Cruise Journal, Part I


But the Jamaicans I encounter take a backseat to no one. If you are minded to enjoy the country, they will make it very hard, some of them.

I have a variety of tricks to shake off swindlers: charm, shame, maybe a tantrum. (An artful tantrum.) But what about a more mild person, not raised in the vicinity of Detroit, as I was? How do these lambs get by?

Let it be said, though, that there’s no one more charming than a charming Jamaican. The English is primed with charm. They have a head start.

“What are your plans?” someone says to me, insisting on walking along with me. “Oh, far too private to tell you,” I say. This shuts him up for a second or two. Then he pipes, “Oh, you want girls?”

“Slow down!” everyone says. They mean, don’t walk so fast — you’re not an easy enough mark. “You’ll get a speeding ticket!”

Many, many offer knuckles — you know that kind of handshake, a “fist bump” — and say, “Respect” (often with the “t” dropped off).

There is a steel-drum band, with accompanying dancers. One woman is shakin’ her booty — but it is a booty with an addendum, an extension. Something tucked under her skirt. (Trust me.) That thing can really swish.

As a rule, girls and women here wear perfume, I find. Nice.

The sexuality is very open, and by “sexuality” I mean come-ons, leers, and the like. A drunk is semi-harassing some schoolgirls, who are in smart uniforms. One girl, maybe twelve years old, bends down, picks up a rock, and makes to throw it at him. That shuts him up. I can tell she’s had practice.

I have very often seen school uniforms in the “developing world” — more than at home. I always find this sight welcome. You?

A less-welcome sight: electric wires sagging low, a few feet from the ground. This is in front of a kindergarten. (Seriously.)

Another welcome sight: peacocks. I think, “Could there be a more apt phrase than ‘proud as a peacock’? The alliteration is just a bonus.”

Another welcome sight: butterflies, much bigger than the ones I’m used to, back home. Better too. (No offense to the small fry.)

A couple of hours later, I see the same woman, shakin’ her booty, with its extension, in the same way. I hope and trust she has had a rest . . .

She seems unflagging, actually. The thing sort of goes by itself, like the pendulum in a grandfather clock.

There are many Christian symbols and slogans and T-shirts and bumper stickers. More than I have seen, I think, anywhere outside the American South.

Back on the ship, on the stage, Mona Charen, Midge Decter, and I do a little show. Mona is, as usual, a model of poise, grace, and good sense. Midge is, as usual, a powerhouse — stating the facts of life, unanswerably. You simply have to say, “It is so.”

I’m reminded of possibly my favorite story about Midge. Years ago, she was speaking at an AFL-CIO event (I believe), burning up the joint (for sure). George Meany leans over and says to Lane Kirkland (I think), “Who is dis goil?”

At one point in our session, Midge says, “For the first time in my life, I’m going to disagree with Jay Nordlinger.” Later, she does so a second time.

I say, “If Midge Decter disagrees with me on an issue — I’d damn well better reconsider my position on the issue. That much, I know.”

For many years on these cruises, I’ve been known as a writer (or whatever). On this one, I’m known as Mona Charen’s podcast partner — which is nice.

Should have hitched my wagon to that star years ago . . .

Peter Robinson, Rob Long, and James Lileks are along. One night, late, they do their podcast. They invite a variety of guests to sit in. It’s a rollicking good time.

One of the guests is John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor. The Left doesn’t like him much — despite his place of employment. They consider him the Blesser and Authorizer of Torture in the Bush administration (Bush 43, natch).

The podcasters joke — I think they’re joking — that John should run for mayor of Oakland. Lileks says that, on second thought, he should run for Water Board.

There is silence for a second or two. Then laughter. Then an explosion of laughter. This must be one of the wittiest, quickest things I’ve ever heard.

Buckleyan, actually.

In the course of my little guest stint on this podcast, I praise Rob Long, which is one of my favorite pastimes — there is so much to praise. I eventually get around to calling him “a gift to mankind.”

This has his friends hooting for hours. I mean, hours. “A gift to mankind!” they keep repeating. (Can you “keep repeating”? I think so.) They then shorten it to “GTM.”

Listen, I just call ’em as I see ’em. And I’ll see you tomorrow, for more “Cruise Journal.” In the meantime, knuckles and respect.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.