(This is quite lengthy, but as this part of our journey is over, we wanted to share what we had. Thanks!)
Day 3 – Friday, 5/1
The only reason I know what day it is is because the Chef’s menu is posted in the galley, and has the days and dates.
Chief (Dave) and Captain (John) have been beyond gracious hosts. We ordered a case of Coke and two Cadbury chocolate slabs (I’d call them bars but they really are giant slabs of chocolate) from the bonded stores the first night, but since then the Captain has given us a tin of Royal Dansk butter cookies, some Bluebird (a NZ brand, really delicious) chips, Ritz crackers and some Camembert and Colby cheeses. After mentioning that he wasn’t feeling at all well, Alex (who is Ukrainian) brought up twelve seasickness tablets for Rhys.
Breakfast was baked beans and bacon (big, oval slabs of bacon-textured pork, very different), toast, and pineapple or mango juice. I’ve also taken to having hot tea every morning, the way I like it with milk and honey. Yum. Lunch was fried mackerel, tomato soup, butter beans, and rice. I love rice. You can choose potatoes instead but there is this Thai chilli sauce on the table that is to die for over rice. I had a kiwi for dessert.
We walked again to the forecastle of the ship, the very tip of the bow, with nothing but water and wind ahead, below, and to the sides of us. I sat up there, dangling my legs off above the cerulean waves. Up there, you can’t hear the steady chug-chug growl of the engines, which makes you feel like you’re on an airplane instead of a ship. Up there you can’t see the wake, with the light-churned waves the same color as water amusement-park rides. There are just the coming waves, the chains to hold on to, and your butt against the sea-warmed metal.
Rhys saw the birds first – I didn’t believe him, but there they were, and then there were more. Strange orange and yellow wings skimmed the surface, small thin birds. I don’t know if they are stowaways on the freighter or what – that’s the only thing that makes sense. Otherwise, I can’t understand how they could survive so far outland.
We sat for a while, indulging in silliness and mock-seriousness. It occurred to me that one of the reasons the vastness of the blue horizon was so beautiful and a little unsettling was the surreal uniformity of shade and color. As a sometime-artist, I know enough (barely) to know that when showing distance or depth, one uses a darkening shade or color as the line approaches the horizon point. Think of a checkered floor, imagine red and white tiles stretching out before your feet. The lines of the tiles all bend inward as they move farther away, seeming to converge. The horizontal distance between the rows foreshorten, and foot-wide tiles look a few inches shallower, then a few inches shallower, etc. until they blur and the lines are indistinguishable, just a swath of color. But that color will not be pink – what you would get if you mixed red and white in equal measure. No, it would be a darker red, or even black. The color and the shade drken in a picture or painting when distance is portrayed. However, sitting on the raised bow and studying the water, the Pacific ocean taunted me with its uniformity of color and shade. It was a bright cerulean when looking straight down into it, which faded to a slightly more true blue a few feet out – but then that Same Color remained all the way to the horizon. 360 degrees, any direction, the only change in color on the water were the few darker places that were shaded by clouds. Impossible to judge distance and making a shambles of my supposed aesthetic laws, the ones that seemed to work before. Maybe they don’t really, and I just never noticed. Maybe it’s a cheat that artists use to turn 2-D into a semblance of 3-D, when it doesn’t really exist that way in nature. No clue.
Some of the crew appeared on the deck and we vacated as they began sandblasting the paint. It’s pretty incredible how often that needs to happen. The ocean is a beast, I forgot to mention my shorts. In Mexico, the first day I went out into the waves, I wore my swimsuit top and bottom, and some cute navy boardshorts over it. There was a smallish hole in the rayon or whatever material they were, up near the crotch, but as I wasn’t just wearing the shorts (thank god), I wasn’t concerned. Not five minutes after getting into the waves, standing in chest-deep water and wave-hopping, I jump and notice as I’m landing a brilliant white flash of thigh (ghost white. Fishbelly white. Really, really white). Immediately afterward, I feel a serious drag on my legs as they now-shredded front of my shorts let in all the ocean and the still-in-one-piece backside of the shorts created a perfect water-sail to capture and amplify the riptide suction. I scurried out of them as quick as I could, since the undertow was pretty strong that day, but I was way more amused than concerned. I tossed them to Rhys back onshore. They looked like a tiger had smelled fresh meat and clawed them to death. They were absolutely shredded! The ocean mauled my shorts. Anyway, I guess the point of that story was that the ship required near constant upkeep – even though it was solidly built and metal, the motion plus the salt scraping across the metal meant quick oxidation. Quick oxidation meant eventual rust, and meant constant sandblasting, re-primering, and re-painting was necessary.
We met the Chief as we climbed back inside, near the dining room, and squeezed past him to check the menu for tonight’s dinner (“Meat Boll” – not sure if that’s meatballs or meat bowl – stay tuned to find out). He offered to print us our own menu and motioned for us to follow him across the hall into the docking/cargo office. He explored the file systems for a while, muttering to himself (“gotta be here somewhere, let’s see…”) all the while, until he found it – a massive Excel spreadsheet featuring a four-week rotating menu that dated back to 2007. “Crafty bastard!” exclaimed the chief, upon discovery that they had eaten the same menu with only the most minor changes, for over two years. Apparently no one had noticed. He shrugged it off and laughed about it (“Good on him, then, right”) as he printed off the rest of this week and next week. Now I know the future!
House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubus III: OMG. The saddest freaking ending to any book. Ever. Jesus. The characters were really well-developed, but the Greek tragedy angle was a tad overblown.
World War Z – Max Brooks: Fun read, it’s the “history of the Zombie War,” written as realistically as you could hope for. It’s cobbled together “memoirs” and stories of people who lived through it, and what happened. I would, however, wait until after the swine flu panic has passed, if I were you – too many creepy similarities to our current pandemic.
Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding: Cute, chick-flicky read. Haven’t seen the movie but I imagine Renee Zellweger is probably perfect in the role. Reads like a Sex and the City episode, which I’m equally neutral about. Wouldn’t make my top 100 or bottom 100. Meh.
Next up: Fluke, by Christopher Moore. The book I borrowed from Eagle for like a year and never read before giving it back.
Day 4 – Saturday, May 2
It was meant to be “meatballs,” but they were two gigantic, baseball-sized balls of meat, so not exactly meatballs as I knew them. They were ok.
On a whim, I decided to count my flights of stairs today, since in addition to the six up & downs from our room, there are several ancillary staircases for other activities, such as walking out to the bow (apparently pronounced “bow-chick-bow-wow” and not “bow and arrow,” as I keep getting corrected). So, so far I am at 36 (one-way). After dinner the grand total will climb (ha!) to 42, plus an additional one if we stargaze tonight. (Postscript: Actually, ended up going back out to the bow again so my final daily total was 54). That’s up-only, so double it if you want to count both ways. One flight is CAKE now. Perhaps by Tauranga, six at a time will be cake, too, but I’m not quite there yet. Bleah.
Took two trips out (PS: three) to the bow-chick-bow-wow today, and explored some in-between-container corridors (fun!). I love sitting on the bow (forecastle). Today I took a cold Coke out there with me and stripped off my button-shirt, legs hanging off the metal above the waves. There I was, tanktopped, sipping an icy cola, and watching the water. Heaven. I sat there for about an hour each time (PS: plus another hour after dinner). I perhaps need to scale back my forecastle trips or find the sunscreen – I’m rather pink.
Rhys is still a little seasick, but he’s not wearing the bracelets today, which is a good sign. He naps a lot. I think he’s either hibernating til New Zealand, or the motion of the ocean (ha!) rocks him to sleep like a baby after about five minutes of doing nothing. I sleep like a Chevy once I’m down, but it still takes a while to get there. I have these control issues, you see – some annoying part of me is convinced that my being conscious is the last line of defense protecting the van, car, plane, boat, or any other vehicle I’m on. Maybe once Roy learns hypnosis, he can send me some recordings for my iPod to get rid of that.
Saw some flying fish this morning – those are aptly named. I thought they would jump out of the water, soar for a second, then sploosh back into the brine. Not so. I saw one airborne for at least two full minutes, and they don’t just glide, they FLAP. It is the weirdest thing. Apparently some of the crew catch them or they fly up onto the deck, and they get the galley boys to fry them up. That makes me feel kind of sad for the cute little fish, but it’s funny too. We also passed within a mile of another freighter headed for Long Beach, but we were asleep. This must be a commonly used shipping lane, because Rhys and I have seen a few strange items floating while looking forward from the forecastle – a bottle, what looked like a shiny hairnet, and what looked like either styrofoam wrapped in netting or a prettily decorated cake. (I still think it looked more like a cake – why would you wrap nets around styrofoam?)
Breakfast: “Minutes meat”? Dunno. It was good though, like beef fajitas without the tortilla or rice. Also oatmeal, but I opted out of that. Toast, plus apple or grapefruit juice. Cantaloupe.
Lunch: “Bean” soup, though I saw no beans. Salad (they have this great “Yoghurt-Garlic” dressing, although why anyone would hurt a yog, I’ll never understand). Potatoes, peas, and some sort of salisbury-steak-like dish.
Dinner: Listed as “pork chop suey,” so we’ll see. My only experience with Chop Suey is the System of a Down song.
Fluke – Christopher Moore: I loved it. If Douglas Adams and Piers Anthony had a love child, it would be Christopher Moore. Must seek more of his stuff out.
Next up: A thrift store find called “Apex Hides the Hurt” by Colson Whitehead. There are banners all over it that say “Advance Reading Copy, Not For Sale.” Hmmmm.
Day 6 – Monday, 5/4
I think my legs are going to mutiny. They have made their demands quite clear – no more stairs. Ever. I have tried mediation to explain that bed is six flights away from food, and our favorite place, the forecastle, is eight flights away plus quite a walk. They won’t listen to reason. Apparently they want me to starve, so they are in direct competition with the stomach union. Luckily, the leg union doesn’t yet have a majority for their strike vote, so I’m trying to be nice to them when I can and I hope to talk them back from the brink.
Saturday night was a whiskey-and-coke-induced blur. Had drinks in the Chief’s cabin with the Chief, Cap’n, Andriy (Chief Mate), and Olec (2nd Engineer). Sadly, Oleksandr (Doctor Who) wasn’t there, but I’m hopeful for the next party (tomorrow night, for the Chief’s birthday).
Did get told a snippet of news that has made sleep a bit difficult. Chief asked me if I was superstitious. I huffed and puffed and slurred, nah, not at all. Except for the salt over the shoulder thing, the ladders thing, the umbrella thing, certain numbers, etc. Oh, and I definitely believe in ghosts. I am, however, such a master at communicating that I was quite positive that my drunken “Nah!” conveyed all that and possibly more. So I was surprised when he continued on to tell me that a girl had hanged herself in her cabin relatively recently. He wouldn’t say which deck (which concerned me, since all of the passenger-specific cabins are on our deck) but he did say it wasn’t our cabin, thankfully. Still, last night’s sleep was the worst EVER (Saturnight I slept like the dead… (ooooooh)).
Apex Hides the Hurt – Colson Whitehead: Never heard of the author before, mixed thoughts on him. On the one hand, he seems to take similar joy as I do with words and clever turns of phrase. On the other hand, this particular book was too shallow to be so enthusiastically called satire, as the publisher’s note inside tried to do.
Fear Nothing – Dean Koontz: I’m generally impressed when an author can do a convincing job of developing character and story on a short plotline time, like an hour or a day. This takes place over one night, but while good, it’s not scary.
The Experiment – John Darnton: Very good book, although it puzzles me to say so. The author seemed to telegraph his surprises and plot twists hundreds of pages in advance and with obvious clarity. Nothing in this book came as a surprise, but maybe that was intentional. I was never bored, though. Mr Darnton obviously did a great deal of reseach in areas that fascinate me anyway, such as twin studies and forensics, so maybe I was “genetically predisposed” to like this book. Haha! Wait, no one will get that unless they’ve read the book. Damn.
Next up: Midnight, by Dean Koontz, at Rhys’ urging, as it’s one of his favorites.
Day ?? – Friday, May 8
Sorry for my not so constant blogs – I’m about 100 pages into a novelization of our trip so far. I’m worried it’s kind of boring. I’ll send it to my dad and Rhys’ mom for critiquing, they’re the two best writers I know. They’ll be able to give me a better idea of whether its a worthwhile endeavor. But I had to break my radio silence to tell you about the Most Awesome Thing to have happened Ever.
In fact, I don’t know if I can accurately describe the awesomeness of what just happened, but I’ll try.
Alex (who, by the way, was kind enough to let me pose him with Rhys’ glasses (brainy specs!) for Dr. Who photos yesterday) has a set of clippers. Rhys has needed a haircut for a while. He asked if he could borrow them. Alex, of course, said “No problem!” (his catchphrase), and showed up at our cabin with them in hand.
Embarrassed, we both admitted to not really knowing how to use them.
“No problem!” of course. So, Alex, who is the nicest guy ever, offered to clip Rhys’ hair for him. He set Rhys up in a chair on the outside patio deck (not as luxurious as it sounds, I guarantee you) and set the clippers to 8, their maximum length. Keeping up a constant, friendly chatter and complaining about Rhys’ unmanageable cowlick, Alex clipped and buzzed away. Ten minutes later, he was just about done, and it looked great. I applauded, but he grinned at me and said, “No, not quite done,” and fluttered around like a professional hairdreser, locating and clipping odd hairs he’d missed.
That’s when it happened – BZZZZZT. Just like in the movies. He had accidentally knocked the setting down to “1,” the shortest, from “8,” the longest, and buzzed right up the front of Rhys’ head, at an angle. This one path of almost-shaved head, surrounded by a forest of dark hair. Alex looked at me with such surprise and horror painted on his face that I doubled over laughing.
Rhys sat stock-still; his face made it clear that he knew immediately what had happened.
Alex’s eyes pleaded with me to stop laughing but I couldn’t, and he finally started chuckling too. “Welp,” he said in his thick Ukrainian accent. “We can leave it or we can go ahead at a 1.”
I was still laughing, tears in my eyes, holding my stomach. His face had been priceless. Rhys sat there forlornly.
“We go at a 1,” he announced without additional input, which was the right decision after all. Rhys took it in stride while Alex shaved off the rest of his hair.
“You have a lovely skull,” I told Rhys later, trying to make him feel better, as he showered off all the tiny hairs. He glared daggers at me. “I mean it! It’s perfectly oval. Some guys have misshaped or dented skulls. You lucked out. Yours is lovely.”
He hasn’t talked to me for a while, but he looks fine, other than his sudden resemblance to a new military recruit. That moment, BZZZT, was the funniest moment of my life.
Side note: Dean Koontz books should probably not be read back-to-back. He uses the same phrases and descriptions, almost identical place-names (but not quite), and very similar themes in Midnight and Fear Nothing. They’re essentially the same book, written years apart. Oops.