I got dumped three weeks ago and had to leave my perfectly sunny and warm life of paradise in Mexico, and go back home to the East Coast in January. Walking out of Newark Airport was like setting foot into nuclear winter after vacationing in the sun, with my flip flops at the bottom of my backpack and the only sweater I owned on my back. I spent the next week trying to re-adjust to walking in shoes on concrete in actual snow or rain, falling down the stairs of Penn Station and cursing the Father Winter I was sure I'd never have to see again. My saving grace in my freezing cold heartache was the seven-night cruise I was about to take with my mom and sisters, headed for the Caribbean. This particular cruise was one my mother has taken for several years, a chartered Irish dancing ship. Gertrude Byrne Promotions arranges for some of the best musicians and performers from Ireland to join the cruise and entertain over 2,000 passengers. My mom was taking my sisters and I, and their significant others, to celebrate her 60th birthday this year. So regardless of the blank look in my eyes as she rattled off a list of the performers that would be joining us, I was looking forward to family time. Trying to ignore the fact that I would be a fifth wheel to my sisters and their husbands, and my mom and her best friend, I felt that maybe being with just me, myself and I would be cathartic. My mission was to find a distraction from the sadness and thoughts of what's-his-name back in Mexico, and remember how much fun it is to be single, and to be back in the warm sunshine and sand of tropical living. As one of my sisters said to me before we left, "The best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody else." Enough said. So I started doing the math - over 2,000 people, half men, half of those probably married or with their girlfriends, another half of those too old to consider anyway, and I'm left with a fairly good pool of single gentlemen with which to find such distraction. Also, a friend had mentioned that I was overlooking the most substantial resource when searching for vacation booty on a cruise ship - the crew! They're stuck at sea for months at a time! So it was with visions of "I carried a watermelon" a-la Dirty Dancing to gain access into the staff areas that I packed up my cutest bikinis, beach skirts, dresses and my beloved flip flops. I don't know how to Irish set dance or fox trot, so the idea of needing good dancing shoes to participate in a dancing cruise really hadn't crossed my mind. Inagine my disappointment upon boarding the ship in Fort Lauderdale to find the average age to be somewhere around 94, give or take. This does not bode well for my plan to climb up the front (or "forward" as they say in cruising-speak) railing to yell "I'm the King of the World" and running off with a hottie to steam up a car in the cargo hold. I was not pleased, nor could I comprehend why so many people in need of walkers and canes were on a dancing cruise, but I do appreciate irony as much as the next guy, and who was I to judge, as I didn't even know how to dance? So I stayed optimistic... After getting into our beautiful suite that I was sharing with mom and her best friend, and checking out the huge balcony and Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom, we headed to the Lido deck to check out the people. This was depressing. We couldn't walk eight feet without them knowing someone I just had to meet, and all I noticed was how they seemed to get older and more hard of hearing as we headed toward the pool. I half expected the pool deck doors to open up to an actual cemetery, the way things were going. At any rate, the first two days were interesting. The seas were rough due to a cold front following us, and I took comfort knowing that at least my stomach was stronger than my heart, which went out to the many folks who couldn't keep down their Jameson. It was cold, cloudy, bumpy, and I wanted to get off that boat. Immediately. I decided to find my own entertainment, since I couldn't find my sisters or anyone I knew, and made up a drinking game that coincided with my surroundings. If I couldn't distract myself away from the broken heart, I would drink it away, and have a good laugh in the meantime. The rules: 1. Every time someone with a walking stick or cane zips past you, drink. 2. Whenever somebody in a wheelchair streaks by, it's a social (cheers and drink with others.) 3. You see those folks popping wheelies in the motorized scooters? Well, you chug from the second you spot them until they are entirely out of your vision. They do not move very quickly, mind you. 4. My sister Liz stumped me when she asked what to do when you see someone rolling their oxygen tank behind them...but we decided that a shot of Jameson was the only way to go in that situation. Thank God there seemed to only be one person with a tank, or my bar tab would have been much worse. There I was, playing my little game with my sisters, who had finally found me sliding off the barstool later in the evening. We were having a laugh at my luck and the fact that even the crew was out of the question since they either didn't speak English or were simply unattractive. I'm so glad my pathetic situation was entertaining, but what could I do from there, except suck it up and just have a good time regardless. It's funny how the universe gives you what you need when you stop worrying about it. I couldn't believe I hadn't even thought of it, but people my age started coming out of the woodwork. It was right there in front of me the whole time - the PEFORMERS! Most of them brought their wives and girlfriends and, as Irish hospitality goes, easily and quickly welcomed me into their group. I spent the next few days with a certain drummer (who will remain anonymous) of one of the bands who taught me how to jive and quick-step and something called a waltz, I think. Once I was able to participate in the dancing part of the cruise - you know, the most IMPORTANT part - I couldn't keep the smile off my face. I was kicking myself for not bringing shoes I could easily dance in but flip flops are highly durable, as are my toes. We spent nights into mornings in the piano bar singing and drinking and dancing. I was introduced to some of the "old people" I had rolled my eyes at in the beginning of the trip, and was consequently schooled in the art of drinking when I had to take my leave at 6:30 in the morning and the "geezers" outlasted me by several hours. I was happy, genuinely. I had never realized how much fun a large group of musicians and performers could be, and was humbled by the joie de vivre in everyone on the boat, regardless of age or nationality. The weather left something to be desired, as did the food, but we did get a few lovely days in Gran Turk Island and Puerto Rico; and my ego was boosted slightly by a marriage proposal I received from the 60-year-old lifeguard in St. Croix named Prince. However, seeing as how I was out of practice in the art of courtship, things got truly interesting when I attracted the attention of a certain dance instructor. When you're on a dancing cruise, and the main form of entertainment is dancing, and you are just learning HOW to do these dances, the interest that an instructor of his caliber places in helping you can be quite flattering - much to the chagrin of the drummer I had been hanging out with. So there I was, thinking I'd be lonely and depressed for another week stuck on a boat, and was suddenly thrilled with the idea of possibly needing to fight the men off with my snorkel. Quickly, the gossipy biddies started whispering about the cheek of me daring to dance with two different men on the same night, and it became a point of interest for many to see which one I'd be having a drink with after dinner. My sisters were joking about there being a rumble on the Main Stage and they'd start taking bets around the boat. I won't bore anyone with the details of how it all turned out in the end - I am a lady, after all. Suffice it to say that regardless of any fellas and what may or may not have come out of it, I had one of the best times of my life. The energy of over 2,000 people living it up was contagious, the laughter and music a sound that I couldn't wait to hear every evening, and my clumsy attempts at the jive a pain in the toes of all the people I would drag to the dance floor song after song. What a difference it was from the first night when I didn't know how I would survive a whole week; to wanting to handcuff myself to the railing so I wouldn't have to get off the boat in the end. When we got back home to the cold, it seemed much more bearable, my shoes easier to walk in, and the winter sun just bright enough to feel warmth. I'll see you all on the boat next year!
The Irish pub that became home base for 9/11 ground zero rescuers