Note: Another snippet from the work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo, this one involving the dark savagery of an unsupervised food frenzy. Background detail: It’s still the first day of our cruise…
And the next lesson in our Carnival syllabus involves an introduction to the wildlife species known as the Buffet Buffalos. Your first encounter with these animals can be quite startling, especially if no one has bothered to adequately prepare you for what these animals do in their native habitat. It doesn’t matter how faithfully you have watched programs on the National Geographic channel, you have not encountered a species like this unless you’ve been on an all-inclusive cruise.
Firstly, these are very impatient creatures, hopping from one foot to another in anticipation, craning their necks to better study the freshly laid-out grub ahead, and knocking the civilized people about, completely unaware that they are practically drooling down the back of your neck and letting loose with primal grunts. The only slightly-comparable scenario that comes to mind involves primitive man in the Paleolithic Era chasing down a woolly mammoth whilst waving spears, only in this case the spears are forks.
Secondly, the Buffet Buffalos go completely insane once the line moves forward enough that they can actually begin shoveling food onto their surfboard-size plate, serving themselves mountains of steaming everything, with juices and gravy splashing all over the place. Their plates will become so heavy that they can’t even carry them, and instead start shoving them down the buffet counter from one serving station to another, piling on more grease-drenched this and fat-based that.
It is completely unbelievable the first time you see this.
Tiffany and I just look at each other, stunned. What happened to these people in their lives that made them be such gluttonous pigs? I understand poverty, and if anybody is not getting enough food to survive on a daily basis, that’s an issue that society needs to work toward eliminating, it’s the right thing to do. But if you can afford to be on this boat, you’re getting enough food in your life. You are not going to die if you don’t have chicken-fried steaks stacked up like pancakes. Go back to wherever you came from and start over.
Eventually, despite the lunacy, Tiffany and I make it to the end of the buffet cattle run. We hoist our trays with their modest and responsible portions (See? You don’t have to have a bucket of potato salad on your plate.) and then search for the tiny speck of niece waving at us from the far-distant table that she has commandeered. There she is, a little blip of yellow in a sea of wide-open mouths, frantically signaling that we had best get over there now or she was going to lose her territorial grip on the coveted empty table.
The journey to this table takes a bit longer than we care for it to take. There are people everywhere, with over-excited children, further stimulated by the free ice cream gushing out of self-serve machines, dashing about and bouncing off things like a giant pinball machine. One innovative little urchin even plops his empty juice box on my tray before scampering toward an older brother urging him to hurry up before anyone made them stop having fun. The half-squished box has what looks like a picture of a drunken monkey dancing around whilst sipping from a coconut. I really want to be that monkey right now.
We actually make it out of the buffet-area proper without any bloodshed, and we relax slightly. Now that we’re away from the grunting and pillaging at the food stations, things have got to get better, or at least less carnage-based. This Pollyanna rationale is destroyed almost immediately. There’s a roar like a subway train hurtling into Grand Central Station, and we are overpowered by a pack of buffet buffalos who are actually headed back to the line to fill up another tray, before they’ve even touched the first one, in case something goes horribly wrong and the endless food stops pouring out of the kitchen for two seconds.
Tiffany and I are now salmon swimming upstream in a river full of ricocheting boulders. Someone screams (possibly me, no shame here) and we cling to each other in mindless fear, but still manage to keep our trays upright so we don’t lose our food, because if we lived through this unnatural disaster we might need something to keep our strength up when the CNN reporter interviewed the survivors. Eventually, the subway rumbles past us and we are still miraculously standing. I glance down at my tray to make sure the shrimp salad is still fresh, and I notice that an additional empty juice box has somehow been added to my meal, nestled alongside its cousin. I don’t even bother to wonder how or why.
We keep moving, because to do otherwise would give us too much time to think about poor vacation choices. So we re-grip our trays and re-holster our carry-ons. (Yes, we still have no place to put those damn carry-ons, the things we stuffed completely full on the off chance that something would go awry and our actual luggage would end up on a forlorn dock in Serbia, because the rooms aren’t ready yet. This is a little factoid that Carnival keeps on the down-low, the business about having to lug around bulging sacks of personal items for hours on end while the rooms are prepped and the buffalo roam. If I had known about this arrangement, I would have shoved a bottle of anxiety meds in my pocket and called it good, screw the carry-on.
But let’s get back to the scene of the crime. Tiffany and I are gripped and holstered, and we bravely march on, swatting aside the airborne juice boxes now headed my way due to a trending topic on some underage social media website. We are hot and sweaty and tired, struggling to keep everything from sliding off our trays in a devastating food-loss incident and stiffening our shoulders to stop our carry-ons from whacking innocent grandmas in the back of the head. It’s a lot of unwelcome responsibility. And the soundtrack of our journey is not a nice, instrumental composition involving woodwinds and a Celtic harp, it’s the ceaseless, irritating drone of hundreds of strangers babbling about nothing and not contributing to society in any way. Such joy.
Years later, we finally reach the niece who has been trying to save a place for all of us to sit, despite the therapy and counseling she may now need. In an enterprising move on her part, because none of the seating configurations were designed for mammoth parties of 15, she has shoved together several mushroom tables that only accommodate 2 or 3 people at a time, and then poured a circle of voodoo-hinting salt around the assembled mushrooms in order to keep the wolves at bay. Once the rest of the family begins to trickle in, she makes a keening noise of complete dissatisfaction with her lot in life and then immediately races off to parts unknown. It’s entirely possible that we may never see her again.
Tiffany and I survey the mushroom field, and we quickly surmise that there aren’t two adjacent seating opportunities currently available, what with the random way the rest of the family members have plunked themselves down in a combination of defeatism and an instinctual need for sustenance. This won’t do. We have been through entirely too much mayhem in the past few hours, and it is imperative that we sit together and discuss the alarming nuances of the day or our heads will explode from all the bitter, unexpressed emotions bubbling in our brains.
Then we notice a forlorn mushroom table that has been knocked about during the niece’s frantic reconfiguration, with said table leaning against the wall of this vast room, lodged just beneath a panoramic window. It appears that the table is yearning to hurl itself through the glass and plummet into the ocean below. Since we fully understand this sentiment, we develop an immediate bond with the unjustly-treated piece of furniture, and we lovingly return it to an upright position, caressing the battle-scarred surface with tenderness. Then we slam our food trays down on the table and take a seat.
Thusly ensconced, Tiffany and I turn our attention to the task at hand, which is the consumption of the potential caloric intake that we have hauled across the endless expanse of this floating continent. In an interesting turn of events, we find that we are not all that invested in scarfing down the culinary treasures that we have managed to harvest from the buffet line, despite the Neanderthals grunting and shoving. To be fair, the sample bites that we took of the edible concoctions proved quite pleasing, rather delicious, actually, but there just seemed to be something not right, some overlooked element.
Then we hear someone clear their throat, and we look up. A smiling Carnival person is standing there, bearing a tray with large, tropical, probably adult-oriented drinks. A small sign on the tray announces that these little jewels are nine bucks a piece, further bolstering their possible adultness. Perhaps we have just found the missing link.
“Do those things have alcohol?” I query, tremulous with anticipation.
“Yes, sir. They have rum and vodka and-”
“I’ll take five of them. Tiffany, you want anything?”
Story behind the photo: Another image that I’ve used before in a different context, as I couldn’t find any photos featuring a juice box, my original goal. I can assure you that nobody’s plate in said Hellish Emporium looked this neat and orderly…
Categories: Work In Progress