Working on a cruise ship was like being emancipated into another dimension. –Kim Sisto Robinson
It was 1980 something. I was young, fearless, and hopelessly invincible.
Besides, at twenty, I landed a job in Miami on Carnival Cruise Lines as a Croupier, aka Blackjack Dealer. I had previously applied for the Cruise Director position, but apparently, they didn’t accept chicks with no experience.
Like I said before, I was confident, and as Madonna elegantly said in her first interview on Bandstand,
“ready to rule the fucking universe.”
If you’ve watched Titanic, you may already know there is a hierarchy on ships. Still.
The captain and officers are at the highest level, like gods, and the rest of us sort of trickle down, dancers, entertainers, casino girls, shop girls, bartenders, etc. Maintenance is way down in the engine room, presumably dying of the ship’s exhaustion.
Yeah, if an iceberg emerged, they would have drowned first. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
Casino Girls were elevated, but not valued as we should’ve been because, well, we were females.
While working on the Tropicale, I was told from a reliable source, that the Italian officers had a special graph in their administrative office where they rated us in red ink from 1-10 ( extremely, hideously, obnoxiously Donald Trumpish) and checked off the girls they had sex with.
For your information, I WAS NOT on that list.
And by the way, this list also included passengers. Lots and lots of poor, undersexed, widowed, vulnerable, lonely women that the officers were required to dance and flirt with. It was quite heartbreaking observing these encounters.
One of my cabin mates, Elaine, was the Captain’s girlfriend. I must confess, I was envious of her with that model thin body, bronzed, flawless skin, and long hair, which flowed down her back like an auburn avalanche. The other casino girls informed me that Captain Giuliani gave Elaine money to have all of her teeth aligned and whitened in Grand Cayman the first month they were together. Rows of perfect white pearls. I didn’t look at him the same after that.
Seriously, who the hell did this guy think he was? Weren’t her teeth good enough for the Sicilian adulterer? Yeah, he was married. They all were.
In those days, being a Casino Girl was glamorous. We wore black tuxedoes, towering heels, long painted nails, and a full face of 80s makeup. We were sort of like Playboy bunnies without the taut bustier, bunny tail, and Hugh Hefner.
The majority of the girls were exotically beautiful; originating from every continent. Leah, the pit boss, was from Mikhail Baryshnikov’s hometown, Latvia. She was severely striking, spoke six languages, wore deep scarlet lipstick, and she was mean as triple hell. She also happened to be married to sweet little George, the casino manager, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Leah sauntered around in her ebony stilettos and size two body as if she were Catherine the Great.
“You,are too rough with cards. You must flow with fingers, not force like fool.”she said in a thick, Russian accent.
After that, she curled her perfect lips and walked away from my blackjack table with a huff.
Even through the bitchiness, I was abundantly intrigued by this Latvian creature who smelled of Cartier perfume and Virginia Slim cigarettes. As I look back, I believe those particular women from faraway lands are who taught me the most.
Every Casino Girl had a story.
Like me, some girls were in transition, evolving, not prepared for university, or a 40 hour per week job. In truth, we desired escape from reality.
Others, like Ludia, were on the ship to earn tips to send home to their families in Columbia and Ecuador. Still, several were there for no other reason than to party hard, drink goombay smashes, get the ultimate tan, bathe in the Caribbean, and have as much sex as they wanted without consequence.
Free love. Drugs. Booze. Rock and roll.
Yep, it was pretty much Woodstock on the Atlantic. I mean, nobody would’ve been surprised if Jimmy Hendrix walked out, lit his guitar on fire, and started playing Star Spangled Banner.
I remember sitting on deck with a few Casino Girls drinking Pina Coladas and listening to waves crashing against the ship.
“You know what?” I said.
“The rest of the world could blow up, and we’d still be sipping our drinks.”
That feeling of emancipation and freedom has never left me. It was beautiful, in a way, to just be, to unhook, to unfasten, to be uncontrolled, and release your hair from its knots.
Yeah, that was kind of beautiful while it lasted.
POSTSCRIPT: I married a British technician from Liverpool who fixed the slot machines for Carnival Cruise Lines. After a wild and crazy life aboard ships, we now live on land in Duluth, Minnesota with our two boys, Andrew, Alexander & our very weird cat, Bizzy Body.