Yes, cruise ship security is corrupt. Not paid off to smuggle drugs or anything—oh no. Something far more criminal…
2AM. I nervously entered the crew cabin way down on B Deck. Victorio, a serious-looking Filipino, motioned me to sit. Both bunks already held two or three men, the bathroom door opened to reveal several more. The floor of both tiny chambers was fully filled by coolers. I wiggled in beside the others. Victorio asked, “You bring it?”
A flash of nerves jolted me. Shaking my head, I defended, “I just found out an hour ago. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
Victorio regarded me solemnly for a moment. The cabin was silent, but for the surge of waves outside the bulkhead. “We do things different than you Americans…” he said slowly.
Suddenly he grinned. “In the Philippines, birthday means we buy the drinks, not get gifts. So have a drink. We have an American, boys!”
Cheers came for diversity. Drinks came to my hand. Nearby bristled two bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label scotch, two Black Labels, three bottles of Chivas Regal, and two coolers icing Coronas. He predicted by 5AM all would be empty. We feasted on traditional Filipino foods—or close as could be made aboard. My favorite were strips of cold beef marinated in lime juice and exotic seasonings. I sensed they were pleased I liked a taste from their home.
By 3:30AM the party was really rocking (as much as was possible with no women present, anyway), when someone brought out a small, black torture device. Terror seized my soul. It was a karaoke machine, complete with microphone and two large speakers—so large, in fact, Victorio had to sleep with one in his bunk. Cheers resounded in eardrum-crumpling waves.
“You can’t turn that on,” I protested. “It’s 3:30AM!”
“We got it covered,” Victorio assured me.
For some sinister reason, karaoke was a great joy for Filipinos, with a particular passion for rock ballads. Invoking Bon Jovi prompted hands over their hearts. One waiter, Jeffry, was so talented that he entertained guests in the dining room. His crystalline voice cut through the chatter every time. His cover of Michael Bolton was barely distinguishable from the real thing. And Jon Secada? They must have been twins. But that night Jeffry did not want to sing. He wanted me to sing. “Who wants to hear Brian sing Elvis?” The cabin reverberated with a roar of approval.
Spontaneity—or more likely, alcohol—encouraged me. “Filipino party: Filipino music. Bring it.”
“I thought you liked singing Elvis,” he said.
“Oh, I’ll sing it like Elvis all right.”
The television featured a surging tropical beach while Filipino lyrics passed by staggeringly fast. Well, too fast for one who couldn’t read Tagalog. I had hoped their native language didn’t use Roman characters so I could wiggle out of it. No such luck. Soon my best Elvis voice sang a sappy love ballad to twenty drunken Filipino men—and the entire B Deck of Carnival Conquest.
“Tinapon ng lalaki ang bola sa pader… something… something fried banana sandwich… thank ya, thank ya vury much…. Say, what did I just say?”
“You just tried to say ‘the boy threw the ball at the wall’.”
“How romantic. A hunk’a-hunk’a burnin’ love I’m not.”
A pounding at the door revealed an insanely muscled security officer. Silence fell. Two more men flanked this largest Asian man ever. He frowned angrily, flexed his muscles.
“You’re in BIG trouble,” he boomed. “I agreed to let you pay me to leave the party alone… on the condition I get to be the first to sing... after I get off 4!”
By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential.
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