Archive for February 2011

The Boulders

February 15, 2011

I was awakened by the Sunday morning sunlight filtering through the bay windows into my bedroom.  While I lay there and contemplated getting up, I performed my ritual weekend activity of seeing how much of the previous evening I could piece together.  On this occasion,  my recollection was a fairly fruitful exercise, in that I could remember just about everything I did, apart from the drive home.  The drive home I almost never remembered.   Suburban kids drive drunk a lot.  Many will tell you they are good drunk drivers.  Some of them die testing that theory.

This was my first apartment after graduating from college.  I had started apartment hunting two days after I got home.  While my parent’s home was comfortable and the price was right, I had lived off-campus in an apartment with buddies for the last three years.  I had grown accustomed to my hours and my schedule did not mirror that of my folks; to put it mildly.  They certainly did not seem devastated by my decision to seek other lodgings.  My Buddy Al was also looking for a place, and we decided to share the expense.  My Mother loved Al, but had suggested we were too much alike to be good roommates.  As is my wont, I blew off her advice.  If there was an Association for People Who Have to Learn Lessons the Hard Way, I could be the poster boy.

Al and I got lucky.  The second place we saw seemed to be perfect.  The apartment was the second and third floors of a nice-enough old house on a good block, walking distance to the train station. Since we both worked in the City, this was a selling point.  The place had one definite bedroom, bath, a small living room which opened up onto a second-floor railed-in terrace, and a sitting room (bedroom?) with a door to the attic.  Access to all the rooms was via a narrow hallway.  The only possible snag that occurred to me was who would get the bedroom?  I was willing to pay a larger share of the monthly nut, but to my surprise, Al fell in love with the unfinished attic.  It was huge, but musty and really unfinished.  But Al liked it, so we went to negotiate with the Landlady.

Mrs. K was an elderly Polish widow with eyeglasses that magnified her eyes to appear as if she was looking out of a fish bowl.  Her last name was one of those that have about thirty letters and two vowels, most of the letters being w, z, c, or k. She pronounced it for us once.  I had her write it out for me to make out the monthly rent check.  I never tried to verbalize it, not being into masochism.  She agreed to the rent, accepted our security deposit, and we got our keys.  The poor woman had no idea what she was getting into.

I was ready to get up, make some coffee, hit the can and read the Sunday Times out on the terrace.  I opened my bedroom door and found myself face to face with a pile of rocks.  No, my description does not capture the essence.  The entire hallway, the hub to the whole apartment, was filled with boulders piled about five feet high.  I had seen homes with sunken living rooms, but by virtue of the boulders, we now had a sunken apartment.  No room was accessible without climbing and descending the rock pile.

Muttering some colorful words, I got a good handhold and foothold, and was able to climb into the bathroom.  Having brushed my teeth, taken care of business and donned my robe and slippers, I then climbed into the kitchen and made coffee.  The next part was the most challenging, seeing as I needed to scale the entire length of the boulders to get from the kitchen to the sitting room off the terrace while carrying a mug of hot coffee.  It took some time, and several times I needed to put the coffee on a ledge to advance, but I made it.  Then it occurred to me that I had left the paper in the kitchen, so I did it again.  Finally, I settled in at the picnic table on the terrace, sipped my coffee and started the paper.  I was looking forward to Al getting up, as I was anxious to hear the origin of our new personal quarry.  I was not really angry, as Al was all about the unexpected.  I had known that coming in, and in fact, to me, it was a big part of his appeal.

Sometime later, I heard sounds of activity in the attic and soon Al appeared.  He gave me a military salute and began his climb to the kitchen to get his coffee.  Upon his return, he shook his head as he sat down.  I asked what the problem was.

“Much easier getting into the kitchen than coming back out” Al said.

“Stands to reason,” I replied.  “You got two hands free going in… an easier climb.”

Al nodded.  “And you need to set your cup down at least once coming out, and those rocks aren’t level.”

“No, they’re not,” I said.  “I’m having a hard time finding many positive rock attributes. Where did you get them?”

“Randy and I clipped them from a construction site.  They weren’t guarded or anything,” Al said.

“Go figure. I guess they thought no one was going to run off with thirty 250 lb. boulders,” I said. “Talk about naïvete.” I began to smile.

Al tried to maintain a straight face, but he was losing the battle.  “Pretty haphazard way to run a construction business, you ask me,” Al said.  He grinned widely.

“How the hell did you get them up here to the second floor?  That staircase turns at a ninety degree angle and it’s not wide, either.  Must’ve been a bitch,” I said.

“You have no idea,” Al answered. “It took two of us to lift one of those suckers. It took forever to get them all up here.”

“Good thing you’re no quitter,” I replied.  I smiled again.

“I couldn’t have done it sober,” Al said, shaking his head. “No fucking way”

“I guarantee you wouldn’t have done it sober,” I said. “Never even would have occurred to you.”  I knew this because I’ve had similar eureka-type revelations when I was smashed. They don’t usually hold up to the light of day sobriety test.

“”Well, let’s not get hasty here,” Al said. “ Let’s brainstorm the pros and cons of the rocks.”

“You mean like they do in corporate boardrooms?” I asked. “You and me?”

“That’s the plan,” Al said, chuckling.

“Shouldn’t take long,” I said.

“Blink of an eye,” Al said.

“OK, you start since they’re your rocks,” I said.

Al sat for several minutes deep in thought.

“OK, suppose we were building a moat?” Al said.  “We’d have a good start on a foundation.”

“When did this become we?” I asked. “But you’re right.  Those be some fine boulders. But I see a  few obstacles to the moat.”

“Expound” Al said.

“Well we have no property. We’re renters.  A moat seems like a big expenditure for renters.”

“There is that,” Al conceded.

“And you think Mrs. K. would go for the moat idea?  Maybe she doesn’t want a moat,” I pointed out. “And even if she did like having a moat, she could throw our asses out and give our moat to the next tenant!”

“That would be the height of gall,” Al exclaimed indignantly.

“Actually,”  I said, “She might not be far from throwing us out, moat or no moat.  She evidently doesn’t like George Clinton and P-Funk.”

“No?” Al asked.

“Not at 2:30 in the morning on a Tuesday.  Maybe never. But she was really pissed off Tuesday.”

“Well, music is a very subjective kind of thing,” Al observed.

“Talking about Mrs. K., how do you suppose she didn’t hear you bringing the rocks up here?  It had to be noisy.  Those old stairs creak when you’re not carrying 250 lb. boulders” I asked.

“You’ve seen her glasses; she’s blind as a bat.  Seems her hearing might not be razor sharp either.  And you slept through it, too. You must have been well-medicated” Al said.

“Apparently well enough” I replied. “So I think we agree the moat is not viable.  Just out of morbid curiosity I have a question.  Castles build moats to keep things out.  Zoos build them to keep things in.  Which way were you leaning?”

“Both” Al replied with conviction.

“Good thinking,” I said. ” Why pigeonhole yourself?”

The next day, Monday morning, I climbed my way into the bathroom, showered and headed off to work. After work, I met some friends for dinner and drinks.  It was late when I got home and opened the door.  The boulders were gone, the hall vacuumed. I never asked Al how or where he disposed of them.  He would tell me if he felt like it. He never did.

Photograph by http://www.northland-landscaping.com/images/high_res/Fieldstone%20Boulders.JPG

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Sea Dream Yacht Club – Casual, Luxury Small-Ship Cruising

February 4, 2011

Sea Dream Yacht Club- A Different and Unique Cruise Experience

Sea Dream Yacht Club operates two 344 ft. mega-yachts offering all-inclusive, luxury cruises to the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer.  Accommodating 112 passengers with a crew of 95, these ships call on the smaller, unspoiled islands the bigger cruise lines are unable to reach.  As most of these islands lack an airport, their natural beauty lies, in part, in the fact that they are difficult to get to.  Not terribly easy to get home from, either. Tiny gems like Saba, Montserrat, Jost Van Dyke and Anguilla. If you’ve ever daydreamed about cruising the Greek Isles on your own private yacht, this is about as close as most of us will ever come.  That being said, Sea Dream is most certainly not for everyone.  It is very casual, laid back and geared to adults comfortable with entertaining themselves.

Who Should Not Book a Sea Dream Voyage?

OK, let me try to cull the herd as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. If you are traveling with your small children and looking forward to picking them up from the supervised Kid’s program so you can feed them at the Early Seating and put them to bed with a babysitter in order to don your tuxedo and eat, take in a Broadway-type show before catching a Comedian in one of the many lounges and partying until the wee hours of the morning in a Casino with craps, roulette and all the bells and whistles, you are definitely in the wrong place. It is not happening.  None of it.  Not on Sea Dream.  You are likely to find a larger crowd enjoying early morning coffee to watch the sunrise than you will in the  Casino at 11:00 PM.

The Sea Dream Passenger

The Sea Dream experience attracts guests who are not only able to entertain themselves, but prefer to do so.  The intimacy of the yachts is conducive to meeting people and getting to know them.  Even if you are naturally shy, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid eye contact when you are running into the same people over and over.  You cannot be a face in the crowd, since there is no crowd. So you break down and introduce yourself, and are usually rewarded. Usually, but not always.  Sea Dream can scan your bags, but has not perfected scanners for personalities and social skills.  Seriously, I have found Sea Dream passengers to be the most interesting, educated and friendly, and the least pretentious.  We have a group of former cruise mates who we keep in touch with and sail with every year.  Many of them are Sea Dreamers.

Some Sweet Suites

Most of the suites are Yacht Club Staterooms averaging about 195 sq. ft. and equipped with queen –sized beds, sitting area, refrigerator, fully-stocked refreshment bar, flat screen TV, DVD player, CD player, robe, slippers, etc. The suites are very nice and you would be hard pressed to come up with anything Sea Dream has forgotten.  The bathrooms are small, definitely one person at a time affairs.  When sitting on the throne, I usually locked the door, not because I had a sudden attack of modesty but because I’ve already had my nose broken several times. If you are over 7 ft. tall, I would imagine you would need to be pretty limber.  Of course, you could always use the facilities in the public rooms, but if everyone did that, no one would do that.  If you are a jockey, there should be no issues with the bathroom dimensions.  I happen to really like the Sea Dream bathrooms.  The multi-jet shower is really cool with good water pressure and the Bvlgari toiletries and soaps are fabulous.  If you plan your vacations solely by the brand of shampoo provided, you may have found your niche.  I also like the way Sea Dream has the sitting area by the entrance and the bed by the window. Most cruise lines have it the other way around, ostensibly so you can look out the window from the sofa.  The Sea Dream arrangement works if your Spouse gets up earlier than you and orders coffee.  The room service girl can drop off the tray in the sitting area without coming through the sleeping area.  The lower deck has two portholes while the upper two decks have a picture window.  It really makes very little difference.  For those really wanting the ultimate, there is an Owner’s suite, an Admiral’s Suite and Commodore suites.  If you really want to try something different, ask to have one of the ultra-comfortable Balinese Dream Beds ( pictured below) made up with linens, pillows and duvets and sleep on Deck under the stars.

Cuisine and Service

Both are among the best available at sea.  I had never considered myself a caviar fan, but Sea Dream changed that.  Barely a day goes by where caviar is not available in abundance.  The daily fare is predicated by the chef’s morning trips to the local markets, so you are treated to the very best and freshest offerings that port has to offer.  Even room service cuisine is excellent.  If you call for Room Service, you might as well not sit down again.  These people are good.  Our Cabin Stewardess was remarkable.  I would get up in the morning, put out my “Make up Room” sign on the doorknob and go up to the Concierge to get my daily paper of choice.  I would take it out on deck to glance at the headlines and return to the cabin, this whole exercise having taken maybe ten minutes.  The suite would be completely made up.  Our room was always made up and I never saw our Cabin girl in it or even near it.  Another neat trick was that within two hours of embarkation, crew members who had never seen me before were greeting me by name.  I assume they are given pictures and names and expected to memorize them. But it was a really nice touch.  If you travel under multiple aliases, it may take a little longer.

The Best and Only Licensed Thai Spa at Sea

In terms of massage, Sea Dream has no peer in the cruise industry.  Although I’m sure Swedish massage is offered, skip it and go with the Asian Blend massage.  Ordering the Swedish massage would be like going to Joes’ Stone Crab and ordering the liver.  These girls are incredibly strong and good sports as well.  They don’t gloat about having twisted you into a pretzel-like shape that would make an Olympic gymnast green with envy despite giving up 100 lbs. I have always thought Swedish massage to be the spa equivalent of elevator music. You are oiled up like an Oven Stuffer and given a rub that is mildly enjoyable but forgotten the moment you walk out the door.  The Asian Blend massage actually has results you can feel, although if you have never had Thai massage, it may take a little getting used to.  Sometimes it hurts, although your masseuse will lessen the pressure if she hears you whimpering. Is she really climbing onto my back?  Yes, she is.  You have a pocket of tension in your back and kind of hope she’ll miss it, as kneading it out can be painful?  Forget it. These girls take massage very seriously and they miss nothing. But that evening, or maybe the next morning, you’ll realize that nagging pain you were so used to is just not there anymore.

The Water Sports Marina

The Water Sports Marina really sets Sea Dream apart from any other cruise line. Other lines have them, but none have the toys that Sea Dream does, like Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks, jet skis and even mountain bikes to take ashore and ride around the often mountainous ports of call.  Please note that while I strongly encourage taking the mountain bikes ashore for a good workout, I personally have nothing to do with them.  I prefer to be driven where I want to go. In order to use the Water Sports Marina, guests must sign a waiver relieving Sea Dream of any culpability should you become entangled in a submarine propeller or eaten by a giant squid.  In exchange for your signature, you receive a brightly-colored wristband which entitles you to use all the toys. When they take in the toys, it is time for the afternoon swim.  While the shipboard pool is fine, there is nothing like swimming out at sea.  But it might be a good time to realistically appraise your swimming strength.  If you’re turning 60 and you swam competitively in your teens, you have to remember you are not that kid.  The ship is a long way from shore, the water is deep and there are currents. Sometimes, they are very strong currents.  There is ample supervision, both on the platform and in a motorboat that watches over you.  A line attached to floating buoys is extended out from the platform so swimmers can grab on if they need to.  Staying fairly close to that line is not a bad plan.  In a good current, you can stroke very hard and find you’ve gone nowhere.  So use your head.

Is There a Sea Dream Cruise in Your Future?

I have provided you with the basics of the Sea Dream experience.  It is a unique one, suited to a certain type of passenger.  The best way to find out if this is for you is to get out and do it.  This is really true of almost anything.  Having read my piece, if all of this sounds fabulous, you simply have to experience a Sea Dream cruise. If some of it sounds appealing, perhaps you should try a Sea Dream cruise. If none of it sounds the least bit enticing, I don’t know what to tell you.