Putting on pants 

But stalling as long as we can

"Pretty soon we're gonna have to put on pants," says Mitch, laying prone, his belly full of raw fish. He's right, of course, there's no getting around it. Not that lying around like a half-naked lizard has a limited appeal, mind you, because I could seriously do this for the rest of my life. I love looking at the sea without having to get in it. I love gazing at a massive expanse of aqua hues, one the ocean and the other the sky, with no land or anything around to delineate the difference but a bunch of walking bags of bacon fat wearing bikini bottoms who occasionally wander into my peripheral vision.

And I don't even mind that. Good for them, I say. Get your big, beautiful ass into that thong! There is nothing more ridiculous than shame over your appearance when you're in the middle of the ocean. I mean, the whole point of a cruise is to clock in some serious lazy-pig time, right?

Damn right.

It's Daniel and Mitch's first cruise, and so far they've got it right. They have not missed a single buffet since we sailed. I saw them last night before the dining room opened, lounging like walruses on the leather cushions along the window, the turquoise waves whizzing by as the ship cut its path. They had just partaken in a big plate full of free sushi, which is served on the Empress Deck every evening. I have yet to brave the free sushi, because to me there is just something creepy about free sushi, but then I am a cruise veteran. I can say no to stuff. Daniel and Mitch, on the other hand, are like alley cats in a dead-rat factory. They gorge themselves because they can't believe it's true, all this food and stuff just for the taking.

"Oh, you lowly little cruise virgins," I say to them, "look how I walk right past the pizza stand. I hardly have to brace myself."

But Daniel and Mitch don't have a defense yet. They are like children, they are so damn giddy over the blinking lights and the cheap booze and the calypso band and the fact that it cost less to come on this cruise than it would to stay home.

"So we're saving money by being here," Mitch says, an obnoxious blender drink in his hand -- umbrella, cancer-colored cherry and all. God, I love that logic.

But they don't allow you in the dining room wearing swim trunks covered in a fine crust of dried sea salt. No. You have to put on pants -- or in my case a cleavage-revealing halter dress with neon sunflowers. (Yes, I do try to look nice.) Even the college kids we share our table with make an effort to look presentable for dinner. There are seven of them, and they are all friends, fresh from graduating. I just want to chew on their apple-colored cheeks, but as I said, this is not my first cruise, and I can resist eating just anything put in front of me.

The other night Daniel, Mitch and I wandered onto the Lido deck to find a big group of cross-dressing swing dancers boogying to a live band. You should have seen these people. The guys were wearing wigs and dresses, the women were wearing suspenders and painted-on goatees, and all of them were twirling under the stars and laughing like their troubles were as distant as any sign of land.

The occasion was the 89th birthday of Frankie Manning, the famous swing dancer who revolutionized the Lindy Hop during the grand days of the Savoy Ballroom. He was there, too, looking great for a codger and swing dancing with his fans. I guess the cross-dressing was because Manning is famous for saying that when you're dancing with a woman -- for that one song, no matter who she is -- she is your queen and you should treat her like she is the most important, beautiful person in the world. Well, last night, Frankie Manning was the most important, beautiful person in the world. He was dancing as lithely as a youth, passing from embrace to embrace on a star-lit stage in the middle of the ocean.

Then the band stopped. I guess it was time to put on pants again. At dinner that night, the seven youthful cruisers sharing a table with us laughed about their shore excursion earlier that day. They had mooned the cruise's official videographer and were surprised to see it had actually aired on the ship's in-house channel, with their butt cracks edited out by a big yellow stripe.

I had to smile. How appropriate, I thought. Here they are, fresh out of college, about to jump ass first into the wondrous crap fest that is the rest of their lives, and I'm damn glad they mooned the videographer. I'm glad they got drunk and stumbled back to the ship and fell all into each other, from embrace to embrace. For now this is fine, I say, for now this is incandescent, because the ship docks for everyone soon enough, and then it will be time to put on pants again.



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