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So Long Sailing photo

Few are lucky enough to realize when their destiny is laid before them. I am one of the lucky few. Mine came when my parents suggested a cruise to the Mexican Riviera from Christmas to New Year’s Eve. I knew I had to say yes. If human beings were brought into this world to fulfill some sort of purpose, I could safely assume that my station in this mortal realm was to find beauty and romance in the tacky and gaudy.

I’d been in LA for far too long. It was starting to get to me. I felt like I had a vocal fried cultural commentator in my head like a malignant tumor. The longer I stayed here, the more I longed for small towns off the highway in flyover states in the manner that people assume someone from those places would have big city dreams. None of my friends understood it. “We’re so lucky to be young and talented and beautiful right here in the Greatest City on Earth!” they said to me walking down South Beach promenades, or cobblestone streets in La Condesa, or hotel lounges on Sunset Boulevard. Maybe they were right. Maybe I needed to be reminded of that. But, at least for right now, I knew I had to sail away.

And yet, upon arriving at the port in San Pedro, The embarkation process filled me with regret and terror. The rooms weren’t ready, people were scattered all over the boat trying to get their bearings. Boarding this vessel started to seem like storming the beaches of Normandy. Around every corner, another fallen soldier: a blonde woman splayed open in spandex leggings and Dior sunglasses on pleather couches with what I could only assume was a benzo fizzling in her tummy. I had promised my editor a quest for the secret beauty hidden beneath all the aesthetics of bad taste. It was certainly not my intention to set out and make this some sort of snobbish critique dripping with irony. I had to relax. This is my vacation, I kept telling myself. Thankfully, the drinks are free. Maybe there's beauty to be found at the bar.

I make three rounds to the poolside bar for mimosas as the band plays Bob Marley. Then a beer with my dad, since he’s more of a Heineken man. During the second verse of No Woman, No Cry, they make the announcement that rooms are set, so I drop my parents off to rest and go exploring.

I find the simulacra of a brewery tucked away in some corner of the vessel. The bartender hands back my key card with an IPA. “When you’re here, you drink for free,” he says to me with a wink.

Next, I stop at the bar outside the main dining room where my family and I plan to meet for dinner. I get here early to people-watch and order a Paloma. I talk with the man next to me, and ask where his family is. He points ahead with uncertainty. “I think my wife is that way. And my kids….” He pauses to think, then realizes he had to think. “I have no idea.” He smiles and takes a sips of scotch.

My family comes down for dinner. It’s Christmas Eve, and I get all dressed up in an emerald-green Christian LaCroix dress with Dries Van Notten heels. We drink Chardonnay and french onion soup. To celebrate the holiday, the theater was doing a Christmas Variety show after dinner. A man in the company of an off-shore production of Jersey Boys came out in a Santa hat with an acoustic guitar to sing an original song he’d written. He displayed the lyrics in a PowerPoint presentation. I didn’t find secret beauty. Instead, it made me sad. I had a glass of Sangiovese then went to bed.

The next day is spent at sea. It’s Christmas. But noche buena had been celebrated, so the main event came and went without fanfare for my family. I spend my morning in the spa, then meet my family for a mojito tasting in the afternoon. We have dinner at a pub next to the Casino. It’s empty since everyone wants to have Christmas dinner in the main dining room. We watch as families stop to take photos by the plastic Christmas trees. In all this, I notice a man strolling by alone. He’s in a robe, sandals, holding a thick book I can’t distinguish because he removed the jacket. He strikes me because I realize he has this all right and I have this all wrong. Cruises’ aren’t for trying on vintage Christian LaCroix dresses and agonizing in heels. What difference does it make? Good thing I realized that on the second night. I have to try again tomorrow. I promise myself I’ll only wear Birkenstocks to dinner from now on.

Overnight, we arrived in Cabo San Lucas. My parents stay on board to skip the catamaran and rest while I take an excursion to go whale watching by myself. Although, it’s weird to claim this as my alone time, because I was surrounded by a variety of family units. Maybe alone is just my mindset.

I quickly learn to make friends with the men working the boat whose job I can only describe as ‘keep them alive and drunk’ as they pass around margaritas and take turns at the wheel. After that, the refills arrive on their own. We pass the famous Arch as the catamaran chases humpback whale tails swimming further and deeper into the sea. We eventually get so far out when the humpback whales dive down, it takes them over ten minutes for them to reappear. By then, it was time to turn around.

Upon returning, I noticed a Señor Frog’s on the pier. I decided to investigate. I told myself it’s what Hemingway or Thompson would do in my position. The male host led me to the bar. He told me if I wanted to order drinks to ask the bartender, but if I wanted coke or weed to find him. I down two shots of tequila which were being passed out by women on trays for cash. Buying the shots, I come to find, included getting my breasts honked and ass spanked. I asked the bartender for a grilled fish taco and a margarita, fearing what that might get me.

Another woman came out, this time with jello shots. I buy two more shots, and find out the jello shots include getting your head buried in between this woman’s woman’s breasts to motorboat. When she pulls my head from her chest, she smiles and I see her braces.

My Señor Frog’s day trip throws me into a wormhole that spits me back out onto the boat, just in time for an Aperol Spritz to watch the sun set. Then a vodka martini at dinner. And a cosmo at the stand up comedy show. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time I’m sitting at the whiskey bar next to the glass-encased cigar lounge trying to order a nightcap.

There’s an empty stool between me and the woman next to me. She’s blond, middle-aged, and unassuming with a surgical face mask. I wouldn’t have noticed her if she hadn’t been playing Solitaire. The bartender comes over to let us know it’s closing time, and if we’d like one last drink. “I’ll take a Negroni if my friend here will have one,” she says, nodding to me. I move to sit right beside her to get to know my new friend.

Her name is Linda from Madison. She came alone. I ask her why. “Well, my entire family has more or less died and I wanted to get away for the holidays instead of staying home.” She reveals this information to me as a fact, like the weather. Not a trace of self-pity. I wish in my stupor I was able to articulate just how beautiful I thought she was in that moment. But, I think I mumbled how much I loved that. Or maybe I asked if she’s seen any shows.

I finish my drink, head to my room, and throw up.

Overnight the boat docks in Mazatlan but I’m too hungover to do anything but go from the breakfast buffet, to the spa, to the bed, to the lunch buffet, to the bed, to the spa, then back to bed. More than halfway done with the trip, my search for inspiration and beauty had started to gain some urgency. Where was all of this going? The boat takes off by the afternoon when I’m feeling better, which is good because it’s time to start drinking again. Maybe I would find the answer down in the atrium during a game of family-friendly trivia over a drink.

This is where things get complicated for me.

I’m sitting at the bar in the atrium. Families are gathering for a game of trivia, led by the Cruise Director. I ask the bartender for a dry rosé. A sweet-faced young man sits next to me. He has on a dorky, red floral shirt. The bartender pours my glass but walks away before noticing him. I hold my glass to him in sympathy and take a sip.

The young man in florals smiles. “Are you going to play?” he asks. I shake my head. “I think it’s best if I keep everything I know in a safe place,” and tap my pointer finger to my temple. He nods. “Probably for the best. It would be too powerful,” he says, playing along.

The bartender comes to take his order. I look at his face and think about how young he looks, although clearly a man. He just looks like someone who’s never had his heart broken. Or maybe he has. At once I wonder if he’s ever felt pain, and just as quickly wonder why I always need to equate suffering with beauty.

He asks what I’m drinking, I tell him it’s a rosé and he orders two of the same. One for his brother, he tells me when the bartender walks away, who’s only twenty, gesturing to where his family is sitting. I look over and see two young, blond girls, watching us and whispering to each other in giggles. The bartender returns with his two glasses of rosé. The authoritative voice of a precocious ten year old, one of the cute girls from his family who’d been watching us, calls to my new friend in florals, demanding he stop flirting and get back to the game. I laugh, and so does he. If he’d been embarrassed he didn’t let on. He asks me to save his spot while he takes care of trivial pursuits.

At one point during the game, he’s sitting next to me, waiting to refresh his drink. The question at hand is to translate the phrase audentes fortuna iuvat. He tells me it means fortune favors the bold, and when it’s announced he’s correct, he says he studied Latin. The following question asks who wrote the screenplay for Rocky. It’s Sylvester Stallone, I whisper. The Cruise Director confirms I’m correct. “Sylvester Stallone and I went to the same community college,” I boast with faux-pride. He plays along, acting impressed. Maybe he’s never seen Rocky, maybe it’s too old a movie. But that doesn’t matter, because even if he hadn’t, at that moment he got my joke.

He asks where I’m from. “Miami, but my family is Cuban,” I say, a distinction I’m genetically compelled to blurt out whenever anyone asks me that sort of thing. He nods and raises an eyebrow, “You know my father is from Cuba?” I stare at his pale face in disbelief for a moment, studying it. I notice all the freckles he has and how his dark eyes were actually just a very deep blue. Not the kind of piercing icy blue cold eyes I’m used to seeing in fashion magazines or movies. It was much more like the ocean at sunset, the kind that surprises you with how warm it is. “My dad is from Cuba, Illinois,” he says. I laugh, maybe too hard, because of the rosé, I think. But then I think again and more likely, it’s not.

He asks me what I do. My jaw clenches. I say writer and wash down the taste of it with a gulp of rosé. He asks what sort of writing. I tell him I’m actually trying to work on something about the cruise. He gives me permission to quote him. He clears his throat. “CRUISES ARE SO SICK!” And I laugh again.

When he goes back to sit with his family, I realize I spent much longer here than I’d planned to. I was late to get ready for dinner, and had to rush up to my room. I didn’t have time to get his name, or say goodbye, but remembered I’d mentioned to him that at some point I wanted to stop by karaoke later that evening. If he wanted to see me again, I knew he’d be there.

But I was late to make it to my room. And so we were late to dinner. So late, in fact, when my mom and I tried to order an Irish Coffee for dessert, the bar of the restaurant had already shut down for the night. And so I never make it to karaoke.

My parents ask if I’m coming up to the room with them. I say I want to go for a walk in the atrium, and get my steps in. But we’re all too smart to believe that, aren’t we? I got right to the place I’d been that afternoon. A floral sleeve waves me down.

He tells me how he went to karaoke but didn’t see me. I ask if he sang. He said he did Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin. I’m surprised by the choice, but find out he did musical theater in high school, even being the lead of a school play.

What about you? Do you have any hidden talents? Name two.” I was completely taken aback by his question. I mean, I had told him I was a writer. Why would he think I would keep any of my talents a secret?

Um, I like to cook.” I said. He cocks his head to the side and smiles, “Oh come on. Everybody cooks. What’s something special about you that nobody knows?” I realize then he must not know many writers. And suddenly I’m embarrassed, disappointed I’d spent most of my life trying to turn the things I love into a career, into profit. I wish I’d taken up knitting.

So how old were you when 9/11 happened?” I blurt out, in a way to change the subject but also figure out just how young he is. Only 22, he was just a baby. “I was alive but I don’t remember it so I don’t have any weird childhood trauma from it.” I was 6.

I admit to him that I’ve never found myself attracted to someone younger than me before. “Well, at least you’re owning it,” he says. One more drink as we cheers to the start of my cougar era.

I don’t know how long we stayed there for. I stayed there long enough that I didn’t bother counting the glasses of wine that flowed in and out of my hand like I didn’t bother to count the freckles on his face. The bar closes and it’s time to say goodbye.

But I’m not tired. So I go for a walk. The restaurants have all the lights turned on as the night crew vacuums the carpeted dining room for breadcrumbs. The stores are all closed. The barbacks rinse glassware while the bartenders fight off or appease the stragglers begging for just another round.

The only thing open is the casino. I walk in and sit at a slot machine. But then I realize I would need cash, and actually don’t even know why I came here in the first place. I don’t want to gamble. I should go to sleep. But I’m not tired.

I’ll go walk by the pool, I think. But when I’m up there, it’s deserted and windy. Still, I take a seat at one of the chairs that’s not been stacked up yet. I think about how writing about the man in the floral is going to make things complicated for me. It’s always been easy to write about myself, because I feel enough of a separation between who I can present on the page and who I am, the person. But I knew it then. I cannot write about the man in the floral shirt without being myself. This is going to be a challenge, I thought.

But that’s a problem for another day, whatever version of me has to sit down at the laptop and write this. Tonight, I really should get to bed. I go to my room and eventually fall asleep.

When I wake up, I don’t even have a hangover.

In Puerto Vallarta, my family joins me on a bus tour through the city. We stop in a leather shop where we’re offered margaritas with Squirt soda and a Mexican tile store, where I buy coasters as a souvenir.

The bus then takes us through out of the city and through the farmland to a tequila factory. We are given shots of homemade tequila blanco, tequila reposado, tequila añejo, tequila de maracuya, and tequila de cafe. I get the cafe, while my father opts for the añejo.

On the pier, I see Linda. I call her name and wave hello. She waves back, happy to see me. I tell her about the tequila I’d just bought, while my parents watch in confusion as to how we could know each other.

At night, the atrium is having a karaoke night with the full band backing. I live my dream and sing Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know. I don’t remember what we have for dinner. I do know, however, after dinner I go to the nightclub for silent disco and dance with two gay men who tell me they are from Palm Springs, offering an open invitation to stay with them whenever I’d like given my proximity. I didn’t see the man in florals that night. But I wasn’t looking for him. I also forget to look for beauty and inspiration, too. I was just having fun.

A few hundred miles from our boat a storm was causing waves. I woke up to swells of nausea. I tried to go to the spa but the water was spilling over the edges of the therapeutic pool. Overnight, the crew had left barf bags on every floor. I tried to get some food in my system, but was instantly overstimulated by the discordant smells of an international buffet. I took some Asian chicken noodle soup to my stateroom, downed some dramamine and took to the bed. I was devastated. That afternoon, they were holding the Sexy Legs competition by the pool. How could I miss it? This could be the heart of the story, I thought. Then I’m knocked out by dramamine.

Fate is on my side. the seas calmed. I rally by the afternoon and watch as a 95-year-old going by Skinny Leg Steve is dubbed the Sexiest Legs on Board. The story was saved.

My parents and I go to see a show called the Beatles Experience, which is simply four Argentine musicians in bad wigs and faux mustaches playing late-era covers. An older man with a tan is waving me over. My dad and I are briefly befuddled until I realize it’s one of my friends from Palm Springs. I go to say hello and we take a shot of iced tequila.

We’re waiting outside the teppanyaki restaurant for dinner, I see a floral shirt pass me by. This time the shirt is light blue. I flag him down. We plan to meet at the mojito bar after my teppanyaki.

We order spicy passion fruit mojitos. He asks about my story. I tell him I’m workshopping a sentence in my head about the Beatles Experience band being like the musicians on the Titanic, playing one final song for the death of the middle class. He thinks it’s clever, but I just don’t know where it’ll fit.

He’s looking at me and it’s making me nervous. “Do you know any jokes?” I ask him. He says he only knows the one about the monk and if I’ve heard it. I tell him I haven’t and he goes into it: a story about a little boy who asks a monk in a monastery for the secret to Enlightenment. The monk tells the little boy that he would tell him the secret, but after the boy has become a monk himself. In order to become a monk, the little boy must travel to every continent and count every single blade of grass and every drop in the ocean. “It takes him many years and when the boy comes back to the monastery, he’s a man. The monk tells him that he is, in fact, ready and can now tell him the secret to Enlightenment, to true eternal happiness.” He kisses me. I kiss him back, but pull away to ask, “You didn’t finish your joke, what’s the secret to happiness?” He smiles and says, “I’m sorry I can’t tell you. You aren’t a monk.” Then he kisses me again.

Ensenada, we’ve reached the final port of call. My family and I go to a mezcal tasting, passing the famous Hotel Riviera in the city center. I buy a bottle of mezcal blanco with the full body of a scorpion inside of it. My mom and I walk down the streets at sunset, looking for fried fish tacos after hearing this is the part of baja from which those tacos get their name. We find them in a place called Bullo’s off Zona Centro and drink mezcal margaritas to celebrate the end of the journey. When we get back on board, my mom and I decide to go use the spa just one last time.

In the dining room, we order seared scallops, caesar salads, and a bottle of Chardonnay. My dad orders the french onion soup, because it’s his favorite thing. For my entree, I get the chicken cordon bleu, and for dessert a hazelnut creme brulee. My mom and I each get an Irish Coffee, and remember the time just a few days ago we hadn’t been able to get them like a fond yet distant memory.

After dinner, I think about going to karaoke, but when I start walking, I pass the mojito bar. The latin band is playing and everyone is dancing. They start to play Celia Cruz and I am forced by heritage to dance. The crowd gets bigger. I keep dancing, keep moving. More people start dancing. We do an impromptu cha cha through the entire deck that came from the soul. We ask for three encores. We keep dancing. We beg for more. We chant ‘no nos vamos, nos quedamos until the band has to kick us out. But I hadn’t had enough. I head to the nightclub.

I’m still dancing when I’m waiting at the nightclub for a Corona. By compulsion I keep moving to the beat and mouthing words I don’t really know. Someone’s walking up to me and I recognize him even if he’s in plaid and khaki instead of florals. He’s laughing at me. “You’re a dork,” he says. I kiss him, and pull away to look into his eyes, which is what you’re supposed to do when telling the truth, “I don’t care if you think I’m cool.” Then kiss him again.

I pull him to the dance floor. He warns me he’s bad. It’s true, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to stop dancing. I actually can’t stop dancing. We sit in the darkest corner to kiss and still I keep moving. It’s like I’m afraid of what happens when I stop.

I need to catch my breath. I ask him to tell me what’s the most beautiful thing in Ohio. He says it's the corn. He promises that if I ever came to visit, we’d drive through fields of it to get to his place. “It’s only a ten minute drive from the airport,” he says. I tell him I’d love nothing more.

We didn’t try dancing again. When it’s time to leave, we say goodbye.

The day the cruise dock docked in San Pedro, it was raining and overcast. It stayed that way all day. By the time I’d gotten home to Glendale, I was overcome with intense vertigo. It’s as if I’m still on the boat and the waves are rocking me.

But I’m standing still. I’m in Glendale.

I close my eyes, trying to steady myself. I think about the young man in florals from Ohio, with blue eyes and freckles, driving down a cornfield, singing along to Bobby Darin and smiling at me.

I know beyond a doubt. My heart will send me there soon.