The fake TV writer and convicted conman James Strauss aka James R. Straus claims in his biography that he’s also a professor of anthropology. So far, I haven’t been able to find any evidence to support that claim. However, I have found this interesting nugget, published on his blog… a chapter from his novel-in-progress, in which the hero pretends to be an anthropology professor but gains confidence from the fact that suckers have paid thousands of dollars to hear him speak. Perhaps James is following that old adage: write what you know.
The Lido deck was filled with passengers lounging. Most took note of me when I walked by, but no one said anything. I behaved as I imagined a real anthropology lecturer and guide would. I wandered casually over to the bar. My corner spot was open, so I took it. Wedged in, I waited. A few moments later, Marlys rounded the corner from the storeroom behind the bar, carrying some liquor bottles. As always, she was stunning. White blouse, tied above the top of her black trousers. Her midriff was bare. It was a wonderful midriff. I checked the mirror, and found her reflection. I was unaccountably relieved. She poured a cup of coffee, and then came over to the corner where I sat. The cup was not a cup. It was one of those tall glass things. The way I glanced at it caused her to comment.
“You don’t like it?” she said in her dusky mysterious voice. The tinge of Dutch (or was it Surinamese?) was not irritating. It was alluring. I didn’t answer her, not wanting to say something stupid.
We have others cups,” she volunteered, seeming to know that the tall, vaguely feminine glass bothered me. “What do you normally drink your coffee from?” I searched for something profound to say. Anything.
“Ah, I drink my coffee from thick ceramic bowls, usually, when I can find them. It’s an old Navy thing.” I blushed. I could not believe what had come out of my mouth. She stood square and straight, and then looked directly into my face.
“Were you in the Navy?’ she inquired, waiting.
“Ah, no,” I answered, truthfully…. and stupidly. She just continued standing there, looking at the biggest idiot aboard the ship.
“I want to talk to you,” she stated, after a moment of silent staring.
“Yes, I know,” I began, reaching into my pocket for the anklet.
“No,” she said, her voice nearly a soft hiss. She extended one hand out toward me. “I’ll come to you.”
“But your anklet,” I tried again. She stopped me.
“The anklet is to hold you,” she explained, offhandedly, like it was something I might be expected to hear anywhere or anytime from anyone. She moved back toward the storeroom, while I admired the departing curve of her backside, the material covering it not tight, just warmly snug. Such quality, I thought, as I was left to consider what she might have meant by her comment. Maybe it was a language thing, I guessed. I fingered the anklet inside my pocket. Marlys reappeared, briskly walked the length of the bar, and grabbed my coffee glass. She poured its contents into a cream colored ceramic bowl. She walked away with neither look nor word. I stared into my swirling coffee.
“Great,” I chastised myself. I was doomed to spend the remainder of my time aboard drinking coffee like “Cochon,” the Navy veteran from the Golden Nugget in Nome. I was a Marine. There was some kind of reverse violation of code there, but I was not going to invest any more time thinking about it.
Don joined me at the bar. His great bulk was a comfort to have next to me.
“What are you going to say to the passengers?” he asked, innocently. I shrugged. We hadn’t seen anybody that entire day. Outside of the Russian fishermen, that is. We never did catch sight of any Russian Commandos. We weren’t even dead certain they’d been there. What could I report on since no anthropology had occurred? Other staff crew members gathered near the bar. Benito soon appeared, set up the pedestal microphone, and then lined up a row of chairs in a semi-circle behind the device. She motioned for all of us staff, sitting around, to occupy the chairs.
I left my bowl of coffee on the bar. My place was at the end of the row, with Don beside me. I looked behind him. High up on the bulkhead I spotted something that hadn’t been there before. I peered at the small insignia with squinted eyes. My eyebrows shot up, as I recognized the small drawing. It was the head of Mickey Mouse. I prodded Don. I motioned toward the small effigy, but he would not turn to look. He just chortled quietly.
“Your Mouseketeers are here,” he whispered. My stomach felt strange, looking again at Mickey, high up on the wall. The mission was still way up ahead of me, but the whole world around me was spinning out of control. It wasn’t just loss of control, I realized. It was worse than that. I had also lost the ability to comprehend what was spinning.
Everyone took his or her turn at the microphone. I was last. Benito introduced me. I got up and walked to stand behind the raised instrument. Benito passed behind me. She flagrantly moved her hand across my butt as she passed. To my credit, I did not jump, but I did look behind me into Don’s eyes. His face was screwed up and contorted, but he hadn’t let out a sound. The crowd of almost a hundred people had all had paid over twenty thousand dollars each to spend ten days with us. Somehow that reassured me.
“I’m Professor…” I began, but that was it. They applauded. Then they rose up and clapped some more. I was dumbfounded. I just stood there, like a mummy, until the din eventually quieted. I turned to Don, beseeching him for help. He leaned forward.
“Just tell them, you know, the story of what happened on the island,” Don suggested. “After all, it’s the big adventure of their cruise,” he finished. I thought for a brief moment, inhaled deeply, and then began to lie.