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AZA-LEFTOVER

Late, late night in smoker’s corner, he’s leaning drunk towards the sea. She’d fled. Poor Stefan.

He eased down next to me and began to talk about himself. He was treating me to a car-lot of bumper sticker philosophy; little bit Buddha, a little bit Shiva, a little bit Timothy Leary – the usual self-help bull-shittery.

‘So she pissed off, eh?’ I interrupted, sick of his blather.

‘Yup,’ he grinned, ‘vanished into the night.’

Stefan was our onboard lothario. He’d been at sea too long. We talked of sex, long distance relationships; all the tragic loneliness of the long distance runner: Acapulco, Athens, Dubai, Rome…

‘I have a wife and kids,’ he was confessing, ‘I’m a heterosexual man…’

That was obvious. Where is this leading?

‘But I’ve always had an urge…

He looked over at me, those warm Italian eyes moist with wine and rejection. Oh, no-o-o-o.

‘…for anal penetration.’

Argh-h-h-h! Too much, altogether too much information. I was about to scoff when I realized he was dead serious.

‘I have toys…’ he said, helpfully.

*

Stefan was telling me all about his toys. My eyes were watering from his enthusiastic description.

‘Stop, stop, no more toy-talk…’

He looked at me forlornly, two little ratty eyes sparkling in the dark.

‘All I want is anal penetration…’

The Azamara Army pride themselves on superior service;

‘Anything to want, just come to us! ‘

But Stefan had gone one step too far. I don’t think that’s on the menu.

*

‘O-o-o-o, look at him! He’s cute…

This comes from the reddened face of an elderly gentleman dressed like a twenty year old disco bunny. The eternal adolescence of lost men without children – it extends till death or Thailand, whichever comes first.

‘Mm-m-m-m, he can serve me breakfast in bed, anytime…’

Same old, same old shtick.

‘Do you think he’s ga-a-a-ay?’

That camp persona has been around longer than the Azamara uniforms – endlessly self-referential, a caricature of a caricature; Widow Twanky meets Divine meets Borat. What once began as self-preservation became political defiance. There’s getting less to defy now. Maybe it’s time for a new act.

*

He sat with a snarl on his precious face, looking archly around the room.

‘Mmmm-m-m-m,’ he said and arched some more,’ very nineties.’

So was he. He just felt forty. Ennui is a terrible thing in the young.

*

She only spoke to me once. She bailed me up in the corridor, fixed me with one watery eye and let fly.

‘I’m from the Gold Coast,’ she sniffed, ‘and I’m very well behaved,’ then turned on her heel and walked away.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

Everything was grey about Goldie Golfer. She was always dressed in fresh grey clothes; grey T-shirt, ironed, grey slacks, ironed, with perfect grey creases, neat, no-nonsense grey hair, dead grey eyes, grey face; all held tight by a pure grey mind.

She was our personal Cruise Critic Diva, haunting the Azamara forum like a woman possessed. If there was some arcane detail to stress over, Goldie would stress. If there was yet another excuse to post her concern on Cruise Critic, nothing would stop her. She planned private shore excursions, get-to-know-you gatherings, coffee chats and trivia teams; a one-woman nightmare of organization. The minute she saw Dogster she knew Satan was on board.

Every morning for thirty one days, right after breakfast, regular as clockwork Goldie would sit silent in smoker’s corner, only her nicotine habit stronger than her loathing of her companions. We weren’t from the Gold Coast. She sat and smoked then got up and left, leaving only the glowing stub of her disapproval to remember her by.

Then I had a call from Madame Pong.

‘What did you write in Cruise Critic?’ she gasped, ‘I’ve been getting E-mails about it.’

Perhaps she was referring to this…

‘There are 120 Aussies aboard, guzzling their ship-board credit and indulging in on-board behavior that would horrify any right thinking adult – wild, depraved scenes around the swimming pool, naked romping through the restaurants. One poor woman from the Gold Coast was found upside down in the men’s sauna with a pair of my purple underpants on her head… horrible. Security has her confined to her cabin. She thinks she has noro-virus but it’s really just to shut her up.

I’ve just fled to my cabin, chased by a horde of single women, intent on either my money or my Vegemite. I’d like to hope it was the cash but judging by the body language on the dance floor tonight, I suspect it’s the latter. They are all destined for disappointment. Everybody knows an Aussie would never share his Vegemite.

Cruise Critic 20/11/10

A self-appointed Cruise Diva always appears, deluging the roll call with pre-cruise blather; re-inventing the cruising wheel with pathetic enthusiasm. If there is some arcane detail to stress over, she will stress; the merest hint of itinerary change sends her into spasm – but nothing will stop her sharing. In Cruise Critic everybody has a chance to shine. The more they shine, the more they are to be avoided.

It’s a website full of cyber-Nazis who think they hold the company to ransom, that their facile commentary really makes a difference. They are merely pawns perched on the visible tip of a vast money-making exercise. In fact, they pay the company to hold them voluntary hostage in a floating five-star prison on the seas.

Goldie complained. I guess my humor wasn’t appreciated. Madame Pong rang Host Andy and had it deleted – just a little favor between friends. By now, if Guest Relations could have had me deleted they would have. A month of Dogster was gonna be a long, long time.

*

‘She won’t leave me alone. Every day, every meal, three times a day: I say, I’ll just go off to sit in the library. Oh, she says, I’ll come with you.

I’m going off to the quiz, I say. Oh, hang on, I’ll be right there. Christ, can’t she do anything by herself? I like my own company.’

*

‘Time’s up!’

It was the final question in the final round of Battle of the Sexes.

‘How much do you bet, ladies?’

‘We’ll bet ten percent?’

‘Ten percent of their total, how much is that?’

He consulted a long list of scores.

‘Two thousand points!’

The men were looking hesitant – too late.

‘And you, how much men?’

‘One hundred percent!’ pealed Sonny.

‘One hundred percent! That’s a wager of eighteen thousand points!’

‘And the winner is… the ladies! With a final score of twenty-two thousand points! Men – your score is ZERO!’

Ecstatic, carnival joy. Show-biz Alex hovered humbly, thanking God and his parents for his talent. He wanted to be an example to the world. You can make it if you really try. Believe in your dreams. He snapped back into consciousness just as the last cheer died down.

‘And don’t forget tonight’s special Cabaret! Give My regards To Broadway! Nine-thirty tonight in the Cabaret Lounge… hello?’

*

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