The Emergent Sea
Volume 4 Book 6 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 1)


[ Book 4-5 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]

February 16, 2006.
Home At Sea.
A strange and ominous feeling hovered over the Emergent Sea yesterday.

The sky was dark. The the rain poured down in torrents. Even the Filipino band at yesterday's High Tea, though excellent musicians and usually quite reliable, seemed terribly out of tune as they tried to bring the Old World and New World together. The flutes and the violins were clashing with such force, that I couldn't seem to concentrate on my reading so I had to leave after barely a half hour, despite the presence of more than few beautiful young Eastern European men -- boys, really; their cheekbones sharp and their faces ruddy and blushing with their mother's recent attentions -- hovering around me, offering me scones. (What are scones, anyway? My Southern Baptist east Texas roots show at times like these and I'm too embarrassed to really ask. They look like breakfast biscuits with whipped cream piled on top).

Our flight on Air Tahiti Nui had been painfully long, especially for Big Daddy Jim, who can barely fit into plane seats designed for the Asian form. He had taken some sleeping pills, along with a glass of wine or two, to get him through the 8-hour flight (which had already been delayed by 8 hours, our 4pm leisurely flight into the waiting arms of a luxury seaside hotel room, turned into a nightmarish Red Eye flight from Polynesian hell).

And, unfortunately, when we landed, the effects of the pills hadn't quite worn off and we barely made it through customs. Poor Jim staggering in the line. The morning news of two Australian men sentenced to die by firing squad for smugging heroin into Bali is still ringing in my ears.

(And once we did get through customs to our waiting, overcrowded bus, I realized, in my haste to keep him steady and moving forward, I had left our carry-on back at the luggage racks, which meant I had to go find someone who would let me breach security to chase it down).

Then, we reached the ship.

Then the rain hit.

At least we had that. We were sheltered by the mother ship, which, for this account I am calling The Emergent Sea*. The account is true, though some names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of any involved.

*The name is the ship is fictional as are the names of the participants unless otherwise indicated.
As I tell this story, the plan is to embed video along with my usual diary text. I have made videos before, but the technology to easily embed the videos was not available at the time. I either made a video blog or I wrote a diary page with links to the blog.

So, to merge the two is going to be something new. All of this will be written in real time as it happens. IOW, as I write these words, I have no idea what's going to happen on this cruise. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Who knows. But, to recap the day.


It went as I described. Painful flight. Painful landing. Painful busride! I forgot to tell you about the busride. Since there aren't that many flights from LAX into PAPEETE, we ran into several other lecturers (Big Daddy is lecturing on Hollywood and Celebrities), one of our favorites being Ambassador Ed. He used to be the USA liaison into a certain wartorn country that has appeared in the news a lot lately. He is just back from the Middle East where he helped to supervise the recent elections.

"Look," he said to me, giving me the Fonzie. "Blue finger!"


I love his wife. As Big Daddy and the Ambassador talked, she and I sat down in the waiting room seats -- dark blue industrial stretchy plastic hung from aluminum frames, very Ikea-like -- told me that she accepted the trip for him at the last minute when he was abroad so he couldn't say no. We smiled conspiratorially together.

We met them one time before. It was last year when we went from Sydney to Hong Kong. It was my first trip with a digital video camera and was my first attempt at making an improvised movie, "You Mean She's Here?" (His line was "She got all buddy-buddy with Saddam Hussein when she helped design his bathrooms").

So, I love the Ambassador. He's really game to do anything. In fact, he's quite dashing in his own Gregory Peck kind of way. Remember I had to go back into the airport terminal in Tahiti to get our carry-on -- they were very friendly about it, by the way -- and there were island girls stand there giving us flowers, we all, lecturers and companions, had to pile into a van, which was one seat short. So, the Ambassor sat, middle front, with his wife on his lap and Jim riding shot gun. They looked adorable.

There's also a Playwright accompanied by her husband, the Opthalmologist, with whom we eventually had breakfast. (I told her we should write a musical together in 16 days). I told the Opthalmologist about my recent eye surgery and how I can see again.

(For newcomers, I was never blind, but my right eye, because of Grave's Disease, was jammed upward in a severely clownish look, but now I had stereoscopic vision again.)

"Oh yeah, I see you still have a little of that 'surprise' look in your eye, but they did a good job." (The "surprise" look is that my right eye is still somewhat pushed forward out of the socket. Not a lot, but a little. When it happens in both eyes, you always look surprised because your eyes are kind of bugging out. Doctors amuse me when they talk about your symptoms so off-handedly. It reminds me that we live in a clinical world, at its root. At some point, in order to solve a problem, you have to dissociate yourself from the emotional backdrop and just look at the problem.)


Once we got onboard, because of the screwed-up timing of the flights, we couldn't get to our room. The previous-tour tenants were still in there. However, at least we were on the ship. We could go find someplace to just relax. We started at the breakfast buffet, where we all caught up. We tried to go have tea in the tearoom but Big Daddy needed to sleep. By then it was pouring rain.

So we went out to a a couple of deck chairs that was beneath a protective overhang, and he finally stretched out and started dozing. I pulled our carry-ons up to the chairs, got out my Book. (I always try to find one good, long, slow read per cruise so that I can immerse myself into the world of that book while simultaneously living in the world of whatever Songs and/or Song I might be writing concurrently.)

I made our first video of the cruise out there on the deck.

[See "Getting Jim Through Customs" vlog at top of page.]

The rain did let up and I got a couple of nice photos.

Mountains of Tahiti.

Moorea as seen from our dock.


The Emergent Sea* is one of my "home" ships. I have sailed her many times. We have a relationship. Not just the ship, but the ship and the crew. Each time I've sailed, the pianos have been open to me. I'm always invited to sing at night in the Piano Bar, depending on who's manning the piano.

But, most importantly, I need a piano to play in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep and the only living beings are the Night Crew.

Tonight, ominously, the piano is locked.

In fact, I discovered the fact that it was locked only this very moment. At 5:45 AM. I had just finished writing all the above, content that I had set the scene. I went over to the piano, which is sitting two feet away from me. And it was locked. Locked.


This throws a hammer into everything. Or doesn't. I don't know. Maybe someone somewhere up in the Corporate structure decided that my nightly encursions on their piano, were to be stopped. No. That's just the paranoid version. However, there is a new cruise director...

Stop. This is simply a hurdle. It's a hurdle I've jumped before. That was back on the QM2 when I had to sneak around and find a piano hidden behind a curtain in the main ballroom, playing in total darkness.

6:19 AM

Richie is the Night Cleaner. He said there's an unlocked piano in the Movie Theatre.

So,  problem solved. Except for the fact that I don't enjoy that piano very much. It's an upright. I like having a grand piano to play. It's all about the vibrations.

February 17-18, 2006.

4:19 AM

Last night was our first formal night and I was quite pleased that the silver Italian shirt I bought on the sidewalk in front of the tux place for $10 looked smashing with an accompanying silver tie and handkerchief. Normally, I eschew the wearing of handkerchiefs because they look a bit foppish (to me) but it matched and Jim said that Tommy Tune says you're never fully dressed without one, so I wore it. ("...and he's a seven time Tony-Award winner!" he reminds me, to which I reply, "That doesn't make him a fashion expert." But I wore it and I looked nice).

John Jackson, Ann Jeffries, Anne Rutherford, Kevin Carlisle, Jim Brochu.

Steve Schalchlin, Curtis Collins
Dancer Curtis Collins with non-dancer Steve Schalchlin in tuxes.

Jim also got a huge laugh yesterday at his first lecture when he used my punchline, "I took sleeping pills for the long flight yesterday but they didn't kick in until I landed." In fact, at dinner last night, one of our dinner companions said she heard the punchline numerous times, used by many different guests during the day, so my first viral joke made the rounds.

Speaking of viral, we were informed by the cruise director that our ship had been badly hit by NLV, the "Norwalk-Like Virus," which plagues many cruise ships. It's an intestinal nasty that lasts 3 or 4 days and causes much stomach upset, diarrhea, headache and all the etceteras. The staff is in a panic trying to chase this thing off the ship.

In fact, I neglected to mention that last night, as I approached this very room (where the piano is still locked), I saw an ominous site. There were three crew members dressed head to toe in moon suits spraying some kind of fog in the hallway approaching this room. As I stood there gaping at the site, another crew member, also in a moon suit, came from behind and said, "You should take another route. You don't want to breathe this stuff."

Everyone is on strict orders to wash hands frequently, don't pick your nose and don't shake hands with other guests. It spreads by person to person contact, the dreaded NLV. So, I'm being very cautious and whenever anyone reaches out to shake my hand, I instead form a little temple with mine and say, "Namaste" (which, I'm told, is Buddhist for "I bow to the god in you.")

We've become great friends with the Filmmaker whose aboard. His name is Rick McKay and his film of celebrity interviews, "The Golden Age of Broadway" was a huge critical success last year. His cabin is right next to ours and he is full of brilliantly scathing stories of big Broadway stars who were appeared in his film, all of whom were reluctant to be interviewed, but who, upon release of the film, felt their own contributions were slighted.

He said, "Stars have this inner stopwatch that measures their screentime and they can't stand it if one gets more than another. 'Who's SHE?' they'll huff."

Jim and I were beside ourselves listening to all the gossip and giggling at the nonsense. But we all agreed that this inner clock is also what got them where they are. To be a star, you have to set your course to be a star and let nothing and no one stand in the way. Not family. Not friends. Not nuthin'. Rick called it, "A dorsal fin."

He said, for his next film which he is currently shooting, he's been asking some more interesting questions. Like, "What price do you/did you pay for the life you led?" He said one star replied, "What I didn't expect was the price everyone around me had to pay." He said a tear rolled down her cheek as she said it.

5:52 AM
I went into the movie theatre just now and played on the Upright Piano. I feel badly that I've had such a bad attitude about her. It's just that I've gotten so used to the luxury of having grand piano at my discposal that I've been a bit of a brat regarding the Upright. Or, at least, I've had a bratty attitude. "How dare they make me play an Upright!"

The thing is, like a ventriloquist who treasures all of his her her puppets as "people" having distinct personalities, pianos are the same way. Even the most abused piano, sitting bedgraggled in some kindergarten room, continually hammered, painted, smashed, and banged-on has at least one song in her. Or him. The piano here in the Piano Bar, the locked one, is a him. (Or is that a he?)

The Upright here is not like that at all. In fact, it's a gleaming black Yamaha. And it's perfectly in tune. I took some lyrics over to it. One from Alexandra. Two or three from Honey West. And suddenly one of the Honey West lyrics, the meaning of which had eluded me, popped into view. Oh, there were words, and they told a story of a sort, but I didn't "get" what the singer was actually feeling. It was all metaphor. And then suddenly, a moment ago, it hit me what the song was about.

It was a song about a broken heart.

Maybe that piano was the one with the broken heart, from knowing how much I seemingly despised the thought of "having" to use it instead of the Big Boy down the hall. She was quietly waiting there in the corner all this time, aching to sing to me.

And, oddly, the name of the song is "The Secret Of The Great Big Hall." See how silly I am? The title itself told me that a secret was contained within. Maybe even Honey wasn't sure what the song was about. Maybe it's not even about that. But it is to me. I learned it from the piano with a broken heart.

Rarotonga is a beautiful little jewel of an island with a majestic tall volcanic mountain towering over it. A mountain enshrouded in mist. At first, the day was rainy and misty. But eventually it cleared off and we were treated to a fun van ride into the middle of "town," which is little more than a small shopping center. The people here speak like New Zealanders -- i.e. English.

Here is the video I made of our trip into Rarotonga:

Direct link:
(If movie "stutters" on playback, hit pause and wait for it to load-in. Then hit play again.)

Here are some photos from Rarotonga:





[ Book 4-5 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]
© 1996-2005 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.