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Story pick: Funniest vacation story ever (that didn't appear in National Lampoon)

My neighbor and his family are leaving today for a cruise and my thoughts turned instantly, as they always do when I hear the words "cruise ship," to one of the most delightful pieces of travel writing ever, David Foster Wallace's inimitable 1996 take on the pursuit in Harper's. The long report from the novelist's lone cruise was originally published as "Shipping Out," a 24-page folio that you can download as a PDF file. It later appeared as the title story in Wallace's collection, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

Wallace didn't enjoy his trip. He doesn't like cruising. And he's not particularly fair or open-minded in his ruthless critique. DON'T pass this on to your devoted cruising friends, particularly if they are of a sensitive bent. But my god, is he funny.

So I come out and spot my duffel among the
luggage, and I start to grab and haul it out of
the towering pile of leather and nylon, thinking
I'll just whisk the bag back to Cabin 1009
myself and root through it and find my zinc oxide.
One of the porters sees me starting to grab
the bag, though, and he dumps all four of the
massive pieces of luggage he's staggering with
and leaps to intercept me. At first I'm afraid he
thinks I'm some kind of baggage thief and
wants to see my claim check or something. But
it turns out that what he wants is my duffel: he
wants to carry it to 1009 for me. And I, who
am about half again this poor little herniated
guy's size (as is the duffel bag itself), protest
politely, trying to be considerate, saying Don't
Fret, Not a Big Deal, Just Need My Good Old
Zinc Oxide, I'll Just Get the Big Old Heavy
Weather-Stained Sucker Out of Here Myself.
And now a very strange argument ensues,
me versus the Lebanese porter, because, I now
understand, I am putting this guy, who barely
speaks English, in a terrible kind of sedulous service
double bind, a paradox of pampering:
The Passenger's Always Right versus Never Let
a Passenger Carry His Own Bag

Alas, Wallace never quite finds his shipboard fit. But his sad holiday can add a bit of life to yours. Print this out and take it with you, or just prop it up behind your sandwich for a Friday treat. (And I am going to give it to my neighbors…after they get back).

By Steve Hendrix  | July 16, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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