Centenary World Cruise Day 53-57: Long Time No Sea!

Day 53:

Today was the day we had our Crossing the Line Ceremony. It had been hyped up in the noon announcements the Captain always makes, so we knew there’d be a crowd to witness it. We’d been told it would be messy, so not to wear anything we were “too precious about.” Like anyone brought their gardening clothes with them. I wore my bathing suit and shower sandals, and most of the others in the group of about 50 wore something similar.

There were two main groups: the group of people who were only kissing the fish, and the group of people doing the whole ceremony. The fish-kissers went first, and the rest of us waited in a stairwell, so we couldn’t see what was going on. All we could hear was the announcer talking about how this is an old ceremony, where people who have never crossed the equator, nicknamed Pollywogs, must ask permission from King Neptune to cross the equator. King Neptune sets them an ordeal, and once it’s done, they go from Pollywogs to Shellbacks.

Once the fish-kissers were done, it was our turn. The Pirate and I were in the first group of ten to go out, and there was a crowd of several hundred people around the pool and arranged on all the decks above, cheering us on. We came out to see tables holding huge vats of kitchen refuse, colored blue and green and pink. The reassuring colors were nice, until the smell hit. This was actual leftover food from the last day, mixed into huge tubs. We sat down in chairs with our backs to the tables of slops, a person dressed as a judge asked the crowd whether we were innocent or guilty (although I have no idea what of), and when the crowd yelled “guilty!” the crew at the tables behind us took huge handfuls of the various colors of goo and rubbed it into our hair, backs, shoulders, necks. It was disconcertingly warm, smelled awful, but (and this might be the worst part) felt kind of soothing.

Once we were all slopped up, another crew member came along with what I think was a fair-sized trout. He held it out to each of us, and we had to kiss it on its nonexistent lips. Luckily, the trout was fresh and didn’t smell – it would have been much worse if it had been as old as the food covering my upper body. Even the fish kissing wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated – I’d been envisioning something with huge rubbery lips, and a crew member sticking a finger through the gills and out the mouth as I kissed it.

After the fish-kissing, we were allowed to jump into the pool to rinse all the slop off. I could see chunks floating away from me as I surfaced, and realized how lucky I was to be in the first group. There were three more groups of ten after us, then the crew, and lastly the officers, who were laid down on a table and covered head to toe with all the rest of the slops in the buckets. By the time they jumped into the pool, it wasn’t clear whether they were getting any cleaner in that disgusting water.

The Pirate and I are now considering designs for the tattoos we’re going to get to commemorate our becoming Shellbacks.

Day 54:

Another day of not much going on, mostly because I’m working like crazy to get NonBinary Review out the door on time. When I first proposed leaving for four months, my biggest worry was getting the March issue out on time.

There have been two main issues: internet, and staff engagement.

Before I left, I had looked into the internet situation and thought that I could purchase the standard internet package and be able to do all my online stuff. The way it was described, standard internet would work fine for email and regular web browsing, but if you wanted to stream video, you’d need the premium package. The reality is a little more nuanced.

In reality, there are lots of days when the internet doesn’t work – when we’re in port, when the weather is bad, when everyone on the ship is online at the same time. Even when the internet works, it never works well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been working on something, only to not have my work save, or to get unexpected results because the lag means I was clicking things I hadn’t intended. And, just to make life extra exciting, the internet here kicks you off after two hours. I’m normally so heads-down in work that I don’t even realize it’s gone until I get a message saying “You’re no longer online – keep working?”

Despite it all, I’ve managed to get this issue out by sheer force of will and willingness to give up sleep, social engagements (okay, not a huge loss) and activities in favor of work. For all the English folks, I’m perpetuating the stereotype of Americans as people who are always working.

Day 55:

We were supposed to be in Bali today, but we’re not. Bali’s port isn’t deep enough for this ship, so we have to anchor out in the harbor and take tenders (little boats) into the port. Sadly, the sea is too rough to make boarding tenders safe, and the captain made the decision to keep everyone on the ship.

Of course, we heard this news while sitting in the main restaurant, where we had gathered in anticipation of boarding the tenders for our planned shore excursions. We were supposed to see Tenganan and the Water Palace and had gotten up early and covered ourselves in sunscreen in anticipation. So now we weren’t just disappointed, but sleepy and sticky as well. I was extra disappointed because the woman who cut my hair had talked nonstop about how great Bali is – culturally vibrant, scenic, friendly. I was really excited to see it all. I guess we’ll have to go back later.

So…back to the room where we spent a lot of the day laying around, napping, playing stupid games, napping, watching movies, napping, eating, and napping.

Day 56:

I was sitting in the pub working and having lunch, and a woman leaned over and said “I like your tattoo. What does it mean?” She meant the tattoo on the side of my head of a giant squid. It covers all of the right side of my head, and its hunting tentacles peek out at my hair line when my hair is longer.

I never know what to say when people ask what my tattoos “mean.” What does your shirt mean? What do your shoes mean? While some of my tattoos commemorate events in my life, others are purely decorative, and it’s only people who have no tattoos of their own who ask what they mean.

I need to come up with a response that isn’t dismissive, sarcastic, or angry. Maybe I should just admit that I don’t understand the question, because not everything in life has to have meaning to be beautiful.

Addendum: a couple of days later, another woman stopped me and asked me about the tattoo on my head in a way that made much more sense. She pointed to it and said “tell me the story behind this.” Now that is the right question!

Day 57:

We’ve been avoiding our regular dining room, because I’m not fond of spending two hours a night on dinner, but we went tonight because the Pirate asked me if I’d like to join him for dinner. So, we ended up on kind of a date. It’s kind of nice, dressing up to go out with the intention of spending time together and having a nice time. And we did.

Accessory After the Fact

Hair is an accessory, like a belt or shoes. Most people don’t wear the same belt or shoes every day, so why would you wear the same hair?

I started dyeing my hair when I was a kid. I was dating a guy who bore a marked resemblance to Ron Howard. He was dumb as a stump and didn’t have the ambition that God gave a grasshopper, but he had the most beautiful strawberry-blond hair ever. After I kicked him to the curb, I realized that I didn’t need him to have access to lovely Titian locks. It was then that I first turned to the embrace of Miss Clairol.

Strawberry blonde, chocolate cherry, black, copper…first I went through all the natural colors. But then, after I hit 40, things took a more interesting turn. When my grandmother died in 2002, I started dyeing my hair black. But in 2006, I started adding fire-engine red. And then blue. And then green. Think Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Then I shaved my head. When it grew back, I went entirely green. Or blue. Or purple. Or some combination thereof. I shaved it again and as it grew back, I went leopard print. Platinum blonde with a black streak. Now, a platinum mohawk with pink leopard print sides.

My hair as of the beginning of March 2012

I used to wonder why every freak on every bus, at every bar, on every airplane seeks me out and shares their alternate world view with me. But, if I'm honest with myself, I can see why they might believe I share their unique views.

Tuesday, a friend who saw the new do for the first time said “I would be afraid that people would laugh at me.” I told her that I’ve never been laughed at, and another of my friends laughed at the very idea of my being laughed at.

I have to be honest: never, in all of the years I’ve been dyeing my hair, have I ever thought “What will other people think about this?” The first time I shaved my head, one of my co-workers (at the time, I worked at a large company) asked me “What is your boss going to say about it?” I told him that I had no idea, and I didn’t much care.

I’ve always believed that other people’s opinions are none of my business unless they choose to share them. The great thing about that philosophy, is that it dovetails nicely with human behavior. From the time I got my eyebrow dots in 2008, I realized that people’s reactions tell me everything I need to know about them.

People who hate the way I look, people who judge me as stupid or crazy or otherwise lacking, they write me off. There’s no good telling me that my style is terrible, tasteless, offensive, etc., because I am obviously not a receptive audience to that message. Those people say nothing to me, and I never interact with them. The self-select out of my social circle.

Those people who admire it, and by extension admire me for doing it, will mention it, but they always qualify it with “I could never do something like that.” They’re paralyzed by popular opinion, but they somehow wish they weren’t. They want the vicarious pleasure of associating with someone who isn’t constrained in the way they feel themselves to be constrained.

The last group are the people I’ve come to think of as “my tribe.” They may not have the same tattoos, the same dye jobs, the same piercings, etc., but they do share a similar trait: none of them worry themselves about what other people think. They make art, they found businesses, they create grassroots social movements. They see the badges of my opinions and they love them.

I’m proud to be one of them. Or even just to look like them.