Acid Trip

Nexium

When I lost my voice for three months last year, I was forced to host 20 comedy shows per cruise sounding like Kathleen Turner. This confused the hell out of our guests because I look like Ellen DeGeneres.

Some nights my voice was so hoarse I had to rely on hand gestures to communicate. Fortunately, the gestures required for dealing with drunken hecklers at a midnight comedy show are the same gestures required for merging into rush-hour traffic, so they were already second nature.

Although I knew something was wrong, it was my fiancée, Željka, who finally convinced me to seek medical attention after listening to me croak and rasp like an 80-year-old  nine-pack-a-day smoker. She was afraid of what would happen to our relationship if I lost the ability to talk completely: If I lost the ability to talk, she’d lose the ability to get mad at every single stupid thing I say, thus robbing her of life’s greatest joy.

So, in order to give Željka hope that I would soon be spewing my “idiotic bull crap” at full volume again, I went down to the infirmary to get checked out. After poking a flashlight the size of a pop bottle down my throat, the ship’s physician told me I had strained my vocal chords and suggested I refrain from all unnecessary talking.  Vocal rest, the good doctor assured me, would be the key to my recovery. Unfortunately, as anyone who knows me will testify, I’m incapable of telling the difference between necessary and unnecessary talking. My mouth has four gears: “Lecture,” “Rant,” “Jeremiad” and “Filibuster.” There is no “Rest.” Even with laryngitis, I make David Lee Roth look Like Marlee Matlin.

After a month of taking enough antibiotics to make my tongue look like a slice of moldy Wonder Bread, gargling enough warm salt water to grow gills, sipping enough hot tea and honey to stop raising eyebrows whenever I waddled into the staff mess wearing my “Winnie the Pooh” feety pajamas, and writing down everything I needed to say offstage into a notebook like Max von Sydow’s character in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, there was no improvement whatsoever with my voice. So, although the doctor wasn’t thrilled with the idea of my being able to babble on and on and on about nothing again, he offered me two choices:

1)    Talk out of my ass. (“Hey, you’ve made a career of it—why stop now?!”)

2)   See a specialist.

Since I didn’t want to compete with old pros such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, I selected Option Two.  The following Tuesday, the port agent escorted me to an Ear, Nose and Throat clinic in St. Thomas, where I took a battery of tests which culminated in the pleasant experience of having the specialist— his “specialty” being advanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo—snaking a fiber-optic camera up the size of  a Twizzler up through my nose, on through my nasal cavity and down into my throat to take a peek at my vocal chords.

Mistaking my gasps for air for curiosity, he kindly allowed me to watch the camera’s journey on a high-def video screen. Ordinarily, I would have been too squeamish to explore my own throat via Nostril Cam but I recently started watching reruns of “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” so I can handle anything.

Sure enough, my vocal chords were bright red. What was left of them, that is. Turns out, I had undetected Acid Reflux Disease and my stomach had spent the previous few months shooting acid up through my esophagus, splashing it all over my beleaguered vocal chords and, basically, incinerating them. (The official medical term for this condition is “twerking.”)

After my exam, the specialist wrote me a prescription for Prevacid and gave me a long list of food and beverages I have to stay away from: “OK, Jeffrey: no beer, no wine; no Coke, no Pepsi; no orange juice, no grapefruit; no chicken wings, no hot sauce; no chocolate, no mint…”

“Doc,” I said, “I might as well kill myself.”

“OK, it’s your life. But no arsenic, no chlorine, no strychnine….”

A year and four visits to the clinic later, I finally have my Acid Reflux Disease under control and my voice is as loud and clear and strident and grating and annoying as ever. After going in for a checkup this past Tuesday, turns out the only things I’ve been doing wrong are lying down after I eat, eating right before going to bed, and eating anything cooked on the ship since our Indian chefs can’t seem to serve so much as a bowl of sliced peaches in syrup without adding enough curry to power a nuclear sub.

Fortunately, I have enough Prevacid to last me while on vacation for the next two months. Of course, if I run out, I can always borrow some of my Dad’s Nexium like I did the last time I was home. We never went hunting or fishing when I was a kid; but, now that I’m in my late 40’s, we’re making up for lost time in the bonding department by sharing prescription medication.

That’s how much my parents love me. They’re willing to help me control my Acid Reflux Disease when it’s the only thing in the past 48 years that’s been able to shut me up.

‘Twas the SEAson

SEA-sons Greetings

It’s hard to believe the holidays are over already. Perhaps if I were to take the Christmas decorations down in my cabin, it would feel more like the twelfth day of 2014. But seeing how my New Year’s resolution was to be a lazy as possible, I don’t want to quit while I’m on a roll.

Besides, I’ve gotten used to having a life-sized snowman on my wall. Sometimes, when life at sea gets particularly stressful, “Frosty” will come to life and cheer me up. Why, just the other day, I said, “Frosty, last night, a guest walked straight to the front of the long line of guests waiting to get into the comedy club, stood just to the left of the line and informed me that she was ready to be seated. When I told her that she was going to have the join the back of the line, she said, ‘How was I supposed to know this long line winding all the way down Promenade Deck from the casino to the comedy club was the line for the comedy club? Nobody told me that that line was the line for the comedy club. If I had known that that line was the line for the comedy club and not just some random line that just so happened to start at the entrance of the comedy club, I would have joined it.  But since nobody told me that that was the line for the comedy club, I decided to start a line of my own right here—so you should make those other four hundred people standing in a single file line starting at the entrance of the comedy club for no apparent good reason get in line behind me!’”

“Frosty,” I said. “How does somebody that stupid make it to her 40’s without sticking her tongue in a light socket, let alone afford to go on a cruise?!”

Doing his best Johnny Cochran impersonation, Frosty smiled at me said, “Fun Dude, when you’re talking to a decoration, it’s time for a vacation!”

Since joining my cruise line in 2007, I’ve spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s at sea. Fortunately, our ship attracts so many difficult and demanding guests during the holidays that it feels as if I’m back home with my family.

It’s not hard to get into the Christmas spirit on our ship. Wherever you turn you’ll see beautiful decorations, hear your favorite carols and observe diminutive Indonesian housekeepers in over-sized Santa hats cleaning up after sloppy Americans like so many disgruntled elves, singing:

Why am I such a misfit?

These rednecks are all such nitwits!

Why can’t they clean up their own s**t?

I should have become a dentist!

Staff members are encouraged to participate in the cabin door decorating contest every Christmas. It’s hard to pick a winner since we all put so much time and effort into lovingly and enthusiastically decorating our doors as uniquely and distinctively as possible, using the exact same decorations as everyone else since we all take the same exact shuttle bus to the same exact Wal-Mart and browse the same exact Christmas department in the same exact door decorations aisle. The winner gets a $25 gift certificate to Target, which is a $30 cab ride from Wal-Mart.

My Croatian fiancée Željka loves Christmas so much that I decorate our entire cabin for her. This year I spent around $100 on “Frosty the Snowman” wall art, “Santa” and penguin mirror clings, fake snow spray, a wreath, a manger, a “Nutcracker” nutcracker, “Merry Christmas” bath towels and throw rugs, garland, ornaments, Christmas stockings, a poinsettia, loads of Christmas candy and a tiny stuffed “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” who, by peeking his cute little face over the rim of a giant red and white ceramic coffee mug bearing his name, caused Željka to emit squeals of Yuletide delight. The only thing I didn’t buy was mistletoe. Instead, I just hung my “chestnuts,” which—if you haven’t guessed—Željka removed from me years ago.

Our annual Christmas show in the main theater is so much fun I always volunteer as an usher. I love watching proud and loving parents tear up as they watch their small children, who rehearse all week up in our youth camp, sing their hearts out like cute little angels. Cute little tone-deaf angels accompanied by a backing track of the Vienna Boys Choir that masks their angelic, off-key ululations so convincingly that proud and loving parents don’t have to drop their expensive video cameras in order to stuff their proud and loving fingers into their ears so as to prevent their proud and loving brains from turning into figgie pudding. At the end of the show, team members representing over 50 countries where Christmas obviously isn’t celebrated walk down the aisles holding battery operated candles, singing “Silent Night” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” And, by singing, I mean standing there with confused looks on their faces, not knowing where to stand or which direction to face since the team members who volunteered for the show aren’t the same team members who volunteered for rehearsal.

Just because our cruise line makes a big deal out of Christmas doesn’t mean we forget our Jewish guests. We celebrate all eight days of Hanukkah with a ceremony at sundown usually hosted by Yours Truly due to the fact that I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. Although I was raised Catholic, I was allowed to go to my friends’ houses for Hanukkah because each of my parents had a very open mind about religion and an even more open mind about getting the kids out of the house for a couple of hours.

Our Jewish guests really love our Hanukkah ceremonies because it allows them to do what they do best: gather around the menorah—in this case a fifteen-foot-high electric version with light bulbs that last about as long as snowflakes in a heated garage—and complain about the recipe our Indian chef used for the latkes. We even leave the Menorah lit through Christmas and New Year’s so our Jewish guests can take part in the holiday season by going down to Guests Services and complaining that the menorah is not supposed to stay lit past the last day of Hanukkah.

If there’s one thing to really look forward to during the holidays it’s the incredible holiday feasts waiting for us in the staff mess. We get turkey, stuffing, gravy, grilled shrimp, frozen shrimp and various cakes, pies and ice creams for dessert. To top it off, they serve us free beer, wine and soda pop. All we have to do is be one of the first twenty people in line because all the good stuff is gone in five minutes.

Our New Year’s cruise is always a blast. I can’t think of a better way of ringing in the new year than by reveling among more than 4,000 cheering guests and crew members under the stars on Lido Deck, listening to the show band break into “Auld Lang Syne” as Željka throws a full glass of champagne in my face because I had the audacity to let some “cross-eyed Russian whore” kiss me on the cheek at midnight.

Would I have I rather been home for the holidays? Brother, I was home. And I can hardly wait till next year.