Down With the Ship
I recently spent three hours boating around the harbor with a bunch of strangers, who were strange indeed. Though honestly no weirder then the friend I brought with me.
Mother’s Federal Hill Grille (1113 S. Charles St.,  244-8686) is hosting a series of booze cruises this summer, and knocking back a few beers while watching the local scenery pass by sounded like a nice enough way to spend a warm summer evening.
A crowd gathered around the boat as it prepared to shove off at 10 p.m. There was wide range of ages, from girls in their 20s wearing teeny tops to women in their 40s doing the same; the men spanned young granola preps to the beer belly and comb-over set. And in a few short moments we would all be stuck on a boat together. Why was the theme from Gilligan’s Island running through my head?
As soon as we got on board at the dock near the Maryland Science Center, my friend and I, along with everyone else, headed straight for the tiny bar by the door, creating a relentless snarl of bodies. My friend graciously offered to get the drinks, and I handed him $1 to tip the bartender, assuming that for the $40 a piece it cost to go on this voyage the drinks would free.
The vessel itself was styled as an old-timey riverboat complete a big red paddle wheel. The décor of the lower deck was very Disneyland New Orleans Square, which was appropriate as the band, Papa Grows Funk, was from New Orleans—the real one.
When my friend finally returned with our beers, he had some disturbing news. The drinks weren’t free. He had to shell out $3 a pop for our cans of Miller Lite. I think my jaw actually dropped. I realize in retrospect that Mother’s never claimed there would be an open bar—I had just assumed because of the price—but the only complimentary things on this boat were chips, pretzels, and life preservers.
Now, on a previous non-work-related outing with a group of friends, I had initiated a game of lying to strangers. Not about myself—I tend to blush when I lie about myself—but instead when someone came and talked to us I would tell them completely untrue biographical details about my friends and see if they could run with it. For example, mentioning that my friend used to work as a department store pianist.
Unfortunately, my friend was very good at this game and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when I picked him up for the boat, he already had a string of lies to tell our unsuspecting boat mates. The problem was that I was on assignment, so I couldn’t lie—it’s a big journalistic no-no, even for silly nightlife columns. My friend didn’t see how that affected him and kept threatening to tell people he was a clock reseller and repairman with a “shoppe” in Federal Hill. He didn’t specify the spelling of “shop,” I’m just assuming. I suggested that Federal Hill wouldn’t be a good place to lie about as this event was sponsored by a South Baltimore bar.
Though we were effectively trapped on a boat full of strangers for three hours, everyone else seemed to know each other, and there were signs honoring some guy. The first one I spotted said WE'LL MISS YOU DANNY, making me briefly concerned that we had crashed a disturbingly upbeat memorial service. But then I saw Danny, very much alive and dancing with a glowing heart necklace around his neck. Danny was a party machine. He danced nonstop with all his well-wishers, using moves that ranged from funky sumo to creeping monster. He even got sandwiched between two girls in tube tops and cowboy hats.
After a while I retreated to the upper deck to watch the beautiful, if rather industrial, scenery go by and feel the refreshing, if a bit tire-scented, air on my face. I was tempted to sit there all night, but my friend insisted we go mingle.
I was about to walk down the stairs when I heard my friend introduce himself to someone by a name that was not his own. Here we go, I thought. I took a deep breath, willed myself not to blush, and walked over just as my friend was telling a man about the framing shop he owns in Towson. At least he took my advice about steering clear of Federal Hill. But the man just had something framed and wanted to know what my friend would charge for the job. Crap. But my friend pulled it off with a series of evasive questions and some vague comments about it depending on the materials.
He then introduced me to the man, who sells energy for living and promised he could get us a sweet deal on some electricity, and another guy whose response to my name was “Get Anna. Stay Anna.” Oddly enough, I’d never heard that one before. The guy seemed a little embarrassed when I groaned; he mumbled an apology under his breath, saying he just wanted someone to talk to him. It’s the kind of moment that breaks your heart, because you simultaneously feel sorry for the person and really don’t want to talk to him.
My friend seemed to have gotten the lying out of his system, but the snippets of conversation I overheard from our fellow passengers made me hope that they hadn’t.
“You should have married a slut,” said one man to another. A few moments later, two older men with beer bellies discussed the relative importance of whether a girl is legal or not. Another man said, “She stole everything. She stole my necklace. She was just like, ‘Let’s go back to the motel.’” He used the “stole my necklace” part as an excuse to give the woman he was talking to an illustrative grope. Yet another guy yelled to a female friend as she passed by, “I’m picking your sleeping partner tonight.”
Meanwhile, I was getting periodic whiffs of pot smoke and the band was leading a cowbell conga line to the upper deck and back as Danny popped out of nowhere from time to time to dance into my field of vision and then dance back out. After a while my friend and I got sucked in. I was trapped on this boat, so I might as well dance.
When we finally docked, I was happy to be on shore where I didn’t have to pay $40 for the privilege of buying $3 beers or hear the sketchy details of strangers’ sex lives. But one thing was clear: That Danny guy sure is going to be missed.
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Group show one element in a broader cultural discussion about gender
Murder Ink (8/4/2010)
Love, True Love (7/28/2010)
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