Categories
glamorous

The ship and the city

I DREAMED I’d boarded a ship that was slowly making its way to an exotic vacation locale, somewhere on the other side of the world. I’d bought a giant new steamer trunk for the voyage. I thought I’d have a cabin to myself, but, below decks, the ship was like a passenger train, with row upon row of seats. Voyagers had to sleep sitting up in these seats, and we had to hunt for a vacant seat. At first, I had a row of seats to myself, but I realized that the remaining seats would soon be filled, and perhaps by a group of noisy, aggressive people who knew each other. I’d be the odd one out. So I moved into an occupied row, next to a Japanese passenger who was already half-asleep, his hat pulled halfway down over his eyes, and was traveling by himself, like me. My arrival woke him, slightly, and he nodded to acknowledge me, then closed his eyes again. I realized, as I settled in beside him, each of us slouching away from the other for privacy, that I did not have my trunk with me, and did not know where it was being held. I couldn’t even be sure that it had made it onto the ship.

The ship docked at an American city for a quick break. It was a quaint old town, with buildings that seemed to date back hundreds of years, including a picturesque ruin or two. The dock was filled with similarly set-up cruise ships; this was obviously a major rest stop for the seaborne travel industry. The dock was infinite, an endless perspective of identical cruise ships, each disgorging thousands of passengers who merged into an oncoming throng. So many were coming that they raised the dust before them. I wondered how the quaint old town could possibly accommodate so many travelers.

I had wandered into the city for many blocks when I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me—it was packed in the trunk, presumably back on the ship. I came to this sudden understanding while trying to complete a trivial purchase at the register of a small store.

“I came on a ship, my wallet’s on board, perhaps we could call the ship and have them read you my credit card number?” I suggested to the frowning cashier.

“Which ship?”

I didn’t know.

“Where’s she headed?”

I suddenly didn’t know that, either.

“Look, I’m on a three-week cruise,” I said. “I don’t remember where I’m going. I don’t know why my family’s not with me.”

The embarrassing admission did little to improve my standing with the cashier.

Cross-fade.

I had given up and was trudging back to the ship when I realized I did not know where it was docked. I asked townspeople where the dock was located, but they frowned at me as if I were mentally ill or horribly disfigured, and scurried quickly away.

So I wandered, through blocks that resembled Dresden after the Allied bombardment, with no adults to be seen—only underfed, half-naked children, who darted past like hurrying ghosts, presumably scouring the bombed-out buildings for scraps of food or dry places to shelter.

Dissolve.

After hours of walking at random, I began to pass buildings that looked vaguely familiar, and thought that I must be approaching the dock again. I could hear distant gulls, their cries half-muted and oddly modulated as they echoed off the broken buildings of the old city.

If I came out upon the dock, would I remember which ship I’d been traveling on?

What was my name? Could my luggage identify me if I knew where the crew had stowed it? Could I describe my luggage to help them search for it? No, it was new and I was unfamiliar with its design. I couldn’t even remember what I’d packed, except for a faint impression that I’d stowed the contents in many small boxes inside the trunk.

But to even reach that impasse of being unable to describe my luggage, I’d have to first identify my ship, and they all looked the same. My ship might already have left. And I didn’t even know its destination.

7 June 2021

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Designer at Automattic, Inc. Co-Founder, An Event Apart. Publisher, A List Apart & A Book Apart. Author. Father. He/him.