The obnoxious monstrosity, that was to be our home for the next three nights, loomed over the pier. The reception hall was sterile and cheap. Decorated by neon bars and signs in Helvetica screaming at you to have fun. We checked in, got our room keys and made for the security checkpoint. Here, the giddy anticipation that marked the faces of the ship’s future occupants was instantly replaced by paranoia. A girl whispered urgently into her boyfriend’s ear. He placed a soothing kiss on the girl’s forehead. As an obese security guard patted me down, I saw the wide grin on Everett’s face. ‘We did it!’ He yelled. I smiled. The same wave of relief washed over every other person that made their way through security because these weren’t your ordinary self-indulgent stuff-your-face cruise tourists carrying bags with cheap airport novels and blinding Hawaii shirts. They were young, attractive, hedonistic festivalgoers carrying bags loaded with enough controlled substances to put Pete Doherty to shame. Not one of them would normally be caught dead on a cruise.
Gripping my bag stuf-fed with unfashionable clothes I stepped onto the gangplank. Everett led the way, misguiding us to our cabin. The endless decks and halls of the ship had already trapped some in its labyrinth, clueless twenty-somethings beginning to wreak havoc on what was recently named Best New Cruise ship by Frommer’s. Glass elevators. Psychedelic car-peting. Spotlessly clean chrome railings. Twelve restaurants,five hot tubs, two pools and a dri-ving range. At every corner we were courteously greeted by the legions of South-east Asian crewmembers hired to attend to our every need. Their smiles were trained yet authentic. Their eyes belied the fact that their cabins weren’t anywhere near ours on deck seven but probably closer to the boiler room in the ship’s gut. Everett swung the door open in his characteristically flamboyant fashion. ‘Guess we’re spooning,’ he said. I noticed the queen-size bed, chose a side and walked out onto the balcony. I smelled a waft of marijuana coming from one of the decks above us. I turned to see Everett already packing a bowl totally ignorant of the No-Smoking sign above his head. He lit the pipe and passed it over. ‘Pretty sweet set-up,’ he exhaled. I nodded and took a hit. ‘Look, if any of us is lucky enough to score some babes, then we gotta coordinate,’ he said. ‘Cause I don’t want you walking in on me while I’m in the bone zone!’
Everett was my neighbor back in LaLaLand. A born and bred Angeleno who talked like the guys on Workaholics, used to play bass in a punk band and was a fixture in the LA indie music scene. Those same friends hooked him up with a free cabin. ‘Can you believe the amount of money people have been putting down to be on this cruise?’ He asked. ‘Sixteen hundred bucks! What schmuck would lay down almost two grand for this?’ He repacked the pipe. ‘It’s absurd.’ The ship horn sounded and we began to move. ‘Let’s go explore!’ Everett exclaimed. ‘Do I bring the chocolates?’ I asked. ‘No. Those are for tomorrow,’ he answered. Everett always had everything planned out and I was more than happy to follow.
The main pool deck was already filled with a weird mix of tattooed breast-plates and shaved scalps plastered with combovers juxtaposed with prim Lacoste-sporting European trust fund babies and a gross pack of bicep-pumping bros. Father John Misty was playing the Sky Lounge, a mid-sized room at the stern of the ship with 280 degree views overlooking the sea. A small crowd was getting into it. Everett shrugged, downed his drink and motioned for me to follow. We made our way past the Outdoor Bar on our way to dinner to meet Everett’s friends and entered the Grand Cuvee: the main dining hall furnished in 21st century Titanic-splendor. Richard, Kat and Dexx were a neat bunch, already in a healthy state of inebriation, and seemed to live every second like it was their second to last. Dexx was wild-eyed, constantly on edge and incapable of staying in his seat. Kat was the opposite: empathic, sharp and supremely cool. Richard didn’t say much; he just smiled all the time. After wolfing down superior food in presentation but mediocre in digestibility, Dexx supplied dessert. Fingers dipped into the open packet and more packets were distributed amongst us. The rancidness was washed away with red wine and off we went.
Euphoria swept through my cells as the Caribbean sunset bathed the ship in a golden hue. The Molly began to take hold. We bounced from one show to the next and ended up at the main venue, the Silhouette Theater. By the time Pulp made their appearance I was rolling harder than Clooney in the Perfect Storm. The crowd was ecstatic. The performance intimate and electrifying. Jarvis ironically crooned Common People to the not so common folk hanging off his every word. I was jamming blind and indifferent, shamelessly licking the remnants out of my packet when suddenly Kat bumped me from behind. ‘Hey! I think she’s into you,’ she said. ‘What?’ I asked. The most stunning blonde had been trying to get my attention, leaning up against me, smiling, but I had been oblivious. My mind a blur save for the music I turned back and asked Kat. ‘She’s beautiful right?’ Kat urged me on. ‘Yes! Go for it!’ I turned back to the girl, heart pounding, Common People rising to a crescendo and I let my hand grace hers. Our fingertips touched, then her fingers wrapped in mine and we danced and swung our heads in synchronous bliss.
Our hands still interlocked tight, I snapped out of my daze and thought I should ask her name. ‘Layla!’ She yelled and, in a smoky East European accent, asked me if I had anymore ‘happiness.’ With my brain already fried over-easy I needed her to spell out exactly what she meant. ‘Oh. The molly,’ I answered. She nodded. I laughed uneasily and said I had finished it. She smiled and told me not to sweat it, then moved in front of me and wrapped my arms around her perfectly slim figure. I couldn’t believe my luck. When the gig ended we parted ways but decided to meet later on.
Next step: the rage cage. Everett and I moshed to the toilet-paper-streamed-excess of !!!, expelling as much of the drugs out of my system as I battled the comedown to be able to cognitively communicate with Layla later.
When we met at the Outdoor Bar it had already closed so Layla led me to the abandoned aft deck overlooking the driving range. We climbed onto one of the empty lounge beds and I lay my head in her lap. She tenderly ran her fingers through my hair as we spoke. Our eyes drifted across each other’s various features. As the anxiety bled from my body it was replaced with a feeling I hadn’t felt in the longest time. I felt it tingle up my spine, out toward my fingertips, gripping my throat and pouring out of my lips as I placed them on hers. What does the stripper do with her asshole after work? Some radio jockey who had taken over the PA asked 1200 cruise passengers at 3am. She drops him off at band practice.
As our laughter settled down, I asked Layla where she lived. ‘London,’ she replied. ‘Amores de lejos es amores pendejos’, I mumbled. On Layla’s puzzled expression I translated the South American proverb as a warning for long distance relationships. She smiled and placed a soft kiss on my lips. We shivered from a freakishly cold breeze. Or was it from the mutual damage we had done to our bodies that night? A steward passed by and, seeing us suffer, returned with two thick blankets. We thanked him and snuggled closer to each other, far from from the festival’s debauchery.
When we woke up the sun had begun to lift the veil of darkness from the sea. I led Layla to her cabin and gave her my room number. Out of satellite reception, we were left to making old-fashioned appointments. We would meet at the pool in the afternoon. Sober, tired, and elated, I located my cabin to discover Everett fully clothed and snoring on the bed. I shoved him to one side and attempted to get a few more hours of sleep.
‘Wakey, wakey!’ Everett screamed into my face. ‘It’s brunch o’clock homeboy! Come on! They’ll all be done by the time we get there!’ I groaned, lifted myself out of bed and made for the bathroom. ‘Sooooo? Did you get it on with your hot new friend?’ Everett inquired. ‘Fuck off,’ I replied and hopped into the shower. Everett held the door open and attempted to pry more info out of me. When that didn’t work he proceeded to explain how fucked up he and the others had gotten last night. As I got dressed, Everett resorted to packing another bowl. ‘Don’t forget the chocolates,’ he said. ‘Is it cho-colate-day today?’ I asked. ‘Today is a chocolate holiday, my friend.’ He answered. I dug a bar out of my backpack and slid it into my pocket.
Entering the Grand Cuvee we were welcomed by crewmembers following our every step with Good Mornings and So Nice To See You Todays. We located Richard, Kat and Dexx, and sat down to a breakfast of Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict. ‘Break out the chocolate,’ Everett ordered. ‘Already?’ I replied, ‘It’s only 11am.’ Everett took a deep dramatic breath before answering. ‘Dude. Time has ceased to exist. We’re on cruise time now and cruise time, my friend, calls for chocolates. Who else agrees?’ A show of hands went up and I distributed chocolate chunks to all present.
We tumbled over carpet patterns swirling into transparent elevators. Greens and yellows and blues popped in fantastical vividness. Our own private carnival floated through passageways and corridors as relentless fits of giggling hijacked our every move. We jaunted out into the open air and were blinded by the tropical sun. I gripped the railing and was transfixed by the glistening whitecaps. These shrooms were no joke.
We arrived at the Outdoor Bar. Again. Somehow, we always ended up at what was now the general meeting spot for communication-strapped millennials. I attempted to converse with other passengers but failed miserably when a tap on the shoulder made me turn around to face a psychedelic beauty. Layla. In a woven neon-yellow sweater to battle these crazy winds and with her golden hair draped over her shoulders, the sight of her was enough to make my tripping mind supernova. She placed a kiss on my lips. That’s when panic gripped me. For the life of me I could not communicate.
…with her golden hair draped over her shoulders, the sight of her was enough to make my tripping mind supernova…
I muttered something lame like how nice it was to see her. Her face sunk in disappointment. ‘I’m tripping,’ I apologized. ‘Well, I just wanted to say hi. Have fun,’ she said and walked away. ’ ‘Have fun,’ she said and walked away. I looked at my fellow psychonauts, dumbfounded, when Richard, speaking for the first time, grabbed me by the shoulders and yelled, ‘Dude! She’s the hottest chick on this cruise. You cannot let her get away!’ He was right. With my eyes, I followed Layla as she walked to the other side of the ship, already being trailed by some douchebag bro. That was enough, even in my state of psilocybin madness, to dare claim that passion we had shared the night before. I followed her and called out. ‘Layla, wait!’ All heads turned. Was that too loud? I shook it off and scampered towards her. Layla turned to face me with a skeptical look. ‘Sorry. That was weird. Obviously I’m kinda out of synch with you right now. What about seeing Grimes with me tonight? And if we trip, we’ll trip together.’ ‘Can we see Warpaint before?’ She asked. I nodded enthusiastically. She squeezed my hand as her friend Gulnara, lying on a lounge bed, rolled her eyes. Walking back to my crew I felt like a new man. I had conquered my trip and bolstered my self-confidence. Who needs skinny jeans when you’ve got love? I joined my friends and marveled as Cuba passed us by.
The pod room was the main transit point on level seven. Officially it was called the library for the scant collection of journals and fake novels placed on shelves that were just out of reach. Sixties egg chairs, the pods, swiveled under thirty-foot ceilings. I drifted asleep wondering if the designer realized he had created a magic mushroom paradise. I awakened to Layla climbing into the pod with me. ‘Hi,’ she said. ‘Hi,’ I answered. We took our portions and settled back into one another. As we waited she traced the contours of my jaw with her fingertips. Her face could take on a look of such intense scrutiny; I realized how much I enjoyed just being with her and, with that, I felt the dread our of our imminent separation rise within me. ‘Did you feel that?’ Layla suddenly asked. I snapped out of my daydream and nodded. The colors around us were changing. The sounds had sharpened. It was time.
We danced, locked in an embrace, bonded together by the enlightenment of plant intelligence. As Grimes played Layla cheered and swayed, and we kissed. Blissed out as our energetic beings melded into one another. She grabbed the back of my head and whispered into my ear, ‘I want you. I want you inside of me tonight.’ My heart leapt into my throat, and I could only kiss an affirmation. Oblivion’s contagious beat kicked in and we were jubilantly thrust into the air.
Layla and I split up to pay our dues to our respective crews and agreed to meet at the pool deck for the Gaslamp Killer. I joined my buds in healthy dilation for Simian Mobile Disco’s set. After the show I ran to the pool deck to find it empty save for ten people blasting off to GLK. Layla, her face flushed with excitement, spiraled into my arms, breathless and irresistible. We rushed down to her cabin.
We tumbled into her room and onto her bed. Hands desperately searched for zippers, clasps and buttons. Tearing off any layer that separated our skins from touching. As my fingers landed on her bra clasp we froze. Was that a click? The door swung open and we covered ourselves up. ‘Excuse me, I would like to shower now,’ Gulnara whined as she held the door open for us. Fuck sakes. We gathered our things and made for my cabin. We struggled to keep our clothes on as we bounded down the halls and escaped noxious Valley Girls screaming, ‘Best cruise, eveeeeeeeer!’ We rolled our eyes and rolled into my cabin. Soon our clothes were on the floor and my mouth landed on her firm nipple. She moaned and dug her nails into my back. I tasted the sweat off of her skin, human flesh like caviar. ‘Take it off,’ she pleaded. I flung off my jeans and Layla straddled me. Only the thin fabric of our underwear remained between us. I could feel her. I could taste her. I spun her around and tossed her onto her back, her smile warmly enveloped by a fan of blonde hair. She nodded.
Then she was screaming. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ A shocked Everett had fallen into the cabin, threw himself into the bathroom and proceeded to unload the contents of his stomach into the sink. ‘Food poisoning,’ he gargled. ‘I fucking hate this cruise!’ Layla and I looked at each other in stunned disbelief. She quickly got dressed. ‘I’m going to bed.’ She sighed. ‘See you tomorrow.’ She kissed me and left. I lay back on the bed in blue-balled frustration, falling asleep to the sounds of Everett’s misery.
Maybe not tomorrow. That day we stopped off in Jamaica. I entered into the nightmare of a Caribbean tourist trap and suffered through a snorkeling trip, forced to wear a life jacket in six-foot deep water while I drowned myself in rum punches. At the end of what seemed to be an endless day, I found myself in the Sky Lounge, hung-over and grateful for this sunset reprieve. Then, Layla appeared at my side. There is a god. ‘Gulnara has declared our cabin off limits,’ Layla said. I told her Everett was bedridden. Resigned to our fate we rocked back and forth in a loving embrace as the ship entered choppy seas. That night we seizured through the plunderphonics madness of Girl Talk, stared in wonder as a karaoke-singing Britney Spears imper-sonator fornicated with a grand piano and shook to the rainbow strobe light frenzy of the Quasar Club. As the ship gradually shut down, the remaining survivors congregated at the Outdoor Bar for one final dance of desperation. Nowhere left to go, Layla and I found our final moments together in a secluded hammock, a final chance to touch, to talk, to breathe each other in. Every stroke, every caress, every kiss was laden with an urgency to discover as much as we could of one another in the little time left. We undressed with total disregard for the cleanup crews swabbing the decks. Our naked bodies, hidden under blankets, pressed against each other. My fingers slipped into her, her mouth went down to take me in with urgency. As I lay myself on top of her, our eyes locked, full of longing, we fused our souls in nuclear rapture. Her teeth locked onto my earlobe, her breath lifted goosebumps of tantric energy up off of my spine. She wrapped her arms around my back and pulled me deeper into her. Completely. We moved to rhythm of the ship breaking the waves and released days of pent-up hormones, writhing in pure non-synthetic ecstasy. ‘I love you,’ I cried as we reached the mutual crest of our wave. ‘I fucking love you.’ We were prodded awake by an embarrassed crewmember holding out our clothes for us. ‘Time to disembark,’ he said.
Gulnara im-patiently waited inside the cab as Layla and I lingered in our embrace. A few yards behind us, Everett was stooped over a garbage can. ‘Will I see you again?’ I asked her. ‘Amores de lejos, es amores pendejos,’ she answered. I smiled softly. Of course. She kissed me once more. Brief, gentle, and meaningful. As Layla’s cab disappeared into the Ft. Lauderdale traffic I silently thanked her. ‘Let’s go home,’ Everett moaned and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.