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Anniversary cruise.


"It's a thoughtful thought," I said to my beaming bride of yester-year, upon examining her anniversary gift to me. "But if it was the element of surprise you were after, I'd much rather you had jumped out of the closet with you hair in curlers and yelled, 'Boo!'"

What she had done instead was present me with a Manila envelope stuffed with

documents for a Caribbean cruise, the top document being a notice that our next Visa statement would be augmented by the handsome sum of $2,122. Plunging further into the mess, I discovered that this did not include tours of the various ports.

"Or if you're doing this just to impress our friends and neighbors" (they being two separate groups), I stated further, "why not monogrammed toothpicks? Or something equally sensible? Compared to a Caribbean cruise, that is. Or maybe stained-glass lenses for my binoculars? Or how about--" but she had already buried her head in the jungle she calls a closet and was dredging up cruise clothes enough, as it turned out, to fill her own suitcase and one side of mine.

"Why do you want that . . . and that . . . and this? You never wear them," she explained, leaving me with two pairs of shorts, a straw hat, and my shaving kit.

"As you know only too well," I said, "the cruise directors' standard joke 'You come aboard as passengers and seven days later we roll you off as cargo' is no joke. I haven't got rid of the ten pounds I picked up from our last cruise," I pointed out, trying to squeeze in a thin T-shirt before jump-closing my bag.

Then I remembered the French woman who had managed to knock off seven well-to-do husbands by feeding them rich foods until they turned up their toes from heart attacks or other longevity inconveniences.

Well, not this husband, dear girl. I may not be well-to-do, but I certainly have enough to make it worthwhile. If you've already blown your wad on widow's weeds, I hope you saved the sales slips, because this is one husband with the will power and common sense to make this the world's first one-man "lite" cruise.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the airlines for getting me off to a good start in cutting calories. Due to their honey-roasted-peanut lunches, I landed in Jamaica on an empty stomach, you might say. (I wouldn't say it, but you might.) Awaiting us at the pier in a blaze of welcoming lights was my caloric adversary, the Regent Star.

Why, you might ask, did I not pass up the sockeye salmon rillettes, the cream of corn soup, the roast Cornish hen "diva," the choice of four vegetables, a salad, a cheese tray, a fruit basket, and the strawberry mousse Benedictine? I'll tell you why. The ship line being fairly new, I had this gut feeling (though barely enough room for it) that the cruise people might be trying to make a good first impression. Not that they'd be servidng only bread and water from here in, but with this thought in mind (where there was plenty of room), I sreaked two oranges, a banana, and a bunch of grapes from the fruit basket to take to our cabin--where I added them to the basket of fruit awaiting us on the bureau, "compliments of the hotel manager."

Also awaiting us was an invitation to dine at the "nonsmoking table" of Captain Konstantinos Theoharis the very next evening.

"Nonsmoking," I ranted to the perpetrator of this mess, "but no captain's table is going to be non-caloric, non-cholesterol, and non-low-fiber. We'll have to spend the rest of the year at a fat farm just to burn up the artery-plugging stuff from this one dinner alone," I further ranted.

"Maybe you could ask for a doggie bag," suggested the concerned perpetrator, disemboweling my suitcase in search of the proper dress to wear.

"And on the first slurp of the soup course I'll probably dredge up the big end of my necktie," I said. "I've done it before."

"How about sticking the dessert in your pocket? You've done that before too," she pointed out.

Actually, I did it only once. A piece of rhubarb pie. I hate cooked rhubarb. It reminds me of a sheep's nose with a cold. The reason I tried this only once was because the hostess noticed how fast my pie had disappeared and brought me a second piece. And two pieces of rhubarb pie in your pockets are a bit much.

As expected, all eight courses turned out to have calories big enough to be seen. Only the blushing bride of my youth separating me from the captain, I had no choice but to eat evey course with relish (except fo the grenadine of beef malagasy, which I ate with green pepper-corn sauce). As for stuffing the dessert in my pocket, no way--it being a hot popover the size of a baseball, which I might have collapsed to pocket accommodations had it not somehow been filled with ice cream.

Upon observing that I possessed the suave to keep my tie out of the soup and the dessert out of my pocket, Captain Theoharis invited wife and me to join him on the bridge the next morning for coffee while his ship (not a boat--a boat, we were told, is what you take if the ship sinks) negotiated the Gatun Locks to the Panama Canal.

My popping over in bed that night was not the fault of the popover. Nor was it from worry that the ship could not be raised 125 feet to the level of Gatun Lake, where we would turn around. What kept me churning in bed half the night was realizing that the locks had been completed in 1913. I had been completed in 1912--and I knew the condition I was in. I could visualize one of those lock gates giving way, as one once did at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, allowing water, ship, passengers, and all to come spewing out, mast over apple cart.

Upon traversing the locks with no sweat--unless you count mine--we were on our way to Cartagena (Car-ta-HAY-na), Colombia, with eating and seasickness being about equally divided activities among the passengers.

"From here in," I said to dear wife, after a modest burp from a shot of Alka-Seltzer, "no more breakfasts and lunches in the Cordon Bleu dining room, where we are at the mercy of a menu and a waiter whose pay must depend upon how many pounds of food he can push off on us. I, at least, will be partaking of both meals at the take-it-or-leave-it at the buffet on Lido deck, where I'll be taking only enough to sustain life."

Why, then did I take enough to floor a horse, as dear wife so delicately phrased it? I'll tell you why. For the next two days after I selected my sparse fare, the only vacant chairs happened to be located directly behind the dessert table. And even a man of my high moral fiber can't witness the weak-or-will fawning over the cheese-cake, the cobblers, the brownies, the mousses (or is it meese?), and the whipped-cream-topped gelatin creations without his curiosity being aroused as to whether all that junk stuff is really worth all the adoration. The answer turned out to be yes. Especially the meese.

Although still able to get through the doorways without having them greased, I decided from here on we would take our sparse lunch out on deck and eat beside the pool. (Pool, they call it. My dog Brutus could drink it dry in two days and fill it up again two hours later.) But as luck would have it, the only deck chairs unoccupied happened to be within aroma range of two grills barbecuing chicken and ribs. My wife said she had never heard of anyone eating barbecued ribs for dessert. I said I'd just as soon no one else heard about it. But now that she has told everyone she knows, I might as well tell you: I ate barbecued ribs for dessert.

My one lucky break on the cruise had nothing to do with calories. With all four of the ship's engines coming down with a bad case of dieselitis (as opposed to gastritis), their 26,000 horsepower was cut to pony effort. This stroke of good fortune brought us to the two ports of Cartagena and Oranjestad (on the Dutch island of Aruba) too late for dear wife to engage in one of her normal T-shirt shopping orgies. She had to settle for a carved coconut head, which now graces our attic.

From Aruba back to Jamaica the sea was rough. And I'm talking about whitecaps on the swimming pool. Dear wife, who has been known to become woozy in a rocking chair, handled her distress by going to First Aid for a shot and handful of pills. When I saw the bill--25 bucks--I got sick. But I would settle my own discomfort with a cup of tea. No calories in tea, right? And it was free.

What I didn't know--honestly--until I had worked up too far to step out of line gracefully, was that before arriving at the tea-dispensing station you had to shuffle past this long table groaning under scones, pones, brownies, cookies, a mother layer cake surrounded by a litter of cupcakes, and you name it, it was there.

I know what you're thinking (you're just like my wife): Graceless or not, you could still have gone directly to the tea urn. No, not a man of my compassion. Not with the creators of these caloric temptations watching to see who would have the guts to refuse their offerings. Some patrons were showing their compassion by filling two plates. How tacky can you be? I chose the more refined strategy of going through the line twice.

Because we arrived in Jamaica late, instead of taking a direct flight to Atlanta, we had to go via Kingston, Miami, then Atlanta, and finally Indianapolis. And I must compliment the airline for serving on each hop nothing but 23 or so honey-roasted peanuts encased in the standard steel pouch that can't be opened short of a crowbar. How dear wife managed to open hers, I can't say. She could have had a crowbar in that portable labyrinth she calls a purse--heaven knows she has everything else.

As for where the needle went when I jumped nude on the old bathroom scales the next morning, it's none of your business. Let's just say that if my ring and wrist watch weigh a total of ten pounds, I didn't gain an ounce.
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Title Annotation:shipboard food
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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