I stuffed my joints into the bottom of tampon tubes, for the flight back to New Orleans to meet the Kazakhstan for our second Christmas here. I saved a lot from waitressing in St. Thomas and bought my parents a boom box with a radio, cassette player and a little tv. They were surprised by the big gift and have been having fun dialing in channels when in port, mostly finding fuzzy Spanish variety shows. We’ve been traveling for months at a time for the past several years with no tv at all. You get used to it. The best place for reception is when we’re in port in New Orleans, which is about the only time we get any real news. The Soviets are not subtle about censoring the news on board; they print the wire service and post the original pages with parts blacked out by permanent marker. We usually pick up a paper in New Orleans. I read everything I can get my hands on. If one of us finds a good book, we all read it. I kept up my reading habit when we were home last summer and could have cared less about the television.

They made a lot of the staff double up as roommates, making one hostess quit, and putting me back in that role for free. The other hostess, Jill and I are squeezed into a cabin too small for us to get dressed at the same time. We share a connecting bathroom with my parents. Shower times have to be coordinated among the four of us, and we have to remember to lock and unlock both doors on either side of the bathroom with every use. We have all messed that up multiple times.

I get the vibe that Jill, the other hostess, does not care much for me, although she was friendly when we worked together on the Odessa. We coexist in a room that is about the size of a walk-in closet, but are silent most of the time, although her glares of disapproval of most everything I do speak very loudly. Jill is American, but fluent in Russian, and she spends more time drinking straight vodka with the officers than she does hanging out with the rest of the staff.

New to the staff this year are two Italian guys, Gino and Nicky, who play drums and accordion. They are a couple of nuts, who always make me laugh, and the passengers love them.

Thomas and John are both on the ship again this season. We’re all just friends… no benefits. Paul is not here, which breaks my heart; he’s assigned to another line, but we continue to write, which gives me something to look forward to when we are in home port.

For the New Year’s Eve party, the cruise director asked my father and me to dress up and work the audience around midnight. My dad was dressed up as Father Time in a costume I made, with a sickle from cut up cardboard taped to the end of a broom handle and covered with foil, a white sheet, and ghostly white makeup; he walked around the room, looking quite ominous and frankly, a little creepy. I represented the New Year. My costume was high heels and a bunch of balloons all attached around me like a giant blob of colorful soap bubbles. When they played Auld Lang Syne at midnight, I had to work my way around the audience while they eagerly popped my balloons, until I was down to just a bikini and a Happy New Year 1979 sash, which was also creepy.

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