Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Need To Vs. Want To

Currently, there are two e-books on my iPad: Lindy West's Shrill (2016) and Stephen King's Bag of Bones (1998). I flopped between them today on the train from Madrid to Sevilla (insert nail painting emoji). I wanted to be reading Shrill--it's fascinating and honest and interesting. Every chapter is a caramel in bright foil wrapping. I want to make it last.

But I continue to read ol' Mr. King too. For the opposite reason: I don't want it to last. I want to finish. I am hugely intrigued by the puzzle the book begins with. Page one maybe! A question unanswered that, like a clogged drain, is never a straight put of one hair. There's a clot down there. I just want to know the ending so bad. So much so that when a B-plot gets introduced (and, oh, they do because the book is a jillion pages long I GET IT STEVE PEOPLE ARE COMPLICATED AND MAINE IS COOL), I'm like, "Did we really need this?" The answer is going to be yes because of course all the plots will weave together. Which is ALSO why I can't just skip to the end and read the last chapter. I won't understand what's happening. By then, then there will be twenty-seven more key characters I haven't even met yet.

Both authors are doing their jobs. I'm hooked, aren't I? But one I appreciate much more. One I will always return to. The other I was make a pact to avoid and then in a moment of no-other-books-are-available-at-the-library weakness, return to him as I always do. (In his defense, I always do.)

I am reminded of The People Vs. OJ Simpson--the best TV I've seen all year (and so much TV is good right now!). It wasn't about the end. It couldn't be. We all know what went down. NO, it was about each episode--more--each act break, the nuance, the lines, the way I asked myself questions when the screen cut to black. I'll sit through two hours of obnoxious Q and A with the host of The Bachelor to find out who won, but I wish I didn't have to. Meanwhile, I'd hungrily chow down on Broad City even if the episode was titled, "Abby and Illana Sit On A Couch for Thirty Minutes."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Alice in Ship Land: The Ten-Day Cruise

During the NOLA Cemetery tour, I saw the voodoo queen’s tomb and the future burial place of Nic Cage. I also accomplished Bucket List Item See The Street the Streetcar Used to Ride Down Named Desire. I had to take a cab because it was a 45 minute walk to that part of town. No matter. Once I stood on the street Blanche had before me, I Yelped “pastry” like one does and walked around to various shops before I found something delightful: ginger fennel apple spinach pressed juice, blueberry pistachio pancakes, and a bowl of yogurt. It was a major hotspot with a million mustaches and that vaguely dirty vibe. When I looked at the receipt my eyes bugged out. Stinkin hipster brunch for one cost $21! Ah well, that’s part of the experience.
 New Port! I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of what do with my one golden day on Grand Cayman, and I chose right. ZPill, MB, and I went to a turtle sanctuary. The excursion was actually called “Turtles, Turtles, and More Turtles.” It was one of the best days of this whole dang enchilada. I saw giant 600-lb sea turtles, held baby turtles, snorkeled in a freshwater pond where a turtle swam right up to my face, fed a bunch of finches, and went down a slide that led to waterfall pool. I MEAN!? The day was over too soon. I forked some samples of rum cakes from a hut en route back to the ship so I could get ready for work. Major snaps for May 11, 2016—I made friends with a teeny turt in the morning and performed for two-thousand people at night. I ate double chocolate chip cookies in the middle.
 Guatemala is not an actual tourist port like all the other cities we go to. The gangway was in a literal train car graveyard. One concrete building a stone’s throw away full of card tables of trashy souvenirs. That was it. Our cast stuck together and exited the barbed wire fence area. Men with machine guns stood nearby. We asked for a cab to the nearest town to get lunch. Were we about to be mugged? Unclear. The car ride was hot and sad. The quality of life was low. But the cab driver came through! He dropped us off at a little seafood restaurant on the water. We ordered and took a stroll down the dock. I drank the best limeade I’ve ever had followed with a slice of pie and a coconut fritter from a guy walkin’ around with a tray of candied fruits.
Guat treatz.
I invited everyone over for Friday the 13th festivities. Tail even wrote in our weekly calendar “Alice’s Birthday (Observed).”  We crammed into my cabin and each told a story—some made up, some true, some ghostly, others chilling. ZPill was the first to leave, but we sat around sharing creepy tales and munching Walgreens brand caramels for a while longer. I got up to brush my teeth in my teeny bathroom and ZPill popped out of the shower! I shrieked my face off and crumpled to the ground. As someone who loves to be scared, I could not have asked for a better present. Besides maybe the stuffed turtle MB gave me.
Early in the week, I finished a seventh draft of my screenplay, wrote some emails, read some friends’ scripts. By Thursday I was officially unable to be productive anymore. On Saturday instead of going to Belize I had breakfast at 11:30 and then napped all afternoon. I got up just in time for improv rehearsal and then ZPill and I, both not quite ready to go home, wandered around the ship. The arcade was empty, so we played air hockey. We discussed theatre on the helipad. I ate the only things that seemed edible (pizza and a ton of Pringles) and threw up.

I might miss Costa Maya most of all. I did all the things as a farewell tour. Swam in the ocean, took a beach walk, got a massage from a lil abuella, laid in the sun at Nacional Beach Club, and got henna tatts with MB. And still, I forgot to drink from a final coconut. It’s always something, isn’t it?

In our scriptless show, during Pillars MB played my gay aunt Karen who took me to an amusement park to tell me my parents were getting a divorce. Every time I got sad, she fed me candy. It was too real, and that’s some of the fun of improv—your real life friendship is up on stage, and the audience has no clue. We watched the juggler on board this week with some other crew pals. I am surprised by how many friends I have made here. It just happens like any other community in the world. See each other regularly enough, start saying “hi” in hallways--next thing you know you’re jumping into the ocean together and he’s telling you what growing up in Serbia is like.

Speaking of crew “friends,” this boat is thirsty. We’re headed into a dry dock period and everyone knows it. Guys who have been cordial in elevators are suddenly sniffing around like mad for something to appease their month alone in an empty port with very few women. “Wait, let’s make sure we hang out this week!” they say with not-so-hidden desperation. “How will I find you later?” A deckboy professed his affection for me and swore he’d never love again if I meant what I said when I told him, “I have a boyfriend.” Poor knuckleheads.

Final port felt surreal. Goodbye, Caribbean. I may never see you again. I started the day with a ridiculous journey to find a Mexican candy flavored McFlurry. I get it, I’m TRASH. I walked a mile and a half in the blistering sun getting a real blister from my flip flops. When I arrived I was told the ice cream machine wasn’t working. I walked back to the usual crew beach bar, promptly ordered an ice-cold smoothie, and sunk to the bottom of the pool, letting my hair fall out of it’s elastic band and float like algae.

I did my usual jump off a high wall into the ocean. About twenty feet. There’s a way to crawl up a narrow corner of the rock and jump from a thirty-foot spot, but it’s significantly scarier. Barely space to stand up. And Oh. So. High. I have started the crawl three times before. I usually get about two feet before I imagine slipping and decapitating myself on the brick. Then I abort the mission. “It’s okay not to do everything,” I think. I tell Folds this, who has done the big jump once and wants to again but says he won’t because his back has been bugging him. We have a great day. I splash, I do handstands, I finally get an amaretto ice cream cone from the mother/son shoppe down the way. Half an hour before we need to get back on the ship Folds marches over to me and points at me, then at the big wall. “We’re doing it.” And he’s so certain, I follow. I watch him crawl and jump. I follow and stop. I’m terrified. But a gal and two guys are below swimming. They cheer me on. A dude with red dreadlocks (of course) comes up behind me and gives me tips about focusing on my center of gravity. “You can do it,” this stranger I might be tempted to razz in another context says, and it really helps. “I’m scared,” I keep repeating. It is empowering to announce it. It’s rare we get to announce our fear. I do over and over, but then, I slowly stand, and I scream, and I fly. I can barely tell where one blue ends and one begins. Moments later Dreadlocks does a backflip, of course.
Saturday is a long day of signing papers and packing and trying to eat through the snacks I didn’t finish (lunch of buffalo wing Pringles, Mexican shortbread cookies, and a diet 7UP not recommended). After our final show, the entire entertainment department all had a toast in the theatre. It felt truly warm. Goodbye dancers, goodbye singers, goodbye aerialists. In these moments I think how differently I would feel if I had a Facebook. But I don’t need to know what the saucy Brit I befriended will be doing next year. I will only remember him as he was, in high tweed pants, drinking champagne from a plastic cup on the lip of the stage. ZPill asked if I had snacks, and when I told him the only option he decided he was not above the Cadberry egg I had already thrown in the trash. They’re covered in foil, ya know?

Debark was the longest morning of waiting in lines, lugging suitcases, and showing forms. But joy filled the air. Everyone fireworking out back into their lives. ZPill and I went to Frenchman Street and debriefed. We asked the cab driver to drive by a donut shop on our way out of town.
NOLA in the afterglow. Goodbye for now.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Secret Hedgehog

On the road trip up to Michigan my first summer at camp, my family stopped at a quirky chocolate shop. I bought two souvenirs: a tiny tin suitcase, and a chocolate hedgehog wrapped in foil—about the size of a quarter.

Food wasn’t allowed at camp, but I didn’t want to eat my new friend—not so fast. I kept it in the tiny tin. The first year was a little scary. New friends and being homesick. My counselor asked about the lil suitcase. “What’s in it?” she asked. I didn’t respond. My cabinmates chirped, “What’s in it! What’s in it!” I just blinked.

Why did I have the hedgehog? Not to eat, probably ever. I likely never did based on the way I hoarded candy as a child. I liked to look at it when I was alone. The tin kept it cool, so I would touch it.

My counselor knew my brain was spinning up there on the top bunk. I would hear all the cabin sleeping around me, but she would keep reading Mick Harte Was Here because she sensed I was awake. She dropped the tin subject, but the rest of the girls didn’t.

It felt good to have a secret. Something that was mine in a shared space. At the end of the summer Slou asked, “Okay, okay, can I know what’s in the suitcase? Is it chocolate?” I said, “Yes.” My counselor gave a peppy squeal, “I KNEW it was candy.” She wasn’t mad. She, I think, was happy to give the kid who cried when someone squished a spider a reason to live. (Lord.) But it wasn’t about the candy. It was about the secret and the freedom I had to keep it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Alice in Shipland: Just Around the Riverbend

 Only one more cruise separates me from a stint on land, and oh, do we all feel it.

As I alluded to last post, at the end of last week I was riddled with anxiety about my future. Sunday morning the forecast was rain so I couldn’t even do my weekly early morning walk around the deck. I felt like a pony the stable boy had forgotten to let out. At 9 AM I practically exploded off the ship, rain jacket and baseball cap packed in my knapsack. Since I didn’t have much internet to do it was time to get some bucket list items taken care of. I sat by myself in Café Du Monde and felt immediately better listening to street corner jazz and inhaling puffs of powdered sugar. After finishing my café au lait I trotted down to the French Open Market where I spied all the knick knacks and bought myself a void-filling souvenir t-shirt. Peace filled by body toes up. Grey clouds camped above The Big Easy, but I was smiling. I bought the essentials at Walgreens. I smacked on a free sample of candied praline. And then, I went to a mystic shop that’s been in business since 1912 to get my tea leaves read.

My medium said some things—at times eerie and other times improbable, but the experience of sloshing the tea, sitting in the curtained creepy room, and holy cow, hearing thunder boom while a woman with frizzy hair and purple eyeliner said certainly what lay ahead? A priceless NOLA experience. I bustled along singing like Don Lockwood through voodoo doll gift shops and cobblestone. Right before embark I got a kale smoothie and some buttermilk drops to consume in my little dungeon. This would be a good week I decided. ZPill asked me later if he thought the physic could actually tell my fortune, and I said I don’t think so. I think she can just read pieces of what’s already inside me. How exciting that there is a universe in there. And I am not at the will of much besides what I choose.

Instead of my typical Cozumel day I took a ferry to Playa del Carmen—a ritzier Mexican tourist town. It was very clean and pretty and crystalline. I avoided everyone and listened to the playlist I made for the improv tournament my team traveled to in 2012. ZPill and I found a fancy as heck breakfast spot in a plaza. Donuts on pretty plates and tiny colanders of yogurt. Dudes at stands usually call out to those of us who are obvious tourists (white people) and usually I ignore them, but this particular guy was pointing at pictures of caves. And Adventure Alice was awakened. Next thing I know I’m alone in a cab headed to underwater caves.

They were incredible and all of my castmates who didn’t go because they thought $50 was much too much are idiots. When my little pod of eight people came to the first entrance I didn’t even see that we were about to step into water. Because the water was so glasslike it looked like it didn’t even exist. Oh but we did step in. In lifejackets we floated around the cavern. I spent most of my time shining my flashlight up to see the hoards of bats all snuggling with each other then periodically getting annoyed with my beam and fluttering about.

It was such a once in a lifetime experience to swim down a cool ancient pool and peer into an abyss of stalagmites. Sometimes we had to swim in very narrow little passages and our guide once asked us to sit perfectly still and turn off all our lights. It was the darkest dark. My favorite part was when our guide called us into a creepy crevice one at a time, had us put on our masks, and then he pushed our shoulders underwater so we could see the endless trail of underground cave. What was air and what was I swimming in and what was forming above? It was so hard to tell. The very last thing I did was take off my life jacket and swan dive into the deepest hole of the murky pool. Just another day at work!

I crossed West End off my Honduras bucket list. I got lost on my way to the beach and had to settle not to snorkel with friends but instead to journal alone with a frozen lemonade. I drank it out of pure desperation from wandering around in a near-hallucinatory heat state. Not all was lost. I found a sour cream chocolate donut. The chocolate was made in-house. I’m not mad. Things I am kind of over: laying too long in the sun, people having drunken conversations with me, not having the ability to text. Also, MB got 110 bug bites on the beach I was supposed to, so sometimes it ain’t bad to never arrive.

One thing I noticed this week is Twitter is too overwhelming for me. I barely look at it because I use precious online minutes to email pretty exclusively. Occasionally in a café with endless Internet powers I Instagram. But Twitter is so much so quickly. After twenty seconds of scrolling my brain is on fire. My attention span has increased significantly. I stand on the deck, facing forward with lips locked for forty minutes of crew drill. I get writer’s block on a deck chair, close my notebook, and have no other option but to watch waves. No commercials in pirated TV, no advertisements in my “commute.”

Three comedians is a treacherous number. Three creates an audience or a team, and it’s becoming something I actively avoid. In real life I can hack most anything because eventually I go home. But this is home. Person A jokes, Person B is annoyed, but Person C laughs. A and C never drop it. I have played all three parts and none are fun.

Instead of going to Belize I parked in the atrium next to the bar that also serves, like, four espresso drinks. This is the closest thing to having a café workday on the boat. I poked at my screenplays. I watched Thelma and Louise and was inspired to break some rules. So, my new thing is getting a plate of cheese cubes at lunch, shoving them in a mug, stuffing the mug in my backpack, and smuggling the cheese back to my mini fridge. Real outlaw.

During the 9 PM sketch show my brain exploded. I started a whisper as the show started and realized my mic was live and very hot. The top of our act began with a weird hiss. “Oh man, don’t screw up again,” I thought and twenty minutes later I missed a chair set. I just forget where we were in the running order and froze. “Okay, for real no more screw ups!” I lectured my own brain. And then at the top of a scene I said the flat wrong line. Everyone went off auto-pilot and navigated back to the meaning of the scene like tiny robots. It’s a bummer to finish a show for hundreds of clapping people, rip off your mic, and say, “I’m sorry everyone.” I went to the gym to run. I started thinking about my mistakes and realized they weren’t that bad. They only seemed bad because we’re all usually so polished. I do think I have entered a new phase of comedy since being here: the crisp professional, which does mean I will be harder on myself sometimes, but it also means I am doing better work.

Saturday night I like to have a lasagna roll at one of the sit-down restaurants before the “adult” improv show. It’s become a tradition. Entertainers are allowed to be seated between 8:30 and 9 PM. ZPill, MB, Folds, and I got flossy and arrived at 8:35. We were turned away. We walked to the opposite side of the ship and were told we should try the other place. Dejectedly, we went up to the buffet. A meat bonanza night. Ribs and pork chops and potatoes with bacon. I ate a lot of wilted lettuce smothered with balsamic and felt sorry for myself. EVEN THOUGH I still didn’t have to prepare or pay for my meal, I would have gladly done either to avoid the World’s Saddest Salad. But the four of us ate our grody little dinners in full performance attire while making jokes and truly enjoying each other’s company. Although it’s not possible to completely avoid annoyance with one another sometimes, we are a family.

My favorite part of the week is standing on the deck post-final show. The cool air refreshes me and the land in the distance tells me we’re close to port. Cell service. Freedom. Louisiana culture. We were in early this week, so my texts were sending around 11 PM. I was excited and promptly answered the bevy of SMS that flooded my phone. A dude with a mullet complimented me on the show and lingered a bit too long. I nicely ended the conversation and returned to The Internet. Ten minutes later he was back getting my drink order. No thanks, I said, and he sheepishly left. I hoped he didn’t feel too bad. But then he came back in ten minutes to ask if I wanted water. Nope. Ten minutes later he said I was stalking him. At this point I wanted to leave the public areas, but my phone would only work on the deck. Ten minutes later he said I shouldn’t be wearing my performance clothes if I don’t want people to notice me. Did I want to change in his room? I moved locations. He found me. He said we should do private improv for half an hour. I said no. He said he would bring Viagra. I told him firmly to leave me alone. He did.

But now I realized I was nearby a very interesting gang. The word “ghost” kept creeping in the air, so I asked, “Is this some kind of ghost conference?” Yeah, it actually was. 200 paranormal experts were onboard this week. I wish I had learned sooner! I asked a few questions. The clearly most famousy-like guy told a story about eating at a haunted diner that could never be found again and I was immediately grossed out by his ego. I honed in on a kind gal with blue hair who was happy to answer my questions and talk about her time as a spiritual investigator. MULLET GUY HAD THE NERVE TO CUT THROUGH A FLOCK OF PEOPLE TO TELL THEM WE WERE CLOSE AND WE’D BE LEAVING NOW. I publically told him I was uninterested in talking at all and the ladies gave him some Ew looks, so he slunk away. Blue hair and I exchanged info, but not before Mullet came back with his business card. I wanted to tear it up and throw it in the ocean, but I put it in my pocket because 1. Can’t litter in the ocean. 2. He’s still a passenger and I’m still an employee, and I can’t be rude to him despite his outright harassment. I’m just tired of being a woman for the moment.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Alice in Ship Land to the Tenth Power (Ten Cruises In)

-The pull of land is getting stronger by the hour. I have done exceedingly well in avoiding the Internet on board—I’ve been online a whopping 550 minutes at sea since we set sail in February. I use about two minutes of my expensive package per day to download my email before signing off. But this week my fingers have been itching. Maybe just a peak at Instagram. Maybe one quick Google. All in all, I have spent $50 on wifi total whereas other castmates have spent a grand per month. I get it. I’d just rather go to Spain.
-Although I love Cozumel my want for reality overpowers my desire to have another beach adventure. I spent the morning in Starbucks, not even an authentic Mexican café, just a Starbucks, drinking an old familiar vanilla iced coffee and buying bus tickets for my next gig. I bought theatre tickets for three weeks from now because I will be back in an existence where there are more stage shows than an aerialist, a Motown jukebox musical, and a thrillusionist. I noodled around with gifts for the first time, as if I am going home to friends and family that soon. I knocked off my most bougie to-do item—eating fancy bon bons in the chocolatier shop.
-I waffled about what to do in Roatan. Café? Beach? I went back to my room after breakfast to wait for the all-clear flag to be posted for crew and then I woke up two hours later. Things are falling apart.
-I’m consuming a lot of outside art. I read Big Magic at the gym. Lemonade is my favorite Beyoncé album—far and away. I am so impressed, inspired, motivated. I listen in the shower, on deck chairs. I listen and am unable to pull away even though I meant to put it on as ambient noise. I catch myself staring at my phone as if the wonder will visually come through the speakers. I am averaging two episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt per day. All three creators have made work so them and so liked. They made things they wanted to see, and we want to see them too.
-Friday I laid in a hammock in the actual ocean, ate octopus tacos, and sat inside a straw hut to get Internet. I thought a lot about my future. I couldn’t stop. I ate stress cake. I went to the library to journal and felt dizzy. The future. The future. The future. I passed out in my bed for two hours and woke up just in time to do a family friendly short form improv show. What life is this?
-Being alone is a true joy of working on a cruise ship. It never feels strange to be alone. You can’t be bothered to ask for accompaniment everywhere. You don’t want it. You have five friends. You will be sick of them. Sometimes you have fun together, and sometimes you don’t make a plan for the following day and you can’t text them, and they didn’t pick up their room phone, so you just go to Belize alone. You eat lunch alone. You take a cab alone.
-In the adult show Folds made us a play a game where we act out a scene in the style of Tennessee Williams and have to kiss each other after every line. Also, I played an ex-wife who followed her husband up Everest and blackmailed him for killing a Sherpa…and sang about it. Nail polish emoji. Mic drop.
Me in Costa Maya. Ahh.