Day 36: the Equator Crossing

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ooh, do you want to read the memo? It's pretty awesome and it will definitely help the suspense factor, except for the fact that I'll have to post both entries right in a row because of the limited internet and you'll be able to read them both anyway ... okay here it is...!

Captain Chazapis!
How dare you try to sneak across the equator into my realm with your ship filled with slimy Pollywogs! I command you stop your ship at the equator so that I and my royal court may board The Scholar Ship to inspect this scum. You are directed to assemble these vermin under the supervision of the Trusty Shellbacks that you haved on board so that I may determine which of these scurvy-filled Pollywogs, through suitable initiation into the solemn mysteries of the ancient order of the deep, are worthy to become Shellback, and are fit to proceed on my oceans. Those not found worthy will be thrown into the sea to be food for my creatures. Disobey this order under penalty of Our Royal Displeasure.
Neptunus Rex
Ruler of the Raging Main
Pretty cool huh? Well just you wait.

We finally crossed the equator today. My fellow Pollywogs and I faithfully assembled for the initiation ceremony - apparently a time-honored, universal tradition for seafarers dating back hundreds of years - and the nervous energy was palpable. I still wasn't sure if I wanted to do it or not, though I don't know if I would have forgiven myself for passing up this opportunity. We gathered on the Aft Deck of the ship, where some others were waiting. Our numbers grew and soon it was clear that almost the entire student body and most of the staff had turned up for this. Good.

We heard drums from the interior and soon a parade of what could only have been Shellbacks streamed out of the doors. There were crew there too - this made me really happy that they were involved; usually passengers and crew are not permitted to share social space at all - playing drums and everyone was dressed in crazy tattered clothes and face paint and carrying sticks and spears and things. Downright terrifying, actually, considering none of us had a clue what was going to happen. One of the Shellbacks yelled at us for a while about being scum and vermin and to be honest I think he was just running his mouth because he does that all the time, but even he had to shut up when King Neptune's entrance sent a chilly hush over the crowd of assembled Pollywogs.

I recognized King Neptune instantly, not only as King Neptune himself but also as one of our Global Issues professors, Chris Gordon, from the University of Ghana. His bride, on the other hand, I did not recognize for quite some time and then still didn't recognize when I finally figured out it was my Intercultural Communications professor (a man, Dana French, wearing a paper wig and makeup), who was a captain in the Navy. You see, it's always the most experienced Shellback on board who takes on the person of King Neptune, and Chris and Dana had crossed the equator in the same month of the same year, though I can't remember what year that was. Since it was impossible to determine who actually crossed first, the hardest part was choosing who would play King Neptune and who would play his bride. When you see the pictures you'll realize that even that wasn't very difficult.

Once we had assembled and been greeted by King Neptune, the Shellbacks shepherded us up the outer stairs to Lido Deck, where we were met by Rubbermaid tubs of ... well I don't want to know what. Soon there were piles of shoes lining the deck railings as we filed into line. (I found out later that this was supposed to be more like hazing - like a pool full of the stuff or getting it dumped on your head. I'm pretty thankful this is all there was to the stepping-in-gross-slime portion of the initiation.) I almost slipped in one of the tubs, especially when cold salt water from a fire hose hit me square in the back of the head. As I stepped out of the third and last bin, the grossest of all, I was met with hot salty water in the face and the line curved around to what had become King Neptune's throne.

In turn we bowed to both King Neptune and his bride, kissed King Neptune's ring, and were dubbed Shellbacks by a touch of his triton. Kristy was waiting just past the thrones with a spray bottle full of what I later learned to be vinegar which she sprayed in each of our mouths (never ever do that, please. It's nasty.) and then Yas, one of the IRCs, made a big S on my forehead with green acrylic paint. We hiked up some more stairs and signed a big registry with our name and cabin number (I thought that meant we might get some sort of certificate or something, but so far nothing has come of that) and then it seemed we were free to go. Or to watch, in my case, as the vantage point was perfect from up there.

I looked down just in time to see one of my friends talking to King Neptune. He didn't look happy. King Neptune, I mean. He started poking John Michael with his triton - toward the pool! John was standing at the edge trying to get out of it and King Neptune gave him a big shove - right on the butt - with the points of the triton and just like that he was in the pool. This happened to several more people, seemingly at random, and it reminded me of our Magical Madrigal Dinner when the King haphazardly ordered jailings and beheadings throughout the course of the meal. Soon people were jumping in the pool for the fun of it.

The Staff Captain, Socrates, lured a couple girls up onto the edge of the pool for a picture and then unceremoniously tossed them in too. The people in the pool kept screaming for more people to get in and sometimes called for specific people. At one point, the entire assembly of newly-initiated Shellbacks started cheering "We want Kim! We want Kim! We want Kim!" Kim is the coordinator of the shore excursions - did you all know that? She is pretty basically my favorite person on the planet. You should have seen her face when she recognized that we were all cheering for her. It was like slow motion as she handed over her purse and her camera, stepped up to the edge of the pool, gave everyone a good-natured glare, and promptly did a cannonball right into the middle of the pool full of Shellbacks, the green paint starting to run down the sides of their faces with their wet hair. Soon several IRCs and even Alfred, the director of Onboard Life, were in the pool.

Then it was King Neptune's turn. I knew that was inevitable. He carefully removed his cape and made no small splash as he joined the growing mob that was the pool. Mr. French, still in full Bride regalia (made of cloth napkins and paper) was close behind. The wig didn't last long once he was in the water and the makeup mixed with the slimy green scum on the surface of the pool from everyone's painted "S." Pretty soon I was wishing I was in the pool too. But I was just getting dry, for heaven's sake, and by this point people were getting out. It all broke up fairly quickly as we all had class to go to and just like that we were across the Equator and King Neptune and his lady left the ship, having satisfied the requirements of the Ancient Order of the Deep. For now.
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