On my dad's 60th birthday my family celebrated by 
taking a pleasure cruise to Alaska. The ship departed 
from Seattle. Boarding was an unpleasant experience. 
We were shuffled like cattle over the gangway. Most of 
my fellow passengers were well into adulthood. Their 
bunions or other old-age ailments must have been 
acting up because they were in foul moods, especially 
surprising since they were supposed to be on vacation. 
When senior citizens retire they need to find new ways 
to take up their time. This seems to be done by 
complaining about everything. It was early in the 
morning so I put on my sunglasses and tried to shut my 

 I didn’t have the right papers. I had to stand in a 
special line for over an hour. There were more 
complaints and misunderstandings. My mum is Irish, the 
reason for the wrong passport- as I was told, even 
though there is nothing wrong with an E.U. passport 
that hasn’t expired, and my father is a wealthy 
American businessman with many dealings around the 
world. This unique and not exactly exotic pairing has 
allowed me to grow up and study in such exciting and 
culturally rich places like London, Paris, New York 
and Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

 I have the international view of a nomadic traveler. I 
am sensitive to other cultures and their people. I 
traveled around the world a few times and have done it 
mostly on my own. I’m not a fan of the prepackaged 
tour- The Blitzkrieg of seeing Europe in five days.

 This was my first cruise. I found out rather quickly 
that I don’t like traveling in large groups. It 
reminds me of when I lived in Paris and a huge tour 
bus would stop on a small side street and all these 
Americans would exit the bus and immediately begin to 

 If a question was directed at me as I was passing I 
pretended I didn’t understand English. They were 
usually asking where the nearest McDonald’s toilet 
was. McDonald’s toilets come with a bowl to sit your 
ass on, instead of the Parisian Turkish style of 
two-foot rests and a hole, found in most cafes. This 
lesson should have taught me that when Americans 
travel they want to see something new as long as it 
doesn’t lead to any inconvenience. American tourists 
want their foreign places to be different and exactly 
the same.

 The crew on the boat was young and international. They 
all wore polyester uniforms with nametags that stated 
their birthplace. Most came from impoverished Asian 
countries or old Eastern European blocs. There was 
stratification reminiscent of the class struggle in 
India, a strict caste with no upward mobility. The 
crew was expected to know their place.

 The captain and his mates were the heads of State, 
tall proud Norwegians who have diplomatic flair. The 
captain made reports on the loud speaker and gave 
public appearances. You could have your picture taken 
with him if you wanted.

 The few Americans, British, and Swedish were the 
cruise directors. They tended to be social butterflies 
and had endless patience. I stayed far away from them. 
I don’t trust people who have permanent smiles.

 Then there were the servers who I interacted with, 
friendly and devoted young people from The 
Philippines, Russia, China, and Poland who worked in 
service, in the bars and restaurants or in the gaming 
room. They always had a drink ready for me. I wasn’t 
allowed to tip but once in a while I threw in a few 
bucks which I think they appreciated. A smile and a 
‘thank you’ were always welcome, but U.S. currency 
goes farther.

 The ships’ equivalent of The Untouchables, the lowest 
class, was a random group mostly from North Africa and 
Sri Lanka. These people were left to clean the room, 
change the linen and perform other tedious tasks day 
in and day out.

 There was a young chambermaid and everyday we 
exchanged glances. I hoped these might be meaningful 
glances full of offers of lustful intimacy but I think 
she was just another pretty girl being shy and polite, 
going through her routine, not sharing her far away 
private dreams.

 They say that 80% of Americans are obese. I think that 
all 80% of those Americans were on that ship. At first 
I was a little overwhelmed and wondered how we were 
going to stay afloat. Some of the passengers seemed to 
have come on that cruise for the sole purpose of 

 When they served lunch, many people trampled to the 
buffet. I soon learned that many of the passengers on 
the ship suffered from a condition known as Buffet 
Aggression Disorder. B.A.D. happens when too many 
people try to stuff their faces too quickly. They act 
like they are starving and that the food is in low 
supply, when in reality they ate to major capacity 
only a few hours prior and there is no way the ship is 
going to run out of food. There are mounds of the 

 I sat back and observed in disgust. A poor Chinese 
crewmember was trying to make peace while the fatties 
were jockeying with their trays to be first in line. 
Her eyes widened with panic, as she was stricken with 
an anxiety attack. I’m sure she had never experienced 
anything like this before in her life. All the pre 
board training she went through couldn’t possibly 
prepare her for the spectacle of people suffering from 
B.A.D. I’m sure the poor girl ended up in the 
psychiatric sick bay.

 My family and I skipped the buffet and hit the top 
deck for drinks. There was a pool, a few hot tubs and 
shuffleboard. A band played Stayin' Alive in the 
sunshine. It was good to be back together again. My 
sister lives in Dallas and my parents are in 
Wisconsin. My brother and I live in Seattle. It was 
the first time in ten years we all got together when 
it wasn’t Christmas.

 My dad was not the only one celebrating a birthday. 
There was a group of young girls who were fifteen and 
wore bathing suits. The girls looked very alive and 
sensual with youth, their bodies full and fit. I was 
glad I brought my sunglasses.

 The birthday girl was tall and built for her age and 
had brilliant dark twinkling eyes and a broken arm. 
She would sit in the hot tub wearing a skimpy bikini, 
with her cast wrapped in a towel. She sipped Diet Coke 
and watched me typing. I would often lose myself and 
look back at her through my sunglasses. If I were her 
age she wouldn’t have the time of day for me and would 
have broken my heart.

 That night we found the Monte Carlo Casino. My sister 
Rachael, my brother Zac and my dad all put down $500 
for chips. I wandered off to get free drinks. 
Everything was getting put on the ship issued card, 
which goes to the cabin bill, so for me it's FREE! 
Rachael asked why I didn't want to play Blackjack. I 
told her betting is a lowly addiction of the common 
man. In reality, I don’t have the money saved to 
gamble. I’m not telling Rachael that. As my little 
sister she loves to brag about the difference in our 
incomes, how much more she makes than me.

 For a nightcap the pills came out. My brother had 
broken his leg snowboarding a month ago and my sister 
had a recent cosmetic surgery, so they had trouble 
sleeping. They had a pharmacy of Vicodine, Percoset, 
and Valium. When they weren’t looking I stole a few 
pills from each bottle. I wasn’t in any pain, but it 
always helps to be prepared.

 The first morning I got up and went running around the 
ship on deck 6. The weather changed and was a bit 
cool. We passed desolate islands lush with green 
shrubbery. After the run I went to the gym. I decided 
to get my upper body conditioned. At my age, and with 
a diet that includes as much beer as I drink, it’s 
easy to get flabby before you know it. Seeing the 
people on that ship I knew what I didn’t want to end 
up looking like.

 At the gym I learned of an on board Ping-Pong 
tournament. I was thinking I would teach these 
grandmas something, but when I got there, three Asian 
guys with their own paddles were doing calisthenics 
and warm up exercises. I have seen people show up to 
play tennis and pool with their own rackets and 
sticks, though this is the first time I ever saw 
Ping-Pong paddles protected by expensive leather. I 
was out of my league and lost in the first round.

 I signed up to take a glacier helicopter excursion. I 
looked at the brochure. It said all helicopter 
passengers weighing more than 250 pounds will be 
subject to an extra charge of 1/2 the ticket price. I 
hoped I wouldn’t get a fatty next to me. Once on top 
the glacier you could go for a dog sled. I hoped for 
the dogs’ sake there wouldn’t be any 250 pounders for 
them to pull.

 Getting five individuals who have nothing in common 
but shared bloodlines together was an interesting 
sociological experiment. Trying to organize the whole 
family to meet and eat at the same time proved 
difficult. This didn’t deter my father though. He kept 
telling me to "wait here" while he went to search the 
ship, a vessel of over 4,000 people and 12 decks. The 
rest of the family would arrive and my dad was now 
lost. To keep my sanity I smiled and continued to 
"wait here". I never went far without reading 
material. There is a lot of waiting around while 
traveling in a group.

 On the second night I walked around by myself to get 
some solitude. I saw a man videotaping the buffet. I 
went to get a piece of fresh fruit. The man was 
getting a close up shot of the mound of mashed 
potatoes. As I walked out with my banana he put down 
the video camera and grabbed his regular Instamatic to 
snap a photo of his wife. She smiled and dove into her 
heaping plate. The Chinese crewmember was nowhere to 
be seen.

 I went back to the casino to try my luck at Blackjack. 
Rachael saw me and asked about my convictions. I told 
her it’s not a gamble when you know you are going to 
win. Of course, I didn’t tell her I learned you can 
get a cash advance on the ship card and I am hoping 
for beginners luck. Rachael went away shaking her 
head, and it’s a good thing she did. My luck ran out 
fast. I don’t even know how to double down properly.

 My mum went to bed early. She doesn’t yield to the 
addictions the rest of us do. Zac was at the bar 
hitting on a bartender. My dad and Rachael continued 
to play. They are talented at cards and meet up at The 
Bellagio in Las Vegas a couple of times a year. They 
always play for hours and win loads.

 The first port we landed at was Juneau, Alaska. While 
the ship came through the narrow passageway it was 
breathtaking. I was outside on the top deck. It truly 
felt like God's country. The scenery was overwhelming 
in all its majestic glory. It gave me chills, and then 
I realized I was in shorts and a tee shirt looking at 
snow covered mountains and glaciers.

 I gave up on Ping-Pong. My next sport was to join a 
free throw contest. All you had to do to advance to 
the next round was make one basket out of three 
chances. I swear the ship moved every time I took a 
shot and that it stayed still for all the smug 
16-year-olds that made all three baskets. I went out 
in the first round again. I started to feel like that 
kid Max in Rushmore- enthusiastically trying all 
activities and failing miserably. The sports 
coordinator hung her head in shame and all she could 
say was, "not again".

 In Juneau there was an old time saloon where they have 
a gun from Wyatt Earp hanging over the bar. After the 
OK Corral the government put out a warrant for his 
arrest and set a posse on him. He came up to Alaska to 
become a U.S. Marshal. In the corner of the bar a man 
in red and white checked shirt and a top hat was 
playing piano in the old style of the era. I moseyed 
on over casual like for a closer inspection of this 
relic and I saw he was playing a Kurtzweil K2000, the 
kind of sophisticated keyboard that people make modern 
dance music with.

 Earlier, a girl working at the local pub told me every 
season people perish in violent ways. I decided to 
have five beers for courage. The girl wasn’t helping 
the situation. She said planes and helicopters fly 
into the sides of mountains they can’t see. I told her 
I’d be back and come say hello when I returned.

 It wasn’t until I was actually in the helicopter 
flying over glaciers and snow-covered mountains that I 
remembered I am afraid of heights. When the turbulence 
hit I thought I was going to lose my lunch. I wanted 
to go higher so we wouldn’t run into anything. I 
wanted to go lower so when the engine stopped we 
wouldn’t fall that far. And there was no visibility. 
How can you fly through clouds when you can’t see? 
Won’t we run into the mountains?

 We finally reached our destination. The pilot let us 
off and said we had an hour to go exploring but the 
weather wouldn’t hold so the dog sledding was 
cancelled. The first thing I did was to find a 
clearing to drain my bladder of beer. After the hour 
of half-heartedly looking around we returned to the 
pick up area. The pilot didn’t come back. I looked 
through the skies for the helicopter and all I saw was 
a thick white haze. It took another five hours before 
it was clear enough to be picked up. Most of the 
people in our group were stricken with grief and a lot 
of them started swearing. There was a lot of muttering 
God’s name, both in prayer and in vain. Just about 
everyone said Jesus Christ in one way or another.

 The people who weren’t swearing were talking survival 
tactics. This scared me because it had been the 
longest a few of them had gone without a meal this 
week and at any minute I thought they would draw 
straws and revert to cannibalism. It was with great 
relief when I first heard the choppers coming to the 
rescue. It reminded me of those Vietnam War movies 
where the pilots come to the rescue of the hero (I was 
the hero) under heavy artillery and pull him out in 
the last minute as the Vietcong surround.

 When we landed back in Juneau I went to look for the 
girl in the pub to tell her she could stop worrying 
for my safety. I had made it back alive. Her boss told 
me she had ended her shift half an hour ago and had 
gone home. I’m glad she didn’t needlessly worry about 

 The next town was the once booming, Skagway, Alaska, 
the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. It’s a 
beautiful tiny town at the tip of the Glacier Bay 
passage, surrounded by mountains and waterways, a once 
lawless startup full of gamblers, prostitutes and 
drinking. It sounded like my kind of place. Now about 
three families live there, and only during tourist 

 I took a train into the backcountry. It moved at a 
snails pace and once again the view ignited synapses 
in my brain and sent shivers down my spine. Alaska 
really does feel like the final frontier- but with 
bears instead of Klingons.

 One night was a bit magical in The Catcher in the Rye 
sense- when our young depressed anti-hero Holden is 
out playing catch with friends after dark. I had the 
same kind of fond memory with my brother Zac. We were 
playing shuffleboard and it got dark and started 
raining and it was very cold. We had a few beers and 
kept playing late into the evening.

 Zac and I have always had a strained relationship and 
usually when we play sports it gets even worse, us 
both being competitive and the whole older brother 
younger brother conflicts that go along with life. But 
this night we must have played fifty games and we 
talked about life and laughed at life and didn't 
mention anything from the past. It just felt really 
good. And no one got mad at losing. Probably because I 
won all the games, so I thought Zac was a better 
person than I am.

 Later that same night Zac came home pissed out of his 
head. In the morning I woke up around 4am to the sound 
of Zac actually pissing all over the cabin. He was 
stumbling around in a drunken stupor and never made it 
to the toilet.

 "What the hell are you doing?" I screamed.

 "Playing Blackjack," he mumbled.

 Once again the booze disoriented his infantile mind. I 
couldn't get back to sleep after that. As I was fuming 
I decided that he isn't a better person than I am 
after all.

 By the fifth day it was still cold, overcast and 
raining. At ten in the morning I had already had four 
wonderful warm drinks with hot cocoa, rum and whiskey 
called Chocolate Corvette, served to me by a friendly 
Jamaican woman who called both males and females 
‘Man!’ The drinks helped me stand outside in the 
freezing downpour as I took in the scenery.

 We sailed through Glacier Bay National Park and 
Preserve, once called Thunder Bay- this wondrous blue 
ice land encompasses 3.3 million acres. The waterways 
provide access to 16 of these glaciers, 12 of which 
actively calve icebergs into the bay. Calving is when 
huge chunks of ice fall off the glaciers and plunge 
into the water. It is awesome-I had never been so 
inspired by our dynamic planet.

 I was really getting back to nature and started to 
understand the call of the wild, the muse of 
wilderness. I thought about packing up and leaving the 
city life far behind. I would move to the Yukon to 
become the next Jack London. The Chocolate Corvettes 
were revving my imagination. My plans were all set in 
my head when an elderly woman came up to me.

 She said to me, "I don't know about this, I don't like 
this one bit."

 She was talking about the ship sailing in 
iceberg-infested waters. I didn’t think she had to 
worry. We were only traveling at a few knots an hour.

 She added, "I mean didn't we learn anything from the 
movie Titanic. You look like a smart boy, did you 
learn anything from the movie Titanic?"

 "Yes," I replied. "I learned Kate Winslet has great 

 Our final stop in Alaska was Ketchikan. It was the 
first town founded in Alaska. I talked to a kid on a 
skateboard. He had floppy hair and was wearing a Kurt 
Cobain tee shirt. He thought it was cool that I lived 
in Seattle. He wanted to move there someday. I asked 
him what life was like. He said, “It sucks. There 
ain’t no chicks.”

 In Alaska, the male to female ratio is six guys for 
every girl. The dating ritual is very incestuous. The 
guys say ‘you don’t lose your girlfriend you lose your 
turn’ and the girls say ‘the odds are good but the 
goods are odd’.

 Ketchikan gets an annual rainfall of 12.5 feet. In 
July the average temp is 32 degrees- in January it's 
53 degrees. They only get 15 sunny days a year, and 
when the sun does come out everything shuts down. 
Banks and schools close and the population rushes to 
be outside. Basically it’s the opposite of a snow day. 
And I thought Seattle was bad. I would not want to 
live in Ketchikan. I give up my dream of writing the 
next White Fang.

 That night at dinner I had too much wine to drink 
(something I love to do) and started taking cheap pot 
shots at my family. Only I thought it was funny. I was 
trying to get back at them because the night before at 
dinner we were talking about my writing and what a 
failure I am. I told my dad I hope I make it as a 
writer before he dies so he can be proud of me. He 
smiled politely, like I had no hope of that. So I have 
changed my mind. I hope I make it before I die.

 Rachael wants to put a gag order on me. She said she 
would hire a lawyer and sue my ass for any slander 
that could hurt her career. I don't think she 
understands where I am with my writing. I told her I'm 
not selling like David Sedaris or Peter Mayle, but if 
she sues me and I call the press-- sister sues brother 
writer-- it might be good publicity, the best thing 
that has happened to my career. I told her to mellow 
out and get a grip. She should think it a privilege to 
be related to an artist.

 My mum is trying to take stock in her kid’s love 
lives: I'm thirty-three, Zac is thirty, and Rachael is 
twenty-eight. We are not deformed or yet married. The 
neighbors are starting to talk. We are the cause of 
rumors. Something is amiss. There must be some dark 
sinister secret if the McCutcheon kids aren’t getting 
hitched. My mum wants to know when her children might 
be getting married. She started with me.

 "What's your girlfriends name?"


 "Oh! I love Amanda. That was your great grandmothers’ 
name. What's her last name?"


 "What's that?"

 "That's her last name."

 "Oh, she’s Italian?" she asked defeated. I think she 
has been watching The Sopranos.

 I was talking to Rachael about how our mum used to 
warn us not to get married too young and now I can 
tell she can’t wait to become a grandmother. My sister 
said she might join a dating service. I'm not sure how 
a twenty-eight-year-old successful businesswoman could 
get so desperate. Her shrink thinks it's a good idea.

 I was just starting to feel sorry for her when the 
conversation continued. She said a lot of her 
girlfriends in Dallas were thinking of doing the same 
thing. Seems the girls in Dallas are horny and single 
(and lonely?) Sometimes when then go out they play a 
game: you can't leave the club until you kiss someone. 
Sounds sad and stupid to me. Rachael said she told her 
friends about her older brother-Me. She explained I 
was handsome like a male model and had a great sense 
of humor, but alas, I was poor. The girlfriends were 

 Doesn't he have a job? They wanted to know.

 Rachael set them straight:

 “Oh he has a job; it's just that he isn't into making 
money. He even runs a web site that he pays for, 
without making any profit. He actually loses hundreds 
of dollars a year! And what he really wants to do is 
be a writer.”

 The girls couldn’t believe this. They think doing 
something that doesn’t yield a profit is as stupid as 
those liberal art students who went to college to 
actually get an education- to them the best reason to 
go to college was to find husbands.

 “It even gets worse. He says he does it for free 
aesthetic expression and thought. My brother a writer! 
You sure can’t choose your family.”

 The girlfriends hung their heads and commiserated. 
Another eligible bachelor lost, not to homosexuality, 
but even worse, to art! It's hard to find true 
meaningful love in this world.

 It finally stopped raining and I went back out onto 
the basketball court with the 16-year-old Kobe Bryant 
wannabes. We were playing half court three on three 
when I got the ball around the free throw line. I went 
for a fade away jumper when the ship rocked and a gust 
of wind took me from behind. I went flying over all 
those smart-ass kids and SLAM-DUNK! The next thing I 
know I was hanging from the rim holding on for dear 

 "Aw man, shit that was cool!" the kids yelled.

 "Yeah," I said.

 “Do it again!” They all screamed.

 "Naw," I said trying to play it cool and not let on 
how shook up I was.

 On the last day the bill was coming. I was running out 
of time. Of course, I haven’t paid attention to how 
many receipts I racked up at the bars. I always threw 
those away to get rid of the evidence, free my pockets 
and drink without a guilty conscience. I knew that the 
tab must have been in the hundreds. It had been too 
easy to just sign away and not think about it.

 I did have a plan, one that backfired radically. My 
idea was to win back the money I was drinking away 
with my newly acquired skills at cards. I thought if 
my dad and sister could do it, so could I.

 So there I was on the last night, drunk, depressed and 
completely broke. I was wandering around by myself 
trying to figure out how I lost that last grand so 
quickly when the birthday girl came out of nowhere and 
sat down next to me. I looked at her blearily. She was 
full of promise, probably never had a bad day in her 
life. It will be a life that will stay relatively 
easy. It always is with these beauties.

 “It’s a pretty night,” she said and smiled, hands 
pulled behind her back, breasts stuck out.

 “It’s pretty late, shouldn’t you be in bed?” I didn’t 
have sunglasses on. I stared deep into those radiant 
brown eyes and at that budding chest.

 “Naw, it’s not that late.”

 “How did that happen?” I pointed to her arm.

 “I fell in cheerleading,” she said.

 “Uh-huh, well it’s pretty late,” I stupidly repeated.

 “Not really.”

 “It’s after two in the morning.”

 “That’s when the fun starts. I can stay up as late as 
I want.”

 “Oh yeah?”

 “Yeah. Can I kiss you?”


 “I want to kiss you.”

 “We can’t do that, I’m too old for you.”

 “No, you are not, what, are you like nineteen?”

 “Only mentally.”


 “I’m thirty-three.”

 “Wow,” she said not as shocked as I thought she would 
be. “I still want to kiss you.”

 “I can kiss you,” I said.

 I leaned over and kissed her softly on her cheek. It 
sounded like she actually purred. I envied her honest 
overwhelming emotions.

 “Thanks,” she said. Then she stood up and pranced 

 I was left alone to contemplate if I should jump 
overboard to avoid the inevitable huge debt. And I 
wondered what the legal age of consent was. It might 
be different at sea.