Monthly Archives: August 2009

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

People think Baby Boomers are the “sandwich” generation, sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for aging parents.  That is not the case in my family, perhaps because we don’t have many Boomers.  Most of us are between 30 and 43 years old, officially Generation X.  And we’re the ones being sandwiched.

As you probably know, last week was my family reunion, named after my late grandparents – Margaret Dunbar and Willie B. Walker.  They were married for over 60 years, raised a brood of 9, and they were hardcore.  Old school.  They believed in discipline, all kinds.  Their kids had to work, go to school, go to church and generally be productive. The Dunbar-Walker children got the switch for any of a series of infractions, most having to do with sass and lack of respect.  They also got a “talking to” from Granddaddy and even though I didn’t know him well, I’d rather have died than go through that.  He was tall and impressive, and you just didn’t want to disappoint him.  A few of my aunts confess to having been afraid of him (my mother was not, as she often got the “sass” beat out of her; we have that in common).

Anyway, the Dunbar-Walker children were fruitful and multiplied – 21 grandchildren – and spared no rod in raising unspoiled children.  Like our parents, we didn’t have lots of money (who has money when you have 9 kids?), but we took lots of car trips to each others’ homes.  Who needs summer camp when you can camp out with your cousins?  Which brings me back to the family reunions at which, for years, all the Dunbar-Walker kids and grandkids convened at my Granny’s in the summer.  We were put in a room and told to play nice.  We walked around the one-horse town, sneaked firecrackers, drank Coke in a glass bottle, and had generally good kid fun.  We had no choice but to like each other, which we did and still do.  It wasn’t much, but its the reason we’re all still close, and are successful people in life and in career.

Fast forward to 2009, our family reunion cruise, Dunbar-Walker children, grandchildren, and great-grands in attendance.  First let me say that I love my family dearly.  And I love my godchildren – my cousin Leslie’s kids – to death:  they’re smart and funny and have the best little personalities.  When my godson was called on his quasi-violent conversation, he responded “I guess I watch too much TV.”  Awesome.  Anyway, the godchildren and others of their generation were enjoying the pleasures of the Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line.  Needless to say, their parents had never known such pleasures as children.  I’m telling you, this ship was replete with kid-friendly activities.  Of the 2 small pools, the largest was the “kiddie pool”.  The 4 jacuzzis on board were open to all ages, though half were apparently off limits.  There was another shallow pool for kids, a daily camp-type activity, family movie night, and all manner of PG goings-on for the little ones.  It was an under 13 free for all, and I would have given up desserts for a month (not that I was allowed to have dessert) to be on that ship for ONE DAY, let alone 4.  If you’re considering a cruise with your children, NCL is the place for you, and Norwegian Sky is the ship.  If you don’t have kids and are in your 30’s, stay away and opt for Royal Caribbean.  Or better yet, skip the cruise altogether and just go to Hedonism.

On day 2 of the cruise, we (the D-W grandchildren) wanted to ship the kids off to the Youth Programs for the day.  This is where the kids are divided by age group and wrangled into cruise happiness.  Fun, no?  My godchildren were having none of it.  While I was happy that they actually wanted to spend time with us, I was a bit annoyed.  It’s our vacation too!  We need some adult time, dag-nabbit, and you have to go.  They pouted, and sighed, and tried to bargain with us.  I disagreed.  The retort?  “Aunt Mary said we didn’t have to go.”  Indeed Mary is my aunt – Mommy’s sister – and my godmother, and one of the elders that we were all taught to respect.  But she wasn’t in loco parentis up in this piece, so she didn’t get a vote.  Particularly if she wasn’t going to watch them during the hours of the proposed Youth Program.  My cousin Lisa, the official shipboard guardian, waffled.  I told the kids that Auntie Lisa and Auntie Tracey needed grown-up fun, but we still loved them.   Seriously, what were they complaining about?  Even at my age, if someone wanted to gather together a group of my peers and engage us in some age-appropriate activities I’d be on it like a Westside whore on a New Jersey businessman.  But, the new youngsters thought it was punishment, being forced to play games and make friends without parents.  On a cruise ship.  In the Bahamas.  I told them to get a grip and reminded them that actual punishment is going to bed without ice cream.    Then I ordered another round of drinks.

The next day after the family dinner, these same children declared their desire to go swimming because some of their cruise friends would be at the pool.  Parental response: ‘Oh, HELL no.”  Generation X was in full effect, pretty much because we’d been on kid detail for days and were in some need of adult after-dark time.  Having spent hours in the pool that day keeping a hawk-eye on 6 of our kids, I’d had enough.  And on her 10th night with niece and nephew, Auntie Lisa was done too, but far more open to guilt-tripping.  Still, “no” was on the table, and apparently useless, as our parents began to negotiate and a full-on discussion of whether swimming was appropriate ensued. Huh?  I never negotiated with my parents, what they said was the law.  But here they were, engaging in prolonged discussion with a 10 year old about what will be done and when.  Was I in a parallel universe?  Where was the unilateral decision-making?  The respectful lack of backtalk?  The reluctant obeisance sans lip?  And, once again, our parents were negotiating for an activity that we would supervise:  their plans for the evening involved slot machines, no minors allowed.

Such is the particular joy of the Generation X sandwich:  we may be sandwiched between taking care of children and elders, but we’re also sandwiched between raising our kids the way we were raised, and the revisionist disciplinary history of our parents, who’ve apparently forgotten everything they ever knew about kids.  Start negotiating with them about bedtimes and activities and they’ll grow up thinking everything is negotiable.  They sense a chink in the parenting armor and you’ll be manipulated into buying every toy, every sugary cereal, every video game they can find.  There’s a reason that you can’t have kids when you are a kid yourself:  because with age comes experience, and knowledge, and judgment.  You fork over the judgment to the under-13 crowd, and you’re pretty much telling them “I know nothing, so feel free to question everything I tell you.”  So not good, especially when you have to return them to their mother on the weekend.

I was raised with a healthy, respectful fear of my parents.  I wasn’t afraid of them, per se, but afraid of disappointing them because they had expectations.  And they expressed those expectations by guiding my behavior, and disciplining me when it got too far afield.  There was minimal spanking, and it worked.  All my mother had to do was say “where’s my belt?”, and the threat made me fall in.  Crying about not getting what you want?  “Stop crying before I give you something to cry for,” or my favorite, “The more you cry, the less you pee.”  Classic Dorothy Mae Walker Lloyd.  I sucked it up and learned that in life, you never get everything that you want, but you’ll live through it.   These were good lessons, and my generation is the better for them.  However, we’re still kinda living in that healthy fear of our parents.  We can’t negotiate with them because we never did it, so when they say “let the kids play” on their way out the door, we can’t disobey.  We try, but get the same stern looks that we saw growing up.  Then we suck it up and do what everyone else wants.

So, when you ask our parents about the cruise, they’ll tell you how wonderful it was, how entertaining the ship was, and how much fun the kids had.  When you ask the kids, they’ll talk about everything they got to do, the new friends they made, bonding with their cousins, and ice cream every day.  They’ll all talk about spending time together, and how awesome it was to have 39 family members together for 4 days, which really is the point.  I’m not going to lie, it was a great time.  But ask my cousins and me, the Generation X crowd, and we’ll tell you that we’re still tired and need another vacation.

Norwegian Sky:  The best place for your next family vacation

Norwegian Sky: The best place for your next family vacation

They were happier most of the time, but also less quiet!

They were happier most of the time, but also less quiet!

My godson.  Completely adorable, yet incapable of whining underwater.

My godson. Completely adorable, yet incapable of whining underwater.

Family fun.  That's what its all about.  And look at the water!

Family fun. That’s what its all about. And look at the water!

My Fashion Manifesto

Style and fashion are not the central themes of this blog, but sometimes (actually all the time) I just have to call ‘em as I see ‘em, and I’ve got to talk about people’s clothes.  I realize that I am not above sartorial reproach, but I love to shop so my wardrobe is pretty much always what you would consider “in”.  And even when it isn’t, I don’t look foolish or inappropriate, and that’s really what I want for everyone since we’re the ones who have to look at you.

Today I was on the beach in Ocean Grove, NJ.  This is my second summer coming here, and there’s a local woman my friend Tanya and I call “Magda”, like the woman from There’s Something About Mary.  She’s old, too tan, too thin, and smokes too much.  On the beach, where there is no smoking.  Until today, I’d never seen Magda up close, just close enough to see that There’s Something About Her that’s Just Wrong.  Then, just as I’d mentioned her to my beach companion, she walked by.  Words can’t begin to describe the horror. I didn’t have a camera, so you’ll have to settle for some words.  Imagine someone wearing wrinkled clothing that’s 2 sizes to big.  Now imagine that the clothes are made of some kind of meat that you’ve microwaved but left in for too long, so its kind of bumpy and rough-looking.  That would be her skin, weather-beaten and sizzled to within inches of its sad life.  She’s darker than me.  I’ll admit that I’m probably the most fair-complexioned person in my family, so much so that some call me fish-bottom legs (cause they’re so white).  But still, this woman is darker than George Hamilton without the good looks and muscle tone.  Also, she’s got an anorexic body.  And she was wearing a bikini.  Not a modest old-lady 2-piece with a skirt.  She definitely bought it in the teen department, high-cut legs and all.  I’m not against women of a certain age showing some skin, but I’d prefer that they didn’t look like a rotting flesh bag.  Then there’s her frazzled, bleached hair.  Obviously, she spends way too much time in the sun, and there’s no SPF in her beach kit.  I know her skin feels like a cantaloupe wrapped in sandpaper, only if that cantaloupe were left in the desert sun for a month.

Lest you think that I’m ageist or overly critical, I will state here are certain items of clothing that everyone, no matter what their age, size, whatever, should be able to wear.  It’s a matter of comfort and propriety, so here’s the list:

1)    Tank top and shorts in summer:  It’s hot, and everyone deserves their own personal cooling station.  I don’t care if your upper arms are fat and flabby (as mine are) or saggy and wrinkled, there’s no reason you should suffer through the kind of summer we’re having in NYC wearing long sleeves because you’re ashamed.  Let ‘em out, ladies!  You’ll feel better, and nobody really cares anyway.  Same goes for shorts.  Varicose veins, hairy legs and cellulite be damned!  Cool those pins in some appropriate shorts:  I don’t want to see anyone’s butt cheeks, no matter how firm they are.  The exceptions to the shorts and tank top rules are as follows: wifebeater undershirts are underwear for a reason, so keep them under your clothes unless they’re brand new and pristine white; gentlemen’s tank tops must have arm holes that prevent viewing of your saggy man boobs, and should not be mesh or neon unless you’re a go-go boy; if your body hair is like a pelt, just cover it up or shave it off because it doesn’t really look clean.

2)    A bathing suit:  The word to remember here is appropriate.  A dip in the pool or the ocean is refreshing, and you need the right swimwear for the occasion.  Every woman can find a one-piece that covers and supports and shapes whatever you’re got going.  Every man can find a pair of trunks, and they don’t even have to cover your beer belly.  Now, just because you have license to own a bathing suit doesn’t mean Nana and Pop-Pop should sport matching neon orange thongs at the community pool (I’ve seen it and it wasn’t pretty.  But it was on a nude beach in another country and they were really tan, so what the hell?)  There is a time and a place for everything, and bikins really are best left to the young and those under a size 14.  Take note, Magda! I used to subscribe to the “if they make it in my size I’m gonna wear it” theory of clothing.  Then I saw a picture of myself, and no manner of string bikini looks good cutting into back fat.  I’ll return to the bikini when I re-lose 50 lbs., but I’m sure its not gonna have any strings and there’ll be some underwires involved.  And it will be slimming black, ‘cuz I’m not an idiot.

There are also some fashion “incidents” that should never be perpetrated:

1)    High-top sandals:  Why?  Do your heels get cold?  Are your ankles so ugly that you need to conceal them with shoes?  From what I’ve seen, that doesn’t work.  Ladies, think about some doofis guy you saw wearing Converse high tops with shorts.  That’s what you look like with a short dress and open-toed boots or whatever they’re supposed to be.  Just say no.

2)    Skinny jeans for men:  Unless you’re built like Pete Wentz or the lead singer of All American Rejects, you look like a weeble-wobble in skinny jeans.  If your legs are big enough to offset your broad upper body, you’ll look like a stuffed sausage.  You’ll never see T.O. in a pair, and the man has a SICK body.  So leave the “skinny” jeans to the “skinny” people, get yourself some relaxed fit, and remember this quote from Chris Rock (who could, by the way, wear skinny jeans): Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s to be done.  Oh, and before I forget, wear them above your butt.

3)    A full set of toenails:  I’ve worn acrylic nails, and they’re good for making your polish last longer.  When your nails break before they can grow long, a set of wraps can protect your real nails.  But when did it become okay to put long nails on your feet?  My toenails grow like weeds and I’m forever trying to get them short enough to look normal.  Then I get on the bus and see some woman with long-ass big-toe nails, fully airbrushed, hanging off the end of her sandals.  As the kids say, what the fuck?  It’s so gross that I have to drop an f-bomb.  Used to be when you had one long toenail, your significant other made fun of you until you cut it, talking about how you stabbed him with it in the middle of the night, and how you could use it to cut steak.  Now, apparently, having that one long nail is attractive?  Maybe they use it as a bottle opener, or to shuck oysters, or for some exotic sexual act.  What happens in the winter?  Do you buy longer shoes to accommodate your freakishly-long, yet impeccably groomed, toenail with your baby daddy name written on it in Swarovski crystals?  Asian nail technicians always want to airbrush my nails – hand and feet – because I have long nail beds and they’ll have a large canvas to work on.  I politely and respectfully decline, and exit the salon with my dignity intact.

Love…exciting and new

Norwegian Sky:  Its no Love Boat

Norwegian Sky: Its no Love Boat

Any child of the 1970s who has been aboard a cruise will likely have the same reaction.  Why isn’t this ship like the one from The Love Boat?  And why couldn’t you just skip the Pacific Princess and drive to Puerta Vallarta from LA?    That last part is probably for the Angelinos among us, but it stands to reason why my boat, Norwegian Sky, didn’t really have the same oomph I expected from a cruise liner.  Perhaps the magic of television just made everything seem nicer.  Perhaps its because I’m older and, like going back to high school after you’ve graduated, cruise ships look different to adults.  Or perhaps it is because they never showed you real cabins on The Love Boat.

Apparently the word “cabin” isn’t the term du jour among cruiselines.  I stayed in a “stateroom”, and believe me when I tell you there’s nothing stately about it.  Ok, so I didn’t choose my room, and I am unemployed so economy is important.  However, when a bed folds out from the wall and I’m expected to sleep in it, something has gone horribly awry.  Most likely, that fold-out was meant for a child, and the room was not meant to be shared by 3 larger-than-average sized adults, only one of whom is physically able to mount the upper bed.  Even still, the room was teeny-tiny.  You couldn’t open the door without closing the closet, and two people had to be in bed in order for the third to get to the bathroom.  Don’t get me started on the bathroom.  When we embarked, the bathroom smelled like, well, bathroom.  Like Greyhound Bus, public toilet bathroom.  Not a good first impression.  However, if I’d been given 2 or 3 welcome aboard cocktails instead of one, I doubt I’d have noticed.  You’ll be happy to know that the smell dissipated eventually.

For a small room, though, they did cram lots of things in.  There was a “lamp” on the wall behind my fold-out bed, the pillows were good, and it was rather comfortable once I got used to the idea of potentially careening towards the floor in the middle of the night.  And once I convinced myself that the bed would make several creaking noises before breaking off from the wall, crushing my cousin Von beneath it, I slept like a baby.  Maybe it was the water (which I couldn’t see or hear from the window-less steerage cabin), or perhaps it was the Drink of the Day, every day.  Or perhaps it was knowing that there’d be no phones to answer, no e-mails to read, no incessant need to update my Facebook status.  While eating dinner, someone noticed that for the first time in years, there were no cell phones on the table and you couldn’t see thumbs flying in the midst of a frantic text.

In other words, we were on vacation.