – we did. We always will find something to humor us or fight about, but since we were on vacation and not an Outback Steakhouse, I figured it would be best to indulge in some adult conversation that didn’t deal with The Real Housewives of Atlanta or different hair restoration prescriptions.

A few minutes later, another couple joined our table and sat down to my left. They were an older couple, maybe late forties or early fifties. Once they were settled, I leaned in and introduced myself. “Hi, how are you? I’m James. This is Sebastian.” They looked at me blankly for a few seconds, turned to each other and shrugged, and then leaned in and said, “No hable Ingles.”

Sebastian, being Chilean born and a native Spanish speaker, greeted them in Spanish and made some small talk to make them feel comfortable. I just sat there, sipping my tap water, while the three of them had a conversation over me. I looked at the foursome, hoping one of them would catch my eye and want to hear about the time I met Tori Spelling, but they were too engrossed with discussing which Miami deli has the best roast beef to notice.

Prasad, our waiter for the weekend, came by to introduce himself and take our dinner order. I had about two or three things I was in limbo over, while Sebastian had zero. Sebastian is a very picky eater, and when I say “picky” I don’t mean he prefers heirloom tomatoes or dolphin-safe tuna. I mean he eats hamburgers, chicken tenders, and honey Teddy Grahams. And that’s it. I took him to the Olive Garden once and he ordered a hot tea. So, clearly when there is a fixed menu, he is in trouble. When Prasad came around, Sebastian had no idea what to order. He would go down the list and ask, “What’s that?” to which Prasad would answer, “Lamb chops, sir.”

Fortunately, they had a menu for picky eaters (also known as the children’s menu) and on it was beef sliders and pasta with butter. Trying to “steer clear of carbs,” he chose the sliders while I had the N.Y. strip steak.

After the appetizers were served, I looked at the two empty seats at the other end of the table and concluded that the other two people were not coming. What if they walked in, saw our table and decided they would rather eat at the pizza bar than with us losers? See – I always plan for the worst.

Still sitting in between the long lost cousins of Poncho Villa, I quietly asked Sebastian to trade seats with me. If he was going to ignore me and talk in a different language, I could at least stay out of it and enjoy my wine. I blamed it being on left handed, but they just nodded, smiled and said, “Si, si.” They didn’t know. I am sure Sebastian said in his secret tongue, “He is a horrible person and a racist and he was raised to never share a dinner table with South Americans.” Even so, I was glad to be out of that situation.

Dinner was as good as a meal can be that was prepared ahead of time for 3,000 people, and we all drank coffee and awaited the dessert of the evening. While sitting there, praying it was Crème Brule, we heard a very loud voice coming from the table next to us, table 127. The woman sitting there had just ordered her eleventh umbrella drink and was exclaiming to her table of just how good it was. “It tastes like Hi-C. Just like Hi-C. Remember Hi-C? It tastes just like it. Here, taste” she handed her glass to the guy she was with. “Just like Hi-C, right? So good.”

This caused Sebastian and I to go into what I call “the church giggles,” meaning laughing when it is not entirely inappropriate. We could not believe how obnoxious this girl was about her drink, practically shouting that it tasted like some juice box. Since our attention was already on table 127, we started glaring at the other three members seated with her. One was her boyfriend, a gaunt man coming in at around 335 pounds and another couple. The other man seemed engaged with the table, while the girl, well, didn’t. She was facing us and we saw absolutely no life behind her eyes. It was like she wasn’t even a person. I made a comment to Sebastian in which the rest of the table heard me and all of their attention now turned to that table.

“Do you think she is alright?” one girl asked aloud.

“I think she has had one too many Piña Coladas” another chimed in.

I had seen this look before twice. One was when my sister gave birth and was on a lot of pain medication and the other was Amanda Bynes’ mug shot. This was not good. Our desserts arrived – no, it was not Crème Brule – and we all sat there, watching this girl so intently, our spoons were missing our mouths by a few inches. Finally, the other three members of 127 realized their friend was comatose, so they chugged their fruit-punch flavored drinks and got up to leave. Clearly, this girl was not going to just stand up and walk away, so the two guys had to pick her up on each side and practically drag her out of the Starlight Dining Room.

“What do you think she is on?” Sebastian asked me with chocolate sauce dripping off of his chin. “I don’t know,” I responded, “but she just got Weekend-at-Bernie’d out of here.” The foursome heard this and started laughing, saying that is exactly what happened. So, for the remainder of the cruise, the poor girl from table 127 would now be referred to as “Bernie.”

Once the plates were cleared and the pleasantries were exchanged, Sebastian and I headed to the casino to try our luck. I am not a gambler, but I am a smoker and a drinker, so I agreed to escort him. If I do gamble, I put a dollar bill into the penny slots and let my luck carry me for a few minutes – or until my cigarette has burnt out. Sebastian, on the other hand, saw the movie “Rainman” one too many times and wanted to give Blackjack a try.

“You’re going to sit at a table and play Blackjack? Do you even know how to play?” I asked him, like an overprotective mother. “What if the other players aren’t nice to you?”

I agreed to play a few hands with him, because what the hell, I’m on vacation. The first table we approached was empty, so we sat down. We got up three seconds later when we were told it was a $25 buy in. Adios, buddy! A table on the other side of the casino had a just one couple playing, so we hurriedly walked over, saw it was only a $10 buy in, and sat down. Upon taking our seats, I heard the woman of the couple exhale and say “Ah, shit” to her husband.

I looked up at her in horror. “Excuse me?” I blurted out. She then gave a weak smile and asked, “You guys any good?” One, why the hell does she care? And two, I was drunk. Sebastian told her that he had played before but was far from being an expert. She then relaxed a bit, introduced herself as Rebecca, said she was an avid Blackjack player and she would coach us on how to play. Not being able to add to 21 on a good day, I knew I was out of my element, so I just bought in the minimum, hit when I should have stayed and stayed when I clearly should have hit. I was like Austin Powers, but worse. I called over a waitress, ordered another vodka tonic, and sat there while Rebecca gave Sebastian all kinds of pointers he would soon forget: “Split!” “Double Down” “Backdoor Kenny!”

I asked Rebecca why her husband was playing and she wasn’t, to which she replied, “Oh, I lost all of my money already.” Sebastian was taking Blackjack pointers from someone who lost all of her money at Blackjack. That’s like when I took dating advice from my aunt who has been divorced four times.

We ended up staying at the table for thirty minutes, where Sebastian doubled his money and I broke even. By this time it was after midnight and I was exhausted. “We have a big day of doing nothing tomorrow,” I reminded him. We headed back to the room, put on our PJ’s, and went to bed.

“Hey, Sebastian,” I whispered.

“What?” he growled at me, half asleep.

“Do you think the soft serve machine is open 24 hours?”

 

Day 2 of the Cruise: Coco Loco

The next morning, I woke up around 8am while Sebastian asked to sleep in a little more. I took this time to go upstairs, grab a cup of coffee and ponder about my life. Instead, I just went to the omelet bar.

Today we were docked in the middle of the ocean with the Royal Caribbean private island, Coco Cay, in the near distance. Being on a RC cruise before, I was all too familiar with Coco Cay, so I knew what to expect. Me not being much of a ‘beach person,’ I was in no rush to get off the boat, but Sebastian was all too excited to see what this private island was all about. “This is the day where I get my picture in front of the boat!” he screamed like a six year old who just met the Easter Bunny.

“Yes, it is!” I replied. “You can take all the pictures you want in front of the ship!” And he did; 47 pictures on three different cameras to be exact.

I threw on my bathing suit, baseball hat, and by unpopular demand, a tank top. Sebastian brought a regular bathing suit, but also a tight black European-style bathing suit he refers to as his “squares.”

“Please don’t wear those” I pleaded. “Leave something to the imagination.” We compromised that he would wear them underneath his regular bathing suit, but that if he saw just one person wearing any form of a Speedo, he was stripping down.

We got on the second tender boat leaving for the island, so when we arrived, Coco Cay was desolate and bleak. The good thing about being one of the first people on the island was that we got dibs on a beach chair. Ten minutes after setting our things down and lathering on SPF 30, an overweight European father walked by us wearing a bright red Speedo. “Finally!” Sebastian exclaimed while slipping off his board shorts.

After the fourth tender boat reached the island, we could begin noticing how crowded it was getting. We decided to pack up our things and move to the other side where it would be less congested and not too many people would be staring at my pear-shaped torso. The other side of the island was immaculate. We walked up to the water and Sebastian said in disbelief, “Wow, it’s all so blue.” Thinking he was talking about my eyes, I graciously thanked him.

We found a set of beach chairs, resettled and reapplied our sunscreen. Having little to no hair on the top of my head, I lathered my scalp up pretty generously, not bothering to rub it in all the way. Finally, it was time to relax. I closed my eyes and tried to take a nap on the pristine beach when I suddenly heard a loud man screaming, “Coco Loco! Get yo Coco Loco here! Drink of de Islands!” I picked up my head and saw a Bahamian gentleman wearing khaki pants and a bright flowered shirt holding a huge tray of drinks like we were at a Mets game. “Coco Loco!” he continued to scream.

I turned to Sebastian who was lying on his stomach and facing away from me. “How the hell am I going to relax with him screaming all day?” He didn’t respond, so I poked him until he turned over.

“What? I was sleeping!” he snarled. “What do you want?”

“I was just saying, how am I going to rest with this guy yelling ‘Coco Loco’ all day?”

“And I’m wondering how I am going to rest with you poking me all day. Go take a walk.”

So I did. I am not one to sit at a beach and relax because I have way too much ADD and things running through my mind. I stood up, put my tank top back on and walked around the rest of the island with my feet in the surf. On my expedition, there were three things I saw that made me stop in my tracks: a Corona truck, two people parasailing, and Bernie. That’s right – I spotted Bernie. And she looked good! She was walking around without the help of her two male friends, which was a very good sign for it being almost one in the afternoon. I wish I had my camera with me, because when I would later tell Sebastian of my findings, he would never believe me.

When I returned to camp, which is what I started calling our part of the island (I used to be a big Survivor fan), I picked up Sebastian to head to the all-you-can-eat buffet lunch. The menu consisted of your typical barbeque items: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, macaroni and cheese and spare ribs. I grabbed a healthy portion of each and found a spot in the shade. For entertainment, they had a hoola-hoop contest going on with only three girls under the age of 9 participating. “Go join!” I egged on Sebastian. I remember one night back home in a Wal-Mart, Sebastian found the aisle with hoola-hoops and showed me his routine from his Color Guard days. I feigned enthusiasm.

He decided ultimately that he would just be a spectator, stating that it’s not good to hoola-hoop thirty minutes after eating. On the walk back to camp, our stomachs were full and our bodies were sweaty. We passed a little tiki hut with a sign that read “Excursions.” The list of available amenities included jet-skiing, kayaking and paddle boats. I remember days from my youth when I never had so much fun than the times I was paddle boating around the river. “Can we please do that? Please? Please?” I begged.

We walked up to the two guys in charge and requested a paddle boat, to which they replied, “Not in service today mon. Too windy.” I was distraught. I had gotten so excited in the past sixteen seconds that being told “no” made me feel like when my mom wouldn’t let me watch TV after school. Sebastian went down the list and suggested jet skiing. “Noooo way.” I told him. “I had a very bad experience with a jet ski in a past life.”

Finally, we decided on renting a kayak. When asked if I had ever been on a kayak, I told him yes, which was the truth! There was a stationary one set up in Tennessee that my mom had me get in for a photo op. But had I ever rowed a kayak? Of course not. But that’s not what he asked.

We put on our life vests, which were entirely last season, and dragged our kayak to the shore. “Front or back?” he asked me. I chose the back so I could get away with doing little-to-no work. The first ten minutes we rowed and rowed and made it to the middle of the ocean. There was a deserted island about half a mile in front of us that was our goal to reach. “Why can’t we just float for a while?” I suggested.

Sebastian is a very athletic and competitive person (especially when he plays Scattegories), but I had never seen him so domineering. In the ten minutes we were in the kayak, he was all of a sudden a professional rower. “Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Left. LEFT” he would howl at me from the front. “I DON’T FEEL YOU ROWING!”

I was too busy taking pictures of the scenery and working on my tan. Plus, reaching the other island just to say we did it was not of any interest to me. Finally, our hour was up and we needed to head back to shore. Unfortunately, the wind was not on our side this trip and took excessive amounts of water treading just to move an inch. “We are going to be stranded out here forever and die and I’ve never even had a cronut!” I bawled.

When we finally returned to land, I embraced the two men at the tiki hut with unwelcomed hugs and stories of my adventure. Exhausted from all the rowing Sebastian had to do, we went back to our chairs and took a nap in the sun. Being tired myself, I forgot to reapply the sunscreen before my siesta and woke up thirty minutes later with the back of my calves bright red and burning, being literally, the only place on my body with any color. Perfect, I thought. When Sebastian woke up, it seemed he had missed a few spots as well. Apparently, when I rubbed the lotion onto his back, I did an awful job and made streaks, leaving his back to look like a Where’s Waldo sweater.

Around four in the afternoon, we had had enough sun and sand, so we boarded the next tender boat to head back. We were both in desperate need of a shower, a change of clothes, and an ice cream cone.

While Sebastian was in the 2×2 square foot closet masqueraded as a shower, I went up to the pool deck to see what DJ Good News was spinning. Hoping for some music native to the Islands, I was discouraged to hear Gangnam Style, yet again, but sat down at one of the chairs and watched the belly-flop competition.

After watching middle-aged men jump in a pool for thirty minutes, I headed back to the room to change for dinner. Tonight’s dress suggestion was formal, meaning there would be people dressed in suits and gowns. The nicest thing Sebastian and I brought were jeans, so we were unsure if we would even be allowed in the dining room. Having Johnny Rockets to fall back on, I wasn’t too upset about our chances, but we headed to the dining room to see. I told him that we should enter the dining room about fifteen minutes late, that way we could sneak in our jeans and t-shirts and not be spotted by the classy diners, or even worse, the captain.

To kill time, we went back to the photo area and looked at the pictures taken the night before. Upon looking for our own photo, we were both more interested in finding Bernie’s picture, to see just what kind of shape Marcello, the photographer, caught on film. To our disbelief and shock, Bernie’s photo was actually really good! She looked like a less pretty version of Tiffany Theissan, after she dropped the Amber from her name.

We made it to the dining room and ran from the entrance to our seats, hoping no one would comment on how casual and informal we appeared. Luckily, no one else at table 129 was dressed for the affair, so we blended. There were two newcomers to the table, so I went over to say hi and find out where the hell they were the night before. “We went to the pizza bar,” one of the girls responded. I knew it, I thought to myself.

They were Southern Bells from North Carolina named Brittany and Becky. These weren’t their real names, but this is what I called them for the remainder of the vacation. We ordered our dinner and sat back enjoying the bread basket while sharing stories from our day at the island. One of the girls from the foursome said, “I have news!” We all leaned in, dying to hear what she had to tell us. “I saw Bernie at the beach today. And she was walking on her own!”

“I TOLD YOU!” I shouted at Sebastian. “I saw her today, too. Just strolling through the sand, like a normal person!”

Everyone at the table started chuckling and the man from the Hispanic couple got Sebastian’s attention to tell him something. When he was done, Seb started hysterically laughing and translated what he said to the entire table. “They went to the photo gallery before dinner to see her picture and were surprised at how normal and alert she looked.” We all died. The foursome told us they did the exact same thing! Everyone hopes when they cruise, their table has some sort of unity and connection, and I am so glad that our table did, even though it was at the expense of this poor girl. Becky and Brittany just looked at us this entire time, dying to know the scoop, to which I promised I would tell them over a strawberry daiquiri after dinner.

Later that night, we all split up to do our own thing and I dragged Sebastian to the nightly trivia. “If you thought you were impressed with me before, wait until you see me at trivia,” I bragged to him at the tiny cocktail table. “I was never impressed with you,” he assured me.

Minutes before the trivia was about to begin, an older lady maybe in her fifties came over and asked if we wanted to join her and her husband and form a team. We gave each other the look like we could trust them, and moved over to their table. They too, like everyone else on this ship, were from Florida and seemed nice enough. We ended up winning trivia and I gave myself all of the credit. After accepting my Royal Caribbean magnet, I motioned to Sebastian for us to go. I was pretty tired and my abs were killing me from that kayak ride. We had one more fun-filled day ahead of us, so off to sleep we went, bypassing Rebecca at the casino and the midnight buffet.

 

Day Three of the Cruise: Journey to Atlantis

The next morning, we docked at Nassau, Bahamas. Last minute, we booked this expensive excursion called “Atlantis Aquaventure” that took us to the five-star resort and granted us access to their pool, beach, and waterpark. This time, Sebastian decided to wear his board shorts while I went with a more modest shirt with sleeves. When we arrived, we were the first ones at the water park, so we got dibs on whichever slide we wanted. The first one we went on, named The Surge, was the scariest ride I had ever been on up to this point in my life.

Now, even though I grew up just outside of Orlando where Disney and Universal Studios are located, I am not a ride person. Just like hating the beach in fear a shark is going to kill me, I loathe rides and roller coasters just the same. On an ironic note, the only ride I will go on at Universal Studios is Jaws.

On The Surge, you are sitting on a tube and immediately dropped 45 feet. The lady who works the ride said 8 feet, but I am sure she was lying. After you are plummeted to your death, jets shoot you back up another 1,000 feet into mid air where you are hanging on for dear life. The slide starts to become tamer, having the rider go through normal twists and turns. At the end, you are shot out of the end of the slide into the River Rapids, which is essentially a lazy river. But the word “lazy” is used very loosely. For the next thirty minutes, we moved through the river by rapid-style currents and a wave simulator, ending with a gigantic waterfall.

“Let’s do that again!” I squealed with excitement.

After dragging Sebastian on this slide for the next hour and a half, he suggested we take a walk and see what other slides were available for our use. We came up to a giant Mayan Temple which housed two of the biggest slides in the park: The Challenger and The Leap of Faith. The Challenger was a double slide that you go down competing with your neighbor and The Leap of Faith was a 200 foot drop that plunged you down in three seconds and passed you through a shark tank. “Noooooo thank you,” I said. There was no way I was ever going to get on that slide to my death. But Sebastian was all for it. So, I did what I did on every class field trip to Islands of Adventure, I stood down below with the bags and cameras with the grandmothers and men in wheelchairs, awaiting the riders return.

Watching Sebastian shoot down this slide made me nauseous. I do not find what is so exciting or exhilarating about it! He waited all of that time for three measly seconds? He, of course, had a completely different outtake on the ride, stating it was one of the best rides he had ever been on.

We spent the remainder of the day coasting around in the “lazy” river and taking sporadic dips into one of the four pools at our exposal. By 4:00pm, our excursion was over and we needed to head back to the ship. We were so sad to leave because it was truly the best day out of the trip. I felt like a kid again and wished we could stay for another few days at The Atlantis. But, not wanting to spend money on a plane ticket back to Miami, I hurriedly ran towards the shuttle bus.

Waiting in line to get back on the ship, we ran into Brittney and Becky, who had also just came back from The Atlantis. “Did you end up buying the excursion?” I inquired.

“No, we just smiled at the pool boy and walked right in.”

“Damnit! If I would have known we could have done that, I could have saved $150!”

Back on the ship, Sebastian and I went our separate ways. Being this confined with each other was definitely taking a toll on us. We hang out back home all of the time, but in few hour spurts, with usually a few days of breathing room. But now, for 24 hours a day, we were by each other’s side, with nowhere to turn. I went back to the room to shower and take a power nap while Sebastian went to the Windjammer Café to stock up on brownies and cheesecake. Upon entering our stateroom, I was greeted by one of our towels folded into an elephant wearing our sunglasses. It’s the little things that make me the happiest.

Tonight’s group dinner was our last, and I was destined to make it the best one. I also brought my camera with me so I could take pictures of everyone, including Prasad, our dutiful headwaiter.

Nothing too exciting really happened during dinner. Perhaps it was because we were all sunburnt and exhausted. Or perhaps it was because Bernie and her crew was a no-show. Either way, the dinner was uneventful and bland. Following dinner, there was a comedy show located in the A Chorus Line theater and I suggested that we all, as a table, go to check it out together.

The comedy show was as good as a comedy show could be at 32,000 knots. He had some pretty decent material that was relevant to staying on a cruise ship: “What do they call a discount on a cruise ship? A sail!” But then also some jokes I heard at my cousins Bar Mitzvah: “What did the blonde get on her IQ test? Lipstick!” I wasn’t too impressed. I turned to look at Sebastian and the rest of my new friends, and they were all hysterically laughing at this comic’s attempt at humor. “How do they think this is funny?” I thought to myself ordering another Bay Breeze. I had never felt so disconnected to a group of people in my life. Well, except my seventh grade basketball team, but that’s a different story.

After the comedy show ended promptly at 11:30, it was still early and I wanted to make sure the last night on the ship was a success, so I dragged everyone up to The Spectrum Lounge where they were having a scavenger hunt. I tried my earnest to get my group to participate, but they wanted to sit in the back and observe from afar.

The Activities Director hosted the game and probably knew about 14 words in the English language, making listening to the game rules both hilarious and confusing. I now know what it feels like to be a contestant on The Voice with Shakria offering her input.

By midnight, we all said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. On the way back to the room, Sebastian took me to the casino, for one last chance of luck. The BlackJack tables were all full, but there was some room at the Roulette table. I am a fan of Roulette because it is equivalent to playing a slot machine. It is just a game of luck and chance, with no math or poker-faces involved. We each played $20 and lost the money before I could take a sip of my Blue Hawaiian.

We went back to our room to pack up our belongings for our last night of sleep on The Majesty of the Seas. It seemed to have gone by so fast! I couldn’t believe it was three days ago when we embarked from the Port of Miami. Now, in just a few hours, we would be back to real life. I didn’t want my vacation to end.

While we lay in bed, I asked Sebastian what his favorite part of the cruise was, besides getting his picture taken in front of the ship. He replied, “Getting those free mozzarella sticks or trying a Bahama Mama for the first time.”

“So, your favorite parts of this vacation are things we could have done at an Applebee’s?” He didn’t answer. I nudged him and saw he had already passed out, straddling the towel animal. I guess he didn’t want the vacation to end, either.

 

Day 4 of the Cruise: Back to Land, Back to Reality

Sebastian and I were awoken to the sound of the cruise director on the intercom at 7:30 in the morning. She was explaining the method for debarking from the ship, the forms we will need to fill out, and each decks respective holding location.

“Shut the hell up!” Sebastian screamed while he threw this pillow, almost knocking over the towel-turned-elephant I would be taking home as a souvenir. I got up, put on my last day’s outfit and went up to the top deck for some coffee and a cheese danish. I sat down at a chair, staring back out to the sea, and thought of everything I did in that short weekend: the food, the food, and can’t forget, the food!

I went back to the room to pick up Sebastian and head to our designated waiting area. Once seated, Sebastian grabbed my camera and went through the 614 pictures I took of him. “Is this what my calves look like?” he would ask me every other photo. “What about my arms? Is my hair line receding? Should I wear my squares more often?”

This was one thing I noticed on my time away with Sebastian – he loved the use of the question. Every three minutes, he would ask me something – mostly something I could never have the answer to. “How many feet is this ship? How many knots do you think we are traveling now? What do dolphins eat? Do you think this ketchup is Heinz or Hunts?” I felt like I was cruising with The Riddler.

During his recent round of questioning, my stomach started to grumble. That coffee I had earlier was starting to kick in and begin my digestive process. In case any of you were wondering, no, I did not go to the bathroom once the entire trip. I have this weird phobia about public restrooms where I only go in them to wash my hands or look in the mirror. I also physically cannot go when I am sharing a room with someone – especially a room this small in size. I was too afraid of the sounds and the smells I would be cooking up in that tiny bathroom and frankly, I did not think Sebastian and I were on that level yet.

So, when I was sitting there feeling my stomach grumble, I was both excited and scared. I tried my hardest to hold it in, knowing I would be back at my parents’ house soon (well, 4 hours). I did everything I possibly could to distract myself. From saying the ABC’s backwards to doing long division in my head, I needed to get my mind someplace else.

Fifteen minutes later, and unable to figure out the square root of 336, I excused myself from the row and told Sebastian I would be back. “I think the ice cream machine is closed,” he warned me.

“Please don’t even say the words ‘ice cream’ to me.” I leaned in and whispered, “The time has come. I need to use the bathroom,” and then gave him a stern look on my face to let him know I meant number two. He grabbed my arm as I started to walk away and said, “I don’t think the bathrooms are working.”

“What do you mean?” I screamed in the A Chorus Line showroom and theater. “This is not the time to try to start being funny!”

“Well, while you were upstairs and I was in the room, I went to the bathroom and when I went to flush, nothing happened. There was no water or anything. I think they shut off the plumbing or something.”

My mind was going in circles with all the information he just gave me and I wasn’t sure which I wanted to discuss first. I went with the issue at hand. “Why would they shut off the plumbing? There are still people on this ship, and some of these people need to take a shit!” I decided that it was best for me to find out for myself because what the hell does he know about basic plumbing?

I walked out of the theater, clenching as tight as I could, and found the nearest bathroom. “Out of Service” the sign said on the door. I ran over to the men’s room and it had the same sign. I went up one flight of stairs – same thing. For the third time in my life, I had that feeling of “I’m going to shit my pants.” I sat back down next to Sebastian, looked at him and asked, “So you just took a crap in the toilet, noticed you couldn’t flush it and left it there?”

“Yes,” was all he said, and really, that’s all he could say. I needed to take my mind off my inducing stomach pain and started filling out the custom forms. When our section was finally called, we grabbed our suitcases and headed off the ship – in a much smoother way than Jack and Rose did. As my last steps on the carpet approached, I grabbed out my phone and took one last selfie on The Majesty of the Seas. Two more steps, and my vacation had concluded.

We made it through customs without too much of a hassle and reached my car. “Goodbye, ship!” I screamed on the top floor of the parking garage. “I will miss you.” I put my car in drive and headed to the airport to drop Sebastian off for his flight back to New York.

We spent the next thirty five minutes in complete silence. Spending that much time with someone is incredibly difficult -especially in a cabin the size of a Ford Focus. As much as the quiet bothers me, I welcomed it with open arms, thankful Sebastian was out of questions to ask me. People always say, before you marry someone, you should live together. I think, before you marry someone, you should go on vacation together. And after this vacation, it was pretty apparent that Sebastian and I would not be getting married (unless I came down with a deadly disease – he has fantastic health insurance).

By noon, we had approached the Jet Blue terminal to send Sebastian on his way. “I don’t know how I am going to react to the sudden disappearance of your presence when I wake up tomorrow” I told him as he slammed the car door in my face. “See ya” he shouted while running towards airport entrance. Our impending separation was probably just as hard –if not harder- on him.

I merged back onto the highway, heading back to my parents’ house to spend one more day of listening to them argue about the volume of the television set, when I realized my vacation was done. Every day I would look at my calendar and count down the days until Project Paradise, and now it was over. I would go back to my normal, quiet, and single life while 3,000 new people would board The Majesty of the Seas, ready to eat, drink, and dance to The Cupid Shuffle.

I stared out at the Florida turnpike, leaving South Florida and realizing I had nothing else left to look forward to, except maybe Bloomin’ Onion Monday’s at The Outback or a less expensive hair restoration procedure. I turned up the volume to the radio as I started to drive away when that all-too-familiar Will Smith song was playing, welcoming me to Miami. I smiled to myself, happy that Project Paradise was a success.

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