Every time I start feeling like a well-adjusted, productive member of society, the powers that be roll up their sleeves and devise a new scheme to remind me that life is essentially one big ongoing joke, and I’m just one of its many punchlines.
It was early in 2011, and Nutty Hubby and I were newlyweds. After the months of family drama we’d endured leading up to the wedding, we were more than eager to get the hell out of Dodge. For our honeymoon, we had decided to go on a three week cruise in the Caribbean. Just Nutty Hubby, me, the sun, the sea, the sand, and all the free food we could stuff down our gullets.
I had sheared off my waist-length hair into a beach-friendly pixie cut. I had clothing for all occasions neatly packed into a set of matching luggage. I had our passports tucked safely into a monogrammed leather holder. I was a married woman with her shit together and two tickets to paradise.
And paradise it was. The moment we stepped on that glorious ship, all the stress of the previous months just melted away. Three weeks of freedom; no work to do, no meals to cook, no obligations except to sit back, relax, and enjoy ourselves. Nutty Hubby and I fell into our cruise groove immediately.
1. Wake up, grab quick breakfast at atrium cafe. Discover they have pistachio pudding. Eat ALL THE PISTACHIO PUDDING.
2. Leave for the day’s alliterative activity of swimming with stingrays, snorkeling above shipwrecks, or trekking through tropical terrain.
3. Return to ship and lay waste to the lido deck’s vast lunch buffet.
4. Having crossed Gluttony off the to-do list, switch to Sloth and catch some sun by the pool.
5. Return to stateroom, shower, and get prettied up for dinner.
6. Present selves at dining room and devour three courses of pure culinary bliss. Try to keep X-rated noises of gastronomic ecstasy to a minimum and fail, because the cioppino is just. that. good.
7. Go to comedy show, order extremely large drink, and get…publicly humiliated?
Well, we were bound to hit a snag somewhere.
For the record, Rule #1 of going anywhere with audience participation is if you don’t want to get pulled up on stage, then bring me with you. Because if anyone’s getting singled out, it’ll be me. It’s always me.
WHY? WHY IS IT ALWAYS ME?
The previous lounge acts on the ship had all been comedians with no interest in interacting with the audience other than having us shout out our various places of origin for generic mockery. After several nights of this, I had been lulled into a false sense of security. I had started to believe that the lounge was a safe place.
Until that goddamn ventriloquist came along.
Nutty Hubby and I arrived early for once. So early, in fact, that there were still free seats in the front row. You’d think we’d have known better, but clearly forgetting everything we had ever seen on Just for Laughs, all we thought was, “Sweet, front row!” and snagged a cushy loveseat on stage right.
We had some time to kill, so I ordered a so-called “medium” piña colada that came in a glass almost a foot tall, because cruise ships are like Jack Sparrow and believe the rum should never, ever be gone. I had just began sipping away at my boozy masterpiece when Nutty Hubby nudged me with a snort and said, “Get a load of those two.”
I followed his gaze. The lounge seating was arranged in arcs around the stage. Directly opposite Nutty Hubby and I in our arc were two teenage girls sporting long, streaked hair, tank tops cut so low they came with an implied wardrobe malfunction advisory, and low-slung, painted-on jeans from which protruded vicious-looking platform stiletto heels.
And they were staring at us.
They obviously thought a lot of themselves and very little of me. They looked me up and down critically, taking in my short, spiky hair, my floral print sundress and my sensible flat shoes, giggling and whispering to each other all the while. Once done with their secret verbal teardown of my appearance, they started tossing their hair and playing with their oversized hoop earrings while shooting sidelong glances at my husband. Notice us, the glances begged. We’re soooooo much hotter than that chick you’re with. NOTICE US…
Nutty Hubby ignored the wafting fumes of Eau de Desperation and turned back to me, to the girls’ obvious disappointment. We proceeded to play a game of gin to pass the remaining time while the Jailbait Twins pouted and craned their necks seeking out another man under retirement age to bat their eyes at.
Finally the lights dimmed, and the night’s entertainer was introduced. The Jailbait Twins snapped to attention as the ventriloquist walked on stage, and began bombarding him with their notice us rays as he smiled out into the audience. Unaffected, he introduced his first dummy, a rather endearing old man named Arthur, and they began to chat away to each other.
The conversation was going swimmingly until Arthur began laughing uncontrollably at one of his own jokes. Mid-guffaw, he happened to look over in my direction and immediately did the double-take to end all double-takes.
Of all the gin joints in all the cruise ships in all the world…
“Is this an angel I see before me?” Arthur swooned toward me, nearly dragging the ventriloquist off his chair.
There is no God. Only this puppet bastard.
The Puppet Bastard tried in vain to steer Arthur back to the conversation, but he would not be dissuaded. It was love at first sight. And after a veritable tug-of-war which, of course, Arthur won, Puppet Bastard agreed to go along with it for the time being, and asked me my name.
“Nutty,” I responded from behind scarlet cheeks. Across the room, the Jailbait Twins were looking like they were ready to stake me through the heart with their stilettos. With some further prodding from Arthur, the Puppet Bastard asked if I was single, and with no small measure of relief I assured him that I was happily married.
Arthur settled down a bit upon learning I was off the market and begrudgingly resumed his conversation with the Puppet Bastard, but after he kept finding ways to turn every response into a lewd remark directed at me, Puppet Bastard put him in a time-out under the draped table and launched into the second portion of his act. From time to time there would be a pitiful cry of, “Nuttyyyyyy…” from under the table which would be quickly hushed up by Puppet Bastard. “You’re never going to live this down,” Puppet Bastard chuckled after the third time. “Everywhere you go now, people are going to be calling out your name.”
Mental note: kill all witnesses. Puppet Bastard dies last. Bet Arthur will be only too happy to help.
While I was busy plotting murder, the Puppet Bastard was moving on to his final act. “I’m going to need a volunteer from the audience for this one,” he said, and I saw the Jailbait Twins sit bolt upright in their seats, certain that this was their time to shine. But this was not their day. It was mine.
“Nutty,” he continued as I knew he would, walking over to me with an outstretched hand, “would you do us the honor?”
The room applauded heartily as Puppet Bastard escorted me on stage. I had the satisfaction of grinning briefly into the dumbstruck faces of the Jailbait Twins before a ridiculous Muppet-like mask was placed over the lower half of my face and my hands were cuffed to two wooden rods. I was now officially Puppet Bastard’s third and final dummy. Thankful that all I had to do was sit behind the mask and move around as directed as the Puppet Bastard guided me through his last jokes of the night, I finally relaxed enough to have a good laugh at my own expense, and when I was eventually released from the stuffy mask and cold handcuffs, my smile as I took my bow was genuine.
Puppet Bastard shook my hand and thanked me for being a good sport, and for good measure he presented me with a very respectable bottle of champagne before sending me back to Nutty Hubby and bidding the audience goodnight.
The Jailbait Twins wore an expression of pure dejection as we all filed out of the lounge. As I received kind words and pats on the back from the other audience members, the scantily-clad and attention-starved twosome gazed longingly at my bottle of bubbly, and I could see the question tattooing itself on their brains: Why her? Why her and not us?
Why me, indeed.
Nutty Hubby and I wipe sweat from our foreheads as we hike deeper into the park with our tour group. Our guide hurries the stragglers along with promises that the waterfall we have come to see is not too much farther ahead.
Suddenly there is a break in the wall of lush rainforest greenery, and we spot another tour group from our ship hiking back across the river. They have seen us too, and we wave to one another. And above the sound of rushing water comes the plaintive cry of, “Nuttyyyyyy…” followed by peals of laughter.
God damn you, Puppet Bastard.