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@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
Wash Your Hands. Make Your Mom Proud.
“Wash, wash, wash your hands, make your mom proud,” the TV sang in the tiny cabin my brother and I would be sharing for the next four days. It was my first time on a cruise, and also my first time staying in a hotel room smaller than my studio apartment.
The song playing on the television about earning your mother’s pride for washing your hands played on repeat, a jingle I feared would get stuck in my head and I’d be singing it my whole life. This wouldn’t be the only song we’d hear about washing our hands. While my brother complained it was irksome that entering the buffet the aisles were lined with sinks and someone stood there with a guitar singing songs about washing your hands, employees stood by to make sure people did. This was much to my comfort, being a germaphobe, though I’ll get back to that later.
As we get older, it’s become more and more rare the whole family gets together at the same time. My parents live in Florida. My sister and her two kids live out East on Long Island. I live in Queens but am a freelancer and traveling comedian, so my schedule is ever changing. Though even worse to make plans with is my gypsy brother. Generously, my folks wanted to have a full family vacation, something we haven’t done in years—and this time with the grandkids, my nephew (5) and niece (2) as well.
My parents were a little disappointed when they found out I accepted freelance writing work the week of the vacation and would have to spend a few hours everyday working on it. “But this is supposed to be a vacation. You’re supposed to be relaxing.” “I’m not good at relaxing. Also, if I don’t take this work, I could be asking you to borrow money next month… so which is it gonna be?”
Before we left, I had a minor panic attack after a friend told me not to rely on the wifi (that you overpay for). I needed the wifi. I didn’t want to turn the work down, but more than that, I didn’t want to not be able to get my packets out in time. Upon reaching out to comedians I know who work ships, they said it’s slow, but I should be okay. This proved accurate.
Anthony, my nephew, had claimed he had been on two cruises already before we left.
“Sweetie,” my sister tells her son, “you’ve been on boats before but never a cruise ship.”
“I think I have,” he says, eyes narrowing in thought, “a long time ago.”
“A long time ago? You’re five years old,” I retort.
“A cruise ship is giant!” Lisa tells him.
“Bigger than my house?”
“It’s bigger than our block!”
Because our family is so sarcastic, Anthony has gotten used to questioning the things we tell him. Later, it would be fun seeing how stoked he’d be to get on a ship that big, with pools and everything. It was cute that he couldn’t even conceptualize such a thing.
[Nephew Anthony, defender of the universe, happiest kid on the ship.]
Traveling with a two year old in tow is almost exactly how you would imagine it… exhausting. Though I love my little niece, she is a typical two, more tenacious than terrible but a handful. On the first day, all passengers must participate in a safety evacuation drill, which involves going to a certain section on the outdoor deck. Not exactly sure how that would pan out in real life, but I figure that’s a problem we’d face if it ever arose and there’s no point of worrying about it. During the drill I’m thinking how I’d sacrifice everyone on this ship to save my family, so I’m not to be trusted. Charlotte, my niece is being held by sister, Lisa, but Charlotte is holding fast to the ledge of the ship, resisting my sister from keeping her from jumping over the rail. We’d have to keep a close eye on her. She has no fear. Figures the girl who jumps off cliffs has a niece who’s trying to jump off ships.
In our cabin, Mitch, my brother, talks of meeting hot single women.
“What do you think this is? It’s a family cruise ship full of over weight Midwesterners with their germ filled children and teenagers with acne. This isn’t the place you’re going to meet a hot hook up.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t know what happens on these cruises.”
“Clearly, you don’t know what doesn’t happen on these cruises.”
“Who goes on vacation and doesn’t try to meet people?”
“You’ve been on more vacations with me than anyone! When I go away, I like to meet fish, not people.”
“I need a wingman out there.”
“If there’s a girl you’re trying to have sex with, I’m going to try to have sex with her just so I can brag to the comedians at McGuire’s about it.” (My brother has worked as a waiter at McGuire’s and is somewhat of a legendary pirate figure to them his world of shenanigans.)
Mitch laughs though he knows I’m not completely kidding.
“There will be no hanky panky in our cabin,” I reiterate, “NO HANKY PANKY!”
“We’ll see about that.”
That first night, Mitch wanted to explore the bars. We’d been up since 4am, between flying to Florida from New York, getting an Uber to Port Canaveral (with two highly energetic kids), loading the ship, doing the drills, making sure Charlotte doesn’t jump ship. Not only was I exhausted, not interested in talking to anyone on this ship besides my family (I decided within five hours of being on the ship that I hated everyone except my family) but I also wanted to get a jump start on the writing packet due the following day so I would have an easy morning. Mitch was near insulted by my anti-socialness. “You’re half like a girl, half like a guy, but you are terrible at being both a guy and a girl.”
When I was too tired to conjure up any more ideas for the packet, I tucked myself into bed to read my book on Norse mythology.
“Oh god, now you’re reading??!!” My brother lamented but when his head hit the pillow, he was asleep within minutes.
[Mom with nephew, Sister with niece.]
In the morning, we were at CocoCay (“the perfect day”), a very small island owned by Royal Caribbean where they have water slides, pools, designated swimming/snorkeling areas and a lot of bars. While myself and my brother prefer a grittier vacation, one with isolated beaches, no ropes keeping you off rocks to climb or lifeguards yelling at you for swimming out too far, CocoCay is the perfect place for your average American to feel safe in paradise. The whole cruise experience is manufactured. Because we had small children with us, it’s not a bad deal if not ideal for families, but if I were flying solo or with friends, this would not be how I vacation.
Perhaps my biggest gripe was not the “family orientation” fun but just that it was so loud the whole time. Here, I can’t blame the kids, seeing that my own niece was often screaming from joy or crying from a tantrum, happy or sad, the kid is loud. What bothered me is that everywhere you went it was loud. On the pool deck (even when most the people were on the island), there’d be some guy with a megaphone starting a conga line, during dinners they would dim the lights, flare the music, and do some sort of show and/or activity, all the bars blasted music. Christ, all I wanted was some steel drums or some ambient guitar playing.
[Mom, Anthony, Charlotte trying to climb over the rail, Lisa holding her back.]
At CocoCay (“the perfect day”), Mitch and I wandered, starting our drinking in the morning. Despite our warning, our Dad didn’t get us the drinking package, though also insisted he’d pay for all the drinks and didn’t want any of us to stress out over the vacation financially, aka, the drink bill would go to him. Because my brother is the crowned derelict, he would have me get us both drinks, so it would look like I drank way more than him (which worked since my drinking bill at the end of the trip would be 4x the amount of anyone else’s, but I also signed for our bottles of wine at dinner every night).
[The “twins” (Mitch and me) up to no good.]
The highlight of my trip would be a moment my brother would mock my reaction for. Mitch and I would go snorkeling and as I was taking in the swaying world beneath the surface, I looked to my left as a sting ray, with a wing span 3 or 4 feet, from nose to the end of it’s tail, nearly as big as me, glided right by me. With the utmost grace, these creatures move fast through the water. I try to keep up the best I can, but even a good swimmer like myself is no match for a ray. At this moment, my brother was resting on a floating dock. “Mitch, Mitch!” I yelled, “A sting ray, a huge sting ray!” He said he couldn’t make out what I was saying until he swam over. When we reunited with the rest of our family, I was practically jumping out and down like a child, “Dad! I saw a huge sting ray! It was right next to me!”
Cue Mitch, in a high pitched voice, mocking me, “A stingray, a stingray, I saw a sting ray!”
Truly, you have never seen me glow with such a delight of pure joy than when I have wild ocean encounters. “You always see cool animals in the ocean,” my mom says, as if I have some sort of siren song to summon sea creatures. It’s true I’ve had many wonderous, some seemingly impossible meetings with mother ocean’s children, but it’s just that I spend far more time in the ocean than the average person. At some point it’s just statistics. At some point, everything comes down to math.
[Pappy with his grandkids.]
After the holidays, one of my Uncle’s sort of freaked my parents out by telling them I was near anorexic looking, I became so thin. This infuriated me. Even though my Uncle had the best of intentions, and encouraged me to come over more and he’d make me dinner, it bothered me he raised an alarm with my parents, who I’d rather not worry about me. They did think both my brother and myself were on the thin side, thus making us the only underweight people on the cruise ship. “Did you know the average person gains 1-2 pounds a day on a cruise?” My dad said. “Yup, so we’re going to fatten you both up.” Though Mitch and I were more concerned about our tans. With a little color and a couple pounds, I’d look like one of the living again, instead of a vampire in need of a kill.
We didn’t hold back with the eating or the drinking. At dinner, my Dad would reiterate, “the average person gains one to two pounds on a cruise,” as I scoff down another piece of bread.
“Where did you learn this statistic?” Mitch asks.
“From the comedian on the last cruise we went on.”
“Are fucking serious? You’re getting your facts from comedians!”
Mitch is belly laughing now.
“You of all people should know we make up facts if it makes our jokes better!”
[Me, baby Charlotte, Lisa in the corner.]
My folks could not understand why I had no interest in seeing the comedians on the ship. This is no knock on the comics (I did look them up but didn’t know them). I have comedian friends who do ships and they are very funny. Though it’s a tough gig because the cruise ships are really strict about material. It’s more that much of my world revolves around comedy, so not only am I drenched in the NYC comedy scene, I’m around the best comedians who ever lived, making me a very hard audience. Some of my favorite comedians are good friends who I get to see basically whenever I want. On a holiday, I don’t have any desire to see a comedy show. In fact, the very thought of performing with so many limitations for a mild mannered midwestern crowd makes my skin crawl. Though I suppose if you’re not a comedian and/or you’ve never played casino’s, you’d have a hard time grasping this. Casino’s, though coveted gigs because they pay well, don’t feel like art, if that makes sense. You feel more like you’re being dressed up to dance like a monkey. That’s not always the best feeling. But having money to eat is a good feeling.
In fact, one evening, I had a sad nightmare that my writing partner, Nick Griffin, was going to work a cruise and he was dreading it (Nick, like many veteran comedians, is burnt on the road, and quite frankly, is such a great comic he should be a recognized name everywhere but it is a very tough and very unfair business). In said dream, I had some sort of premonition that something really bad was going to happen to Nick on the cruise ship. So I went to the ship (where he was already boarded) to try to get him off. I pleaded with a crew member that it was an emergency, “you don’t understand, I have to get Nick Griffin off this ship.” They denied me entry because I wasn’t a passenger. I then snuck on the ship to find him but the ship left the port while I was stuck in the maze of the ship, unable to find Nick. In the retelling of this reverie, it’s kind of funny. But it wasn’t when I was in the dream. I was so fraught I woke up upset. Some of the symbolism of the dream is obvious, though there’s more subtle messages there too.
That night, my parents volunteered to watch the kids so my sister could go out and get schwifty (time to get schwity in here… gotta shit on the floor). There was a “hush party” happening at the club. If you don’t know what a “hush party” is, it’s a dumb ass concept where everyone wears headphones and there are two channels that you can switch back and forth and dance to. For one channel, the headphones light up blue, the other was green. One channel was classic rock, the other was hip-hop. When we got there, seeing that this ship was filled with mostly white midwestern people, the majority of the club was singing a Journey song with their headphones on (so if you were without headphones, all you heard was the people singing). The devil himself couldn’t manufacture a more insidious version of hell for me. This was my 9th circle. Punishment for my sins. I quickly downed a dirty martini and turned to my siblings, “I fucking hate this shit. I’m going back to my cabin to work my packet due tomorrow.” They both called me lame, but whatever, nothing was lamer than a “hush party” to me (to clarify, I had a writing packet due every day I was on the ship).
A couple hours passed and I was still typing away at my laptop when a drunk Mitch barges through the door to take a leak. He tells me that after the Hush Party they went to a karaoke bar where my sister tried to sing the Star Spangled Banner.
“The Star Spangled Banner? Just… why?”
“Even the midwestern people were like, ‘are you fucking serious?’”
“Where did this girl come from? How is she related to us?”
He tried to muscle me to going back out, but I respectfully declined to keep working.
“I thought a room of white people singing Journey was terrible but my own sister trying to sing the star spangled banner at a bar is somehow far worse.”
The following day, Mitch was hungover AF. He lamented that Lisa accidentally tried to get him into a singles meet up that was for the under aged and he got in trouble.
“I told you you’re not going to meet any singles on this cruise. You may as well give up on sex and just get all your pleasure from food like everyone else here.”
“You’re so negative all the time!”
“By negative, do you mean accurate?”
[‘Muncle Mitch’ and Anthony.]
On this day, we were docked in Nassau, Bahamas, which turned out to be somewhat of a bust because the beach they drop you at is very crowded and is far from those perfect zen beaches you see in commercials. You could get transportation to other beaches but we were trying to limit our traveling around with the kids. Anthony wasn’t having it. There were no pools or slides. Though I do have to say, the locals in the Bahamas had some of the best heckles. Mitch, who’s hair is long right now, had a woman who braids hair yell at him, “you want your hair braided Rambo?” When I was running down the beach with my snorkel, a woman yelled to me, “Ahh sheeetttt, it’s like Baywatch all over again with this girl. I see you.”
Back on the ship, Mitch wanted to hit the hot tub.
“I don’t do hot tubs,” I reminded him, “they are disgusting vats of hot water and chemicals where people sweat and pee. It’s horrific. I will never go in a public hot tub.”
“It’s your vacation, Lori. Lighten up and learn to enjoy it,” Mitch lectures.
“Geez,” my Dad said, “how did you end up so neurotic.”
“Because of you,” Mitch butt in, “she’s exactly like you. You told us all the same neurotic shit, but Lisa and I just ignored you but with Lori it stuck. That’s why she’s crazy. Look, if you’re not going to go in the hot tub, make yourself useful and get me a drink.”
I went to the bar to get us drinks while my obnoxious brother was heading to a bacterium’s dream home of a public hot tub. When I returned with two drinks in hand, Mitch was no where to be found. I walked around until I found him laughing.
“Uh oh,” I said, “what happened.”
“I was in the hot tub, and this woman’s fat son comes over with an ice cream cone and she goes, ‘where’s mine,’ so he runs to get a second ice cream cone and then they’re both sitting there in the hot tub, their ice cream dripping into the water. I just… I couldn’t.”
“HA! I told you! I told you so!”
[My best boys: Brother, Nephew, Father.]
I promised my nephew I would take him to this sky bounce thing where you jump on a trampoline with cables to go really high. “Yeah,” Anthony exclaimed, “we can go to the sky bounce and then get dinner and then you can have your wine.” He didn’t mean to come off as snarky, but the young Jedi learns well. Of course I needed a lot of booze to attend the evening’s live entertainment of singing and ice skating, but my favorite part was watching my nephew, who was sitting on my lap, watch in awe of the performers. It was the first time he’s seen anything like it and it made him smile and go “whoa, did you see that! How did he/she do that!” Meanwhile, I’m thinking of how these performers are locked on the ship, and the sinking feeling of the dream about my writing partner was only kept at bay by the hefty amount of alcohol I’d been consuming.
[Anthony, an adrenaline junky in the making.]
That night, we’d set sail back to CocoCay (where we’d have another “perfect day”). My sister, along with everyone else on the ship, were happy to return to Royal Caribbean’s private island. It makes sense. It’s just a lot easier with the kids. Anthony also couldn’t wait so he could return to the water slides where he’d just run around and around. It’s our last real day, since tomorrow we’d get off the ship. I’m officially done with all my writing packets. From the ship, we saw a herd of stingrays, about 30 of them or so, in a area where you can’t swim out to. “Look at all them!” I exclaimed, “they’re so beautiful. Do you understand that me not being able to swim out to them right now is the equivalent to Mitch not being able to talk to under-aged girls.” This made my Dad laugh pretty hard.
From ‘Pirates of the Caribbean:’
Elizabeth: That’s it, then? That’s the secret, grand adventure of the infamous Jack Sparrow. You spent three days lying on a beach drinking rum.
Jack Sparrow: Welcome to the Caribbean, love.
Mitch and I got drinks on a floating bar in the ocean where someone said to me, “hey you’re that girl who was singing the Star Spangled Banner?”
“No, NO. That was not me. That was my sister. I would NEVER do such a thing.”
[Anthony and Lisa ready to kill, kill, kill.]
It’s our last night so we have laser tag planned, live shows with the kids, and of course drinking for the adults.
By the time we hit the shows, Mitch and I are three sheets to the wind and in the throes of laughing fits, giggling so much, even our family is looking at us like we’re insane. When the kids are tuckered out, Lisa returns to the cabin with them. Mitch and I went to the casino with our parents. Casino’s do nothing for me, so I just watched. At some point, I had to pee very badly, so I left for a restroom. When I returned, my kin was no where to be found. I figured I’d head back to the room to see if they were there. On my way back, I passed the 24/7 café which has desserts, pizza, and a deli meat section. I went for cookies but when I saw they had prosciutto I also asked for that. They gave me cookies and then a giant stack of prosciutto on a plate. You’ve never seen so much prosciutto on a plate, it actually made me belly laugh as they handed it to me.
Back at my cabin, my family was still no where to be found. In my drunken stupor, I changed into pajamas and pulled up ‘Rick and Morty’ on my laptop while sitting on my bed with a plate of cookies and a plate of prosciutto. Cue my brother and parents walking in.
“There you are!”
They then notice my plate of cured meat on my bed, “what the hell are you doing in here? Who the fuck does this?”
And then I was (rightfully so) mocked by my whole family. I’m pretty sure I passed out shortly after that (while my parents went to see the comedian).
It’s safe to say that I didn’t care for anyone on the ship except my family, who are sharp tongued and often times brutal with commentary (so much so, that some of the funnier moments will remain unwritten, as it is far from politically correct). To be honest, I can’t say cruise ships are my type of vacation, but our family reunions don’t occur as frequently as we’d like them to anymore, so it was a short week filled with a lot of laughs and moments so funny, I fell to the floor to keep myself from peeing my pants. But then again, I guess I could have just gone into the hot tub and pissed in there like everyone else.
[Siblings and Charlotte.]