by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
February 12, 2003
ABOARD THE BENTHIC, A BOTTOM LINE
ABOARD THE SS BENTHIC -- The first thing I did, shortly after locating my quarters on this cruise ship, was to endear myself to the captain by asking whether he knew that the name of his vessel referred to the bottom of the sea? From Greek benthos?
"Of course!" he boomed. "And how really splendid to have another classically educated chap on board!"
Then, in a quieter tone of voice: "But that will be our little secret, right? Not a good idea to spook the paying landlubbers any more than they're spooked already. I've enough on my plate reassuring them about the surface of the bleeding sea. It is company policy that the bottom of the sea is a purely hypothetical quantity invented by the railway interests to attract some custom to themselves. Care to join me in a spot of rum?"
How, I wanted to know, did a Britisher get command of a ship that flew, if that was the word, the American flag?
"Britisher!?" The boom was back. "Ever so ta for that! Pity my English tutor back in Belgrade couldn't have heard it. No, I'm a Serb, actually."
"Acerb?" I asked.
"That too. Though I try to keep it within bounds when meeting the clientele. Let's just say that when I was growing up in Yugoslavia, Tito was not the name of the Yankees first baseman. How about that rum? If you won't, I will."
I thanked Capt. Frobisher (his first name was Clive) but declined the rum and went down to what was called in the brochure, with a straight face, my stateroom.
It was comfortable enough in a maritime sort of way, but after my conversation with Capt. Frobisher the sign beneath the single porthole made me distinctly uncomfortable. PLEASE DO NOT OPEN WITHOUT CHECKING THE DEPTH GAUGE LOCATED ABOVE AND TO THE RIGHT OF THE BIDET IN YOUR HEAD. AND ENJOY YOUR TRIP!
In my head? Oh, the bathroom. This momentary confusion had distracted me from the essential message that my getting a glimpse of the sun setting over a sultry southern sea somehow depended on...depth? Depth of what? In what?
Oppressed by the increasingly uneasy thoughts now sharing room in my head with the bidet, I wandered off to the pool deck.
Most of my fellow voyagers having not yet arrived, there was no more than three feet of water in the pool, but in that three feet there was a great thrashing about. Eight or nine young people variously clad as hermit crabs, manta rays, &c., were engaged in what looked like serial acts of cannibalism. A young woman holding a clipboard seemed to be directing the action, which turned out to be a rehearsal by the ship's resident acting company.
"What are they doing?" I asked.
"What does it look like they're doing?" she asked.
"Squirming about on the bottom of the swimming pool?"
"So far, so good," she said. "And...?"
"Trying to eat before they are eaten," I offered, hoping to be wrong.
"Great!" she boomed. "We should hire you to write publicity for us! I can see it now: Eat before you're Eton!"
"What is the name of your company?" I asked.
"The Bottom Feeders," she said.
"And the show?
"Benthos, Done That!"
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.