Jan 25

We were assured The Drake would Shake on our way home, and when my drawer of Power Bars, batteries, film and books shot across the room in the middle of the night I was not disappointed.

I woke up early, still excited about the outcome of last nightís presentation. I wandered past the dining room to see what we were eating and sitting in his usual spot in front of the dining room doors was Dude. I asked if he was having fun. I wanted to ask "Kill anyone yet?" but thought better of it. He said nothing and carried on his forward stare.

"This trip has been so exciting for me," I said. I still got no reply but as I turned my head I noticed him nod and open his mouth. I quickly looked back, thrilled at the possible breakthrough, but he snapped his head back and closed his mouth. Could it be that Dude was all there, and just liked to mess with people behind their backs? I sure hope so, because that would be awesome. I stood by a glass door where I could faintly make out his reflection and tested him.

I asked, "Are you hungry, because I sure am!"

Nothing.

I walked away defeated when a deep, monotone inflection called out, "I need to know the time."

I looked back to see him not looking at me, but since there was no one else around I figured it was me he was "asking." "Weíve got ten more minutes," referring to the scheduled breakfast time.

"Ten minutes to seven-thirty."

"Yep."

"7:20." He reiterated, not in the form of a question.

"Yep." Iím making friends all over the place!

Presumably exhausted from all the social interaction, he resumed his rigid posture and blank stare.

After breakfast the Naked Shackeltons went topside for some scenery and fresh air. A small group of Japanese spotted us and asked to take our picture. We posed for a few when Minaru-san passed by. Everyone got excited by the celebrity overload and more pictures were taken. More gawkers showed up and they all wanted photos. We stood through multiple pictures from no less than twenty cameras before Bob went AWOL. We followed him while the cameras kept popping.

To those whoíve experienced it, The Drake is most widely remembered for itís powerful swells. Second only to that is itís capacity to bore people silly. The water is so choppy you canít really do anything. Most people canít read. Itís hard to play games because everything either slides around too much or falls over. Itís incredibly hard to write without it looking like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing. People either sit idly and talk, or lie down in their bunk with their eyes closed to prevent the seasickness from taking over.

I did none of those things. Instead, I totally enjoyed myself. First I went to the bow of the upper deck and tried to lean into the wind with all my weight. I was able to lean at a 45 degree angle for a minute at a time.

It didnít get old, but the tip of my nose started to crack from the cold. I went for some of the miracle Nivea crème (which, you may remember, thwarted a serious sunburn in under 24 hours) and applied it thickly to my nose. Then I went up the very top deck and tried to "surf" without falling over and tumbling into the sea. Bob came up and joined me. After a few minutes he said, "This Drake is cake," and went back down presumably to perform some sort of solo sabotage.

My nose still hurt from the cold winds so I went down to the Lethargy Room and hung out with an enthusiastic kid named Shawn. Heís one of the more recognizable faces on the ship. For one, heís only one of two people on the ship under the age of 25 (heís 12). Secondly, he knows more about the wildlife and geology of Antarctica than any single passenger on the ship. If a staff member is not around, everybody asks Shawn. He is a well-respected scholar among those on this ship. I got along with him because we were both mentally the same age. We laid flat on our backs on the slick dance floor and let the rocking of the ship slide us around like an over-zealous Ouiji game piece. On my end-of-the-year high school senior cruise some of my classmates started breakdancing on the shipís dancefloor, not realizing the reason it was suddenly so easy to spin and whirl was because they were grooving on somebodyís barf. The association of dance floors, ships, puke, and sliding around urged me to leave Shawn by himself.

Spending most of the morning by myself kept leading me to think of Natasha. Plus, Iíve seen her with the doctor making house calls all morning. I honestly donít think I obsess about her because there is nothing else to do, but it helps. So to continue my long-standing obsessive behavior I embarked on a brainstorming mission. I wanted to do something different than scribe another remedial poem. I wandered around trying to get ideas. I rifled through magazines and books and talked randomly to people (now that I was a celebrity I was welcomed to talk to just about anybody Ė except Shane, of course), but I came up fruitless. A few people got suspicious that I was plotting another "something" and that was all right by me. Let Ďem wonder.

I took a nap and woke up to those most inspirational words, "Lunch is now being served." I went up and stood in line. Minaru-san walked up to me with a sack of individually-packaged candies. "Dozo," he said, offering me to take some. I pulled two out. They were slimy and looked like a hunk of muscle. I asked if it was any sort of animal. I was assured it was not. I ripped open the wrapper and slid "it" into my mouth.

As the first drop of juice hit my tongue tears nearly shot out of my eyes. I could tell it was an apricot, but it must have been soaking in formaldehyde and urine for the last thirty years. It was so rancid I started drooling from all the saliva my mouth was pumping in to try drowning out the apricot. It was a gift, and the benefactor was standing right in front of me, otherwise I would have coughed it up and kicked it into next Sunday. All the Japanese were laughing at me, so I felt no shame in spitting it back into the package and saying I wanted to "save it for later."

Mr. Masu, the man of many talents and martinis, sat with us at lunch. (In fact, there were many Japanese/American table combos today.) I asked if he knew origami. He looked at me the way a farmer might look at a city person who asked "Do you know how to water plants?" Without a word he took our table menu and began folding. He lined up every edge perfectly. If corners didnít meet precisely he started over. When he was finished he handed me the most well-crafted, precise, but absolutely ordinary paper airplane ever assembled. He conceded that he did not actually know any origami, but he knew a woman who did. He would introduce me later.

I was sitting at our dining room table with the other Naked Shackeltons when their eyes darted over my head in sudden surprise. Someone grabbed my head and put me in a headlock. When my head was firmly secured by some beefy, unidentified arms, I heard the sound of hair clippers buzzing in my ear. I twisted around and saw Minaru-san growling at me like an animal. I feigned panic and tried wrestling the clippers out of his hand. He rolled his head back with laughter, bowed good-bye, then bounded out of the sight. We collectively sighed and thought, "That man is something special."

I spent the short time between lunch and snacktime trying to figure something out for Natasha. I had already searched the ship thoroughly for hints, but I found nothing so I decided to sit and wait for it to come to me. I chose to sit in the library.

Sitting there amongst Antarctic travel books and magnetic chess boards I took guilty pleasure in watching people try and get from one end of the room to the other.

I had a flashback to elementary school when my friends and I would ghost-ride our bikes before class. "Ghost-riding" means riding your bike as fast as you can then jumping off and letting the bike ride itself. Sometimes we went for distance, but usually we just liked to see what happened when an unmanned bike ran into or over things.

One morning we were in the bike rack ghost-riding our bikes over parking blocks and into the fence. If the bike was steered towards the parking blocks it would hit the cement and bounce two or three feet into the air before landing on a bunch of other bikes in some contorted position. If you steered your bike towards the fence it would either park itself into the fence like an arrow in a bullís eye, or bow the fence and bounce back like a paperclip shot off a rubber band. Jeff McDonald started his ride from well outside the bike rack. He rode with all his speed across the teacherís parking lot, through the small gate of the bike rack, around the mass of parked BMX bikes, and straight for the fence. We expected him to jump off before his bike hit Ground Zero but he was so busy looking down at his cranks and pedaling that he ran, full-speed, into the fence. His front tire struck the fence and stopped the bike while Jeff continued face-first into the chain-links. His body splayed spread eagle against the fence, his pudgy face forced through the grids of the chain-links. The bike endo-ed and smacked him in the back. He fell down in a heap of blood, bicycle parts and laughter.

Take out the bicycle parts and fence and thatís what it looks like when some of the less coordinated passengers try walking through the library.

Snacks were comprised of the never-seen-cookís special butter cookies. I ate so many I didnít have enough room for a drink of water. Mr. Masu was also fond of the cookies and we ate together. At his urging, I sat with the Origami Woman. She walked me through a dragon and a paper lantern, but I couldnít do either to save my life. She offered me as many sheets of square, colored origami paper as I needed. I sat for a while trying to construct various shapes and objects. The best I could do, though, was the talking hand-puppet box made familiar by 3rd grade girls on playgrounds everywhere. I made it out of green paper and when I turned it over it looked almost recognizable. I manipulated some of the corners, added a yellow stem, and voila! I had a flower. I ran downstairs and locked it in my junk drawer for later.

Before we knew it dinner was being served. The Naked Shackeltons rose from the bottom deck and passed a woman with Coke-bottle glasses, an impressive overbite, and wild silver hair that pointed in every direction but down. How I could be on this ship for over a week and not notice this woman was beyond me. I asked if anyone else had seen her before. Bob said he recognized her as the woman who died on this ship exactly one year ago today.

Minaru-san approached me and handed me a package with some sort of white linen inside. I thanked him and bowed, then opened it. It was a sumo drape! For my very own! I thanked him profusely and demanded that we get some pictures together before leaving the ship.

For dessert we were given cake, in honor of Natasha the Bartenderís daughterís birthday. She turned nine years-old today and her mom was stuck on a ship half the globe away. We all gave her hugs and sang Happy Birthday.

I asked Dining Room Natasha if she would be available tonight and she said "Probably." I arranged to show up two hours after dinner.

Two hours after dinner I peaked in the dinning room where Natasha and Vika were tending to another pile of silverware. I embarrassed her repeatedly by asking if I could help. Since a passenger wanting to help with dishes was so unorthodox, she had consistently denied me the opportunity to prove my silverware-sanitization skills. But she finally gave in. It must have been the Born To Do Dishes tattoo I scrawled on my upper arm that told her how serious and qualified I was to help. I was handed a rag and went to drying the knives.

I talked as much as I could, but they talked to each other twice as much. Every minute or so Natasha would translate what they were talking about. Usually it was something about their being overworked. I could tell Vika was getting a kick out of watching some silly American boy fawning so hard over her friend as to do her job with her. Heck, I was having fun. Eventually the dishes were done and their work night was through. Vika said good night and left Natasha and I alone. I excused myself and bolted downstairs, taking the staircases three steps at a time.

I came back with the origami flower and a Reeseís Peanut Butter Cup. She blushed an iridescent red and dropped her head to her shoulder in embarrassment. Unfortunately, I was coming in for the kiss when her head bowed down. I got her cheek pretty good, but I must confess, that was not my target. I wasnít sure if she was ducking my attempt, or if I just had bad timing, but now I was blushing.

As if on cue, Shane came in again. He was busy keeping his attention from me when I had an epiphany. The guy doesnít like me, that much is clear; but this is his ship. He makes all the final calls. Everything that goes wrong on this ship rests on his shoulders. Everything that goes right gets credited to him. He bears incredible responsibility for the success of this ship and the safety of everyone on it. For a man with so much power and accountability, it is safe to assume that if he wants something, he gets it.

Now, letís say for instance, he wants one of the kitchen staff Ė a cute, young woman who he sees every day and night. Letís assume he takes a serious liking to this girl and works for months to secure some sort of relation with her. Then letís guess what happens when some punk, fresh on the boat, comes and tries to steal her away from under himÖ

Were this any other situation, I would have backed down. Stealing an honorable manís girl ainít the right thing to do. But this was not "any other situation," this was Natasha, Shane , and me. Firstly, she was not having relations with Shane. Her reactions to him when they talked proved as much. So there was no "stealing" going on, just some healthy competition. Secondly, IíM SICK AND TIRED OF FINISHING LAST. That "nice guy" crap is out the window. I have forfeited too many opportunities because it was the polite thing to do. I have put too much energy and heart into this and Iím not gonna bow out now.

When Shane finally left, Natasha and I continued talking for an hour. She was more tired than usual thanks to having worked in the dining room all day and translate for the doctor. On top of that she was getting woozy from The Drake. I offered up my pressure point bracelets. She was reluctant to accept them, afraid I might succumb to the mighty sea sickness like so many of the passengers today, but I insisted.

I pulled the gray band from my left wrist and stretched it out before her, and it was from here that everything went in slow motion. She raised her right hand off the table and brought it towards me. I managed to slip it past her knuckles without touching her, but as the band closed tighter her hand fell into mine. I cradled her fingers in one hand and used the other to properly position the bracelet. The whole motion was so sensual, so metaphorical. I was drunk with lust. She was probably thinking I was just a pervert.

We stepped out into the hallway at the foot of her stairs for a few more minutes. She was standing so close to me that our arms were in constant contact. Every time the electricity built enough that a kiss was imminent she backed off. Before I made any more of ass out of myself I bid her good night. I made it to the Lethargy Room where Mr. Masu was ruling the Connect Four realm. While I was gone, however, Sean the Boy Wonder had outwitted him shortly before being sent to bed, at Mr. Masuís request.

Jaime and I went to bed discussing fetishes. Everybody with any sort of sexual drive has one. Most people, however, think a fancy for big boobs, or thick lips, or bulging muscles counts as a fetish. But these are not fetishes. They are surface-level insignificances. These people donít explore the deeper, less aesthetic fixations. For example, I have a friend back home that wants nothing more than to lick a girlís tattoo(s). My roommateís biggest turn-on is watching a girl drink a beer from a can. Jaimeís compulsion lies in womenís footwear ("I just love a girl with a nice pair of shoes"). Mine, I just realized tonight, is a foreign tongue. The language doesnít matter. Even German gives me chills and German is about as smooth as my face, and I havenít shaved since a couple days before I left home.

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