Anchors Away

I love cruise ships. There’s something magical about piling into a floating cut-rate casino with 3000 buffet assassins and their feral offspring that makes suffering a week of sea sickness worth the low five figures Paula and I typically burn to endure the experience. If that sounds amazing hold onto your life vest, because at every port-o-call on these journeys there’s a decommissioned school bus waiting to whisk you and a thousand other geriatric gadabouts to a swamp, pirate’s brothel, or hole in the ground—just show your passport, fork over 89 dollars and walk the plank.

There is an upside to stowing away on an aquatic gin palace for seven days, and it’s this: these floating Petri dishes making seeing big chunks of the world fast and cheap. On one seven-day sail, my mother and I visited Cancun, Cozumel, Honduras, Belize and Virgin Islands. Total price: $1,600. In headier times mom would have doubled that number with her bar tab, but a wheelchair makes bellying up on the Promenade Deck much harder these days.

On one of our earliest dates I asked me soulmate-in-training if she had a passport. “Of course,” she exclaimed. “Why?” “Because when you’re through with me,” I boasted, “it’s gonna look like your three-year-old beat on it with a rubber stamp.” Three months later Paula and I were chuckling about that humble brag at a Formula One race in Brazil.

Where we go and what we do makes us who we are. Everything else is just stuff. I learned that the hard way last spring when our house burned down. We escaped with the clothes on our backs and the cars in our driveway. Everything else was destroyed by fire, smoke, water, or all three. It will take nine months and nearly a half-million dollars to rebuild our lives from scratch. Paula’s childhood memories, Silas’ Nerf guns, and our family’s seven bicycles? Gone forever. Someday this story will be good for a giggle, but today no one is laughing. Instead, we’re counting the months until this smoldering nightmare is behind us. I’d hold my breath, but I did that last March for Covid-19, and it’s gotten me nowhere. Whining about a melted tool box when three million Americans have Coronavirus makes a person look selfish and small.

Alas, there might be one silver lining in the smoky cloud of our fiery milieu. Because first responders flooded the burning guts of our humble abode with 40,000 gallons of water, every wall and ceiling, every foot of electrical and plumbing, every appliance, stick of furniture, and personal effect will be trashed, fumigated, or replaced. This will take a year, and cost a fortune. Fortunately, Paula’s super powers include record-keeping, letter-writing, and voicemail navigation. In the blood sport that is negotiating an insurance claim, the vultures at Mercury and Progressive don’t have a chance. All we need to do—and have done—for approximately nine months is hurry up and wait.

If the recalcitrant mouth breathers at City Hall moved half as fast as Paula does, our general contractor and friend Big Mike would have his building permit by now. Instead, it took over two months for our engineer Mike II to assess structural damage and draft blueprints for our home, plans the city of Temecula and our GC require to authorize final demolition and start the rebuild. Why the foot dragging? One week after Mercury introduced us to our affable architect, he got Coronavirus.

Home fires are a nightmare. Suffering one during a global pandemic feels like being waterboarded during a prison rape.

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