FIRST I WALK down the aisle and then I walk the plank.

Here I am, boarding the MS Rotterdam for a seven-day cruise along the Alaskan coast, at the promise of seeing a whale or two. It’s not in any brochure. In fact, the brochure has an asterisk, and is careful to deter people like me from drawing such conclusions. But friends have told us. And there are the Internet posts. I expect to see wildlife; I expect to see something foreign. We may still be in our own country, but I expect to see something extraordinary.

My honeymoon, and the first order of business is to strap a standard issue orange-coated life jacket to my chest, gather my new wife (a title that has yet to settle in), and rush to the nearest deck, careful not to dally in the narrow hallways or get a sandal caught in between the thousand other tourists conducting themselves exactly as I am told. The ship’s captain, a deep Scandinavian voice over the radio, calls this an exercise, but I know it’s really a drill, which reminds me of the dentist, as well as bomb threats that frequently emptied my elementary school into single-file lines, both of which still frighten me today.

We all crush into each other and hover around the lifeboats, trying not to think of the Titanic. Stewards shuffle about, making sure our vests are secure and properly looped. If there is a string quartet nearby I don’t see it. There are only two places to look: at naked and gnarly vacationer feet or up into the Alaskan sky. My head falls at first. In turn, so do my eyes. I notice toes, painted off-white, the French manicure chipping, and taking over the straw flip-flops bought in a rush back at Anchorage International Airport. These are my wife’s feet and for the first time ever, I realize the toe right next to her big one, the this-little-piggy-stayed-home toe is longer than the one next to it. I dart my head skyward. Dizzy now, I see the light. Even surrounded by all of these eager people, and my wife of five whole days, I couldn’t feel more out of place. In the midst of my confinement, an oval-shaped man goes on about icebergs and steps on one of my own piggies—it’s official, I,too, wish I had stayed home.

As we’re given the thumbs up to return to our cabin, another passenger mentions the northern lights. I’m excited to see the stars without the light pollution that soaks the skies over Arlington, and the apartment complex we live in that sits two miles from the Washington Monument. I imagine it’ll be like a planetarium, without the annoying docent—the hours I’ll spend alone out on the patio of Room 169B. The boat sets off slowly, or does it? Another cruise ship is beside us and I can’t tell if we appear to be moving because they are, or vice versa. Even with patches behind our ears for motion sickness, the ship feels as though we’ve set sail. It’s just an optical illusion, someone in the crowd says; the first of many I’ll later realize.

The view from our own balcony does not disappoint. It strikes me as a painting, a collage, perfect, unreal, like looking at a movie backdrop. The open ocean and its glaciers. The mountains we pass and the pines covering their tops with green, hair-like wisps. Even the Alaskan coastline looks like it’s smiling at me, showing off for the brand new digital camera I have wrapped around my neck and chest as though it were a canteen holding the only water supply for miles.

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About Michael J. Soloway

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Michael is an Ancient Alien living in Denver, Colorado, with one canine unit, three feline, and two Homo sapiens, including a toddler who requires a balance of string cheese and Ritz crackers daily. Michael does not ski or snowboard, so don’t ask him. He is addicted to Smart Balance and cantaloupe, more was born and raised in Florida, where he was prone to kicking oranges, sniffing tennis balls, and catching lizards. Michael received his Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and has been previously published in Brevity magazine. He recently completed a memoir, which no one has yet read, and is currently awaiting the Mother Ship’s return. Note: Michael has no affiliation with the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise, or those actors who fly their own private 747s in and out of central Florida like grease lightening.
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