If anyone could write one hundred pages on one 7-day cruise, it’s David Foster Wallace. And so you have “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” in his collection of essays by the same name. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in cruises or no, or whether you’ve ever been on (or will be going on) a cruise; it’s just damn good writing.
In an exemplary episode of the long-running Simpsons TV show, the writers give a hat-tip to the essay, in what appears to be a play on the main theme of the essay, which is this: Vacations don’t last forever. For DFW, this is somewhat of a relief. And truthfully, he describes the luxury cruise exactly as I’d have imagined it, and in such a way as to reinforce my already established notion that it’s not a thing I’d like to do. Reading about it is so much more fulfilling.
Could an essay about a luxury cruise be better than the real thing? Absolutely. For instance, I’d rather read about than witness this:
“I have heard steel drums and eaten conch fritters and watched a woman in silver lame’ projectile-vomit inside a glass elevator.”
The real reason, states the in-depth analysis of the cruise brochure, analyzed within an inch of its life by DFW, for going on a cruise is to be pampered, to relax, to do Absolutely Nothing. And then comes the most beautifully written metaphor I believe I’ve ever read in a non-fiction essay, one that is so sleek that my English 1010 students barely got close to solving it:
“How long has it been since you did Absolutely Nothing? I know exactly how long it’s been for me. I know how long it’s been since I had every need met choicelessly from someplace outside me, without my having to ask or acknowledge that I needed. And that time I was floating, too, and the fluid was salty, and warm but not too–, and if I was conscious at all I’m sure I felt dreadless…”
Aside from this brilliant in utero reference, the essay takes on every possible aspect of the luxury cruise, leaving nothing to the imagination. It’s not difficult to discern that many aspects of luxury cruising are uncomfortable for the author, and as such, in what he terms his ‘semi-agoraphobic’ state, he keeps to his cabin, watching reruns of Jurassic Park and eating copious amounts of fresh fruit. And being afraid of his toilet– which, in the end, turns out to be totally justifiable.
Bart has a much better time on his cruise; the two are fundamentally different when it comes to their impressions of the 7NC. They will ‘never do again’ for different reasons– Bart is permanently banned from cruises after his permanent vacation ruse. DFW? Well, aside from his obvious anxiety and obsession with sharks, I’d say it’s just not his thing. But he does, of course, look cool in cartoon form.