Write the Next Chapter

Holland America: Write the Next Great Chapter in Your Life Story
This ad appeared in the August 28, 2016, issue of the New York Times Magazine

Chapter 17
In Which I Stow Away Aboard a Cruise Ship

The Army had been a lot of fun—more than I expected. But as I neared my 70th birthday, I found myself growing footloose, and increasingly drawn to the ancient, briney call of the sea.

And so I decided to go to sea the only way an old rug salesman like me knew how. I stowed away on a luxury cruise ship. Using a trick I’d picked up from old “Rug Burn Ricky” back when I was working the Des Moines rug rackets, I rolled myself up in a nice nice red-and-white lambswool Persian, with a sign that read “free rugs for cruise guests—JUST TAKE ONE,” and leaned myself against the dock.

I had some truly memorable experiences in my time aboard that ship. One night, I had a few too many piña coladas at the pool bar, broke into the house band’s practice room, and destroyed all their violins. It was embarrassing, to say the least. But at least I’d finally taken revenge on violins for what they did to me back at The Institute in Vienna.

Another time, I met a young newlywed couple on deck and followed them around all week, snapping candid pics while cruise security haplessly tried to apprehend me. (I got in regular cat-and-mouse games with Inspector Vermeer and his cruise security goons, but they never had a chance—I knew every hidden passageway and broom closet on that ship.)

I spent four years aboard the MS Rotterdam. I met everyone on the ship, from the captain on down to the feral children who lived in the air ducts. I drank every drink, ate every entrée, and watched every show. I even got arrested on an excursion, in a lovely seaside town along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. When I was booked into the town’s small, single-cell jail, none other than Professor Rawlings was sitting there, cleaning his nails with a toothpick! Even though his eyebrows had grown back in quite nicely, he was still pretty angry with me, even after all those years. But after a few tense minutes in which he tried to gut me with a sharpened spoon, things cooled off, and we shared stories about our good old freewheelin’ days back at at IBM, before the suits took over.

My time living the cruise ship lifestyle really took an interesting turn when the captain fell seriously ill after eating some of the scrambled egg preserves I’d brought aboard as emergency rations. “Harvey,” he said, because I’d been telling everyone aboard my name was Harvey, “I’m too dizzy to steer the ship through this iceberg field. And you’re the only one who can do it. Just remember everything I taught you.”

I didn’t remember anything he’d taught me, but this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I donned his spare captain’s uniform, went to the bridge, and took the wheel. But that’s a tale for Chapter 18, “In Which I Make a ‘Titanic’ Mistake.”

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