Location: Somewhere off the coast of Baja California onboard the Mariner of the Seas, en-route to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
Yes, it’s true, R.G., the landlubber, is on a cruise ship.
A very, very big cruise ship.
Talking aircraft carrier big.
Thirty-five hundred passengers and twenty-eight hundred crew members big.
Which means that whatever you want, whenever you want it, somebody will magically appear to insure that your every need is met efficiently and expeditiously.
I haven’t been on a cruise ship prior to this adventure.
And I don’t know why.
If you are the type of person who doesn’t care for sleeping late, eating a gourmet breakfast served by a crack team of wait staff; lunches featuring any type of cuisine you may have a hankering for; relaxing afternoons spent lounging around a pool with drinks and appetizers aplenty; evening gourmet dinners, served by the same crack staff followed by Vegas-style shows, clubbing, gambling…you name it, then cruising probably isn’t for you.
So, there I was, sitting at—wouldn’t you know it—a shipboard St. Arbuck’s located on the Grande Promenade, wondering why people thought that the addition of the lowly “e” to the end of words like, “Grande” somehow made the word, well, more Grande, and enjoying a quite excellent medium coffee, with room for cream.
The constant stream of humanity as it ebbed and flowed past my front row table was a wonder to behold for a hardcore people-watcher like myself.
I saw them from a hundred feet away.
Two middle-aged African-American gentlemen walking—well, that’s not entirely accurate, for to designate what they were doing as merely walking would be like diminishing what Céline Dion does to, “singing.”
No, it was more than walking…it was poetry in motion.
Every movement seemed to be in response to some internal rhythmic pulse that only those two could hear.
Long, lean and sartorially resplendent, they took the table next to mine with a nod of the head and a friendly, “Good-day to you, sir.”
They introduced themselves as Buddy and Melvin—Mel to his friends—both from St. Louis and on the cruise with their wives, who happened to be sisters.
Turns out they were celebrating forty years of marriage.
“Yeah, man, we got married one loooong, hot summer forty years ago,” Buddy said with obvious pride.
Mel said, “Twins. We married twins.”
“Identical?” I inquired.
“Uh-huh,” Buddy replied, nodding his head slowly. “And don’t think they didn’t try to mess with us.”
“Oh, you know that’s right,” Mel chimed in with a deep and resonant chuckle. “Second date, they switched on us!”
I said, “And you really couldn’t tell the difference?”
“Huh-uuuuuuhhhhh,” Buddy said, drawing the vowel out dramatically. “See, they was tryin’ to decide which one of us to date, and, of course, the only way to do that was to experiment. First five or six—“
“Six,” Mel said, interrupting.
“That’s right, six dates they switched it up constantly, and we were never any the wiser until after we was married!”
“And you never figured it out?”
Buddy stabbed the air with his finger. “Now, Mel here will tell you that he had an idea somethin’ fishy was goin’ on ‘round about the fourth date, but based on my recollection he was just as clueless as me!”
“Come on, now,” Mel said defensively. “We talked about it. You know we talked about it.”
“I don’t remember nothin’!” Buddy said emphatically, making his eyes as big as saucers.
“Sure you do. It was that time the four of us went to Club Plantation. The girls excused themselves to go to the ladies’ room, and when they come back there was somethin’ not right. Later on you asked if I noticed they’d swapped shoes, but I said they did more than swap shoes, they swapped dates!”
The two stopped talking long enough to admire an exquisitely beautiful young lady who smiled and offered a quick, “Good morning,” as she sashayed past our position.
“Mmm, mm, mmmm!” Buddy said, shaking his head.
“You got that right. You sho’ do got that right.”
Buddy said, “It don’t hurt to look.”
“Yeah…but I can’t remember why.”
They laughed and bumped fists.
I said, “So did they finally confess?”
“No!” they said in unison.
“Fact is,” Mel said. “To this day we can’t tell ‘em apart when they’s dressed up.”
“And, uh, when they’re not?” I prompted.
They shared a knowing grin before Buddy said, “Let’s just say the good Lord took it upon Himself to provide a means of identification.”
“Birthmark,” Mel said with a grin as wide as the ocean upon which we sailed.
As we shared a collegial laugh I realized that it was, well, poetic.