always fantasized about going on an exotic sea cruise to Puerto
Rico or San Tropez or the Greek Islands. A gorgeous ship filled
with gorgeous people drinking gorgeous champagne, and me, in the
middle of it all, being adored and caressed by salt water-scented
This, however, was not that cruise.
September 11th my best friend Marian lost her firefighter husband,
Dave Fontana. When I learned that Dave had gone to the World Trade
Center I ran fifteen blocks from my place to Marian's in a frantically
thrown together outfit that I feared would be my last (the United
States was under attack, after all). The result: sweats, winter
coat, running shoes and ski hat. It was nearly 80 degrees that day.
In my trembling, sweaty hands I clutched my cell phone, my ATM card
and my worn Reach toothbrush.
Marian's tiny brownstone apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, we watched
the television as the second tower buckled and collapsed, crushing
beneath it her high school sweetheart, and the future she'd been
building with him. Like so many others, Marian was left alone to
raise a young child, a five-year-old dynamo named by his Irish firefighter
dad -- Aidan. The Gallic translation: "Little Fire."
yes, and the day, September 11th, also happened to be Marian and
Dave's eighth wedding anniversary.
later I quit my job, a hideous waiter position that was supposed
to support my acting career, but had only succeeded in supporting
my hatred for all people who dine out. I decided to take care of
Marian and Aidan. She said it was unnecessary. I said, "It's
what anyone would do." She said no, it wasn't. I said, "Well,
then, it's what Susan Sarandon would do." She laughed and it
I didn't tell Marian was what her hippie neighbor Dorothy said to
me on September 12th. When she dropped off a pot of squash and lavender
soup, she recognized my name. "Jason," she said, "you
know just last month Dave told me the darndest thing. He said he
felt good knowing that if anything bad happened to him, that you
would be there for Marian." And in a whirl of patchouli oil
and hand-dyed chenille scarves she was gone, leaving me stunned
that, among other things, anyone still used the word "darndest."
once just Marian's "Gay Best Friend," now she spoke about
me to all the people in her life -- to the firefighters, the widows
and the cousins -- as her new "Gay Husband." "Like
Liza and David Gest," I'd say. And despite the tragic circumstances,
our makeshift family worked. I felt a satisfaction in caring for
Marian and Aidan like I had never experienced. Sure there's the
revival of Oklahoma! and Barney's Warehouse Sale, but neither
one of those ever hugged me at the end of story time.
then came this cruise. Immediately after the 11th, donations of
every kind poured into Marian's life: money, poems, food, letters,
prayers and trips all over the world. When Royal Caribbean generously
offered a private cruise to all the 343 firefighter families who
lost loved ones, Marian asked me if I was interested in going with
her and Aidan. As the Gay Husband, I envisioned a kind of gay family
vacation -- sort of Will and Grace meets Love Boat meets
Six Feet Under. I declared, "Absolutely!" I even
agreed to make all the arrangements.
next day, I called Royal Caribbean and spoke to a surly woman, a
Ms. Shapiro. By the sound of her voice, I was confident she had
chain-smoked menthol 100's since Kindergarten.
the ship going?" I asked.
she said, hacking.
do you mean?"
mean nowhere," she hacked again.
it must go to Puerto Rico or Acapulco or somewhere."
she said, "it goes nowhere."
does the ship just stay in port?"
it goes out to sea," she said, then hacked once more.
woman sounded as if she was reciting lines from an Ionesco play,
poorly and with stage four lung cancer.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I'm just not getting this --
the ship has got to have a destination."
yeah," she answered, "it leaves New York harbor, it floats
out to sea and then it floats back. Two nights. We're calling it
a 'Cruise To Nowhere'."
and waited for Rod Sterling to begin his voiceover. She hacked.
"So let me get this right," I continued, "you're
sending a ship full of widows and their grief-stricken, terrorized
families onto something called a 'Cruise To Nowhere'?!"
I should have known then that this cruise had the potential to sink
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