Culture

'Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!'

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Westerns (Clint Eastwood! Rawhide! Ennio Marconi & Sergio Leone), Zane Gray in my formative years, The Secret Garden (I love happy endings); Spinoza, Catholic mystics, John of the Cross, St Catherine of Sienna, Carl Sagan (I know; I know)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Neanderthal (pragmatic? A defender, not a pacifist?)

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Paul Harvey, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg

4. What are your writing goals?

To promote authors who tell a good story with an uplifting message, and to tell such stories myself.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

polka, schottisches, Yiddish tango (ssh, no one ever sees!)

Read “Comrade Cruises” at Liberty Island:

The prequel to this story, Wherever You Go, can be read here.

The cruise ship was so much bigger than Emmy expected, she couldn’t even think of a word for it. Gargantuan was one, but that sounded like a giant tarantula. Titanic was downright terrifying, for a girl about to set sail.

“Colossal,” she decided, saying it out loud but not too loud. Emmy was learning not to sound smarter than other seven-year-olds. It wasn’t fair to them.

Her foster mother gripped her hand. “You lucky girl, Emmy. Think of the memories you’re about to make!” Leaning toward foster Dad, “FM” (Fake Mom) half-whispered out the side of her mouth, “If this doesn’t make her glad we saved her from those terrible people, nothing will.”

She got that right. Nothing would.

An old man wearing a hat with a feather in it stared at Emma as if he could read her wicked thoughts. His quirk of a smile might mean he was ready to get her in a lot more trouble. Then again, his eyes sparkled at her as if he might be on her side. She stared back, daring him to listen in. Nothing would ever make her glad the Department of Health and Human Services “rescued” her from home-schooling parents who let her run wild in the woods, eat dangerous foods and paddle a canoe all by herself to Grandma’s house. If the DNR agents hadn’t spotted her and “saved” her from the river, from “dangerously negligent” parents, she’d be safe from stupid rules and regulations…and the stranger who was still staring at her.

Emmy held her breath, waiting for him to frown or blow a whistle on her, but he tipped his hat to her and smiled, leaning on his cane. She let out a sigh of relief. Of course the cute little old man wasn’t a mind reader. Homeland Security wasn’t that good. At least, she hoped not. The man winked out of sight so fast, he could have been a spy or a freaking hologram.

“A cruise is good only if you come back new,” came a gooey-cheerful from the loudspeakers, with drippy, happy music. “Comrade Cruise will cure your blues! And teach you a vital thing or two!”

Cruises used to have names like Princess, but it was bad for little girls to think of themselves as royalty. The Ninety-Nine Percent were fighting for justice and equality for all. Hail to the Ninety-Nines!

“Stop grinding your teeth, Emmy, dear,” her foster mom said. “Emmy! Do you hear me? I said STOP IT with the teeth.”

The line of people finally started moving, and Emmy drew close enough to hear the slap of waves against the Colossus of Boats. So big! How could something the size of an entire small town even stay afloat?

“KIDS WILL LOVE IT,” chirped that loudspeaker again. “Our staff of experienced counselors are here to ensure your kids stay happy all day long. Art projects! Games! Enriching scientific activities!”

The recorded happy-voice kept cycling the same messages over and over again. Emmy tried to focus instead on the sounds of talking and laughter mixed with seagulls grawking overhead. She loved the smell of the sea, a fishy, salty scent that made Foster Mom wrinkle her nose. Emmy tipped her head back, taking it all in: the warm, wet breeze, sunny blue skies, and a hurry-scurry sense of excitement. They were going somewhere! Soon a whole city’s worth of people would be dancing, dining and meeting new comrades while sailing the deep blue sea.

Inside the ship, huge rooms with bright lights made her blink. A single buffet table was bigger than Grandma’s entire house, and everything on it was hidden under shiny silver domes. An ice sculpture of a dolphin stood in the middle.

“SAVOR EVERY MOMENT!” the happy voice reminded everyone. Emmy knew the canned words by heart, whether she wanted to or not. “We don’t know how you’ll choose from the variety of tempting fare, lovingly made from scratch. Fresh-baked twelve-grain bread, our signature whole-wheat pastas, cooked-to-order steaks and regional specialties made with fresh local ingredients! You can truly taste it all!”

The steak wouldn’t be as good as Dad’s. Real Dad didn’t trim the fat or spare any butter for the baked potatoes. But any steak at all would be better than the tofu and tof-urkey she’d been eating since her “rescue.” Emmy’s fists clenched at the thought of her mom and dad in prison. It could happen. If not for raising their child all wrong, then for breaking some other rule.

After getting settled into their cabin, Emmy returned to the food fest with FM and FAD, aka Effing Awful Dad. Fake Mom turned lots of heads with her model-thin figure and porcelain white skin. No harmful UV rays ever touched that body! At forty, she looked younger than Emmy’s real mom, who had crow’s feet, laugh lines, ruddy skin and no hope of fitting into size 4 jeans.

“Remember,’ FM said, “just two bites. No matter how it looks or smells, give it two bites, and you’re sure to discover how delicious lentils and lima beans can be. Oh, I can’t wait to try the seaweed souffle!”

The servers began lifting the silver domes away, and Emmy raced for the steak line. As the lid lifted, her heart sank. That was not steak. That was grilled… Something-Else.

“Now, Emmy,” FAD scolded her. “No sad faces on this ship! Meatless Monday is a great thing. It goes all the way back to World War I, when Americans did their part to reduce consumption here and help feed war-ravaged Europe. It’s only recently that we’ve blah, blah, blarg.”

Emmy managed a smile for him. Unless they decided to combine Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday, she might survive the new food rules.

Then it hit her. This was Sunday.

Would real steak ever again be served, any day of the week?

The old man with the cane popped into sight at the dessert table. Emmy jumped up without permission and rushed over to greet him. He looked like the sort of guy who’d understand the horror of fake steak.

A beautiful woman appeared beside him. Emmy gasped. She’d have sworn it was her Aunt Ruth, but her aunt was a college student, not a well-dressed business woman like this lady, whose silky skirt and jacket draped like the designer clothing of the One Percent. Still… If this was her aunt, Emmy might escape FM and FAD.

She hesitated. The man and woman seemed seriously deep in conversation. Emmy’s gaze shifted to the dessert table, and just that fast, she lost sight of the cute little man in the hat and the elegant lady.

That night, the “fun movies” turned out to be documentaries on Global Warming. Grandma had said there was an Ice Age coming, all right, but not because people were burning fossil fuels. The movie urged everyone to wear sweaters, crank down the heat when winter comes, and walk, don’t drive. Don’t paddle a canoe, either, if the DNR is watching, Emmy thought miserably.

In the morning, Emmy managed exactly two bites of whole-wheat pancakes, two sips of GreenGalore veggie smoothie, and all the strawberries she could get her hands on.

Most of the kids were troublemakers like her, and on the cruise to learn the right way to think and be. A chubby girl named Hannah had smuggled mints and cashews from the buffet table, and sneaked them from her pockets one bite at a time. Emmy shook her head when offered some. A skinny boy named Marco acted like he forgot his attention-deficit meds. He couldn’t sit still. He swapped some contraband M&Ms for Hannah’s stash.

The counselors helped them make introductions. “Marco, tell everyone why you’re here,” the blonde counselor said sweetly. He drummed the table with his fingertips, he hummed, he smiled back at the blonde. “Tell them how your parents let you ride the subway all by yourself, in New York City.”

At the word parents, he held still. Very still. For about five seconds.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” the other counselor said. “When parents don’t guard their own blah, blah, blarg…”

Marco’s eyes shifted, and for a moment he and Emmy shared a look that told her they were in the same boat.

“Okay, Comrades,” Blondie was saying. “I’m so excited to share with you all the things we’ll learn this week! Our Monday Meditation is Food for thought for hungry minds.” She laser-pointed at a screen, and a food pyramid came up. The old one, with lots of bread and hardly any fats. Emmy tried not to think about Grandma’s batter-fried catfish and raspberry pie. What about all the cookbooks, all the restaurants, all the fabulous food people weren’t supposed to eat anymore?

Finish the rest at Liberty Island here.

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image illustration via shutterstock / : NAN728