Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Atlantis Mediterranean Cruise 2009

DAY ONE. Newark Airport. August 28, 2009. 3:30pm.

We got to the airport with plenty of time; too much time, in fact, which means Neil already had an opportunity to scold me for making him sit around the airport for two hours. He was relatively gentle, however, knowing that – had it been the other way around and we got there in a mad rush for the gate, all hell would have broken loose.

I made every attempt to upgrade us to business class, using all my charm and skill, but the South Asian gate agent wasn’t having any of it. Neither was the young woman in Continental’s call center somewhere in Pakistan – though she was extraordinarily polite and spoke better English than the average college-educated American. I even tried a last-ditch, Hail Mary with the middle-aged gay flight attendant sitting in the departure lounge. Alas, my most charming smile and flirty eyes – along with the tale of this being a birthday present for Neil - couldn’t get us any farther up than row 37, though “Bobby” did drop a bottle of champagne at our seats. Between the alcohol and the Xanax, I expected Neil to be comatose before they started the movie.

Alas, it was not to be…

DAY TWO. Somewhere over the Atlantic. The middle of the night.

A small chicken breast, two glasses of Champagne, three episodes of House and half a sedative later: I’m wrestling with the limitations of the airline seat, my six-foot-one frame, and the realities of physics, trying to find a position that allows me to sleep for more than 10 minutes. By 6am I’ve given up, as they’re serving “breakfast” – two chunks of cantaloupe, two chunks of honeydew and four red grapes, with a defrosted “croissant.” Clearly, this was Neil’s cue to complain about the service.

Next time, Business Class.

Arriving in Rome nearly an hour early gave us ample time to sit in the arrivals area and try not to fall asleep. I attempted to get cash from the bank machine, only to have the stupid Bank of America security feature kick in and refuse to give me money. I know this is for my own protection, but really. If a criminal got my bank card, while I was in New York, why would he wait until Rome to take out money, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, using it to buy the ticket to Rome?!?!?! Three expensive calls to their 1-800 number got me nowhere (it was, after all, 2 am in the US), and I gave up just as a man holding a sign that said “STINE” headed our way.

Roma Cruise Terminal. Civitavecchia. 9:50am. CET.

It’s nearly 90 degrees, and we’re beginning to wonder if they weren’t kidding when they told us not to arrive before 2pm because there aren’t facilities at Civitavecchia Port. We find ourselves standing under a white plastic tent outside what looks like an old airplane hangar. No one seems to be able to tell us where to go, and the previous cruisers are still disembarking. We are two of seven people standing in the heat and confusion, when we finally learn that the entrance is ten feet to our right. Clearly we feel like morons, and they’d probably make us feel like American morons if we still had the dumb president Europe hated, but now we just have the President who can’t accomplish anything other than giving money to bankers and insurance companies, but Europeans love him because he talks in complete sentences.

Anyway, after finally entering a large holding room and swearing that we don’t have Swine Flu (wine flu is another story, and we’ll certainly have that within a few hours) we’re finally permitted to check in. We’re the first to board (‘natch) and we’re greeted with champagne, which at this point is no longer novel or welcome. One more glass and I’ll pass out on contact. We need food, serious food, not measured increments of food particles served in a plastic dish.

And sure enough, there’s the food. As we rise to the 14th floor, an enormous spread lays out before us. Fruit, pasta, salads, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, chicken, fajitas, pastries, ice cream – like a dream I once had when I was 14 and weighed 240 pounds, here is the food. Neil, of course, loads up a plate with cod fish, Mexican food, Italian salads, and has generally created a U.N. conference all over his plate. I can’t watch him when he eats like this. Me, everything I took came from the Italian family – we are in Italy, after all – and ate so quickly I stopped breathing.

After lunch we snuck down to our stateroom where we got settled, then claimed a spot on deck, right in the sun and close to the pool. We’ve had several minor brushes with fame. Kimberley Locke, whom you might vaguely remember coming in third on the second season of American Idol, almost walked into me in the men’s room. And Bruce Vilanch, who wrote jokes for the Oscars and was once a Hollywood Square, strolled by the pool, looking more than ever like a life-size Muppet.

I mean, really.

Otherwise it is nothing but skin, mostly old skin, as size and age fail to create any inhibition about stripping down to the smallest piece of spandex imaginable. I don’t mean to be judgmental…okay, I do, but seriously…some of this old meat is getting mighty close to its expiration date.

DAY TWO. 6:10pm. Deck Ten - Cabin 1120.

Neil hasn’t noticed that we’re moving, but we are. Gliding, gliding, gliding away from Civitavecchia and into the sea. It’s smooth, like glass, and we’re feeling comfortable enough to head out for drinks at the Lawn Club on Deck 15. The first guy we see is an amorphous mountain of gelatinous flesh Neil met during lunch. Ever the freak magnet, I worry that Neil has attracted yet another passenger on life’s short bus; someone who’ll haunt us halfway around the ancient world. He and his boyfriend are traveling together and live in New York (goodie! We can be cruise buddies after we get home). The boyfriend is easily 20 years older than he, and I entertain the thought of asking him if he’s a member of NAMBLA, just to make sure we get off on the right foot. If we get invited to their home for drinks, I’m busy that night.

Anyway, eventually we stumble upon a real estate broker I know from New York (remember 2005 – when everyone was either a real estate broker or an interior designer – yawn…) Feeling compelled to say hello, we wander over and meet his friends. A boyfriend of 13 years, along with their third, of two years. (What do we call that? A threeple? A triple?)

Folks, don’t ask me how this works because I have no earthly idea. I’ve been shagging the same guy for five years and it’s totally fine with me; though, to be fair, I also still watch reruns of Friends and Seinfeld, so I’m willing to admit I’m somewhat boring and resistant to change. Neil withholds just enough to stay tantalizing, and being in love was all I ever wanted anyway, so I’m not going to push my luck. Though I am curious in asking the thruple (thriple?) how they came to this agreement, and how it feels for the third guy, like does he feel like he walked onstage in the middle of Act two and everyone knew their lines? Rounding out their crew is a wealthy older man, buying everyone drinks, and a muscle boy from Dallas via L.A. whose age likely began with a “2.” He spoke in four-word sentences, either because we were too old and ugly for him, or because that’s all he knew.

Finally, they are with a biting, bitchy queen from Long Island who’s already seen everything, is totally over it, and is approaching the down side of middle age using humor as a defense mechanism. Finally, a friend.

Anyhow, the drinks are strong, the sun is strong, and we apparently just flew 4300 miles to hear nothing but English and hang with a bunch of Americans. More to come…

DAY TWO. 8:00 pm. Deck Four – Martini Bar.

We finally make it to the main entertainment decks of the ship to meet Mike, an acquaintance from New York and Fire Island. He’s invited us to join him and his friends for drinks and dinner, and we never say no to any invitation that doesn’t explicitly involve drugs, espionage or reggae music. We meet in the Martini Bar, which is one of several dozen venues disguised with a theme to distract you from the fact that you’re spending money. That’s the thing about a cruise – the “everything’s included” mantra pretty much only applies to your room, cafeteria-style eating, and Catskills-quality entertainment (please do NOT send me emails about how much of a star Kimberley Locke is, please. She came in THIRD, she is performing on a gay cruise, and she’s never won an Oscar, been painfully divorced or died of a drug overdose. She’s D List.) That’s not a bad thing, but – since I just started my business and am trying to get work in television or media production – I hear the cash register ring every time we move.

Mike’s friends are nice, and soon we’re all a drink or two deep and headed to dinner so we can make it to the 10:30 show (Pam Ann, the meanest flight attendant not currently working for United.) At dinner, we meet a lovely couple from New York – a designer and a household manager (this is when someone works for a wealthy individual, overseeing household matters, staff, and issues related to the children. I could call him a Manny (male nanny) but that wouldn’t be accurate and would sound undignified (who me?) We also meet some queen from Nashville who is Tennessee’s answer to Richard Simmons, a very nice Irish guy with a biting wit, and some guys who own a clothing optional guesthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Supposedly it’s the Ritz-Carlton of gay guesthouses, but the last time I walked around the Ritz with nothing on they called the police.

Finally, at midnight, after being awake for the better part of 34 hours, Neil permits us to sleep.


DAY THREE. 11am. Deck Twelve – The Gym.

Apparently the obvious slackening of gay male flesh was deemed illegal under international homo law, thus explaining the crush of people in the fitness center. As far as hotel gyms go, it’s quite nice, though the futility of getting a weightlifting session is apparent, so I opt to run on the treadmill. It’s pretty cool, as I rarely get to run with a seaside view of Sicily as the backdrop, though it’s odd to simulate running forward while actually being dragged to my left. I can’t look out the window much, as the movement of the land and water is beautiful but slightly nauseating. Like Andie McDowell.

Once off the treadmill, I drag my sweaty ass to the pool and retrieve my husband for the breakfast buffet – a staple of resort vacations and quite elaborate on a cruise ship. If you’ve ever eaten it for breakfast, folks, it’s here – Cereal, Pancakes, Waffles, French Toast, Eggs, Omelets, Salami, Ham, Bacon, Sausage, Cottage Cheese, Bread, Rolls, Muffins, Yogurt, Pizza, Fish. The list goes on. I think seasickness is a lie, friends, I think it’s just the breakfast.

Afterwards, we head back to the pool to absorb the sun. As usual, I’m forgoing sunscreen – after an hour in the pool and an hour watching a simulation of Project Runway, I’m fried like an onion ring, and smell about the same. The Project Runway event was pretty cool, though. The idea: give four teams a set of four white sheets and see what they come up with. One team pretty much picked their cutest boy, put him in a Speedo and an imitation crown of thorns, and draped him with rags, evoking imagery of bondage and Jesus.

They won by a mile.

Afterwards, we headed to the theatre to play Bingo – a staple of Catskills resorts and cruise lines. The premise was kind of cheesy – a pair of gay comedians call the numbers, while the host – a straight Australian guy (“The Bingo Dingo”) slowly strips down to his skivvies. On a boat full of gay men willing to perform acts of public lewdness, Borscht Belt jokes and an R rated Peep Show are rather tame.

We didn’t win at Bingo, but it is worth mentioned that the Aussie was a good sport, and appeared to have a decent dingo.

DAY THREE. 5:30pm. Deck Twelve – Poolside Tea Dance.

OK, call us stupid, but neither one of us figured out that the “Dog Tag T-Dance” meant to wear military garb. Not that we would have, anyway. We didn’t pack costumes for any of the theme nights, which are all pretty much just excuses for the boys to dress up in bathing suits and make-up. Note to Atlantis Cruises: it’s almost 100 degrees. Middle-aged men do not look their best in spandex and melted mascara. It was like dancing at a tranny hooker retirement home.

Everybody’s dog tags got a sticker: red if you’re in a couple and want to stay that way, yellow if you’re part of a couple with “relaxed rules” (translation: a well-trod welcome mat, and a high likelihood of dramatic fight by the time we get to Santorini.) Then there’s green if you’re single, and double green if you’re so lonely and desperate you’d do it on the dance floor for the right guy, the right drink or small amounts of cash.

Over cocktails we ran into the couple we met last night and made plans to dine together.

DAY THREE. 9:15pm. Deck Five – Tuscan Grille.

Without reservations we wait for a table in the bar, getting progressively drunker. I’ve been drinking for four hours now, with no end in sight, and I’m holding my own. I could not, however, do this for a week. I’m eager to make port somewhere. Not that I don’t enjoy these days at sea, but I don’t understand how anyone could do those Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruises where the ports are beside the point and the boat is the main event. My blood would turn to vinegar.

Todd and Mark (not their real names. Their real names are Mark and Todd.) are amusing dinner companions, and we occupy each other with stories we’ve clearly told other friends a hundred times, but have never told each other because we’ve just met. Neil and I trot out our Greatest Hits, from the story of how we met (in a bar, at midnight, drunk as can be) to how we moved in together (I moved so far uptown it was inconvenient for him to go home in the mornings. Clever, right? Can I get a round of applause, people?)

Neil, it should be noted, has been rather adorable on this trip. He’s so charming and placid at sea I’m half-thinking of buying a houseboat and docking it at the 79th St boathouse. Meanwhile, I’ve only sent one meal back so far (last night) and it was so raw and uncooked that it really shouldn’t count.

After dinner we head to the Empire Party (Roman, Greek or Egyptian theme; basically: speedos and crowns, headdresses or shields.) If they ever held a circuit party in the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur (totally good idea) this is what it would look like. Some of these folks went all out – a lot of that skin looks pretty mummified to me.

More manana…

DAY FOUR. 7:25am. Deck Ten – Stateroom 1120.

Neil, who complains when I get up at 6:30 in the city and has been known to sleep until 8 on a weekday, is up and cheerful and even (GASP!) cuddling. I’m almost tired enough to sleep through it, but this train passes by so seldom that I cuddle right back. When we finally get out of bed, I pick us up a couple of coffees and we look out on the balcony.

In another total shock, Neil agrees to head to the gym with me, in lieu of heading straight to breakfast. This may be our best idea thus far – while the gym has been routinely packed on this trip, you’ve got a fighting chance at a real workout before 9am and I seize it. Not only did I do chest, but even three exercises for legs, including the dreaded Bulgarian split squat. This is an exercise where, holding dumbbells in each hand, you place one foot firmly on the ground in front of you, and the other somewhere in Kansas. Seriously, you elevate your other foot and rest it behind you on a bench or somesuch, then process to squat and raise yourself 10 times in succession. I look like a brown flamingo doing this exercise, but my trainer makes me do it, so it’s either good for me or tremendously amusing for other people to watch.

After our workout we return to the trough to feed on a breakfast buffet that today includes Vietnamese spring rolls. Barf.

We’ll get our energy up, then head out to the pool, and catch up with you all later…

11:30pm. Deck Four. Solstice Theater.

The applause won’t be described as deafening as the shipboard entertainment winds down for the evening. “Solstice: The Show” may be based on Cirque du Soleil (Cirque du Solstice?) but won’t be putting them out of business anytime soon. I always feel so bad for the poor guy stuck doing the comic interludes – a mix of circus and physical comedy that feels like it belongs in an 18th century European carnival. The acrobatics can be cool, but they are always oddly costumed and awkwardly accompanied by Enya-like wailing. Grown men should not be spinning on trapeze bars dressed in head-to-toe fur.

It’s been a relatively relaxing day spent mostly by the pool, though Neil did take some time to attend the lecture on Egypt (he’s chatty and full of facts upon return. He can now explain the mummification process so completely that I may need to sleep with one eye open. Did you know they take out all the organs except the heart? I’m donating mine, anyway, if anyone wants them after they’ve been brined in Vodka this long.) We take a break from the sun and wander up to the Lawn Club (yes, they’ve planted live grass on Deck 15. It’s kind of like the Christopher Street pier set afloat.) We try to read in quiet, but there are acquaintances old and new everywhere we look, and we wind up in conversation with Brian from Ireland and Mike from the gym (we know him from New York, and now he’s just “Mike from the gym.”) We’re more amused by them than our respective magazines, and chat about the cruise, cattily judging just about everyone (it’s the unofficial activity of the day!)

Two hours later finds us having cocktails followed by a quiet dinner for two. After Solstice we’re skipping the 80s party (we lived through the 80s once and don’t really need a shipboard simulation the night before Egypt.) It’s nearly midnight and we have to be up at 6, so we’re out. See you in the desert…

DAY FIVE. 8pm. A tour bus heading from Cairo to Alexandria.

Gay Day in Egypt.

Getting up at 6am is no longer simply an inconvenience of work-a-day life, and now approaches something of a miracle. Yet, with only five hours sleep, here we are, the 100 degree sunshine streaming through the balcony doors as the Port of Alexandria comes into view.

The dining hall is mass chaos, as everyone is required to be off the ship before 8am. It’s two and half hours from Alexandria to Cairo, thus the tours today will be long: twelve to thirteen hours. We mechanically work our way through a breakfast which no longer holds any joy or novelty for us, and join our tour group for the journey to the Pyramids. It’s the only ancient wonder left standing (kind of like being the last living Golden Girl; my money’s on Rue McClanahan) and I’m eager to see it.

Do you know the word “Habibi?” It’s original meaning was “my beloved” but has now become a term of friendship or endearment, like “darling” or “friend” and said in the same vein the French might say “mon ami” or “mes amis.” It is also the way our Tour Guide has chosen to address us, and we’ll hear it every fifteen minutes, virtually a hundred times today, and often just preceding a logistical instruction, an historical factoid, or an opportunity to buy cheap Egyptian crap.

Meshi? (Understand?)

The journey through the desert passes quickly enough, largely because I doze several times along the way. It’s kind of disconcerting and boring to see a place so barren; like driving from Phoenix to Tucson, but a lot less pretty and dotted with military police. I haven’t seen so many machine guns since the last Die Hard movie.

We’ve been instructed to wear long pants or knee-length shorts and cover our shoulders. We’ve also been directed not to show any public displays of affection (unlikely for Neil, anyway) as they are not acceptable in Muslim countries – either in a hetero or a homo way. All that said, I think a group of 2000 men traveling together is bound to attract more than a small amount of attention. Unless someone’s convinced them we’re a group of divinity students or a military marching band, I’m pretty sure we’re in for some dirty looks today.

Not that I can really blame them: if 2000 Muslim chicks walked into G (or SideTrack or The Abbey – pick your local gay bar) – totally decked out in full chadors – it would totally harsh my buzz, so I’m cool with respecting their culture and treading lightly. Oh, and if some girl bar starts a Chador Night, I’m totally expecting screen credit and royalties.

When we arrive in Cairo, I’m a little surprised: you have this vision of the Pyramids being in the middle of the desert, but they’re pretty much right next to downtown Cairo. And across form the Sphinx, there’s a KFC. I guess after 5,000 years chilling in the desert as a half-man half-lion, you get a hankerin’ for a bucket of Original Recipe.

Cairo is filthy, and it’s sad to see so much trash everywhere. The streets and streams overflow with garbage. The people seem desperately poor, and every building looks like an abandoned public works project: cinder blocks, boarded-up or bricked-over windows, laundry drying on clotheslines and outside windows. It’s basically 1978 in the Bronx, with some palm trees and pyramids thrown in for scenery.

Still, it’s cool to see something older than John McCain (though with a similar skin condition). Did you know there are lights at the base of the Sphinx and they light it up at night? I’m thinking, next year, circuit party at the Sphinx. Or maybe a Britney concert.

Despite the marketing of this excursion as an “all-inclusive” guided tour, everything seems to have an upcharge. $10 to ride a camel. $10 to go inside the pyramid. $20 to get off the camel…there are so many hidden fees it’s like ordering cable.

After the ancient sighs, we’re taken to a hotel for lunch (beverages offered at…wait for it…an extra charge.) I don’t care if this IS the place where Carter and Sadat held peace talks, I’m not really jazzed about a buffet in central Egypt. I don’t like to eat from the salad bar at work, so I’m more than a little cautious eating at a buffet in a country that appears to have no public sanitation.

Neil, however, once retrieved a slice of pizza I threw out from our kitchen trash, so he’s generally game for anything, which is why he winds up in the Egyptian restroom ten minutes after our Egyptian lunch. He will spend the rest of our trip alternating visits to the restrooms of southern Europe and doses of Kaopectate.

I love my husband dearly, but he’s still the same man who got a touch of Montezuma’s revenge in Puerta Vallarta, only to sit down on the flight home and start eating the grapes. I had to gently remind him that they were probably boarded with the rest of us – from Mexico – and not flown in on the outbound flight from New York.

Once fed (sort of), Habibi tour guide shuttles us to the Egyptian museum. In what can only be described as a moment of inevitability, I fail the magnetometer at the entrance and get treated to a military pat down. I force myself to remember that I don’t live inside a porn movie and that this would be a bad time to become aroused. Clearing security, we tour the museum, which winds up making me sad.

If you’ve been to the Met and the British Museum, you’ve seen most of the good stuff. Egypt got the leftovers, the artifact equivalent of picking the last three kids to be on your kickball team in gym class (the girl who picked her nose, the fat dork (me) and the one who laughed at everything.) After a brief tour, we were permitted to wander on our own. The museum has some pretty good exhibits of animal mummies and, given the prospect of petrified cats, you know the gay men gave that room the most play.

What the fuck is it about gay men and cats?

After the cat mummies, we skip the people mummies ($10 surcharge) and head for the museum shop. 

After selecting trinkets with a list price of $55 and offering the shopkeeper $50, he and I find a middle ground. He takes the five-dollar bill and brings me change, leaving the $50 on the counter and walking away. And here we have our first moment at the crossroads of ethics and survival.

The shopkeep had no idea he left the remaining $50 behind. I was walking around trying to get his attention and he was busy with other sales and closing up (it’s Ramadan). I even stepped outside to try and find the tour guide and nothing happened. But stealing is wrong, especially during the holiest time of the year. It can also be fatal in a country where punishments can include dismemberment and death. I promptly get the shopkeeper’s attention and give him the money.

A word about money…I don’t care if I could have left unscathed. And I don’t care in spite of the fact that the people who took my money today probably hated me for being American, and certainly would have hated me for being Jewish and gay. Until you’ve seen a country living in such abject poverty, up-close, you cannot possibly have perspective. The politics of the Middle East (or Sub-Saharan Africa, or Indonesia, etc.) become more complicated when you visit a place where the ruling class has deeply politicized discrimination, telling masses of people that someone else is to blame for their lot in life. You see, first-hand, how easy it can be for even reasonable people to believe the propaganda – it comes through the newspapers, the television. All forms of communication are state-owned, which is what makes the internet so miraculous. Setting aside its ability to completely reshape the travel industry, not to mention offer groundbreaking advances in shopping and porn, the internet’s real power is in it’s immediacy and virulence as a tool for democracy. It’s too big and unwieldy to edit and provides a mechanism for people living in countries around the world to learn about other viewpoints and question what they hear from their government.

I only wish more Americans would do the same.

Anyway, if my money ultimately helps someone in Egypt understand the world better, or just get clean water or medical care, I’m good.

Long ready for the day to be over, we still had a final stop: the Papyrus-making demonstration and (groan) gift shop. The Papyrus was pretty cool, bit I think the guy doing the demo was desperate to jump on our bus (and some of its passengers) and ride us all the way to Mykonos.

The gift shop looked like Pearl River Mart, with higher prices, and we resisted temptation. We even bypassed the local souvenir, a cartouche. A cartouche looks like a scroll or tablet, and it is custom to engrave one’s name on it, recalling the ancient royalty who wore cartouche and decorated their hieroglyphics and sarcophagi with them. Today, buying a cartouche in Egypt is, well, tacky. You couldn’t tell by the way Habibi was pushing them (she was wearing four, in 18K gold, along with a good deal of other jewelry, so I began to smell a kickback. Besides, a cartouche from Egypt appears to be the equivalent of going to South Street Seaport and getting your name written on a piece of rice.

We grow restless as Habibi referees an argument between the cartouche guy and one of our passengers, whose moment of dementia has passed and he no longer wants to buy the crappy souvenir. A picky queen is the last thing she wants after 10 hours touring Egypt in 100 degree heat with a bunch of bitchy American homos, and she’s thrown her hands up. She’s calling us “habibi” in a tone that’s turned dark and tinged with menace. She shuts down the dispute, gets us seated, and the bus rolls.

More tomorrow, from Rhodes…

DAY SIX. 11:30am. Deck 12 – Poolside.

Somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean last night the time changed, and we’re now on Eastern European Time, jumping us an hour ahead. We awoke at 9:15 (formerly 8:15) which isn’t bad considering we went to bed at 1am. We had only intended to have one drink, but our Egyptian Adventure required a little more liquid escape, and two hours later we were still trading Tales from the Copt with our shipmates.

After the mandatory cup of coffee, we’re back in the gym (so predictable) but it’s more challenging now that we’ve hit winds and choppier water. Running five miles as the treadmills shifts beneath my feet is not an experience I’m eager to repeat. Still, it’s nice to sweat the carbs and liquor away, even if it’s only so I can restock, and my legs feel great (and, let’s admit it, look terrific) when I’m done.

After a brief swim to cool off, we’re back at the breakfast buffet – a room I can now easily navigate blindfolded, and I’m beginning to react to meals like a cat responds to a trip to the vet. I don’t mean to keep going on about the food, but that’s my “thing” so bear with me for one more tale.

When I was a kid, I used to think a cruise was a special kind of heaven: all you can eat, all the time, with broad variety. To a little porker like I was, the concept is the equivalent to eternal Christmas. The reality is quite different, punishing - like a Bataan Death March, only catered by Marriott. I’m sticking almost completely to things that are made-to-order – omelets, pasta bar, stir-fry – just to get something that doesn’t feel mass-produced and served lukewarm.

We don’t dock in Rhodes until 2:30, so it’s out to the pool again. It’s packed of course, and we’ve been on the ship long enough for outfits to make encore appearances. I can pretty much identify our shipmates by their swimsuits. I’m also wondering – given the copious amounts of alcohol we see consumed every evening, who are the people that need a cocktail by noon? I know it’s a vacation, but – seriously – give your liver a break, boys. We’re coming upon what will really be the first full generation of gay men to enter old age in a more open, integrated world. What will our twilight years look like as a culture? And how many of them will be spent in church basements? There is a tide…

More from Rhodes…

6:30pm. Rhodes.

Neil and I walk the streets of the fourth largest Greek Island, the largest in the Dodecanese Archipelago. It’s an island rich with culture, it’s harbor the former site of one of the original seven wonders of the world: the Colossus at Rhodes, a 30 meter high statue completed in 283B.C. to commemorate the unsuccessful one-year siege of the island by Demetrios. At various points in its history Rhodes has been conquered or ruled by the Crusaders, Turks, Italians, and Greeks.

With such a rich history I expected a little more than what felt like an authentic recreation of a Greek fishing village. On first impression, Rhodes Town feels like Greece as produced by Epcot Center, all souvenir shops and food stalls. Nevertheless, the more we walk the island, we find influences of Christianity, Judaism and Eastern Religion. Rhodes Town is a medieval walled city, and beyond it lay resorts and beaches that are immensely popular among Europeans. 37 miles from shore is Lindos, an ancient town with a beautiful Acropolis on a hilltop.

Neil and I walk the streets photographing the sites, and avoiding an array of looks-like-Greek souvenirs and designer impostors. There are so many reproduced Ed Hardy t-shirts I feel like I’m rummaging through Jon Gosselin’s closet.

Several hours (and one ice cream cone) later, we return to the ship. Tourists are photographing our boat from the dock, and it’s here – in the harbor with several other cruise ships, I realize our boat looks like a skyscraper afloat. It really is massive, contributing to the feeling I’ve had all week that we reside on a Las Vegas hotel asea. Every room is themed, down to impeccable detail, and overindulgence is the order of every day.

We shower, dress, and find ourselves, once again, in the Martini Bar meeting friends – old and new (and yet unmet) – for cocktails. Our group swells to twelve at dinner, and I begin to notice I’m telling stories the way I do when I’m feeling self-conscious and awkward. The voice too loud, the jokes too frequent, the content one step too far over the line of decorum. I’m like a one-man imitation of the Chelsea Handler talk show on E!, live and in person, and I can’t stop myself, though I’m getting the sense I’m exhausting people.

Fortunately, after dinner brings an opportunity to quiet down as we head to the theater for Kimberley Locke’s concert. We’re late, though she’s started late, and we have no idea where in the concert we are. She seems to be singing standards (good choice) and is just about to transition into a Judy Garland set (bad choice.) She’s cute, and carries most of the melodies, but she hasn’t Judy’s range and anyone with a recollection of the originals (and in this room of picky theater Queens everyone’s a Friend of Dorothy and can hear Baby Gumm in their heads) can tell she’s struggling with the high notes. Still, her reinterpretations are original, throaty, and well sung – something new from something old, and she’s energetic and cute and really a pretty good sport for doing two back to back concerts the night before Mykonos when everyone is either resting up for tomorrow’s debauchery, or using tonight as a dress rehearsal.

A few more drinks at the Martini Bar and we’re off to bed. Opaa!

DAY SEVEN. 8:05am. Deck 10 – Stateroom 1120.

The sunshine makes sleep impossible and I virtually crawl up to the dining room (No! No! Make it stop!!!) for a cup of coffee. Fortified by caffeine and Splenda, I hit the gym, which is already packed at 9am. Everyone is getting a party pump for the beach at Mykonos, and I combine the instructions of my trainer in NY (dumbbell squats) with the gay boy workout (biceps, chest, and abs). Having swollen my arms to a size necessary to tighten my shirtsleeves, I meet Neil for breakfast on the deck. We run into
Todd and Mark (really: Mark and Todd) and have a nice breakfast with them. Meeting them has really made the cruise worthwhile, as I feel grateful to have found another couple we can be friendly with. 

We’re not friendly with many couples back in New York, and find many of those we know play fast and loose with monogamy, so these guys are a breath of fresh air for us.

11:15am. Mykonos Town, Mykonos.

This is the real deal, one of the key reasons we flew halfway across the world. From the tender boat it is clear that this is a gorgeous island. Airy white buildings with colorful doors dot the landscape, and windmills and churches decorate the island.

We land in the harbor and walk to the taxi stand. On line we find Chris and Chris from Washington DC, whom Neil knows form his summers in Rehoboth, and we agree to share a cab. The line isn’t too long, but the dearth of taxis on the island indicate the likelihood of a wait (Mykonos only has 5,000 residents, but sees nearly a million tourists a year. Summer is the high season, with gay travel peaking in June and September.

Just as we approach the front of the line, some poor tragic queen from our ship comes running up, late for his flight to Vienna. Of course we let him in front of us (note to Miss Pam Ann, in whose show he worked: we expect free tickets when you’re in New York this fall, and don’t dream of making fun of us. If I wanted to be abused by a mean middle-aged flight attendant, I’d have traveled on United.)

An unexpected interloper was the elderly Greek woman who just brazenly walked to the front of the line and took a spot. Predictably, she spoke no English (or, I should say, predictably, we spoke no Greek, since it’s her country. The point is that there was no way for us to communicate other than angry sounding gibberish. Turns out, that’ll do in a pinch.) When the poor sad associate of hilarious female comic departs, our cab is next, but surely enough Miss Original Olympia Dukakis tries to muscle her way in. After nearly an hour in line, none of us is having it – and the cab driver knows the tips are likely to be better from four American homos than an 400 year old woman with plastic shoes and a bag of fish – so we get the cab. I know this sounds mean, but we did her a favor. If she had taken that cab Neil would have scratched her face off.

The cab takes us to the south side of the island, to Elia beach, where it appears every gay man and fag hag in Europe has decided to spend the day. The beach teems with people, and because it is, technically, clothing optional, there is more exposed flesh than I was prepared to see. If the sun wasn’t hot enough to burn my retinas, the sights will do the job.

I can’t adequately explain the joy we feel at laying in the sunshine and swimming in the Mediterranean. Neil is in heaven as he swims back and forth parallel to the shoreline, and it gives me tremendous pleasure to watch him have so much fun.

After a few hours we retire to the restaurant and order a lunch of grilled Cypriot cheese and grilled tomatoes, fresh bread, and a vegetable salad. The food is so fresh and delicious, it makes all American food feel impoverished and stale by comparison.

Lester and Mike from San Diego – not dating, just friends – generously drive us back to town. They are typical of everyone we’re meeting on this trip: totally unexpected and really friendly. Lester is easily well past forty and is still a fantastic looking man. He couldn’t be kinder, while Mike is so eager and engaging. Much like Patrick Stanton, who we met yesterday and dined with last night, it’s somewhat guilt inducing: I’m a 7 who used to be a 3, who behaves like a 9. Most of these guys are 9s who behave like 3s, so outgoing are they. I vow to be nicer when I get back to New York, but I fear – like so many resolutions – one moron standing in the subway doorway when the car is half-empty will shoot this plan to shit.

Mykonos Town is a maze of winding streets designed intentionally to confuse strangers. It was a strategy for keeping pirates from raiding the town. We wander aimlessly, easily getting lost, among beautiful shops and restaurants, before heading to Little Venice to see the sunset (with a drink, of course.) I’m gonna break for a little romance with Mr. Neil, and catch you later. There’s yet another party coming, and three more days, so there’s clearly plenty of dish still to come….

DAY EIGHT. 12:35am. Mykonos Town.

We are, officially, old. Or losers. We’re in the epicenter of European nightlife and we’re heading back to the ship. Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’ve had a really beautiful evening, we’re just old enough to know when it’s time to go. This is a skill we find others fail to hone.

After our sunset cocktail, we return to the ship to change for dinner. It’s nice to take a break from the constant hum of activity and put our feet up briefly. Once showered and changed, we return to the Gangway to take the tender boat back over to Mykonos. While in line we meet Daniel Leary, a comic performing on the ship. (He was one of the gay comedians calling Bingo.) Born in New York, Daniel is the son of two actors (you know his father, even though you don’t; after a long career he’s retired into voicveover work and is responsible for saying things like, “Advil: Advanced medicine for pain.”) Check him out on Logo – the dude’s pretty funny in an airy, effortless way I wish I were; my humor always feels too biting and worked-for.

Inside his head, Neil is rolling his eyes. He hates it when I talk shop – particularly since I haven’t yet broken into television. He’ll chastise me a little when we get off the tender, which, of course, he does the moment we step on dry land.

We head into town and begin to look for a place to eat dinner. This is an experience that requires something of an explanation.

I have a habit of traveling – anywhere, from trips to Europe to an hour at the gym – with food. My gym bag has peanuts, my suitcase has granola; you get the idea. It’s a habit I developed after years of traveling for business and got stuck with bad connections, missed connections, delays, and the horrors of road food, southern food and NO food. When I need to eat, I need to eat, and nothing better stop me from getting something I feel comfortable slipping past my neuroses into my stomach.

This habit has paid dividends since I met Neil. He’ll make fun of me endlessly for traveling with a
Kmart strapped to my back, but it keeps me from slipping into a hypoglycemic coma during our exercises in choosing a place to eat. A simple Sunday brunch can start with a plan to go to our respective gyms or do some errands, and meet up around 12:30 or 1pm. This is where the bulk of the day morphs into the modern equivalent of ancient man’s foraging for food.

I generally run on Sundays, so I relax my food meuroses a little bit and would be perfectly content with a cheeseburger. Neil, however, generally has a very specific desire for something completely vague. But whatever it is he wants, it’s not a cheeseburger and we’ll figure it out if we just walk a little.

We can literally wander half of Manhattan looking for, talking about, perusing menus at, and arguing over places to eat. The conversation usually begins with the vague definition of something he’d like to eat, such as, “I was thinking something Asian, or maybe Mexican.”

He’s now given me a challenge that spans two continents and several billion peoples, not to mention the numerous subcategories of Asian (Thai, Vietnamese, but not Chinese, etc), putting us into the realm of 6 or 7 different cuisines and hundreds of restaurants. I’m now scrolling OpenTable.com on my iPhone because I will go to the ends of the earth to please my husband.

Occasionally, however, he will knock me off my game with a totally impossible challenge. “I want something really fresh tasting.”

This is a trap.

There is no possible way to successfully accommodate this request. It is way too nondescript, and numerous recommendations of salad, sushi, and the bounty that is Whole Foods have been met with silence or disapproval.

Around 2:30 we generally wind up eating a cheeseburger as Neil becomes exasperated at the day being half-over.

Now, this used to drive me crazy, as I tend to work out hardest on the weekends and, when I’m training for a race, I may have run 8 or more miles prior to meeting him. I want food and I want it now. Thus, a bagful of nuts is a key to a happy marriage. Neil – and the rest of the world – can laugh, but I love this man way too much to let a hunger-fueled outburst end my marriage.

Now, more than 5,000 miles away from home, we are repeating our restaurant ritual through the streets of Mykonos. We settle on a very cute Italian restaurant in Little Venice, and have a really delicious dinner.

Afterwards, we head toward the popular bar in town. We knew it would be crowded, but the huddled mass of people isn’t jelling with our temperament. It was after 11 before we ate and the prospect of standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people is daunting. We wander through town a little, consider a drink at another bar, and head back to the ship.

Still, a night off never hurt anyone, and it’s not like we don’t have plenty of opportunities to go out in New York.

10:55a.m. Deck 10 - Stateroom 1120. Santorini.

Even though we were in bed by 1a.m., morning still comes way too early. We make our way to breakfast, only to return to our cabin and fall right back into bed. Santorini is right outside our window, but we feel like wrung out washcloths and need a little nap first. The cloudless sky portends another day on the surface of the sun.

With a little more rest we make our way to the tender boats and over to Santorini. Located 125 miles off the mainland of Greece, Santorini is rumored to be the site of the mythical lost city of Atlantis and according to legend, it was created when a volcanic explosion destroyed Atlantis.

This probably did not actually happen.

Besides, Atlantis is no longer lost – it has been found, 2,500 homos strong, returning to this island in pursuit of local wine, picturesque photographs, and a respite from our floating Las Vegas hotel.

Home to black-sand beaches and cliffside towns, Santorini is the island you always see in photographs of the Greek islands: the whitewashed houses, the blue roofs, the dramatic vistas. Tenders dock below the town of Fira, but getting there requires a hefty climb, a donkey ride, or a ride on the Funicular. Not fond of riding anything that doesn’t start with a key, we board the cable car. Neil’s fear of heights immediately kicks in and within moments his head is buried in my lap.

I’m lobbying our co-op to eliminate the elevator and install a cable car.

Once atop Santorini, we navigate the winding streets. The town is charming, the view is breathtaking, and the gyros are everywhere. Finally. Our friend Todd spends less than 3 Euro on what appears to be the best looking meal I’ve seen in a week. We debate heading into Santorini’s northernmost village, Oia (pronounced EE-ah), but hear it’s mostly blue roofs and churches, and decide in favor of lunch instead.

Afterwards, we decide to head back to the ship, but the line for the cable car is over an hour long. Since it wasn’t exactly Neil’s favorite form of transportation anyway, we decide to walk down instead. Apparently, the winding path leading to the shore is shared by the donkey caravan, and our journey is punctuated by passing herd of mules and the little gifts they leave behind.

Imagine – for a moment – several hundred gay men from the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Now imagine how they would dress when in each other’s presence while vacationing on the most beautiful islands in the world. Now imagine them descending a vertical mile in expensive shoes and clothes, accompanied by passing donkeys and the unrepentant smell emitting from omnipresent donkey manure.

Yeah – it was that funny to watch, too.

5:30 pm. Deck 12 – Poolside.

On the tender boat back we learn that several of the passengers have been quarantined, which explains the aggressiveness with which they’ve been offering us Purell all day. The automatic dispensers appear to have been doubled, and crewmembers are stationed at the entrances to most public areas with additional dispensers. Further inquiry informs us that the passengers are mostly suffering from stomach discomfort.

Now, I realize that a ship is a virtual petri dish for pathogen incubation, but when you serve 2,500 people the same lukewarm meals twice a day, then drop about a gallon of alcohol – per person – on top of it, there are bound to be a few gentlemen running for the Kaopectate. And I appreciate the vigilance on my behalf, but the ferocity with which we’re being disinfected feels a tad overzealous. I do wash my fucking hands.

Diarrhea fails to put a damper on Disco Tea Dance, and those whose bootys aren’t already shaken, are shaking them now to the sounds of the seventies. The music could have stood a little less remixing – the songs were fine as originally recorded – but it’s fun to watch the lyrics come back to a roomful of people who clearly danced to these songs when they were New Releases and not Classics.

Disco Tea gives way to cocktails in the Martini bar, which becomes dinner followed by Dixie Longate’s Tupperware Party. If you have never seen this, go – NOW – to dixestupperwareparty.com. Gay or straight, it is the funniest thing you’ll ever watch. I last saw her 7 years ago and she’s still as bitchy and brittle as ever.

Drinks follow Dixie (wherever she goes, actually) and shortly after midnight we decide to check out this evening’s 90s Divas Party on the deck. Now, I remember the 90s pretty vividly. Every generation has their decade, and for mine, it’s the nineties. It’s kind of sad – nothing much happened – we had a competent Democratic president who could have been great but wasn’t; a growing technology economy, and a lot of angst-ridden music and movies. A small generation sandwiched between the boomers themselves and their first wave of children, we’re just now starting to make an impact.
But in the nineties we were the lost and striving generation, looking for a defining event or way to make life meaningful beyond radical feminism and a fetish for pricey coffee drinks. And we were apparently doing it in our underwear because all I’m seeing while Whitney wails and Mariah moans is a lot of people in briefs. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I spent a good bit of the 90s drunk or high, but I’m fairly certain I wore pants.

Most of the time.

Neil is ready for bed. Needing a little ice water before bed, we stop by the late night buffet where I pick up a glass of water and Neil grabs a light snack of pizza with peppers. I kid you not – the man who reluctantly permits me to order pizza once every three months back home, and only sparsely uses bell peppers, is chowing down on the Celebrity Cruise Lines version of Domino’s, alliteratively telling me he likes the pizza with peppers particularly because the pepper permeates the pizza.


This revelation is followed by the suggestion that he could live on a ship. This is where ridiculous becomes sublime, since he’s already asked this week for a lemon tree, the television from our stateroom, and an underwater digital camera, so while he goes to look for an employment application I’m going to sleep….

DAY NINE. Somewhere between Santorini and Naples.

It is Saturday, and we’re at sea all day today, which is nice because my body needs a rest from all the activity and alcohol. I’ll probably only get relief from one, but at this point that’s a bargain. We slog, again, through the buffet (they have pizza – 24 hours a day – and the sight of it in the morning is bringing me back to sophomore year of college and the frequency with which I woke up next to half a Domino’s pizza and a pack of Camels, which wouldn’t have been totally unexciting back then if the only beverages in reach weren’t warm, flat beer from the previous evening and bong water.) Mornings have become surreal – if it isn’t the pizza and – are those samosas? – on the buffet, it’s the presence of people who still haven’t slept from last night coming down off their drugs over eggs and Froot Loops.

Somewhat mechanically I head to the gym, but I now perpetually suffer form a low-grade hangover and it dampers my motivation. Still, I make it through the gay men’s version of a thirty-minute workout (chest, arms, abs) and skulk out to the pool to sleep in the sun.

Around the pool I notice a guy I’ve seen once or twice throughout the trip – a husky, hairy bearded man commonly called a “bear” within the gay community, and I notice he’s got a pink poodle purse with him. Apparently, according to Neil, he had it in the chair next to him at the restaurant when we saw him in Mykonos. Apparently, he’s traveled around the world with this stuffed poodle purse.

It’s really amazing they didn’t blow up our buses in Egypt.

At 1pm they’ve created a comical version of Dancing with the Stars on the pool deck (comical in the sense that, of the three dancing stars – Kimberley Locke, Malcolm the Atlantis Cruise Director, and Dixie Longate – I’m only willing to call Dixie a star and that’s because if I didn’t she’d scratch my face off.)

I’m more amused by the wildlife. At this point in the cruise, the singles are really working it and many of the couples have either broken up, relaxed the rules, or found a way to look on in with the bemused expressions of those who’ve traded sluttery for pottery – gratefully – but with a touch of melancholy.

Anyway, the bathing suits have gotten shorter, and the tactics more direct. Stranger yet, we’ve been on this boat almost nine days but there are still faces that look unfamiliar, and – honestly – I think the crowd got cuter. Still, it’s all relative – yes, many gay men are very attractive, but we sometimes carry it too far or overestimate our allure, leading to the feeling I’m having that everyone is 42 and looks 36, but thinks they can pass for 28.

The coupling is accelerated by the liquor and the music. It’s nearly impossible to escape the reach of the DJ and, apparently, Gloria Estefan was correct: the rhythm IS gonna get ya. I’m beginning to feel as if my life has a soundtrack, and it’s disco.

It’s a good day to rest, since tonight is a Patti Lupone concert followed by The White Party – the biggest party on the ship. This has no resonance for me. There’s been a party every night and I can no longer tell them apart. I realize that the goal is to make sure there’s something for everyone, but wouldn’t the parties get more exciting if there were some anticipation? Even one night off?

Anyway, I’ve heard the costumes for the party get pretty elaborate, so I’m curious to see what that means.

11:50pm. Deck 14. The White Party.

We dine with Mike again, and our new friend Brian from Ireland, along with a big group from Ohio and Florida. Brian is Neil’s crush for this trip – Neil finds him very funny – which I think is cute (we agree it’s totally harmless to find someone else interesting or attractive, neither of us feels it threatens our fidelity or commitment.) He is, indeed, quite funny and we’ve enjoyed his company throughout the trip.

After dinner, we head off to the Solstice Theatre to see Patti LuPone! That exclamation point isn’t mine, it’s how she’s billed – in our onboard program, at the entrance to the theater, as if Patti LuPone herself is something of an interjection.

Which, of course, she is.

Even those of you who aren’t gay might know her from her Tony-award winning performance in Evita or Gypsy, or her nominated turns in Anything Goes and Sweeney Todd.

If you missed all of this, you might have seen the recent New York tabloids which skewered her for completely flipping out when a paparazzo started taking photographs during one of the final performances of Gypsy earlier this summer. She apparently stopped the show (this is not euphemism.) 
She broke character and began screaming at the guy to stop, cursing up a blue streak.

Patti LuPone! has been touring since the show closed, doing a cabaret act called “Gypsy in My Soul” which is rather a clever title for a mix of standards, a modern song or two, and highlights from her career on Broadway. It is here where I should be labeling the concept self-indulgent but Patti LuPone! still has a phenomenal voice, at an age when many other singers have shaved several notes off the top of their range. She can hit ‘em, control ‘em, and the show turns out to be great fun – no less so than at the end, when she comes on stage with a camera of her own and begins taking photos of the audience, our cue that’s it’s ok to take photos in return. She throws the disposable camera to the crowd, and she’s gone.

From one diva to a roomful, as we head up to The White Party. There is only word that comes to mind when I see the party in full swing:


Yes, there were one or two elaborate costumes – but the remainder were a mostly predictable mix of athletic apparel (baseball pants), feathers, and speedos. I saw so much dick and glitter it was like a casting call for extras in that Studio 54 movie. In the market for neither, we’re off to bed.

DAY TEN. 7:15am. Deck 2. Naples, Italy.

I’m on the gangway waiting for Neil who needed a last-minute re-visit to the restroom before we head out on our excursion to Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii. Hurriedly he makes it down in time, and we meet our group ashore to board the hydrofoil to Capri island.

It’s here where the White Party becomes the Green Party, as 30 minutes into the hour-long ride the sea is unforgiving. We’re too used to a large cruise ship and the hydrofoil is a completely different way to experience the waves. One by one several of our fellow passengers make their way, rapidly, to the washrooms. At least I’m hoping it’s the waves and not the buffet.

Capri is as beautiful as I remember it. We ride the funicular to the top and wander through Capri town, indulgently eating ice cream at 10:30 in the morning and buying shoes. Figures this trip would finally kick in on the last day: I haven’t found much worth buying in over a week and in less than an hour I’ve got ice cream and shoes which are, basically, my reasons for living.

After Capri we head back to the Italian mainland, this time on a shorter boat ride to Sorrento, where we explore the town and have lunch. With no time to waste and too much to see, we scarf down our pasta, wine and mystery meat (they said it was chicken, but I’m voting for turkey while others guessed pork. Whatever, it was beige. Ew.) We make the most of our remaining time (26 minutes) by looking at local artistry and selecting a beautiful hand crafted olivewood box for Neil’s mother. I briefly consider buying my own mother something – a Murano glass cat – but that woman has so much cat bric-a-brac she’s dangerously close to being committed, so I pass. She’ll be fine with postcards from the ship.

Our last stop is Pompeii, beginning with a Cameo factory. Why does every trip to an archeological site of historical significance also need to include some sort of gift shop and local arts and crafts? It’s like going to visit an adult retarded community and being guilted into buying lanyards. I admit it’s kind of cool that, thousands of years ago, someone felt it so necessary to express themselves artistically that they carved images into seashells because they were pretty, but this relentless procession through the souvenirs shops of ancient empires is pissing me off.

Pompeii, itself, is very interesting, however. Like all advanced civilizations from ancient times, it’s fascinating to see the society they built: designing the angles of streets to protect the walled city by allowing for unbroken defensive views, using the topography and hills to their defensive advantage. They even had pipes and running water – supplied by an aqueduct.

Think about that for a second – nearly 2,000 years ago there was a culture that managed to develop a system of plumbing to provide water to public venues and, occasionally, private homes. There were places in this country that didn’t have indoor plumbing until recent years.

In a moment of reflection I realize that our trip has taken us to the sites of three ancient cultures, all of which were world-dominant at one point in time. The Egyptians created a mummification process that allows us to better understand what they valued, they left behind a form of ancient writing that tells their story, and monuments that have served nearly 5,000 years. The Greeks created participatory government and live theatre, which are arguably the same thing today but were two distinct expressions in their society, one which allowed them to govern themselves peacefully, and the other to tell stories about the human drama, enabling them to understand it better. The Romans conquered an empire that spanned more of the globe than any other before or since. Their ancient societies served human need and human comfort, and their art forms were borne of an unquenchable thirst for self-expression.

Today, these three countries are – largely – politically irrelevant. They play no significant role on the world stage. And yet, the concept of a civilization rising and falling doesn’t seem to be a factor worthy of discussion, not really, in our own political dialogue. They are not alone – Holland during the post-Renaissance period of world exploration; Elizabethan England, Napoleonic France.

What of America? Are we witnessing the peak and decline of the American era? It’s hubristic to think that US power and influence can last indefinitely, though we can look to the British, French and Germans for guidance about remaining influential and important if not dominant. China, India, Russia, Brazil – there are nations on the rise that may soon displace us. How will we transition and what do we leave the world’s visitors when their cruise ships dock in our ports?

8:15 pm Martini Bar

Well that last little detour was something of a downer, huh? Let’s kick it back into gear with the Endless Summer Tea Dance. It’s sunset on the deck and the drinks are (finally) free. Today has had the melancholic feeling of the last day of camp. Even though we had a busy day in Italy, there was already a feeling that things were winding down.

Everyone dances tonight - and there’s a kindness you don’t often see when gay men gather. Perhaps it’s because we realize, no matter where we live or how far society has come, that the world still reminds us in ways large and small that we’re different. That we cannot marry, or have our marriage recognized by the government; that maybe the guy who got the job or the promotion or the part in the movie wasn’t more talented or qualified than us; that there are still those in the generations behind us that are hiding in closets, getting beaten up in schoolyards, and thrown out of our family homes.

I’ve judged so many people this week, harshly, and – while I stand by my belief that we should act our age and do so responsibly – I cannot deny there has been a great deal of joy in living in total freedom and acceptance. Much has been written in recent years about re-segregation: communities of people who share a common race or characteristic who choose to ghettoize themselves. I’m hoping the trend were seeing toward acceptance and assimilation grows and becomes the norm, but it’s understandable to see why we build the communities we do; to live without freedom or understanding is not to be endured.

This really took an unexpected turn, but indulge me one more paragraph while I tell you the stuff I left out about this week, while I was trashing everything else: the sea was the color of lapis and I’ve never seen water so beautiful in my life. My husband swam through it in Greece and the sight of it took my breath away. I fell in love with him every time I looked at him this week, and saw the same love in the eyes of hundreds of people who got to spend a week and a half with partners who they don’t get enough time with at home, or with friends they seldom see or never get to really talk to, or with strangers who are now friends and future traveling companions. This is why I travel with Neil…the sights and history and food and souvenirs are great, but I do it to experience the world with him, to find the peace and quiet to rediscover that sense of adventure in each other that brings us together.
We meet at the Martini Bar and head to dinner – a group of 11 tonight. Cards and email addresses and phone numbers are exchanged. Too soon it’s nearly 11pm and our luggage must be outside the stateroom door by midnight. We have to finish packing.

Good night.

DAY ELEVEN. 6:50am. Deck 14 – Oceanview CafĂ©.

My body is officially protesting the food. It knows we’ve been docked since 4am and, if it’s going to let me eat, it won’t be on this boat. I plate some fruit and order an omelet, but as soon as I sit it is as if an iron gate has been drawn across my stomach. My appetite is non-existent and the mere sight of the food is making me a little nauseous.

We disembark into the terminal, and – of course – my luggage is nowhere to be found. Neil’s is right with our disembarkation group, but we search each piece, checking it twice, and it simply isn’t there. We find someone who looks moderately competent, hoping they speak English, and Neil steels himself for me to become completely unglued.

So it’s sort of weird when I don’t. I’m perfectly calm. We have six hours until our flight and my computer, which is the only truly irreplaceable item (other than cash), is in my hand luggage. They’ll find it. We check the untagged bags and it’s still not there, so I methodically start looking through each group of bags. Within ten minutes, we’ve found it.

I’ve now learned a new coping skill, which is great, but the downside is that Neil will expect me to begin acting like a rational adult all the time, which is wildly improbable. A gay bar at the pyramids would be a safer bet.

You really know the rest of the story, because you’ve done some version of this before. The airport in Rome sucks, and is an exercise in standing in lines. The flight was delayed because Continental oversold the flight and then broke a part on these brand new planes they’re always bragging about. The trip was bumpy and Neil’s Xanax never quite kicked in, and the food wasn’t good and the portions were too small which I think is an old joke from the Catskills comedian era because my grandfather told it and the only funny thing he ever did was drop dead of a massive heart attack. (That’s a story for another day but trust me, it actually is a funny story – or, at least, ironic – which is what passes for funny when you’re a gay Jew.)

We’ll get home and the mail will overflow and I’ll need to pay the bills and I’ll be neurotic about money. The house will have all the preserved crap we bought for my tv shoot, but no fresh food and I’ll become neurotic about how much I ate and obsess about my trainer and running 5-6 miles every other day. Neil will feel overwhelmed and bored and depressed by work. I’ll vacillate between turning back to the kind of work I knew well, was bored with, but got rich doing, and forging ahead trying to convince someone that I really can host one of these tv shows, that the concepts I’m developing are worth airing, and that my writing is worth publishing or producing, even though I worry about money every day.

We’ll probably have the argument we didn’t have on this vacation (a first for us, we always argue at least once, and this was our longest trip ever.) It will be about something stupid and insignificant, but it will really be about the fact that you can’t live on top of someone in 150 square feet for 10 days and not get on his nerves a little bit – no matter how cute you are or how polite you try to be. All people live trying to maintain the balance between loving one another and wanting to poke each other’s eyes out, and we’ve beaten the odds for nearly two weeks.

In the end, there’ll be a t-shirt or snow globe that Neil puts a creative twist on, leveraging the design skills and commercial savvy he underestimates but has in spades. I’ll give myself another month, for now, and hold my inner demons at bay. We’ll grow used to life without a dance every day at 6, a party every night at 11. In exchange for the predictability, though, we’ll keep a little of the adventure and maybe something surprising will happen.

You never know.

The Last Word: DO THIS (our recommendations from ten days at sea)

Catch Dixie's show, and buy some crap, hookers.  www.dixiestupperwareparty.com

Take off with Pam Ann.  http://www.pamann.com

Take a Celebrity Cruise - the ship was awesome and the service was first-class.

Take an Atlantis Cruise.  If you are straight, consider also taking a valium with it.  http://www.atlantisevents.com

See Daniel perform or watch him on Logo - funny guy.  http://www.danielleary.net

Catch "Gypsy In My Soul" - Patti's still got it, and earns her own exclamation point. http://www.pattilupone.net

Go see Greece.  Tell them we sent you. Skip the donkeys and take the funicular.  See Mykonos and Santorini, but skip Rhodes.  And don't drink the wine.  It's awful.


You can skip Egypt.  Just copy my photos and say you went. No one will know.



  1. I so LOVE this blog post ... ok, I'm going to read it again and comment more thoughtfully in a moment ...

  2. Item 1: I REALLY need to meet Neil someday. I had no idea you were married – congratulations!!
    Item 2: I couldn’t spell Civitavecchia if I tried. (Thank God for copy & paste, which allows me to confess this here.)
    Item 3: I’m stealing the expression “wine flu”, but I promise to credit you with it.
    Item 4: I’m not stealing the expression “Manny”, and I recommend you stop using it immediately. Hee hee!
    Item 5: It is SO YOU to move so far uptown that you’ve essentially trapped your new lover. Classic Stine.
    Item 6: Gay cruise in an Arab nation? I’m not sure if you’re brave or suicidal!
    Item 7: “…the artifact equivalent of picking the last 3 kids for kickball…” hahahaha!
    Item 8: I TOTALLY agree with you on actually having to SEE poverty to gain perspective. My Dad always thought every High School graduate should be required to serve a year in the peace corp or the military. I totally agree. It is incredible what I and other US natives take for granted.
    Item 9: I was always sorry I never made it to Rhodes, mostly because of its travel distance from the other islands. Thanks for allowing me to scratch it off the list. I’d still love to go to Istanbul, though. (That was going to be the same trip someday … Now I can spend more time there! )
    Item 10: You forgot to mention how darn BEAUTIFUL the Aegean Sea is! *sigh*
    Item 11: Did you see the Jurassic pelicans in Mykonos? Crazy!
    Item 12: Thanks for acknowledging that donkey manure is funny. It totally is, and anyone who says it’s not is a big fat liar. We stayed in Fira on Santorini, by the way… it rocked, but the whole island is incredible. Did you see how they coil the grape vines to the earth because the wind is so strong? It was way cool, dawg.
    Item 13: Note to self re: end of Day 8: You remember way too much for me to ever allow myself to get seriously drunk with you.
    Item 14: I was obsessed with ancient plumbing, too. I’ll see your Pompeii and raise you a Knossos.
    Item 15: As for the rise and fall of the US, did you see that hubbub about the president reading the book on his vacation about the possibility of this happening? You’d have thought he was planning to sell off our entire society for a GM Yukon or something. Personally, I think as “leader of the free world” (albeit temporarily), it’s irresponsible not to consider this.
    Item 16: Ah, here is the description of the sea! Good. Lapis – excellent adjective.
    Item 17: As for Greek wine, I thought there was a great white Boutari from Crete that was quite palatable! I even ordered a case of it from wine.com when I got home. Sure, it’s not Italy, but not too shabby! That was 2007, though, and the year has a lot to do with it. Also keep in mind that I’m the girl you teased incessantly for the perpetual adornment of non-natural fibers. *smile*
    Item 18: For a pop-culture fanatic like yourself, how you wrote this whole thing without a Love Boat reference is a mystery to me.
    Final item: I assume this trip was carbon-neutral, right?
    Thanks for this. It was like a way-sunnier version of Ann Frank. Sounds FANTASTIC! I’m so happy for you.

  3. I have been asked, in both email and comment, why no Love Boat references. I just felt it was too easy of a target. Besides, once you start with the "Julie, the Cruise Director" comments, you wind up at Charo, coming down the mountain on a donkey in, like, four seconds, flat.

    I have also been asked about two other passengers who escaped ridicule in my blog. The first is James Getzlaff, who was the eligible bachelor in Bravo's gay reality dating show, Boy Meets Boy, a few years ago. Generally, anyone who appears on a reality dating show is totally fair game for the most scathing ridicule possible. However, James got cruelly tricked by the concept of the show, which failed to inform him that one-third of the contestants were straight, and he'd lose the prize if he chose a straight guy. This plays into the worst fears of homophobia and the ridiculous - and false - perception many straight men have that gay men want to seduce them and and make them gay. We do not.

    We just want to fool around occasionally - and, if the internet is any proof - many of you let us. So shut up.

    Anyway, I see I have once again left the point behind so before it totally recedes in the rear view mirror of my stream of consciousness, let me just say that James had enough exposure for one lifetime - he seems to have no interest in acting, television, or any other public exposure, so we let him be.

    The other character I omitted was nicknamed "Valentino" and, less kindly, "Nuthugger." This is the gentleman who showed up at the pool every day wearing approximately 14 cents worth of yarn, barely covering his hoo-hoo - and nothing else. My personal feeling is, when you stick your dick in a change purse and walk amongst 2500 bitchy queens, you've gotten all the ridicule one person deserves, even if he is wearing a first grade arts and crafts project as a bathing suit.

    I'm out - next post - two delicious recipes from our home kitchen, and a review of Top Chef.