A couple of nights ago I dreamed my toilet exploded.
The next morning, while pondering the obscure symbolism of dreams, I realized my subconscious didn’t just randomly make this one up. If only.
Some people who read last week’s blog post, “The Snail and I,” commented to me that their first taste of snails came while enjoying a cruise ship vacation. (They were evenly divided on whether or not they enjoyed the snails.) Their remarks triggered a memory of my own cruise ship vacation, and the “first” experience it gave me.
For reasons I think will become clear, I will not name the cruise line. But it shares some characteristics, including letters of the alphabet, with the words “Norwalk Virus.”
Glen and I were having a wedding anniversary. We can’t remember which one, but it was sometime in the late 1990s, so approximately #14. We’d gone out to dinner with my brother Rich and his wife Jean, who were fresh from their recent cruise ship vacation. Over frozen margaritas, they described to us the great fun they’d had. A few more frozen margaritas later, Glen and I had the super idea that we should take a cruise too.
Within a fairly brief period, we had our passports and bookings, plus child care lined up for Katie. This was to be a carefree, celebratory getaway for the two of us, from which we would return after nearly a week, rested and glowing. That was the plan, anyway.
Before we knew it, we were on a ship crossing the Gulf of Mexico, bound from Galveston, Texas, toward five ports of call in Mexico and Central America. The oily-mannered purser who gave me a smarmy wink before we boarded made me a little queasy, but I chose to overlook that. Things didn’t really start to head south until we got to our stateroom.
Though it wasn’t late in the day, we decided a nap was in order, as we’d had to get up very early to drive from Austin and get checked in to board. Especially since Glen always allows enough extra time to take a wrong turn, change a flat, or do an engine overhaul en route. We entered our cabin, gave it a brief, appreciative glance, then turned down the covers on the bed. Beneath the coverlet, tucked between the top sheet and the fitted sheet, was a crumpled-up, used Kleenex.
Glen, a man who has had his hands in some pretty disgusting places, including inside both ends of horses, cows and dogs, refused to touch it. He wanted to call the steward. The sheets looked otherwise clean to me, though, so I gingerly picked up the tissue, disposed of it and washed my hands.
The next morning we were having coffee in the cabin when we spotted a green grape and a wad of plastic wrap peeking out from beneath the floor-length curtains. Obviously left over from the cabin’s previous occupants (or the ones before them, or the ones before them . . .). After contemplating this for a few moments, we decided to make a game of it. How long would it be before the steward noticed it and whisked it away? The short answer: As far as we know, it could still be there.
To be fair, there was a very fast turnaround time on this ship. The route was so popular that there were only a few hours between the disembarking of one load of vacationers and the boarding of the next lot. That meant that our cabin (and probably most of the ship) received only a cursory cleaning in between departures. Assuming it had any sort of cleaning at all. No one has asked for my input, but I bet I could guess at least one reason that noroviruses spread so quickly and efficiently on cruise ships.
By the end of the first full day out, the water was growing very rough, sending a lot of passengers to their cabins with seasickness. This made the public areas much less crowded, which was fine with us. Glen had his Dramamine skin patch and I had a stomach of iron. We soon found a restaurant on board that served good food from a diverse menu, without the stodgy, outdated affectations that limited the main dining room. Among the other amenities was “live entertainment” that appeared to be exhumed from the 1950s, but the ship did have a decent little casino. We settled in to the cruise, and thought we were having an okay time.
Then our toilet blew up.
I knew about the vacuum toilets used in ships and airplanes. I’d even read stories (truth? Urban legend? I’m still not sure)—including in the newspaper—about unfortunate people who’d had portions of their intestines pulled out by the strong suction these toilets use to get the job done. So I approached our stateroom toilet with caution, hoping I would still have all my insides intact at the end of the voyage. It never occurred to me that the vacuum on the toilet might reverse.
After a couple of days of polite deference from our toilet, I started to relax. I was, as usual, worrying for nothing. Then one morning I flushed and caught a face full of . . . well, let’s call it a surprise.
At first Glen thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Until it happened to him. There was no way of closing the toilet, unfortunately, so we stored our toothbrushes in our luggage and spent a lot more time in the casino. No other cabins were available, of course. The ship was packed.
Because of bad weather, two of the five destinations were scrapped from the cruise itinerary. By then Glen and I didn’t care; we just wanted off. We won a little gambling money and used the casino bathrooms, which luckily did not feature exploding toilets. I brushed my teeth in the ladies’ room there.
When we finally got home, we hugged Katie, and I briefly considered hugging our toilet.
A few weeks later I opened the mail to find travel vouchers from the cruise line. They were (not at all) apologetic about the two ports our ship never made it to, and wanted to offer us a discount on our next cruise.
Our “next cruise?” Oh, right! Because the first one went so well.
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