Our ship came in

NO doubt thousands of people share the same ignorance I once did about cruise ships. This article is a beacon of knowledge, dispelling false impressions and explaining what really goes on aboard a luxury cruise. Until recently all my knowledge of taking a cruise came from watching ``Love Boat'' on television. Thus I envi-sioned myself strolling always in sunshine, wearing fashionable sea costume, and stepping over bikini-clad blondes strewn about the starboard deck. This is a complete fabrication.

My wife and I did hope we would one day be on a ship. But this hope may have been similar to a fish hoping it would be in a frying pan. We didn't think we would like it and we didn't believe the comfort promised by the ads. In the first place, my wife and I had different misconceptions of what the ship would be like. She imagined a gigantic white vessel like those one sees on a post card, extending roughly from Bermuda to New York and needing the entire North Atlantic to turn around in. She presumed she would read daily bulletins warning of typhoons but would be personally reassured by the captain, who resembled an early version of Gregory Peck in 40 yards of gold braid.

My imagination concocted a picture much lower on the scale. I thought of a rather rusty, 60-year-old ship, leaking slightly, with all the seamen in dirty T-shirts. On the very first day a message would come over the intercom: ``We have lost our propeller, so we are issuing long-handled oars to all able-bodied passengers.''

The day of our first cruise finally came. When we went aboard, we were pleasantly surprised at how large and luxurious the ship was in real life. However, one doesn't just saunter on willy-nilly as on ``Love Boat'' but goes through periodic lineups. In spite of this, friendly relations prevailed and we were all escorted to our cabins like royalty.

Our first real test was the announcement of a lifeboat drill, required by law within the first 24 hours. I am not saying this announcement aged us suddenly, but my wife quailed at the gigantic size of the life jacket with its straps, buckles, and dangling whistle. When I finally got the thing around her after a tussle, she looked like an m&m in a catcher's mitt.

We were ready within the allotted time and reported to our stations out on deck, where a female crew member was sorting everyone out in front of the lowered lifeboats.

``Women and children in the first line,'' she sang out. ``Men back against the bulkhead.''

I felt slighted. Since there were no children, this sounded like women first! I felt a bit ridiculous in my ``Mae West,'' but I waddled over and accosted her. ``I thought women's liberation did away with all this. According to law, don't we all pile in the boats regardless of sex?''

She gave me her best Captain Bligh look. ``This is THE LAW OF THE SEA!'' she commented. ``Now please go back against the bulkhead where you belong.'' I did so. Actually I am all for the old sea traditions. Besides, there were plenty of lifeboats.

There were other incidents. My wife happens to like whipped cream, but even so it was somewhat of a surprise when she came dashing from the dining room covered with whipped cream from the waist down. There are several versions of this. One, that she was followed by one waiter with five napkins and another that she was followed by five waiters with one napkin. In all the excitement I'm not sure.

She managed to get out of the mess rather well but I have not been able to find out exactly what happened. Thus far she is either unwilling, or unable, to explain.

Another incident was in our cabin. I was napping on my bunk. Friend wife was allegedly taking a bath - at least the water was running full force in the tub. Suddenly a door slammed and there was a scream. Peering through a mist of sleep, I saw a jumping wife clad only in a towel, yelling at me.

``I'm locked out of the bathroom and the water is running.'' There were further outcries of urgency, pertaining to flooding the ship and what was the captain's telephone number. I staggered to my feet. In my whole life I have never found anyone else who could come out of the bathroom and have the door lock from inside. I stated this vehemently but it didn't help.

With a fruitless appeal not to panic I went over to the offending door and found there was a small appurtenance under the handle with a groove in it. Aha. ``Get me a coin off the bureau,'' I suggested. She looked at me as if I were possessed. Did I think I was dealing with a public toilet with a coin slot that required a quarter? I went and got a coin off the bureau, turned the little thing-amajig like a screwdriver would, and the door opened in the nick of time.

``What would a woman alone do?'' she cried. ``If she had only a towel, she just couldn't have the steward come in.'' I suggested the plastic wastebasket. As he came through the door, it could be dropped over his head. The suggestion didn't satisfy her but everything ended peaceably.

What about rough weather? Well, yes, it happens once in a while, mostly at night. One notices he isn't lying in bed the way he wants to. The first real weather sign is when lipsticks and bottles on the bureau tip over and begin to roll. They take a long roll one way until they hit the ridge at the edge, then after a moment, they roll back the other way. Next, the closet doors spring open and swing back and forth. Things hanging on the wall tend to seek the horizontal.

At this point it helps to get up and make adjustments. My wife, being wakeful, got out of bed first and I saw her start off across the room toward the closet doors, moving as if walking uphill through four feet of snow. Then she disappeared from sight for awhile, presumably by falling inside the closet. The next thing I knew she went past me in the opposite direction, traveling at about 50 m.p.h., landing in bed like a pinwheel.

In the morning she was indignant. Finding she could sit up in bed without falling out, she accused me. ``I thought you said there was The Equalizer aboard this ship.''

``The Equalizer,'' I said, ``is a character on TV who shoots people. You mean stabilizer.

``Whatever! Equalizer, stabilizer, where was it when we needed it?''

``Well, it's in the brochure on Page 3,'' I said.

By midmorning the ship was steady on course, the sun bright, the air brisk, and the sea breeze refreshing. We dozed, blanketed comfortably in our deck chairs. All around us was smooth, sparkling blue water and in the far distance could be seen some strange shore-line.

Come to think of it, it's not so unlike ``Love Boat'' after all.

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