I was writing about National Review’s latest voyage, a cruise of the Western Caribbean. Would you like to read Part I? Go here. Just plunge into Part II? Okay. Speaking of plunging: One of our islands was Grand Turk, and that is the island on which — near which — John Glenn splashed down, in 1962. He spent the next couple of days on that island. There is a little monument there, commemorating the splashdown.
I have a memory from the 1984 campaign — from the Democratic primaries of that year. Mondale, somehow, made fun of Glenn’s experience in space: talking about how he had ridden around in a capsule. And Glenn, in one of the debates, mocked Mondale’s pronunciation: “capsool.” “. . . when I was riding around in that capsool, as Vice President Mondale would say . . .”
I have another memory — of an interview I had with Fred Thompson, in the late 1990s. Perhaps it was in 2000. Senator Glenn had repeatedly blocked investigation into Clinton’s financial dealings with the Chinese. And I asked Thompson whether he discerned a link between this blockage and the administration’s willingness to have Glenn take a final ride in space. Had some sort of deal been cut? Was there an understanding? Thompson said, “That’s between John and his Maker.”
‐Our cruise director’s name was Shane. I never saw him, but I heard him, a lot. He’d come on the PA and say, “This is Shane, your cruise director.” Very pleasant voice. And I thought the name was perfect.
‐We had a passenger who celebrated his 85th birthday onboard. He is a Wisconsin businessman, very successful, and he has seen a lot — and survived a lot. What he mainly survived was the Battle of the Bulge. After that, everything must be cake, I’m thinking.
‐On Grand Cayman, I tramped all over a Jack Nicklaus golf course. (Without playing, I mean.) On the golf courses I worked at, you could never have just taken a walk. We would have kicked you off in a heartbeat. This course was far more relaxed. It’s true that it was a rainy day, and that there were very few players. Still — I thought the personnel were nice to just let me tramp.
Down by the water, I saw a marvelous blue heron. At least, I think it was a blue heron. It looked blue heron-ish. Who do you think I am, Roger Tory Peterson?
‐Next to this golf course is a swanky neighborhood — a gated community. There are signs saying “Respect Our Privacy” and all. There are little security huts. I took a good long walk through this community, unmolested. Unstopped, unquestioned. I had a terrible thought: “Am I able to stroll without incident because I’m white? If I were black, would I be stopped, or questioned, or at least looked at?” I’m afraid I would have. I could sort of sense it, from all I saw. And this felt — to use that word again — terrible.
“White skin privilege”: Sometimes it is not just a leftist slogan. In some places, white skin will cut you slack, and in other places it will cause you trouble. The same is true with black skin, or skin of other colors. Skin: There could hardly be a stupider aspect (which is the mot juste) of human life.
‐Elsewhere on Grand Cayman, I saw a restaurant calling itself a Texas roadhouse — or smokehouse, one or the other. A sign advertised “Real Texas BBQ.” I thought, “Let Kevin Williamson be the judge of that.”
‐Speaking of Texas: I met a couple of cruisers — NR cruisers — who run a ranch there. A ranch for the mentally disabled. The lady of this husband-and-wife team said, “Everyone assumes you’re a liberal, just because you work in charity.” Her husband later said, “There is a story to be written about conservatives in the non-profit world.” I think there is.
‐I met a lady who grew up on Central Park West, many years ago. She has no New York accent whatsoever. She told me her father was British — that made a difference. She took the subway to high school, and it cost 5 cents. “What is it now?” she asked me. Two twenty-five. She was amazed.
I’ll tell you something she has in common with Bill Buckley: When she says “Broadway,” she puts the accent on the second syllable: Broad-way. That is very Old New York.
‐One of our cruisers, knowing I was a Jack Nicklaus nut, brought a precious photo: a high-school snap of Jack. She and he went to Upper Arlington together. (This is the Columbus, Ohio, area, of course.) He wrote a note on the back of the photo: highly amusing. And he had excellent penmanship, did Jack the High-schooler. He virtually wrote like a girl. He didn’t play golf like a girl, however (or football, or basketball).
How about that lady, that dear cruiser, bringing that photo for me to look at?
‐VDH, Victor Davis Hanson, was one of our guest speakers. And I told him that I had recently watched, for the first time, 300 — this is that movie about the Battle of Thermopylae. It is kind of a cartoon, but thrilling. On the stage, I asked him to talk a bit about Sparta. Many people admire it, for the discipline and bravery of its soldiers. But it was a psychotic totalitarian state, the likes of which none of us would ever want to get near, right? (In a nutshell, right.)
‐During our cruise, a couple got engaged. Years ago, we had a couple get married — they had met through the personal ads of National Review.
‐Daniel Hannan, the British MEP, was a guest, and a smash hit, as usual: an intellectual and political bolt of lightning. I remarked that he was a YouTube sensation, like Gov. Chris Christie. They are greatly different sizes — but they are similarly phenomenal.
‐One of our cruisers told some of his fellow passengers that he had received a gift from God. What was that? Well, he is normally a late sleeper. He likes to go to bed late, and get up fairly late. But, one morning, he found himself wide awake at 6:30. And he was moved to look out his porthole. There, he saw Cuba, for the first time in 51 years. He is a Cuban American. And you remember that Castro and his gang seized power in 1959. Seeing the island, after all this time, was a powerful experience for our friend, as you can imagine. He snapped picture after picture.
I said to our audience that I knew what my fantasy cruise was: a voyage to a free Cuba, a Cuba libre. What an NR cruise that would make. (The Nation should cruise there before it’s too late: while things are the way they like it.)
‐Rob Long was aboard, lending the cruise a sparkle. You may well think of him as a funny guy, and a breezy Hollywood type. He is definitely funny. He can exhibit a breeziness. And he lives in Hollywood (broadly defined). But the truth is, he’s an intellectual, maybe a closet intellectual.
I kind of confirmed this the first time I visited his house, years ago. It is lined with books, as many houses are. The thing is, Rob has actually read his. (I, for example, have not read mine.) Our breezy Hollywood funnyman studied literature with Harold Bloom at Yale. He wears his learning very, very lightly. But, holy Moses, he has learned.
He has a fund of excellent Hollywood stories, does Rob. I wish he’d compile them someday — although he tells them so well, you want to hear them. There’s also a little acting involved. Maybe a video? And I’ll tell you what stands out about Rob, quite apart from the wit and the learning: the humaneness. That’s the special ingredient.
‐In Cozumel, Mexico, the kids were playing in the street. Do they play in the street where you live? Not where I live. And what could be a more enjoyable sight, kids playing happily (and safely) in the street?
‐I passed a kindergarten, out of which singing came. Good singing? Yes, in a way: enthusiastic and willing singing.
‐Later, I saw older kids, lined up in the street for a parade. They had their school uniforms on: for the girls, white shirts and red plaid skirts. Some of the kids looked Spanish, or Spanish-ish; others looked Indian, almost Mongolian, with narrow eyes. Like Miguel Estrada. Remind me again why the Democrats killed his judicial nomination? Not ethnic enough or something? Not like the Wise Latina who would later ascend to the Supreme Court?
Sorry, I’m starting to swim in political bile, and will now get out . . .
‐I’ve noticed something throughout the Third World (pardon the expression): ramshackle homes, almost hovels, out of which, or around which, the most beautiful flowering bushes grow.
‐In Cozumel, you can be walking down the street and kind of holding your breath, because of a bad smell. But, all of a sudden, there comes the smell of baking bread: a heavenly smell, which cuts through, and snuffs out, all the bad. Of all the world’s smells, isn’t that of baking bread one of the very best?
‐Cozumel has a huge collection of old VW Bugs — I mean, they’re everywhere. And painted in different and imaginative ways. Kind of like high-school homecoming.
‐Passing a man on the street, I said, “Hola.” He said to me, “Hi.” I don’t know why he thought I was an American tourist, I really don’t. Could it have been the shorts, shirt, sunglasses, hat, and newly purchased maracas?
Profiling! I should sue.
‐Bing West was one of our speakers: the Vietnam vet and military analyst who knows all about Iraq and Afghanistan. As I remarked to our audience, “Bing West” is one of the great names: two crisp syllables. The man who owns it ought to be an expert on the military.
One more thing about Bing (though one could say many): He has a great, classic Boston-area accent, the kind that, I understand, is dying out. What a pity. Must we all sound neutral?
‐Early in the cruise, one of our passengers said to me, “Why doesn’t Karl Rove run for something? I’d like to vote for him. He’d be good. He’s always getting other people elected. How about himself?” I asked Rove just this, when we had our interview: our hour upon the ship’s stage. He said, No way. “I couldn’t get elected dog catcher.” His strength is the election of others. As Bush 43 famously remarked, he is “the architect.”
Maybe so. But I can tell you this: Rove is a superb performer, as evidenced by this hour of ours. He’s quick, personable, articulate, engaging, persuasive — all of it. The audience loved him, ate him up.
‐I asked how he became a conservative. Was he born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Country-clubber, trust-funder? You know how all us Republicans are. One of the things Rove said was that his family had a vegetable garden: not as a hobby, and not for show, but for food.
He was a Westerner, he explained, and Westerners tend to prize individualism. Plus, Washington — or “Warshington,” as Rove says — is a long way away . . .
‐Rove has been a reader of The New Criterion for many years. It made an impact on him, as it has on so many of us. It just so happens that The New Criterion’s co-editor and co-publisher, Roger Kimball, was another of our guests. We, too, had an hour (or so) upon the stage — on the general topic of liberalism. And Roger, like Karl, is a superb performer. (Also like Karl, he’s not running for anything. Although that would be something . . .)
‐A particular writer who influenced Rove? Michael Novak — yet another of our guests . . .
‐At the end of our time together, I asked Rove who his political heroes were. The first name out of his mouth was that of Barry Goldwater. Then he named the Bushes, 41 and 43. He was but 22 when he went to work for the first Bush — the future president was chairman of the Republican National Committee. When he spoke of the Bushes, I saw something that I imagine the audience could not: He had tears in his eyes. They just came on immediately.
Then he threw out two other names: Ronald Reagan (although Rove, in the 1980 primaries, had of course been for his man Bush) and “Winston Spencer Churchill.” You think those choices provoked applause? Oh, did they (as well they should have).
‐Recently, National Review Online had a “webathon” — a period of fundraising. Thanks to all those who gave, and who might give later. Like several of my colleagues, I made a little pitch. You can find it here. I called it “A Magazine, a Cause, and a Joy: Why I give.”
‐I have a friend who lives in South Florida — had dinner with him in Ft. Lauderdale. He’s a golfer, but sometimes works as a caddie. Not long ago, he caddied for Lou Brock. Said what a gentleman he is, in addition to a tremendous athlete. (Brock, by the way, is new to golf. Took it up at about 70.) An illustration of Brock’s apparent character? At the end of the round, my friend asked, “Would you autograph my cap?” Replied the Hall of Famer, “Sure — but only if you autograph mine. It will be a keepsake from this day.”
‐What could be so beautiful as early morning in South Florida, in mid or late November? Tramping around a Lauderdale neighborhood, I noticed Christmas decorations. This was several days before Thanksgiving, mind you. There was even snow — “snow” — in front of this one house, deep and crisp and even. It looked very strange. But then, Christmas decorations even on December 23 would look strange to me, in South Florida . . .
‐Want to tell you about something that happened, not on our flight back to New York, but on the flight down to Florida, to begin the cruise. Just before the plane took off, a young woman — maybe 30 — sitting across from me asked a startling question. In a sweet, shy voice, she said, “Sir, have you ever flown before?” The question was so startling, I did not immediately register it. It took me a second to figure out what she had said. She wanted to know something about procedures.
These days, everyone flies, right? I mean, it’s as common as walking, or bike riding. But no: Not everyone flies. Some of us are pretty lucky, to move about, over vast distances, pretty much at will.