Three Magic Words

IT WAS A "SPECIAL DAY," ACCORDING TO GIUSEPPE, the tour guide on the ferry from Sorrento to Capri. “Special” because the water was unusually choppy, despite the otherwise stunning  weather during a recent visit to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Everyone should sit at the rear of the boat, Giuseppe advised, to minimize the effects of the rough sea.

The day trip to Capri had a specific, if mildly morbid, objective: To show my husband Bob exactly where to scatter my ashes one day when I die. Five minutes into this particular ferry ride, I was convinced – and later, prayed – that this would be the day.

Palpitating and clammy right off the bat, I braced for an eventful 45-minute crossing as I mulled my motion sickness-laced history with water travel, which dated back to an unfortunate English Channel crossing on another “special day.” That was when I learned, bent over an outside railing, that rough waters, Coca-Cola and Toblerone don’t belong in the same sentence, much less the same stomach.

With that revelation in my wake somewhere between Dover and Calais, I might have been cured of all travel by boat if I were a fast learner. Instead, sitting cotton-mouthed on the Italian Minnow gave me the opportunity to recall many untold episodes of violent maritime high jinks that prove I’m a glutton for suffering. Along the way, I’ve developed an uncanny knack for boarding on all “special days,” which always seem to end the same way. If I’m lucky, there will be a plastic bag within reach.

It occurs to me that the most powerful utterance in any language can really be reduced to three words: “I’m gonna barf!”

No other declaration – not even shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater – carries more urgency. Say it out loud sometime and watch any unsuspecting crowd part like the Red Sea. The mere suggestion that someone within 50 feet is going to be sick will terrify any mob into dispersing within seconds every time. As a no-nonsense breach of polite, social dialogue, those three words are a non-negotiable conversation ender. A one-way ticket to the nearest exit, no questions asked.

On a Christmas vacation to Hawaii, my sadistic husband prepaid for three family outings on and under the water. It was obvious he intended to kill me. A powerboat tour around one of the islands dragged on and on, ending with me kneeling at the throne of the porcelain god. Hours later, we boarded a dinner cruise, where my entree would consist of saltines and Dramamine, with ginger ale for dessert. While the other dinner guests did the Macarena, I couldn’t help noticing that the dance floor was rocking, churning, tossing and heaving.

The following day, I’d hardly begun mentally detailing the specifics of our impending divorce when my husband announced we were signed up for a two-hour submarine ride to watch the indigenous sea life a hundred feet below sea level.

A hundred feet below sea level … no cool breeze for my clammy face … tightly sealed exit hatches. One of us would not see the new year.

The touring submarine offered all the amenities one might expect to find in hell: Fogged up windows from the hot, recycled breath of an oversized and perspiring crowd, pushing against one another to get a good look at the occasional marine life that happened by. I saw none of this, of course, as my eye, when not scanning for sick bags, was trained on the hatch I would need for my hasty exit.

At precisely the same time the submarine mercifully reached the surface, my lunch had risen to dangerous levels, as well. The crew had become hostile, barking orders to the crowd about where to line up for a single-file exit. I was panic-stricken to see that only one exit hatch would be used – the one waaaaaaaaaaay up at the other end.

I’d been trembling for a half hour in an undulating hot box. I had no time for lines. “I – I – I have to go out this hatch,” I told a high-ranking SS officer who was posing as a crew member. “Nein!” he snapped back, blocking the exit hatch a foot away.

“I’m gonna barf!” I gurgled.

“Open zee hatch! We’ve got a barfer!” he bellowed, with no debate.

White-knuckling the chairs that surrounded me, I was convinced they’d moved Capri another 400 miles from where it used to be – the rough ride was taking an eternity. All around, the maniacal crowd cheered with each high wave like revelers on a roller coaster. They were actually enjoying the wild ride, laughing and swaying with abandon.

That is, until someone in the crowd yelled out, “I’m gonna barf!”

Categories: Bits and Pieces, Lauren Hammack