Enter with me now as we glide past the heavy glass and oak doors of the main dining room entrance. We’re greeted by 4-5 waiters with wide smiles. The expanse of a three story atrium dining room is breathtaking, considering we’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Gold, brass, wood and gilded plaster adorn every crevasse and corner. The lighting is perfect. The setting sun streaming through the windows just adds to the rich calm and beautiful atmosphere as we’re seated at our ornately dressed table. The waiter flips the cloth napkin sitting on your plate with a flourish and drops it onto our laps. It’s truly an exceptional–
“I was in WWII and we had these Japs come out of the forest and we shot two and then had to bury them right there.”
“One grave was a bit short and the Jap’s knees stuck out!”
“Can you believe it? We laughed. This poor bastards knees sticking out of the ground!”
Welcome to dining aboard the Explorer of the Seas.
I sat most of the trip beside a tiny 83 year old man by the name of Rudy from (shock horror) New Jersey, who was for the most part entertaining and a great time to talk to. The above exchange was one of our first conversations. I shrugged it off due to his age. But after day 7 he started to repeat himself unabashedly, prefaced with “I think I told you this…” and would still recant the story I heard a couple days before. Rudy spoke as if I knew his family intimately. His first story I learned of how his grandson’s neighbour’s son had come over and cleaned out his driveway with an old snow blower that he borrowed from someone and then the next snowfall Rudy offered the kid $40 (by the end of the cruise it was up to $60) to do it again but then Rudy went and got out the old snowblower in the garage that hadn’t been turned on in years and it started on one go. One go! And then he gave the kid the snow blower. Or something.
You get the gist of the thread of Rudy’s conversations.
He would start each conversation the same: leaning in to get your attention (he was nearly deaf on my side) and with hand to mouth as if to tell you a secret, Rudy would impart some beautiful gem of wisdom. Though the fingers by his mouth were splayed open, killing any hope of audio directional help or audio privacy, he kept his hand up by his mouth. It was a weird gesture but funny none the less. After he made his statement he would make a “Feh!” tip of his hand which today would be misconstrued as a symbol for gayness but to him it was a non verbal “Fuggedaboutit”. It was cute.
But Rudy had his set ways and seemed to be trapped in a post-war patriotic dream. One night we were discussing trips to Hawaii and the subject of the sunken memorial of the Arizona came up. A dinner guest mentioned that even today, a Japanese couple were ostracized during the sub ride down to the wreckage. Rudy went off on that:
“You have to watch what teachers are telling our kids. One time my daughter, who was I think 15 at the time, came home and said ‘what a horrible thing it was that we dropped the bomb on Japan’. I was so mad! I told her that if we didn’t kill those Japs, she wouldn’t be here today. I mean really! What are teachers telling kids today, huh? I’m glad that couple were treated that way, what with all those dead kids down there in the wreckage.”
I looked down at my napkin and I think I was wringing it so hard I nearly tore it in two. I didn’t say another word to him that night. I couldn’t. I think due to my silence he sensed that he stepped over some sort of conversational line and didn’t speak the rest of the dinner. The next night he was his old self again and the last night’s faux pas was forgotten. The rest of the cruise he was civil and the final memorable exchange was this:
Rudy: (leaning in) You know what’s a killer?
Me: No. What?
Rudy: Sugar! (Fugeddaboutit hand gesture). You know with all these medicines we’re living longer. I swear we’re living longer.
Me: We’re living in a modern world, Rudy.
Rudy: (Pause) Then again… (leans in closer, faux hand secret over mouth with splayed fingers) I haven’t had an erection for years.
Me: I think there’s pills for that.
Rudy’s wife was a pip. Even though she sat on his right and we never really spoke that much I could tell that she was sharp as a tack. SharkBoy told her that she had exact hair as Rita from Coronation Street. but she didn’t know the show.
(Fugeddaboutit hand gesture)