Kicking and screaming, writer sails off into sunset

I just got back from a little trip to Mexico. However, I did NOT go there on a Jewish singles cruise. I swear. Cross my heart and hope to be smitten by weird plagues involving reptiles.

OK, I can't lie; there might be rabbis reading this. I did go to Mexico on a Jewish singles cruise. But it was all my parents' idea, really. They threatened to revoke my driving privileges if I didn't put on some sun block and get my tush across the border. They're very, very mean!!

My dad saw an ad for the cruise on a Web site, Jewish.com, and sent me an e-mail with the subject line "We want grandkids already!!" Nah, my parents are much more low-key than that. But my Luddite mom did find the matter significant enough to overcome her fear of e-mail and type in an encouraging line: "You never know, honey. What have you got to lose?"

Well, for starters, Mom, my dignity! How am I gonna tell my friends I spent the weekend playing canasta with a dentist from Florida? See, ever since my divorce a couple of years back, I've thought of myself as single with a lowercase "s." You know, as in a nonchalant, devil-may-care single. I mean sure, if I'm sitting in a Starbucks and some adorable guy asks if I can spare a Sweet 'N Low, I'll take a risk and say "come here often?"

But a Jewish singles cruise? Somehow, that connotes Single with a capital "s." I pictured myself sipping an exotic tropical drink as I tossed back my hair and told yet another stony-faced stranger the one about the monk and the Martian who walk into a bar. The whole idea made me nervous. What if I had nothing in common with the other cruisers? What if I picked up a parasite in Ensenada? What if I accidentally slipped and fell overboard?

But a tiny part of me took another approach. What if I came back tan and rested? What if I discovered an exciting new career as a shuffleboard champ? If worst came to worst, I might get a column out of the experience. If worst came to worst, my cruise-loving dad corrected me, I'd be going on a three-day cruise.

I thought of my mom's words about having nothing to lose and about my New Year's resolution: more adventure, less anxiety. I got out my passport, a bathing suit and a bottle of tranquilizers and told my co-workers I'd be out of the office for a few days.

"I'm going to Mexico," I said mysteriously. "With friends." I felt like one of those people who say they're headed to a desert spa when they're really going to the Betty Ford Center. My supervisor eyed me with envy. "Don't worry, I'll bring you back a single Jewish…um, a piñata," I said.

I hopped the plane on a Friday, my carry-on filled with enough books to keep me occupied in case I decided to spend the cruise locked in my cabin. After a couple of minor travel mishaps, I arrived at the designated Los Angeles port and climbed aboard.

Just moments after embarking my first-ever cruise, I was happy to bump into Doron Shapira, a childhood acquaintance and local cantor who had been hired as the group's religious leader. Our first afternoon on the ship, he took a few of us on a little pilgrimage. "Come, my children, to the Lido deck," he said.

Later, the entire group of 60 met at a get-to-know-you reception, and the ship set sail just as we began Shabbat services in a lounge called Doc Hollywood's (B'nai Doc Hollywood's, Doron renamed it). I thought I was in the presence of master daveners until I realized the seas were particularly choppy that night. There were enough queasy people in that room to form a minyan.

The weekend progressed in true cruise fashion, with Bingo, midnight buffets and Vegas-type musical revues that boasted all the understatement of a Siegfried and Roy extravaganza. "Are they in drag?" one of my traveling companions asked of the leggy women dancers who sashayed across the stage in scanty costumes and cascading blond wigs.

So the ship had the class of a floating Wal-Mart. So it was overcast much of the weekend. So half the group got seasick.

Still, I'm really glad I went. I made some new friends. I met a nice man I want to fix up with my friend Sally. Offshore, I bought a vibrant abstract painting from a Mexican artist who said his images represented human potential. And one night just before I went to sleep, I opened the curtains of my cabin to find the moon had turned the ocean a sublime shade of purple that made everyday cares seem miles away. That moment alone made it all worthwhile.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.