I've been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity. So my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever.
A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango really know them, don't just stand and sway rhythmically and a handsome Irishman belts out "Night and Day" and "I've Got You Under My Skin."
There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service waiters who say "Thank you" at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, "Upend before pouring" --- when was the last time you saw "upend"? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a "cistern system" but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.
It's easier for a carpenter. Security personnel will not allow you to bring a power saw aboard a ship. But a writer brings a laptop and a briefcase with him and he is right back where he started.
This is why I write limericks. They're trivial and nobody will publish them, so writing them is not like actual work with a purpose, it's more like throwing flat rocks sidearm to make them skip on the surface of a lake or river.
I left my home on the prairie
To sail away on the Queen Mary
In black tie and tux
With big muckety-mucks
Fred Astaire and Cher, maybe Cary
Grant, hiding in the library.
I'm paying big bucks
For six days deluxe
In salt air, enjoying myself
On the Atlantic
Where the Titanic
Sank back in nineteen and twelve.
We are heading for a wedding in a village in Portugal where, after the vows are said, there will be an all-night party, which apparently is traditional there. I can't remember having been to an all-night party ever in my life. I come from people who, after a wedding, head for the kitchen to help clean up. Even the bride and groom do. I guess this will be different.
Meanwhile, we're halfway across the Atlantic, and the vibration and slight rocking of the ship make a person drowsy. We sit in a half-stupor staring at the vast flatness of water around us, walking the promenade deck, one-third mile in circumference, burning off the pastries. We sit in a lounge and drink tea and people nearby ask us where we're from and I overcome my Minnesotaness and join in a conversation. Their name is Sweeney, they're from Virginia, he was in military intelligence, she teaches freshman composition at a college. We order another pot of tea.
It's a sedate life on the ocean, no need for sedation. In the fitness center, the young and restless are pushing themselves to exhaustion, and in the lounge, the old and comfortable are savoring the lack of newspapers so there's nothing to be angry about. (There's a TV screen in the cabin but I don't care to figure out how to turn it on.) If I wished, I could go to a salon and hear a lecture about wasps, the kind who sting.
Instead I go hear an Irish comedian tell old jokes the one about the pope driving the limo, the one about the vacuum cleaner salesman visiting the rural cottage, the one about the man walking by the lunatic asylum, and it's lovely to hear them again, delivered with a lilt.
Meanwhile, I walk around with pen and paper. It gives me a sense of purpose. I come from serious people. Relaxation was not our strong suit. I might be happier in a black tux waiting on customers. So I pretend to be on vacation while pursuing my career as a limericist.
I sit on a ship on the sea
And experience infinity
With nothing to do
Except look up at you
While you sit staring at me.
It's a profound limerick, what Sartre and Camus and Kierkegaard were going for, and I did it in five lines. I'm happy.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.