Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Dream Part One - Embarkation

So, here we are again…
At the moment that I am writing this there is bingo being called in the theatre (The Stardust Lounge) for the second time today. While the basic mechanics of the game remain the same, the visual style has not. Gone is the large billboard they drag out of the bowels of Deck 11, complete with big red lights that light up the number called and specific pattern you need to win those highly sought after “big bingo bucks.” Now they have this program that projects a digital image on the screen as each ball is called (and they are still called by the ping pong blowing machine thing). Plus, now that they have such sophisticated bingo calling technology, they can also raffle off cool prizes, like a NCL beach bag, or an limited production official reproduction of a piece of art on a 5 by 7 card, complete with certificate of authenticity stating that the reproduction was indeed reproduced authentically by some sort of company that does this sort of thing. Its like the day the bowling alley went from overhead projectors and grease pencils to those TV screens that show the pins performing crazy antics and shenanigans when you get a strike. (and who doesn’t like shenanigans anyway?)

Still, I am sure you are asking yourself why I am wasting your time with all this talk about Bingo, and quite frankly I ask myself the same question (but someone did just win $214 big bingo dollars… just think, that could have been you). So, bingo aside, how is the M/S Norwegian Dream doing lately? Well, since we last spoke about her, she was busy hobbling around the Caribbean, dodging hurricanes with only half of her engines working. The food was passable, the passengers ranging from kind to cantankerous, and I had coined the phrase “gas-o-poop” describing the myriad of fragrances one encounters making a lap on the Promenade Deck 7. Well, let me put your mind at ease and assure you that all of these things are consistently a part of The Dream.

I boarded the ship after flying out of San Diego (by way of Denver) to Houston and taking a 45 minute cab ride into the port of La Porte (French for the port). And, as it was last time, the port of La Porte is really nothing more than an industrial area, complete with thousands of colorful shipping containers stacked 4 or 5 high in dusty freight yards, surrounded by old paved roads that have miles of ripples worked into them by the millions of tractor trailer rigs hauling their heavy loads day in and day out. And like me, all of the passengers tread down the same path from the Houston airport to meet our Dream to whisk them away to points South.
I had only a couple of hours sleep from the night before. I had figured that since I had to be up at 4ish in the morning that sleep was going to be a moot point whether I went to bed at ten at night or two in the morning. So, with this in mind, I decided to throw a going away party slash pre-birthday party. Yes, yours truly is turning the big three-oh March 18th, and I figured why chance having a birthday on a ship where I don’t know anyone yet, possibly at sea, or possibly in Mexico (just did the math, and I will spend my birthday at sea). So I invited some friends over to the house and spent all night sharing stories and wine. Once the subject of my wearing of sequins was breeched, I received a present from my buddies JD and Azul. Here is what they gave me:

Here I am, with my then singing partner and good buddy Lyle back in 2005, in our costumes for the show Sea Legs at Sea, the show that many of us feel is some sort of bastard child of parents who were one part cheese, one part egg burp, with a sprinkling of tinsel and a heavy dose of… you guessed it, sequins. The wine bottle reads: MICHAEL LAMENDOLA VINEYARDS XXX ANNIVERSARY… DRESSY BOY WINE. It now safely sits in my room back in San Diego, never to be drunk, but secretly admired. So basically I have been able to experiment with the idea of being 30 before actually being it. Not so bad really. I say can say the word “thirty” and I can feel the hair follicles in my ear canal accelerate their way to the surface, pulling at the ones in my scalp, effectively snapping them off at the root. At the same time my knees become personal Doppler radars, able to sense the slightest bit of precipitation, and phrases like “those kids and their darn rock and roll music” become effective conversation starters. But you ask, how are the shows going?

Quite well, thank you…

The first show I performed while on board is Rock This Town, a jazz and swing revue, with a sprinkle of Latin Pop and Broadway thrown in to elate and confuse. Now, you may be asking yourself how the ship is performing the same shows it was back in 2005... Well, easy, since the ship has been performing these shows since the man first learned to tell time by watching shadows. The ship was christened sometime in 1992, I believe, with Diana Ross named the God Mother. Here’s a picture of Diana and I sharing a moment during my first contract on the Dream.

Say what you want, but there’s some chemistry there. So since The Jean Ann Ryan company has claimed residence on board, they have been doing the same three shows… over and over and over again. Anyway, RTT was not only the first show, but the most challenging of the three I was to perform, since I was singing the exact opposite track that I sang the last time. What this means is that if the song is a duet, I am now singing the tenor part instead of the baritone, and instead of the solo songs I used to sing, I am now singing “Copa De La Vida” and “Rock This Town/ Jump Jive and Wail.” Plus, since both of those songs, especially “Rock This Town” have a ton of movement and choreography, it was unfairly ironic that this show came first. Luckily, I had already had the show DVDs from the ship in hand for about a week, so all I needed was a little clean up with the Dance Captain, and I was all set. Oh, and then there is the quick change… Those of you who have experienced the joys of Velcroed button down shirts and the hands of a dresser helping you do the otherwise menial tasks of tucking in your shirt (the one that I mentioned earlier, with the Velcro) know what I am talking about… and why does my computer want to capitalize the word “Velcro?” Must be an important word Velcro. Try it on your computer. Velcro. Also did it with Doppler. Does yours? Write me and let me know, and I’ll pick one lucky winner and E mail you a picture of my Velcro shirt.

Velcro Velcro Velcro… Moving on…

Anyway, I get the privilege of singing a quartet number, “Solitude,” with the three other singers. Then, after the song they all go off stage and sip cappuccino and read “The New Yorker” while I run like a Chihuahua towards a half eaten Big Mac freshly dropped on the floor off stage left, down three stairs into the small pit area. I then:

1. Turn off wireless handheld mic and put it in the box
2. Adrian (the costumer) rips off my jacket
3. I attach my head mike that raps around the back of my head, that has been concealed
underneath my jacket
4. Take off black shoes (and while I do this Adrian is turning on my mike pack that powers the head mike that I have been wearing around my waist
5. Take off black socks, under which I have white socks
6. Take off black pants
7. Put on white pants and tuck in white shirt
8. SHOVE on white shoes, with elastic for laces, from which I am missing a good portion of skin
just below my cuticle
9. Time permitting, put on sequined vest (oh, those sequins)
10. Breathe, jump on stage, hopefully on time

All of this happens in about forty seconds. Dammit. I won’t be surprised if I have a nightmare about that sometime soon. In any case, had one put in rehearsal at midnight the night before (or the day of, if your one of those people who correct people like me), in which all went well, and then a dress rehearsal that day. That night I had two shows, and they went off without a hitch, and with all the appropriate clothes coming off and on, and in the right order too!

Country Gold, our country revue, also went well… same process: A Midnight put in, followed the next day by a dress run. Thank goodness all I have to do is change my shirt every now and then… Songs in this show are relatively the same. I sing most of what I did, plus the addition of “What Was I Thinking” and “The Dance.” The night I sang “The Dance” for the second show, a fella in the front row took out his lighter and started waving it in the air. I felt like a rock star, until I realized he may have just farted and was probably clearing the methane out of the air… Nah…

After Country Gold we do a meet and greet in front of the stage. Always quick on my feet, and since I was center, I decided to kick things off by saying to the crowd of approaching pax “We’ll take cash, drinks, and room keys.” Well, the same guy who had his lighter in the air handed me what you might call a “tall, cold one.” I mean, it’d be rude not to accept. Gotta say, that was the best tasting beer I’ve had in quite a while.

So, that brings us to the present tense. Tonight we have our final show in our trifecta… the afore mentioned Sea Legs at Sea. All of my sequined captain’s suits have been freshly altered to fit my seemingly tiny body (the fellow before me was a good 4 inches bigger than me in all directions), and since I am singing everything I used to sing the last time, including the same harmonies, minus one solo, this show is gonna be easy as pie. Pie sounds good doesn’t it. I could go for some apple pie right now… Yeah, with some ice cream. Ooh, and some of that caramel sauce they drizzle on top. Sorry, what? Oh, right…

So, the only snag with this show is that even though it’s the same damn show that has been on this ship since 1992, different casts are taught slightly different choreography, by (surprise) different choreographers. So, after doing the same show almost twice a week for seven months, it becomes a little difficult not to step touch at certain points in the show where you once step touched. And since ninety-five… nay… ninety-six percent of my movement in the show involves step touching, this can be a real pain in my ass. Not to mention I am stumbling over choreography that includes “Walk-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and mike change-3-4-5-6-7-8, step touch 3-4-5-6-7-8 and present 3-4-5-6-7-8...” Really challenging stuff here. I guess I am suffering from “old dog-new trick” syndrome. In any case, if I step off track and find myself all alone at the lip of the stage, I’ll just moonwalk. Everyone loves the moonwalk… and pie.

So, that’s the state of the shows. But what do you care? You want to live vicariously through all my explorations in port and mingling with all the pax in the night clubs! Well, I don’t have much for you this week, since I have been busy perfecting my craft (read: step touch). Still, I have been off the ship in all the ports we hit, if only briefly this week. Here is how my schedule looks until I get off:

Saturday: Embarkation day in La Porte (The Port)
Sunday: At Sea
Monday: Progresso
Tuesday: Cozumel
Wednesday: Belize (still Unbelizeable)
Thursday: At Sea
Friday: At Sea
Saturday: Disembark, Embark back in La Porte (Still The Port)

So, here’s what I’ve done so far…
In Progresso I got off the ship, and onto a bus. In case you didn’t know, Progresso has a four mile pier for the cruise ships. This is because the water is too shallow up to four miles out to allow for ships to dock any closer. So, in order to avoid the lengthy process of tendering pax back and forth, we now board buses and go back and forth on the pier. Some argue it takes just as long, but it feels quicker… Anyway… Another interesting anecdote about this pier is that the mayor (or president, king… den master) of Progresso decided that since he was in poor health, and in order to ensure the pier would be built even if he passed away, to build the pier from the ocean in. Hmm… Mr. Smarty Pants. (Senor Panatlones Intelijentes)

Basically I enjoyed some dark Mexican beer (San Miguel this time) and a hefty plate of chicken nachos. Only took three pictures this time around… And dang, isn’t time for some pictures? My fingers hurt from all this typing.

Here she is, The Dream, sitting in some nice warm blue water that seamlessly floats into the sky. You see this and your body relaxes. Chase the view with some tequila and lime and your body does other stuff.

Kinda makes you think of David and Goliath, only its Sam and Pedro.

If your mother was Mexican, and your father Chinese, you’d probably look like this.
And that, my friends is Progresso. In the future, I plan on taking in the Myan ruins… but for now this is all you get.

On to Cozumel… Kind of disappointing since this was Carnival eve… And dammit, of all the nights to have an overnight, this would have been it. The streets blocked off for parades, Cerveza and sangria stands every 100 feet, and all the dancing and partying you can handle. Too bad we had to shove off at 6 PM. Damn Norwegians. There wasn’t even any Fat Tuesday or Carnival celebration on board! Sigh… In any case, I did eat some Chinese food (Chinese food???) and then went to the “Barracuda Hotel” They have a private beach area, which is really some steps that lead down into the ocean, with a mossy, slippery stone thing you have to swim and straddle over in order to get out to sea. Out a ways they have a white floaty thing that is chained to the ocean floor. Once you beach yourself on it… ahh… Just laying there with the sea breeze drying the water off of you. Yep… Nice. Then I went and explored a little of the huge party I was destined to miss:

Here is one of the many stages:

Did catch one parade…

Here is a seemingly innocent churros stand… but hey, Sleepy, eyes up here pal…

And that was Cozumel.

Then there is, say it with me, BELIZE. For those of you who took the journey with me last time, Belize is hot, muggy, and Unbelizeable. Not much to do if you are walking off the ship. Tours are to be had here, like the last time I ventured here and went cave-tubbing. But since I had some rehearsal today, and since we tender in every time, there wasn’t much to do this time around. Still after helping film a STYLE video (more on that in a second) I took off with my new buddy James (cruise host from Canada) to the Wet Lizard for some fruity drinks and conversation. Once there, James pointed me to a picture on the wall. In the picture was Sam, of Sam and Margie. They play jazz in Lucky’s bar on the ship… Margie on piano, and her husband Sam on bass. I’ll just let the picture speak for itself:

The picture has been there for awhile. After commenting on the picture to the owner of the bar, a Mrs. Ferrari from America, she produced a fresh picture she was going to hang in its place, since the other is a little sun damaged. Might have to submit my own picture before I leave.
After drinks it was off to a Jade Museum, and finally to a Pirate Museum. Here you see Felix the Cat in a new vocation…

Now, the STYLE video. STYLE is an acronym for “Service, Teamwork, and Yes Lead to Excellence.” I suppose if they were to get really technical it should be STAYLTE, but since we don’t stay late at any port, and since the pax don’t stay light after a week on board, STYLE was the only feasible alternative. Any way every month every NCL ship in the fleet does a video contest to see which crew can come up with the best STYLE video. The videos at their core display STYLE done wrong, then right… everything else is up to the film makers imagination. I was a part of this STYLE video, which was a take off of Law and Order. Essentially first we walk down the crew corridor screaming and yelling, banging on doors and waking up the roommate who is sleeping after a long shift… This is not very Stylish. The next scene shows you how to indeed walk through the corridors with respect to your fellow crew member. Now I only say this to introduce the following…

There are many things that are considered contraband in a crew cabin. While you have a refrigerator, you may not have food, especially stuff that doesn’t go in the fridge like chips and crackers and stuff. Also, hard liquor is a no-no. Also things that produce heat, like a hot plate, iron, or even a plug in air freshener. All illegal. So, they decided when shooting this video to also show what an Un-stylish cabin were to look like. Seems like I was the only one to find it completely ironic that all this stuff came from… you guessed it… people’s cabins!!! How Stylish. Oh well, I guess rules are made to be broken. That’s why as we speak I am juggling some flaming bowling pins in my cabin (another prime example of a shenanigan). At some point I’ll get the finished product on You Tube, and stick it on m blog… But you’ll just have to be patient.
And that’s it for now… and it should be… this has been one long letter! Did you skim? Of course not… I am so proud of you.

I leave you with my passenger quote for the week. I was walking down deck 10 from the shops to the disco. I walked by a group of people who said as I was passing…

PERSON 1: Hey, isn’t that the singer from the show?
PERSON 2: Nah, he’s taller.

Your pal,
Michael Lamendola

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