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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

**WEB: CRUISING Eric Sasson
WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
AFTER DETOX Jamie Iredell
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer

Eric Sasson

In PART 1, Sasson's first-person hero detailed the god-given right to sex in cruise-ships' steam rooms, for sundry reasons, not least of which was his contention, with which we left off, that "Life is too short not to be ridiculous..."

Which is why I have sex in the steam room.

Sex with the married fertilizer wholesaler from Marietta, Ga., whose wife is having a seaweed wrap. Sex with the Romanian insurance agent/deep sea diver, his chest hairs trimmed, his bald head pointy and impatient, his lust-filled bleats escaping despite his attempts to muffle them.

Sex with the assistant head waiter, a Brazilian flirt (they're all flirts) with porn-video-cover locks and a sinewy body, parading his engorged cock around the locker room as if he were about to stick it into the ground and lay claim to a new moon. I see him and even though I am ostensibly there to work my abs I quickly undress to join him. The moment is absurd and particularly real; I've stepped into a dream, and as I play my role, I imagine concurrent dreams running alongside my real one, the dreams the rest of the ship is having:


While I shower myself off two seventeen-year-old girls sit by the pool, braiding each other's hair. They consider ordering Mango Sours.

I push open the sauna door and he looks up. His eyebrows say everything that needs to be said; seven floors down a woman fidgets at the guest services desk, complaining of an ant infestation in her room.

I sit across from him, release my towel so that it falls to the side. I spread my legs while an eleven-year-old calls out to his new friend across one of the ping-pong tables on the sports deck, begging for a do-over because the wind knocked his sunglasses off mid-shot.

His penis rises in the hazy space between his legs. His eyes dance down to it and then back up at me. He watches me watching, while a frustrated mother sits across her bulbous-cheeked daughter in the cafe, imploring the girl to eat something, anything, besides tater-tots for lunch.

Aroused, I glance cautiously toward the door. The silence beyond stills me, so I cross over to sit beside him. I look over at his Adonis flesh, his inhuman cock. My mouth is dehydrated, sanded by my own hunger as two stateroom attendants on deck three talk about their girlfriends, about the first meals waiting for them when they'll finally go home next week after five months on the ship.

His eyes lock on mine, and he bites his lower lip. His right hand weighs the span of his penis. My hand reaches down. I stroke. The dry air suffocates and excites my breathing. Just then, four middle-aged Persians seeking refuge from their wives gather in the Havana Nights Cigar Club and set up an impromptu backgammon tournament. Ironically, they chomp on Dominicans.

He reaches over. I surrender to his hand and he to mine. Our moans are soft, sparing, primary. At the martini bar, a husband with a comb-over orders two Key-Lime Cosmopolitans while his wife fiddles with the daily cruise guide. The silent art auction begins in twenty minutes and they will bid on a Peter Max.

My other hand reaches for his chest. I grab at his skin as if grabbing for a life vest, as if I'm expecting to be saved. And Captain Sven Swenson -- why are all cruise captains Scandinavian? -- is giving his afternoon update, informing us of our precise longitudinal position, wind speed, the distance in knots to our next destination. His speech is repeated in Spanish by Carmen Sanchez, the foreign guest hospitality coordinator.

Our eyes bounce back and forth, from each other to the door. Soon we no longer care; soon the door isn't even there. He takes my nipple in his teeth. I clutch his damp hair in my hand, holding his head against me. I smell him: shampoo, sweat, lust. And in the solarium, a 36-six-year-old redhead with a mole on her left cheek lounges in the shade, reading Junot Diaz's new novel, because unlike the friends she's traveling with, she refuses to get sun damage and read silly beach books just because she's on vacation.

I bend down to take him inside my mouth. He holds my head and fucks my lips for ten seconds that seem even shorter. I am there, but not. I choke my cock with my hand. My mind screams what are you doing and don't stop at the same time. And a 39-year-old divorcee leaves the New York Deli on deck seven, squirts some Puracel in her hands from one of the automatic dispensers conveniently placed throughout the ship before heading over to test her mettle at the rock-climbing wall.

I want more, more, but when I reach down again, he jerks me up. He spreads his legs wide and pumps himself ferociously until I see the release. I watch it dribble and spurt, so quick, I think, so quick, but I know it must be this quick, there is something euphoric about it being this quick. The door rematerializes and soon I am so quick too, soon my towel has already cleared up a mess I've never really made.

There is no lingering in the moment. Certainly no caressing, no words exchanged about what just happened; only a nod of the head, a "see ya around" with one foot already out the door. This is not disappointing. Sentimentalizing the moment would only cheapen it.

Does this information scare you? Repulse you? Do you feel the gap between us widening? That would be unfortunate. Must there be a gap? Do these things not happen under the same sun? We are, all of us, nothing but tiny patches in the infinite quilt of time. Different but essential parts of the fabric.

What do we seek here, with this confession? What do we stand to gain by sharing this with you, what, if we already have the tolerance of so many of you, could we add, with this gratuitous diligence of exposition? Is it just our selfish desire to see ourselves as real in your eyes, our vanity begging for an objective witness? Or do we sense that something in our story might connect with you, something small, most likely, something we probably wouldn't even notice but you do, and maybe for a second a spark of recognition alights, and you add to the recipes of your understanding one further ingredient. What if, inside of you, there is more of us that either we or you care to admit?

Because in many ways we are similar. We too like the salty sea air, the cloudless skies. The boat tilts port and starboard while we sleep, and like you, some of us find it lulling while others find it sickening. We too deboard at the Islands' ports, in Oranjestad and Phillipsburg and Charlotte Amelie, where we cattle into overpriced taxis to the beach, haggle with the locals who make us hats from palm leaves, jet-ski and sunburn and drink dubious drinks made of indigenous rums, buy duty-free cigarettes for our friends back home. We too pretend not to see the poverty behind the tourist trade, as if our sunglasses had filters on them.

We split eights in blackjack when the dealer has a five, we play the bonus in three-card poker, and few of us understand Craps but most of us wish we did. Vidalia onion tarts, chilled pear soups, blackened tilapias, Cherries Jubilee: like you, we have eaten them all, sometimes in the same sitting. We too pretend to go to the midnight buffet just to "see the ice sculptures" and end up gorging on roast-beef sandwiches and chocolate truffles. You will see us at the mandatory drill, reporting to our muster stations, our lifejackets appropriately fastened. We enter the win-a-cruise raffles, we buy last -minute gifts at the cheesy $10 blowout sale on the last night of the cruise, the same night when we too slip our waiters their tips in pre-addressed envelopes. We take too many photos, drink too many mojitos, charge far too much to our onboard accounts. We wave, at the other people, on the other boats, dressed like us, waving back at us, at the Sail Away Deck Party.

So allow me to offer up some reconciliation, an attempt to cross a divide that may exist but really doesn't. Because there is one thing that at one point all of us who are cruising experience on a ship: we stand out on the deck, at dawn or dusk or on either side of the in-between, and we look out at the infinite blue with patches of white rolling into the horizon, we see the panorama of nature's perfect, untouched canvas, and we all -- you and he and she and I, the we that is you, and the we that is us, all of us -- are left breathless at how beautiful and unknowable the world is, how it has been so since forever past and will remain so for forever future, and how there is nothing, truly nothing we can do but gape and ponder, but only for a few seconds because if we think too long it will suffocate us, how incredibly insignificant we all are, how insignificant and glorious. Face to face with the naked bravado of the sun, with the serene self-possession of clouds, it's hard to imagine that our peccadilloes matter so much, be they in steam room or stateroom, in the screening room on deck two or behind the bar of the Viking Club on deck fifteen.

In the end, we are on vacation. So go ahead and sip your Rum Runner. Shuffleboard's on deck three. The iceberg awaits us all, but then again, so does the shore.


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