The buffet is everything. Alpha and Omega. It presides from the massive cruise ship’s highest deck, encased in glass, like an aquarium with a make-your-own-pizza bar. It’s named “The Garden,” doubtless after Eden. But it belongs elsewhere in the Old Testament. This Garden is a Sodom of sodium, a Gomorrah of GMOs. It is the buffet of Babylon, towers of heretical onion rings reaching up towards God’s lips.
The longer I stared at the food, the more I realized the endless menu was just a collection of maybe sixty foodstuffs presented in different combinations. Seeing the same corporate chicken cutlets, in perfect uniform, appear in a dozen dishes at seven different ship-board restaurants is decidedly unappetizing.
There was a pile of sandwiches—roast beef, mustard and wilted lettuce on mealy brown bread—that were a staple of the lunch spread. I swear the sandwiches sitting there on my last day working as a cruise ship performer were the same ones I passed by on my first, somehow unchanged, as if unbeholden to the laws of nature or entropy.
There are a few rebel encampments of actual foods. Salad bars stand vigilant at port and starboard aft. Sadly these bars are Trojan horses, their presence an excuse to justify troughs of dressing. Passengers visit the salad bars almost exclusively for ranch, which they’d dump on top of anything; pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, cocktail weenies, tacos, desserts, even the odd salad. But few people cruise for vegetables, and so, I became the salad bar’s only regular.
While I was able to take refuge from the recurring chicken and undying sandwiches via salads, it was not possible to hide from my fellow diners. Delirious passengers, overcome with the desire to consume as much cruise as they could, piled fried death onto their plates in incredible quantities. Five fistfuls of five kinds of french fries overflowed on a plateless tray. Six brownies and a diet coke was breakfast. A plastic water glass full to the brim with mayonnaise. There were no limits to their self-destructive creativity. They ate as much as humanly possible.
Once, I watched a woman stack eighteen (eighteen! I counted!) croissants onto a single plate, a wobbly monument to the intoxicating effects of Free Eats. I stared as she snatched up her plate and two croissants floated gently to the floor like the buttery wings of Icarus.
Let me pause for a moment to discuss the floor. I cannot overstate the repulsiveness of this floor. Barefoot children, rascal scooters and strange liquids, both culinary and personal, were but a few of the regular occurrences in the horde of unwashed persons that passed through, to say nothing of whatever sinister chemicals keep that floor a brilliant white.
I watched as the woman crouched, picked up the croissants from the floor and put them both in her mouth. They curled outwards, like the mandibles of an absurd French ant. She held them there as she marched off to rejoin whatever colony she belonged to. I doubt I will ever be able to look a croissant in the eye again.
But for all the horrors I saw, nothing was as viscerally upsetting as Monday night. Monday night, The Garden offers surf and turf. A full lobster and an eight ounce steak. Truly, the American dream. But, unlike everything else in The Garden, steak and lobster are rationed. It’s limited to one per person at a time, though you may get back in line for seconds, thirds, ninths. Though there seemed to be an unending supply of refills, once passengers were told there was some kind of limitation, they quickly turned on one another. With free steak and lobster on the line, they became wild animals, each one ready to kill to ensure their own heard was satiated. I felt like one of the monkeys in the beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” libel to have my skull bashed in by a newly invented tool at any minute.
The Garden affirmed for me that man is doomed. If we cannot find peace in Eden, what chance do we have of making peace elsewhere? I have seen The Garden, and I weep for our future.
Though they do have two soft serve ice cream machines that are on twenty-four hours a day and do the swirl. Overall, I give it two out of five stars.
Sam Roos is a new resident of New York, where he attends The New School in pursuit of an MFA in fiction. He loves to write about the people and things he hates, and is currently working on a mystery novel about a stunt-school dropout and his sister trying to get their inheritance back from the charity their father left it to. For partisan political pandering, boston-sports-related hot-takes, and semi-erotic humorous musings, find Sam on Twitter, @Roostafarian.
Featured image: “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” by Pieter Schoubroeck.