I have now lived twelve months of my life, a whole year, on a cruise ship. I have traveled to places I never dreamed I’d see, let alone on someone else’s dollar. Malta, Athens, Messina, and Istanbul all thanks to Second City for casting me in their shows aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines. It is a great job, a really great job, I make people laugh for money…but it does have its drawbacks.
One of the drawbacks is that for 12 months of my life I have lived with Rance, a man who is 6’5” with size 14 shoes in a 143 sq ft cabin.
If you’re having trouble imagining what 143 sq feet of living space is like, let me help you. Upon opening the door of our 10th floor, passenger cabin located at the back of the ship you are welcomed into a short six-foot hallway that is approximately two and a half feet wide. Immediately on the left wall of the “hallway” is a door that leads into a bathroom containing the usual commodities: toilet, sink, shower all arranged so compactly that it’s impossible to sit on the toilet normally; I ride side-saddle while taking care of business.
On the right side of the “hallway” are foot-wide floor to ceiling shelves, a small closet, and three compact drawers that are at capacity when filled with only 5 shirts, 4 pairs of pants and a handful of underwear and socks. The hallway opens up to the “living area” that is a 9×9 square foot space, housing a small table and chair, with a TV mounted above it, a “desk” which is basically a triangle piece of laminated wood, and a king size bed that allows only a foot and a half of space on either side of the bed.
All this means that there is approximately a 3 X 2 space at the end of the bed for standing room and this is where Rance likes to leave his size 14 shoes.
I like space, I like to move in my space, I don’t like shoes in my space.
“Why do you have to put your shoes right here?”
“I dunno, ‘cause.”
It can be a little crazy making. There’s no window, no room to move, no outlet to the outside world. The cabin can become a cave of hibernation shutting us off from the constant stimulation of the ship. The world could be ending outside and we’d never know it while we’re locked in our 143 square feet of space.
And tonight that’s exactly what happens. We have spent the entire day at sea after leaving New York yesterday for the start of another seven-day cruise to the Bahamas. It’s been a little rocky but nothing out of the ordinary for the trip down the eastern coastline.
Like most evenings Rance and I who have discovered an aversion to hanging out with passengers telling us how funny they are, while spilling strawberry daiquiris down their shirts, and Lady GaGa blaring in the background. We escape to our room around 11pm to slip under the covers of our trademarked Bliss bed and enjoy the subtle rocking of the ship in the relative quiet of our room.
Kaboom! What sounds like a bomb has just dropped on the top deck of the ship, the red lights of the digital clock go out. The room is pitch black. Seconds later the faithful hum of the air conditioner falls mute. And then something you never want to experience on a 93,000-ton ship. The engines go completely dead. There is silence. It is absolute quiet on the ship. We are floating in the middle of the Atlantic with no power.
On a ship with 2,500 passengers 1,000 crew members I have a constant desire to find a place that is completely quiet with no music, no external voices, no constant drone of activity nothing to intrude on my own thoughts and daydreams. It’s impossible to find. Even here in our small little room, the hum of the air conditioner or the random interruption of announcements is heard. So the moment that silence arrives I am completely freaked out because it’s not supposed to be here.
Rance fumbles for his iTouch and turns on the handy flashlight application that I scoffed at and said he’d never use, and now I’m so grateful he has it. We sit up in bed and grasp for each other and whisper as if on cue “what the f*#k”!
We quickly speculate on what just happened. A North Korean missile? Somalian Pirates? ACORN? I’ve only had FOX News as my news source since being on the ship, so it could be any one of those things.
It’s only dark for about 30 seconds before the lights flash on, the air conditioner begins to hum and we hear the growl of the engines start back up. And then. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP the abandon ship alarm which consists of seven short blasts and one long one, that could wake the dead from any watery grave, begins it’s wail.
Oh. My. God. Rance and I look at each other…”WHAT THE F*#K”? Even before the abandon ship alarm is over Rance is dressed and putting on his shoes that were so easily found at the end of the bed. His mission: to get to our muster station, which is oddly placed, at the complete opposite end of the ship. I however am in a state of shock and not sure what is happening and I’ve made little progress in the act of getting dressed. “Is this for real?” I ask. “I’m not gonna sit around and wait to figure it out, get dressed.”
Rance opens our cabin door to see what if anything is happening in the hallway. The emergency lighting that runs down the entire length to guide people in case of darkness has been turned on.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to determine which clothes would be best to drown in. Do I want something heavy but warm or something I think I can swim in for a while before I drown. I opt for a sweatshirt and yoga pants but I’m still working on the shoes. Tennis shoes? No, too many laces? Italian sandals? No, I don’t want them to get ruined if I die. Crocs? Yes, crocs!! I’ve struck the perfect balance. I’ll be warm in the sweatshirt and float a little while longer before dying in Crocs.
Brett, our cast mate and next-door neighbor opens his door and steps into the hallway, looking like he had just awoken from a winter’s slumber. “Hey, what’s going on?”
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…the abandon ship alarm starts up again. “Looks like this shit’s for real.” Rance says as I come up behind him, fully dressed for my death at sea. He grabs my hand and without another word to Brett busts past the door and drags me down the corridor.
My mind is whirling with all the possibilities we’re about to face. Oh god what if we’re going down? What’s worse getting caught on the inside or thrown to the ocean? What if sharks are circling? What if Rance and I get separated? What if I’m in the same life raft as Julio, the creepy Argentinean chef, who’s always trying to kiss me? How do you go number two on a life raft?
“Excuse us, Excuse US!!”
We pass a few passengers, Rance practically stiff-arming the confused, helpless souls that have wandered into the hallway. I’m a bit embarrassed and yet oh so grateful to realize the man I love is a take-charge kind guy; a real hero. I get the sense that if need be, he would throw me overboard to save my life.
We round the corner and head down three flights of stairs to reach Deck 7 where all of the main public areas of the ship are located. And what strikes me first is that none of the passengers seem concerned or frightened at all. They are all milling about with their cocktails. They’re talking and laughing as if what we’re experiencing is some sort of high school prank.
And then I see them, groups of crew members, mostly young Filipino women, huddled together, crying, they are losing their shit. There are other groups of crew just standing motionless with their mouth dropped open realizing all of their worst fears of living and working on a ship are coming true.
The dichotomy of this situation leaves me to believe that Rance and I are the only ones who will actually be alive once this ship goes down. The passengers will be too drunk and the crew will be too incapacitated by fear to save themselves. And then I recall an odd statistic that was reported in our safety training. In the last five out of seven ship catastrophes it was the guest entertainers on board who went above and beyond to help people to safety. That’s us! That’s Rance and I! We’ll be the ones to save these people’s lives! Rance will lead the charge!
“Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I apologize for the alarms and momentary loss of electricity. The ship was hit by lightening causing a power outage. The abandon ship alarms went off during the reset process of our security and monitoring systems. Again, I apologize if this has caused you any distress, have a good evening.” And with that our life and death moment is over. We won’t have to save any lives tonight, least of all our own. I won’t have to worry about being eaten by sharks, or getting too close to Julio, or going number two in front of people I don’t know.
Rance, whose adrenaline has shot through the roof, lets out a long stress relieving sigh. He grabs me by the waist and hugs me tight. We turn and walk back arm in arm, laughing with the other crew members we pass who are just as relieved and thankful as we are that the drama is over.
I tease Rance as we head back to the room that he was like George Castanza in the Seinfeld episode where George runs out of the children’s birthday party knocking over an old lady to escape a small contained fire. But truthfully, I’m proud of the way he reacted in the face of danger. And I don’t get mad at all when he gets undressed and puts his shoes at the end of the bed. A hero has to be ready in a moments notice.