Is it any wonder the Japanese hate us?

My wife Claudia and I had been cooped up in this fucking Palace Cruise Line anchored off Yokohama for 13 days and counting. Christ! Love to say the wife and I were just married like our neighbors, but no such luck. We paid $28,000 for this round-the-world tour, inside cabin, in celebration of our 34th anniversary. We hadn’t enjoyed married life in over twelve years. And I had to listen to the neighbors pounding away all night, every night like a piston.

They picked up the gentleman across the way last night. What a commotion. You’d have thought he was a giraffe. Like that movie with John Wayne on a safari. It took eleven men to carry one man out the door, and he wasn’t even dead. He could have walked. Mind you, he’d been flat on his back since Taiwan, but still. He could have made an effort. As it was, they tried carrying the poor bastard in his bedding. He was kicking and carrying on. My wife saw him through the door. She said he was stark naked under his covers. The porter nearly dropped him. His wife, if that was who she was, stayed in the room, crying. They sealed her in, stretching yellow police tape across the door. She was not allowed to go with him and now has to endure two weeks of quarantine.

We met the young couple on the day of arrival back in Florida. After boarding, we felt a bit peckish, so we headed up to the executive clubhouse for a steak sandwich. We paid extra for that. They have tables for two, not six, not eight. The “Cloud” and I don’t like to share a table. This way we got a table to ourselves and we didn’t have to take the buffet. My wife had a weight problem and the last thing she needed was an invitation to eat herself to death. As they say back in Mississippi, or did in my day, “she died of the knife and fork.” Yes, sir, there are a lot of overweight people in Jackson, part of it due to the food and partly one’s blood.  It’s biscuit and gravy country.

As they say, Mississippi is America without the lying. My wife’s granddaddy used to say that. It’s not just another place across the state line, he’d say. It’s the state of Mississippi. They want you to believe it is the state of refinement. Not that there’s anything wrong with fine dining. Grandfather could send you to a nice place in Clarksdale, Vicksburg, or even Tupelo. But he wouldn’t recommend baseball on a Sunday, not where the state flower is the magnolia. Lucky for us, there aren’t many crows, just mocking birds.

We signed up through the Eudora Welty Society for this trip, and let me tell you, the Society doesn’t want to accept the fact that its members remain a cliché. They insist it is all about gracious living, Southern-style. If you ask the Friends of Walker Percy, of which I am a member, and Claudia was right, we did look like Senator Lott, the kind of men who still use their wives’ hairspray.

There are no toilets in Mississippi, just rooms for gents and powder. Ladies in Mississippi don’t use the toilet. Not white ladies anyway.

They just love poetry readings and recitations. Conferences on flower arranging and ophthalmology. The folks in Oxford are especially fond of the Japanese tea ceremony. Pissarro and the French Impressionists are a big draw at the local art gallery. University life, as we all know, concentrates on smart dialogue. Discussions and lectures dominate the schedules of busy young people preparing for a future of three-bedroom mortgages. At half-time, on days of play, the young ladies strut their wares. They only carry pom-poms to hide their daggers.

My point is that Mississippi is a tougher place than people want to admit. It’s not all finger sandwiches and high tea at the Peabody Hotel. Good girls only give head when the home team wins. Nice people are appalled by the negroes. Chains down there weren’t used to keep black folks from running; they were used to beat them to death.

“Cloud’s” grandfather didn’t want to die for no pecan pie as other folks did, and not for anything else for that matter. Not for the gooseberry wine, the catfish, the hush puppies, nor the grits; not for nothing, as they used to say. Not even for the fried pickles white folks always say are to die for. Not for granddaddy. He wasn’t about to get himself killed over some tossed salad with earl and vinegar, and certainly not over some shit talk at the barrel of a shotgun.

See, back in 1966, her granddaddy Minnis and his team from Wilson, Arkansas won the biggest ballgame of the season. They were so famous, a radio station announcer challenged their team to head over for a fight to the finish, a Mississippi Delta Championship. The boys climbed into a big yellow school bus, crossed the mighty river, and headed south on I-55 from downtown Memphis.

They were greeted upon arrival by the local sheriff, Clarence Turner, and his cowshit-stained deputies who aimed their shotguns at their heads and shouted, “Niggers don’t play ball down here, so you all better git back yonder.” Granddaddy Minnis and his buddies didn’t say a word. They headed home. They didn’t talk that night of word choice or syntax. Walker Percy and Eudora Welty never came up. Not them and not Grisham and not Faulkner, neither. They talked that night of how dangerous it was down in Mississippi and they swore to God never to return.

Cloud’d say I only cooked once a year. She’d tell you I cooked for friends and family. I’d be the first to admit I always left a mess for my wife. I’d have to admit, too, that I was hated. It’s not the way I intended. It’s not what I wanted. It was never supposed to be this way. It came as a shock when my wife said she couldn’t stand me.

When the pots were clean, I felt good. When the sauce was simmering, I felt powerful. Loved the smell of it, mainly the garlic. And I listened always to the radio on the refrigerator, WMPR. When the spaghetti was done, I felt gratitude. When she cried, I felt like shit.

My friends’ arrival was joyous. My friends gave me a hug and her, a kiss. My friends balanced their plates on their knees. My friends thanked me, but often forgot to thank her. They forget to tell her what a wonderful time they had. They said they appreciated it. They should have known I had nothing to do with it.

Claudia just screamed: “There is tomato sauce everywhere. There is a napkin in the toilet. There is parmesan cheese in the carpet. There are broken plates on the patio.” She kept on even after I said I was sorry. I said I was sorry. “The oven is filthy,” she replied. “The refrigerator door was left open,” she shouted. “The icemaker has stopped working.” I begged her to forgive me. “The gas range is covered in marinara” was her answer. And then she said it all over again, starting with the sauce.

And that time she took the car. My car. My wife took my Chrysler 300 sedan. My friend, who promised to help, left. My brother forgot to bring wine. I had thought I could handle 13 guests. I thought I could clean up my own mess. I thought I could offer to take her out. I thought my wife wouldn’t leave me. She came back after five days. My head would not stop throbbing the entire time she was gone.

They took my wife this afternoon. Zipped her up in a black plastic bag. What made me

think of my spaghetti dinners is the fact that the porter brought me dinner on a Styrofoam plate 15 minutes ago. I’ve been eating Italian pasta every day since we sailed into Tokyo Bay or whatever this body of water is called. The choice has been white rice or pasta every day of the week since we arrived. Cold pasta is better than cold rice by my reckoning. Back home, we put butter and black pepper on white rice. Not bad.

Here? No seasoning. I suppose they take a crack at heating it up at some point along the way, but with well over 3,000 meals to serve, one by one, and a limited staff, by the time they get to me it is cold. “Room temperature,” the man corrected when I said cold. Technically, he was right, of course. Oily and cold, with a single slice of orange for dessert.  If I am lucky, they’ll deliver a cup of lukewarm Nescafé before six. Yesterday, they skipped us. I sat by the phone, calling again and again all night, but I never got through. Room service simply stopped. When I called to tell the captain my wife had died, they were in our room within minutes.

We’d been asking, too, for my wife to be tested. She had had a fever of over 100 for seven days. Our requests were ignored. They said her fever was too low to warrant medical intervention. That was when we got on Skype and talked to that reporter from CNN. We shared our grievances. Locked in, no window, no air, listening to our neighbors going at it. It’s quiet now. Interesting how our great white whale has become invisible. Jung said “the gods have become our diseases.”