By Jennifer L. Leo
I was in the tropical jungle of northern Thailand on a hill tribe trek when I had the opportunity to smoke some opium. And I’m not talking about a hand-crafted cigarette in the back of the line while the tour group took a break from the muddy hike…no, this was in a den. An opium den where only the coolest members of the group would be invited in. It was certainly not on the tour description, and that made it all the more appealing.
Visions of a cozy room with long sofas, big velvety red floor pillows, and sheer curtains that gently graced the floorboards came immediately to mind. And the pipes, they would be antiques. I could already feel the grooves of the intricately-carved designs with silver and gold detailing. We’d be smoking a family heirloom that literally got passed from generation to generation. Oh yeah, I couldn’t wait to get in there. This was a story, this was an adventure, this would be something to tell everybody—but my father—back home. Who cared if I didn’t smoke? I’d worry about that technicality later.
The Doctor, a Virginia medical student I’d befriended, motioned for me to follow him. It was time. The anticipation mounted with the same excitement as getting on a fast rollercoaster ride. I was about to set foot in a world of such exotic intoxication that my life and my writing would be forever changed. My hand was already squeezing the cash in my pocket in hopes it would be enough for just one try. We walked up to the straw hut and followed the Thai guide inside. I saw that it was just one room. In the back corner of the hut two Thai men were lying across from each other on thin mats that one might roll up and take to the beach. In front of the smoker’s head was a contraption that didn’t look anything like a family heirloom or ancient Thai artifact. It was a cut-up Coke can with a candle underneath it. I gasped. This wasn’t an opium den, this was a crack house!
See, that’s the thing about us eager travelers. The mere whisper of a far-off destination seeps into our heads and swirls around like a cotton candy machine until we have a romantic notion of a trip all big and puffy and sweet. As we book our ticket and pack our bags, we’re smiling and humming and most likely flapping our lips about how this is going to be the best trip ever. We’ve saved our money, we’ve done all our research, this trip is just what we need.
And sometimes it is. Sometimes our dreams come true. Other times, our fantasies turn into miserable itchy unwanted events that are so far removed from a brag-worthy story we feel like we can’t come home until we turn it around. Well, we can. Why? Because here at Travelers’ Tales we’ve taken these uncomfortable trips and given them a home. Sand in My Bra and Whose Panties are These?—the two previous women’s travel humor books in our series—delivered the kinds of stories you were glad didn’t happen to you. You laughed, you cried, and you told me that surely there were more types of undies than just our tops and bottoms. Yes, ladies, there are.
At your request, we present The Thong Also Rises. The laughs within range from short snickers to laugh-out-loud gut-busters from women who didn’t quite get the travel experience they bargained for. Feel free to scream “Eeeewwww!” when Julie Eisenberg gets splashed with urine in a tight cruise ship bathroom in “Princess and the Pee,” sympathize with Nicole Dreon in “And Then I Was Eight…Again” as she relives being eight, year after year, because her parents are cheapskates, ask Christine Michaud what’s best to wear when you’re riding a camel in “Travel Light, Ride Hard,” navigate the attention of men while traveling solo with Elizabeth Fonseca in “Ravioli Man,” and giggle like school girls with Ayun Halliday and her mom as they endure the sounds of Parisian romance in a hotel with thin walls in “Paris, the Third Time Around.”
While you’re reading these Ms.-Adventures, it is perfectly O.K. to call your friend and tell her you just read something worse than her last disaster. Suggest our series to your book group when you have a busy month and need a break from a heady novel. And especially give our books to someone you know who’s hitting the road for the first time. She needs to know that a perfect trip doesn’t always make for the best storytelling. In fact, just the opposite. The most important thing is to have fun while enduring the fruits of your folly. And if for any reason you can’t laugh in the middle of your misadventure, you’ll find that it always becomes funnier as soon as you’re back home. For these women whose stories you’re about to read, it definitely took a wee bit longer…
Naked Nightmare—Ellen Sussman
An American (Drug-Smuggling) Girl—Laurie Notaro
Pills, Thrills, and Green Around the Gills—Tamara Sheward
The Cherub—Gina Briefs-Elgin
And Then I Was Eight…Again—Nicole Dreon
Hot Date with a Yogi—Jennifer Cox
Riding the Semi-Deluxe—Megan Lyles
The Princess and the Pee—Julie Eisenberg
Gently You Have to Avoid a Frightening Behavior—Marcy Gordon
Paris, Third Time Around—Ayun Halliday
The Dangers of Going Local—Olivia Edward
Opera for Dummies—Shari Caudron
His and Her Vacations—Jill Conner Browne
The Female Psyche
The Yellow Lady—Katie McLane
My Husband Is Lost Without Me—Anastasia M. Ashman
Mother and Child (and Disco) Reunion—Laurie Frankel
American Road Trip
The Ravioli Man—Elizabeth Fonseca
The Education of a Guinea Pig—Colleen Friesen
Keys to the Outback—Laurie McAndish King
Almost Grounded—Deanna Sukkar
The Naked and the Wed—Elizabeth Asdorian
Just Another Malibu Minnie—Amy C. Balfour
Blinded by Science—Melinda Misuraca
Travel Light, Ride Hard—Christine Michaud-Martinez
Size Does Matter—Michelle M. Lott
In the Air
R-Rated Rescue—Julia Weiler
Mein Gott, I’ve Fried His Underpants—Ann Lombardi
Killing Me Softy With Your Stare—Lubna Kably
Bathtub Blues in the Land of the Rising Buns—Laura Kline
Getting Grandma—Barbara Robertson
Index of Contributors
The Princess and the Pee
by Julie Eisenberg
Me, an adventurous traveler? Well, of course I like to think so. Sure, maybe not the kind that kayaks, canoes, or cavorts with local villagers in Third World countries, but I am willing to give up mascara for a week. I have also radically redeemed my pack-aholic ways of battering airport baggage scales with bulging suitcases closed only by application of ample butt pressure. The daredevil in me trusts I will survive our next vacation, a Windjammer Caribbean cruise, on only the barest of fashion essentials. Goodbye eveningwear, daywear, and five-extra-outfits-just-in-case wear—I’m now a one flip-flop pair, low-maintenance kind of gal!
Windjammers proudly proclaim to be the anti-cruise cruise ships. They eschew the frivolities of luxury liners, with their chichi cappuccino bars and tuxedoed attendants. Aye, instead prospective travelers are hooked by a pirate-like, devil-may-care voyage upon small, historically renovated ships decked in teak and sailcloth. Passengers are invited to help hoist sails, sleep on deck underneath the stars, or drink dinner away without ever slipping on the family jewels, or even a pair of shoes.
The glossy brochure guarantees that this is the trip for me:
Windjammer shipmates are a motley crew of interesting folks from all over the United States and abroad. You won’t know if the guy or gal sitting next to you is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or an Average Joe.
Well, O.K., even though this description encompasses everyone in the free world who can shell out the price of a ticket, I’m convinced I am one of those interesting, motley folks willing to forfeit plump pillows and Pérnod in favor of a genuine seafaring adventure. Yo ho ho!
I admit, however, I cannot conceal my trepidation concerning our bedroom quarters, particularly when we booked late and were issued what the brochure describes as a below-deck “Standard Cabin.” I scan the description, believing I can make do without the in-room coffee maker, but am downright bewildered to learn the only accommodations worthy of mention are “upper and wider lower berths, private head and shower.”
I can do this. I am The Adventurer.
To demonstrate my newfound flexibility, I assure my husband—who annoyingly doesn’t seem to need any assurance—that our bunk beds are really a clever convenience—why, we can use the upper berth for extra storage space! From the particular angle in the brochure picture, the lower bunk appears wide enough for both of us. Maybe not like queen size-with-goose-down-filled-comforter wide, but surely large enough to accommodate late night snuggles.
It will be romantic—I am fairly certain.
We are greeted at a small pier in Saint Maarten by the cutest little launch boat that sputters us across the bay to meet the S.V. Polynesia. The 248-foot schooner stands regally against the blue velvet of evening sea. The weather is warm, balmy, and luxurious. To my surprise, I temporarily forget the havoc the humidity will wreak upon my hair. Instead, I whip out my brightest bandana and tie it over my head, handkerchief style, like the fashionistas I had spied upon in South Beach. I silently congratulate myself on copying this chic, but oh so casual, just-protect-me-from-the-wind style for my New Adventure Look.
The bed is smaller than I thought.
As promised, the bottom berth protrudes farther out than the top—but only by mere inches and I’m not sure what the architects had it in mind in offering this up. While the lower birth might more readily accommodate an obese person, or even a horizontal sexual act, I am certain it was never intended to sleep two adults, unless I imagine, those adults happened to be two medium-sized midgets who don’t mind spooning.
“I get the top bunk!” my husband cries excitedly.
He is triumphant. As a boy growing up in a small apartment, his older brother always got the top bunk. Now, several decades and thinned hairs later, he feels avenged and is grinning with smug satisfaction.
Still, I am resolute, flexible, and flowing. Until I see the bathroom.
While I might have fallen for the sleeping under the stars schtick, they really pulled a good one over Adventure Girl by neglecting to mention that the bathroom is actually broom-closet-size, all-in-one shower, toilet, and sink. My husband marvels at the economy, noting he will be able to wash, urinate, and shave all at the same time. I, however, am noting the sensation of my behind pressed against a slick, wet toilet bowl while peeing. I am also sighing with a fond remembrance of the bathroom from last year’s luxury hotel we snagged for a song on the Internet. While admittedly not nearly as efficient as the Polynesia’s accommodations, it did boast a sunken marble tub equipped with a remote-control television. Perhaps the playful, lurking threat of being electrocuted while flipping channels in the bubble bath is adventure enough for me.
With the wind slowly leaving my sails, I unpack while my husband christens the head with an inaugural whiz. As he finishes, we bump sideways past one another and I squeeze my extra large toiletry bag into the tiny, three-sided wire grid shelf hanging on the bathroom wall. While I may have been willing to forego makeup, it is downright ludicrous to think I might survive without my assortment of Clinique moisturizers and creams.
“Argh,” I cry in my new pirate voice. The weight of my bag is too heavy for the little shelf and under pressure it bursts away from the wall. The translucent, mesh-clothed bag tumbles and plunks like a lead anchor directly into the toilet bowl, which, in turn expels its water all over the little broom closet bathroom floor.
Just as my quivering hand retrieves the bag, which is now spilling liquid from inside-out all over my legs and feet, my husband happens to mention he neglected to flush. I am no longer that soft, cuddly Jack Sparrow of a pirate. I am Blackbeard and I am out for blood.
“What do you mean you forgot to flush the toilet!” I shriek, as this seems—at the moment—to be an act of insanity on par with suffocating small kittens.
“It’s a small ship and I wanted to help conserve water?”
On dry land, when I am not dripping in a puddle of someone else’s pee I might find this response endearing. Instead I manage to use the word “fuck” ten times in one sentence.
He promises that if I will just come out of the bathroom, he will rinse everything with disinfectant, but I can’t move. I am paralyzed in pee.
“I am not coming out and tracking pee all over the carpeting all over this room!”
“Well then let me come in,” he pleads patiently, hoping to placate a urine-soused lunatic.
“You can’t come in. First of all, we probably both can’t fit in here, and second of all, then we both are going to track pee.”
“Hon,” he sighs. Do I sense the weensiest bit of exasperation in his voice? “There is nothing wrong with urine. It is completely sterile. There are people who actually drink urine. There is even such a thing as urine therapy—you can look it up on the Internet.”
I can’t stand the way he keeps referring to it by its formal name, like he is paying homage or something. And therapy? I have now lost all sense of rational thinking and am convinced that while I may be a crazy germaphobe, my husband has, at best, turned into a dead ringer for the Professor from Gilligan’s Island and at worst, has been secretly participating in a satanic cult, drinking piping hot cups of urine while I was away at my Monday night yoga class.
I am wondering whether any of our Caribbean itineraries offer quickie divorces. I am spewing the “P” word uncontrollably. I am turning into Porky Pig with Tourette’s Syndrome.
“W-w-well now what do you suggest? Should I just soak my contact lenses in your p-p-pee?And what about my cotton balls that are now drenched in your p-p-pee? How about if I just use your p-p-pee to cleanse my p-p-pores? In fact, why don’t we dump out this whole bottle of Clinique cleanser and you can just re-p-plenish it with your miracle p-p-pee !!!”
Ever a man of patience, or perhaps soothed by years of drinking urine elixirs behind my back, my husband is finally able to convince me to sit down on the toilet as he lovingly and tenderly wipes the pee off my feet and rinses all of the contents of my bag in warm, soapy water.
To diffuse the mildly tense start to our vacation, or perhaps to avoid being held captive at sea with a madwoman for seven days, my husband suggests we quell rough waters with a trip above deck to snuggle underneath the stars. Begrudgingly, I agree. I am willing to forgive the watershed of our first evening, at least satisfied that I will have something to hang over his head for the rest of our married lives.
We grab thick rubber cushions off the lounge chairs and cuddle close under our woolen blankets. The gentle sway of the ship feels like a luxurious king-size waterbed and the zillions of luminescent stars winking in the sky are my personal pay-per-view movie. I am gently lulled to sleep in my husband’s arms, dreaming of a cocoa-butter tan and sun-teased blond highlights that will be the envy of all my co-workers.
With each passing day, I am adjusting to my floating Winnebago lifestyle. Our cabin quarters have been transformed to a cozy, cool underground bunker after too many hours basting in the hot Caribbean sun. I am even enjoying my lower bunk. It is surprisingly refreshing to have a few evenings of respite from the fog of my husband’s breath against my face. Still, I relish the comfort of having him near and knowing he is just one bed above me, sleeping in what I have affectionately dubbed “The Loft.”
My inner pirate is thriving. I help hoist sails, drink more than my fair share of rum swizzles, and disco dance on Lingerie Night in teddy bear pjs, the cool, weathered teak floors tingling under my bare feet. Captain Casey, or just Casey, as he prefers to be called, commands thePolynesia with a charismatic blend of machismo and cutting comedy, salting his daily stories with expletives and edgy wisecracks that leave us in stitches. In keeping with his religious objection to formalities, he prefers baseball hats and tropical shirts to officer dress. One evening after sunset and swizzles, he sets up the floodlights and diving board so we can swim right off the side of the boat. It is an exhilarating experience, but when Casey suddenly grabs the ship microphone and bellows out to us, “Look out! Shark!… Just kidding!” my insides freeze for a nano-second, but then I am laughing hysterically. Life just shouldn’t be taken so seriously, you know what I mean?
It is our last day at sea. As much as I am looking forward to resuming our conjugal sleeping arrangements, I’m also sorry to leave. Disco dancing will never be quite the same, and I’ll miss Casey’s antics and his most vigilant Windjammer edict “No whining!” which seems written expressly for recovering prima donnas like me.
Later that night my husband awakens from a deep sleep needing to use the bathroom in a way that men of a certain age always do. Not wanting to wake me (perhaps still skittish from my minor proclivity to certain irrational tendencies), he gently closes the bathroom door behind him without turning on the light, relieving himself in utter darkness. When finished, still semi-conscious with sleep, he blindly gropes and gives a hard turn to the doorknob, which to his horror, sends a shock of cold water exploding from the wall, dousing him from head to toe. Instinctively, he flinches and panics, fearing the ship has sprung a leak, and is bursting a geyser of frigid water into our cabin.
It takes a moment before he gets his wits about him and realizes that in his bleary stupor, his hand has mistaken the knob for the door with the one for the cold shower spray and there will be no need for anyone to write a screenplay about our brush with a Caribbean iceberg. Meanwhile, I sleep soundly, dreaming equal parts rum swizzle, Johnny Depp, and golden doubloons.
As he recounts the story of his comeuppance to me early the next morning, I can only smile to myself at the discovery that even those without princess complexes are prey to the perils of small sailing vessels. I roll over in my lower bunk and fall back into a peaceful slumber, the gentle sea slowly rocking me toward home.
Julie Eisenberg lives in Miami, Florida. She and her husband Randy just bought their first fixer-upper boat, a twenty-five-foot trawler, which they plan to live aboard on weekends in the Florida Keys, once the mold-encrusted toilet, air conditioning, and 1970s orange-plaid upholstery are refurbished.