Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What a Way to Go

One of the cruise ship stories I'm always telling is about a passenger who had a stroke and didn't survive. It was in the evening, and we were at sea, hours away from our next port-of-arrival for the following morning.

It happened on Big Band night. In our hybrid jobs as dancers and assistant cruise directors, part of our obligatory duties was to dance with the women passengers, just the boys ("drag a bag" was the nickname for that particular duty). The girls had to be there, too, but they weren't required to dance with male passengers unless they wanted to. There were always more women without dance partners than men on board.

Big Band night was usually fun. I enjoyed the 40's boogie-woogie tunes, and I faked my way through swing dancing pretty well. In between songs played by a small combo of musicians, the Cruise Director would ask trivia questions about famous names from that era, usually bandleaders such as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

The older-but-still-youthful passenger who was unknowingly spending the last night of his life answered one of the trivia questions correctly. Dressed in a natty suit and tie, he was perspiring from his own agile dancing, and he was more than happy to accept the chilled bottle of champagne as his prize. We watched as he walked off of the show lounge stage, the spotlight following him to his seat.

He collapsed upon reaching his chair. The ship's doctor was there almost immediately, and the gentleman was carried out of the show lounge on a stretcher, his wife following behind with one of the ship's officers as her escort.

We learned later that same evening that he didn't make it.

We were a little spooked: we knew that ship's morgue was on the deck right above us, above our crew cabins. The body would not be taken off of the ship until we reached port the next morning. Before going to sleep we started talking about ghosts and haunted ships with the Fitness Director and Social Hostess.

Judy, the Children's Hostess, had the best perspective of the situation. "If I were to go, I would want to go like that," she had informed us.
"Sure! He was on a cruise ship vacation, enjoying a night of dancing, and he had just won a bottle of champagne for knowing the right answer. What a great way to spend the last few hours of your life. That's better than just plain dying at home."

It was a little shocking to me, at the time, but I have often thought of Judy's take on that passenger's death.

And she's right. If I am to unexpectedly meet my demise at any moment, then I want to make damn sure that I have taken advantage of every golden opportunity available, on any given day.

I want to make sure that I have danced to favorite music at home, or even in my office. I want to have laughed heartily with friends. I want to have cherished the pets in our home. And I want to have looked at Domestic Partner when he gets out of bed in the morning before I do, and realize how lucky I am to be with him.

I hope I live for a few more decades, but if my life were to end tonight I would be grateful for the many good times and for the memories made.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Hear You!

"I hear you! I'm so proud of you!"

These were the words of encouragement used for positive reinforcement when the niece of one of my roommates was going through her potty training.

And the words stuck.

One evening, when the family had gone out to dinner, the toddler girl was in the ladies room with her mother. She had her ear to the closed door of one of the stalls.

"I hear you!" she proclaimed to the anonymous occupant. "I'm so proud of you."

Anonymous giggles came from within the closed stall.

(this real life memory is courtesy of my former roommate, Chuckie B.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's See That Again!

Sometimes, vomit is funny.

It was another peaceful Sunday evening in Suburban Paradise, tonight. Groceries had been bought, gym workouts were out of the way, and the pets had been fed. Domestic Partner and I were relaxing on the couch with the pugs by our sides and "All That Jazz" on TV.

We were distracted by a hacking sound. We turned to look at Kitty perched up in her carpeted cat tree. We were just in time to see her open her mouth wide, as if to sing a high B natural, and see a plume of puke cascade five feet to the floor (linoleum, thank goodness). It was so poetic, rather like a rust-colored waterfall, that it was almost beautiful.

I laughed until I was practically hacking myself. After we cleaned up the mess Kitty just remained in her top perch, calmly looking at us as if nothing had happened. That made me laugh harder.

One of the best vomit stories is from my first contract on a cruise ship. During our first week, we observed the group of dancers we were replacing as they carried out their various daytime duties, including teaching dance class to the passengers.

Francesca was teaching the fox trot in the Seaward Lounge. It was a rocky day at sea and, being new to ships, most of our little group was feeling queasy, especially Susanna. Sunlight did its best to filter through a grey, overcast sky above the ocean, and through the lounge windows.

As a newbie, I found it interesting that paper bags were placed around the ship's hallways and public areas of the ship - small, white bags, just like the kind you find in the plane seat's elastic pocket in front of you when you're flying.

The passengers were doing a splendid job of keeping their balance on the swaying ship, as they fox-trotted across the lounge floor. The small tables we sat at were each dotted at the center with a crystal clear glass ashtray.

Without any hacking or any sort of notice, one of the dancing passengers turned around and threw up right into the tiny glass ashtray in front of us. She was an elderly lady with grey curly hair, and I was impressed that she got every last drop into the small ashtray. Unfortunately, Susanna was sitting next to me and got the best view out of all of us.

I felt bad for Susanna, and tried to stifle my laughter along with the other dancers.
But I still laugh about it today, years later.

Sometimes, vomit is funny (when it happens to someone else).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Chocolate Diet

"Gimme some chocolate or I. Will. Cut. You." So said Becky-the-Cheerio in last week's Halloween episode of 'glee.'

Hello, my name is Peter Varvel, and I am a chocoholic.

("Hi, Peter.")

I love chocolate. I would marry it if it were legal to do so ("No on Prop Chocol8!"). Chocolate is sometimes more emotionally satisfying than most of my human relationships, maybe even more fulfilling than my emotional bonds with my pugs.

Maybe . . .

I miss working in Japan. I miss my late night ritual of going to any of the local convenience stores for a fix or two of chocolate. Sure, I can buy chocolate in the U.S. every day, even the Japanese brands. But I'm not sweating it off by dancing in a theme park five days a week like I was in the nation of Hello Kitty.

Ahh, those past Glory Days of Indulgence without Consequence!

Domestic Partner shakes his head in both disgust and disbelief when I am not able to hide my ability to consume an entire package of Nabisco's Chocolate Chunk cookies in the course of half a day. He tsk-tsk's when I am not being discrete about finishing almost an entire bag of fun-size Snickers on my own (I am convinced that heroin must be what makes them so 'fun' . . . how else to explain why they're so addicting?).

"It's like a direct hit to the 'pleasure button' in my brain," I attempt to explain to him. "I'm like a captive chimp in a testing lab. I have to keep pushing that button over and over by repeatedly eating chocolate."

Domestic Partner doesn't buy it. He is a salt-a-holic, so I do not expect him to understand.

Chocolate candy bars and cookies with chocolate - those are my weaknesses. Portion control with the chocolate-and-cookie combinations requires god-like powers and I know it is neither possible nor realistic in my fallible human existence.

But I've found a couple of good compromises.

Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats come in a chocolate flavor. I take a Tupperware container of those to work now (portion control), instead of giving in to the overpriced Kit Kats and Twix Cookie Bars from the vending machine (which also counts as portion control but alas, not budget control). And at least I'm getting some whole wheat with this at-my-desk snack. You can even taste/feel the crunch of the infinitesimal chocolate chips that are in the cereal squares.


I need chocolate after dinner. I need sweet. Dark chocolate has been a surprising happy medium and balance, especially the Belgian dark chocolate bar from Fresh & Easy. A moderate portion satisfies my usual craving, but it doesn't activate the addictive urge to continue eating more until none is left.

And right now is that crucial time, once again - that Annual Crucial Period - when balance and moderation are most dire during this solid half-year of perpetual holidays, that Danger Zone of six months, all the way from October's trick-or-treat candy (marked on clearance!!) to April's Easter chocolate (also marked on clearance, and way past Mother's Day!).

God get me through it one more time, please.