This trip was the first time we travelled with Mom’s “friend” Norm. They shared a room just down the hall from my brother Aidan and I. Now, both Mom and Norm enjoy finer things so when I say “room” I actually mean “suite” complete with a big round bed, a jacuzzi, a larger-than-average balcony and a doorbell just in case they couldn’t hear the butler knocking while they were enjoying their larger-than-average balcony. They were special members of a special club that entitled them to all kinds of special privileges. They had their own velvety lounge so ridiculously extravagant that I actually laughed when I walked in. Every piece of furniture, curtain, countertop or table in there was either crush purple, gold, or a polished black. It looked like a room straight out of some cartoonish palace and we have pictures of the tall golden thrones to prove it.
Mom and Norm also had access to a private sundeck (where they could literally look down on the squabbling masses below), their own pool area and an exclusive restaurant. They didn’t have to interact with any non-special club member if they didn’t want to. This rich person quarantine felt like the design product of a snobby wet dream, a sharply divided economic hierarchy where the well-off floated to the top of the ship like oil in water.
Now, my brother and I (being non-members) weren’t supposed to be in any of these areas but when accompanied by those who were, we were above questioning.
When the two of them got to their room, they were greeted by a bottle of champagne and little salmon crackers under a thoughtful welcome note from the captain. This was all very new to us. I’ve certainly never enjoyed this kind of treatment on any vacation but there was some concern that Norm, who was on his first cruise, would have some difficulty dealing with the squabbling on the common decks. So, they decided it would be worth it to pay the litt…well maybe more than a little, extra.
The best part about all this was also the thing that made me feel the most uncomfortable: the unmentioned perks and special treatment. For dinner the first night, we went down to one of the sit-down restaurants in the ship’s atrium and the wait was 45 minutes. But once the hostess found out Mom and Norm were “Haven” members, they cleared off a table right away and sat us down before everyone else. We gladly marched through the crowds, heads held high with entitlement. “Why shouldn’t we?” I could practically hear them thinking, “We paid for it.”
Now, I didn’t pay for this kind of treatment so I didn’t really feel like I could enjoy it. Warranted or not, I kind of felt like an arrogant dick, thumbing my nose at the people in line. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so bad if I hadn’t made the rude gesture at those nice people.
Still, I don’t expect this kind of discomfort from anyone else, certainly not Mom or Norm. For them it was as it should have been: nothing more than a simple exchange of payment for a level of service.
Our first night ended at the casino like most of our nights would. For the next week, my brother and I would always see the same people there but never anywhere else on the ship. Some would drop as much as a thousand dollars on a single roll, and we saw hardly any winners. One shiny-headed Englishman must have walked to the cashier 12 times that first night, drawing out as much money as he could stand to lose.
“Sorry about that,” I would sometimes say to him after crapping out on an early roll. “If it makes you feel any better, I lost 20 bucks.”
His slumped shoulders and polished dome would roll back, well aware that I knew he had just lost $150. He stood still, silently poised to grab the dice-sliding stick from the little Filipino lady and jam it past my tonsils. It didn’t make him feel any better.
“Alright,” I thought, “blackjack it is.”