Tuesday, August 26, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Seven - We Sing, We Fall, We Steal Mattresses

At the moment I am sitting in Lucky's... the weather outside is overcast with just a hint of sway. Some passengers are weary from the dull lulling of the ship, but most are going about their business of playing cards, shopping, and eating. I'm noticing a trend that when I sit down to start a new blog, I end up sitting here in Lucky's. For the most part, there isn't much going on here at any given point of the day. At night, the bar is open, but is rarely frequented by any more than twenty people... even though it has room on both sides for a couple hundred. I think I like it because of the constant flow of people wandering through during the day. What can I say... I find y'all fascinating.

Like just now... a couple with their child just walked by. Normally the through way leads to Dazzles, but on the port side (where I am) the doors are closed due to a lecture that is taking place there. Now, when I say doors, I don't mean some nice etched glass affair, welcoming you to open them and walk through. No, these are basically fire screen doors, painted a single color to vaguely go with the... “decor.” When closed, they really don't seem all that inviting... or easy... to open. Yet still, here they come.... gonna open those doors. After a few mighty pulls, they don't open, and dejected the trio regroup to attack from the starboard side. And now two kids are trying to open it... same result.

The same thing happens when our doors are closed in the Stardust for one of our rehearsals. From the Casino we actually have inviting etched glass doors, beckoning the pax to open... however we hang signs on them warning the pax of the perils that lie within. From the front of the ship into the theatre we have the same fire screen doors, which are twice as hard to open than the ones I mentioned above. Still, passengers will break their wrists trying to jimmy their way through, then act surprised when the signs that they read warning of the rehearsal going on were actually correct! Strange thing, words.

But other than the architectural deficiencies of the Dream (which I am addressing in a blog to come later), what the hell's been going on? Well, last week Steven, my good buddy and singing counterpart, left us for greener pastures over in Tokyo. Before he landed his JAR gig, he had already signed up to do some foreign service over at Tokyo Disney, singing in the “Horseshoe Revue” I think. So, having finished his half contract, he is taking a short break before taking off for “Disrey Rand.” Still, what kind of friend would I be if I didn't bust his chops a little?

Lets go back to last week... it was Sunday night, and we were all paying a little rent performing “It's Fame” for our usual sedate audience... tired from their travels and drunk from a few frozen concoctions during the sail away. I knew it was going to be a special “Fame” when we got on stage, the music started, then stopped, then we were introduced, then a few more seconds of uncomfortable silence, then the music started again. Nothing like some awkwardness to give everyone in attendance the illusion that we usually make beds when not playing dress up on stage... but boy oh boy did things get better.

We're singing through Fame, and at one point in the number the four singers split off the stage onto the satellites, while the dancers do their thing on the stage. After that, Steve and I regroup in front of the stage, on level with the front row on a little strip of dance floor that the stage covers most of. The dance floor is stained wood, and none of us have ever given it much thought... until that night. Steve and I come strutting in to center there, and for some reason there was something slick on the floor on Steve's side. As I am walking towards him, I see him fall to the ground and pop back up, in his silly bedazzled “Ricky Martin” jacket, tight lycra shirt, and black high wasted and steroid pleated pants. The fact that we are supposed to inspire awe in the song, as we are singing about training endlessly and tirelessly striving to obtain “fame” just made it all the more funny to me.

So, Steve pops back up and is acting like nothing had happened... but I saw it, and unfortunately I couldn't hold my cookies together. As Steve and I sing through our give an take of alternating lyrics, we both try, and fail, to keep from laughing at the whole situation. Meanwhile, our head mikes, which we cannot remove from our head while singing, are picking up all of our snickering. We end our section by pretty much throwing our hands in the air... giving it up and leaving before it was over. Priceless. Still, why would you want to just read about it? Here it is... “Fame.”

At the end there, if you listen closely, you can hear the faint sound of me laughing backstage. Our sound and light techs, whose titles I utter with less and less certainty everyday, were curious as to what was so funny. So they turn on my mic in their monitors up in the booth. As they listen to me laugh and wail, the TV tech's camera picks it up, and later broadcasts it on one of the ship channels for all to see.

But that's not all...

Later that night I was leaving the dressing room to go upstairs to the gym for a drink of water. As I am leaving Steve is walking into our laundry area backstage. For whatever reason, on our washing machine is the word “Cono,” with a squiggly over the “n”, written on a piece of tape. I was never sure what it meant, but I assumed it wasn't something good. Still, when Steve walked in there and yelled it out loud (he too really doesn't know), I heard it. As I walked out the dressing room door, into the pax area, I yell it back. Then I turn right and head up the stairs, and notice the Spanish couple who had stopped dead in their tracks and were now staring at me. I could hear her mutter to him something like “did he just say cono?” to which he nodded and stared back at me. Later I confirmed with Victor, our Spanish gymnast, that I indeed said something that I probably shouldn't have. Actually, his opinion was that I shouldn't give a damn, but that's how Victor is... even he would have changed his tune if he had seen their faces... ah, style...

But, let me get back to Steve. Remember back when I told you about the time Steve used my “oh shoot, I locked myself out of my room, can I have the key I gave you for this reason only” key to break into my room while he was drunk... and while I was asleep, to remind me of what a good idea it was to give him that key in the first place? Yeah, that one. Well, I was reminded once again. It was his second to last night here, and we had just been out with most of the cast in Dazzles, tossing back some shots, and other various libations.

After last call, we retreated back to the cabins, where many of us were in Christy and Victor's room. At one point, I went to my room for something... and that's when I realized my sheets and pillows were missing. Figuring Steve had them in his room, I went and knocked... no answer. No problem, as I now have a key to his room, for the same “Oh shoot...” reason. Well, Steve expected this move and was inside his room, holed up next to his door, bracing the handle from the inside, which basically would not let me inside, even with the key. After a few minutes of trying I gave up and went back to the party in 5269. After ten minutes, I figured that it was safe to try again... and that's when I noticed that now my mattresses were gone as well. Once again, a video speaks volumes, and here it is:

Later, when I finally retrieved my mattresses, I was stopped in the hallway by Lyndsey, one of our dancers, who did a little impromptu Martha Graham on them.

So, like I've said before, there is never a dull moment around here. Of course, it goes without saying (although I say it every time), the shows are pretty much the same as they always've been. Now that Steve is gone, I have inherited the “Country Line Dance” number in Country Gold. Basically I lead a line dance with the help of the dancers and three volunteers from the audience. While it is certainly not a problem for me to run my mouth with reckless abandon on stage (it's not scripted... heh heh...), I have to fill about six minutes of time. I got a few stabs at it in rehearsals, where after a couple of tries, there was still a solid minute and some change of time left after I had finished everything. Fortunately, my first time with an audience proved to have just enough time... I'm sure I'll pop off some gems while on stage... more on that as it happens. We also have a new singer with us... Peter. He's done a couple of these shows before on another ship, so the transition has been seamless.

Then there's the prank I pulled during Sea Legs at Sea... in the show there's a mix of numbers from the musical Showboat. It starts with my up tempo rendition of “Old Man River” that causes poor ol' Jerome Kern to lose sleep on a weekly basis, then goes into “Show Boat” and “Cotton Blossom” then into a kick line, then back into “Show Boat,” but played in half time as if it were going to be some sort of show stopper... and it never is. Seriously, the music backs up, vamps, and the backup vocals (there are no live vocals for this number) start singing “Here.. comes... th'... Showboat!” on and on and on while the audience is supposed to jump up and go crazy... which they never do.

Well, not one to let my company go unappreciated, I embody a full house of official Showboat fan club members during rehearsals of SLAS, and when that number comes up I jump up and scream and holler... Usually the others who are sitting around me jump in, and we have a great time pretending anyone would generally give a damn about it... which they don't. Well, one day I had an idea.

Here I am with Lindsay (YC) and Steve, painting up some signs for that night's SLAS. My idea was to get the kids who attend the first show to basically do what I do in rehearsal, but while an audience of unsuspecting passengers wonder just what they're missing... Lindsay helped me orchestrate it, as she has sat through the SLAS train wreck so often that the nauseating theme to SLAS haunts her dreams. I snuck out into the house to see the reaction, and since the dancers are told to smile 'till their teeth hurt, I was unsure if they even noticed... Still, I thought it was hilarious! Here it is:

And that's about it for things that have been going on around here! By the time I get this posted, we will be in the middle of our SIXTEENTH Bermudian cruise. After that, it'll be a month of cruises to Maine and Canada, so there are still more stories to tell... stay tuned.

Keep On Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola (With Steve after our last Sea Legs At Sea)

Monday, August 11, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Six - Wanda Sykes Would Make An Ugly Dolphin

At the moment I am sitting in Lucky's Bar on a Friday afternoon. We left Bermuda for the thirteenth time a few hours ago, and outside the sea is calmly passing us by at 17 knots. Things on board the good ship Norwegian Dream are pretty much the same as always. Tonight we have a couple Sea Legs at Sea shows, and tomorrow I get to put on some bed sheets and spit water at my coworkers. It's all part of my standard day at the office. Still, if it were just that, I wouldn't bother sitting here writing all of this, so what's happened that's worth talking about?

Welp, for starters there has been some disciplinary action taken on some of our crew members. Don't worry, it's nothing serious... and it's nothing that I've been caught doing. Lets start with the following picture:

What you are looking at is a 10 second exposure taken of the ship's bow... sometime around eleven at night. Steve and I were walking back from another exemplary production of Rock This Town, when we were greeted by Krazi, one of our Youth Counselors. Krazi, whose real name is Kathleen (I suppose) and all the other YC's have nick names that they give themselves so that the kids have something fun to refer to them as. There's also Crayon, Avalanche, Leprechaun, Murple, Care Bear... as long as the first letter matches the first letter of their real name, you see. I only say this because all of us here have no problem calling them by their nick name, as opposed to their real name. At some points, a flash of stupidity washes over me as I refer to an adult as “murple.” You feel even worse when you reflect back on the months you've spent doing so without feeling stupid. The best is when you're referring to them while talking to someone else, and they also call them by their nick name, when they're not even there. All of a sudden I want velcro shoes. Anyway, back to the picture...

So, we had a brand new YC join us this week; I mean first contract brand new. So, the other YC's decided a little hazing was in order. Around ships, or at least cruise ships, one such method is referred to as “Fog Watch.” The process of fog watch is always a little different each time, but essentially what the chosen person does is stand at the bow of the ship and watches for fog. Sometimes they have a walkie talkie to the bridge, other times a cow bell has been used. In this instance, she was told to wave her flash lights in a circle while everything was all clear, and in a square pattern when fog was approaching. The funny thing about this is that she was told to do so while facing the bridge. In case you didn't realize it, if you're facing the bridge, you ain't looking in the right direction for on coming fog.

In any case, the green YC was doing as she was told, wagging her flashlights in the air. In case this seems a little unbelievable, the planning party actually had it printed up on the official schedule, and gave her a life jacket to wear while on duty. So, she is hard at work with her flashlights for about five minutes or so when security walks up. Here's the part of the plan that didn't get thought through. Unfortunately, no one informed Sven, our Chief Security Officer, or any of his crew about the prank. This always helps... So out comes security, and their kinda pissed.... why? Because our new YC was wearing a life vest, taken from a crew public area, and using it during what was not an emergency situation. No kidding, it's a pretty big deal.

So, the security officer is writing down names and reading the name tags. Picture these stoic security guards, some of them from the Nepalese army, filling out a report that crew members Avalanche, Crayon, and Leprechaun misused emergency equipment. That's even funnier than the whole fog watch prank. The outcome? Those three got written up (the new YC was let off the hook for being gullible), and they are also no longer allowed to wear name tags with stupid words on them. Break one dish...

Just a few days before that, some of the Shore Excursion fellas were having a hall party. Someone gets the bright idea to get out a permanent marker and write on the door to the room. Everyone gets in on the fun... some even utilize... uh... Greek humor shall we say, enough to ensure a fertile crop next season. Outcome? More written warnings. I'm not positive, but I think it's a three strikes and you're out kind of deal. As for me? I've been staying out of trouble's reach... however tonight I've planned a prank during Sea Legs... more on that later. Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is what fog looks like...

Bermuda is still Bermudiful (and I cringe when I say that... Unbelizeable has a better ring to it, but just doesn't apply here). My routine of getting up, going to the beach, and returning to the ship was altered slightly during our twelfth outing when Elyse, a good friend of Steven's from NYC, came down for a visit. It was certainly a break from the norm, as just dining in the Sports Bar and falling asleep at St. Catherine's beach wasn't gonna cut it for this cruise.

Day one involved renting some jet skis and tearing around St. George's Island. Everyone had a great time, and I was only asked once not to spray water on other jet skis by running at them and quickly turning around. I don't see why that's so dangerous, but I guess the people who own the jet skis think otherwise. Then it was more lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean.

Day two we went to Tobacco Bay for some snorkeling. By the time we made it there, the people who rent out the snorkels had already left for the day, so we spent our afternoon standing still on some rocks for several minutes until the fish swam to us. Then we would look down at the water in complete awe. That's some poor man's snorkeling right there. That evening was spent enjoying pitchers of Rum Swizzles at the Swizzle Inn.

Finally, on day three we swam with the dolphins... no kidding.

We took a ferry from St. George's over the the Dockyards, which is basically going from the easternmost point of Bermuda to the westernmost point. That's a half hour ferry ride friends... this place is small. Anyway, we get there and make our reservations... In case you believe in reincarnation, come back as a dolphin. Anytime you need to make a reservation to do something, bring your pocketbook. You don't make a reservation to visit the lions at the zoo. You don't need a reservation to see the tigers or bears either. But the dolphins are a funny bunch. Now I know why they're always smiling.

Anyway, our dolphin “experience” was forty five minutes of literally swimming with them in a large holding area. Our dolphin trainer had them swim along side and under us, then had them come up to us and do tricks like spin in a circle and splash us with water. You can't help but make the “aww” face when all this is happening. But I promise you if these things didn't have that permanent grin slapped on their face, and instead looked something more like, say, Abraham Lincoln or Wanda Sykes... you wouldn't be so quick to kiss it on it's nose. But, fortunately for them, they don't look like dead presidents or comedians with attitude, so you do so and say “aww...”

Seriously though, if Abraham Lincoln swam up to you and made a clicking noise through his blow hole, then expected you to kiss him on his nose, you'd tell him to go to hell. Wanda Sykes too, but only because she was the voice of an apple in a series of Applebee's commercials. Apples, if allowed to talk, should not sound like Wanda Sykes... now if they had a cute lisp like Drew Barrymore...

Also, while we were visiting dignitaries at The Dockyards, we stopped at a large statue of Neptune. Since Steve and I were about to perform Fountains in a couple of days, we all figured that some practice was in order, and our ol' buddy Neppy was happy to oblige.

The final morning of Bermuda was spent playing in St. Catherine's fortress, ironically right next to St. Catherine's beach. It was a fortress all right, with fortifications and cannons.

Back on the ship in time for the sail away, we made it out of the cut successfully... everything seemed to be normal on the ship... until the power went out.

Now, this sounds a lot worse than it actually was, but it still sounds pretty ominous when it occurs on a cruise ship. But instead of it happening under the shroud of night, it was during lunch time. Hallways were partially lit, elevators stopped working, but on deck the music continued to play. The Captain came on the PA to let us know that the problem would be fixed shortly, and that the engines are not affected by this problem. Still, I noticed that we weren't going very fast, in case we had to go back to Bermuda for a part.

The pax handled the power outage well. I walked around the ship to investigate, and found that even though there was zero light in the shops, the Duty Free Liquor was still flying off the shelves. Actually, all the shops were pretty well packed, since they had been closed while in port. Lights or not, they've gotta have that perfume at unbelievable prices never found on land. Most of the pissed off pax could be found walking the flights of stairs, staring at the open elevators that were unresponsive to repeated button pressing and huffing. Finally, after about an hour, the lights came back on, and things went back to normal. With a little over three months left in her service to NCL, it remains to be seen just where the duct tape will give out next. Below is some video of the lights out... compelling and rich.

So, as you can see, life on board still has its moments. In a half an hour I'll go on stage and sing my Sammy Davis revue. Been doing that every week for about a month now... One night I was flanked with bingo before and after my show. They left the machines up on either side of the stage so they can get back to sales once I was done. During my show, a curious woman walked down the aisle and over to the machine, just looking it over and reading what the signs had to say. I was on stage, about five feet away, singing “Ain't That A Kick In The Head.” I don't think she even noticed I was there. Bottom line... Bingo is king here, everything else is just little details.

Anyway, I gotta scram... keep those E mails coming!

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola (With Steve and Elyse after a night of Country Gold)