Something about sailing on the Seven Seas brings out the Seven Deadly Sins.
Take a cruise ship. Fill it with a bunch of people who have paid a hefty sum for a luxurious vacation. Place before them the notion that they can have something for nothing. Stand by to be disgusted.
Like it or not, everybody has a point at which the lure of getting a freebie will allow lust to escape its dungeon deep inside and will force them to debase themselves in the grossest ways. The only unknown is what will trigger the escape.
Unfortunately, we now know what the mechanism is for us: We sold out for a T-shirt.
Boy, the things you learn on a cruise.
Every cruise ship has a ploy to get the passengers acquainted with each other. Games are the typical ice-breakers. But usually only a handful of people win prizes, so participation is small.
Getting in 'ShipShape'
Along comes the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which has escalated this process with a program in which every participant wins--or loses.
It's called the "ShipShape" program.
It's supposed to be fun-in-the-sun. Not for me.
The premise is simple: The ship's sports staff supervises events in which each person gets a "ShipShape" dollar bill just for participating (participation ranges from just showing up to competing like a tiger). Collect six "ShipShape" dollars (one for each of six events) and they can be turned in for a yellow T-shirt and visor with the message, "I'm ShipShape." Neat, huh?
My plan for our cruise to Haiti, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico, was to idle away my days snoozing in a deck chair, with nothing more strenuous than occasionally bending an elbow to reach for a glass of iced tea. To find myself in a "ShipShape" dancercise class was the ultimate bad dream.
The dancercise class was my wife's idea. She thought it would be cute if we both earned enough "ShipShape" dollars to get matching T-shirts.
Cute. Geez. Not what I came for, I pointed out.
But the more she talked, the more I bought the idea. Not the matching T-shirts part; just the shirt. Singular. I thought one would be a nice addition to my T-shirt drawer. Collecting T-shirts is my Achilles heel. My wife counted on that.
Thus, during the next week I found myself doing things I would never do in real life: free-throw shooting, tug-of-war, exercises, shuffleboard, ring toss and walkathons.
So much for lazing like a lounge lizard.
What started out as a playful project quickly turned into an ugly pursuit of something for nothing.
Greed Grows Apace
That was it, wasn't it? Something for nothing. A free lunch. A good deal. Talk about phrases to make your greed boil.
My initial attitude was that our quest for the T-shirts was a joke. But something happened. Soon I became consumed by the venture. I planned my entire day around the "ShipShape" events. No more goofing around. No more late-afternoon ice cream sundaes. No more dozing on the deck. I became preoccupied with participating in every "ShipShape" event.
If there was any saving grace in this madness it was that roughly two-thirds of the people on the cruise were in hot pursuit of the same goal. We swarmed around the events like buzzards circling their prey.
With several events being held each day, it wasn't long before my wife and I each had a T-shirt. At last, I could relax.
Then, on the day before the cruise ended, my wife had another great idea: She had heard some people say that, because there was no limit on the number of T-shirts a person could earn, they were going to also get one for their kids. It'd be cute, my wife said, if we got a matching T-shirt for our 3-year-old son.
Off we went, again.
We entered everything that day, which is how I found myself doing something I had steadfastly resisted on dry land--taking a dancercise class. I hopped and bopped and shimmied and shook. I breathed in and breathed out. I stretched and pulled. I nearly died.
Let's face it: I am an advanced athletic avoider. Jogging? Never. Calisthenics? Forget it. Sweating? You've got to be kidding.
Clearly, I had no business in that dancercise class. So when my heart started pounding so loudly that I couldn't hear the music, I quit. But my wife (who is in fine shape, besides being 14 years younger than I am) was bouncing along with ease. Suddenly, I, at 46, felt, well, not exactly old but certainly far from young. Nobody likes to be reminded about the aging process anywhere, but to have to face it on a cruise ship is downright sinful.
Gasping for breath, I turned to see how my wife was doing. She was dancing away and had barely broken a sweat. She waved to me, as if to say, "Poor baby." Who needs that?
I sat down until the class was over, then sheepishly collected my final "ShipShape" dollar. While my wife bounced away to get our son's T-shirt, I crept off in search of beer and hot dogs.
The next day I awoke to find that my legs were so stiff I could scarcely move them. But justice has a funny way of appearing at precisely the right moment. At the very instant I opened my mouth to complain about my aches, my wife came hobbling out of the bathroom, the victim of tight calves.
Please forgive me a slight smile at the memory.
Our journey home was a mixture of pride and pain: We were proud that we had survived so many events but pained in so many parts of our bodies for having done them. Sustaining us was the image of the three of us in our matching "ShipShape" T-shirts. Cute, huh? What a sight that was going to be.
That was a sight we never saw: Our son--the one for whom we sweat blood and sacrificed relaxation--refused to wear his T-shirt. No way. Cry city.
Months later, our son's T-shirt still lies unused in his drawer--a monument to the lengths that parents will go for their kids.
Especially to get something for nothing.