Cruisin’ is Made for Love

This cruise sucks. I hate people. The food is awful. I hate every minute of this.


Those were the thoughts I thought would be going through my brain the entire time on this ship. This was especially so as we waited in the customs line with an older couple in front of us. The man kept asking us questions that were geared less toward finding answers and making conversation than they were towards the man introducing new topics about himself he wanted to tell us about. “If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you spend on this cruise? We only paid $500.00. That’s a great price, I am telling you. Is this your first cruise? It’s our 12th. Have you been out of the US before? I was in the Navy and stationed in Germany. I also served in Vietnam. Do you like foreigners? I am old and probably a racist.”

To be fair, my only exposure to cruising, aside from Kathy Lee Gifford’s commercials, was the Love Boat. I was certain that Andrew and I would break up, be brought back together by some sort of farcical plays of Gopher, Julie and the Captain and would end up married at the end of it all (which sounds as bad as breaking up). I was looking forward to being entertained by Charo though – cootchie cootchie!

But it turns out that while there are a lot of people on ship and some moderate mingling, it’s not that bad and on now on our third day on board Andrew and I are already discussing what our next cruise might be. The first day was mostly Andrew and me walking up and down flights of stairs and really figuring out the layout of the boat. We are on the 5th deck in the fore and most of the stuff that we want to do is on the 7th or 12th or 13th decks – but never in order. There are elevators available, but we refuse to use them. By the time this trip is over we will have climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building – daily.

Most of the stair climbing is us attempting to get to the various restaurants. The Norwegian provides “freestyle cruising” which could just as well be called grazing. There is always food available for the having. As Crossfitters and runners we like to use high levels of exercise as excuses for constant foraging. I am pretty sure that on our first day we hit a restaurant once an hour (subsequent days have not really lowered that number). In the evening we had many events to choose from. We saw the variety show in the theater, played trivia and hung out at the piano bar. The trivia was actually TriBond (where you are given three things and have to find a common bond between them, e.g. piano, Florida, lock = the bond would be keys). there were so few players that we all had to play on separate teams. One of us won that night and the other one of us will probably not mention this event in his blog (www.andrewberkowitz.com/blog).

Yesterday was our first full day on board. It was only spoiled by my (hindsight 20/20) stupidity in not entering and likely winning the ladies biceps contest poolside (I would have totally won had I entered, there was a pushup competition and not a single one of those women could do a real pushup). Yes, that’s right we were on a boat by the pool in 80+ degree weather. We ate a lot. We read our books. I knit. We worked out in the gym. We ate. We watched a musical in the theater – if the dream of the ’90’s is in Portland, the dream of the ’80’s is alive and kickin’ on Norwegian. The musical was basically just a review of late ’70’s early ’80’s disco, pop and rock songs. At one point the performers told us to get up and gave us some dance moves to do with them. After the show was over the couple next to us asked if we were performers with the cruise line because we seemed to know all the dance moves. I may want to have my next career be as an entertainer on a cruise.

We hustled out to more food and before the Not-so Newlywed gameshow we played two rounds of shuffleboard. One of us won both rounds and the other of us also didn’t win at trivia. We changed to fancy clothes for fancy clothes night on the ship and went to watch the Not-so Newlywed gameshow that was super funny and highlighted by the couple that had been married for 51 years (she was 16 when they wed) who seemed to know the absolute least about each other from anyone on the stage.

Today was the first day we got off ship. We docked at Cozumel at 8AM. Andrew and I went on a salsa & salsa excursion. Here we drank margaritas, made salsa and learned to dance salsa. And when I say we drank I mean Andrew had more alcohol today than I have known him to have, cumulatively, since I met him – at least two full glasses, possibly two and a half. After his third sip of his first drink he leaned over and in a timbre that can only be described as stage whisper shouting, declared himself drunk. The humor was heightened by the fact that Andrew had been accidentally elected as our table captain and in charge of cutting people off if they were too stupid drunk. Andrew and I managed to find his tipsy-equilibrium, made all sorts of salsas then managed to win salsa dancing by claiming the prize of sauciest couple.

Back on board we trekked to a trivia contest. This time we got to play together and won (so one of us is less sulky). Andrew is now sleeping off the alcohol before we run around the ship track. Tonight is karaoke – I am going to try to win that too!

A Looney Bin of Andrews

My boyfriend is batshit crazy.

In the winter times Andrew likes to travel because he is not fond of the cold and dark. But, also, because until recently he needed to plan escape-from-the-stifling-love-and-energy-from-all-of-her-joyousness-that-is-my-extrovert-Hadas time. He may still need a bit of that, but no longer is it several weeks and I am allowed to go vacationing with him now (especially since he realized that vacations are more fun with my joyousness and energy).

As Andrew and I were planning our vacation we couldn’t find anything that struck our fancy. We initially wanted to go to Thailand or Vietnam, but airfares were a bit high. We started looking into Central America because, monkeys. But, we had just been there and there was limited excitement for it from either of us.

Then, suddenly…

Remember this?

I was a pre-teen when this commercial came out and it has stuck with me all these years. Now watching it, and the people in the background, I realize that pre-teen me was not the demographic they were aiming for and that pre-40 me may still be a bit young. At the time however, I was ready to be on board. Everyone looked fit and fun and sparkly. Also there was singing. And energy. And joy. As I grew up the desire to cruise has waned, my love of Kathy Lee diminished (though I do hair-envy the 80’s over-layered, over-featherd bob she is sporting).

I had no idea how to book the right cruise, or what different cruises offered or even what cruise lines were available. I started Google searching and immediately felt overwhelmed. But, hey, if I am going to go on my 80’s dream vacation, I figured, I can book it in an 80’s fashion. Turns out my friend Andy is a travel agent.

I discretely found out that Andy gets most of his work from helping large groups coordinate their travel. “Umm, Andy, I hope I am not being rude, but, how do you still have a job as a travel agent in 2014?”

Andy was fantastic. He selected a few cruises for the date range we gave him and booked us on Norwegian Dawn for a West Caribbean (New Orleans, Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, Costa Maya, New Orleans) cruise. We were flying to New Orleans on Friday.

Thursday before travel was a busy day for me. Knowing how busy it would be I got most of my packing done before the day began. It started off with an informational interview with a man named Andrew who holds the job I want to have in about 10 years.

Aside: It seems like everyone I know is named Andrew. Either that, or I only know one person and he plays many roles in my life – like a doll. Or, I suppose it could be that this entire blog is fabricated and I am not clever enough to come up with another name.

The Oregon Employment Department has some wonderful resources available and one such resource is grant money available for education. I am applying for a grant to take a CISSP certification class. During the informational interview, Andrew (not the boyfriend one) invited me to happy hour with a bunch of IT Security nerds that evening. Later, I went to an informal chat about a potential job – like an interview, but unofficial. On my way to happy hour I called Andrew (the boyfriend one), and found out that a tree hit our power lines during a crazy windstorm, which caused a small fire and a large (at least in our house) power outage.

By the time I got home Andrew (hereon in this will be the boyfriend one) was moving around but also seemed mildly catatonic.

He was in full-on bat-shit crazy mode.

There he was, wandering around the house with a headlamp on his head trying to pack in the dark. When Andrew gets crazy he shuts down – which you’d think would be impossible to notice on an introvert. He basically starts obsessing about the thing that is wrong and nothing else in the world can be right because that thing is wrong.

Example:

Problem statement: we don’t have electricity

Andrew’s internal dialogue: the cats will die, I will forget to pack something because I couldn’t see it, the electricity will come on and the house will burn down because we weren’t here, our house sitter will come in to take care of the cats and not understand the lights don’t work and not know how to use a flashlight or stairs in the dark and will fall down our stairs…

This keeps going and going while he doubles up on contingency planning like “tell house sitter in email, text and on handwritten instructions that the lights are out”.

Meanwhile, I get home and start cooing at him (and maybe teasing a little). I pat myself on the back for making him buy a gas stove and make us some chili. I bring up Andrew’s packing list from our shared documents on my phone because Andrew’s phone is not cooperating (cough cough T-Mobile cough) and help him finish packing. Once he’s done packing I talk him into changing to the bag with roller wheels on it, which is a good thing because it gives him something to do while winding down from being worked up.

Finally, after talking him through worst case scenarios and having him do 15 minutes of meditation I tuck him into bed and start reading. I have to give a shout out to meditation here. Time was, when Andrew would have a freakout he’d double down on it by also having three days of insomnia. Calm.com helped him relax enough to actually sleep. Having said that, we tried the Calm “anxiety relief” meditation and got about 1.5 minutes into it before bursting into giggles when the app-voice, after getting our breathing and body relaxed, said, “practice smiling”.

The next morning Andrew wakes up and I get up from the couch where I stayed up all night reading (hey, at least my addiction feeds my intellect instead of depleting it). We do our morning chores and eat breakfast and are ready to hit the road about an hour before we need to leave the house. This allows Andrew to do some compulsive walk throughs of the house and for both of us to have kitty snuggle time before leaving the girls to non-electricitied inevitable doom for a week.

Our flight to San Diego was uneventful. I slept most of the way because I’d had no sleep the night before.

The San Diego airport is THE WORST. We were imprisoned in the Southwest terminal and our flight to New Orleans was delayed 3 hours on top of our already scheduled 2 hour layover. The terminal is shaped like the end of a Q-Tip. The center of the terminal has two restaurants and within the terminal is the ubiquitous Hudson News. Around the edges of the terminal are the gates for Southwest. At the entrance to the terminal is security. If we were to leave the terminal to try and find more appealing food options we’d have to go through security to get back in – hence the imprisonment.

I think of all the airports I have flown through this one was the worst. Although, I can only complain so much because I did find us seats together with electrical outlets for charging.

Andrew spent the five hours of layover reviewing cruise excursion capabilities, while I zoned out to The Nerdist. At about hour 4 he looks at me and says, “I think I feel better now.”

Take away lesson: When faced with obsessive-compulsive introverted (OCI) freakout, give OCI something more mundane to obsess about to help calm frayed nerves.

In New Orleans we grabbed a cab to our AirBnB and I prayed, mostly silently, the entire trip. I know cab drivers are universally insane, but this guy was drifting in and out of lanes, playing chicken with cars when lanes were merging and taking illegal left turns. It was like we had our very own roller-coaster pre-cruise excursion.

Our BnB is lovely. It’s an old house (as so many houses in NO are) in the Garden District converted into a duplex. The house is longer than it is wide and from the front door you can see all the way to the back. The front room is the living room, then you walk through to the dining room which has a door to the next room which is the bedroom, that has a door to the hall leading to the kitchen and the hall has the bathroom in it. Yes, for those of you playing at home, you have to walk through the bedroom to access the kitchen. the setup is a little odd. But, we weren’t having company – or really going to be using the kitchen much.

We went out and grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant called The Rum House – Caribbean Taqueria. The tacos were really fantastic. I had a lamb vindaloo and a scallops, Andrew had a brisket and a jerk chicken. We shared a Rum House Salad which featured radicchio (that always sounds like a Harry Potter curse to me) and goat cheese. Then we went home and called it a night.

We slept 9.5 hours.

We tooled around the French Quarter and looked at the Mississippi. I wanted to experience some fine New Orleans dining but half the restaurants I was interested in were not serving lunch. Eventually we figured out that NOLA, Emeril’s casual restaurant, was two block away and open. I ordered the shrimp and grits and Andrew had the pan seared salmon. We each had a butter lettuce wedge. In truth, I was thoroughly disappointed. The wedge was so overdressed that it was like soup. I had two bites of it and when the waitstaff removed my plate they didn’t even ask if there was a problem. The shrimp and grits had great flavor but was super greasy. I suppose I could call it fine dining because if you ask me how it was I’d say, “It was fine. Just, fine.”

Then we went back to the house and slept for 2.5 hours.

It’s fair to say our travel travails were exhausting.

Dinner was at a dog and sausage place called Dat Dog. I had the Hot Brat and Andrew had Alligator. Each was great. Dat Dog is across the street from ComedySportz New Orleans where Andrew and I played a show. It was really fun and Yvonne, the owner, is super high energy and a fabulous host. If you are in New Orleans go see a show.

Today we are getting on a boat headed for the W. Caribbean, and so I leave you with this:

 

for Andrew (the boyfriend)’s version of these events, see www.AndrewBerkowitz.com/blog

Klutz Out of My Pants

Andrew’s office is almost done. I love the colors we chose a beautiful purple and a buttery beige. During the painting everyone has had to modify a lot of their daily rituals. Andrew moved his office into my craftroom/office; Lola and Widget reached a detente after about three days and that room seems to have become Lola’s hang out space with Widget being allowed intermittent visits. These visits usually take place while Lola is helping me paint Andrew’s office. She has managed to get the primer and beige on her. I am assuming the purple just doesn’t contrast enough with her black fur for me to notice where she inevitably dipped herself into the paint.

My craftroom/office is also where I have books, important paperwork, extra bags, yarn, scale, games, clothes that don’t fit in our dinky closet space, and other tchatchkies that I have yet to find a place for or the gumption to get rid of. I have to negotiate around Andrew sometimes, but I am probably usually more cautious than need be. In fact he has explicitly told me to stop knocking on the door and just to come in when I need to.

During my work hiatus I have not only taken up painting the house and working out more, Andrew and I started trying meditation and are on a 12 day streak. We use an app called Calm. We went through the 7 days of training and are now at 15 minutes a day. The meditation is guided, which means we are often reminded to stay in the present, to let our respective bodies feel heavy, and to stifle giggles when the soft voice says buttocks (we’re 13 year old boys). Meditation time, no matter when we do it, is also the exact same time that Widget wants attention. She could be in the dead of sleep, but will come out to scratch on whatever seat Andrew is on when the meditation music starts.

Andrew and I have also started reading a minimum of 15 minutes a day.  This “rule” is really a tactic to get us started at reading each day. For me it has reawakened my inner bookworm and I have been staying up a little (a lot) late (the wee hours of the morning) to read. Last night was one of those nights I stayed up – which made this morning one of those mornings where I slept in.

Andrew woke me up at 8. Then again at 9. I laid in bed until 9:30ish reading some more until he gently coaxed me out of bed so I could get to my appointment. Then he went off to the bathroom. I got up, went into my craftroom/office for my morning scale shaming and then headed to the bathroom. As Andrew was coming out of the bathroom and I was going in I jokingly said, “You weren’t on a video conference in your office, were you?”

He looked at my naked body and said, “Actually, I am.”

I was mortified. I had just walked in front of his meeting. In. The. Nude.

“But, I muted it when I got up, so you’re probably good.”

Probably.

Decembeard (aka Prostrate to the Prostate Deux)

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But, only slightly less well known is this:

Never negotiate with a recovering attorney when facial hair is on the line!!!!

Then I cackled for three hours.

Because, although Andrew had shunned my Movember advances, I got him to acquiesce to full beard, no shaving, for the month of December. This is even during our trip to warm climes. In return, I promised him the same prostate protections I offered in November.

My next conquest will be to get him to write me a novel. I know you think this may be a difficult feat because A) I am showing my hand and, B) writing a novel takes a bit more kinetic effort than growing a beard. But, I would counter with this:

“nuh uh!”

See what a master negotiator I am? I expect publication this time next year.

Hole In One

Andrew and I both hate shopping. For me the idea of going to the grocery store is so anathema that I have to plan for it a full day in advance, take a few Motrin, be out of food so much that my only lunch option is a swig of olive oil and a five week old half-lemon, and have a boyfriend incapacitated with pneumonia on the couch begging to be put out of his misery. And even then the reason I “planned” a day in advance was to see if he’d get better before committing to the trip.

I hate the store (doesn’t matter which chain I hate each of them thoroughly), I hate the people shopping at the store, I hate the parking situation, I hate the layout, I hate feeling like I am on a scavenger hunt, I hate knowing that when I get home and unpack the groceries is the moment I am going to remember the crucial thing I have been meaning to purchase – and I didn’t remember it on this trip, I hate the cost, I hate that we have 20 reusable bags and either forget to bring them or are inevitably one short – no matter how many we bring.

The only thing that makes grocery shopping bearable at all is that Andrew does it. Second to that – in such cases as his imminent death – I do like the app AnyList. At least on that app I never forget my grocery list, throughout the week I ask Andrew to put things on it, or I put things on it and because we share our grocery list we can add to our single list from either phone. It’s quite convenient. But, mostly, I just send Andrew to the store.

He hates shopping too. But not grocery shopping so much. And not luggage shopping in fact, that’s a bit of a fetish for him. No, Andrew hates all other out-of-the-house-shoppings. Most of all, he hates clothing shopping. He hates trying things on, replacing clothing, spending money on clothing (with the caveat that if it is a jacket with so many pockets that it can double as luggage he is not only into it, but he’s INTO it).

Here’s where Andrew and my active support of each other in our relationship differ. Because, since I hate grocery shopping Andrew takes care of it, and even thanked me for going while he was laid up because he knows how much I hate it. Me, I am less supportive of Andrew’s shopping hatred.

So there we were last night on the couch, Andrew’s feet resting on my knees as I knit. I started playing a silly game of “this little piggy” on his foot when I suddenly realized his sock had a hole in it. I stuck my finger in it and said, “do you know your sock has a hole in it?” Andrew made eye contact with me and it was like a deer staring into headlights. He knew something bad was about to go down but also he knew that nothing he did was going to stop it. I wriggled my finger into that hole and pulled it open until the sock was a leg warmer.

We laughed as Andrew found a new pair of socks all the while muttering something that vaguely sounded like, “you crazy bitch” though it may have been “thank you for helping me not be a grown man that walks around with holes in my clothing.” They sound similar. And, I would ask him which one of those it was.

But he is currently out grocery shopping.

New Moan Ya

The Emergency Room is less fun for me when we are not there because of me.

Andrew and I became sick with a cold last weekend. Then around Wednesday it became clear that one of us had turned a corner back toward health and the other one of us was Andrew. His throat started hurting too much to swallow, his lungs started hurting too much to breathe and his head was hurting too much to do head things (nodding and shaking were out of the question). When his fever hit 102 I offered him a trip to the ER. Apparently at this point his stubborn wasn’t hurting too much. After another 2 hours of me constantly checking his temperature and his not being able to swallow or sleep through the pain his stubbornness broke and we went to PeaceHealth.

It was a little weird being the one driving the car on a midnight jaunt to the emergency room. Once I dropped him off at the entrance I sat in the car for a minute disoriented and unsure how to proceed to the parking lot – thank goodness for traffic signs.

I met Andrew at the front desk just as he was finishing up with his intake and we were ushered to a room where they took his vitals. One of our friends who is an EMT spotted us and I immediately threw my hands in the air and said, “it’s not me!” She took one look at Andrew and told me that was obvious as Andrew looked like an extra on The Walking Dead – which would have frightened him had he known.

The whole process at the hospital was weird to me – this was not the vaudevillian hospital experience to which I have become accustomed, there were no jokes, no witty repartee, no live-blogging. I tried a few times to crack a joke or two but they fell flat and felt interrupty. It was a somber experience.

The doctor tried to look at Andrew’s throat, but his tongue would have none of it. She tried to take a throat culture but Andrew’s gag reflex started in as soon as the long q-tip was unsheathed and before it was anywhere near his mouth. The took an x-ray of his lungs which showed some fluid. The doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia and said there was a possibility of strep but because Andrew wouldn’t even let her confirm that he had a throat, she couldn’t be sure. “Antibiotics will clear up either or both.” We got home around 3 and slept like the non-walking dead.

Andrew doesn’t require much when he is sick. He doesn’t drink tea or alcohol and was very good about drinking lots of water and eating hot soups. What Andrew lacks in attention-needs he makes up for in pessimism. There were more than a few times when I was told how he’d never be able to work out again because his lungs would never recover from the pneumonia. He was skeptical if he’d be able to be completely healthy by the time our December trip rolled around. He was certain that on his follow-up on Tuesday the doctor would declare him permanently ill.

Despite Andrew’s predictions, he is better today. His color is no longer in the grey spectrum and he can stay awake for stretches longer than 20 minutes at a time. I knew he was feeling better today when we were talking about my going to the gym this week and he said he might join me one of the days – but JUST to hang out.

Klutz in My Paints

Job hunting is not what it used to be when I was a teenager or in my 20’s. No more getting up and putting on my best clothes, knocking on business doors and asking if they’re hiring, filling out applications. Now it’s all online and if your company’s online application system is convoluted I won’t apply because it’s just a sign of your business practices. As such, applying for five jobs that look good may only take 3 hours or so. Time, generally in my life a rare commodity, has now become an overwhelming fortune. By overwhelming I mean I don’t know what to do with myself and all of this time.

To keep busy I have been painting rooms in the house. I turned the red and yellow dining room into a nutty-white and purple room. The downstairs guest room is now a light blue with an effect on it called Candlelight – which is best described as an expensive overlay of Elmer’s glue. Next I am prepping to paint Andrew’s all red office into not-all-red (actual colors yet to be determined – but first the primer). To prep for that he moved all of his office stuff off the walls and transplanted into my office/craft-room/extended closet space.

All of the acrylic (and glue) sniffing has apparently made me high because I now want to paint. Like, pictures.

I used to do that in high school. In my memory I was relatively good, but had a problem of not knowing when to stop. But, that was high school – back when I used to print my résumé on a tastefully light blue thick paper (to stand out from other résumés) for my busing job at Macri’s Fish House (I was a go-getter) – so who knows if I was really any good, or just high from the paint fumes of the guest room.

But, even after enough time that the probability of drug stupor dissipated, I still craved painting. It’s potentially brain damage, but I had to follow through. So, Saturday, after a lovely brunch with friends, I headed out to The Loaded Brush to paint poppies.

It's no Monet, but it's not bad.

It’s no Monet, but it’s not bad.

I texted Andrew a picture of it:

IMG_2042

And then I went to Blick’s and bought some art supplies – it’s how I do.

Yesterday I sat down at a painting desktop by myself and started playing. Without a guide giving me confidence and assistance I realized I have a lot to learn (like how to mix colors, how to mix enough color so that I don’t have to try to get the same color on the second mixing – I am guessing that’s impossible unless you are my cousin Louis – how to not use too much paint, how to not use too little paint, how to have lots of light in the room because colors look different in 60watt than in the sun). But, I also realized that this is going to be a fun hobby.

Either that or I am really susceptible to acrylic paint fumes.