By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
From the private files of Kathie Lee Gifford:
FRANK AND I have the largest berth on the Ecstasy. This chubby-wubby and that pigskinned Adonis--we have the Presidential Suite itself--and we are being treated not like presidents but like royalty. The air conditioning is something powerful: almost elemental. Cody and Cassidy sleep soundly next door, bundled in footed pajamas. Each afternoon, I sign a thousand autographs on the shuffleboard deck. My life is a blessing.
Reege and Joy have the room down the hall. Michie, my dear smart beautiful sister, and her hubby Craig are bunking next door. As we shuffle all together to the private statesroom for our humongous dinner, we walk a gauntlet of paired ice sculptures: A five-foot swan sits in a silver bowl, sweating and slimming in the Caribbean heat. Frank orders the steak, which is manly of him. I cut Cody bite-size pieces off daddy's plate, and the blood juice dribbles down his chinny chin chin.
After dinner I walk out to see the waves, which are rolling in like a TV screen with a broken vertical hold. Frank's retired to the room and a decanter of bourbon. As the diesel turbines churn down below, I feel a weird tingle under my woogie, all pinched as it is by the slats of the deck chair. I think I may be falling asleep. Because standing all around me on the empty deck are people I haven't seen in years.
There's Anita Bryant, my old boss from nanny days gone by. She stands poolside at Villa Verde, her sequined pageant dress taut at the hips: the Venus of Dade County, Florida. She's drinking o.j. from a narrow glass and she's getting lipstick all over the rim, and there's a look on her face that I don't think I've ever seen before. Like she's really enjoying what's going into her mouth.
And then she's gone, and I'm standing atop a tower in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts flanking me, stage right. The Oral Roberts Singers are spread out below us--as if they're going to catch one of us should we pull a gator over the guardrail. I know I'm supposed to be down there with them, belting out the alto line to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." But I can't remember any of the words. And I get to thinking--and this is wrong and cynical of me--that maybe nobody would step up to catch me.
When I come to, needle-sharp rain is pelting my face. Along the horizon a dark wall of clouds is closing in on the Ecstasy. It makes me think of Johnny Carson's heavy stage curtain and the way it looked as if it might just wrap him all up when the jokes fell flat and the people stopped laughing. My body feels like one big goosebump, but not the nice kind of goosebump. I hear singing from the locked middle hold of the ship, many voices, sweet and soulful. I recognize the song as "Go Down Moses"--my own personal showstopper. I get this idea that maybe the cruise isn't just for a Carnival commercial, and that maybe the cargo down below has something to do with it. Something to do with me.
On the way back to the Presidential Suite, I pass the ice swan, now headless, wings melted down to stubby nubs. The noises in the hall creeping under the door are not nice noises and I don't want to hear them. In fact, I don't hear them. I knock on Michie's door but there's no answer. I peek in--she is my bestest sister and there should be no secrets between sisters.
The first thing I see is Reege, panting on the pink bedspread: a thirsty lapdog with no water bowl. His skin is bronze and he has no tan line. Michie's not here. Under the bed, Joy and Craig are shaving each other with a straight razor until they're both bald as babies. I run back to my room which is hard to do in heels. And inside the room: I won't say what I see there when I find Frank and Michie together, because I don't see anything. I haven't seen anything.
Next, I'm back by the rail, looking down into the roiling sea. The ship is pitching and my stomach feels oochie. I hear someone yell man overboard!, and I run to the rail. Cody is there in his pj's hanging from the wet brass. Michie holds on with one hand. Reege dangles by his fingertips. Frank is turned upside down like he's on the monkey bars in the playground. Everyone needs me.
I reach out to catch them, each and every one. It's as if I've sprouted extra arms like some blue goddess from the orient. I feel a warmth behind me then, a bank of klieg lights or maybe just the sun. The ship has turned around and it's headed out of the storm toward American shores. Frank is slipping out of my grasp, but I know I've got to hang on. I'm hanging on. Someone yells, "tape's rolling."
I can feel my lips gliding up over my teeth as I turn my head... slowly, slowly, and smile pretty for the camera.