World Cruise 1996
Milan & Memory Repression
One of the most extraordinary encounters in my sailing career
was on my first cruise as Cruise Sales Manager aboard the Sagafjord. I hosted a
table in the dining room and we had a wonderful group of eight that made dinner
each evening a delightful affair. However, one couple left the ship after only
four days, leaving a vacancy at the table. My friend, Shirley Zuffinetti,
informed me there was a young woman, who wanted to join us, but Shirley asked
me to please not allow it - she just couldn't eat at the same table with Rita.
I assured her I would decline when the
maitre'd asked me about adding Rita, but to my dismay, when we came to dinner
that evening, there was Rita, proudly sitting at my table. We never quite could
figure out why she wanted to be part of our group. It wasn't as though she was
exactly a social butterfly. We asked her name and where she was from (so far so
good), but when we asked what she did for a living she replied, "I work with
numbers, but I'm on vacation and I don't want to talk about it!"
Rita's eating habits were peculiar.
She started dinner with breads, chomping them down like a chipmunk, leaving
crumbs scattered around her place. She followed with appetizers, soups, and
main courses (no, the "s" on each of those words is not a typo!). For dessert
she would have a serving bowl from the buffet, filled with chopped fruit and
she would eat it all. She finished with one or two cakes of Camembert or Brie
cheeses, accompanied again by various crackers.
Breakfast was remarkable. She would
have a full breakfast in the dining room, then proceed to the Lido Cafe out on
deck and have another. You could always tell where Rita had eaten on deck. She
loved mangoes and before she was finished, there was a stack of 5 or 6 mango
shells, remnants of her vociferous appetite.
Was she heavy? No! Skinny as a rail!
However, she did confide to us in one of her weaker moments, that she used to
weigh over 350 pounds. The process in between will always be left to our
imagination, but we definitely had our ideas.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with
traditional turkey dinner. All at the table ordered turkey, except Rita, who
was seated at my left. The waiter served the turkey, platter service, and I was
the last to be served. When Rita saw that there was still a piece of meat on
the platter when the waiter finished, she asked if she could have it. The
waiter of course said yes, but before he could give it to her, she reached onto
the platter and took the meat with her fingers and placed it on her plate. The
waiter was shocked, but tried to hide it. I diplomatically said, "Rita, why
don't you let him serve you?"
French dinner was the ultimate. The
bus boy, Edmundo, brought a tray of garlic toast and made the mistake of
starting with Rita. Rita saw the garlic toast and said, "Oh! Garlic toast! I
love garlic toast! I want the whole tray. Just put the whole thing right here,"
as she patted the table next to her plate. Edmundo was supposed to serve all of
us with that platter, but the guest is always right, so he started to set it
down. From across the table I looked up to see what was happening and suggested
Rita take a few now, and when she's finished, she can have some more (novel
concept). No, she didn't want to have the bus boy running back and forth,
though she really meant she didn't want to wait for more, once she devoured whatever
he gave her. She never liked waiting between courses and she wasn't about to
wait for more garlic toast. I pointed out that it is Edmundo's job to serve us
and he would be happy to do so. She said, "No, that's not fair to him, so just
put them all in a big bowl and put them right here. I want them all!" I said,
"Rita!" She replied, "If I don't get them I will scream!" At that point I
became a little sterner and said, "Rita, let him serve you." Rita was most
agitated. She shook her finger at me, and in a voice that could be heard by
half the dining room exclaimed, "I was told when I came on this cruise that I
could have anything I want, as much as I want, whenever I want, and that's
exactly what I intend to do, so SCREW YOU!"
I summoned amazing self-control and
ignoring her, said to the bus boy, "Edmundo, put some in a bowl for her and
when she's finished you may bring her some more. There was an embarrassed pause
as I tried to decide what tack to take next, but the drama took on a life of
Let me introduce some of the other
guests before I continue. Bob and Marilyn were a young couple from California.
Bob was a travel agent (of great self-importance) and Marilyn was a flight
attendant. They were traveling with Bob's mother and stepfather, June and
Ralph. The four of them enjoyed their drinks before dinner, and to this point
June had been pretty oblivious to Rita's aberrational behavior. However, on
this particular night, she was sitting next to Rita and observed the whole
thing. So after the exchange of words, June said to Rita, "The staff here are
meant to serve us. That's why we come on ships - for the wonderful service."
Rita replied, "Mind your own business, you old bitty!"
If it was uncomfortable at the table
before, it was positively chilly now. I tried to change the subject and tell
some stories, but my mind has blocked out most of the rest of that dinner. I
had to leave dinner a little early for an appointment, and later found out the
drama was not over.
After I left, Marilyn announced, "Rita,
you are no longer welcome at our table. You have insulted my mother-in-law, you
have been rude to me, and I speak for all the guests at the table - You are no
longer welcome here." Rita said, "I don't care, I'm not leaving!"
Meet Pansy Livingston. Pansy was a
lovely lady from Atlanta, Georgia and now she spoke up, "Excuse me. You're not
speaking for everyone at the table. She's been rude to me too, but I just don't
think one passenger has the right to tell another passenger, "You're not
welcome at our table!" So Rita asked, "What did I do? What did I say?" The
other guests proceeded to tell her one by one what she had said or done to
them. She just replied, "Really?"
Ladies and Gentlemen, we had a problem
on our hands. The "foursome" was so upset they were not going to come to dinner
again as long as that (!) was there and Rita was not leaving. The next day I
had a talk with Rita and reminded her how she hated waiting between courses for
the rest of us slow-eaters to finish. I suggested she might want to consider
coming in at 7:00 pm as soon as the dining room opened. That way she could have
all her courses one after another without waiting. She thought that was a great
idea, so the next evening at 8:15, Shirley, Pansy and I entered to find Rita on
coffee. Rita left shortly thereafter, and the three of us waited awhile for the
foursome, but finally ordered and began eating. At 8.55 pm, five minutes before
the restaurant closes, in stomped the foursome, very drunk and in a foul mood.
We didn't stay for their whole dinner, but I assured them that with the new
arrangement they wouldn't have to sit with Rita. I thought I was Solomon, and
could only hope we would have no major blowups before the end of the cruise.
Hope springs eternal, but it was not meant to be.
For the last episode you need to
understand Shirley. Shirley and I had already been on several cruises together
from my tour office days and had become good friends. She had been married to
an abusive alcoholic for 42 years and finally had enough. Earlier that year she
just left her home in California and moved to Florida, no separation, no
divorce, just left. Shirley also had a phobia about germs. She could not
tolerate anyone drinking out of her glass or eating anything off her plate.
However, we were good enough friends I would do it occasionally just to tease
One of the last nights at dinner, I
was next to Shirley and stole a bite of vegetables off her plate. She started
giggling, so of course, the rest of the group wanted to know what was so funny.
We tried to shrug them off, but they insisted, so we explained Shirley's quirk.
Rita demanded, "What's the difference between that and kissing?" Shirley, not
knowing when to keep her mouth shut, responded, "Oh, I never kiss with my mouth
open." Rita shrieked, "What? You never kiss with your mouth open?" Shirley
wanted to slide under the table and turned a thousand shades of red. Rita, not
to be put off, insisted, "Well, do you or don't you kiss with your mouth open?"
Shirley mumbled, "No, never. I wouldn't think of it." Rita fairly yelled,
"Well, no wonder your husband left you!"
The last day of the cruise Rita came
to me and said, "You know, I've been thinking. Do you suppose if I come on
another cruise I could have a table by myself?" Although that's not something
we would normally guarantee, I assured her we would accommodate her somehow. I
actually had the home office add to her passenger profile, that she must be
given a table for one - even if it were out on deck or in a lifeboat!
Kent Kauffman, February
World Cruise 1996
Milan & Memory Repression