Michael Reagan is fast becoming an honorary captain of the Ship of State, as I discovered when I signed on for the American-Hawaii cruise through the “ports of Paradise" on the S.S. Independence.
Colleen, Mike's wife and an agent with Carousel Travel in North Hollywood, answers my call and books the last private cabin for me.
“It s an inside cabin,” Colleen says, “but it's on the same deck as the buffet and swimming pool, so I think you’ll find it convenient. And you’ll get to meet Michael.”
Up to now, I know as little about talk radio as I know about ships. In my kitchen and in my car, dials are stuck on National Public Radio, part of “the liberal media,” a preference that brands me with the “L word.” Unabashed, I wear that scarlet letter as serenely as the Ash Wednesday cross on my forehead. Listening to the news, I smile at Republican Party efforts to pin the liberal tale on the donkey.
After a few tries, I find the station that carries The Michael Reagan Show— 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Later, at a shipboard cocktail party hosted by the Reagans, Mike will tell us of starting out with 5 stations and growing to 100. The show, he proudly reminds us, is rated third in its class, preceded only by Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy. “And in evening shows,” Mike says, “we’re number one.”
All of which gives you an idea of where the Ship of State is headed.
My experience with boats is limited and mostly literary. Unlike 12-year-old Ashley Reagan and her brother Cameron, I know nothing this grand from childhood. At ten I spent half a day on the Georgiana, an old stern-wheeler, navigating the Columbia River from Portland to Astoria. In high school, I visited a classmate in Lake Oswego, Oregon, where we went each day by canoe to pick up the mail. And one soggy summer in Seattle, while I was still a nun, I sailed, courtesy of the University Yacht Club, on Lake Washington and spent an hour in the rain, dodging the boom.
Literary ships are another matter. As Emily Dickinson says, “There is no Frigate like a Book,” and my imaginary cruising goes far beyond the mundane physical. Under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I helped build and launch the Ship of State:
- Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
- Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
- Humanity with all its fears,
- With all the hopes of future years,
- Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
Except for the archaic diction, these lines, complete with exclamation points, could replace one of the Capitol Steps’ satirical interludes on The Michael Reagan Show.
Inwardly, I see myself breaking a ceremonial champagne bottle with a smart crack over the hull of the Ship of State as I recite Longfellow’s lines. In more quiet moods, I spend exotic hours on John Masefield’s “Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir / Rowing home to harbor in sunny Palestine.” Looking for adventure, I wrestle the marlin with Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. I’m a ringleader in The Caine Mutiny against Captain Queeg. Finally, I suffer the pangs of eternal guilt over failing to read Moby Dick.
In such circumstance, it’s only natural that I turn to Katherine Anne Porter’s 1945 novel, Ship of Fools, for the perfect metaphor. Let me hasten to explain that I’m not pointing fingers or calling names. Rather, I invoke a figure of speech from an era when Renaissance citizens entrusted the mentally deranged to sailors on ships that crossed and recrossed Europe’s seas and canals. These societal rituals of exclusion developed about the time that leprosy was on the decline, and attitudes toward lepers were conveniently transferred to the mad. All this is detailed in the first chapter of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.
High above the mad seas of D.C. politics, from his crow’s-nest in California, “Captain” Mike conducts his Washington watch, steering a course over the airwaves through mostly friendly channels. He does not flinch at the occasional blast from crazy or contentious callers but maneuvers smoothly, bringing each day’s tour of duty into port with a flourish.
When a caller says that Mike ought to run for president, that the country needs another Reagan in the White House, Michael says, in effect, that he wants to stay “on the outside looking in” (the title of his autobiography). His family holds a high priority, and he doesn’t relish the prospect of having every detail of his private life dissected and denounced. Besides, he believes that he can exert greater influence from the margin than as an elected official.
Most of Mike’s callers are politically involved. They report phoning Congress members, writing letters, sending faxes. At the beginning of every show, Mike urges his listeners to have pencil and paper ready to jot down phone and legislative bill numbers, names of committee members, and the like. One caller affectionately dubs him “the HR man of talk radio.” He’s referring to House Resolution numbers.
Soon I’m a regular listener to the Mike Reagan show — an alien, as it were, among wall-to-Wall Street Republicans. And though I haven’t the courage or the patience to call in, my fantasy phone rings madly.
Cruise brochures mention “optional lectures” on shipboard, and I expect to have semiprivate talk shows with Mike Reagan.
I pack my copy of his book — one more burden in my luggage — so that I can get an autograph.
What to wear: the woman’s perennial problem. I need something midway between clothing suitable for Seattle’s rainy chill and Honolulu’s tropical humidity. A coat is out of the question. I pack my baggy, purple corduroy jacket with huge patch pockets. Knowing that prices in Hawaii are steep, I spend $20 on a straw hat with adjustable chin strap to ward off melanoma. It won’t fit in my luggage, but I can wear it on my back instead of my head and stash it in the aircraft rack. My travel costume consists of a jeans skirt, chosen for its pockets and wrinkle-free fabric, with a blue-and-green, vertically striped camp shirt. Sturdy sandals ensure comfort in flight.
At the airport, I meet a couple, both journalists. They are taking the cruise for the second time and will move to Nevada on their return. They’ve just bought a twice-weekly newspaper there.
“Are you a teacher?” the woman asks, and when I nod, “I can always tell a teacher."
The comment makes me feel dowdy and uncomfortable. A little resentful, too, because the woman is overweight and not that attractively garbed. She wears navy-blue cotton shorts and a loose-fitting Big Shirt in shades of green and blue. Several times on shipboard, we’ll pass without speaking, and always she’s in the same clothes. Does she wash them at night, or has she bought several identical outfits? Has she shipped everything else to Nevada? Joined the Third World’s Great Unwashed? I’ll never know. In any case, I owe my newfound courage to her and the buxom, bikini-clad women on the sun deck. I take off my hesitations and put on my jeans shorts, straw hat, dark glasses. The shades confer anonymity among the color-coordinated women in stretch shorts and tees. I hear one of them admitting that she shopped for a week before leaving North Carolina. Now she wishes she’d bought her wardrobe over here. Another woman, whose straw hat draws praise from her seatmate, confesses to paying $55 for it.
In the prefatory note to her novel. Porter comments on adopting the Ship of Fools metaphor as her own. She calls it “this simple, almost universal image of the ship of this world on its voyage to eternity” and concludes, “I am a passenger on that ship.” It follows that anyone who boards is in good — even distinguished — company.
Foucault contends that being human implies acting occasionally with a large mixture of folly and unreason. I agree and am fascinated with the origins and evolution of the Ship of Fools image. In literature, Foucault reminds us, it derives from the Argonaut cycle. Speculating on the more shadowy physical existence of the ships that haunted the early Renaissance imagination, he writes, “It is possible that these ships of fools...were pilgrimage boats, highly symbolic cargoes of madmen in search of their reason....”
Good Friday: On the Way
“It’s a bad Good Friday,” as the poet Richard Hugo says, when my pilgrimage in search of reason begins. The last few days are an insane blur of deadlines and derailments. Someone books me for the wrong flight. Colleen calls to ask whether I can leave a day early, promising that the cruise line will meet me at the airport, put me up overnight at the Hawaiian Regent, and take me to the ship in time for boarding on Saturday. I agree because there isn’t much choice. The good news is that my flight departs in the afternoon instead of early morning. I won’t have to get up at 4:00 a.m. after all.
Nevertheless, Good Friday is a day of unremitting involuntary penance of the everyday, stress-building sort. When I finally escape to Seatac airport, the ticket agent checks my bags and says she’ll send for the wheelchair.
“But I didn’t order a wheelchair.”
“How about the vegetarian meal?”
“Yes, they have that right.”
The vegetarian meal arrives after everyone else is served: something pale and anomalous, a rectangle that may be baked, leftover cornmeal mush.
In Honolulu I crane at every sign held aloft. None for American-Hawaii Cruises. Mindful of airport thievery, I disobey instructions and head for baggage claim to retrieve my new roll-aboard luggage.
After claiming my bags, I phone the hotel. No help there. The man in the information booth looks for a cruise representative but finds none. He recommends a shuttle or a cab. Then I spot the name tags and pink luggage labels of a young, lost-looking couple. I ask Dan and Joan whether they’re supposed to be met. They are. We agree to share a cab and ask for a receipt.
“The cruise line made the mistake,” Dan says, “so they’ll have to reimburse us." He’ll talk to Colleen about it.
Dan and Joan make it to the registration desk while I’m still juggling my hat, my purse, and two bags. Dan is hell-bent for their room but, at Joan’s prompting, reluctantly lends me a hand. I don’t blame him, because he looks overburdened and in need of refreshment. I’m committed to independence after convent years of the opposite. I only wish I could achieve it without such obvious struggle. Dan drops my bags, overtakes Joan, and escapes with her into an elevator while I wait for the next one. Once in my room, I realize that my hat is missing. Re-boarding the elevator, eager as a bloodhound, I follow my invisible trail in reverse, lobby to baggage claim and back, to find my hat on a counter just before a staff member whisks it away. I will not see Joan and Dan again until sometime onboard the Independence.
Saturday: Honolulu, Oahu
A handout from the cruise office promises an optional free tour of Honolulu on Saturday, ending at the ship. Because I have nothing better to do, I get a ticket, hoping to make an espresso run to the Hyatt Regency before the buses leave. My mission is unsuccessful because, once outside, I walk for blocks and blocks in the direction opposite to the one pointed out indoors.
Hurrying back to my hotel, I step into the bus line with the henna-haired ladies wearing pink or black and gesticulating with red fingernails.
My convent experience has left me severely allergic to being herded about in mobs, so I really can’t share the other passengers’ enthusiasm for our Portuguese driver’s attempts to turn us into a Greek chorus responding to his corny, off-color jokes and Hawaiian-language drills. I agree with Polonius that brevity is the soul of wit, but our driver apparently hasn’t heard of it. In fact, he could be a talk-show host if a tongue in perpetual motion were the only requirement.
Why can’t I relax like the others? I should follow Whitman’s custom, “loafe and invite my soul." But my soul is up to serious business in company with the 15th-century mystics Foucault recalls.
For them, the soul is a skiff, on an infinite sea of desires, in the sterile field of cares and ignorance, among the mirages of knowledge, amid the unreason of the world — a craft at the mercy of the sea’s great madness, unless it throws out a solid anchor, faith, or raises its spiritual sails so that the breath of God may bring it to port.
As it happens, I’ll have an object lesson in “the sea’s great madness” this very night.
Promptly at 3:00 p.m., the hour the driver has been told to deliver us, we arrive at the pier. It’s down the gangplank and onto the ship, where we’re draped with tropical flowers in a custom repeatedly referred to as “getting lei-ed.” Then I bump head-on into the ever-present camera.
“Not now!” I order sharply and am surprised to have my injunction obeyed. I’m still smarting from the remark of the woman who can always tell a teacher. later, when I’ve showered and changed, I pose with Michael and Colleen and another passenger. Mike reminds me of my nephew-in-law, a salesman who can talk to anyone. The same easy affability, never at a loss for a joke with any stranger.
My cabin is compact, convenient, and attractive. It’s furnished with a hide-a-bed, a desk with four drawers, a chair, two lamps, an artificial Chinese evergreen, and two plastic anthuriums in a small vase anchored to the door frame. The desk has a lift-top with makeup mirror and three compartments. There’s a tiny bathroom with shower, toilet, and sink, as well as a mirrored medicine cabinet. The shower curtain drips red hibiscus, and the hide-a-bed is upholstered in a fabric with a large leaf design and red flowers that may be another hibiscus species. The small closet is equipped with plastic hangers and a life jacket.
The most notable feature of cabin furnishings is stability. Furniture is either built-in or, like the desk chair, heavy enough to stay in place. All shelves, including those in the medicine cabinet, have ledges to keep things from sliding off. Unable to shut the bathroom door despite using all my strength, I scan the space between it and the wall and find the metal hook and eye preventing closure. Such arrangements identify the ocean as a mover and shaker — a force to be reckoned with.
Looking for members of the Reagan camp, I introduce myself to a couple and their teenage son. Linda’s features are as subdued as those of the Iowa plain she comes from, but her personality is warm and friendly. Terry, her husband, is a large, well-proportioned man, a walking advertisement for the corn-fed Black Angus beef that is their supper club’s specialty. All three look exhausted from their long trip. Only Linda has the energy to be civil, although Terry and 14-year-old Brady are amiable enough by the next day.
“We met Michael at the Iowa State Fair,” Linda explains. When she says Mike’s name, her tone borders on the reverential. I tell her that I’m alone, and she promises at once to try to register for my dinner table.
“We’re here to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and paying off the mortgage on our restaurant after 15 years,” Linda says. “And we’ve brought Brady because it’s probably the last time we can get him to go on vacation with us.”
Now I have five Reaganites, not counting myself Joan and Dan, Linda, Terry, and Brady. I marvel at my own naivete in thinking that we’d reenact The Michael Reagan Show onboard. The Reagans are on vacation, and Ashley is the only one I see often. She romps with her friends in the pool, runs all over the ship, and appears to be having a marvelous time. “On vacation” for a talk-show host must mean something closer to silence. Now that I’ve found five Republicans, I’m needled into combing through the haystack in search of others.
Passengers are still converging on Honolulu, so our first meal in the dining room is open seating. I arrive in good time, in not-quite-casual attire.
“A party of one?” says the maitre d’, lifting an eyebrow.
“Yes, one,” feeling like a burro in the elephant forest at the local zoo.
Then, “Follow me,” as I meekly thread my way among the tables, trying to look nonchalant, and am seated at one where a middle-aged, monosyllabic couple has already settled. I introduce myself, make heroic efforts at small talk. It’s a relief when others join us and bring the conversation round with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
After dinner I return to my cabin for a while to review the reading matter that filters steadily into my living space. “Trade Winds,” a daily news bulletin, lists activities on shipboard, as well as the tours available in the various ports. The cost ranges from $12 to $150 for these optional excursions.
There’s a thick, loose-leaf notebook that includes data on the ship. I begin reviewing it and encounter these statistics: built: 1951 at Bethlehem Quincy Shipyard in Massachusetts at a cost of $25 million ($300 million in today’s dollars). Refurbished: October 1994, at Newport News, Virginia, for $30 million. Tonnage: 30,090. Width of beam: 89 feet. Propulsion: 17 knots cruising. Horsepower: 37,000. Open deck space: 23,000 square feet.
At 9:00, feeling at loose ends, I don’t want to miss the sail-away party, even as a party of one, so I head for Ohana deck and see an attractive, 40ish woman standing against the wall. Watching this stranger recalls a line from one of my poems: “The lost repeat the lost at intersections.”
Before superego can discourage me, I approach her firmly.
“Are you alone?”
“I’m here with my mother, but she’s ill, so she stayed in her cabin.”
Soon Leslie and I are sipping complimentary mai-tais, climbing to the sun deck to watch the parade and crowning of Miss and Mr. Independence, and blowing serpentines. Red, orange, blue, yellow, green; we mill happily through the streamers and the crowd, adrift in colored paper.
Once the spectacle is complete, we plead fatigue and return to our cabins. Both Catholic and Protestant Easter services are at sunrise, and I’ll need some shuteye if I want to make it to Mass. Exhausted, I sink into bed, hoping for early sleep in these unfamiliar surroundings.
And what better place to be when the Independence begins to rock and roll? Because I have an inside cabin, I can’t watch what’s happening out there, but it’s like a horizontal elevator. We could use a little cruise control. Revelers who haven’t locked their bathroom doors open are responsible for the frequent banging that prevents sleep. From time to time, I hear the soothing voice of the captain over the intercom, but I can’t distinguish his words. Despite a strange feeling at the pit of my stomach,
I’m not the least bit seasick. I’m almost grateful to the disturbance for reminding me of a famous poem:
- Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
- Out of the mockingbird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
- Out of the Ninth-month midnight
- Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond....
If I were the ship’s doctor. I’d prescribe Walt Whitman instead of Compazine: mind and imagination over the listing of the ship.
Easter Sunday: Kona
The Mass of the Resurrection is in Kama’aina Lounge, but the passage is still rough enough to require both priest and congregation to remain seated throughout, except for the Eucharist. The aging and unsteady are helped by those surer on their feet.
At 10:15,' when everyone has had time for breakfast, we hear the signal for today’s abandon-ship drill. We know the number of our muster stations from the back of our cabin door and have located the station ahead of time. We take a life jacket from the closet and put it on. A light and a whistle are attached.
The Coast Guard does not require that rafts be unpacked for every drill, because it’s an expensive process. However, lifeboats must be lowered, and that makes for some interesting pictures. I linger on long after the drill is over.
The Easter Bunny finds his way to the ship and delivers baskets to the children, an event I learn of only when the photos of the kids with the benevolent bunny appear in the gallery.
Linda brings word that Colleen has signed them up for the late dinner, so she can’t sit at the same table. She and Terry are at the Reagans’ table, and I wouldn’t think of asking her to forego the pleasure.
Somewhere along the line, I meet two more members of the Reagan tour group: Dana and Margaret. He’s a former banker, has lived in Pennsylvania, and now lives in Omaha. When he finds out that I used to teach literature, he asks whether I like Jack London. His favorite reading consists of adventure novels and nonfiction. The Call of the Wild isn’t one I care to hear, but it leads our conversation to Alaska and the week I spent in Fairbanks. Dana says that he’d like to go back to college or university and take some courses, but he’s afraid that he’d feel out of place with all those young people. I tell him that there are many older students these days, and he should go for it.
This is my day to explore the Independence independently instead of taking one of several tours conducted by a staff member. I forego shore excursions today for that purpose, and on Friday to ease the task of packing. I’ve chosen the less expensive and less strenuous tours for the other three days and go to the excursions office to turn in my applications.
Daily exercise is no problem with all the walking up and down stairs. The narrow passageways on port and starboard, with cabins on both sides, and the numbers of stairways create confusion. I’m grateful for the signs by the stairwells and the others pointing fore and aft to help us find our way. I walk the stairs instead of using elevators, which are usually in demand and sometimes unreliable. The side-to-side motion of the ship tends to put them out of order.
On Kauai deck, the lowest, I find the theater and the complimentary passenger laundry. Because these facilities are close together, one can load the washer or dryer and watch a movie while waiting. I see Forrest Gump and catch up on some old movies, From Here to Eternity, An Affair to Remember, and Gypsy.
By the end of my solo tour, I know the locations of three bars; two dining rooms, with the off-limits galley or kitchen between them; the ship-shape ship shops; two fresh-water swimming pools — in short, all of the amenities of life on land.
At our dinner table, we are a company of five women. Leslie lives in Fresno, and her stepmother Hazel in San Diego. Like me, they are members of the Reagan tour group. Elaine, from Ohio, has come with her sister-in-law Dorothy, who lives just across the border in Michigan. They have booked their tour independently and will stay on in Honolulu for a while after the tour ends.
The only time our dinner conversation exhibits any tension is when the subject of guns and hunting comes up in a remark made by Leslie. Elaine is quick to show just where she stands.
“I wonder how brave the great white hunters would be if we armed all the animals with guns so they could fight back,” she says. At that point, somebody guides the conversation into less controversial channels.
Like most events involving all the passengers, tonight’s captain’s reception is divided into two groups according to the hours of seating in the dining room. For me, that means reporting at 5:00 for cocktails with the captain and the other early diners.
Captain Richard Haugh, resplendent in white dinner jacket and black bow tie, is there to receive us. So is an omnipresent ship photographer. In fact, there must be a whole fleet of them, and every day they fill display cases in the gallery with more photos of daily events. Passengers may order 5x7 prints for $6.00 or two of the same shot for $5.50 each. Key chains are also available. The line for photos with the captain moves swiftly because the photographer is experienced and because drinks are waiting at the other end.
This is the single triumphant nanosecond for a female party of one, as I pose beside our gallant captain, whose abundant hair and silvery goatee are a testimony to the benefits of the nautical life. The cameraman, like my favorite news photographer, “One-Shot Blake,” needs no cheese for his expertise. One click of the shutter yields picture perfect, and the next party moves into focus. My head barely clears the captain’s shoulder.
During his brief welcome, Captain Haugh tells us that the Independence and her sister ship, the Constitution, are the only two American cruise ships with crews consisting entirely of American citizens.
Cruise ships are floating hotels, Captain Haugh says, and because of the convenience of travel without constant packing and unpacking, the cruise is the vacation of preference. He predicts that it will become increasingly popular.
Tuesday: Hilo, Hawaii
The bus leaves us at the Hilo Tropical Gardens, where visitors are allowed to walk without a guide, following the paths and signs. There are gorgeous views of Onomea Bay, several waterfalls, spectacular flowers, macaws in cages, and cranes in a lily pond. I’ve taken dozens of pictures. Now I’m headed back to the bus and the Independence.
On the shore-to-ship launch, I’m sitting back-to-back with a ruggedly handsome man I judge to be in his early 40s. I already know that his name is Wayne, because I’ve heard Ashley Reagan and her friends teasing him on the stairs. Wayne has thick, dark hair parted on the side and a beautiful tan set off by white Benetton shorts and a tiger-print shirt. But what interests me most is the passionate tone of his discourse. He’s talking to a young African-American woman wearing a turban and large hoop earrings. The subject seems to be disadvantaged youth. The woman nods her head, punctuating Wayne’s monologue with affirmative syllables.
“...you just give them a little love, and they spread their wings like a butterfly coming out of the chrysalis — they just take off....”
My takeoff is not quite so smooth. My bad foot makes de-boarding the launch tricky, because the boat lists and rolls and the gangplank is unsteady. I grab for any support as long as one is in sight, then brace for the last lunge. Just as I let go, Wayne is there, his arm reliable under my grip, his manner concerned. When I ask where he’s from, he says that he lives in Puyallup.
Leslie says that Wayne is a Big Brother. He has brought Joey, the boy I saw earlier with Ashley, and a teenage girl named Amber. Cameron Reagan, who will be 17 in less than a month, has found a girl I’ll meet later in the Aloha Tower Marketplace. All of the young people are having a marvelous time.
Five o’clock on Tuesday, and it’s cocktails with Mike and Colleen in the Commodore’s Lounge. (Is Captain Mike on the way up?) On one table, three kinds of drinks are set out on trays — one, a startling blue. On another rest 50 hardcover copies of Mike’s On the Outside Looking In, to be distributed to guests and signed by the author. I see that I should have brought my copy after all.
Mike, at ease in a green-and-coral print shirt with dress shorts, responds to a guest’s question about what he did that day.
“I took the helicopter tour of the volcano,” Mike says. “Colleen advises her clients not to take that tour,” he adds, “so that’s what I did.” His questioner wonders at Mike’s daring, so I feed him another cue: “Well, you used to race boats, didn’t you?”
This gives Mike a chance to say that he raced boats, sponsored by individual or corporate donors, as a way of raising money for charity.
The Reagans talk with the photographer about the best place to take pictures. As the now-experienced party of one, I stand between Mike and Colleen, an arm about each shoulder.
Then I head for a Blue Hawaiian and take my drink to a far table to join Dana and Margaret. Dana and I have a serial conversation going. Topic: the adventure novels he favors. When he mentions Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (a book that influenced Melville), I see the mimeographed pages of the St. Mary’s Academy high school book report list — a document I hadn’t thought of in years — nearly 60, to be exact.
Michael asks the bartender for a Chardonnay, which is delivered from another room. The glass sits on a table, largely untouched, while Michael greets guests, poses for photos, and signs books. Meanwhile, Colleen sees that each guest is welcomed. They make a smooth team. With the book, each of us receives “Michael’s Monthly Monitor” for April. (Postpaid, $39.95.)
The issue carries a picture of the spotted owl on the cover with the headline, “Killer Owl Destroys Whole Towns.” Below that, a smaller subhead: “The Spotted Owl: Endangered or Endangering Species.”
Prompted, no doubt, by this reminder, Dan (not to be confused with Dana) says, “I don’t see why they can’t just cut down some of the trees and leave the big, old ones, like the redwoods.” The only thing in the way, I want to say, is the ecosystem, but I hold my tongue and continue to discuss unrelated fictions.
Later, I hear him explain to someone that he’s really not Irish, in spite of his name. He’s Greek. Somewhere back in the endangered family tree, a forebear changed the name to avoid discrimination.
During a lull in the conversation, I say to Colleen, “I’ve been wondering how you write a book with someone.” I add, “I’m a writer. That is, I write poems. I used to teach poetry workshops in the university before I retired.” My question draws a flicker of anxiety, followed by a loyal, wifely response. “Oh, he did it himselfl He talked it into a tape recorder.” Joe Hyams merely arranged and edited Mike’s words.
I want to ask Mike how his talk show started, so I’m glad when he tells us to sit down while he talks. He begins by saying that everyone wants to know how his talk show started.
“I owe my career as a talk-show host to Colleen’s showing up late for a lunch date,” Mike says. “No, really!” He explains that while he was waiting in the restaurant, someone came along and asked whether he’d ever considered doing a talk show. By the end of that encounter, a program was in the works.
“We formed MCR International,” Mike says. “We would have put Colleen’s name first, but CMR was already taken. We started with just five stations.
“They wanted to do the show from San Diego,” Mike continues, “but Colleen refused to move to San Diego.” Later, Mike was offered a show, live, from Wisconsin.
“But I knew that if Colleen wouldn’t move to San Diego, she sure as hell wasn’t going to move to Milwaukee.”
Later, in the photo gallery, I’ll meet a woman from Wisconsin. When we compare our tour affiliations, she waxes indignant at mention of Mike’s name. “I think he’s obnoxious!” “What makes you say that?” I ask. “I think he’s quite personable.” “Well,” she says, “my husband and I were standing in line, and he went right to the head of the line as if he owned the place.” She adds that he filled in briefly on her local radio station, and she didn’t like him. She turns to me accusingly.
“And I didn’t like that couple from Seattle either. They argued all the time. I guess they thought that made the show interesting.”
Colleen suggests that I send my other copy of Mike’s book by the cabin steward, and she’ll get Mike to sign and return it so I can use it as a gift.
Forty-five minutes is a short time for a cocktail party, especially in view of everything being crowded into this one. Once started, Mike warms to his talk. I can see Leslie’s face on the other side of the room, rapt with homage. I’m fidgeting with my watch, already 15 minutes late for dinner. Colleen is aware and will probably do something, but I decide to slip out as unobtrusively as possible.
In the dining room, only Dorothy and Elaine sit at our table. After waiting 10 minutes or more, they’ve ordered and have just been served. They apologize for not waiting, but how could they know whether we were coming at all. Shortly after I order, Leslie appears. Colleen must have let Mike know that it was time to conclude his talk.
There’s still an empty place at our table, and it has become a ritual to inquire after Leslie’s mother. Because Hazel suffers from a disease in the MS family that affects equilibrium, it’s no surprise that Saturday night’s rough waters made her seasick. Even crew members succumb, and the ship’s doctor is among the afflicted. But as Hazel’s illness continues, the doctor decides that she has a virus and administers antibiotics. He’s new onboard, and Hazel is his first patient.
Today I’m taking the bus to Haleakala. Two or three years ago, I spent three weeks on Maui with a friend whose parents own a condo there. My main reason for going back is to take a picture beside a sign that reads, DANGER: WALK SLOWLY AT THIS ELEVATION. It strikes me as symbolic for the poet, and I want some prints to send to friends without having to bother the original photographer for the negative.
Arrived at the mountain; I look in vain at the area surrounding the station house. Maybe it was higher up, through the volcanic rock. At considerable risk to my crippled foot, I climb almost all the way up, over rocks, without a handhold. Near the summit, I ask a climber on the way down whether there are any signs up there. “I didn’t see any,” he says.
Back to the station house. I ask a second bus driver about the sign. “Oh,” he says, “it was over there [pointing], but they took it down a year ago.” So much for poetic signs.
In the dining room, the legendary Hazel has materialized. Attractively dressed and groomed, she is seated in what has been an empty chair. Her walker, discreetly folded, rests against a nearby wall.
Hazel praises the doctor and the cabin attendant. Everyone has treated her with the utmost care and concern. Now she is ready to make up for lost time. As the first step in that direction, she orders a mai tai. The drinks come with tiny parasols that open and close. Leslie and I are collecting them for the kids in our lives.
Early this morning I take a launch ashore and walk along the beach until it’s time to board the boat for the whale watch. Although it’s late in the season, we do see some near the smaller whale-research boat. However, they are so far away and so unstable that I can’t get a picture. I do take shots of the Independence and the Maui hills before catching the noon launch back to the ship.
Just as I’m changing clothes in my cabin, the phone rings. “Are you expecting a visitor?”
“Not unless her name is Joan.” My friend from Washington, who goes to Hawaii every year, has spoken of visiting the ship, but I don’t really believe she’ll find me. Now I see that I was wrong.
“Go to the purser’s office,” my caller says, “and get a pass for your friend. Then come down to the gangway.”
Our meeting is like that of a released hostage and his family. For the next two hours, I’m a party of two. Two poets adrift on a sea of turbulent prose, as we catch up on each other’s lives. Joan wants to buy me a drink to celebrate, so we head for the Surfrider Bar.
On the way, I’m explaining the ship’s cash-caveat plan. As we approach the bar, Joan says, “We can put it on your account, and I can give you the money.” A gray-haired man turns on his barstool to check us out. He looks at the bartender. “Give these ladies a drink and put it on my tab.”
We take our mai tais to a table and talk excitedly for a while. When we’ve finished our drinks, I give Joan a tour of my cabin and the rest of the ship. She has a camera, too, and we take pictures of each other with both cameras. Two hours melt away, and we return to the gangway, where a crew member offers to photograph us together with Joan’s camera and mine. Then he gives back her driver’s license, held to keep her from becoming a stowaway. She boards the launch, waving good-bye all the way.
Our luggage must be outside the cabin door by midnight. That means everything I use between midnight and disembarkation (strange word!) must fit in my overnight bag or my purse. This calls for serious organizing, and I spend the morning sorting and packing, doing laundry, sending postcards. I make my daily nine rounds of the boat deck, have lunch, and wander outside.
On Ohana deck, Wayne is taking the sun, stretched out in his swim trunks in a chaise lounge. With the beginnings of a pot, he’s less than the Adonis I first noticed, but he’s just as intense in his narrative.
Word of Wednesday’s Oklahoma City bombing has filtered onto the ship. I take a deck chair nearby, careful not to interrupt Wayne’s story. He’s apparently responding to someone who can’t understand how a U.S. citizen — a former military man at that — could commit a terrorist act, predictable enough for an Iraqi. Wayne doesn’t condone the crime but tries to make it comprehensible. He’s telling a complicated story of the FBI, Randy Weaver, and Ruby Ridge.
Wayne says that federal agents were trying to recruit Randy Weaver as an informant on white supremacists in Idaho. When Weaver refused, the FBI set him up for a gun violations charge by asking him to blunt the edges of gun barrels he had sawed off to exactly the legal limit. Then the agents threatened to charge him with federal arms violations, and the rest, as they say, is history. All this, according to Wayne, not to mention Waco, is enough to make a terrorist of an American.
“Where do you read all this?” I ask when Wayne finally reaches a pause. I’m thinking of the “ideological press,” a term Michael Kelly uses in The New Yorker for the alternative media.
“Oh, it’s out there if you’re interested,” Wayne says cryptically.
“How long has the FBI been doing this kind of thing?” I ask.
“Well, it goes back at least as far as Hoover.”
I bite my tongue to keep from pushing things too far by asking, “Herbert or J. Edgar?”
Hazel makes it to dinner again this evening. At 79, she considers herself entitled to carry on mild flirtations with the staff, pretending to arrange clandestine meetings, posing for snapshots, and, in general, livening up the dinner hour for the rest of us. Her favorite is Joe, whose entrance line the first few days is “I’m nonalcoholic beverages.” Joe and Hazel decide that they look like mother and son and pose for a portrait to prove it. Meanwhile, a woman at a neighboring table browns at the hilarity coming from ours.
When I meet Joe elsewhere on the ship, he tells me that he’s a high school biology teacher saving up money for a European trip.
Saturday: Honolulu, Hawaii
We’re required to be off the ship by 9:00 a.m. so the crew can get ready for the next cruise and its consignment of passengers. Attendants at the Aloha Pier will check the bags transported there while we sleep and will also receive our carryon luggage. Once we’ve taken care of that and requested a shuttle bus ticket for the airport, we’re on our own for the day.
My flight doesn’t leave until 11:00 p.m., so I spend the time from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., when the last shuttle leaves for the airport, at the Aloha Market Mall. I take pictures of the Independence from shore, visit all of the shops several times, discover the first real espresso I’ve found in the islands (served by a young man from Starbucks country), have a late lunch at a seafood restaurant, write a few postcards, read a little, and talk to fellow cruisers in the waiting room.
Two African-American women from Chicago are watching a limo draw up to the station. A porter carries the passenger’s bags to the check stand.
“That’s how we could do it if we had lots of money,” one of the women says ruefully.
I ask them whether they enjoyed the cruise. They did, but it wasn’t a match for another one they took on the Holland-America Line.
“Seems like they were just a better class of people there,” one woman says.
I strike up a conversation with a couple from New York— “near Long Island.” Their daughter, 14, clutches a piece of paper with Cameron Reagan’s address. Her mother says that the girl thinks Cameron may be related to President Reagan.
“I told her that thousands of people have the Reagan name,” the mother says, certain that it’s only a girlish fantasy.
“Your daughter is right,” I tell the parents. “Cameron is the son of Mike Reagan, the former president’s adopted son.” The conversation moves to Wayne. The mother has all the distrust that big-city parents need to protect their offspring. She’s critical of Wayne’s sharing a cabin with the teenagers. He allows them to stay up too late. He is nonchalant about their going ashore in the evening. The father is even stronger in his condemnation. He calls Wayne a “pathological liar.”
I can’t allow such charges to go unchallenged and ask for an instance.
“He said they were going to turn the ship around.”
The wife dismisses this example. “Oh, he was probably joking,” she says. But the father repeats his judgment without further examples. He served in military intelligence during the Vietnam War. His metier is suspicion.
And that brings us, full circle, to paranoia in Paradise. To the madness, folly, and unreason that, in Foucault’s judgment, characterize the human condition. In a recent New Yorker article, Michael Kelly coins the term “fusion paranoia” for the suspicion that has united extremists on left and right and infiltrated the more moderate citizenry between. Steadily gaining adherents, the voice of Captain Mike rises above the clamor. And if it is not always the voice of perfect reason, it has at least the advantage of giving its listeners the hope that their voices will be heard.