••• The International Writers Magazine: Martin Green takes a Cruise
I still couldn’t quite believe it but here I was, going on a cruise. Right now I was on the top deck of the cruise ship, where the pool was, but far enough away so that the yells of kids and of childish adults weren’t too annoying. What was I, a young man, I was 28, doing, going all by himself on his first cruise?
It was the doing of my friend, not girl friend, Jean Stanton. When I’d come out to San Francisco from New York I’d gotten a job with an ad agency on Montgomery Street and had fallen in with a crowd of young people, most of whom worked downtown; Jean was one of them. She was a pleasant-faced girl with brown hair and eyes and wore the kind of round glasses that give people an owlish look.
I knew Jean liked me and I liked her, but not in that way. Jean was a travel agent. I’d told her I had a vacation coming and I wanted to get away but didn’t know where to go. She said there was an upcoming cruise, just a week, going along the coast of California. It was leaving from San Francisco, making it easy to get to. It was also incredibly cheap, as evidently it wasn’t yet fully booked. I was doubtful at first but Jean was persuasive and I eventually succumbed.
The reason I wanted to get away at that particular time was because of a girl; again, I hasten to say, not a girl friend, but one working in my ad agency I’d been trying cultivate. Her name was Connie Rivers; she was a copywriter, one of those beautiful tanned California blondes I’d imagined when I moved out West. She was smart as well as good-looking and was said to have a bright future. She was also very ambitious. I was a lowly market researcher but I’d had some contact with her on an ad campaign and contrived to stop at her desk as often as I could.
As well as being a market researcher, I was writing stories for the romance magazines popular at that time. The stories had a formula: boy meets girl; obstacle comes up; obstacle overcome; happy ending. I’d even sold a few and hoped to progress to writing “real” stories. Connie seemed to be at least faintly interested in my writing efforts and had even given me some helpful hints from the women’s point of view. I had my secret hopes, but then came the blow, she had gotten engaged to our creative director. I knew she was ambitious and I shouldn’t have been surprised; still, I couldn’t help feeling a little crushed.
The cruise ship was heading south to Santa Barbara. It was a perfect day, the sun in a cloudless sky, a slight breeze so that it wasn’t too hot, the ocean as still as a painting. I’d taken a book to read, one of those big Victorian novels I’d looked through in my college English class and thought I might read some day. But, with the sun shining down and the gentle motion of the ship, I felt that I’d fall asleep before getting too much reading done. I think I was probably starting to doze off when I sensed someone sitting down in the chair next to me.
I opened my eyes and saw a strikingly attractive blonde in a bathing suit just short of a bikini, starting to apply suntan lotion to her long legs. At first I thought I was imagining this but no, she was an actual person. She also had a book, which fell off her lap while she was getting herself adjusted. I quickly reached down and picked it up; it was by Anthony Trollope, another Victorian author. Naturally, I showed her my book, which was “Middlemarch,” by George Eliot. We exchanged names; hers was Barbara Johanson. She wasn’t a California blonde; she said she’d come to San Francisco from Minnesota. Not only were we both reading Victorian novels, she also worked in an ad agency, as a media buyer. Needless to say, she reminded me very much of Connie Rivers.
We exchanged stories about our respective ad agencies. She was presently an assistant buyer, primarily for radio; she wanted to get a promotion and get into television buying. Like Connie Rivers, she was ambitious. We talked about this for a good while and then we talked about San Francisco. She thought it was a beautiful city. It was so liberating, she said, after the Midwest. She didn’t have her own place; she was living in a guest house. She was waiting to get her promotion before looking for an apartment. What did she do on weekends? She was a little vague about this.
“Have you been to the Buena Vista?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. The Irish coffee place. I like it.”
“Have you been over to Sausalito?”
“No, not yet.”
“We like to go there on weekends. When it’s foggy in the city it’s usually sunny there. Then there’s Sam’s in Tiburon. You can eat outside and have a great view of San Francisco.”
“It sounds nice. I’ll have to go there.”
“Why don’t you give me your phone number,” I said. “I’ll call you when we get back and I can take you there.” In my mind, I was already writing a story about our encounter: boy, trying to forget girl, meets another girl; obstacle unknown; happy ending.
“That would be nice,” she said.
We talked some more and then she said she had to be going.
“Maybe I’ll see you later. What’s your cabin number?” I was already making plans for the rest of the cruise.
“Uh, I think I should tell you, I do have a kind of boy friend in San Francisco. He’s the head of our Media Department.”
Another ambitious blonde. Another blow to my stomach. I should have known. There went my story. “Oh,” I cleverly said.
“I did like talking with you. Maybe we can get together some time. You know where I work. You can call me.”
“Sure,” I said. We both knew this wouldn’t happen.
She stood up, gathered her belongings and went off. So that was that. So much for my plans for the rest of the cruise.
The next few days went by somehow. I finished reading “Middlemarch.” I found a collection of short stories by Irwin Shaw in the ship’s library. Shaw was one of my favorite writers, one I tried to emulate even in my romance stories that were written to a formula. By the end of the cruise though I seemed to have pretty well recovered. When we got back to San Francisco I’d go back to work. I’d write more stories. I’d have to see Jean Stanton and tell her about the cruise. I needn’t go into my encounter with Barbara Johanson. Then I had kind of a revelation. Jean Stanton. I really liked her and thought she liked me. I’d see if she wanted to go to Sam’s in Tiburon. I wondered what she’d look like without those glasses. Maybe I would have a story with a happy ending.
© Martin Green August 2016
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