10 Q & As Concerning “Does The Crew Sleep On Board?”
- What made you think you could actually write a book?
Since the advent of Facebook, I would occasionally submit stories and recount adventures and experiences I thought were interesting. One day a published friend of mine with whom I worked as a staff writer for a fledgling network, read one of my stories I had posted on Facebook and asked if I had ever published anything. The answer was no. He claimed my stories were very funny and entertaining, and if I was willing, he would help me create and submit a book proposal to his publisher. We did that, and he submitted our proposal to his publisher at 10:30am one morning, and by 2:30pm the same day… I had a book deal! The stars, no doubt, aligned in my favor on that memorable day.
- How did you remember all the strange quirks and habits of the people you encountered, as well as all the wonderful adventures and humorous situations you recount in this book?
Mary Stuart in her trilogy of Arthurian legends, has a teenaged Merlin realize,
“In order to be noticed by the Gods, you must put yourself in their way.” Which he does in order to get King Uther Pendragon to take him along on a planned adventure.
I did the same thing. Although I didn’t go out of my way to introduce myself to Kings and royalty, (retired US Presidents only), I did the next best thing in my young world, making friends with established television writers and movie makers, many of whom I met during my early forays in Hollywood. When I told one of them, who was a staff writer on the popular detective series “Barretta” at the time, that I took on a job as a Social Director on a cruise liner, he said,
“Keep a detailed notebook, kid!”
Which I did, and continued doing so for all of my adult life afterward. Hence, an ample source of material for this book, and depending on its popularity, perhaps even an upcoming Volume II, in the future.
- What was the most memorable situation that occurred while on the ship?
Accompanying a Cadet Officer on an errand to a large American drug store for ten boxes of ladies sanitary napkins. The Officers and men in the engine room fashioned masks out of them to keep the sweat out of their eyes. When the pharmacist asked the young lad, “Internal or External?” he shrugged and replied, “You know the kind with the stings to go around the ears.”
- What was the strangest drink you ever sampled during your world travels?
Vietnamese Cobra Shots, consisting of ten year old 100 proof rice whiskey, with a full sized cobra preserved and stuffed in the bottle, along with a number of red cobra hearts floating around inside the bottle as well. Swallowing one of the hearts in one gulp supposedly guaranteed enhanced performance and virility.
- Considering all your shenanigans, and constant attempts at “pushing the envelope” did you ever get into trouble?
The following morning after a Costume Party when I convinced all of the staff members not to wear pants, we were called to the Bridge, and fined 100 Lira, (about six cents US), for conduct unbecoming Officers of the Italian Merchant Marine. The next day I was promoted to First Office of Entertainment. Go figure.
- What was the most exotic port or country you ever visited?
Every destination had something interesting to experience, but the most exotic had to be Jakarta, Indonesia. Most of the fast foods and snacks, in lieu of any sort of paper wrapping, were served either sitting on, or folded up in fresh green squares of banana leaves. In restaurants and various eateries, customers sat on flat floor cushions surrounding the tables, and even in fancier restaurants, you were expected to enjoy your meal digging in with the first three fingers of your right hand, thumb, index and middle – never touching the table with your left hand, considered very rude and unsanitary behavior.
- What was the most exotic food you ever sampled?
Again, every port had foods that would rarely be seen on an American menu. Though hard boiled duck or chicken “Baluts”, as well as the offer of monkey brains served in obscure food shacks on the outskirts of Manila, Philippines, and Saigon, Vietnam, had to top the list. “Baluts” were hard boiled embryonic chicks or ducks on the brink of hatching, complete with feathers, crunchy bones and remnants of a hard boiled yolk, served in the entire shell, ready to be cracked and peeled, usually as a snack with a cold beer. Monkey brains were… well, the brains of a monkey, served fresh, occasionally raw and sometimes scrambled with fresh eggs. Devotees of the delicacy claimed the flavor of the brains varied with the type and the age of the monkey. I never felt the slightest desire to personally test that claim. No need to go into further detail.
- Did you ever keep in touch with any of the women you met during your travels and adventures?
My entire stint on the cruise ships was all accomplished during my life as single devil-may-care, bon vivant. Marrying some years after leaving the ship, my Lady Wife of thirty-five years, prides herself, and constantly reminds me, that she is the defacto leader of the Lorena Babbit Fan Club. If I were to ever stray from the hallowed vows of marriage, I would probably awake the following morning missing an appendage extremely important to my personal identity. She would then store the inquisitive fellow in a mayonnaise jar in the refrigerator, only returning it after I swore on my life never to stray again.
- Your travels included quite a few countries and cultures. How did you communicate?
English remains the international language of travel and television, just like it is for air travel, all pilots regardless of nationality speak English, as do control tower and airport personnel.
In India, the educated staffers all spoke their Mother Tongue, the language from the state in which they were born, Hindi and English. Occasionally during heated staff meetings held in English, the back and forth would get so furious, they would occasionally revert back to Hindi, always turning to me and apologizing with,
“Don’t worry we will fill you in after the meeting!”
The booth director in Jakarta, would announce, “Quiet on the set!” Do a countdown in English, “In five, four, three two one, and Action!” After getting the shots he needed he would yell, “Cut, cut, cut! Then everyone one in the booth would commence chattering in Indonesian, someone translating as they carried on.
Many times on the ship I would call Bingo in English, Spanish, French and German, as they were the nationalities represented by the passengers on any particular cruise. When asked by astounded American passengers, how many languages I spoke, I always replied just one… English. Though admittedly I could count in a number of languages, as well as ask, “How much?” “Where is..” and “I’ll have the steak and fries.” in a number of languages. If anyone asked me about politics or sports – I’d be out of luck.
After being informed of an assignment in an exotic location, I would be sure to memorize basic words and phrases, just to be polite and what I considered professional. I still remember how to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in over seven languages.
One time after ordering a Croque-monsieur and a Stella Artois in a café on the Champs Elysees, in what I thought was my best French, the waiter looked at me with a blasé expression, and said in perfect English,
“You want fries with that?”
“Was my French that bad?” I inquired, wounded.
“Oui, mon amis. Tres mal.” He winked, smiled knowingly and walked off to place my order for an open faced grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a cold beer.
Oh well, I thought, at least I tried, which was the important thing. The fact the many people speak English worldwide, is not to be expected, but accepted as a welcome relief. I always try to open with the local language. If the waiter, or clerk, or policeman speaks English – that’s a gift.
- Would you recommend a cruise or international travel to someone who has never done it before?
Absolutely! When you book a cruise remember the vacation is the cruise combined with the amenities offered on the ship itself. For tourist dollar spent, a cruise is the best vacation value available. However, it’s the cruise, and not necessarily the ports of call visited. Unfortunately, most ships only stay at any particular port on a strictly monitored schedule, so with the few minutes allotted to you after stepping off a crowded tour bus, you may not have enough time to wander through the markets or points of interest to your satisfaction. Secondly, being led around by a tour guide, holding a crook or an umbrella with a little pennant on it, which you are expected to follow like a gaggle of baby geese, is not my idea of visiting a beautiful location.
A better option would be to book a cruise for the luxurious amenities and entertainment offered, take notes at the ports visited, and then schedule a return visit by air at a later date when you can spend all the time you want haggling with a sidewalk merchant, or languishing under a stripped umbrella on a white sandy beach, sipping something cool.
I was lucky in that most of the international destinations I was sent to were all part of a work assignment or television production consultation. But even so, if you wish to visit an area anywhere in the world, it’s easy. Book a round trip flight to any city of your dreams, check into a hotel of your liking – and spend as much time as you wish exploring the sites and locations to your little heart’s desire. Get bored? Book a train or a ferry to another town or village, check into another hotel or pension, and start the process all over again. I guarantee you will savor every moment, as well as gather sheaves of memories to last a lifetime.
If that sounds to difficult or complicated, just read my book instead, “Does The Crew Sleep On Board?”