This entry is part 20 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

We walked aft to the dining room entrance and waited for a few minutes for the doors to open. Finally, the crowd surged forward. Inside the entrance I stooped to a hitherto unimaginable act—I stopped and asked directions. I could see the pride on Kris’s face.

A young man in an elaborate uniform topped by a pill box hat took my new table-assignment card and then said something that will forever remain a mystery. When he turned and started walking, we followed—just on a hunch that it was the appropriate thing to do. He led us down the stairs to the lower level, turned, and indicated a table immediately adjacent to the landing and next to a waiter’s station. The table was set for ten, but sat no one at the moment.

A smiling man in waiter’s garb rushed up when it became apparent that we intended to sit. “Hello, everyone. Are you sitting at my table?”

“Yes, we switched from another table—actually, the two of us know we’re supposed to be here, but our mothers actually don’t know if they got reassigned with us—I asked that all four of us be moved together.”

“These are your mothers?” said the waiter with mock incredulity. “No way! I think they are your daughters! You brought your little girls on the cruise. They are so cute.”

The waiter sang a little ditty that I did not recognize and carried on without inhibition. I remember thinking, “Well, this guy’s not shy.”

When the waiter finished his performance, he addressed us. “It is no problem—you can sit here. Welcome to my home. What are your names, please?”

I ran through the introductions as we were being seated. Kris and I sat on the ends with the mothers in the protected position between us—in case we were seated with a bunch of brutes, I suppose.

“Okey dokey, Kris, Pat, Laura and Chester. My name is Shy.”

I didn’t think I’d heard him correctly. “Pardon? Your name is…”

He leaned over so I could see his nametag. “I am Shyyyyyy…” he said, spanning two or three octaves with his singsong voice. “My name is Shy. I am a very shy guy! Okey dokey!”

“That’s preposterous,” said my mother through her laughter. “You’re a nut!”

For a moment I thought she might have offended him, but my wise mother had caught on to our waiter’s act immediately. “Oh yes—I’m a crAzy shy guy, Laura. You know it…”

“Well, it’s a great pleasure to make your acquaintance, Shy.” They shook hands vigorously.

Shy kept us entertained as we waited to see who, if anyone, would be joining us. In a few minutes, two women who looked like sisters approached the table and were seated next to Kris. From a distance, I learned that one was named Mary, and the other was named—Mary. Neither seemed to know exactly what to make of Shy.

Next, a couple, perhaps as young as I was ten years ago, sat next to me. They looked familiar, somehow. I introduced myself to Jim and Darcy.

“Oh, you’re the guy with the nametag on the door. We’re you neighbors—two cabins down,” said Darcy.

It hit me then—we’d encountered each other in the hallway the previous night. The ship was rocking pretty well, and we laughed as we tried to time our staggers so as to avoid collision. It was close…

“I put the nametag on the door so our mothers would know when they were in the right place,” I said.

The final two seats were occupied by Kara and Buck. Kara “knew” me from the online forum, and it turned out that she and Buck were practically neighbors of Jim and Darcy back in Minnesota. None of our tablemates had cruised before, and all remained a little uncertain about the experience—I can certainly remember being a little overwhelmed on the first one. Everyone was new to the table, refugees from their initial, unsatisfactory (for various reasons) seating assignments.

Most of my conversation this evening was with Jim, who sat immediately to my right. Turns out that Jim is an executive with American Public Media, content producer for public radio and parent company of Minnesota Public Radio, which is the home of APHC.

“Hey, maybe you can help me then,” I said after explaining my pending status as a book author. “I really want to go to Garrison’s writing seminar, but there must be 300 people ahead of me on the signup list.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jim promised. “Don’t worry about it—you’ll get in.”

We swapped stories around the table. Shy actually had difficulty penetrating the lively conversation to attend to business, but we did manage to eat. I have no idea what we had, but it went down fine. At one point Kris collected the wine corks from the table, explaining that our Parrot (Q) likes to chew them into little bits and make an incredible mess. What fun…

Dinnertime flew by, and when it was over everyone went their separate ways.

“Well, that was fun,” I said.

“What an interesting group,” said Pat.

“It’s always fun to sit at a big table,” said Kris. “Now we have to mix it up every night so that everyone gets to talk to different people.”

I suggested we try out the Piano Bar, where Butch Thompson was scheduled to play. Butch was a member of the band on APHC for many years, and is now a frequent guest on the show. He is a well known jazz pianist, performing around the world.

“Is he funny?” asked my mother.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Why?”

“After the show, Shy and all that food, I can’t laugh anymore—it hurts too much,” she answered.

The bar was packed when we got there. People crowded around the genuine piano/bar located in the central section, and the tables in two “wing” rooms were all full. We stood in the entryway and listened for a few minutes, and then by some miracle, a table opened up. I hesitated for a moment, waiting to see if anyone who had been standing for longer than we had would claim the spot. No one made a move, so we sat.

The table was at the head of the room, separated from the end of the piano bar by a passageway about a dozen feet wide. I scanned the room, which held about ten tables. Something seemed strange, but it took a few minutes for it to hit me. Everyone in the room was sitting up perfectly straight, hands folded in their laps and feet flat on the floor, eyes fixed straight ahead and faces expressionless. This was odd enough, but it was made more so by the fact that due to the layout of the club, no one could see anything but the backs of the patrons seated at the piano bar.

“Look,” I whispered to Kris. “They’re all in a trance.”

“It’s like church,” she said. “And nobody has a drink.”

I hadn’t noticed that, but another survey confirmed it. There were a few empty glasses, but not a single person had so much as an ice cube in front of them.

“Strange,” I said.

Kris looked at the drink menu, and shared it with the mothers. It was a long while before a waiter appeared. He seemed surprised when we waved him over and placed an order. When he left us, he circled the room collecting the few empty glasses. No one else placed an order.

“He must be bored,” I whispered. The waiter returned quickly with our drinks.

Meanwhile, Butch Thompson was playing ragtime (one of his passions), taking requests and answering questions from the audience. He played all of the classics as well as a number of unusual pieces from his personal archive. In an amazing narrated segment, he took individual pieces and played segments of them in the style of several different ragtime artists—the same musical phrases rendered in completely different ways. For some tunes, he mimicked five or six artists, and then played his own jazz interpretation of the same piece.

At one point during the performance, a man walked into the bar and stood in the passageway directly in front of Pat. In a startlingly loud voice that made me jump, Pat said, “I CAN’T SEE!”

I thought that fact was pretty well established for all of us, and to emphasize the point, I lifted a drink menu in front of my face—hiding everything.

“Mom! Shhhhhhh,” said Kris in a loud whisper.


“It’s OK,” whispered Kris, “he’ll move in a minute.”

I peeked around the drink menu to see how much attention we were attracting, but everyone else in the room continued to do their statue imitations. The man moved moments later, pretending to do so of his own volition. He quietly exited the club…

We listened for a while longer, but near midnight, when my ice cubes were gone, everyone agreed that it was time for bed. As we rounded the corner from the Piano Bar, we stumbled onto a string quartet playing for a small audience. The mothers opted to stay and listen for a while.

Kris and I went back to the cabin. We were both exhausted—it was hours past Kris’s usual bedtime, and I was operating on very little sleep. Nevertheless, I wanted to post a journal entry on the APHC forum, so I took the laptop and headed for the library. I’m sure Kris was asleep before I got there.

The library was deserted, and an hour later I made my post and returned to the cabin. At 1:15, I crawled into bed, fired up the iPod, selected something soothing and turned out the light. Oh how good it would feel to sleep…

As I lay there trying to shut down my circuits, I became aware of a strange burning sensation in my nose. I tried to convince myself that I was imagining it, but then my eye started to water. Suddenly, as though activated by a switch marked “torture,” a searing bolt of pain shot into the left side of my head and stayed there. I sat bolt upright, tearing the headphones from my ears. This couldn’t be happening again.

I squinted at the clock, which was on the opposite side of the bed. It read 1:35 a.m. In a moment, I realized that this was exactly 24 hours after the last episode. The pain drove me to my knees. I crawled to the bathroom and swallowed four ibuprofen tablets. Then I turned on the shower, got in and sat with my head under the rushing water—waiting for something to happen…

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