Farewell My Budget
On March 5th, my budget was a strong, vigorous and ready to tackle the world. It had known only good times in its short life, (see here, here, and here; ed.) and in those sweet, carefree days my budget's might was exceeded only by its innocence. Seventy-eight days later, my budget was drawn and gaunt, emaciated, starving, dehydrated and on the verge of expiration. It hadn't had sustenance since Mongolia, when my hotel reimbursed me $10 for an inadvertent overcharge. Since then, nothing. Three days ago, its teeth started falling out. My budget had come down with scurvy.
Yesterday afternoon, I did the humane thing and put my budget out of its misery. With New York little more than a day away, it had begun to lose its sense of purpose. It was confused, frightened even. I stroked its neck, whispering over and over again that everything was going to be okay, and as my budget drifted into sleep, I blew the rest of it on a massage.
You may recall that as I cruised across the Pacific Ocean on the Crystal Symphony, I enjoyed a red algae massage, only to discover that the red algae itself came from the Atlantic, and thus the massage was not ocean-appropriate. Now that I was crossing the Atlantic, I seized the opportunity to experience the massage equivalent of terroir, which I call eau. I booked a session of sea foam mud therapy, which "has a self-heating, bubbling effect which penetrates the tissue for detoxification and relaxation." In all seriousness, I needed it. I threw my back out on the Great Wall of China and have been suffering twinges and aches ever since. (I never said anything about it at the time because talking about back pain has a way of making it escalate.)
The massage was, as promised, self-heating, bubbling and relaxing. What it was not was ocean-appropriate. When I asked the masseuse what ocean the sea foam mud came from, she said, "It's from the ocean, but I'm not sure which one." Chances are, it's from the Pacific, because it's the biggest ocean and, hence, has the most sea foam mud. But it could also be from the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Dead Sea or the Red Sea. The point is, the probability that it was harvested from the Atlantic--the choppy expanse of saltwater over which I am presently sailing--is remote. So much for eau.
Later that evening, Erik and I took an enlightening stroll through the ship's art gallery. In one relatively small hall, it managed to contain as much art as you might find in an entire wing at the Louvre. Unlike the Louvre, however, this art presents no obstacles to full appreciation. For example, you don't need a guide, audio tour or Sister Wendy to make it comprehensible. You can tell what the art "means" just by looking at it. One painting, for example, is called "Veterinary Hospital Hangover" and features a cat, dog, pig and skunk sitting on a couch in a hospital waiting room, suffering the ill effects of the night before. (The doctor and nurse are both stuffed pimentos, and there is also a large martini present.) Another painting features a beautiful woman lying down on a mountain range, her cascading blond hair turning miraculously into a waterfall. (If only my wife could do something like that with her hair.)
Not quite dogs playing poker, but I'll take it
The very best painting, however, was a print of a mermaid, her breasts cupped by a pair of scallop shells, curled up on a rock in an idyllic lagoon at dusk, her index finger extended, on the verge of making contact with-the tip of a unicorn's horn. As a scene, it is fantastical, innocent and suggestive of pornography all at the same time. I inquired about the price: $450.
I thought about my budget. In a simpler, happier time, my budget would have laughed at a price like this. Not anymore. I whispered its name, hoping that it would miraculously reappear before me, risen from the ashes, its awesome purchasing power restored once more. But my words drifted away on the sea breeze, heard by no one, and as I stared out over the impassive expanse of salt water, what I knew in my head I now felt in my heart: My budget was gone.
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