Category Archives: Humor

All I Want for Christmas is a Chainsaw to Cut My Novel in Half

Guilt is for children with sticky fingers and mysterious stains.

I declare this to be true in defiance of all religious and sociological thought, because I don’t want to mess with guilt today. I haven’t posted for a month, and I don’t even need a reason, never mind a good reason, because I state that I do not.

Ignorance, however, is for everybody.

I am not as clever as God, nor am I even as clever as J.R.R. Tolkien. A couple of years ago I took on a fantasy novel project. After three months of obsessive writing, during which my wife suspected I was no more real than Bigfoot, I produced an 180,000 word story that I adored. To provide a sense of scale, 180,000 words are roughly the length of the New Testament, or The Fellowship of the Ring. What joy to stand among such giants.

God probably didn’t have to impress literary agents. Perhaps Tolkien didn’t either. I do, and agents let me know in a snapping hurry that 180,000 words is an unacceptable count for a novel, no matter how much I love it. If I can’t bring them something about 100,000 words or less, I should just go back to sitting around Starbucks and talking about the book I plan to start writing someday.

I had created a waddling beast of a manuscript.

I’ve met writers who spend years trying to fix their novel, ending up with a book that forever needs one more month of polish. So, I put the manuscript on the shelf like a third grade science medal, and I moved on to more disciplined projects.

This fall, with some of my newer projects floating out to agents, my Godzilla project arose from the shelf and dared me to cut it in half without killing it. I don’t want to get too detailed, but my process involved staring at an Escher print for about a month. Then I irradiated the manuscript for two months like I was a mad Japanese scientist, and I finished with a 103,000 word story. Today I celebrate.

Tightening language and eliminating redundancy got me part of the way there. Advice from Roz Morris of Nail Your Novel on ways to cut a novel was invaluable. But my secret weapon was to:

Find everything I love most in the story and kill it. Well, perhaps not everything, but a lot of things. The more I loved it, the less likely it was to really help the story. I silenced clever dialogue, I obliterated characters from the storyline, and I blasted subplots out of the space-time continuum.

With as much objectivity as I can manage, I believe that this version is a far better story than the original. Final editing can wait for my brain to quit vibrating, and anyway, I need to sit and stare at my Escher print for a while to think about the next project.

That’s what I hid in my office and did with my holiday season. I hope yours was just as much fun and just as terrifying.

Artist’s conception of an agent mesmerized by my newly-trimmed manuscript.

Artist: William-Adolphe_Bouguereau
Museum: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mary D. Keeler Bequest



No Misery on Thanksgiving

I have been commanded by faceless internet tyrants to write a post about Thanksgiving. The message just showed up on my Facebook page with no explanation, but containing a hint of threat. Since the people running the internet can now ruin anyone’s life as easily as dropping a towel on their spouse’s nice, clean floor, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here’s the story of the most miserable day in my dad’s life, which he told me about last night as we ate pizza for Thanksgiving. After he came back from the war in Korea, he was stationed with a jillion other marines at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. His superiors decided to stage a big amphibious landing exercise, just to keep everybody from getting bored.

If you’re part of an amphibious landing, that means you start on a ship, then you climb down the ship’s side on a net as if you were a homicidal howler monkey, carrying everything you need to kill people. At the bottom, you drop into a floating metal box called a landing craft, which takes you to shore and forces you to run onto the beach and fight because part of it falls off, rendering it no longer seaworthy.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Someone chose to hold this exercise during the winter. Even though San Diego weather is constantly temperate to the point of catatonia, on this day the temperature was in the 40s. However, the marines were dressed appropriately for invading a tropical island held by the Japanese Army, so it was okay.

After all the marines had climbed down into the landing craft for the exercise, the wind blew up some rough seas. That was no fun for anybody, but it really wasn’t fun for the guys on the first two landing craft that reached the beach and flipped over in the surf.

I like to imagine that somebody said, “Everybody back to the boat!” However, unloading marines so they can climb back up those nets is slow work when the landing craft and the ship are both jumping around like frisky dolphins. Every craft had to wait its turn. Steaming in a circle. Tossing around like Satan’s personal carnival ride.

Now comes the really miserable part. The sea water was 18 inches deep in the bottom of my dad’s landing craft, and every man got seasick except him and one other guy. This added a modest quantity of vomit to the sea water. For the next four hours they went around in a circle, as wet as tadpoles in a windy 40 degrees, propping up helpless seasick men so they wouldn’t drown in their own vomit. Once they did reach the ship, my dad helped tie all the seasick men to bosun’s chairs so they could be hoisted up.

At this point my dad said he and the other survivor “ran up that net like squirrels.”

So in the spirit of the holiday, my dad is thankful that shit isn’t happening today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Artist's rendering of the beach in question
Artist’s rendering of the beach in question

Give the Newlyweds Some Napalm and a Bazooka

I’m drinking to celebrate the fact that, as of today, I’ve been to more weddings than funerals this year. I’ve grieved that several of my loved ones passed beyond the reach of man, although at least I hadn’t loaned any of them books. On the other hand, more than twice as many friends promised to love and honor each other forever, and they celebrated by accepting ugly wall clocks and pretentious 1-cup coffee makers.

It’s a happy situation. I’m therefore drinking vodka, which is nasty, rather than tequila, which is loathsome.

As I listened to the vows in today’s ceremony, I thought about my own wedding vows. If I wrote my marriage vows today, they’d be vastly different from the ones I wrote for my actual wedding. In addition to love, honor, and cherish, I might include vows like:

  • I promise to do whatever it takes to keep you warm, even if it means adopting more cats to pile on the bed.
  • I promise to pay attention to things you like so I can buy them for you later.
  • I promise to pay attention when you tell me I’m acting crazy.
  • I promise never to cook Garlic Orange Chicken Stir Fry again.
  • I promise not to make fun of your addiction to making lists.

Then I realized most of that was pretty dumb and not at all what I want to say. Then I thought about what I want to say instead of that. Then I drank vodka, which kind of helped. Then I decided that I really wanted to talk about how marriage changes things. I mean, one moment you’re in love, and the next moment you’re in love and married. What the heck does that mean?

Here’s the short version. Love is a gift you give your lover. Marriage is a war you fight against yourself.

Here’s the long version. I think the “love is a gift” part is pretty understandable. It includes basic things like giving flowers and back rubs, physical intimacy, and treating your lover no less courteously than you would treat a librarian or a beloved English actor.

On another “love is a gift” level, whenever I’m out later than expected, I call my wife. She does the same for me. As I call her, my buddies may harass me by saying she “really has me on a short leash.” I explain that I’m glad she at least cares where I’m at instead of using my absence to frolic with a grunge-punk band and shoot dope under her toenails. Besides which, being so paranoid about really short leashes makes them sound like they have tiny penises.

The “marriage is a war” part is less obvious. Whenever my wife and I behave like loving, caring individuals, no war is necessary. But sometimes we act like regular people, which is to say irrational and thoughtless. When I feel my wife is acting that way, I have decisions to make and possibly a war to fight.

Here’s an example. I indicate to my wife, I think successfully, that I’m interested in a little hanky-panky later in the evening. I receive promising indications, but not a positive confirmation. We go to dinner with a friend, and my wife orders a barbeque plate of heroic proportions. I anticipate her request for a doggie bag, but it never comes. She enjoys the entire meal. Now any attempt at hanky-panky that evening would result in nothing but her shrieking like a rabbit caught in a gate.

My war against myself begins inside my head.

“Was I clear? I know I was clear. Does this mean something? Maybe she’s not too interested in me anymore. Or maybe I wasn’t clear. Did she have to order the big plate? It’s not like we were going to a French restaurant or something. We can go to this place anytime. Am I less desirable than a barbeque sandwich? I don’t know what to say to that. That can’t be right. But hell, she didn’t have to eat the whole dinner—she could have taken part of it home for tomorrow. Am I less sexy than half a barbeque sandwich? I can’t ask that! What if she says yes?”

At this point I am losing the war. I have taken something she did that annoyed me, and I’ve transformed it into a marriage-threatening cataclysm that I can’t talk to her about because I’m terrified of what we might say. Even better, as long as I don’t say anything, this will now creep around unseen in our marriage like a French Resistance fighter causing more creative and disruptive sabotage forever after.

How do I win the war? I risk everything. I open my mouth and say the stupid things I was worrying about. Even if it hurts my wife, hurts me, and hurts the guy who made the sandwich. I listen to her possibly-horrifying responses, because if our marriage survives this then at least we won’t have it under the surface tearing our marriage apart.

That’s what I mean by marriage being a war you fight against yourself. I’m not sure what that would look like in a wedding vow. Maybe something like:

  • I promise to fight for us. We’re worth risking everything for.

Now I’m going to cook dinner. We’re having soup. And vodka.

It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”
It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”

Photo by Brocken Inaglory.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Etiquette for the Wretched Unemployed

I’ve learned how to derive an extraordinary amount of self-esteem from washing dishes and scooping cat litter. That’s because we unemployed people have to seize our ego-boosts wherever we find them. Folding laundry may not seem like something to celebrate, but after a certain number of fruitless job applications your self-image is dragging behind you like toilet paper on your shoe.

Like every good 21st Century American, I wrap a lot of my identity up in my occupation. Everybody does to some degree. You’re a teacher, he’s a bricklayer, she owns a frozen yogurt store. That’s who you are. Even a crack dealer can say to himself, “Hey, I sell crack. I sell people something they want until they die sprawled in the gutter with antifreeze and rat shit.” He has an identity.

It may take me some time to find work, because my skills are rather eclectic. I don’t want to get specific, but by way of analogy it’s as if I were a great fry cook, a fine goat farmer, and a pretty good loan shark. I’d need to find a bookie operating out of a greasy diner that serves gourmet goat steaks, raised on the premises because you can’t trust a commercially produced goat. Only in that environment could my full range of skills be employed.

During this jobless time I’m leaning a bit on my identity as a writer, but that’s been battered by a recent salvo of rejection notices, leaving my writer image structurally unsound at the moment. Some of the rejections said nice things about my work, but they all ended with the familiar phrase, “not for me.”

However, I’m tempted to write an etiquette guide for the unemployed. There’s a real need. For example, when you go to a party or funeral or something, people will ask, “What do you do?” Kicking that person in the knee is bad manners, especially if the dearly departed is nearby. What’s the proper response?

You could say, “I’m looking for a job.” It’s direct and truthful. But there are only two responses. Your questioner could raise his eyebrows before saying something sympathetic that fails to conceal his searing contempt. Or he might ask what kind of job you’re looking for. That leads to an awkward conversation about goats and loan sharking that goes nowhere good or even tolerable. Forget that.

You could lie. You might say, “I’m a hedge-fund manager.” That’s perfect because no one knows what it is, but it sounds good and people know you make lots of money while screwing everyone on the planet, including orphans and kittens. Or you could say, “I create computer icons. Every time you start up Internet Explorer, I get a penny.” These lies are pretty satisfying, but two minutes on Google will reveal your prevarication, and then you’ll look like a bigger loser than ever.

The appropriate response to the, “What do you do?” question is a combination of the truth and a lie. You first say, “I’m looking for a job.” Then, as your interrogator raises his eyebrows in snide sympathy, you show a smile that implies someone’s given you a puppy that drools 30 year-old whiskey. You add, “I have enough savings to go two or three years before I have to get a job, so I’m taking my time and being selective.” Just watch as envy devours every bit of his face. That is how to handle that question.

We unemployed folk face a lot of similarly awkward social encounters. How to get people to take you to restaurants you can’t afford and not look like a deadbeat. Creating believable and marginally truthful business cards even though you don’t work for a business. Managing social media statuses so that you don’t appear to be a hobo. Yes, writing a book about unemployment etiquette is just what I need to pump up my self-esteem. I only need a title:

Jobless but Genteel: You may lose your job, but you can keep your dignity.

Because when you talk about etiquette, the first thing you think of is “yak.”

This photo is by travelwayoflife, and is a Featured Picture on Wikimedia Commons.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

My People’s Nonchalant Regard for the Facts

Someone at your memorial will speak the facts. They’ll say you were born then and died now, describe the work you spent your life doing, mention the people you loved who are still alive and the ones who died before you. Everyone in the room will already know those things, but they’ll expect someone to say it all anyway. It’s a declaration that yes, you did live and now it’s all right to say what they remember about you while the memories are as strong as they’ll ever be.

When my people memorialize our dead, first we tell the facts and then we tell the stories, which are far finer than mere truth. We don’t exactly lie. The events really did happen, but a little creative plumping is expected. If the deceased were allowed to attend, he might feel embarrassed, but he’d probably sew on a couple of his own embellishments. Bigger stories make better memories, and this is the time we want the best memories we can get.

After my uncle’s memorial yesterday, my sister lamented that she’d forgotten a story about him until after we had left. My people particularly like stories about what sort of child a person was. It’s as if we think childhood tales show our real selves before life lowers curtains of artifice around us. My sister and I have heard this particular story dozens of times from my mother.

When my uncle was seven years old and my mother was five he took her to the department store to see Santa Claus. It was a different world then, and no one worried about these children tracking down some holiday fun by themselves. At the store they joined the long, long line to see the jolly elf, whom they referred to as “Santy Claus.” The line moved slowly. My uncle, a vocal boy, expressed impatience, especially towards the heavy-set woman just in front of them.

After some length of time that my mother never detailed, my uncle lost patience with the inconvenient facts of his situation. He kicked the woman right in the middle of her backside and said, “Get the hell out of my way, fat lady, I’ve got to go see Santy Claus!”

My mother never described quite what happened next, but we were always laughing too hard for it to matter much.

Now my uncle is gone, my mother’s gone, and certainly the fat lady and Santy Claus are gone as well. But we still have this story that we can share to explain who my people were and how we got this way.

My mother on Santa's lap, experiencing her first PTSD attack.
My mother on Santa’s lap, experiencing her first PTSD attack.

Photo from Buzznet

Retirement Will Mean Nothing Unless My Friends Are Weeping With Envy

I fear that retirement means I’ll be mopping the bathroom floors in some Wal-Mart until I die. Or maybe I’ll need heart surgery I can’t afford, and I can only stay alive by hooking my femoral artery to an electric pump that I drag behind me on a Radio Flyer wagon until I drop dead. You may have these same fears, if you’re within screaming distance of retirement age like I am.

I also fear that my modest retirement savings won’t be shored up by Social Security payments as I had once hoped. In fact, I now worry that when I retire, the social safety net will consist of Social Security employees creeping around my house at night looking for stuff they can pawn to pay down the national debt. That’s a lot of fear there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

A lot of generous people out there want to help me overcome my fear. They want to empower me to take control of my retirement destiny. They promise to teach me how to transform my meek, disorganized savings into an army of financial conquest. I’ll need to pay them for this generosity, of course. Nothing worthwhile comes without suffering. Dozens of movie training montages have taught me that.

The thing that makes these teachers so astoundingly generous is that they won’t just help me shoot my retirement fears in the chest like I was Wyatt Earp. They will also teach me how to transform my humble savings into a huge, roaring pile of money, so I can buy opulent houses and Italian sports cars. Not only will I never have to worry about money again, I can make everyone else feel bad because they’re not as rich as me. It’s like these teachers are giving me a horse in a town where everyone rides goats. That’s a lot of greed right there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

Fear and Greed are two of the four horsemen of bad decision making. Fear kicks you in the stomach, and then Greed punches you in the brain. Together they can make people do and believe almost anything.

For example, there are some dudes on the radio in my town who have been pimping their investment seminars for years. I turn on the radio in the bathroom while I shower, so I hear them on the weekends. They always talk about how much money their students make. Years ago the returns were impressive but theoretically possible. After a while they started talking about bigger returns, which I guess someone could achieve with a lot of luck. Then they began describing returns that you could only reach with a magic lamp or half a dozen senators in your pocket.

While I was shampooing my hair this morning I thought I heard these fellows say that their most effective investment technique is now yielding a 100% return every month. I assumed I was having a stroke, or perhaps hallucinating because a brain-eating amoeba was swimming up my nose. But as I toweled off a few minutes later they said it again.

Bear with me while I illustrate how stupid and outrageous that statement is. Say you took $10,000 and started investing with their technique this month, which is September. At 100% return per month, by Halloween you’re at $40,000, and by New Year’s Eve you’re up to $160,000. By April Fool’s Day next year you’ve passed a cool million, and by Halloween next year you’ve leapt ahead of Bill Gates to become the richest person on the planet.

In a little over two years you’ll own all the personal wealth on planet Earth ($223 trillion). Congratulations. My birthday’s coming up. My Amazon Wish List is updated, and I’d like either Mary Winstead or Allison Janney to pop out of my cake.

Of course this example is carried to a ridiculous extreme. But that doesn’t make it any more ridiculous than what these fellows are saying on the radio. Yes, they include a quick disclaimer that the results discussed aren’t typical and shouldn’t be used to make investment decisions. Their butts are covered. And frankly, I expect low-lifes to be low-lifes. It lends a certain comforting predictability to the world.

I am rather put out with the radio station though. This is an old and reputable organization, and since it operates on the public airwaves I think it bears a little responsibility for what it splashes across those waves. If this is the way it’s going to be, maybe I’ll start teaching people how to double their money every week using my secret, patented method for processing lithium out of cat feces and selling it to battery companies. Sure, it’s just taking advantage of desperate people, but Wal-Mart’s going to need somebody to mop their bathrooms.

Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?
Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?

Photo by Robert Paprstein
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by theFree Software Foundation.

Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?
Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?

Photo by ChiemseeMan (public domain).

Nine Ways To Tell If You’re A Raccoon

I pity Sigmund Freud, because he didn’t have Facebook. I feel bad for Karl Jung, and Carl Stumpf, and those other fathers of modern psychology too. How were they able to drag this discipline out of its infancy without the armada of diagnostic tools that’s recently appeared from over the horizon of social media? I refer to evaluations such as:

15 Unmistakable, Outrageously Secret Signs You’re an Extrovert
23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert
23 Signs You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert
10 Ways to Tell if You’re Confident – or Arrogant
5 Ways To Know You’re Watching a Spielberg Movie

Those represent just a tiny fragment of the avalanche of mental health/personality syndrome quizzes we are enjoying.

I can’t help tossing my pebble into the landslide. I found a gap in the flow of helpful questionnaires, and I’ve applied my profound lack of expertise to the challenge if filling it. I present “Nine Ways To Tell If You’re a Raccoon.”

Just answer the questions using the five-point scale below. Be honest. This thing doesn’t work if you aren’t honest, and then you walk around for the rest of your life in doubt about whether you’re a raccoon. Once you’ve finished, add up your points and read your results!

The Five-Point Scale
5 – This is me. It describes me perfectly.
4 – This sort of describes me. Maybe when I feel nostalgic or I’ve been drinking.
3 – Eh. Maybe this describes me, maybe it doesn’t. Is Walking Dead on?
2 – This doesn’t describe me too well. It might once in a while, like on Halloween.
1 – This isn’t me. You’re talking about a squirrel, or a goat or something.

The Questions

1. ___ I can always find my way back to a place with good food, such as Fuzzy’s Tacos or the garbage can in your garage.

2. ___ I enjoy social activities like tormenting your cat until it cowers behind the air conditioner in a neurotic stupor.

3. ___ When the weather is cold, I like to snuggle down into a blanket made from the insulation under your Jacuzzi.

4. ___ If you make your garden unpleasant by blasting talk radio all night, I’ll just chew through the screen on your utility room window and pee on your clothes.

5. ___ I like the night life. I like to boogie.

6. ___ I think food always tastes better when someone gives it to me for free. That includes birdseed in a feeder hanging from a greased pole sprayed with Tabasco sauce and adorned with peppermint-soaked cotton balls stuffed into pantyhose. That also includes French fries on an unattended plate.

7. ___ I’m secretly laughing at everyone around me.

8. ___ I find ornamental ponds so compelling. I especially love those goldfish that swim around in them.

9. ___ Even though I have opposable thumbs, I rarely find an opportunity to poke some idiot in the eye with a stick.

Now let’s see how you scored!

Under 20: Sorry, you’re not even a good simulation of a raccoon, and you’re probably not too cute, either. Move to Cuba (where raccoons are extinct).

21-35: You have strong raccoon tendencies, which you can cultivate with some effort. Chew your way into the attic a few times, and wash your chicken wings in the gutter before you eat them. There’s hope for you.

Over 35: Hooray! You are among nature’s most insidiously destructive cute animals! Let’s go tear some shit up and eat garbage!

Don’t feel bad if you aren’t a raccoon. We all have our place in the magnificent tapestry that is existence, and although you suck you might be lucky enough for a raccoon to eat part of your body after you die.

Yeah, you know that you wish you were washing cockroaches in your neighbor’s pool.

Photo by Svdmolen
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

A Song of Blubber and Ice

Alaskan Cruise, Days 10 and 11 – At Sea

If a cruise is going to suck, it will probably suck on the days you’re at sea. You paid to visit fascinating places by ship. When you’re not at the fascinating places, you’ve just got ship. I grant that it’s a marvelous ship, with liquor near the hot tubs and pizza a short walk from the string quartet. But in the end it’s a hotel full of strangers you can’t get away from. The cruise line tacitly admits this by packing each day with entertainment and educational opportunities. But at some point you’ll want to choke the hillbilly at the next dining table to death with his own beard, and no number of cha-cha lessons will change that.

However, the ocean offshore of Alaska is more fun than any of the places you might visit on shore. The ship has a guy whose job is to look around for cool things, such as a sea lion climbing the face of a glacier (just as an example). Then he tells everyone to look off the port bow for this amazing thing. After half a dozen people are trampled to death while everyone tries to figure out where the port bow is, people pack the railing four deep to collectively snap a quarter of a million photos of one perplexed sea lion.

It’s great.

Rather than babble about how great it is, I’ll include a few of the 5,000 photos I’ve taken over the past couple of days.

To start with, here’s a glacier. Yes, I know it’s just another wall of ice, but I think the picture is pretty.

Glacier In The Mist

I’ll follow that with a couple of humpback whale shots, one jumping around like a dachshund, and two more just hanging out, wondering where to go for dinner.

Whale Jumping

Two Whales

I happened to catch a glacier calving, which means a hunk of it is falling off. Look for the red circle on the first shot—that indicates the hunk that falls off.

Calving Frames 1

Calving Frames 2

And I’ll finish with a traditional farewell whale shot.

Whale Butt


Only The Stubborn and the Broke Survive to Sail Home

Alaskan Cruise, Day 9 – Whittier

Ninety-five percent of the people on this ship disappeared this morning. The ship has reached its northern-most port of call and will begin sailing back to Vancouver tonight. Most people travel just one direction on this trip, but the cruise line doesn’t object to selling you a more expensive ticket if you want to go both directions. My wife and I are among the few who thought that would be a keen idea.

In the past week we’ve frequently heard the question, “Why do you want to turn around and spend another week seeing all the stuff you just saw?” The people asking this have a point. We will now be forced to once more look at all those mountains and glaciers and whales and sea otters and other stuff we may never see again. Watch us suffer.

By the way, here’s a sea otter we sailed past yesterday:

They don't have blubber on their paws, so they float on their backs with their cute little paws in the air to keep them warm. And to keep them poised to tear your liver out if you get too close.
They don’t have blubber on their paws, so they float on their backs with their cute little paws in the air to keep them warm. And to keep them poised to tear your liver out if you get too close.

Hanging in there for the return trip is benefiting us in a way I never expected. A whole ship-full of new passengers came aboard today, wide-eyed and anticipating their passage to Vancouver. And they don’t know a god damned thing about this ship. Their bewilderment binds them together, and it allows us to feel superior to them. My wife and I hear their plaintive cries as they wander the passageways like Spinal Tap, and we smile.

Here are some of their most common questions, along with the answers I’d give them if I had any kind of empathy or pity.

Which way is the front of the boat?

First of all, it’s a ship, not a boat. The distinction may not seem important, since both will drown you if something bad happens, but boats are small and ships are big. I don’t really know where the demarcation lies, but any vessel big enough to host a Def Leppard concert is certainly a ship. Second, to find the front of the ship you should look over the railing and note which direction the ocean seems to be moving. The front of the ship is the other way, unless you’re sailing to Canada in reverse.

What do I have to pay for on this ship?

The cruise line provides, free of charge, everything you need to keep from dying. That includes food, water, tea, and black coffee. Also, they don’t make you pay to sing karaoke, and you can watch all the singers, dancers, musicians and magicians you want. Everything else costs extra.

Do I have to sing karaoke?

No, you can play bingo instead if you want. However, everybody in the karaoke bar is getting hammered and working up the guts to sing Copa Cabana, so they’re a pretty accepting bunch.

Why isn’t there a single clock on the ship?

The immediate reason is that the cruise line doesn’t want to force any time pressure on you that might mar your relaxing, worry-free holiday. The underlying reason is that they sell watches in the atrium every day, and they want you to buy one.

How do you ever find anything around here?

Forget finding anything. Cruise liners are like hotels twisted and crammed into a ship’s hull by omnipotent howler monkeys. The ship’s geography resists human understanding. By the time your one-week cruise ends you may have memorized the path to the closest source of martinis, but no guarantees. Your best bet is herding. If you’re hungry, follow the people who look hungry. The strong ones will lead you to the buffet eventually.

Here’s a picture of our ship. You can see that it’s larger than a mountain, at least from certain angles.

I'm pretty sure I saw a minotaur at the piano bar last night. He was requesting a lot of Billy Joel.
I’m pretty sure I saw a minotaur at the piano bar last night. He was requesting a lot of Billy Joel.

Despite the vessel’s awesome scope, my wife and I are now initiated into its mysteries and can find the hot tubs that are off-limits to kids. That makes me kind of dread going back home where I can’t even find the right laundry detergent at Tom Thumb.

I console myself with this photo of four sea otters floating in front of four glaciers and serenading us as we sail away.

The farewell song of the sea otters.
The farewell song of the sea otters.


Is Glacier Bay Better Than Disney World? Let’s Put a Kid in a Humpback-Whale Suit and Find Out

Alaskan Cruise, Day 7 – Glacier Bay

Before I left home, a friend warned me that I must not fail to be on deck to observe Glacier Bay when the ship enters it. She told me I’d have to get up early to experience this event, but it would make the entire trip worth the effort.

So, this morning I bounced out of bed at 5:00 a.m., just an hour after sunrise. I dressed myself in every piece of clothing I possessed. My wife lay under the covers and didn’t say anything. She merely watched me the way she watches one of the cats just before it rolls over in its sleep and falls off the dining room table.

I knew that the ship was approaching Glacier Bay, and I didn’t want to miss anything. By 5:30 a.m. I was standing on the tallest observation deck with my camera, binoculars, and high expectations. I scanned the horizon for magnificent vistas, but we had not yet reached any areas of magnificence. Occasionally another passenger joined me, shivered for a few moments while glancing at the lovely but customary Alaskan landscape, and then they trotted back down the stairs. The wind and cold were ghastly. Had I not been clothed in the equivalent of two sheep, I’m sure I would have died instantly.

Two hours into my shatteringly cold vigil, my wife came looking for me. She found me braced against the railing, examining the coastline for any sign of glaciers, or a bay, or even some chunks of floating ice in the water. My wife said, “You should consider the fact that your definition of ‘early’ and other people’s definition of ‘early’ might not be the same.” Then she led me downstairs to the breakfast buffet.

By 9:00 a.m. I was back in my firing position on the observation deck. Glacier Bay chose that time to show itself. My friend hadn’t lied. It was astounding. I snapped off 938 photos, three of which I consider decent. The rest captured the bay’s glory no better than I could have with a Crayola between my toes.

Here’s a shot of the mountains over the bay:

I chose to crop the bottoms of the trees out of the frame. I hope it looks artistic rather than like I was drunk on Alaskan Rhubarb-flavored vodka.
I chose to crop the bottoms of the trees out of the frame. I hope it looks like an artistic choice rather than a blunder inspired by Alaskan rhubarb-flavored vodka.

Here’s a photo of a glacier because, heck, it’s Glacier Bay:

I don't remember the name of this glacier, but as far as glaciers go this one's a badass.
I don’t remember the name of this glacier, but as far as glaciers go this one’s a badass.

A bald eagle surprised us by springing aloft from a floating chunk of ice and flying past the ship:


I'm shooting downwards at this fellow because cruise ships are about 1200 feet tall. I could be wrong about that. They're probably taller.
I’m shooting downwards at this fellow because cruise ships are about 1200 feet tall. I could be wrong about that. They’re probably taller.

Glacier Bay was every splendid thing I’d imagined. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was.

Alaskan Cruise, Day 8 – Glaciers in College Fjord

More ice, more water, seen it all before. Blah, blah.