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Hot Desk Extract: Cruising

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Sophie Tegan Gardiner worked on Cruising: a novel of latent and pervy queer discovery set in the absurd hyperreality of a cruise ship. This excerpt presents one of the many quirks of quotidian life on the open ocean.

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It never failed to surprise me the sheer amount of stuff they managed to fit into and onto the boat. I’d expected a couple of pools and maybe a swim up bar but it was like a full tropical resort crossed with the Duty Free section of the airport plonked onto the sea. The swim up bar was less of a bar and more of a 24-hour Guy Fieri-themed burger joint with burgers all promising a ‘liberal slathering’ of something called Donkey Sauce. Around every corner there was something new, crammed where it surely couldn’t fit, and when there was no more room they put a single slot machine, or a little kiosk selling lanyards.

The lanyard kiosks were absolutely everywhere. I had learnt very quickly that onboard lanyards were a status symbol akin to designer clothing or a McMansion in Toorak, because as soon as you had physically boarded the boat and had your ticket checked there was a lanyard kiosk waiting for you like a commissary in prison. El had picked out mine: dolphins were dotted at regular intervals, jumping through a purple ocean and each with their own too-big moon behind them that silhouetting the slickness of their bodies.

What passed for cool on the boat seemed radically different from the world outside. I’d seen a woman the other day who reminded me of the grandma from The Nanny, face like an old leather handbag and her rickety frame weighed down by thick gold jewellery even while next to the pool. She was wearing more metal than she was elastane. She had her own key card attached to a lanyard so rhinestone-crusted that it was no longer malleable, and stuck out in front of her a bit, like a dog leash that bobbed whenever she got up from her perch. When she hit the light she was blinding.

It seemed impossible to exempt yourself from lanyard culture. All they did was hold onto your key card, which let you into your room or allowed you to pay for your bottomless tacos or an overpriced screen print of Mickey Mouse sunbathing on one of the boat’s branded recliners in a set of branded board shorts and no shoes, just his mouse toes on full display, but you had to have one. It seemed more important than clothing itself; everyone wore approximately the same sundress, singlet, novelty t-shirt, jean shorts, board shorts, chinos, one piece, bikini, jandals, sandals or Crocs, no matter who they were or what they looked like. It was one of the first places I’d been where I didn’t feel out of place because of my wardrobe. Almost everything I wore was made out of overpriced and poorly constructed polyester and bought online. If I shopped in person it was only at Target, or else out of the men’s section, or once in the maternity section of Pumpkin Patch. When I went shopping at normal girl places with my friends I tried on accessories only.

Were cruise ship people my people? Did I want them to be? It felt nice for once not to be judged by material stuff that was out of my control. I couldn’t wait for the days when I was older and richer and knew how to consume like El and her family did. They had amazing taste because they could afford to. I had to take what I could get.

Photo: Sophie Tegan Gardiner

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.