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Destructo and Oblivion
Story written by Rick Archer
October 2008

For a long time, I have wondered why the two cruise lines Marla and I interact with are so notoriously uncooperative. 

Sometimes the staff at Carnival and Royal Caribbean can be so narrow-minded it is ridiculous. 

For example, on the Conquest 2007 Trip, they ordered our hot tub people to stop drinking in the hot tub for 'safety reasons'.  And some security guy wrote up the hapless Filipino man who had served the drinks.  What utter hypocrisy. 

First the cruise personnel shamelessly hawk drinks at every possible opportunity, they openly serve drinks at poolside, then they turn around and hassle our hot tub visitors for having drinks in the hot tub.  Now what kind of sense does that make?

Now if the drinks were served in glasses, I could see their point, but they use plastic containers.  Nor is "drowning" much of a threat, not with forty people stuffed in the tub!   There is barely any water in there anyway.

It seems strange that on a cruise liner that dubs itself the "Fun Ship", there are people who go out of their way to be disruptive and pushy. 

Along these same lines, on this year's 2008 Conquest trip, one night Gary Richardson, our DJ, got chewed out for using Carnival sound equipment to conduct his wee hours dance party.  The R&B singer who sang at Alfred's, the lounge where we did our after hours dancing, had given Gary permission to use the equipment when his shift was over.  The singer said he didn't mind at all if Gary plugged his computer into the amplifier and speakers that were already set up.  Even though Gary got permission, that didn't stop another man from chewing Gary out and threatening to remove the equipment.  We never saw this jerk again, but that didn't make Gary feel any better.  The guy was just pushing his weight around for the sheer joy of it, never bothering to politely inquire what the story was first.  Shoot, then ask questions.

On our first cruise aboard the Conquest in 2007, we discovered there was absolutely no dance venue even remotely equivalent to the marvelous dance floor we had used for years aboard our beloved Rhapsody.  It occurred to me the best dance floor available was the stage in the theater.  After all, I had attended a Ballroom dance class conducted by ship personnel on that stage; that's where I got the idea in the first place.  So we asked permission to have our late night dancing on their stage.  They said OK, but they would have to charge us $60 an hour to supervise the dancing.  We assured them we needed no supervision; that we would be careful. They didn't budge, so we said no thanks.

Fortunately Gary Richardson discovered an unusual dance floor.  There was a great C&W singer who was literally a one-man band.  When our group realized how good his music was, our dancers created an impromptu dance floor using the long walkways right next to the casino.  It was a pretty weird dance floor, but it worked like a charm.  Gary asked the singer for permission to set up there after he was through.  That is how we ended up dancing next to the casino every night.  Our dancers actually appreciated the many spectators who stopped to watch them in action.

Gary had made lemonade out of a lemon.  But that didn't stop me from wondering why the ship's people were so ridiculously uncooperative.  What harm would it have done to allow us to use the abandoned stage at midnight?  No one would hear our music, we would have plenty of room to dance, we wouldn't bother anyone and we would be out of the way of the casino.  No, that made too much sense.  Oh well.

However, maybe we did loosen them up a little.  This year marked our second
Conquest Trip.  Was it my imagination or did it seem like Carnival did trust us a little?  They allowed us to use their Disco for our Cocktail Party and our Champagne Party.  In fact, for the Champagne Party, there was no ship personnel in the room to supervise us.  We were left completely on our own.  I was pleased.  Maybe we had finally earned their respect. 

Senseless Behavior

To my astonishment, that night at the Champagne Party, two women from our group did something so totally senseless that I became angrier than at any single time in all of our fourteen cruise trips. 

Both women were new to our group.  I don't know where they came from or anything about them.  I nicknamed the woman who caused the most trouble Destructo.  Destructo had a partner in crime on the trip.  I called the second woman Oblivion.

Champagne Night  first became an institution on our trips back on the Rhapsody 2004 Cruise.  As one of our many perks, Marla had a bottle of Champagne sent to every cabin.  A problem arose in 2004 because many of the roommates didn't know how to share the bottle.  I mean, two guys sharing a cabin don't want to open the bottle.  Nor do two women sharing a cabin.  The idea just isn't all that romantic.  Champagne is a boy-girl kind of thing.

Consequently many bottles were sitting unopened in the cabins.  Someone suggested we pool our bottles together and have a party.  Good idea!  The group had a marvelous time.  A couple years later we added dancing.  The event has become an institution on each trip.

For this year's 2008 Champagne Party, we had a record number of people in attendance.  There were easily 50 or 60 bottles lining the bar where people set them on the counter top.

The party was going well.  I got the dancing started and did not sit out a song.  I was in a great mood. In fact, I was having such a good time, I had barely even bothered to sip my own glass of champagne.  Imagine that - enjoying dancing without champagne.

But there was something bothering me. In the back of my mind, it seemed odd that the popping sound of the champagne bottle corks seemed very loud and much too frequent.  I definitely thought it was strange.  Our group must really be doing some drinking tonight!

While I was out on the floor, Marla was schmoozing with our guests.  Marla was talking to
Gary Richardson who was DJing the music.  As they chatted, Marla looked up and noticed that Destructo had a crazed look on her face as she tried to pry off a bottle cork.  Marla turned white when she realized Destructo was accidentally aiming her bottle at one of the many TV Video monitors!  Marla screamed, "Be careful!  Watch what you doing!" 

Fortunately Destructo listened enough to change the direction of her weapon, but that didn't stop her from letting the cork explode in some other direction.  Marla rolled her eyes in disgust, but blew it off.  She resumed talking with Gary. 

Five minutes later a man came and got Marla.  The man said that Destructo and Oblivion were literally firing their corks into the low metal ceiling above the bar.  The man pointed to several dents in the ceiling!  Marla freaked out.  These women were crazy!

Marla made a beeline for the dance floor to come get me.  I was dancing the Whip when I looked up and saw Marla come straight to me on the dance floor.  She had a horrified expression on her face.  Phyllis Sullivan and I stopped dancing immediately to see what was the matter.  Marla said she couldn't explain, but come quick, there was an emergency.

An emergency?  How do you have an emergency at a cocktail party?   But I could see from her expression that Marla was serious.   Marla grabbed my hand and dragged me off the dance floor.  When I got to the bar, I saw the two women furiously working the corks off the bottles.  They were laughing and giggling.  They both appeared to be drunk out of their minds. 

Then I noticed there were at least 15 open bottles that hadn't even been drunk yet.  This wasn't right.  This was a waste of good champagne.  The idea is to open the bottles one at a time to meet the demand.  Destructo and Oblivion hadn't quite figured that angle out.  They were opening every single bottle!  Furthermore every time they opened a bottle, as the champagne spilled out, they quickly sucked it up.  No wonder they were so drunk!  Unbelievable.  Nor did it even dawn on them that they were spreading their germs. 

And what a mess!   Unlike the organized picture above from the 2007 party, there were half-drunk bottles stacked everywhere on the bar.  Bottles had fallen over, glasses were knocked down, champagne was spilled everywhere and dripping on the floor, napkins were soaking wet.  The whole place looked like a frat party gone mad.

Then Marla pointed to the ceiling.  My mouth dropped in shock.  There were three huge dents in the thin metal ceiling!  The thin metal paneling was riddled with pockmarks!  Unbelievable.  These girls were wrecking the bar area by shooting corks everywhere.  And they didn't even realize what they were doing!  They were so drunk they were destroying the place.  This was ridiculous!

Destructo and Oblivion had turned the bottles into weapons.  Oblivious to the safety of every person around them, they made no attempt to control where the corks landed. Corks were flying all over the room!   Sure, let's put an eye out! 

It isn't that hard to open a champagne bottle safely.  You slowly ease the cork out and let it pop into your hand.  If you catch it properly, it doesn't hurt at all.  There is no reason to allow the cork to explode like a missile.  But not our girls.  Let it fly!  They were having the time of their lives shooting corks in every direction for their own amusement.  Fun Fun Fun!  Let's just tear up the place!   Who cares?  It isn't our property!  We are on vacation; we can do whatever we want!

As Marla explained what had already transpired, I watched in shock as Destructo and Oblivion were furiously trying to pop open two more bottles.  It took Marla about 30 seconds to explain what she had seen so far.   I took note of the crazed expressions on their faces and decided enough was enough!  "STOP IT!" I hollered. 

To my shock, they didn't listen.  They kept going and acted like they did not hear me.  I said it again, then a third time, but they just kept wrenching the corks loose as I spoke.  Not once did they even pause to breathe!   Like a kid having too much fun, they couldn't stop themselves.  Let's pop some more corks!  They were laughing their heads off like insane people.

I had seen enough.  If they weren't going to listen to me, I was ready to stop them another way.  I grabbed Destructo's wrist with one hand.  Then I ripped the bottle out of her hand with my other hand and took it away from her.  I wasn't gentle.  Destructo was stunned at my show of force.  Then I took one look at Oblivion.  I wasn't smiling.  She got the message a lot quicker.  She quickly placed her almost-opened bottle on the counter top. 

Next I told them to go.  "Get out of here. I don't want to see you two anywhere near these bottles for the rest of the night!"

Like a confused child, Destructo asked why she had to stop.  I wasn't in the mood.  I pointed my finger and said, "Leave!"  I was shaking with anger.  The absolute stupidity of these two women was beyond my comprehension.  I had never seen anyone so out of control before on one of our trips.  Normally, if you want to drink, a cruise ship is a very good place to do it.  After all, you don't have to drive home.  Even better, if you pass out, your friends can carry you to the room (and we have).  

But there is never an excuse to be destructive.  NEVER. 

My Champagne Party was over.  No more dancing for me.  I had to clean this mess up before the Carnival people showed up and had a heart attack.  I gathered the remaining unopened bottles and hid them just in case Destructo tried to sneak back.  Then I started to clean up the incredible mess.  As I straightened up the place, I spoke to some of the people milling in the area.  They said these women were way out of control.  Two people - one man and one woman - said they had been struck by the flying corks, one in the ear, one in the shoulder. 

Since I am blind in one eye thanks to a foolish childhood accident, it enraged me to hear these women were so reckless.  It is one thing for children to make stupid mistakes, but not adults. Adults are supposed to know better. The party was supposed to be fun, not dangerous.

Destructo and Oblivion continued to drink for the rest of the night.  Around midnight they showed up at Alfred's Bar, the place where Gary Richardson conducted his wee hours dance party.  Marla and I were privileged to see Destructo and Oblivion enter with some guy in tow.  They were so plastered he appeared to be carrying them in.  They both had a drink in one hand and their other arm around the man for support.

And what was that on top of Destructo's head?  A closer glance revealed she was wearing a pair of men's underwear up there.  I always admire a woman willing to take a fashion risk, but I had no idea what her point was.  The underwear certainly didn't match the rest of her outfit.  It didn't matter; as far as I was concerned, these two women were on their own.  Their membership in our group had just been permanently revoked.


Consequences:  It Just Takes One Idiot

For the remainder of the trip, Destructo was "fired" as a customer.  I didn't ever want to see her again.  She was on her own.  Just because she was out of sight didn't mean she was out of mind.  Stories of Destructo floated in throughout the rest of the trip. Apparently she had smuggled several bottles of vodka on board.  Her behavior in the hot tub was the stuff of legend.  Not surprisingly, Destructo's daily antics were a regular topic at the evening dinner table. 

I realize it isn't polite to call someone who is your guest an "Idiot", but that is exactly how I felt about Destructo.  It is quite possible that Oblivion, her partner in crime, was just as destructive, but my witnesses mainly pointed fingers at Destructo.

If we are fortunate enough to take another trip on the Conquest, I suppose out of morbid curiosity I will have to take another look at the Mark of Destructo (I tried taking a picture, but the reflection ruined it).  Destructo achieved immortality by leaving a scar both on the ship and in my soul that will never be forgotten.  Yes, the damage was strictly cosmetic and, yes, it was located in a place where people are not likely to notice, but I doubt seriously the authorities would be forgiving. Let me add the scar on my soul is there permanently.

The Champagne Party is supposed to be about friendship and fun.  It is a chance for people to laugh, dance, tell jokes, and be silly.  We are on vacation.  Let's have a good time! 

But there is a line that cannot be crossed.  It is okay to drink, but you cannot be destructive.

For example, what exactly do you suppose the Carnival people would say about the dents in their ceiling?  Do you think they would tolerate this kind of damage?

And what if Destructo really had broken a video monitor with a cork?  How do you think Destructo would react if they demanded she pay for the damages? 

Or would Carnival turn around and blame Rick and Marla?   After all, we were the ones who organized the event.  We would definitely have to face the music.  I shudder to think how ugly it could get.  Who enjoys being chewed out for the actions of someone else?  The reckless actions of these two idiot women would force us to deal with some very angry people. Marla and I felt so betrayed.  Here we were busy trying to make our guests feel welcome only to be backstabbed with this mess.

Even if I convinced Carnival I was not responsible, there would still be consequences.  At the very minimum, the story of the drunk women from SSQQ who sprayed corks into their ceiling for the sheer fun of it could easily become how SSQQ is remembered for years to come by the Carnival people.  Destructo would become the Face of SSQQ in Carnival's mind.  Like the rotten apple that spoiled the barrel, there would be people who would judge our entire group by one person's behavior.  How much cooperation could we expect from here on? 

That is when it dawned on me.  A case could be made the reason Carnival and RCCL people can be so touchy and untrusting is due to the actions of people like Destructo and Oblivion.

This had been the year they trusted us to use their dance facility for our Champagne Party.  They had no personnel in the room.  And look how Carnival was rewarded for trusting us!  I was so ashamed!  They trusted us and look how we behaved.  No wonder people on Carnival and RCCL act harshly.  Incidents like these make people angry and distrustful. 

And what about Marla's reputation and mine?  How would you feel if you had worked for eight years trying to build confidence with these cruise lines only to have two idiots like Destructo and Oblivion come along and destroy our reputation?   One instant with two silly stupid drunk women shooting off corks and causing damage and all that good will goes down in flames. 

If someone from Carnival had seen what was going on, our trip could have been ruined.  And don't tell me I am overreacting.  This incident could have been very serious.

For the remainder of the trip, I avoided both women.  They ceased to exist.  They were on their own.  As far as I was concerned, they were fired as customers.  Good riddance.

And did we get an apology?  Of course not.  Did they understand their mistake?  No.  Here is a letter from Oblivion that illustrates my point.

From: Oblivion
Date: 09/12/2008 9:26:13 AM
To: Marla Archer
Subject: Regarding Conquest 2008

Marla, First of all I want to say Thank you for doing such a great job organizing everything. I know that organizing an event of this size takes a lot of work with many endless hours that no one even knows that you put in. For that I am very grateful.

I do however want to let you know that although this was my first cruise with your group it will most likely be my last as well. I have never felt so unwelcome and snubbed in all my life. Rick went out of his way to ignore me as well as the other three women sitting at our table.

I am not sure what we did to deserve his snubbing, but it made me wonder why you would invite people to participate and then treat them so badly.

I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time and this really put a damper on the trip. Despite the constant feeling of not being welcome, I did have a great time and plan to go on many cruises in the future, but it will mostly like be with a different group.

How can she claim not to know what happened?  Was she so drunk she didn't remember me ordering her to put the bottle down?  Totally clueless.  Where do people like her come from?

As you can see, the Champagne Party is supposed to be fun

An Epidemic of Problems

As for me, I never recovered.  My trip experience had been damaged.  I don't turn on the cheer effortlessly; I have to feel something.  The antics of Oblivion and Destructo hurt me tremendously.  Furthermore, these were just the highlights.  There were other headaches for Marla and me, frustrating, depressing, just not as spectacular.  There were all kinds of problems on this trip, weird stuff, crazy stuff. 

1 - We had one woman - a newcomer - actually quit the trip at the midway point.  I was shocked!  This was definitely a first.

She caught a flight in Cayman back to Houston.  Rumors started that we did not make her feel welcome.  That was not true.  Her roommate was very worried.  She did everything in her power to snap the lady out of her funk.  The roommate begged me to talk to her homesick companion.   I did what I could.  I had a long talk with her to try to discover what was wrong.  I discovered the lady was very nice.  She was definitely shy, but sweet.  What I learned was that she had met a guy just a couple weeks before the trip started.  She almost decided not to go at all.  This new romance took priority over everything.  In the end, I believe she just wanted to be with the new boyfriend.  It was really more a case of her missing him rather than any mistake on our part. 

I felt a lot of regret at her decision to leave.  I would welcome her back to the group any time.  But that was hardly the case with these next three people.



2 - Marla and I were in the hot tub.  As it got crowded, one of our ladies was forced to move.  For a moment, she sat on the edge of a man's legs (not his lap).  This man proceeded to fondle her.  When she gave him a dirty look, he commented, "You are single, aren't you?" 

She pointed to her ring and replied, "I am very much married."  She moved to another part of the tub, then decided it was too awkward.  She left and did not return.  Marla and I were appalled.  This woman is our friend and very much a lady; she certainly did nothing to deserve being treated like that.  Meanwhile Mr. Grabby couldn't have cared less; he moved on to the next one.  He started molesting Destructo the very moment she entered the tub.  To her credit, she didn't like it either.  She hollered for him to stop and keep his hands to himself.  That was all I could take.  I got disgusted and left.  Why men think they can act like perverts is beyond me.  Plus it is self-destructive. Don't men realize that women talk and share information? 

3 - We had a man on the trip who turned out to be the single most obnoxious person ever to sail with us.  Mr. Charming was so rude he openly told people he was switching to another table at dinner because the people at his first-night table were too boring.  He was looking for interesting, stimulating people like himself!   It is bad enough to have these ugly opinions to begin with, but keep it to yourself, buddy.  What kind of man in his right mind announces his insensitive, insulting attitude to the general public?

One night a woman walked off the floor right in the middle of a dance with Mr. Charming.  No one told me the exact reason, but the incident was widely observed.  He was heard to comment that he only danced with good dancers.  Maybe he was correcting her so she would be good enough for him.  And maybe she didn't like his attitude.

This was the same guy who sprinted to get the last chair at the table during a late-night pizza session.  It wasn't difficult.  The woman he beat was loaded down with a tray of pizza.  Now the woman had no place to sit and stood there awkwardly.  Fortunately there were gentlemen at the table who took care of the chair problem.  But the extent of the discourtesy was noted.

This was the man who didn't bother to pay for a cab... leaving others to pick up his share of the tab.  We already knew he was cheap.  Marla had quoted him a price for the trip based on Carnival's prevailing rate.  The next day when he decided to go, the rate had increased $20.  The man insisted that Marla sell him the trip for the price she quoted.  Rather than argue, she gave in.  Personally, I would have told him to take a hike, but Marla is nicer than me.

However this was just the little stuff.  Mr. Charming cemented his reputation as a complete jerk in the ship's hair salon.  There was a long line of people waiting to get their hair cut.  When Mr. Charming discovered the lady wasn't going to blow dry his hair for him, he threw a temper tantrum.  Raising his voice, he publicly shamed the hairdresser who was nearly in tears. 

Every person in the room was frozen in shock.  Yes, he got his hair dried, but was it really that important?  Mind you, his short hair would have dried naturally in five minutes outside.  A woman from our group witnessed the whole thing.  She told me she was completely ashamed to realize he was a part of our group.  Believe me, I know the feeling.  Wait till you read the next story.

4 - I discovered one woman from our group had a serious drinking problem. One night at the Captain's Reception there were free drinks. The waiters roamed the room serving the drinks to anyone and everyone.  But Cruella de Ville was so desperate, she crowded up right up to the bar area where the waiters came to pick up their trays full of drinks.  Cruella began to pluck one drink after another from the assembly line.  Why bother waiting like the rest of us? 

Cruella was in a hurry.  Chug chug chug.  She guzzled them down one after another.  She was so determined to get as many drinks as possible that she actually blocked access for the waiters!  When one of the waiters politely asked her to please move just a little bit, the woman became unbelievably abusive!  The venom and filth that spewed from her mouth played like the scene from the Exorcist where the devil speaks through the kid.  Hmm.  Now that I think of it, maybe this woman was possessed too.  That would explain a lot.

I watched the whole thing unfold in open-mouthed horror.  One by one, the poor waiters had to literally walk around her and go ten feet further for the next opening to pick up their drink trays.  I almost interceded - no one enjoys seeing people abused who can't fight back.  I don't hit women, but I admit I was so mad I actually felt like slapping her.  But when the bar manager came over to deal with her, I decided to mind my own business. 

Meanwhile, I was mortified at my own thoughts of violence.  Of course I wasn't going to hit her, but how did I ever sink so low to even have the fantasy?   At the time, I had no idea this woman was with our group.  Later when I discovered the awful truth, I was ashamed to be associated with her.  Thanks to me, this living walking black hole of misery was on board this ship. 

Respect for People Who Serve You

This is the final test of a gentleman:  His respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.  ~William Lyon Phelps

Throughout the trip, I watched people like Cruella de Ville and Mr. Charming beat up on the Carnival staff knowing full well these people could not retaliate for fear of losing their jobs.  Many of these staff people come from very poor countries; they have family who depend on their salaries for survival. 

But they are human beings too.  Just because they aren't wealthy American cruisers doesn't mean they don't have feelings.  It can't be easy for the Carnival people to take this kind of abuse and still try to be friendly.  How do they do it?  Beats me.  I know I wasn't able to do it. 

It all got to me.  This trip got under my skin.  I have written of six different people whose behavior disappointed me. I felt like a high school principal who has discovered some of his kids have vandalized another school's mascot.  I confess I am totally at a loss to come up with an explanation for all the rudeness on this trip.

Sure, I can handle one or two incidents and blow it off, but it seemed like there was an entire epidemic of bad behavior.  It was just too much too close together.  I became so angry that I shut down.  My dark thoughts were a strong clue I needed to withdraw into a shell for several days or risk publicly losing my temper. 

People said, "Gosh, Rick, we missed you on the dance floor last night.  Why aren't you dancing more?

Well, the truth was that I was brooding.  I had been more than happy to dance at the Champagne Party until Destructo's idiocy put an end to that.  Then it wasn't fun any more.  The sunshine was gone.  There were more serious problems on this trip than all of our other trips combined.  When people asked why I had disappeared or why Marla was frowning, now you know the reason.  We both felt responsible for the actions of our guests.

People might say, "But Rick, how are you going to build your cruise business with all these nasty stories?"  Well, maybe it is a bad idea to write about the darkness.  But that is who I am.  I tell it the way I see it.  At least the readers know I don't hide stuff.

Like many people, I use writing as therapy.  You know, it wasn't till I wrote this story that I realized none of the six people I have written about have taken dance classes at the studio.  Word of mouth seems to account for their presence.  It made me feel much better to realize that outsiders were responsible for these headaches. 

Truth be told, this was a very successful trip. The vast majority of our group had a great time.  You would not have guessed this from the stories, right?  The actions of 6 people have completely obscured the fact that 138 other people had a really good time.  It is just very difficult for me to write about the bright side of the trip until I clear this pain from my mind.

During the 30 year saga of SSQQ, I have always taken pride that our studio has a remarkable absence of cliques and prejudice.  Our studio has always attracted people with great decency and warmth.  I guess the lesson to be learned here is that this is a gift, not a given.  Yes, I was caught off guard on this trip and so was Marla.  But from now on we will have our eyes open regarding newcomers and try to be less naive.  Marla and I will never forget these events of ugliness that unfolded before our eyes in 2008.  Burn us once, tough luck for Rick and Marla.  But it won't happen twice, at least not from the people I have written about.  They are fired.  As they say in the Westerns, "Leave town by sundown". 

You will not see pictures of any of these people mentioned in this story.  Nor will I reveal their names.  You can also assume none of these people will ever be on another trip with us.  Marla and I are in complete agreement - from now on, if someone crosses a line, they won't be welcomed back for another trip.  That is the way it will have to be. 

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