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Tales of the Rhapsody 2004 Cruise

Chapter Eight:
Mischief on the Rhapsody

Story written by Rick Archer

Attack of the Key West Zombies!

When I learned the Rhapsody was about to visit Key West, I was worried.

Key West is part of the Florida Keys just south of Miami.  Key West is a little island that serves as the southernmost point of the United States.  Key West was hyped by the Rhapsody as a fabulous party mecca.  Maybe so, but to my eye there was something very strange about this little hamlet.  The place gave me the willies. 

Apparently there is little significant history about Key West.  There are no ancient forts on Key West. From what I gather, the little island has never even been attacked.  Initially I guessed that maybe Key West was so scary that no one even dreamed to attack it.  At least that's what I thought. 

I made it my mission to discover the ingenious conspiracy that explains why Key West would never be bothered again.  Believe it or not, I solved the mystery.  You will just have to read the story to believe it.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer, is the unquestioned hero of Key West. 

However, this reputation has nothing to do with Ernie's excellent writing, but rather his amazing ability to drink so much that he singlehandedly kept a dozen Key West bars in business. 

After talking to some of the townspeople, I was forced to conclude the only interesting thing to ever happen in Key West was a ten year stretch back in the Thirties when Ernest Hemingway, better known as 'Papa' in these parts, used to get drunk every night before and after the battles with his wife. 

Even to this day, 80 years later, Ernest Hemingway still makes his presence known.  In fact, the entire modern economy of Key West appears to be wrapped around the memory of Hemingway's infamous drinking sprees. 

Upon our arrival in Key West, Mr. Hemingway's house was the only serious tourist attraction that I was told about.  Unable to contain our excitement, Marla and I quickly made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Hemingway Home. 

I was appalled when I got there to find it cost $10 to visit.  That would be $20 for the two of us.  Uh, No thanks. 

One lady did at least fork up $6. She told her little boy to go in and take some pictures.  The boy was the only human being I noticed who actually went in the building.  He never came back.  While I stood there wondering what had happened to the boy, I asked the lady what was inside that was so interesting they could charge ten bucks.

"You mean you don't know?"  I started back at her blankly.  "That's where Ernest Hemingway's urinal from Sloppy Joe's bar rests today!  Legend has it that one night Hemingway got drunk and took the marble urinal home from the old bar. He figured he'd used it so often he'd already paid for it.  According to local lore, he set it up as an outdoor watering trough for his beloved six-toed cat and its descendants!  Plus you've got to see Pauline's Love Pool!"


The Mystery of Hemingway's Red Brick Wall

Ernie's Urinal?  Pauline's Love Pool?  My gosh, what were we missing!? 

I noticed there were literally dozens of zombie-like drunks and derelicts standing around.  At this point, a young man came over and asked for a handout.  Rolling my eyes, I handed the kid a buck.  He said, "Thanks, mister, that helps." 

I took a look him.  He was a lot younger than the rest, about college age. I wondered why he was wearing a coat in the middle of summer. 
Too weird.  But he seemed harmless enough so I asked him what all those bums were looking at. 

The young man pointed to the crowd and replied, "Look at 'em.  Most of those guys are so burned out they think Hemingway is still alive.  They all want to go in and ask him to give them a drink, but they are too poor to pay the $10 entrance fee. So they just stand there all day waiting for him to come out." 

The kid said if I would give him another dollar, he would tell me the story about the Hemingway place.  I figured one buck beat twenty bucks, so I forked over another dollar.  The kid proceeded to tell me an amazing story about the Hemingway House. 


The Story of Pauline's Love Pool

It turns out that Ernest had a rich wife named Pauline.  They argued all the time.  Partly as a way to get some peace, Hemingway would often go fishing.  The moment he got home, the arguing started up.  To get away from Pauline, Hemingway began making a daily drinking pilgrimage over to Sloppy Joe's

One night at Sloppy Joe's, Ernest met a woman named Martha Gelhorn who was an international journalist.

Martha, or 'Mama' as she was sometimes known, wasn't there by accident.  Martha was at the bar earnestly waiting to pounce upon Ernest.   Martha wasn't taking any chances.  Rumor has it Martha was deliberately wearing provocative attire in hopes of luring Papa into sitting next to her.  Not only that, she paid Skinner, the huge black bartender, $20 to introduce her to Ernie.  Well, her trap worked like a charm.

Very soon... probably that same night... Mama and Papa began a torrid affair.  The next thing you know, Martha took Ernest to Spain with her to cover the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Pauline didn't have anyone to argue with.  Pauline started to miss her husband.  Pauline was doing a little drinking of her own.  She hatched a creative plan to get her husband back. While Ernest was off in Spain chasing his mistress, Pauline decided to spend the savings from Ernest's most recent book on a $20,000 swimming pool (the equivalent of $300,000 in today's money!)

The legend was Pauline built the pool hoping to lure Papa back.  Her thinking was something like this: "Yo, Ernie, if you come back to me, you can swim in our new love pool and we can cavort together!"

Rick's Note:  Don't tell anyone - this is just between us - but I don't think this was a well-thought out marital ploy.  For one thing, there is a lovely beach only two blocks from their house.

I realize love isn't always practical, but why couldn't they just walk two blocks and cavort there? 

Rick's Note: Although I was too cheap to go inside to see the Hemingway house, I was able to put my camera over the wall to at least get this excellent photo of Pauline's Love Pool.  That brown stuff is water. 

Almost immediately, something went wrong with Pauline's Love Pool.

Since there is very little natural drinking water on this island, the price to fill the pool with clean water was ridiculous.  Pauline either had not taken this into consideration before the pool was built or she didn't listen.  However, once the pool was built, she decided the price of clean water was prohibitive.  Even all the Ernest money in the world could not pay for tap water to fill that pool.  If she wanted to fill it, she would have to kick in with her own money.

Pauline was determined to follow through with her plan, but she preferred not to invest her own money. 
Fortunately, Pauline was sure she had a great backup plan. 

Pauline bought a fire hose that stretched over two blocks.  She used the hose to pump in lots of free salt water from the beach that was located just two blocks away. 

Only one problem.  This hose not only brought in the brackish salt water, it sucked in seaweed, live fish, dead fish, algae and whatever else decided to volunteer for pool duty.

Pauline knew what to do.  Treat the water with Pool Chemicals!  Unfortunately, pool chemicals were not very effective in those days.  Back in the Thirties, the chemicals were able to kill the fish okay, but the scum thrived.  Now bacteria grew like crazy.  Soon you could smell Pauline's reeking cesspool all the way down at the beach two blocks away.  Not surprisingly, there was a public outcry to permanently drain the filthy swimming pool.

Another problem was that not all the dead life forms turned out to be dead fish.  Occasionally they had to drag out the body of a local derelict. 

Rumor has it they actually did find the dead body of a stranger floating in that pool.  It seems that drunks came in the yard all the time looking for Ernie.  The locals suggested the derelict got confused and ended up in the wrong watering hole. 

In desperation, Pauline built an expensive red brick wall - yes, the same one that we still see today!  

Unfortunately, to her chagrin, she found out that she hadn't built it high enough.  Once the bums learned how to climb over that red brick wall, Pauline had fits keeping them out of her yard. 

Not only was the pool expensive to build, Pauline simply could not get rid of the scum - human or aquatic. 

Pauline concluded the salt water was simply too nasty.  She couldn't stand all the slime.  Since no chemicals were tough enough to fight the seawater, her only choice was to refill the pool practically once a week. 

But before they could refill the pool, first they had empty the nasty water out of the pool.  Then they had to spend days cleaning and disinfecting the incredible amount of slime, algae, seaweed, and scum off the sides of the pool.  For every day they could swim in the pool, there was another day where they were refilling or cleaning the pool. 

The entire idea had turned out to be a fiasco.  The cost to maintain it was astronomical.  One local smart ass suggested a simpler solution would be to stop cleaning the pool, add a rubber boat and tell Ernie to go fish in there.

Oddly enough, despite all the mean jokes and grumbling from the Key West citizens, Pauline's pool ploy did seem to accomplish its unspoken goal - it pissed Ernie off.

When Mr. Hemingway returned from Spain and
learned practically his entire earnings from Farewell to Arms had been sunk into that stinking pool, Papa was reported to have lost his temper.  He and Pauline immediately began fighting again.   It was almost like he had never left.  Welcome home, Ernie Honey!


Now Wasn't That a Great Story?

As an impartial observer, I loved this story a great deal.  For a newlywed like myself, there seemed to be several important marital lessons that could be learned. 

Beware the wrath of a woman scorned was one maxim that came to mind. 

Close the joint checking account when running off with a mistress seemed to be another obvious lesson.

I loved this story so much I gave the kid another dollar. 

Speaking of marital lessons, at this point, Marla nearly broke my rib with a sharp elbow jab.  I took this as a reminder that I was married now and my wife wanted to go.  I patted myself on the back at my ability to learn her subtle cues so quickly! 

I might add it also occurred to me that just standing near this cursed house was dangerous because it bred marital discord! 

Unfortunately, the kid had me mesmerized.  I just couldn't pull away.  There was something bothering me.

"Hey," I asked.  "What's your name?"

"Jerry," he replied.

I slipped Jerry another dollar to keep the meter running. 

The Origins of Bum Paradise

Now I asked, "Jerry, why are there so many bums hanging out in Key West?"  I pointed to dozens of zombies silently wandering through the quiet neighborhood. They seemed docile enough, but I could not help but notice them.

"Oh yeah.  They are everywhere.  Ernest Hemingway hated those damn bums!  Poor guy couldn't even walk down the street to Sloppy Joe's without being accosted by dozen of drunks and panhandlers.

Damn bums would ask him for autographs, ask him for a drink, hit him up for dough, even follow him home!  He hated them!  Couldn't get rid of them.  They would have slept on his couch if he let 'em. 

The kid paused for a moment, then started up again.  "Yeah, old Ernie hated the bums.  Stupid thing is, most of it was his own fault!  Half the bums in Key West were there because of him." 

I raised an eyebrow.  "What do you mean?"

"Look around.  There's bums everywhere. This is a bad place, man.  Key West is cursed.  Do you know why there's so many bums?"

I shook my head in confusion.  Now that Jerry mentioned it, the constant presence of the bums was a mystery to me.  I had definitely wondered about it.  The moment you get to Key West you discover there are derelicts everywhere.  I mean EVERYWHERE!   The entire population looks like the dumping bin from a Grateful Dead concert.  "You mean there is a reason?" I answered.

"Bums love this place!!  This place has been Bum Paradise forever.  Back in the 1700s, the only people who lived here were a bunch of burned out pirates who didn't want to fight any more.  Heck, all they did was drink rum all day.  The most useless people in history.  It's been like that ever since.  But the worst thing to happen to this place was Ernest Hemingway.  I mean, that guy was a great writer, but he was also the most famous drunk in history!  Name one other guy who is as famous for being drunk as Ernest Hemingway!"

Well, now that I thought about it, this guy had a point.  Ernest Hemingway is the most famous drunk I knew of.

"Key West had a history of bums going back two hundred years.  Now they had a hero who liked to drink!   Whoa boy, it didn't take much.  The guy was a role model!  He made being drunk cool.  Thanks to Papa, everyone in the town wanted to be a drunk just like him.   Pretty soon, the word got out.  The best place in the world to get drunk was Key West!  Drink some rum and be a bum.  Pretty soon, every bum in America made a pilgrimage to this place.  It's ridiculous. 

Hemingway hated 'em.  Called the newcomers a bunch of damn tourists!  Pretty soon, Hemingway couldn't stand it anymore.  After his return from Spain, once he realized Key West was practically infested with drunks, he relocated to Havana, Cuba.  Hemingway may have left, but the drunks stayed."

Jerry shook his head in disgust.  "But that wasn't the end of it.  Then came the hippies!  A few years back, Jimmy Buffett made up a happy hippie song about this place and put it on his album.  Next thing you know all these deadheads started showing up thinking Key West was the next Margaritaville.  They fit right in!  Wasting away in Key West!  Key West turned into Deadhead Mecca.  If it wasn't booze, it was dope!  This whole town is messed up, man!  There's drunks and drug-crazed hippies everywhere. 

I'm warning you now, get out of here before it gets dark.  That's when it gets weird around here."

Right about now, Marla hit me in the ribs again so hard I could barely breathe.  I think she was trying to say it was time to go.  Before we left, there was one more thing that was bothering me. As I handed the kid another buck for his time, I asked Jerry a tough question.

"Are these deadbeats ever dangerous?"

"I don't think 'dangerous' is the right word.  Definitely not in the day, buddy.  Not in the day. The sun puts them into a trance.  All day long they either stare at the red brick wall or at that stupid giant crayon down at the beach.  They are only a problem at night. That's when they become the biggest nuisance in the world."

"What happens at night?"

"That's when they start begging hard.  They'll grab your shirt and won't let you go till you give them some money.  Anything to get some dough for more rum. They'll follow you everywhere.  They'll grab your belt and hitch a ride till you fork up some dough.  They will not take 'no' for an answer.  Think of visiting a swamp and being attacked by a million bloodsucking mosquitoes.  These bums are worse than the plague at night."

I was really concerned. "Is there anything you can do to get rid of them?"

"Best thing to do is find alligator and ring the dinner bell.  But if you don't have a gator handy, well, then find something really repulsive, something so ugly they will cringe.  Find something much scarier than they are!"

I nodded.  I think I understood what he meant.  At this point Marla gave me "The Look". 

Fearing another jab in the ribs, I gave Jerry one final dollar and started to move away.  However, I couldn't help myself.  There was one more thing I had to know.  "Jerry, what happened to you?  You're young.  You've got brains.  Why are you doing hanging out here?"  

Jerry looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet.  He was embarrassed by my question.  "Hey man, I threw it all away for dope.  I was an A student at the University of Florida.  Smoked too much pot at Gatorsville.  Grades fell.  They threw me out.  Yeah, I threw it all away."

I said to him, "Hey, Jerry, maybe it isn't too late.  You have a real gift for telling great stories.  Maybe you could open up a dance studio or something.  You don't really need any brains to do that.  Stupid people open dance studios all the time!

Jerry had been frowning, but now he perked up a bit. 

Then I had another idea. "Better yet, maybe you could write tourist stories!  Whoa, that's it!  People tell me all the time you don't have to be real bright to write tourist stories!  Jerry, can you type?"

"Heck yes, man, I can type."

"Well, there you go, Jerry, a keyboard and few beers to help with the creativity.  Hey, that's all it takes to write complete nonsense for people to read on the Internet!"

"Hey, thanks, man, I like the way you think!  That's a great idea!  Where did you get such a great idea?"  

I smiled and told him that was my little secret.  Now we shook hands and said goodbye.

As Marla and I headed back to the ship, my head was spinning over the Key West bum problem.  Walking along the sidewalk, I couldn't help but notice more human derelicts lining the streets side by side throughout Key West.  

This year-round balmy weather has made Key West a popular migration spot for bums, drunks, and other aging gray-haired hippies who fried their brains with drugs back in the Seventies.  Like Dawn of the Dead, they just wander around the place like placid zombies.  Most of them just stand there staring at the $10 Hemingway House or the giant crayon all day long.  This place gives me the creeps.


Both Sloppy Joe's Bar and Captain Tony's Saloon are within easy walking distance of the cruise ship.   The two bars are so close to each other, you can spot their signs with a simple turn of the head.

The sign with the caption that inspired a lawsuit.

Tale of Two Bars

Thanks to Ernest Hemingway, the entire economy of Key West seems wrapped around bars that cater to cruise ship tourists. 

There is practically one bar on every corner of Key West. Interestingly, each one of these bars claims the be the original drinking hole of Ernest Hemingway (or at least that's what it seems like).  No bar wants to be known as the bar that Ernie didn't drink at. 

Look at it this way.  You are a tourist and you are considering going into a Key West bar.  Wouldn't you look for some indication this was the bar that Ernest Hemingway used to drink at?   You're darn right you would! 

You would say to yourself, "Heck, if this bar wasn't good enough for the most famous drunk in the world, it sure the heck isn't good enough for me." 

Therefore the only sure guarantee of business success in Key West is to be known as Ernie's favorite watering hole.  Every bar in the town makes this claim, but lately things have gotten ugly.  One Key West bar actually decided this distinction was so important they would to go to court to lock up their claim to Hemingway authenticity. 

There is currently a major lawsuit between Sloppy Joe's Bar and Captain Tony's Saloon for the right to be known as the official Ernest Hemingway drinking bar.   

I realize that as my readers peruse my anecdotes, maybe once or twice someone might wonder if I was stretching the truth a little bit.  Well, I guess I do have a reputation for embellishment.  However this story is so ridiculous I don't even have to make stuff up.

To make a long, stupid story short, I will tell you a short stupid story. 

Back in the heyday of Ernie's drinking spree, Sloppy Joe's used to be located where Captain Tony's Bar is located today at
428 Greene Street

Between 1933 and 1937, Ernie drank at the first Sloppy Joes location on Greene Street.  This saloon was owned by his buddy Sloppy Joe Russell.  This same spot had earlier been part of the Key West morgue.  Or maybe it still was.  In fact, maybe it still is!

After Papa Ernie took off for Spain with Mama Martha, Key West lost its magic for Ernie.  Pauline's Love Pool didn't help much either.  Ernie later relocated to Havana, Cuba, about 90 miles away.  There was lots of good fishing, good cigars, and plenty of bars there too.

With the loss of Ernie, the Key West bar business dropped off considerably.  Worse, the landlord had the nerve to raise the rent at 428 Greene Street by $4 in 1938.  Times were tough and $4 was a lot of money.  Sloppy Joe got mad at this exorbitant increase.  Sneaking out at midnight, he moved his bar a block down to Duval Street where it currently resides.

I'm sure that move took about 10 minutes.  Legend has it the patrons picked up their glasses with one hand, carried their bar stool with the other, and simply walked down the street to the new location on Duval.  Sloppy Joe brought the rum and the move was complete.

Not longer after Sloppy Joe deserted his old home, his original spot on Greene Street reopened as a bar under different owners and a new name.

Tony Tarracino came to Key West in 1948 to escape Miami mobsters.  Captain Tony, as he was known, was a character straight out of a pulp fiction novel.  For years he cultivated a reputation as a raconteur, a womanizer and a bit of a scamp. 

Owner of a fishing boat and married 3 times, Tony found time to father 13 children that he knew of and maybe a few more he didn't know about.  Fishing and F_ _ _ing seemed to take up most of his time.  Along the way, Tony developed a marvelous life credo.

"All you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego. Brains don't mean shit."

The Key West people sensed that with a terrific attitude like that, Tony was meant to be their leader.  Here was the Key West motto they had all been waiting for.  Tony was voted in as mayor.  Even better, guess who ran his mayoral campaign?  None other than Jimmy Buffet.

No, I am not making this up.  It blows my mind to think the facts are crazier than something my imagination could come with.  I must be slipping.

The Lawsuit

In 1958, the old bar on 428 Greene Street was purchased by Captain Tony.  Unable to think of a really clever name for the bar, he called it "Captain Tony's Saloon."  Unfortunately, Tony's bar didn't catch on liked he had hoped.  He needed a gimmick.  Tony had just the idea.

Tony added an interesting phrase to his sign: "The First and Original Sloppy Joe's 1933-1937".  This worked like a charm.  It was like getting the Ernest Hemingway Seal of Approval.  Immediately business tripled much to the aggravation of the owners of the second Sloppy Joe's one block away on Duval Street.  However, although they didn't like it, since the slogan was technically correct, it stayed in that exact spot from 1958 all the way into the new Millennium. 

In 1978 Sidney Snelgrove and John Mayer bought the bar named Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street.  They were not happy about the boast that decorated Captain Tony's sign down the street one bit... even though the boast had stood unchallenged for twenty years (1958 to 1978). 

These guys registered "Sloppy Joe's" as a trademark in 1988.  They decided to sue sometime in the early 2000s.  Their lawsuit claimed that Captain Tony's was trying to cut in on the Sloppy Joe's success story and its $10 million a year in sales.  "
We just want to protect our mark. Sloppy Joe's is world famous. Captain Tony's is not."

No one disputes that Ernest definitely drank at the original Sloppy Joe's on Greene Street.  They think Ernest probably drank at the second Sloppy Joe's as well, but only a few times.  Ernie was in Spain or Cuba when Sloppy Joe made his move in 1937.  The assumption is that on the few occasions Ernest came to town to fight with Pauline, he would make a pilgrimage to the new location on Duval to see his friend Sloppy Joe. 

Ernest Hemingway has been dead for fifty years.  No one knows which bar he prefers at this point.  However, everyone agrees that a victory would mean increased profits for the winner of the lawsuit.  From what I understand, Madame Ruth, the gypsy with the gold-capped tooth, will be conducting a court-room séance soon.  Ernie is expected to be depositioned.  Wherever Ernie is now, wouldn't it be interesting to know what he thinks about all this fuss? 

Rick's Note:  I first wrote about this lawsuit in 2004.  When I revisited the story in 2010, still nothing had been decided.  Obviously just like everything else in Key West, justice moves slowly.  

Truth be told, my sentiment is with Captain Tony's Saloon.  After all, their boast is legitimate.  Hemingway did do most of his drinking in that spot.  Their location on Greene Street is indeed the original Sloppy Joe's.  Furthermore, Captain Tony made his claim 20 years before the current owners of Sloppy Joe's even entered the picture. 

Furthermore, that claim on Captain Tony's sign isn't exactly hurting the business at the current Sloppy Joe's.  Sloppy Joe's on Duval clearly has the upper hand.  $10 million a year in sales isn't enough.  The current owners of Sloppy Joe's want more.  Talk about greed!  These people have no relationship whatsoever to the name of Ernest Hemingway, but here they are trying to suck every last dollar off a long-dead corpse. 

I must say this - the Sloppy Joe's Bar Lawsuit says it all about Key West.  Earlier in the story I wondered why Key West had no visible defenses.  Now I know why - there is absolutely no reason to attack the place. 

For centuries, if a pirate ship landed on the beach, the pirates would soon discover the only place in town with a decent roof was the bar.  There was nothing worth stealing, so why bother fighting?  The pirates were more likely to pull up a stool and have a drink out of professional courtesy.  Yo ho ho and a bottom of rum. 

Key West has to be the sleepiest, most laid-back town I have ever seen.  In this story, I tease about drunks and zombies, but in all honestly, when I say this place is barely awake, I am not kidding.  Blame it on the heat and the total lack of any ocean breeze, but it really does seem like people just wander around.


Mara and the Zombies

Our ship was not leaving until Midnight.  That gave us ample time to get into trouble on shore. 

That night a dozen cruisers talked about reliving the Hemingway legend with a pilgrimage to Sloppy Joe's. 

As I listened to their excitement, I was very worried for their safety. 
I warned them about the derelicts.  The Usual Suspects refused to listen to me.

I pulled Mara aside and told her what I had learned that day.  Mara stared at me in open-mouthed horror at the obvious threat the derelicts posed.

"What should we do?" she pleaded.  I whispered a suggestion in her ear. 

Mara nodded. Mara agreed my idea was their best chance to avoid trouble.

No, these are not the Zombies.  These are the Usual Suspects.  Please note they don't look like Zombies in this picture.  However, they will before the night is through.

Terror in Key West

The moment the Usual Suspect entered downtown Key West, they received a nasty scare. 

Suddenly out of nowhere, one zombie-like panhandler, beggar, and drunk after another came after them begging for money. Lowlifes of every description came staggering after them!! 

The Usual Suspects screamed in terror!   They were just about to turn and run back to the ship when Mara told them to calm down.  Mara had something up her sleeve.

Mara had decided to bring along a secret weapon.  I had told Mara her group would be safe if they found something so repulsive that the Zombies would cringe in terror.

Mara knew just who to turn to for help. 

As the Zombies closed in, Mara threw sunglasses to the Usual Suspects and ordered them to put them on for their own safety.

Then she shoved Gary Richardson to the front of the group and screamed, "Back, you Zombies!  Get Back!" 

Sure enough, the moment they saw Gary's white legs and black socks, the Zombies screamed with horror and cringed in pain. They retreated and soon disappeared into the darkness for good.

Mara had planned well. Her sunglasses had protected the Usual Suspects from a similar agony.  Mara said they could take their sunglasses off, but whatever they did, don't look down at Gary's feet.

First the Usual Suspects hugged Mara with relief.  Then they closed their eyes and hugged Gary too.  He was their hero!  Gary had saved them from the Zombies!

Well, yes, Gary helped a lot, but give the credit where credit is due.  It was Mara's quick wits that had saved the day. Mara is such a smart girl.


Sloppy Joe's Saloon

Now free of the Zombie Menace, the Usual Suspects were able to enjoy an evening of Bar Hopping.  To their dismay, there was a bar on every corner.  Which bar was the best?   It was all so confusing!

Unfortunately no one had explained the controversy surrounding Key West Bar Authenticity to the Usual Suspects.   So they wandered around inspecting each bar as they passed by.

Eventually they spotted Sloppy Joe's.  That was easy to do since it had the biggest and brightest sign.  They walked over and discovered this bar claimed to be the Official Bar of Ernest Hemingway.  That was a big selling point, so they all went in. 

The Usual Suspects drank themselves Sloppy.

Next they did some serious dancing.  It turned out Sloppy Joe's had a live band that played some serious blues music.

Oh boy!  A chance to dance.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a dance floor.  No problem.  The Suspects pushed the tables out of the way and danced on the linoleum floor.  Where there's a will there's a way.

Immediately Steve and Maureen began to Whip.  Not to be outdone, Mr. Handsome and Center of Attention got out there too.  However, the Center of Attention was not on her Attention game - you can just barely see her in the picture.  Usually when there is a camera around, Phyllis is front and center. 

Meanwhile, the other Suspects checked out the various pictures of Ernest Hemingway that lined the wall.  They discovered that the memory of Ernest Hemingway, the brooding, brawling, balling and boozing bear who called Key West home, lives on at Sloppy Joes.

His legend is kept alive with plenty of pictures as well as Hemingway memorabilia. In fact, they even got to see Ernie's original fishing pole!  Oh my goodness.  How about that!

The night was young and there were more bars to visit, so now the Suspects headed out back into the night.

Captain Tony's Saloon

The Usual Suspects staggered over to Captain Tony's just down the street.  They discovered that Captain Tony's is a serious dive. 

This is when Mara got the bad news.  Just as they entered Captain Tony's, someone had spilled beer on Gary's socks!!

Incredibly, when Gary took them into the bathroom, the soap he used to clean the socks had bleached them out.  Gary's socks were now white! 

"Oh No!" Mara gasped.  This was very bad news indeed. 

Without Gary's black socks, the Usual Suspects were now defenseless to the Zombies.  Mara was very upset.  Now what was she going to do?  

Mara felt responsible for the safety of the group, but her secret weapon - Gary's repulsive black socks - had been destroyed.

The Suspects were in big trouble.  The Zombies were sure to overwhelm them on the way back.

The SSQQ Night of the Living Dead

Mara was the only person who understood the danger they were in.  Ignorance is bliss.  The rest of the Suspects were unsuspecting.  They were busy having fun.

With Mara keeping her worries to herself, the group was able to enjoy Captain Tony's to their hearts content.  The Usual Suspects were getting so drunk they were starting to dance on the bars!  They were already seven sheets to the wind. 

Something about the lost expressions on their faces gave Mara the inspiration she needed to hatch a new plan. 
Mara went over to the bartender and had a little conversation.  The bartender told Mara exactly what she wanted to hear.

Now Mara exclaimed, "Drink up, everyone!  The Ghost of Ernest Hemingway commands that you drink yourselves to oblivion! 

The house drink is a Zombie! 

I command everybody to begin drinking Zombies!"

A cheer went up!!  Everyone agreed it was a great idea to drink Zombies!  

Thanks to Mara's encouragement, the Suspects rushed the bar and demanded one Zombie after another. 

A Zombie is a famous Caribbean drink laced with Bacardi Rum.  No one is quite sure where the Zombie originated, but our readers will not be too surprised to find out which particular town has made the Zombie famous...  take a wild guess. 

Mara had learned the Zombie gets its name from its unusual ability to make people look like.... take a wild guess.

Meanwhile the Suspects began downing their Zombies like a thirsty man in the desert. Gulp gulp gulp. 

Now the most peculiar thing happened - the Suspects began to hallucinate!  

The Center of Attention looked up at the ceiling and gasped in shock.

Phyllis pointed to the sky, "Hey everybody, Look up there!"  

And what exactly did Phyllis see?

Phyllis said to her dance partner Don, "You know, I am feeling a little weird. I just looked up and I saw thousands of bras on the ceiling." 

That's right.  The Center of Attention had gone mad.  She was convinced she saw an entire ceiling lined with hanging bras.

Don scoffed at her.  How absurd.  But then he looked up at the ceiling and suddenly he too went into shock. 

Then the whole gang looked up. They too went into shock.  None of them could move. They were all were locked in suspended animation.  They had completely lost their minds.

Yes, it was just a mirage.  It was a Zombie-induced hallucination.

There were no bras in the ceiling.

Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? 

Do you the Reader believe for a moment there really were thousands of women's bras hanging in the bar? 

Now how weird is that?  How utterly ridiculous!

Surely there must be an explanation for this mass hallucination.

Indeed, there was an explanation!  Take a wild guess.

The entire group began to resemble Jack Nicholson after his lobotomy in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Twenty people stared open-mouthed at an empty ceiling they thought was decorated with hanging bras.  Pathetic.

Notice the eerie blank look on their faces.  This is indisputable proof that our entire group had become a group of stupefied Zombies.  They had completely lost their minds. 

Mara said, "Okay, everybody, it's time for us to go back to Rhapsody!  First grab somebody's hand and don't let go.  Now I want you all to follow me back to the ship, but first we need to start singing.  Let's all sing The Lobotomy Song!"

What a great idea!  Holding hands and following Mama Mara, the Usual Suspects left Captain Tony's singing the Lobotomy Song at the top of their lungs.

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than have a prefrontal lobotomy!"

Once the group was outside, the local Zombies didn't pay a bit of attention to the Usual Suspects.  Thanks to Mara's genius, the real Zombies thought the SSQQ Suspects looked just like they did.  Once they saw the Suspects behaving like brain-dead idiots, they never gave these pseudo-Zombies a second look. 

In fact, as the Suspects passed by, the singing was infectious. Now many of the local Zombies starting singing too.  Soon t
he happy sounds of "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me..." rang out throughout the Key West night. 

When they heard the singling, many of the real Zombies thought they were back at a Grateful Dead Concert.  They immediately started dancing.  It was very beautiful.

That inspired the Suspects to begin to dance as well.  The Suspects did the Conga and worked their hips.  At this point it was virtually impossible to see any distinction between the real Zombies and the SSQQ Zombies.  The transformation was complete.

Mara's plan had worked like a charm. She had turned the entire group into mindless morons.  Thanks to Mara, all of the Usual Suspects made it back to the Rhapsody unharmed.   Mara smiled.  They were safe now.  Mara had saved them again. Such a smart girl!

The next day the Usual Suspects didn't know what hit them.  They all complained they couldn't remember a thing from last night.  It was like they had lost their minds somehow.

Phyllis was the worst.  All day long, she walked around saying, "I could have sworn I saw a million bras falling from the sky!" 

I told Phyllis not to worry.  Key West had that kind of effect on people. 


Love on the Elevator

The first inkling I got that things were not right in the minds of the Usual Suspects came to me the next morning.  That is when I realized Phyllis wasn't the only one to have lost it completely.

I learned there was a rumor that two members of our group who barely knew each other had been seen having intimate relations on one of the ship's Elevators.  This alleged sexual encounter occurred in the wee hours of the morning not long after the Suspect Zombies had boarded the ship. 

As the ship departed Key West, many of the Suspects were understandably exhausted.  However they were not too tired to visit the evening buffet being served by the pool. 

A certain young lady noticed a certain young man.  They did not know each other's name, but they recognized each other as being part of our group.  Suddenly the song Strangers in the Night started playing in their minds.

Exchanging glances, what were the chances, both people found themselves consumed by a powerful lust.  The Zombie effect had removed all sense of inhibition.  They immediately began to look for a place to hide.

Now let's not be too judgmental.

As far as I am concerned, Lust aboard a cruise ship is perfectly okay.  I mean, you have very attractive people and lots of free time.  Once the rum had dulled their reservations, now the libido was set free.  As the saying goes, if it feels good, why not?  We are all adults here even if we don't always behave like adults.

However, the problem with "lust" aboard a ship is that there is no privacy unless you have a cabin to yourself.

Finding a private love nest isn't that easy on a cruise ship.  There are eyes everywhere.  After the midnight pool buffet, I heard that some members of our group didn't even bother to hide. 

The night of the Key West Barhopping was followed by reports of all kinds of smooching over on the deck lounge chairs not far from the swimming pool.  Yes, in case you were curious, these people were all part of the mentally-impaired Zombie group who, thanks to Mara, probably should not be held too accountable for their actions.

However, not everyone is comfortable making out in public.  Those who still have enough dignity left to care about what other people think during a lust attack find themselves in a real fix. 

Unfortunately without a cabin, it is practically impossible to fly under the radar.  Furthermore, with 120 people in a group, the odds of no one noticing a serious attack of lustful public groping are poor indeed.  This creates a problem.  Who would want to be the object of gossip for the rest of the trip?

Now I wouldn't know anything about this from personal experience, but I have heard that when you have a flash of instant lust at 2 in the morning, things can get dicey. 

Since both of their cabins had sleeping roommates, our couple had no choice but to wander around the ship desperately searching for a remote corner where they could make out in privacy. 

They soon discovered a ship is intentionally set up to increase visibility.  For example, anyone sitting in the Lobby can see several levels at once. 

It probably drove them crazy when they realized it was virtually impossible to find a safe place to conduct their affaire d'amor in secret.

Apparently our couple in question had just enough sense to want privacy, but not enough sense to really think this through.   Again, yes, the Zombie drinks had impaired their judgment.  They no longer had functioning brains.... their subsequent behavior is complete proof of this.

And undoubtedly the urgency of their desire was much too great.  Whatever the reason, our amorous couple chose the Worst Place Imaginable to conduct their activities - an open-glass elevator in the middle of the ship.

Elevator Visibility

For the next part of this story to make any sense, we need background information on Elevator Visibility

During the day, a person can see out of an open-glass elevator just as easily as a person outside the elevator can see in. 

This ratio changes a bit early in the evening.  Now the lights in the Lobby area are diminished.  Since the lights in the elevator remain the same, visibility from the elevator to the Lobby is reduced, but still possible.  You can still see out, but not very far.

The ratio changes dramatically after 11 pm.  Now the lights in the Lobby area are deliberately set much lower.  This is considered the 'intimate time' of the night. The cruise ship does its part by reducing the lighting to a soft glow.  Anyone riding in an elevator can no longer see out very far.  If you aren't paying attention, you might conclude that if you can't see out, then no one can see in. 

It makes complete sense to assume that our
lust-crazed couple stumbled onto the elevator, noticed they couldn't see out and began to smile.  In their Zombie damaged brains, they assumed if they couldn't see out, then no one could see in!  

To their relief, they had finally found the only secluded spot on the ship!

They start to make out right on the spot.  It felt great.  Then it began to feel even better than that.  Once they got going, they never gave the visibility issue another thought.  They were not at all worried about being caught - if the elevator had begun to stop, then they would have stopped.  But as long as the elevator kept moving, in their one-track minds, they believed they had finally found the perfect place to be alone together hidden from the rest of the passengers.  If anything, the danger of being caught added to the excitement.

They stayed on the elevator for twenty minutes as it went up and down and up and down.

The elevator automatically passed the Lobby on its way up and then again on its way down.  The people sitting in the Lobby noticed something odd was going on in the elevator as it passed.  Waiting for the elevator to return, they gasped when they realized what they were seeing.  

From this point on, every time the elevator passed by the Lobby, the couple could be seen getting further and further involved.  Soon a small crowd began to gather in the Lobby.  This was better than Real Sex on HBO!   Someone pass the popcorn. 

Someone blurted out, "Don't anyone dare use the elevator!  I'm enjoying the show!"


The Next Day

It wasn't until the next morning that I heard this story from a friend of the roommate of the woman involved.  This is a quote. 

"Oh gosh, it was up and down, up and down!  It was so exciting I thought I was going to lose my mind. I didn't even know his name, but I know what he felt like!  Oh my gosh, whatever you do, don't tell Rick!"

Well, the roommate didn't tell Rick.  But she did tell a friend who couldn't wait to pass the story on to me. 


After I heard about the incident, I was standing in the hallway a few minutes later discussing the elevator rumor with a friend.  I was still having a hard time believing this tale.  I assumed I was getting my toe pulled. 

By chance, another couple who was not with our group overheard just enough to know what we were talking about.  The man spoke up.  He said it was 'no rumor'.   He confirmed that he and his wife had actually SEEN the two people in compromising positions right there in the glass elevator last night.  His wife just smiled and nodded.

Shocked, I asked the man just how carried away the couple had gotten. 

"Real Carried Away. The sundress was hiked up."

I shook my head incredulously.  As our impassioned lovers wrestled as one, they never even noticed the whole world was watching them perform at 2 am on a ship that never sleeps.  Up and down went the elevator. Up and down went the bodies. Up and down went the eyes in the Lobby.  There in plain sight everyone could watch them getting it on.  My guess is they had hit that infamous "point of no return" and were too far gone to stop. 

I had never heard of people having sex on a cruise ship elevator before, especially not one with windows!  Putting things into perspective, people make out in the elevators all the time.  It's fun! 

However everyone knows when to stop or where to go if they don't want it to stop.  Nothing even remotely similar to this story had ever occurred before in my experience... and will probably never happen again.

Let's face it, this had been a very bizarre night.  When I say people were out of their minds, this was no embellishment.  Chalk this wild story up as another casualty to the incredible SSQQ Night of the Living Dead


Steve G, A Prime Suspect Among the Usual Suspects!

Steve made quite a name for himself on this trip.  I can't tell for sure just how many different women ended up pictured in his arms during this trip because there were too many to count, but the number is well into double figures.  Maybe Steve was just fun to pose with because he is so handsome.

Back at the studio I have always thought of Steve as a warm, easy-going, down-to-earth kind of guy.  But out at sea, he was front and center as a Lady's Man.  Rather than paint Steve as a Lothario, I prefer to think of him as a good-hearted rogue.

I might add that depending on the time of day of the picture, some women were deeper in his arms than others. Steve was part of many eyebrow-raising pictures.  In fact, there was one picture of him where I actually stopped and had to ask myself, "He isn't really doing what it looks like he is doing, is he?"

Steve was a very popular Usual Suspect.  In fact, he almost unseated Mr. Handsome for the legendary title of Biggest Mischief Maker.  Let me add that Steve was also a serious victim of the Zombie Brain Loss that affected so many people.

Steve was out there in front from the Get-Go on this trip.  Steve was utterly Fearless.  On the very first night of the trip, Steve took his chances by tempting Matrimony when he caught Marla's garter. 

Unlike the cowardly Mr. Handsome who actually hid behind twenty men, Steve was standing right up in front. 

It is no accident he caught that garter.  In Hurricane parlance, Steve put his face right in front of the wind.  Considering the stance he took, Steve would have had trouble avoiding catching the garter.

I honestly have no idea whether Steve and Maureen are anything other than good friends.  I might add it is none of my business.  What I do know is that I have many pictures from the early part of the trip where it's S and M, S and M, S and M... including one picture where Steve got in trouble.  I wonder what he did?

Then along came Champagne Night.  For the Zombie victims like Steve, Champagne Night shattered what little self-control they had begun to regain.  Can it be that Leslie Barkley, none other than the legendary Grapevine, had come between Steve and the Maureen Academy? 

Could it be that kick in the pants was related to Champagne Night?

If grins can be measured for degree of heat, I would venture the Grapevine definitely seems to like this boy, that's for sure.  Steve doesn't appear to be resisting either.  

This was about the time where the Grapevine made her move into the elite Social Circle known as "The Usual Suspects". 

Contrary to her nickname, the Grapevine didn't do much talking on this trip or afterwards for that matter. 

Judging from the ensuing pictures, I would guess Grapevine was in a "less talk, more action" kind of mood.

As you can see, after Champagne Night, Steve's pictures with Grapevine began to take on wild new dimensions.

What can I say?   In the first picture, I admit I have never understand the joys of toe-sucking, but I can at least appreciate the concentration involved.

In the second picture, uh, excuse me, but Grapevine looks like an escapee from the loony bin.  Grapevine appears to be slipping into madness while Steve practices his Kojak look.  "Who loves ya, baby?"

In the third picture, well, uh, I think they were both "under the influence."   By the way, no, they were NOT the elevator couple.

Look on the bright side.  She's happy.  He's happy.  Let's just leave it at that. 

No, we can't leave it at that.  As I review these pictures, I can only say to myself, "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?!?"

Under any other circumstances, Steve's antics would have guaranteed him the top Mischief Maker spot on every cruise SSQQ has ever taken. It was just Steve's tough luck to come up against an inspired Mischief Maker like Mr. Handsome in his prime. 

However Steve has no reason to hang his head at his close miss at the crown.  Being runner-up to a legendary trouble maker like Mr. Handsome had its own rewards - Steve obviously had a great time on this trip.   I think that is the kind of consolation prize any of us would accept in a flash.


The Incredible Tale of Mr. Handsome

The Legend of Mr. Handsome started on the 2004 Mardi Gras Cruise earlier in the same year as our Rhapsody Trip.  I noticed that any time there was an activity, George was out there front and center. 

Indeed, my Post-Trip 2004 Mardi Gras Write-up read something like this:

"George was in the hot tub, George was on the dance floor, George was seen doing the jigsaw puzzle, George got the most beads at Mardi Gras, George was captain of the volleyball team, George taught a girl how to dance, George was in the very front for the twentieth picture in a row, George had a birthday party, George stuck his face in a custard, George was interviewed by a New Orleans Camera Crew, George did this, George did that,  George George George.... it's all about George!"

Wherever there was mischief, there was George. During the Mardi Gras Trip, it didn't take me long to realize that George had his finger stuck in every corner of the pie imaginable.  That is when I realized what an incredible Attention Hound he is. 

George is the person who somehow turned sitting in a hot tub all day long into an activity.  How sitting on your butt slowly cooking in a hot tub can be defined as activity escapes me, but George elevated it to an art form. The 2004 Mardi Gras Trip is where the SSQQ Hot Tub legend started.  George became the inspiration for all our Hot Tub shenanigans. On the Mardi Gras Trip, George got more pub in the tub than I thought possible.  

Seeing as how half the pictures from our Mardi Gras Trip had George in them, I decided to nickname him "Mr. Handsome".  George liked it.  No surprise there.  George is just as bad as Phyllis Porter when it comes to being the Center of Attention.  In fact, at the start of the Rhapsody 2004 Trip, I thought they were having a direct competition between each other to see who could get the most attention.  I have always thought Phyllis made her mad rush to the stage during Beatlemania as a way to get a leg up on George in the Attention-Grabbing Game. 

George loves attention. He doesn't just love it, he thrives on it!!  Even when George wasn't being the center of attention, he was lobbying Marla to make sure different stories about him would end up in the Trip Write-up.  Most people go out of their way to avoid having a cruise story written about them.  Not George. I have never in my life seen another person revel in attention like George does!

Before you get the wrong idea, please understand that I like George. I think George is wonderful!  The George I know is warm, funny, harmless, and effortlessly popular.  George is not just a pretty face.  George is clever too. He cracked me up all the time with his droll wit.  Any time I heard laughter on the trip, sure enough, there was George in the middle of it.

I might add another facet of his charm is his good-natured willingness to take teasing and have fun with it.  I readily admit I love teasing George.  George doesn't mind; any attention is good attention.   Any time it comes to time to write a story about the trip, George practically writes the story for me with his nonsense.  Together we make a great team. He likes to get in trouble and I like to write about it.  This is the basis of our beautiful friendship.

On this particular 2004 Rhapsody Trip, George took his game to exciting new levels.  He got attention in ways I never thought possible! 

However, before we begin, one thing Handsome said on the first day of the trip still lingers in my mind.  At the Wedding Reception, I commented on his low-key behavior.  George looked me in the eye and said, "Rick, after all the mean things you wrote about me on the Mardi Gras trip earlier this year, I decided I am going to behave on this trip.  I'm not going to give you one darn thing to say about me!"

Famous Last Words. As you will see, during the rest of the Trip, despite his words, George got into more trouble than I ever thought humanly possible.  So now let us review of the antics of SSQQ's favorite mischief maker on the 2004 Rhapsody Trip.

The Blood Bath Volleyball Challenge at Chankanaab Beach

On the Mardi Gras trip earlier in 2004, George and I met on opposite sides of the Sand Volleyball Court at Chankanaab Beach, Cozumel. 

Although the games in February 2004 were close, George's team won all three games.  It was a crushing blow to be beaten so soundly. I had been waiting half a year for revenge when this day finally arrived.

George seemed oddly reluctant to play again.  I couldn't understand his attitude since he is a talented volleyball player.  George said he didn't want to play, said he didn't want to play, then the night before we made to Cozumel he finally agreed to show up.  I think George just enjoyed hearing me beg him to play.

My friend Paul Foltyn and I arrived at the beach early to clear the sand volleyball court of weeds and even a couple small trees. I had a strong feeling this court had not been used since George and I played on it seven months earlier.

Paul and I practiced our serves and returns. We figured we were ready. 

George had talked his roommate, 8 foot tall Don Schmidt, into playing on his team.  He also recruited Bruce Hanka, Leslie Goldmine, Martin Hogan and Lila Waring into playing for his team.  Other combatants included Larry Weinstein, James Bowling, and later in the afternoon Bruce Ross.

My team picked up a real superstar in Adolph Granato.  He was a very strong player who covered enormous amounts of territory. He was easily our best player. Marla was on our team for a while as was Iqbal.  Chellie Pruden and Alyssa Shulman also played for our team.  As I expected, Paul was steady all afternoon long.  We also had Michael Cull who was pretty good.

The match was supposed to be best 2 out of 3 games.  In the first game, my team fell terribly behind.  It seemed like the score was 11-0 at some point.  Part of the problem was that the sun was a factor. Since George's team had the sun at their backs, it was hard to see some of the sky balls clearly.  Fortunately, we caught a real break when the sky began to cloud up.  Now that we could see, we settled down and returned a couple serves.  

Believe it or not, we actually came back and won this game.  Don't ask me how we did it because I can't remember. We just did.  Not surprisingly, George was in shock.

One reason we came back was due to the cheering of Sheila Ciegelski.  She kept up a non-stop positive line of chatter for us even when we were getting smeared 11 zip. When we started to make a comeback Sheila got so excited that her enthusiasm became infectious. I was definitely grateful she was cheering for my team!  She definitely boosted my spirits.

One interesting phenomenon of the competitive matches were the incredible number of bloody knees and elbows that began to appear.  Anyone who dived for a ball invariably arose with a bad scrape.  Pretty soon at least a half-dozen players were playing with blood streaming down a leg or an arm. 

In addition to the open sores, there were plenty of painful abrasions as well.  I know besides my knee I had several painful scrapes. The picture with the bloody knee is me.  I might add the scab on this badly-cut knee did not come off until six weeks later. Those were nasty cuts we received! 

I have a strong hunch there is a gravel road under that sand volleyball court.  There is just enough sand to disguise the road, but not enough to protect our knees when diving for a ball.  Adolph Granato dived for a number of balls. He was bleeding in three places towards the end.  I thought he might have to have a transfusion just to make it back to the ship.

George's team rallied to win a close second game.  There was a minor rain storm in the middle of this game that forced us to sit down for a while.  When we got back, George's team had more energy than we did it and closed it out.

The third game was also close.  My team got off to an early lead.  Late in the game, Bruce Ross joined George's team when someone else had to go - people came and went all day long! 

When Bruce joined, we were well ahead.  However Bruce led them to a huge comeback.  My team hung on for dear life and just barely won.  Bruce was quite an athlete.  I remember thinking how glad I was Bruce hadn't been there at the start. 

Saved by the Rain

That should have been the match 2 games to 1, Rick's team the winner.... but somehow George talked me into a fourth game.

After we had barely won Game Three, I knew I was tempting fate by agreeing to play again.  I was pretty worried about their new player Bruce Ross.  But they wanted to play some more and so did I.  Sand volleyball is a blast.

Unfortunately, just as I feared, this time superstar Bruce Ross made an even bigger difference. He was quick and covered a lot of ground.  Leslie Goldmine seemed to improve with the practice and now there were no longer any easy openings in their defense.

George's team returned practically everything we threw at them with little effort.  We were getting beat pretty soundly in Game 4 when the rain started again. This time it wasn't a drizzle; the rain was pouring hard!!  People ran for the cover of the building next to us.  As we watched the water come down, it became obvious that even if the rain stopped (which it didn't), the area was so soaked there was no chance to play again.

So that marked the end of volleyball for the day.  Aha!  The fourth game didn't count! 

The rains meant my team had won the match two games to one.

However, the way George's team was playing once Bruce Ross came into the picture made it obvious we were lucky to win.  The comeback they made with Bruce in Game 3 plus their large lead in the Game 4 indicated that George's team had become superior to ours.  Had there been a fifth game with Bruce playing for them, I think they would have won.  Therefore our victory was very unsatisfying.  We were just lucky it started to rain when it did. 

Don't you agree George will simply have to sign up for another cruise just so we can have a third match? 


Mr. Handsome is the Hero of the
Hot Tub Crowd

George had been the ringleader of the Hot Tub group back on the Mardi Gras Trip earlier this same year. However on the Rhapsody trip he took the Art of Hot Tub Insanity to incredible new heights (or depths depending on your point of view).

Now it is true George had many partners in crime.  These hot tub miscreants became known as "The Usual Suspects".  Clearly the two Leslies - Grapevine and Goldmine - were constantly out of control.  We have already seen that Grapevine and Steve went insane together.

Leslie Goldmine had a quick mouth and a brazen attitude. She soon became popular in the hot tub since she was willing to offer up her toes for the infamous "toe sucking pictures".

The Center of Attention had a dual role. She took most of these pictures with that wicked little camera of hers.  Sometimes she was a Paparazzi busting Handsome or Steve G with pictures of their latest antics.  Then at other times she was an instigator who rounded up countless new members for her Hot Tub Stuffing efforts.


Gina Lollobridgida was a suspect who somehow managed to avoid any incriminating evidence. Lollo was always in the tub, but I couldn't find a single toe sucking, lip locking, breast nuzzling, or thigh grabbing picture to bust her with.  Knowing this crowd, I can't believe she was a good girl the entire time.

Surely with that much Tub Time and all that spiked Gatorade and with all the bad influences everywhere, Lollo must have misbehaved!   But no pictures emerged as proof. 
Every time the camera came near, Gina found some way to duck.  For example, that is Lollobridgida in the red suit on the left.  Neither picture reveals any misbehavior.  I think Lollobridgida was either lucky or made a deal with Phyllis not to take her picture.

The same goes for Eva Love is Blue.  I didn't find any incriminating evidence of her culpability either.  Blue always seems to straddle the thin line between naughty and nice.  But she hangs with a rough crowd and I can't help but think she was guilty of something too.  I think Blue was also fortunate the camera was aimed away from her.  I came to the conclusion that the Center of Attention was more interested in busting the boys with incriminating pictures than the girls.

As you can see in the pictures, three of the Suspects - Handsome, Steve, Grapevine - left absolutely NOTHING to the imagination.  They were very naughty boys and girls. 

Mr. Handsome was by far the guiltiest.  It was his idea to introduce mass quantities of "Gatorade" to improve everyone's spirits.  He loaned his "Gatorade" to anyone who wanted some.  I learned the Gatorade was consumed in great amounts by the people with the guiltiest pictures. No coincidence there.  In fact many of these Hot Tub pictures could be used as posters for one of those "evils of alcohol" campaigns.

The Zombie Event in Key West also played a role in the Hot Tub excesses.  Thank goodness the Rhapsody provides activities for all levels on the IQ scale.  Mara had down the right thing by tricking her flock into downing mass quantities of Zombie Drinks, but she had no way of knowing what the after-effects would be.  Not only was Mara indirectly responsible for the Love on the Elevator incident, I think the Zombie drinks softened many of these people up for the Hot Tub Excesses as well. Mara began to feel very guilty as a result. 

Mara would walk by the Hot Tub area and wince at the sight of these once-proud humans cooking themselves into a soup-like state.  One wit suggested that George change his name to Stu.  Unfortunately, George's brain was too fried to get the joke.

Mara thought it was sad that once these people lost their minds in Key West, sitting in a Hot Tub for hours on end was basically the only activity left that they had enough intelligence to participate in.  Mara just wished she had brought a giant crayon like the one in Key West to give them something to stare at all day.

While many members of our group were out winning bridge tournaments, dance contests, Trivia Contests and "Name that Tune" contests, the Zombie Victims had only this one activity open to them.  It was so sad to hear one Hot Tubber after another exclaim, "Gosh, I am getting really good at sitting in this Hot Tub for a long time!"

I guess you have to grab your self-esteem wherever you can find it.

Nor was it any coincidence that the most serious lip locking and toe sucking occurred after the Zombie Brain Dead event.  This was definitely the wildest group we have ever had on any trip.  Yes, the Zombie Event had devastating after-effects.  Believe it or not, every time Phyllis got in the hot tub, she would begin to swear up and down that her bra hallucination had been real.  It is a shame to see a mind like hers go to waste.

But I place most of the responsibility for the Hot Tub excesses with Mr. Handsome.  Yes, he had help, but Handsome definitely did the most to stir the waters.  It was his Gatorade that caused the most damage.  And I might add he corrupted his two protégés Steve and Phyllis something fierce. 

The Steve I used to know had the angelic smile of a choir boy.  But once he met George, Steve began to leer, sneer, and delve into considerable trouble.  This was all due to the bad example that George set in the Hot Tub.  Bad boy, George!   I would have slapped George's hand, but I never could figure out which of the 40 hands was his.  Knowing George, he probably had it hiding under someone's backside anyway.

All I can say is Tsk Tsk.  By the way, is it my imagination or did my Bride make it into some of these hot tub pictures?  Unbelievable.    And don't think I didn't check to make sure all the potential male hands next to my Bride were visible above the water.  Marla's appearance is probably all George's fault.  He will try to corrupt anyone.

The fact of the matter is the Hot Tub pictures are wild beyond belief. I can't imagine WHAT THEY WERE THINKING.  This is just what went on during the daytime.  I heard even worse rumors about things that went on in the night.  I could not believe my ears.  So I decided to get to the bottom of it.  I conducted an investigation.

After I began to question some of the people whose faces appear in these pictures, I quickly discovered no one would talk about it to me or let something slip.  I couldn't believe it.  One of these Hot Tub people was responsible for reporting the Elevator incident directly to me, but to my consternation this same character had developed a powerful Code of Silence when it came to revealing the secrets of the Hot Tub. 

I was baffled. Who had gotten to my source?  Who was sober enough to instruct people to keep quiet?   Who was sober enough to understand the importance of silence?   Who was sober enough to listen? 

Then it happened. A Golden Opportunity to break the Hot Tub Code of Silence came my way.  Leslie Grapevine had a small accident in Cozumel... she probably drank a bit and slipped.  Leslie badly hurt something - foot, toe, ankle - to the point where she could only limp.  Upon her return to shore, Leslie was fitted with a protective brace to hasten the healing.  Unable to dance, Grapevine asked me for permission to come watch the dance classes anyway.  She didn't want to miss seeing her friends in action during her convalescence. 

Of course the Grapevine could come watch.  No one would mind.  But now that I had her attention, I thought I would ask her a few questions.  Earlier in the trip, the Grapevine had told me everything I wanted to know.  That's how Leslie got her nickname in the first place - she liked to gossip!  Whenever I learned something, I "heard it thru the Grapevine."   But now I learned that someone had gotten to her too. 

I began to pump the Grapevine for information on the Hot Tub.  I had very little hard dirt on Center of Attention, Love is Blue, Goldmine, and Lollobridgida.  In addition, Maureen Academy and Bruce Hanka were also suspected of misbehaving.  However they were doing it too discretely for me to catch them.  I wanted to know it all!  

I figured I had the Grapevine right under my thumb.  So I offered the Grapevine a deal.  I explained to her that I had lots of Grapevine pictures proving she had misbehaved terribly on the trip.  (for example, see picture at right).

However, there was no reason those pictures need to appear in the Cruise Write-up.  If Grapevine would just give up her friends and tell me what was really going on in that Hot Tub, I would make those incriminating pictures of her disappear. 

To my shock, Grapevine would not agree to my terms.  To heck with my blackmail!  Leslie sealed her lips and clammed up.  Now this was a surprise.  Hmm.

I was stunned!  How do you get a name like "Grapevine", then suddenly go from hot lips to tight lips?  That's when I realized there was an unbreakable veil of secrecy that had been drawn over the true activities in the Hot Tub.

I couldn't get anyone to crack.  As a result, all we have are the pictures, but no real stories. 

You know, now that I think of it, these pictures are probably all we need to figure it out...  these people were insane.

Hot Tub Stuffing

These people are nuts.  As you can see, a very bizarre by-product created by the many hours spent in the Hot Tub was a phenomenon known as "Hot Tub Stuffing".

This particular ritual appears to be the invention of Phyllis the Center of Attention. 

Unlike the other Hot Tub regulars, Center of Attention doesn't drink the Gatorade (look for the infamous Gatorade in the picture).  Her sobriety gives the Center of Attention quite an advantage.  She can see opportunities where the others are too drunk to see anything. 

Back when Center of Attention was back in high school, she was a member of a championship a team that stuffed VW Bugs. Now Phyllis thought it would be fun to see just how many Zombies she could get stuffed into the Hot Tub.

As you can see, the Zombies were quite cooperative. 

Wasting Away in Margaritaville is the perfect way to describe these characters.  What a ridiculous way to spend an entire afternoon.  By the way, if I weren't so self-righteous about all the valuable time wasted in that hot tub, it looks like they were having fun.  Hmm.

The Center of Attention was proud of her Zombies. Phyllis made a point to inform me they got 21 people in the hot tub on the last day. 

Quite frankly, the pictures look like something out of a Roman Orgy.   At least those people had togas on.

Our people are barely wearing anything at all.


The Scandalous Scavenger Hunt!!

Our final story of the Trip details the night when Mr. Handsome truly strutted his stuff.  George shared his charms with the world as he danced and pranced in the middle of the floor before an audience of 200 cheering people.

George embraced his participation in this bizarre event so enthusiastically that he solidified his place as the trip's leading Mischief Maker.  By the end of the evening, George was semi-naked and wearing women's clothing.

"Shocking!" you say.  Nah, not really.  Yes, the entire affair was definitely in bad taste, but also undeniably funny.  I doubt anyone left the arena scarred for life.

And we were so proud to see that our very own Mr. Handsome was definitely the prettiest "woman" of the bunch. 

Rick was Tricked into Participating in 2002

The Scavenger Hunt is basically an intricate practical joke run by the ship's Social Director.

The event begins as a legitimate scavenger hunt, but manages to segue into an inadvertent drag show by the end.

There are two kinds of men who participate - some are men who have seen this event before and deliberately participate to satisfy their exhibitionistic tendencies and the others are men who are tricked into participating. 

During the SSQQ cruise on the Rhapsody in 2002, I was in the latter category.  I fell for their trick hook, line, and sinker. They got me good.  By the end of the evening, there I was parading around the floor with other idiots wearing a woman's bra in public... and not feeling too happy about it. 

Although I "smiled" for the camera, inside I was seething with humiliation. I felt so embarrassed to be seen like this!  I was also angry for letting myself get tricked into doing this.  I had not seen it coming.  Once the trap was sprung, I could not find a way to escape the consequences. 

As a result, there I was out on the floor dressed in a woman's bra dancing around the floor while 80 people from my studio collapsed in mirthful glee. Yes, I cooperated in the farce, but  I did not have a good attitude about this at all. 

Marla didn't like it either. She was fit to be tied.  She didn't like seeing me out there any more than I did. 

How the Game Works

The Scavenger Hunt is billed as a prelim to the Sock Hop.  It is advertised as a game with spirited competition and tremendous prizes.  The winning team is supposed to get all kinds of RCCL goodies.

The idea is for the audience to divide into teams.  Each member of the team helps locate tricky items within your group to take out in the center of the room before the other teams do the same The Social Director will ask for a blue shirt.... first, second, third, and fourth place teams gets points.

I like prizes and I definitely like competition.  In 2002, I figured our travel group had as many smart people as anyone else.  So when I read about the competition in the ship's daily newsletter, I suggested we participate.  This sounded good to my friends.  In no time at all, I had recruited a solid team.

Mind you, not one of us had any idea what was really going on.  We assumed the game was on the level.

After dinner, our group got there just as they were explaining how the game was played. Once the game began we were amazed at how quickly the other teams had caught on. They seem to come up with the correct items at the speed of light!  We assumed this was a tough crowd, so w
e paid better attention.  What we didn't know was this game was played on every trip and lots of people remembered the needed items from previous trips.  They actually had them collected in advance!

Many of the clues had trick answers. For example, bring some teeth out.  One old man actually started to pull out his dentures only to notice another guy pull a comb out of his pocket and run up to the stage to win. 

A comb has teeth, yes?   "Clever," I thought. How did that other man think of that so fast?  I noticed how quickly the other teams caught on, but didn't realize their aptitude was due to the fact they had played the game before.  All I knew was this game seemed fun and challenging.  I was hooked.  Now I really began to concentrate.

We quickly discovered you didn't have to be first to win points. Points were assigned in order of arrival on the floor. This encouraged teams to keep trying for third and fourth place points.  This meant when you found a clue, you raced out there and dived to beat the other teams.

The next clue was "a picture of the White House". I racked my brain where I could find a picture of the White House only to notice several people running out on the floor with dollar bills in their hands.  However, this time I had seen these guys had been taking their billfolds out before the emcee even finished his sentence.  Now I caught on that we were up against people who were veterans from previous trips.  

Our team had gotten off to a slow start, but we were starting to catch on.  I suppose of all the teams playing for the first time, we were clearly the best. 

Pretty soon the clues changed direction to items of clothing.  Man's belt. Woman's purse with a special handle.  Man's sock with a hole in it. Several men ripped a quick hole in their socks only to feel foolish when the emcee pointed out there is a hole for you to put your foot into.  Now you have a ruined sock.  Ha ha, the joke's on you.

The game moved very quickly and there was little time to be suspicious of any tricks.  I did notice the items were getting more personal.  Men's pants.  One of our men - Leroy - ripped off his pants and ran out there in his boxer shorts.  Good grief. I was taken aback, but once I noticed we had gotten first place points I set aside my misgivings.

The next item was a man wearing women's shoes.  Before I knew it, I was tripping to get out there in some woman's heels. 

Remember, this was 2002.  It did not dawn on me that I had set a bad precedent by cooperating with the innocent shoe request.  The next thing I knew, I was being sent out there on every clue that involved a man wearing a woman's whatever.  Marla frowned each time, but my mindset was to do whatever was necessary to win. 

The Social Director knew what he was doing. He helped set the trap by throwing in plenty of scavenger items that had nothing to do with the eventual goal.  For example, I heard "
first woman in men's shoes".  I quickly sent a woman from our group out there wearing her black and white swing dance shoes.  Because we didn't bother wasting time by taking a man's shoes off, we won this round.  This was an example of a clue that distracted us from what was really going on.  By all appearances, this was a legitimate competition.  No one smelled a rat.

I felt the adrenaline surge as our team moved to the top of the standings.
Now that we had the hang of it, we were up there on every round and quickly too.  We were so sharp, we had even caught the teams that had played the game before. I sensed we were near the leaders.  

Aikido is a Japanese form of self-defense that takes a person's momentum and uses it against him.  That's exactly what happened here.  I was so competitive and my own competitiveness proved to be my downfall.

You didn't have a lot of time to think.  People were sprinting out there to claim first or second place. The Director said something and you reacted quickly or you didn't place.  They frequently sent people back to their chairs moaning and groaning because they had barely missed placing.  The pace of the contest grew faster and faster, but our group was in the hunt placing on every clue. 

More of our group had joined us after dinner. Now the reinforcements began to contribute as well.  We now had the largest and best organized group in the competition.  We were certain we were going to overcome our first-time status and win anyway.  Someone always came through with the necessary item at lightning speed.

I did not catch on immediately when the game shifted to its dark purpose.  I remember the emcee called for the
"first man with lipstick". I was game. Marla pulled out a stick and smeared me fast.  Our team got first place on this one. 

Now in rapid succession came the call for a man wearing a woman's earring. Next came a man wearing a woman's shoes. Next came the call for a man wearing a woman's purse.   Since we had so many women in our group, our team either won or nearly won each of these categories.  Each time a woman in our group donated the proper item, there I would go out on the floor.

The audience had really begun to laugh now.  200 people roared their approval.  These men were a sight to behold.

Now they asked for a shirtless man wearing a woman's bra. The bra incident was the one that set off the alarm bells.  When the Director asked for a woman's bra, a huge red flag popped up in mind. "Now this is going too far," I thought. 

When I saw the look of disgust on Marla's face, I realized she agreed with me.  We both knew something was wrong here.  But one woman in our group was just as caught in the fever as I was.  I was astonished to see her pull up her shirt and whip off her bra.  I was embarrassed when I saw she had accidentally exposed her breasts in her haste.  You have to hand it to her.  She was just as determined to win as I was! 

Someone began to help me put the bra on.  Now what was I supposed to do? 

I really didn't have much choice. My friends pushed me out on the floor in their frenzy to get me out there first and win points.  However, I was the idiot wearing the bra.  I realized I had
suddenly been transformed into a drag queen

But the final outcome had not quite been revealed yet.  That would come about a minute later.

The moment I got on the floor, I became very suspicious when I realized they weren't keeping score for the order of the arrival of the various men.  They had ordered us to get dressed as fast as possible, but now they could care less who got out there first.

Unfortunately, my suspicions proved correct.  However there was no turning around on this one.  Once I was out on the floor and the other men joined me, I was trapped.  Now they turned on some raunchy Stripper music.  Uh oh.  This was an ominous development.  

To complete the humiliation, the ship's videotape camera suddenly appeared to document every last moment of my misery.

As I awaited my fate, I realized they had rushed us so we wouldn't give what we were doing a second thought. Surely other people had the same misgivings I had, but in the flurry to win, everyone decided to "cooperate" just like I had.  They took advantage of our desperation to get the men to do something that clearly seemed fishy.  The entire time I was being outfitted with the bra, I was having serious reservations. 

However, the peer pressure was too powerful for me to overcome.   This trap had been well planned.  I had to give them that much.

My final humiliation began when the emcee ordered us to parade around the floor.  He told us to dance sexy, shake our butt and really move it around.  He said the best dancer would win the most prizes. 

Oh sure.  This time I knew better.  I was the best dancer on the floor, but I knew the only thing I would win was front and center place on the video they sold at the end of the trip.  No thanks. 

While the other men gyrated, I just did my best not to get the cameraman interested or lose my temper.  Inside I was hopping mad at being tricked!  
I had just realized this whole thing was a setup, one big practical joke. There would be no prizes, no glory, no drinks on the house for the whole team, whatever. 

And guess who had fallen for it??  Very funny.  Ha ha ha. The joke's on me, Mr. Win At All Costs.

I was deeply embarrassed, but it was too late now.  Gotcha.

I learned my lesson.  I guess it's true that old fools make the biggest fools. 


The Social Director calls the shots

Here you see men trying to be first with an item

2004 - Hey, Let's Get George to Play!

So now you know how the Scavenger Hunt works.  That was 2002.  Now let's return to our 2004 story about George. 

Marla and I were sitting at the dinner table on Friday night with our friends.  My ears perked up when I heard the announcement came that the Scavenger Hunt would be starting in 15 minutes.  My first instinct was to avoid the event altogether.  I felt my blood rise as recalled the shame I still felt from being the brunt of the joke two years earlier.

Then a very evil thought came sneaking to the forefront of my consciousness.  What about George??  Hmm.

I looked over to his table and watched him as he was entertaining his table with various anecdotes.  What were the chances that he knew the secret of the Scavenger Hunt?   There was a good chance he didn't know a thing about it.  After all, I did not remember this game being played on the Rhapsody during our Mardi Gras Trip. So I got up out of my chair and wandered over to his table.

Marla eyed me suspiciously.  I nodded at her and then I pointed at George.  I knew there was no way Marla was going to allow me to play this stupid game a second time, but George was fair game.  Marla's eyes widened when she caught on what I was up to.  Then she smiled.  Marla has a little bit of evil in her too.  That's one of the reasons I love her.

Once I got to Mr. Handsome's table, I casually asked if anyone had ever heard about the Scavenger Hunt.  I watched everyone's reactions carefully.  There was not even the slightest twinkle of recognition in anyone's eyes.  I smiled with satisfaction.  Everyone here was "innocent to the experience."  I concluded it was unlikely that George had been tipped off as to the true nature of the Scavenger Hunt.

Furthermore, most of the people at this table were Zombie Victims and Hot Tub Gatorade Victims.  Their light bulbs hadn't been operating in over five days.  There was no way any of these people would ever guess what was going on until it was too late. 

Smiling broadly, I casually mentioned this was one of the best events on the trip.  I added that SSQQ always won tons of prizes because we worked so well together.  I told them the more people we had on our team, the better our chances were of winning. 

Did I mention that George is competitive too?  Memories of sand volleyball had shown George wants to win as badly as I do.  He was perfect.  I saw his eyes like up with the prospect of glory and adventure... and attention too.  I smiled. 

Mr. Handsome wanted to play.  He had not caught even a whiff of my duplicity.  I didn't like it all when the joke was on me, but I didn't mind sending George into the same situation at all.  I smiled again as my dark side prepared to do a somewhat harmless form of evil.

My partner in crime and I went back to our cabin to gather some of the necessary items like combs, dollar bills, lipstick, woman's belt, woman's purse, earrings, heels, and of course a bra. 

I smiled.  Mr. Handsome would soon become Mr. Congeniality. 

I vowed to make it happen.  It seemed like a "can't miss" situation.

Let the Games Begin!!

When Marla and I arrived in the Lounge, our group had already assembled at a strategic spot closest to the Emcee.  About five or six members of our group - Mara, Bruce, Leroy, Alyssa, plus Gary and Betty - knew exactly what was going on thanks to 2002.  However Marla and I whispered to each of them to keep it a secret.  The veterans grinned and decided to play along.

Meanwhile the other twenty members of our group had no idea what was going on.  They were immediately just as caught up in the excitement of the competition as I had been the first time. 

Rick and Marla were the early superstars.  We explained that we had played before and that we had prepared ahead of time.  Now our teammates watched in awe as Marla swiftly produced one desperately needed item after another with lightning speed.  We were always first or second on practically every clue.  Our team loved us!   They mistakenly believed we were going to lead them to victory and help win the glorious promised gifts.

George - who else? - naturally emerged as our team leader.  I have never seen anyone sprint out there faster than George to deliver the necessary goods.  Our team loved George because he was trying so hard.

It was obvious to the newcomers on our team that we were kicking serious butt.  Glory!  Victory!  Booty! 

Little did they know the only booty they would be getting was a look at George shaking his butt later on.

I actually had time for a quick smile.  I noticed for the first time in a week some of the Zombie Victims seemed to show a spark of energy.  Welcome back!

Gary Richardson was in on the joke. He knew right from the start that I had Mr. Handsome in my sights.  He cleverly sat on the opposite side of the floor so he could zoom in on George without causing suspicions.  Meanwhile his digital camera went flash flash flash at will. 

George's triumph was sure to be well-documented if Gary had anything to do with it.

Meanwhile Betty Richardson frowned at me for being so mean.

I did feel a little twinge of conscience when I caught her eye, but I didn't let it stop me.  George had a date with destiny.

Leroy was ready to do whatever it took to help
 us win.  I have long suspected that Leroy and
George were spun out of the same cloth.

Hey Leroy, That's My Boy!

The one wild card turned out to be Leroy Ginzel.  Now Leroy had played a big part in my effort to win the Scavenger Hunt two years earlier.  He knew perfectly well what this game was all about.

But today no one on our team was trying to win harder than Leroy!!  I was completely baffled.  Surely Leroy remembered there was nothing to "win".  It was all just a set-up, right?  

That reality didn't seem to bother Leroy at all.  Leroy was in it to win!  When it came time for a woman to wear a man's pants, Leroy sprang into action and stripped to his boxer shorts without the slightest hesitation. 

My jaw dropped at the ridiculous sight of Leroy making a spectacle of himself.  And yet Leroy was clearly having the time of his life sitting there in his underwear watching us win another round! 

What on earth was Leroy up to?  Was he still reeling from Champagne Night?  Had he forgotten that no one wins this game no matter how hard they try??

That's when I figured it out.  Leroy knew perfectly well our team wasn't going to win anything. He was having his own good time!!  Leroy was just as much a Mischief Maker as George was!  Leroy got just as much a kick out of being a bad boy as George did!

That's when I figured it out - Leroy WANTED to get in trouble!  I bet when Leroy was George's age, he probably caused more trouble than George could ever imagine!  Furthermore Leroy wanted to be bad. He wanted his picture taken and he wanted me to write terrible things about him.

Shame on you, Leroy!!  Don't you know how to behave?   (There you go, Leroy, are you happy now?)

I smiled as I recalled one of my favorite quotes: "
Inside every adult is a kid trying to figure out what the hell happened.”

Well, Leroy showed me a thing or two about having fun.  He couldn't wait to drop his trousers and run out on the middle of the floor half-naked!! 

In fact I have no doubt whatsoever that if George had to go to the restroom at the key moment, Leroy would have volunteered for the earrings, the lipstick, the purse, the heels, and the bra at the drop of a hat.  And I think he would have danced beautifully before the camera!

Some men have it and some men don't.  I don't have it.  I live for the shadows.

But George and Leroy do have it.  They live for the limelight.


Bring On the Bras!

Pretty soon it came time for someone to drag a woman's bra onto the floor. This incredibly important moment is divided into two different sections. 

The first time is just a test run.  It isn't as easy to get most men to put on a woman's bra as you might think.  Since this action is so distasteful, the Scavenger Hunt game simply has the men carry out a woman's bra the first time. 

This absurd action accomplishes two things. First it gets women to take their bra off ahead of time.  Once the bra is off, it generally stays off. Apparently it is much easier to take a bra off in public than it is to put it back on.

Many women in the audience fact don't mind cooperating a bit.  They do it with great enthusiasm. However once it is off, they leave it off.

Nor do men mind much carrying a bra in their hands out onto the middle of the floor.  They do this without reservation.

What Stage One accomplishes is getting the bra off ahead of time while simultaneously conditioning the men to cooperate with whatever they tell them to do with the bra. 

Pavlov would be proud of the Emcee's use of the stimulus-response technique.  Ring the bell, bring the bra. Ring the bell, put on the bra.

It works.  Can't argue with their success rate.  I remain astonished by their compliance rate because I have yet to notice any man refusing to cooperate. 

If anyone is resistant to peer pressure, it would be me, but I fully admit I succumbed in 2002.  In my case, I know I didn't want to cooperate, but I did it anyway.

My guess is many of these guys out there felt the same way I did, but sure enough they ended up out there anyway.

I smiled grimly as I watched their faces.  Nervous as they were, these men were making total fools of themselves simply so their team might win glory and prizes!!

You don't believe me?  Then study the picture that shows these men flashing their Team Numbers.  They fully expect Jackpot Julie will dutifully write down which teams succeeded in putting their Men in Bras out on the floor first.

At this point they still haven't figured out it is all just an act.  Isn't this absurd??

Now it was time for Stage Two.  The Emcee told the women to finish dressing their men.  Get them the heels, the makeup, the earrings, and the purse to go along with the bras.  I watched George carefully as he prepared to get out on the floor.  Note how cooperative he is as Alyssa gives him the appropriate accessories.

Remembering the bra accident from 2002, Marla had decided to spare our women from having to take their bra off in public.  She brought a spare from our cabin to hand to George at the correct moment. 

In case you haven't grasped the true nobility of Marla's actions, George ended up stretching and mutilating her poor bra beyond recognition after he put it on.  No matter. Marla felt the bra was a worthy sacrifice to the cause.

George didn't do well at first.  For one thing, he didn't quite get Marla's bra on correctly.  And he seemed very stiff and nervous.

I watched George carefully. I wondered if he had caught on yet.  The way George busily flashed the team's "Number 8" card trying to win us some points, I concluded he had not figured it out.  He still thought it was a competition.

I have to hand it to somebody.  They used every trick in the book to elicit cooperation - the promise of prizes, competition, team spirit, stimulus-response, peer pressure.   This impromptu Drag Show was definitely a well thought out prank.


Fortunately George began to warm to the task.  One of our women ran out there and helped him adjust his bra.  Once George got his bra to fit better, his body language improved dramatically.

If you study the pictures, you will see the other men had not one bone of fashion sense in their body.  They did not have a clue how to pose.  

And practically every guy forgot to suck in their ample guts. I cringed as they paraded around with their crooked bra letting their nipples show and their big bellies hanging out way past their belts. 

Then my gaze returned to Mr. Handsome. I gasped as I noticed a complete Metamorphosis had taken over him. 

George had gotten his act together.  Now that he had his bra on straight, he also remembered to put his belt on properly.  He made sure he had his belly sucked in. He made sure he had his purse smartly strapped across his body. His earrings were tastefully clipped to his ears. 

Furthermore, thanks to all those hours spent in the hot tub, he had an attractive suntan as well.  I did a double-take.  Was it my imagination or had George begun to look pretty? 

Best of all, George was starting to smile!!   It was at this exact moment I realized that George was enjoying himself!! George seemed totally at ease out there!! 

Meanwhile George's Fan Club was going wild.  As you can see for yourself, Leroy, Alyssa and Mara were busting a gut.  Alyssa was clapping.  Mara was clapping. Leroy was George's biggest fan!! 

Speaking of Leroy, I noticed with relief that Leroy had finally decided to put his pants back on.  My biggest worry was that Leroy was going to jump up and run out there with his pants off and hug George! 

George was a huge scene stealer.  I have to tell you, the guy was a natural out there. He drew every smile and every eye in the room to him.  People couldn't take their eyes off of him!  Mr. Handsome had become the Star of the Show!

Even the cameraman figured it out.  The cameraman began to follow George everywhere he went. 

My mouth dropped in shock when I realized Mr. Handsome was having a great time!  Unbelievable.

I shook my head in consternation.  Two years ago I had hated every moment of this Drag Show, but tonight George had taken to it like a fish to water.

Then the Unthinkable occurred.  George went Vogue!  The pictures do not lie. There before my very eyes, George ACTUALLY BEGAN TO STYLE!   

George moved as gracefully as any woman.  Then he stuck that hip out there like any Hot Mama would and hit a pose.  George handled himself with such total poise for the cameras that were flashing everywhere! 

This was his chance to shine.  Vogue! 

I couldn't help but look back at the other men.  Yuck!   These guys were complete and utter slobs.  They were uncomfortable in their outfits, they couldn't walk right, they couldn't dance to save their souls, and their movements were unfeminine and spastic. 

One guy wore a hat, two guys had their purse straps caught underneath their bras, another guy didn't even bother to cover his chest, they all let their shoulders droop, and none of them smiled.  Worst of all, their fat hairy beer bellies were disgusting.

Not George.  He was the total package.  He sucked his tummy in and stood up with perfect posture.

George probably should have been a model. He is a handsome man indeed and he has a great body.  And doesn't he look nice in his earrings?? 

And what a great smile.  Mr. Handsome had become Gorgeous George.

(Side Note: Before any of you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me add over the years I have watched George date one beautiful woman after another.  So please don't go there.)

The Last Laugh

I have to hand it to George.  My practical joke on him completely backfired. 

George wasn't embarrassed. George wasn't ashamed. Or bitter.  Or uncomfortable either.

George was completely at ease with himself.  George was beautiful and he knew it.

After it was all over, George went right back to being his usual charming heterosexual self.  How many guys do you know who could have been as cool about this event as George?  He amazes me.

And thank goodness for those many hours in the Hot Tub. Don't you agree that sun tan looks great on him?  And what a great body!  His tummy is flat and his shoulders are sculpted!  George looked like a life guard out there. 

Too bad he didn't shave for the occasion or he would have been even prettier.  But on the other hand, the whiskers are probably the only thing that prevented him from looking like he had done this before.

Well, Mr. Handsome had the last laugh. 

I tried to set him up only to see him thoroughly enjoy his walk in the limelight.

He definitely turned the tables on me.

What a character.

These poor guys haven't figured out it was a
set-up yet.  They still think it is on the level.

Stage Two.  Alyssa helps George

George was the Champion of Team Eight!

Once George saw the camera, he turned it on


Looking Back on 2004 from a 2010 Perspective....

Rick Remembers Rhapsody 2004


Rhapsody 2004 was the sixth cruise taken by the SSQQ Travel Group. 

That was six years and twelve cruises ago.  By
2010, Marla had booked our 17th and 18th cruises.  The SSQQ Cruise legacy was no longer in its infancy.

Along the way, there have been some pretty remarkable trips - Alaska 2005, Hawaii 2007, Barcelona 2009.  However, the trip Marla and I will always treasure the most will be our 2004 Wedding Cruise aboard the Rhapsody.  It was an amazing trip. 

The 2004 Rhapsody Cruise was where it all started.  This is the Trip where the SSQQ Travel Family began to take shape.

We have read about Rick and Marla's Wedding.

We have read about Gary's Photography and the Marathon Dancing that he organized.

We have read about Mara's Champagne Night and Key West Bar Hop Tour.

We have read about Phyllis' Beatlemania and Hot Tub Stuffing.

We have read about George's Gatorade, Volleyball, and Scavenger Hunt.

We have read about Steve's Garter and Hot Tub Shenanigans.

And yet these stories were just the tip of the iceberg!

There were 125 people on this trip.  Every one of them had a story.

I never told you a single thing about Gary Schweinle (pictured with BK Moring) in the 2004 Rhapsody Writeup.  Gary was a huge part of the SSQQ Travel Family until his tragic death in 2008.  Better known as 'Mr. Hat', this is one of the rare pictures of Gary without his hat.

Gary not only got into lots of trouble on this trip thanks to Phyllis, along the way he made countless friends and touched many hearts with his warmth.

I never said a word about Bruce Hanka, the man who went on to marry Mara in 2008.  Bruce has participated in many of our cruises.  On every trip Bruce has been a model citizen, but my instincts say that when the camera is turned off, he is up to no good. 

I have always suspected Bruce of mischief, but I think he prefers to do his misbehaving beyond the eye of the camera.  If I could have just caught Bruce doing something, I would have written about him too, but he was too slick for me.


I never said a word about Pat and Jess Carnes, a wonderful couple who have been on a dozen of our trips.  However, in all these trips, I cannot remember writing a story about them. 

And why not?  Because they never get into any trouble!  The point I am making is that people don't have to necessarily 'misbehave' on our trips to enjoy themselves.  Sometimes the dancing, the friendship and seeing the sights are all that is needed to have fun. 


And let us not forget Gareld and Virginia McEathron.  They were there on the 2004 Rhapsody Trip as well.  Gareld and Virginia have been on more SSQQ cruises than anyone, including our very first trip in 1998.  These two dear people are a huge part of our Travel Family throughout the years... but like Jess and Pat, they never misbehave enough to get written up. 

Let me add that lately Gareld has been making up for lost time with his wild Scottish kilt on Formal Nights plus his incredible 80th birthday party during our 2008 cruise.


I never said a word about Mack and Amy Warren in the 2004 Rhapsody Writeup either.

Mack and Amy never misbehaved and there is a reason why.  Mack and Amy had just met at SSQQ.  They were too busy this entire trip enjoying their new romance to get into the Hot Tub or chase Zombies in Key West.  Obviously they liked what they learned on this trip - Mack and Amy were married in January 2008.

I am happy to report that all of the SSQQ Zombies eventually regained their minds. Several of them even managed to go on to lead happy and productive lives. 

Only one received any brain damage.  To this day, Phyllis is sure she saw millions of bras hanging from the ceiling at Captain Tony's Saloon.


Iqbal Nagji and Leslie Goldsmith in dance class on the 2004 Trip.  Normally Iqbal quietly enjoys each cruise, but if there is a way he can contribute, Iqbal never hesitates to step up

The 2008 Cruise Group here in an Athens subway station.  Iqbal was our guide all day long

Iqbal Nagji

I wrote nine pages of stories for the 2004 Rhapsody Trip.  Back in 2004, it took me a month to write it all.  Then it took me two more weeks just to update the story in 2010. 

Of all the crazy people I have written about on the 2004 Rhapsody Trip, there was one person aboard who would have been more than happy to remain invisible.

Iqbal Nagji did not do one single silly thing on this trip.  Don't hold your breath waiting for him to step out of line.  Iqbal will never misbehave.  It is simply not in his nature. 

That said, over the years, Iqbal has proven his value to our Travel Family time and time again without any expectation of publicity whatsoever.   Although I make a fuss over him because I appreciate what he does so much, the phrase to describe Iqbal would be "unsung hero".  Iqbal is a born caregiver.  He lives to contribute. 

Never was this more apparent than during our 2008 Eastern Mediterranean Cruise.  None of us had ever been to that part of the world.  Fortunately Iqbal was very knowledgeable about this area. 

Iqbal sacrificed his own time to guide the group through the subways and winding streets of Athens one day. 

Athens was a precious gift from Iqbal.  Iqbal took us to the Acropolis, a Greek bazaar, and to museums.  Normally a cruise-sponsored tour of Athens like this would cost well over $100.

Our group spent maybe $10 in subway fare and entrance fees to museums.  Not only did Iqbal save each person a tremendous amount of money, but he made us feel secure and totally at ease. 

We were able to enjoy Athens so much more knowing that we had someone who not only knew how to get us back to the ship, but could keep an eye on the clock as well.  Iqbal's knowledge allowed us to squeeze every precious moment out of our trip to Athens and still get back to the ship on time.  Without him, most of us would have returned much earlier due to our inexperience.

My point is a simple one.  On every single trip we take, there is leadership.  People like George and Phyllis and Mara go out of their way to include the newcomers in our group and find ways to keep all the guests involved.  People like Steve G and Gary Richardson take photographs and oversee the dancing.  These five people contributed all the way back in 2004 and have continued to contribute to this day because they like to help. 

Then there are the quiet types like Jess and Pat or Gareld and Virginia who enjoy themselves thoroughly on every trip without any expectation of publicity or special treatment.  They come back for one trip after another because they have made many friends within the group over the years and they enjoy their company. 

Then you have people like Iqbal who supports every cruise any way he can, but usually under the radar. When I speak of "Family", it doesn't matter whether you are a wild single person, a quiet couple, or a lost and lonely newcomer.  The SSQQ Travel Group is made up of many people who have grown to like each other.  

Along the way, our "Founding Fathers" have been joined by many other leaders as well.  Our Community of Travelers continues to grow.  In 2010, Marla was rewarded for her years of effort with the largest cruise group to date.  170 passengers signed up for the 2010 Bahamas Trip!  Who can guess what the future holds?

The growth of this travel program is no accident.  Marla deserves the credit.  Not only is Marla organized and thorough, our guests have learned that she is also honest and without guile.  In other words, people know their money is safe with Marla and that she is watching their backs at all times.  Best of all, our people have learned that Marla does this not to make money, but as her way to "contribute" to her Family.  They like the fact that Marla puts her heart into every move she makes.

I would like to conclude our story with one of my favorite cruise experiences.  During the day when our group visited Athens in 2008, a woman I barely knew pulled me aside.  She had something important to tell me.

The lady took me aside and thanked me for organizing the trip.  Our conversation occurred as we were walking through the deeply confusing, twisty, winding streets of Athens.  Ordinarily I would have been more lost than Theseus in the maze of the Minotaur, but thanks to the efforts of our fearless leader Iqbal, I was not at all worried. 

As I always do, I thanked the lady for her kind words, then quickly reminded the lady that Marla had done all the work.  I was just the luggage boy.  The lady smiled and nodded that she understood my point.  Then she said she had something else she wanted to tell me.

She said that she signed up for this trip by herself.  She said that she had wanted to visit this distant area of the world for a long time.  Unfortunately she didn't have anyone presently in her life at this time who could accompany her.  She said this trip was literally the answer to her prayer.  She was amazed that although she didn't know a single soul in our group, she did not feel at all lonely.  The people in our group had been so kind to her! 

Now she wanted to make sure I understood how grateful she was that a single lady from the other side of the planet could feel so completely safe in such a confusing environment. 

Thanks to us, she was fulfilling a dream. 

I smiled. I had heard this story before. I remembered feeling the same way on the SSQQ Mardi Gras Cruise back in 2004.  On the day our group visited Mardi Gras, MG Anseman had led an entire group of us through the crazy streets of New Orleans with huge crowds of insane drunk people screaming all around us.  Thanks to MG, we had the absolute time of our lives and felt totally secure in the process.  MG served as both our guide and our bodyguard all day long!

So now I thanked the lady for her kind words. Then I added I have felt the same way she did many times on these trips. It is true there are always people in our group there to look out for someone who needs help.  Today it was Iqbal who guided us through the strange land.  Someday maybe I will be fortunate to be a guide as well.  The point is that we all look out for each other.  That is the secret to our success and that is why we have so much outrageous fun on all of our trips.


For all the crazy stories about Hot Tub Stuffing and Scavenger Hunts, the true story of our SSQQ Cruise Trips lies in simple pictures like this one. We are a group of people who dance together every night and share friendship

You might say that our hot tub nonsense has brought us all much closer together. SSQQ is definitely a true melting pot. 

George is not gay. Rick is not gay. But we both have friends who are gay.  SSQQ is about friendship, not politics.

Furthermore, neither of us gives a damn if people think less of us for dancing together and making fools of ourselves.

Boys just want to have fun. What's wrong with that?

If you remember, Marissa was crying because she was happy her mother had finally found someone she could trust and count on.  Marissa was right.  The years since our Wedding have been a complete blessing for Marla and myself. 

Sadly, SSQQ on Bissonnet is gone forever.  But I have no doubt our Family will live on through Travel and other shared experiences.

On behalf of Marla, myself, plus all of the Zombies and the Usual Suspects, we would like to thank you for reading the history of the 2004 Rhapsody Cruise.  

This trip was so wonderful that it set the standard by which all future cruises are measured. 

Fortunately, since many of these same people are with us today, every trip we take reminds us of how it all started.

Rick and Marla Archer
June 2010

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