Man Plans; the Gods Laugh
“The love affair with uncharted
states of consciousness
shipwrecked his career
and sank his marriage.”
SlimC had instructed the cast of his fanciful new reality-TV show project, Kiss Me on Kalea, to fly out to Tahiti, take the ferry for the short hop over to Moorea, and meet up for dinner at Cook’s Bay Resort restaurant the night before the departure, which would be at sunrise the following morning.
The crew of Kalea, along with SlimC, would join the cast at dinner for all to get to know each other a bit before heading out to sea for seven days.
Captain Bob, Lua, and I had been given brief profiles of the cast members ahead of time to give us some sense of the species of characters we’d be dealing with during our voyage to Rarotonga together. Judging from their biographies, they surely had differing motivations for signing on to the show.
Knowing something about their personal histories might help when dealing with any conflicts between them, should they arise. And if no issues arose, well by golly we should work at a-risin’ them ourselves to deliver the drama and help boost the show’s ratings.
No one wants to see people getting along swimmingly (no man-overboard reference intended) on a boat for too long on a reality-TV show. After all, respectful behavior, polite conversation, and smooth sailing does not good drama make.
We got cleaned up after two days of sweaty, messy boat work and a short shakedown cruise.
The boat test was uneventful other than the load-stressing that the new crossbeam lashings took, causing them to stretch a bit. This is not uncommon with any virgin-rope binding.
The stretching was just enough, though, to trigger the most unsettling sensation that the boat was kinda coming apart underneath us. The lashings required significant re-tightening — and pronto.
Other than that — and demonstrating to Lua how two mature, professional, middle-aged men could quickly devolve into babbling bonobos when isolated at sea, far from watchful eyes of respectable dirt-dwelling adult members of human society — there were no serious flaws revealed.
After showers and my re-acquaintance with the novel feel of laundered clothing, we strolled over together to the restaurant to await the arrival of the half-dozen cast members.
When Bob politely reminded Lua that the restaurant required footwear, she just smiled and responded,
“Oh, it’s alright Mister Bob, they know me there.”
As we walked into the dining room, I observed SlimC talking with an older gentleman seated next to him at the bar.
The balding, disheveled, grey-haired fellow was wearing a wrinkled wool tie and a tattered, coffee-stained corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches on the sleeves.
SlimC was boasting to the barely coherent barfly sitting next to him — a perfect caricature of a burnt-out college professor — about his success as a reality-TV show producer; and getting very little reaction from the scraggly sot, asked him what his name was.
“Schwartz … M. Schwartz … Michelangelo Schwartz.”
“Yeah, right. Do you even know what reality TV is Schwartzy?”
“Do you ever watch any of the shows?”
SlimC didn’t much care for his overly frugal conversation style and his apparent lack of interest, but he persisted.
“Which one’s best.”
He was hoping one of his more popular gems would be named.
“Oh, you must mean the most recent one, the one just released last season—Petulant Paramours of Palm Beach County?”
SlimC was hoping for some clarification and perhaps to coax more than two words from the boorish boozer.
“No sir. My favorite one will be the last one that is ever made; and the sooner it happens, the better.”
The man then turned away and staggered out of the bar, proving himself capable of using as many words as necessary to deliver a zinger like that to a cocky Hollywood producer.
SlimC, being the thick-skinned, reptilian, ratings-whore that he had become, shrugged off the comment and turned toward us just as we approached to meet him.
Unfazed by the bar patron’s low regard for his chosen craft of dubious repute, he greeted us heartily with handshakes and we exchanged the usual formalities.
Bob introduced Chef Lua to SlimC. Then we took our places at the table to wait for the cast of love-seeking, 40-something second-chancers to arrive.
All I could think of at the moment was the disturbing quote from existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: ‘Hell is other people.’
The three male members of the group were the first to show up.
They came in together, having apparently already gotten to know one another somewhat on the ferry ride over from Papeete.
Tucker was a young, rich, ambitious Internet software developer who had quickly risen to the role of CEO. His company made most of their money from ads on their many sleazy websites. He was an atheist and a staunch Republican and was known to be a cold, cunning, ruthless man.
In conversation, he rarely blinked and would stare through you with an unsettling half-grin. He was blessed with ferocious Hollywood good looks, which included a head of thick wavy dark hair and big brown puppy-dog eyes, and was uninterested in anything other than quick money-making schemes.
Tucker signed on to the show hoping to boost his public profile and further inflate his ego and his wealth. His wife of ten years had left him after it was discovered that he had had an affair with one, or two, or … er … possibly ten of his young, attractive female employees.
Paul had been a Wall Street commodities trader and hedge fund manager early in his career. Whip-smart and driven, his early successes on The Street helped him build a personal fortune and drew him into the unhinged world of potent recreational drugs that eventually resulted in a ferocious heroin addiction.
The love affair with uncharted states of consciousness shipwrecked his career and sank his marriage — the heroin proving to be more desirable than his relationship with his wife. On his path to redemption, he joined a congregation of Unitarian Universalists and sought to regain balance and joy in this life.
He re-established a healthy friendship with his ex-wife, though she’d already moved on to a new relationship with a slick but far more stable insurance agent who drove an exquisite custom metallic-tungsten Tesla.
Paul was looking forward to having some offshore time with other single, middle-aged professionals who might help him figure out what to do next with his life.
Jack was a scientist. His interest in marine biology began early in life when he would spend his summer days picking up clumps of seaweed that washed up on the beach and examine all the tiny crabs and other small, squirmy sea dwellers that clung to that miniature world.
Jack lived with his girlfriend for twelve years during and after college before she left him for a rich, world traveling, smooth-talking day-trader. In the end, she didn’t have the patience and psychological self-reliance to be a loyal companion to an often distracted, passionate student of Nature.
He was brilliant and witty. With his rugged good looks and great variety of interests, including playing bongos with a local Latin-jazz band, one would think he’d be a real catch. But he had the unfortunate habit of socially ‘checking out’ whenever he was onto something big; and he was often onto something big.
The women showed up about ten minutes later.
Julie walked in first, followed a few minutes later by Clara and Jan, who seemed to be talking about some just-discovered shared interest.
Julie was a successful self-made restaurateur, having built her business steadily over two decades. She saw her business as a vehicle for social change and as a kind of ministry: spreading the gospel of food, fun, and social activism.
She was proud of being an early adopter of organic produce, fair trade practices, and alternative sourcing: purchasing from local farmers and small growers in other countries. Julie was easygoing and cheerful and loved dogs. Politically, she considered herself a Democratic Socialist and was a very effective and passionate community organizer.
Julie had agreed to participate in the silly reality show as a break from her busy professional and social work and would be content to find a warm companion, more so than a hot new romance. Her architect husband had passed away from pancreatic cancer three years earlier.
Clara was a very attractive but embarrassingly overconfident local politician. She engaged in shameless self-promotion at any opportunity, including participating in a new reality-TV show. She never went out in public without multiple layers of makeup, unnecessary as she had lovely natural features.
She had divorced her husband after she got bored with his too-predictable, risk-averse ways — or maybe it was his respect for science. She was an Evangelical Christian and had her own special way of processing world trends and historical events — let’s just say she never gave much thought to deep time — in either direction.
Jan was a corporate lawyer for an oil company. She was a tall, striking woman with long straight blonde hair, large green eyes; and she was wicked smart. Jan was a passionate Republican. I could already see her and Tucker hitting it off with their shared interest in fast talk and fat paychecks.
But Jan had an unpleasant mean streak and loved provoking people unnecessarily. She was always fishing for a good verbal tussle, trying all manner of bait to hook unwary prey.
She never revealed why her marriage fell apart, but I suspect her husband had had enough of her unrelenting combativeness and probably ran off with a mild-mannered librarian to compensate for too many years of verbal abuse.
She figured she’d just have some fun hooking up with one of the male castmates on the show to monopolize the camera, get noticed by an agent once the show airs, and then drop her legal career — and the credulous castmate — and become a shock-jock talk-show host.
These landlubbers from the mainland — none but Jack had ever stepped foot aboard a bluewater cruising sailboat before — would be our close companions for the next seven days as we made our way to Rarotonga. I wondered how they would get along.
Would there be any emotional breakdowns during our time at sea? Such drama would be great for TV ratings and for SlimC’s career, but not so great for the breakdownee, and certainly a potential catastrophe for our minimalist crew of three.
But by far of greatest interest to me — would any of these characters, specially selected for their soap-opera good looks and incompatible personalities, find anything resembling romance during our very short, close-quarters time together?
As Lua and I ambled back to our rooms for the night, after an eerily too-pleasant dining experience with the whole gang, I asked her what she thought might happen over the next seven days with this ensemble of attractive and intelligent but varyingly damaged individuals.
“Well, Mister Rico, I think that something special is going to happen on this trip, but probably not anything we expect. You know what they say, ‘Man plans; the gods laugh.’”
“Sure seems that way most times. As John Lennon sang, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’”
Then giggling with a childlike delight, she disappeared into her room for the night.
Of great relief to a good majority of our sea-wary passengers from the mainland, the first leg of the journey to Rarotonga would be a short half-day passage from Moorea to Maiao — a small three-square-mile member of the Windward Islands in French Polynesia.
We would not lose sight of terra firma for very long on this first day out, a reassuring thought for the novice ocean travelers, ditto for the captain and crew of an amateur-built, lashed-together wooden boat on its maiden open-ocean voyage.
Captain Bob had instructed the group to be ready at the dock just after sunrise so that we could get an early start.
Surprisingly, all of the cast members were on time and ready to go with no obvious signs of late-night carousing or head-throbbing hangovers.
The resort’s service skiff ferried us out to Kalea in two groups.
Bob, Lua and I went out first to make sure the decks were clear, the cabins were ready, the boarding ladder was secured in place and the instructions for using the hand-pump manually operated marine toilet were clearly posted.
Marine toilets, or ‘heads,’ are notoriously fussy and unreliable contraptions, and one careless user can quickly disable these most sinister of sanitation systems without much effort, making future ‘head calls’ for all passengers a matter of finding a spare bucket and a private place to do one’s business.
As we approached Kalea, she appeared to be tugging gently on her mooring line, free spirit that she was, even in the perfectly still wind and wave conditions around the stunning translucent lagoon that morning. It was as if she was telling us she’s been tethered for too long and was anxious to sail off into blue water and surf those long, smooth, open-ocean swells of the South Pacific.
The skiff dropped the crew off and sped back to the docks to retrieve the others. They motored up twenty minutes later.
With calm conditions that morning, they did not have much trouble boarding Kalea from the small skiff by way of the narrow boarding ladder. Bob and I were ready to help, if asked, but most of the passengers enjoyed the challenge of managing the delicate maneuver themselves.
Jan almost took an early spill ‘into the drink’ when she took that first step onto the springy trampoline netting and momentarily lost her balance. I quickly moved in her direction to lend a hand, but Tucker out-quicked me and helped her regain her footing with an arm wrapped tightly around her slender waist.
I looked over at Bob and smirked, as a wry reminder of his own embarrassing dunking at the dock a few days earlier, and as a shared hunch of what may be brewing between these two alleged love seekers.
Bob had instructed me to familiarize the male cast members with the boat as soon as they came aboard. I was to show them to their cabins and make sure they knew where to find everything, how to use the safety gear and how to conserve water when showering.
Also, most importantly, we were to read the instructions together — out loud — on how to properly operate the head.
Lua would do the same with the female passengers.
The three men each had their own cabins in the starboard hull. Tucker took the forward single cabin, Paul took one of the doubles, and Jack took the remaining single cabin at the rear.
The spare double cabin was used to store tools, repair supplies, life vests, and other maintenance, repair, and safety essentials. It was also available as a secure place for either Bob or me to check out for a while, if things ever got too stressful.
Julie took one of the double cabins in the port hull, sharing it with extra food stores, towels, and snorkeling equipment. Lua occupied the second double cabin—she also required the extra space to store sealed containers of fresh produce, rice, beans, jerky, nuts, crackers, cereal, flour, spices, potatoes, water, pots, pans and other galley supplies.
Clara and Jan each took one of the single cabins at each end of the port hull.
Once the passengers were settled and all equipment stowed away, we motored slowly out through the narrow pass, watching carefully to make sure we didn’t drift sideways onto the jagged and unforgiving shallow reef.
After clearing the last coral heads, Bob and I hoisted the twin sails and set the autopilot steering on a southwesterly heading toward tiny Maiao.
The winds were moderate and steady and the skies clear.
We glided along effortlessly at our anticipated cruising speed of just under 10 knots, propelled forward by the predictable trade winds of the South Pacific.
During the short passage to our first port of call, Captain Bob and I stayed busy trimming sails, tightening lashings, and rearranging items on the deck to ensure our passengers were safe and comfortable, as they slowly developed their sea legs. Bob also made sure the cameras were all working properly and running continuously to capture any action on the deck that might be of interest to SlimC.
Just after noon, Lua emerged from her cabin with trays of vegetarian sushi and spring roll kits complete with tangy ginger-soy dipping sauce.
The sushi rice was rolled around julienned carrots, red bell peppers, celery, and scallions, which made for a very tasty and colorful finger food. She had whisked together some soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and wasabi paste to make a most delightful dipping sauce for the sushi.
With the spring rolls, Lua figured the passengers would have some fun wrapping up the pre-cut red bell peppers, beets, carrots, cucumbers, and radish sprouts in the delicate rice-paper wrappers themselves. The idea was a big hit with the passengers — mostly.
Tucker and Clara were a bit confused, thinking these were just appetizers and real food like steaks-on-the-grill would soon follow. But that never happened. And they didn’t make a fuss. This time.
We all sat around the table, just forward of the pilothouse, each of us assembling our own spring rolls, with varying levels of success.
After some light prompting from Bob, the passengers opened up a bit and shared personal stories about careers and previous relationships.
Their distinct personalities were becoming ever more clear, and I couldn’t help but wonder what their interactions might be like in the days ahead.
I could already sense some sizzle between Tucker and Jan — not surprising, given that they were both fiercely attractive and master people-players. They could easily live the fast-lane life together, for a short time anyway.
But that relationship could just as easily self-destruct rather quickly from a fire burning too hot, or from a flame-out, if Clara enters the picture and steals Tucker away, purely out of competitive zeal. Clara, after all, seemed also to be a virtuoso player and a smooth, strategic operator. She knew how to get what she wanted.
And how would these two vivacious vixens get along with each other? Both are highly competitive. Both are striking in appearance and view the other as the only direct competition — one, a blonde with a sharp mind and even sharper tongue, the other a brunette who stands her ground and doubts not that God always has her back.
Surely, Paul and Julie could find their way into each other’s embrace, as they both have been through very difficult times and seem to have warm, forgiving hearts and honest expectations. The resonance Paul feels with newly discovered Unitarian Universalist principles and Julie’s strong social consciousness could be the strange attractor, in the controlled chaos that makes up most relationships, that draws these two souls together.
Now as for Tucker and for Jack; if one is white, the other is black.
Jack, the scientist, dreams of unlocking the deep mysteries of Nature and sharing his findings, with little regard for wealth or material comfort.
Tucker, on the other hand, values efficiency in human affairs and solely for the purpose of making himself wealthier. He considers ‘doing business’ a ruthless sport of winner-take-all competition and relishes the idea of crushing and humiliating a business opponent rather than negotiating a ‘win-win’ deal.
He thinks of himself primarily as a ‘brand’ in the marketplace rather than a person in community.
To Tucker, Nature is nothing more than a vast pool of resources to be harvested and mined from a dead rock spinning around a hellish sun in a cold and meaningless universe, and all for the unimpeded pursuit of power, pleasure, and privilege.
Tucker’s worldview was a natural outcome of the values, knowledge, social organization, and norms that coevolved around fossil fuels — and the cornucopia of energy resources, material throughput, ‘magical’ technological innovation, and extreme wealth that those fuels made possible — and naturally selected for individualist attitudes, materialist values, and for a reductionist understanding of how the world works.
Both Jack and Tucker were each very smart, confident, self-reliant individuals, but viewed the world, and their role in it, in profoundly different ways. How would these two bulls get along?
Julie and Lua shared a common interest in the culinary arts, hospitality, and humor. I pictured them enjoying each other’s company while preparing meals, sharing recipes, and talking about the rest of us:
“Did you see the way Captain Bob was staring at Clara?” Julie might say. “He seems to find her very intriguing, but I can’t tell if it is physical attraction or a desire to push her overboard.”
“Maybe both!” Lua would respond, jokingly.
And finally, what could be said about Kalea’s crew? The three of us were getting along very well together and enjoying each other’s company.
We were a jazz trio, each a master of their own instrument, contributing to the common goal of crafting beautiful experiences for ourselves and our passengers, often improvising, varying tempo and tenor to match the mood and constantly listening to each other for cues on when to shift modes.
By early afternoon, Maiao appeared on the horizon. We zig-zag tacked our way upwind to a pristine isolated patch of shoreline and slowly inched up onto the smooth, sandy beach, being careful not to damage Kalea’s shallow fin keels.
With the gentlest of bumps, Kalea kissed the shore.
Bob and I scrambled up onto the forward trampoline. I grabbed the lightweight aluminum Fortress anchor and jumped off of the forward crossbeam into knee-deep water dragging the unspooling anchor line behind me.
Walking up the soft, sandy beach to higher ground, I wrapped the anchor line around the base of a palm tree and buried the anchor’s flukes deep in the ground.
Bob jumped in the water behind me. Lua and Julie handed us the canopy tent, beach chairs, platters of food, beverages, and the requisite supplies for a bonfire that evening, while the others surveyed the gorgeous natural surroundings from Kalea’s deck.
Bob enticed the passengers to forage for firewood by setting up a friendly match between them, knowing they were all highly competitive characters.
While they were away, he set up the video camera on a tripod stand a few feet away from where we would erect the large canopy tent for the bonfire that evening. He tucked it away behind a clump of palm trees, so that it would not be apparent to the cast, though they knew there would always be cameras around somewhere — that was part of the deal, after all.
The cast returned with an ample amount of firewood. Nature-boy Jack, not surprisingly, was carrying the largest load. They set it down under the canopy and we arranged it into a small mound.
We were all set for the evening event.