The following story is excerpted from Like A Champion by Vincent Chu, published by 7.13 Books.
Like a Norwegian
“If the ship sinks, just grab hold of that,” said Mr. Potts inside the elevator, pointing to a poster of Nelly Vasquez, the whale of a woman scheduled to sing each night after dinner service in the Moonlight Lounge. A mother near the doors glared and told her son, “Ignore the stupid idiot.” Oh what, thought Mr. Potts. The lady wasn’t a big blubbery beast? The elevator dinged. Mr. Potts got his bags and headed out for his cabin. This was going to be a relaxing eight-day vacation.
What a slogan the cruise line had! Cruise Like a Norwegian. The sail-away party had different colored signs saying things like Party Like a Norwegian or Dine Like a Norwegian. The staff members even encouraged guests, “There you go, Mrs. Gibbs, Hot Tubbing Like a Norwegian!” Mr. Potts had never known a real Norwegian, but he imagined they might take offense. After all, were Norwegians a lazy and entitled people like the guests on this ship? He wanted to ask one, but there weren’t any on board.
Every morning, the staff members greeted Mr. Potts with a great big smile. Sure, that works on the old timers, thought Mr. Potts. They probably feel like real VIPs here! Most of the guests were senior citizens. The rest were families or couples. Mr. Potts seemed to be the only guest traveling alone. Not that he didn’t have friends back home. He made sure any inquiring guest knew this when they asked him why he was “cruising” solo. All of his friends still worked, alright? None of them could spare their vacation hours. And he just happened to be single at the moment, okay? Of course he had had girlfriends before. Is that acceptable? Is that fine with you? he would sometimes reply, not in those exact words. These people were worse than the ones back home. Be Interrogated Like a Norwegian, thought Mr. Potts.
The food was terrible. But the old timers loved it. The waiters would come by and ask, “How was everything, Mr. Henry?” And Mr. Henry would smile and reply, “Just perfect! Absolutely exquisite!” Meanwhile, Mr. Potts wanted to barf. They served dishes like Salisbury Steak or Chicken Parmesan or Asian Beef Noodles, that classic national dish of the continent of Asia. Mr. Potts would eat alone in the dining room, observing the poor old war veterans with faded forearm tattoos and military baseball caps, probably dragged on board by their wives or children. Who knew what they saw the last time they were on a ship. They just sat there with blank looks on their faces. Mr. Potts knew they recognized this place for the circus it was, like him. Eat Shitty Dinners Like a Norwegian.
The pool was a disgusting affair. Mr. Potts remembered the advertisements months ago of beautiful bodies poolside. Glistening legs. Firm asses. But here, everyone was obese, pale and hairy, including the women. And nobody seemed to care! The worse the body, the smaller the bathing suit. Go Blind Like a Norwegian. Sometimes, a stranger would start a conversation with Mr. Potts in the hot tub. Mr. Potts would simply close his eyes as if enjoying the bubbles too much to talk, and eventually the stranger would leave him alone. It worked every time. Mr. Potts was very satisfied with this and practiced getting even better at it. Avoid Small Talk Like a Norwegian.
There was a live show nightly in the Stardust Theater. It depressed Mr. Potts. If the performers were bad, he felt embarrassed for them. If the performers were good, he wondered what went wrong in their lives that they ended up here, on this pathetic cruise ship, rather than on the radio or on Broadway. Oh, and these real sexy shows? They depressed Mr. Potts too. He watched these pretty girls strut around stage, cleavage out, and thought the old timers must get sad knowing they couldn’t get it up anymore. Or maybe they got it up just dandy, but got sad anyway seeing their wives in the same room as these bouncy young things. Marriage sure is for suckers, thought Mr. Potts as he sipped his coconut daiquiri in the dark. Enjoy the Show Like a Norwegian.
Games with the staff came after lunch. Mr. Potts refused to spend time with people paid to spend time with him. He wasn’t a charity case! Mr. Potts’ mother, she got a kick out of this stuff. She always loved cruises. But as she got older and sicker she couldn’t go on them anymore. She was actually the one that recommended a cruise to Mr. Potts. She worried about her son. Mr. Potts had told her about his recent nervous breakdown at work, how he stopped talking to everyone for a whole week. Why should his company get any more freebies out of him? If they didn’t give more than the bare minimum, why should he? He was this close to quitting! But Mr. Potts’ mother convinced him a cruise might help clear his head. She never understood why he took his career so serious. After all, what was so important about being an account manager for the nation’s third largest window blinds company? Mr. Potts could never explain it to her right. He spent the afternoon watching the games from afar, occasionally laughing at the fools. Keep Your Distance Like a Norwegian.
Formal night was a big deal. Men wore jackets and women wore dresses. It was the same terrible food, now divided into four courses. Mr. Potts got his table for one. This time, they put him near the kitchen doors. Mr. Potts drank four gin martinis, one for each course. Afterwards, he felt like paying Nelly Vasquez and the Norwegian House Band a visit. Mr. Potts made his way to the Moonlight Lounge and plopped down in the front row. Whoa, Nelly! thought Mr. Potts. The woman could sing! Mr. Potts drank and drank and watched that big ass of Nelly Vasquez bounce back and forth on stage, flexing the floorboards. During her last song, Nelly Vasquez even winked at Mr. Potts. He blew a big wet floating kiss back at her. Then he passed out in his lounge chair. Get Piss Drunk Like a Norwegian. He was finally getting the hang of this.
Mr. Potts was hung over. But that’s not why he spent most of the last sea day in his cabin. He had this awful habit of spending the ends of his vacations planning his re-entry into society. He thought about what he had to do at work on Monday, about the several apology emails he wanted to write, about visiting his mother in the hospital and telling her how great the cruise was. She would like that. Mr. Potts then walked around the deck. He ate dinner in the less crowded 24-hour cafeteria. He gambled at the casino and lost forty dollars. He drank a pint of beer at the Irish pub. Then he went back to the Moonlight Lounge. Nelly Vasquez was already singing. Mr. Potts sat down in the front row again. After a few songs, Nelly started with a real slow version of The Love Boat theme song. Hah! thought Mr. Potts. The Love Boat theme song, for Christ’s sake! God, he always hated that show.
…Love, exciting and new
Come aboard. We’re expecting you.
And Love, life’s sweetest reward.
Let it flow, it floats back to you.
Mr. Potts glanced around to see if anyone else was as embarrassed as him. This was really a stupid song!
…And Love won’t hurt anymore
It’s an open smile on a friendly shore.
Then Mr. Potts started to cry. Tears and all. He couldn’t stop. He cried and continued to cry, sitting there alone in the front row of the Moonlight Lounge on Deck 7 of the Norwegian Pearl, listening to The Love Boat theme song. The tears flowed and Mr. Potts, trembly and wet, didn’t know why or how to stop them. Nobody came with a tissue or asked if he was okay. Mr. Potts just sat there, a quiet mess. Finally the song ended and eventually Mr. Potts pulled himself together. After the band left and he had ordered another drink, he wondered more about the crying, specifically if anyone saw it. He didn’t think so. Perhaps just Nelly Vasquez. Oh, what did he care. She probably cried every time the buffet ran out of riblets! Mr. Potts paid his tab and got up to go to his cabin. A pointless end to a pointless vacation. Well, thought Mr. Potts, at least it was almost over.
Mr. Potts dried his eyes once more in the elevator. He pressed the button. After one deck, the car stopped and the doors opened. “Well, if it isn’t the lone sailor himself. I must say, sweetheart, I think you and me are the only two lookers on this whole God awful boat.” Mr. Potts looked up. It was Nelly Vasquez, wink and all. He sniffled. Then, without a word, he reached forward and put his arms around that big fantastic body of hers and pulled it right up against his. He kissed her. Nelly Vasquez had had groupies before, so she was startled but not shocked as she kissed the poor chap back. Mr. Potts held on tight and didn’t let go. She smelled sweet. She was warm and soft and round and the only thing in this world he ever wanted. The elevator dinged and two people got out. Mr. Potts could pack in the morning. Make Love Like a Norwegian.
Vincent Chu was born in Oakland, California. His fiction has appeared in PANK Magazine, East Bay Review, Pithead Chapel, Fjords Review, Cooper Street, Stockholm Review, Chicago Literati, Forth Magazine, The Collapsar and WhiskeyPaper. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Like a Champion is his debut collection. He can be found at his website and on Twitter.