Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tour Ship

The ship is very large and composed of a string of connected cabins. There is little space out on deck, just a narrow walkway around the cabins. The plank boards are a dingy sandy blonde with stark white rails to keep them company and prevent passengers from falling overboard. The white paint is chipped and flaking off of the metal. Little wooden gangways lead from the dock onto the ship and crowds of people are streaming up and into the series of cabins.
Inside, a loud voice booms to the crowd already milling within the ships secretive insides. It is carried over a loud speaker and supplies concise little packets of trivial fact, directing the crowd’s attention to one or another aquarium, or that wall, or offering a historic or scientific anecdote.
The people are mostly older, anywhere from their late thirties to mid fifties. The men and women tend to be dressed alike, each wearing brightly colored polo shirts and khaki shorts or pleated slacks. The main difference is that the men are balding at the crest and their hair is white or gray while the women sport short haircuts full of unnatural curl and color. The women also wear bright lipstick and pearls or gold chains to add a touch of wasted femininity to their masculine couture. Both sexes tend to wear sun visors or other hats and carry little brochures and maps in their wrinkling, sun spotted hands.
They look where the voice tells them to look, nodding their heads and murmuring enthusiastically to one another. Many of them talk quite loudly, carrying on unrelated conversations about hotels, restaurants, or family members between moments of placing their attention where directed. Their feet shuffle along, carrying them where the voice suggests as if they were being moved along on a conveyor belt while their heads look at this and that and each other.
The various aquariums emit an eerie glow. The waving shimmer of light reflected off of the water dances upon the white walls of the cabin. There is otherwise nothing to be seen, except the occasional life saver mounted to a white wall. Nonetheless, the voice directs them to look, telling them what is in here and what is in there and where it came from and who discovered it and how long it lives and how it reproduces and who the captain of the ship was between the years of… and where it has traveled, and how it was named, and who has graced its decks with their shoe polish and so on. All the while, the crowd is responding to what they are told that they see. They snake their way from one room to the next to gaze into empty picture frames and exclaim things like,
“Oh Ralph, Nadia should have come! She would have liked this don’t you think? Maybe we can pick something up for her in the gift shop.”
Among the crowd, there are a few unruly children, also dressed in the classic polo shirts and khakis. They fight and play with their siblings and are ushered through the ship, one with the moving mass of humanity without taking notice of it or otherwise heeding their surroundings. There is an exit that allows a steady stream of homogeneous people to flow out of the string of cabins and across a second gangway. Just before crossing the threshold out of the cabin and onto the deck, they make their way through turn stiles with gleaming silver arms that let each patron push their tummy against a bar and get popped out on the deck as the following bar clicks into place behind them. They are especially merry as they emerge into the sunshine on the deck, smiling with satisfaction as the turnstiles count their passing.

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