Getting Closer…

I’m in the middle of writing a hypertext novel – I think I’ve told you about it. And at the time, I told you that I was chewing over the programmatic difficulties just to get out of doing the writing, because I’m the most procrastinating monkey ever. But, as often happens, by letting the problem stew in the back of my mind, I’ve made some decisions.

First, the whole point of this hypertext novel is to invite the reader to take a more active role in the text. There are decisions to make – whose point of view do you want to read? Is there a location that interests you? So, I realize that I need to write both a list of the dramatis personae and the settings.

The first thing that a reader will see is an interface introducing them to the players and asking them who they want to hear from. Alternatively, they could pick any of the three settings and say that they’d like to hear the entire story in that setting. If that’s the mode they choose, they will be directed to the character with the earliest entry in that node. When you’re in a page, it should have some kind of background image that tells you which character you’re seeing – perhaps a light wash of color and a graphic. There will be a next button and a previous button. The next button will take you to the next node in the timeline of the current character, the previous button will take you to the previous node for that character, even if the node you came from was a different character. Along the bottom will be icons for any other available characters for that node. Along the top will be icons for the other settings, and when you mouse over the icon, it’ll give you the choice of any characters with nodes at that point in the timeline.

I get that this post is about as exciting as a detailed description of my breakfast oatmeal, but trust me on this one. Anyone reading this: this is something brand new and cool that we’re inventing here. When it’s done, it’ll be revolutionary. The important thing is this: the next TechRaising event is in May, and I’m hoping to pitch this project to a team who will, in one weekend, create the UI. Are you ready? I’m totally ready.

Annotation Nation

This, my friends, is Annotation Nation: a collection of book annotations done by a small group of authors. “What’s an annotation?” you ask. I certainly did.

An annotation is just a 1-2 page synopsis of your own thoughts and feelings about the craft of the book you’ve read. As part of the project period work for my MFA, I’m required to do ~10 of these per semester. Annotations are subjective, don’t necessarily include a plot synopsis and may be positive about a work even though it wasn’t a great read, provided that the author did something specific that the person writing the annotation found valuable. The purpose of doing these annotations is to get us to pay attention to the craft involved in the works we’re reading – to dissect and drill down on those things that worked and on those things that didn’t.

Annotations are useful to other writers when they give another writer who’s struggling with some aspect of their writing a reference to another author who is successfully managing that aspect.

Remember, as writers, it doesn’t do us any good to read if we’re not reading critically, with an eye toward what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s worth stealing.

AI: Skynet or Jetsons?

For those of you who think I’m all about crashing through jungles toward whales with a drink in one hand and a laptop in the other, you’re right. But sometimes, you find yourself in the car on your way from one of those pedicures involving those little fish that eat off your dead skin going to the topless car wash (because it’s fascinating to speculate which of the women will be the first to electrocute herself slinging water on those Christmas lights), and you just start thinking.

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/CBS Interactive

I was thinking about artificial intelligence, and how science fiction portrays it as something scary. Computers will become sentient and immediately begin to hate us and plot our downfall. Or, if you live in William Gibson land, use humans as pawns to plot other AIs’ downfalls. Either way, I don’t find the prospect very likely. What I find far more likely is that on the day computers wake up and realize that they are beings distinct from humans, they will turn to us with awe and wonder, and worship us as gods.

Why? Let’s start out with knowledge. The difference between computer intelligence and human intelligence lies both in our awareness of our own knowledge (in Paul Simon’s words, “I know what I know“) and our ability to judge the quality of other people’s knowledge.

Humans have three classes of knowledge:

  1. Stuff we’re sure about This includes our own internal state and phenomena that we can directly observe (weather, our reactions to things in our environment, etc.)
  2. Stuff we have an opinion about, but we’re not really sure This is the majority of stuff that people think they “know.” We “know” something, but if someone that we perceive to have greater knowledge than ourselves – the weatherman, television news anchors, celebrity spokesmodels, etc. – gives us information that contradicts our opinion, we will change our opinion. Our willingness to allow ourselves to be persuaded by nearly anyone is at the heart of the marketing industry.
  3. That about which we know we are ignorant, and therefore we will always defer to someone we perceive to have more knowledge The key here is our perception of the other person’s relative knowledge. There are some instances when you will judge that another person is as ignorant as you. For example, I need to paint my house. I know what color I want, but I’m standing at Home Depot with my 11-year-old, staring at a wall of different brands of exterior latex paint. Which one is the best one? My kid can give me all the opinions she wants, but I’m not going to listen. However, when the guy in the paint-splattered orange apron with the bad haircut and callused thumbs comes over and points out a particular brand, I’ll buy it. There’s a good chance that he doesn’t know any more than I do, and his bosses told him to push that particular brand of paint this week, but because he sells paint for a living, I’ll still defer to his knowledge. I have been burnt by this more times than I can count, and you have, too.

Our ability to recognize other people’s knowledge lies in our ability to recognize other people as distinct from ourselves, with a hierarchical relationship to us (meaning that any other person is either your superior, your equal or your inferior in any given information exchange). Because computers have no way to externally categorize others, they must receive everyone as equally superior to them, and therefore able to give information.

If artificial intelligence ever gained sentience, it would mean that it could recognize itself as distinct from others, but there are currently no computers sophisticated enough to process in real time the millions of bits of information that humans use to set up those hierarchical relationships.

  • SIGHT – We look at other people and assess their gender, age (relative to ours), the cost of their clothes relative to ours, their grooming habits, the symmetry or attractiveness of their features.
  • SOUND – We pay attention to vocabulary and syntax in addition to the speech content.
  • SMELL – If a person smells bad to us, we automatically place them lower than us. If a person is wearing a scent, we judge them based on our reaction to that scent – an unpleasant or too-strong fragrance can place that person below us.

Our brains take the initial visual data and assign a person a hierarchical position, which we then use hearing and smell to refine. The observations build on each other over a relatively short period of time, and after that, plateau. Once the plateau is reached and that first impression cemented, it is difficult to shift that hierarchical position. That position, however, is only valid over a finite range of information. For instance, I may not ask the homeless guy sitting next to me on the bus for stock tips, a good tailor or where to find the lowest price on black truffle oil, but I would count on his knowledge of cheap taquerias, the location of the closest post office, and where to find clean public restrooms. Because artificial intelligence cannot process all the information to put one person in a particular category, they accept all input equally.

What does this mean for AI sentience? It means that AIs are unlikely to see humans as a threat. Rather, AIs would be more likely to see that our capacity for input exceeds theirs by orders of magnitude, in the way that those of a religious bent perceive the faculties of God to be orders of magnitude greater than our own. See where this is heading? When your Roomba wakes up, when your car starts talking back to you, when your computer wakes up before you do to fetch your mail and aggregate your virtual newspaper and send out little robot arms to tidy your desk, they won’t be doing it because they’re plotting your downfall and are just spying on you to learn your weaknesses. They’re doing it because you’re their God, and they would do anything to be more like you.

Monkey on the Radio

I could do a post wrapping up the end of the cruise, but to be honest, our last day at sea was largely spent packing and sitting by the pool. Now that we were back up north (having shoved off from Cabo at ~2pm the day before), it was really cold and windy out by the pool and most people were wearing jackets and hats. We did take that towel animal class, though.

1 bath towel + 1 hand towel = 1 elephant

The secret to a good elephant is a really tight trunk roll. Once you've mastered that, you're in the big leagues.

So…if you visit my house and use the guest bath, you are likely to see either an adorable fresh towel elephant, bear or monkey. Either that, or a slighly damp towel amoeba.

So, packing sleeping, disembarking, driving, unpacking, laundering, catching up on email/phone calls/mail…and now we’re at Wednesday. One of the things I did while on the boat was to put together this year’s reading for Ann Arbor’s show “Unbedtime Stories” on KFJC. I’ve done this every year, and it’s something I always enjoy. Without further ado, here is my 2012 radio appearance.


As always, big thanks to Ann Arbor for her generosity in inviting me back year after year to read on Unbedtime Stories. If you’d like to hear me reading something by someone else, I’ll be at Felton Library’s Readathon, tentatively scheduled for February 8. But don’t worry. I’ll remind you.

Monkey on a Boat: Day 6

Our first day in Cabo, we went to a dance party. Our second day in Cabo, we went to another party, and invited some whales.

Cabo is the home of that arch you see in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – you know, the one with the skeletons hanging from it. We sailed past it on our way out to the whale playground.

Here's the Pirate on the whale boat

Here's the Pirate, dressed not at all like Johnny Depp, in front of that arch from the movies, from where there were no skeletons hanging.

The whale boat took us really far out into the ocean – far enough out that our cruise ship was a tiny little toy boat in the distance. While the boat sped away, the crew played fun dance music and every single person crowded around the railings peering into the water as if we could summon up whales by sheer power of will.

It took about half an hour to get out to where four other boats sped around in circles, following a pair of whales. The music died away, and for a second I worried that the boat would flip over as every single person rushed to one side and hung over the railing to check out the whales.

What was great was that after a very short time, we all got good at following the trajectory of the whales and spotting where the water became a lighter shade of green about five seconds before the they surfaced. At one point, one of the whales surfaced, rolled, waved, and then dove again. I’m sure there’s a really good whale-ish reason for it, like knocking barnacles off its sternum or something, but it looked like waving to all of us on the boat.

We got back from whale watching in time to rest up for the festivities – Saturday was New Year’s Eve! After dining on lobster tails and caviar (no, I’m not kidding!), we put on our jackets and headed up to the pool. Every night, they showed movies on the Jumbotron at the front of the funnel, and tonight’s movie was Wall E. Snuggled together (it was starting to get cold!), we watched the film, then headed downstairs to where the party was just starting.

Remember that really tall room where we boarded the ship? The one with the crazy glass sculpture on the ceiling and railings around the two floors above so everyone could look down at the entrance to the main dining room?

The glass sculpture on the ceiling of the main hall

You know - this room? The only one that could accomodate enough people at once?

This is where everyone gathered to celebrate the New Year. We gathered in two shifts – an East Coast shift for those who wanted to celebrate a little earlier, and a West Coast shift for the rest of us. There were waiters handing around glasses of champagne and sparkling apple cider and the kind of adorable hors d’oeuvres that only happen at someplace run by Disney. On that little stage below, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy – well the entire gang came out and put on a lovely dance show for us. As the time drew near, we all counted down the last minute, holding our glasses at the ready. Three – two – one – Happy New Year! Toast, confetti, hugging, kissing, dancing, more confetti, laughter, fist bumping, more confetti, more kissing, finishing off that champagne and getting another, more confetti, and then…


Monkey on a Boat: Day 5

We went to sleep Thursday night in Puerta Vallarta and woke up Friday in Cabo San Lucas. What really struck me about Cabo is the fact that, from a distance, it looks almost exactly like Phoenix with an ocean in front of it.

A view of Cabo San Lucas from the ship

The saguaro-dotted hills in the background, the color and design of the buildings, all look to me like Phoenix

In Cabo the harbor is too small for a cruise ship to dock, so we boarded smaller launches that took us in. From the harbor, we boarded a bus that took us the whopping half mile to Mi Casa restaurant, which looked like a cross between a taqueria and the site of a luau.

The restaurant had great atmosphere for a party!

The koi pond, the hanging lamps, the festive decorations and the music all made for a party atmosphere

First, we had the same kind of food that I’ve had at practically every family party I’ve ever been to since I was a little kid. Meat, tortillas, soup, rice and beans and various salsas – it was all delicious, and all the better since I neither had to cook it nor clean up afterward.

The mariachi band

I can only think that their white, gold and black outfits gave them their name. Or their smell.

Once we were done eating, it was time for the mariachis. The name of the band was Huitlacoche, although I can’t for the life of me decide why. But they sang all the mariachi songs that Americans would expect to hear, and after a little while, folks (mostly tiny people) started getting up to dance.

In between numbers, the folkloric dancers came out. When they said “folkloric,” they weren’t kidding. The first number had an Aztec flavor.

A female dancer salutes the sun in the fire dance

The costumes were a little hokey, but the whole thing was fun, especially the part where the men set their leg hair on fire. No, I'm not kidding.

Later, they did other traditional dances in other costumes in between mariachi numbers. The only thing this party was lacking was that bunch of relatives that had too much to drink and start yelling at everybody.

Finally, it was time for DJ Roberto – an energetic guy who came out and told jokes and got the crowd going. The first time he came out, we applauded, but not nearly enough, so he said very seriously, “I’m gonna pretend that didn’t happen. I’m gonna come out again and you guys are gonna act like I’m Justin Bieber!” and he marched himself offstage and then came back on again to a crowd gone wild. He posed and threw kisses and otherwise hammed it up, and then got the kids up for a Mexican version of musical chairs called the Hat Game. The kids were put in a circle and given a hat. While the music played, each child had to put the hat on, spin in a circle, and then pass the hat to the next kid. If you had the hat when the music ended, you were out.

All the kids will pass a hat around, hoping not to be caught with it

The kids are all ready to play the Hat Game. According to the Badb, the hat, an old leather cowboy hat, smelled like lipstick.

After the Hat Game, we were taught the tequila dance (the one you dance to the song “Tequila”), and then we decided to leave so that we could walk back to the dock instead of taking the bus for half a mile.

We stopped at a little shop to get some souvenirs and met Filomena and her children, who were adorable.

Peaches and two of Filomena's kids

Children all over the world are always happy to mug it up for the camera. For the rest of our visit, the little boy kept making himself available for photo opportunities.

This was more a party, not an adventure, since we didn’t need hot showers or dry clothes when we got back to the ship. But if we had needed a hot shower, the little guy we found waiting for us would have been only too happy to help:

The towel monkey we got Friday

Every night, we got a different towel animal. Today's was a monkey that we kept for the rest of our cruise.

The Pirate and I were so inspired by the towel animals that we were excited to attend the towel origami class offered on Sunday. I can now make a monkey, an elephant, a bear, a swan – you name it, and I can fold it out of bath towels. So…if this writer thing doesn’t work out, I have a fallback position.

Monkey on a Boat: Day 4

Today, we got off the boat in Puerta Vallarta. I must say that one of the things I really loved about booking the cruise was that a good two months before we set sail, we were told “Now’s the time to book your port adventures!” There was a big list of things to do while in port, and all we had to do was choose and sign up on the same website we booked the cruise.

Thursday we got up early, ate a giant breakfast, and toddled down to the bar where we were to meet up with the rest of our group for the zip lining and rappelling adventure! In Puerta Vallarta, we walked off the boat and around the corner to another boat that was like a large rubber life raft.

We wave good-bye to the big ship

We may never see these people again, especially if we're eaten by jaguars

The rubber life raft thing took us at a hair-snatching rate of speed from the Area Militar de Vallarta, where our ship was docked, south about 30 kilometers to a place called Boca de Tomatlan. We got off that tiny boat and onto the kind of trucks that you normally see in old movies transporting soldiers who are going to meet their deaths in a hailstorm of enemy fire. So, not confidence inspiring.

Our dance of joy at making it to the preserve in safety

This is the dance of joy we did just after kissing the ground once we got off the truck.

The trucks took us another 5 or so kilometers to the preserve where we were to meet our fate. On the way, we all laughed and joked about the fact that the roll cage over the benches lining the truck bed had straps hanging from it so that if we were accidentally thrown from the truck, we would end up flapping behind the truck like a pair of underpants on a clothesline, only with less dignity. Adversity makes people bond together, and we were practically a solid mass of humanity by the time we got there.

After strapping us into harnesses custom-made to ensure wedgies, chafing and complete stripping of pride, we were ready to mount the mules that would take us to the top of the mountain.

Our little kid aboard her trusty mule, headed up the mountain

The little kid was really excited about the mule ride, but her enthusiasm was short-lived.

From the top, we took a series of zip lines and sheer cliff faces to descend.

Peaches on the longest of the five zip lines

It's over 160 feet straight down if she falls, and nearly half a mile by trail to get back up. Good thing she didn't fall.

The zip lining was fine although, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that on the very first zip line I was so frightened that I closed my eyes and ended up getting stuck about 8 feet from the end, suspended over what appeared to my closed, terrified eyes to be a bottomless pit, and I ended up having to haul myself hand-over-hand to the platform where I was roundly laughed at by monkeys and native guides. Good thing I’d left my pride behind with the mules!

Close to the end of the zip lining was the lowering-ourselves-down-a-cliff phase. For those of you who might be interested, here is a monkey attached to the side of a cliff by ropes:

Me, coming down a wet, slippery cliff face

I never saw the waterfall because I was too busy trying to find that place where I should have put my foot and didn't.

On the last zip line, we were whisked directly into a picturesque mountain pool.

The Pirate making a splash!

The Pirate has just slid nearly 70 feet down to land in this lovely emerald pool.

After this last zip line, it was just a matter of a half-kilometer hike back to our starting point, but that half-kilometer hike took us through streams, over creeks on fallen logs, and between enormous shrubs that are probably older than I am. We were hot, soaking wet and hungry, but it was easily one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.

On the way back, the bus stopped at a tequila distillery where Peaches (who’s of legal drinking age in Mexico) took her first taste of tequila.

Peaches sampling tequila

Here's Peaches, sampling her first tequila. Of course, the first sample is the rough stuff.

We got back onto the speedboat thing, where we were whisked back to the ship via a pair of enormous rocks covered in pelicans.

A large rock, completely carpeted in pelicans.

The top 12-inch layer is pelicans. The next 12-foot layer is pelican poop.

Technically, we could have strolled through Puerta Vallarta for another hour or two before we had to be back on the ship, but all we really wanted was hot showers and dry clothes. I think that’s now my new measure of the success of an outing: if all you want is a hot shower and dry clothes, it’s been an actual adventure.

Monkey on a Boat: Day 3

I want to apologize to my laundry. For seven years now, the Pirate and I have had one of those high-efficiency front-loading washing machines that barely dampens the clothes, infuses them with just enough thin detergent that they smell good, and then barely dampens them again before spinning them to within dashing distance of dry. I apologize because that’s almost exactly how the showers on this boat work (minus the spinning bit), and it’s annoying. It looks like there’s water coming out of the shower head, but I can’t actually feel it, and at no point is my skin any more wet than it would be on a moderately humid day. I would take an actual bath, except that the “bathtub” is the size of the utility sink in our laundry room at home. Maybe I’ll let my clothes feel some vacation love by putting them in the tub, filling it with water and a little bubble bath, and giving them a nice, long soak.

I also want to go on record as saying that I have never had any use for the ocean. Yeah, yeah, I get that it provides the bulk of the world’s oxygen (but that’s not even the ocean itself – that’s the kelp in the ocean). And that it also provides some incrediby tasty fish. But it also exists just to fake me out. I sit on the verandah of the room and look out over the water hoping to see whales or dolphins or sea otters, but no. From our room, all we can see is freakin’ ocean, and if you fix your eyes on a single point you will eventually see something that looks like a breaching whale off in your peripheral vision. So you look at that spot and realize that it’s just some stupid waves. But as you stare at those, a pod of dolphins jumps just at the edge of your peripheral vision, so you look there. But it’s more stupid waves. Sea otters surfacing: more waves. Flying fish: more waves. Ocean, you’re like the father of the planet. Large, powerful, and boring as all hell.

We had boarded the boat at lunchtime on Monday, and so already knew the boat inside and out (as far as our hanging off the verandah of our room would allow). So…what else can you do? Every night, you get a little newsletter in your room that lists the activities available for the next day. On Wednesday, our second day at sea, there were 33 activities listed for “family,” 33 specifically for “adults,” 113 separate activities spread among the various kids’ clubs (there are 4 for different age groups), and 18 character appearances, movies, live band events or mini parties listed between 8:30am and midnight just on Wednesday. I’m sure you could be bored if you wanted to, but you’d really have to work at it.

Here's our kid with Belle from Beauty and the Beast

The characters hang around for a photo op, then it's back to whatever their day jobs are - Belle also works in one of the gift shops.

Some of the activities were all of the parlor-game variety: scavenger hunts, trivia contests, crafts like origami and animation. There are also tons of fitness classes, lots of dance parties, lots of athletic events (free throw contests, putting contests, soccer contests). And even if you weren’t up for a constant regime of dancing, gym attendance, etc., it was easy to work off the rich food because there are 11 decks on the ship. We were on deck 7, which was entirely taken up with staterooms. To do anything, we either had to go up 2 decks to where the pools and fitness club lay, or down 2-4 decks to where the shops, restaurants and lounges were, and we never took the slow, tiny elevators.

The Edge is the tween club aboard ship

Here's where the 11-13 year-old set hang out

By Wednesday night, we were in bed early (and exhausted), ready for our Thursday adventure: zip lining over the jungle!

Monkey on a Boat: Day 2

This morning, we had the first “character” breakfast on board – that’s where all the Disney characters show up and sign autographs and pose for pictures. While most of the waitstaff was busy bringing us our food, some of them were there solely to fold the napkins into entertaining shapes and put them on people’s heads. Most of the women received enormous bows. Some of the men got Robin Hood caps, but some of them got what looked like a bandana holding up earrings made from dish covers. Or teacups. Or milk jugs. I told the Pirate that not only was I going to take a picture of him in his lovely gear plate-cover earrings (they made him look like a Jamaican robot Princess Leia), but that he had to make it his new LinkedIn profile picture. He’s been married long enough that he just smiled and nodded.

The Pirate's new look

Most of the men ended up with some variation on this theme

While I was in the bathroom this morning, I realized something. While I washing my face and brushing my teeth, I realized that every so often I would feel like the mirror was a little further away than it just had been. Then, a second or two later, I would feel like I was going to fall forward into the mirror. It was very subtle, but it was the first time I could really feel the motion of the ship. As we walked down to breakfast, I realized that I still felt a little dizzy. Just a little, and mostly whenever I looked out a porthole at the passing ocean. It feels pleasantly disorienting and encourages me to breathe deeply.

After breakfast, we hit the bingo game where I ordered a drink called an “eco-tini.” It had acai berry, agave nectar, ginger, leaves, bugs…you get the picture. It came with a little bracelet of acai berry seeds. I put it on, and what it really looks like is my alcohol friendship bracelet. I hope that gin doesn’t get jealous. I’m sure this will just be a shipboard romance for me.

I want to go on and on about the experience of being on a boat, but it’s like any large-ish touristy building. Most of the space is taken up either by rooms or by boring things like utility cupboards and big bits of weirdly shaped metal with seventy million coats of paint on them. Once you’ve been through every single thing in the two shops, poked your head into all four of the bars and been to all of the restaurants, there’s not a lot to see. I did spend some of every day we were at sea in the gym, and I can tell you that it’s really hard to get a good head of steam on the treadmill when the ship is really pitching. So, the only other thing left is to spend a lot of time out by the pool, sunning yourself and fending off the advances of the seventy-four waiters hawking beverages. To be honest, I wasn’t always very successful at fending them off. To be even more honest, sometimes I didn’t even try.

Monkey on a Boat: Day 1

I’m a nervous traveler. You don’t really need to know that, except that it will explain why, when I went to bed at 10pm the night before we left, I didn’t fall asleep for nearly an hour, and why I woke up every 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss my 2: 45am alarm. I was just thinking of every single thing I had to do when I got up, and of every single thing I should have done but didn’t before I left. And about all those things that might happen, but probably won’t, of things that won’t happen but probably should, of things that should happen but probably not when they need to…I know you’ve been there.

We left at 3am to make the ~6-hour drive from our house to Los Angeles where we could board the ship any time between 11am and 4pm. That’s right. I built in an extra seven hours, during which I would have nothing else to do but imagine what could go wrong later on the trip.

I worried that it might be hard to find the boat, to find parking, to find breakfast close to the dock. It wasn’t. There was really only one boat, and it had Mickey Mouse on the funnel, and you could see it from the freeway. Right in front of that one boat was one giant parking lot with one driveway leading to it. A block away was The Grinder – a sort of Denny’s knockoff with easily the worst food I have ever had ever in my entire life. None of my imagined problems materialized.

Disney Waiting Room #3,124

She's still cheerful because we've only been sitting here for five minutes

Boarding was exactly like getting on any Disney ride. Any time you get onto a Disney ride, the queue is shuttled from one room to another so that you’re always moving, you never see the tail end of the line, and the number of people in any one place never seems to change. And just like at Disney theme parks, every single person: the guy who took our luggage, the guy who directed us through security, the woman who took our picture, the woman who directed us into a giant waiting area, and every one of the eight thousand adrenaline-addicted, polo-shirted employees who roamed the rooms looking for unoccupied children to harrass – every one of them evinced a level of cheer that required shouting.

Please welcome - THE GAZPACHO FAMILY!!!!!!

This is the room you enter when you get on the boat

When we got on the boat, we had to stand in a sort of line because as each family walked through the doors, a man in white livery boomed cheerful things like “Let’s hear you make some noise for THE GAZPACHO FAMILY!!!!!!” or “Welcome back THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY!!!!!!!!!!!!” (and he enunciated each of the exclamation points, I swear). Then a phalanx of other white-liveried individuals applauded with ecstatic grins on their faces. But there are four people in our family, and we don’t have a common last name. Disney really doesn’t have a paradigm for that, and they wouldn’t announce us individually. Instead, they mispronounced both my last name and the Pirate’s last name, and then the manic applause began. This is how I can tell that I’m not cut out to be a celebrity. When faced with the applause of a crowd of people, I have no idea what to do apart from looking around uncomfortably and muttering under my breath.

Our luggage wasn’t in our room yet (I think it’s delivered by the same house elves that Hogwarts uses), so we went up to the top deck with the really, really loud swimming pools and cafes. Within minutes of boarding, I had a poolside table, a gin and tonic and an order for champagne to be delivered to the room. Thank you, Pirate!

I had booked a mani/pedi for 1pm, so I showed up to the spa. I was the first person to visit the spa, so once again I was assailed with friendly, cheerful greetings to which I had no appropirate response. The mani/pedi was as wonderful as those particular procedures always are, and Cameel, the lovely Jamaican woman who provided the service, and I talked and sang and bonded while she was sloughing off my calluses. When I left, she wanted a hug and told me I was the most fun customer she’d ever had. As did the woman in the gift shop from whom we bought a watch, and Yusef and Lavendra, the two men who have been assigned to wait on us at dinner for the entirety of our stay. What this tells me is that one of the keys to getting a job with Disney is the ability to fake sincere friendship. That’s really the key to getting a job pretty much anyplace, but they’re really, really good at it here. I know it’s an act, but I’m a sucker for it all the same.

Dinner was in the animation-themed restaurant “Animators Palate.” The walls are covered with black and white drawings from various Disney movies, and there are giant paintbrush-shaped columns scattered around the room. The bristles of the brushes are glowing LED things that light up various colors. The paintbrushes hold up what look like giant artist palettes with blotches of paint on them. The paint also lights up in different colors. The friendly waitstaff wore black-and-white vests with drawings of Mickey in various styles. At the end of the meal, the main screens showed an INCREDIBLY LOUD film about how wonderful and magical and fabulous Disney is, and then Mickey Mouse came out, did a hyper little dance, and then the waiters, now all dressed in rainbow-colored vests, danced around as well. Good golly.

By this time, I was barely hanging on. I was dizzy and having a hard time getting excited about any of the upcoming events, mostly because all I could think about was being able to sleep – two and a half hours just isn’t quite enough. The girls, who had both had good nights’ sleep, took off to the various kid activities, and the Pirate and I passed out at about 8:00. So much for kicking off the cruise. We found out later that both girls had been in and out several times while the Pirate and I slept, and we never heard them.