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Ghost Ship of Fools:
The Loathe Boat

04.30.2006 | CULTURE

According to the Associated Press, the Mystic Seaport Museum is the proud owner of a 165-year-old whaling ship that's been the scene of a number of ghost sightings, inviting further "scientific" investigation by the Rhode Island Paranormal Research Group.

It was reported that the ghost was smoking a pipe while working below deck, and declined the opportunity to schmooze with the tourists. It remains to be seen if this tactic -- appearing as a ghost -- will be adopted by modern-day smokers attempting to enter restaurants and other smoking restricted areas.

Renee Blais, a Ghost Whisperer type self-defined as a "sensitive," used her senses of touch and smell to find "sickness, death and despair" in the ship's sleeping quarters, and "felt" the ghostly presence of a guy named Gerald. No last name.

I'm pretty sure that other people, not particularly "sensitive," picked up on the same odors in a small area inhabited by fifteen men long before the advent of deodorant. The whale blubber soaked into the deck probably isn't too pleasant either.

But even if playing Captain Ahab isn't an option now that whalers have traded in their harpoons for cameras, there are plenty of other opportunities for the average landlubber to head out to sea, partially tax-deductible, with like-minded people.

The Nation is offering their ninth "seminar" cruise, an exciting opportunity to serve as a captive audience for Jonathan Kozol and Molly Ivins. Prices for the seven-day excursion go up to whopping $20,289. For that money, Steve Earle, also on the roster, should play your kid's bar mitzvah -- for free. There's also a "Greenhouse Spa and Salon" and major productions by award-winning, big-name entertainment, "casino action," "dancing under the stars," "schmooze opportunities" and cigars.

The cruise offsets its environmental damage to the ocean and contribution to global warming by charging $11 per head to reforest Guatemala.That does a fish about as much good as giving him a bicycle.

The Sierra Club's cruises don't have similar reforesting policies, but if they indeed live up to their mission, their guests probably take turns rowing the ship while casting nets to remove debris from the ocean.

Sadly, The New Republic, which uses the same booking agency, the Cruise Authority, that The Nation favors, cancelled its cruise this year. However, The National Review also booked with the Cruise Authority, although on a much smaller, less luxurious ship that accommodates only 200 guests, but features "schmooze opportunities" during "numerous cocktail parties and evening smokers." The conservatives' trip to the Netherlands and Germany will undoubtedly speed to their destinations and waste yet more fuel, further contributing to global warming by throwing their garbage in the ocean.

Bill O'Reilly himself was a guest on the Thomas Moore Legal Center (pro-Catholic, anti-abortion) cruise. Amazingly no one leapt overboard, or threw O'Reilly in the ocean, depriving the Sierra Club of the opportunity to discover some rare flotsam and jetsam.

Cruises aren't just political. The Center for Inquiry offers an Exclusive Cruise for Secular Humanists and Skeptics. USA Christian Cruises sail the Carnival ship Miracle to the exotic Western Caribbean, stopping at an orphanage and other sites to perform missionary work. The rival Christian Cruises offer an educational guided tour of Israel. The Glatt Kosher Kosher Cruises line doesn't. It appears to be devoted to transforming formerly un-Kosher Mediterranean food to Kosher. We can assume "schmoozing" is encouraged.

Rosie O'Donnell's Gay Family Cruise wasn't a political fundraiser, but it was political enough to attract protesters against it in the Bahamas. Catch the HBO documentary.

All this leads to speculation about what would happen if somebody secured a gigantic ship and booked all these conflicting groups for the same cruise at the same time.

Would the hostility between them be confined to jostling for position at the buffet tables and snagging the best seats in the theatre?

Would everyone be too busy stuffing their faces to even bother to talk?

Or would arguments develop?

Arguments that break out in violence.

William F. Buckley strangling Noam Chomsky.

Michael Novak dueling with Paul Kurtz.

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Molly Ivins getting into a cat fight with Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.

A drunken Christopher Hitchens disappearing overboard -- fallen or pushed?

The Jews running from the Evangelicals.

The Evangelicals running with their children from the Commies and gays.

What if the captain were attacked while trying to stop them, the ship ran into a global-warming-created iceberg, and went down?

Hundreds of years from now, the ship miraculously surfaces. Archeologists arrive. They smell smoke, tobacco smoke. A man dressed in nineteenth-century clothing, smoking a pipe, walks towards them on the deck. He takes the pipe out of his mouth and tells them his name is Gerald, and he needs help.

All of a sudden, from out of the shipwreck, flies a screaming blonde apparition stuffed into an evening gown.

"How dare you? How dare you film a remake?" it screams in bloodcurdling fury.

The archeologists run from the ship. Gerald drops his pipe as he flees with them.

"Don't go, don't go," screams the apparition. "I'm Oscar-winning actress Shelley Winters. I just want to shmooze!"

As they're power-boating away, the ship lurches to the side, just far enough to reveal the name painted on her side.

It's the Poseidon.

Rest in peace, Gerald the ghost. Rest in peace.

About the Author
Beth Birnbaum, who writes for Free Inquiry magazine, among others, has just finished a novel, SoundBite Religion.
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