Musical Chairs
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Musical Chairs

Story written by Rick Archer
March 2011

We had a very curious event during our Bahamas Trip aboard the Conquest.  Our group got involved in the most competitive game of Musical Chairs I have ever witnessed. 

It was definitely high drama on the high seas.


A Night In the Doghouse

Our game of Musical Chairs was preceded by the single biggest argument Marla and I have ever had on a cruise ship.

Before I tell the story, let me explain that I have never met a person I get along with better than Marla.  We see eye to eye on virtually everything.  We have literally gone years at a time without arguing.  However, Marla is a woman.  I am a man.  That alone guarantees there will be a difference of opinion at some point.  Enough said.

Our disagreement started innocently enough.  One day before the cruise ship departed, a very odd person emailed this:

Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2010 4:38 PM
Subject: can't go on cruise

My passport, id and everything I own has been stolen. I will not be able to go on the cruise tomorrow, please give my tickets to anyone that can use them. Any amount you can recover is appreciated.  Bummer!!!!!!!!!

I have looked forward to the cruise all year. All of my computers have been stolen. I can go to a library or somewhere to recover emails.  Have a wonderful time. 

The Blockus Crowd:  Marty, Tim, Lisa, Susan, and Priscilla
Don't ever play with them.  They are all killers.

Their cabin was already paid for.  That was money down the drain.  The upshot was that Marla suddenly had an unused balcony cabin at her disposal.  However, things got so hectic on Departure Day that Marla forgot all about it.

On the second day of the trip, someone from the Guest Relations phoned Marla to ask what had happened to the missing people.  After Marla explained the situation, the woman said Marla was welcome to give that cabin as an upgrade to another guest if she wished.

Marla decided to ask me to help figure out what to do.  She found me upstairs in the Cezanne Dining Room playing Blockus with my friends Marty, Tim, Lisa, and Susan.  Right in the middle of one of our usual knockdown, drag out battles, Marla asked if she could speak to me privately.

Of course.  What is it?  Marla asked me to come up with a plan on how to deal fairly with that unused cabin.  I promised her I would do just that.  So Marla left. 

Once our game was finished, I decided to include my friends in on the situation.  I didn't see any need for secrecy plus I needed all the extra imagination I could get. 

Maybe it was just me.  Or maybe it was the rotten people I hang with.  Whatever the reason, we all focused on how nice it would be for a person with a non-romantic roommate to get that room.  That way two different people would now have a cabin to themselves. 

One of the headaches on a cruise that features so many single people is what to do when "Lust" hits.  I am not sure if it is designed that way or an accident, but finding a secret non-cabin place with enough comfort and privacy to appreciate one of those random moments of passion seems to be difficult indeed.  Mind you, I have never been involved in a search for an inadvertent love nest, but I have been told it ain't easy.

In fact, I know one couple who learned this lesson the hard way.  On our 2004 trip, we had two single people get drunk at a midnight party and suddenly flash on each other. Unfortunately, both had roommates.  What to do?   In a drunken stupor, they wandered the cruise ship endlessly in a vain search for a love nest. 

They were so drunk and so horny that they were running low on patience.  They decided to get it going in an elevator.  Only one problem.  The elevator had windows. 

Since the event occurred at 1 am in the morning, the Lobby was dimly lit with "mood lighting".  In other words, it was very dark in the Lobby.  However, the elevator was brightly lit.  That meant Lobby people could see into the elevator, but no one in the elevator could see out.

The couple in heat were so drunk they overlooked this minor detail.  The elevator with its black windows appeared to provide them the only apparent source of privacy on the entire ship.  Since no one was using the elevators at this late hour, they rode the elevator up and down, up and down without interruption.  Things progressed steadily from home to first, first to second, second to third, and pretty soon they were rounding third base headed home to score.

All the while everyone in the Lobby was being treated to a remarkably realistic sex show.  Where's the popcorn?   You can read the whole story if you wish.

With this hapless erotic encounter in my mind, I assumed the people who would benefit from the extra cabin the most would be the single people.  All four of my friends heartily agreed.

I was the person who came up with the madcap idea of playing a game of musical chairs to choose the winner.  Everyone agreed that a contest like this with a serious prize at stake might just work.  If so, it would be hysterical to watch.

Marla reappeared in the middle of another game of Blockus.  When I explained that the five of us had made a decision, Marla got angry.  She said it was supposed to be a secret!  

She got angrier because our plan only involved singles.  Marla said that couples would also enjoy a neat upgrade to a Balcony cabin with a lovely view of the ocean.  We couldn't ignore them.

I defended our decision.  Maybe couples would enjoy a nice Balcony, but the singles who had roommates would benefit from it far more.  I said it should be limited to the single people. 

Marla lost her temper and walked out.  I was mad too.  I was trying to enjoy playing Blockus with my friends.  Marla had interrupted not just one, but two games to trouble me with something I didn't even care about.  She had asked me to come up with an idea, I had done just what she asked, and now I was getting chewed out over nothing.  Plus I was embarrassed that our tiff happened in front of friends.

We were both angry.  Neither of us wanted to give in.  Speaking of balconies, that was the night I learned a new use for one.

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Of course our argument had nothing to do with anything.  We were both exhausted, especially Marla who worries about everything and takes every single detail very seriously. 

Once we got some rest, the next morning we patched things up.  During breakfast, we went back to the subject.  Marla explained that in a large family, it is incredibly disrespectful to play favorites. 

Yes, maybe the singles would benefit from the serendipitous room more than a couple, but it isn't right to discriminate without a better reason than the one we had based our decision on.  It took me a while, but I eventually saw her point.

The contest should be open to all. 

By coincidence, it was Formal Night.  Tonight would be our group picture.

I didn't originally plan on playing Musical Chairs after our group picture.  Instead I thought of it on the spur of the moment.  When I arrived in the Lobby, I realized that we had practically the entire group assembled in a spot where we also had the room to run the contest.  We also had plenty of chairs.  All we needed was the music. 

So at the last moment I ran back up my cabin to fetch my boom box.  It made more sense to play some energetic music while people raced around the chairs. It is called "Musical Chairs" after all.  

170 or so people were being forced to wait for the group picture to be taken thanks to my tardiness. Unfortunately in my haste, I made quite a scene when I returned with the boom box. 

In order to get back to the group as soon as possible, I stepped over a barrier to begin descending down a spiral staircase.  That staircase overlooked our group.  It was where the photographer would shoot our picture from.  Unfortunately the amplifier was very heavy.  I immediately tripped. 

Watching me stumble over the barrier was amusing to everyone.  Even better, everyone thought it was hysterical to see the photographer stare daggers at me for violating his obvious blockade. 

The heavy amplifier continued to give me trouble.  There were two fake ficus trees halfway down the staircase providing a second barrier. I swear one of those trees came to life and grabbed me.  I stumbled and very nearly lost it completely, but managed to right myself just in time.  The crowd murmured!

At the time no one in our group had any idea what I was up to, but everyone agreed I was wildly entertaining.

Richard, Don, Jenny, Charley, Barbara

After the picture taking ended, I explained to everyone what I was trying to do.  Let's all play Musical Chairs!

Once I explained the reward, not surprisingly, a bolt of electricity surged through the group.  A chance to be silly and win a big prize was impossible to resist!

I would estimate about 30 people decided to participate.  Unfortunately, that was 10 more people than we had chairs for. 

The first elimination round would take out ten people.  They would be the first to go in one fell swoop. 

So who got out there?  It was mostly singles, but, as Marla predicted, there were definitely some couples out there. 

Obviously most of the couples did not choose to participate, but that was by choice.  Marla had been right all along.  Everyone was given the chance to make a fool of themselves if they wanted to.

That's one reason all our friends come on these trips.  They want the chance to show the world they still haven't quite grown up yet and they are proud to cling to their immaturity.  A silly kid's game like Musical Chairs was right up their alley.

Tyler, Carolyn, Linda, Veronica, Alicia

Rather than turn off the music, I used a whistle to stop the action.  Well, here we are after the first whistle.  Witness the concentration and looks of satisfaction at making it through Round One.  These are happy faces that we see.

Ten people had just been eliminated. Steve Gabino, the man who took all these pictures, concentrated more on the thrill of victory than the agony of the feet.  Steve's camera conveniently ignored the lady I noticed over in the corner going boo hoo hoo at being taken out so swiftly.  She really wanted that room! 

The lady in blue clapping is Marlene from Dallas.  She and her friend Leslie, the cool blonde with the purse, were roommates. 

They were both ready to ditch each other if the opportunity presented itself.  However I don't think it had a thing to do with each other. If forced to guess, they both had plans on what they would do given the privacy.  If one person won, they both won.  So why not both compete and double their chances?

If I had one regret, it was not getting everyone drunk first.  Everyone was quite polite for the first round, but once all the nice guys were eliminated, you could see the competitive natures emerging.  The funny thing is that no one seemed to care they were running around in formal clothes.

Given a little booze and I think we would have had a video worth a visit to YouTube.  Even as it was, we got some great shots.

In this picture we have Pam Brautigam, Leah Maciel, and Rose Hitchcock all very pleased to find seats waiting for them. 

Pam, incidentally, ended up getting married on this trip to Jerry Zwecker.  They had been high school sweethearts who moved apart, then found each other again while working on a Bellaire High School class reunion.  This cruise seemed like a great time to make their rekindled love official!

Five people are competing for four chairs. 

Jeff Hanrahan got one.  Rebecca Westmoreland, the black haired lady, got the second chair.  Tim Crist wearing the tux got one too.  Tim was one of my rotten Blockus friends who got me in trouble with Marla with his suggestion only singles could play.

After getting me in trouble plus beating me at Blockus all day long, I made sure he didn't win this contest.  What's the point of organizing these trips if I can't be petty?

Next time let me win at Blockus once in a while.

Lobster Boy Dave narrowly edged out the mystery blonde for possession of the final chair.  I remember the blonde lady made a serious lunge for the chair.  She ended up losing her balance and plopped down square on Dave's lap. 

I am sure Dave was thrilled.  He got the chair and a lap dance too.  I think he enjoyed the chance to have this stunning woman sitting on his lap, even if for just the briefest of moments. 

Oh, please, look at Lobster Boy Dave.  He knows he just won a close one and he is playing to the crowd. 

My word, he got such a bad sunburn that day.  We could have rented him out as a giant Christmas ornament. 

Now look at him strut.  I'm too sexy for my jacket.  I'm too sexy for my tie.  I'm burnin' up and feelin' lucky!

I'm gonna win me a room!  Tonight I'm gonna be ready to zoom!

Study the textbook hip-first seating technique for Pam, Leah, and Andy. 

Those people know how to look good grabbing their chairs!


Here we have pretty Rose Hitchcock, plus Tim, plus....oh no, not Lobster Boy Dave again!

Dave just survived another round, so he is exulting. 

I remember this as a close call.  We didn't have enough room for a circle, so we had two rows of chairs back to back.  We had removed one chair at the end of this row.

What you may notice is that Rebecca, the lady in black, is slinking away in defeat.  She was just rounding the corner when the whistle blew.  Dave got one seat, Jeff with his back to the camera got the other.  Rebecca never had a chance. 

And now Rebecca is gone.  Dave just eliminated her.  Does he show even the slightest bit of regret?

Heck no. He's in it for the kill.

Here you have two Tiger Women - Peggy Mac and Penney Warren.  Both ladies would be my candidates for the SSQQ "Designing Women" award.  They both study all the angles. 

I am not sure why it appears that two women have a choice of four seats, but I like the way Peggy slides her hand along the chairs.  That means she is as close to a chair as possible without cheating! 

Peggy is alert, she's looking down at the chairs and just waiting for the whistle.  Then she will pounce!

We can't see Penney's face, but she the same body language as Peggy. She is looking at the chairs and studying the position of everyone around her.  Penney is about to turn the corner in a second.  That's the most vulnerable time.  My hunch is she is slowing down to delay the turn as long as possible.

Oh my goodness!  Look what we have here!  Lobster Boy Dave has just narrowly missed getting a seat when Alicia clearly gained possession of the chair.

The look of astonishment tells it all.  So close.  As you can see, Dave is desperate.  He is beaten, but he stills tries to wedge his bottom in against all odds.  So what if Alicia is in the way?

The other competitors look on with a mixture of pity and amusement.  They will live to make it to the next round.

Only one person gets eliminated per round.  Interestingly, this was Dave's THIRD close call.  First he beat out the blonde woman.  Then Dave and another woman were involved in a tie.  They both got half a seat, so I declared it a tie and let them both try again.  Too bad we don't have a picture of that one. 

Now Veronica laughs as her roomie Alicia took Dave out.  Dave lived on the edge throughout the match.  This close call was a fitting end for our gladiator. He didn't mind.  He was in it for the glory.  

And here I am, whistle and all.  I was clearly enjoying myself.

I was learning all kinds of tricks.  My favorite was the fake whistle trick.  I figured out that many people were watching me carefully to see me put the whistle to my mouth. 

I noticed on one round several people began to jump for seats before I even had a chance to blow. Weren't they clever? 

I decided to teach them a lesson.

So I began to fake like I was blowing the whistle only to send out no sound.  The fake worked.  People hit those seats in droves only to realize they had been tricked.  As they rose back up to continue, that's when I blew the whistle.  Now the less conniving participants had the inside track on a chair.

I learned the art of the slow whistle and the quick whistle.  Don't want anyone to anticipate the snap count!

How sad.  The ranks are clearly dwindling.

In this picture we have Andrew Bach, Tim Crist, Jeff Hanrahan, and Marlene Heineman.

In front of Marlene, that is Carolyn Cowan in the purple dress as she rounds the corner.

The whistle blows and the women leap to their chairs. 

That's Peggy, Penney, Jenny, Leah, and Pam in blue. 

I see Leah took her shoes off to improve her quickness.  Smart move.

Faces in the Crowd

Our Musical Chairs Superstars provided wonderful entertainment.  As they raced around the chairs, our impromptu competition drew quite a crowd.  There were easily a 130 people from our group alone and close to a hundred more passengers watching from distance.  Many of the onlookers lined the railings above.  They had a great view and laughed appreciatively.  We put on quite a show.

Dave, Crystal Maxwell, Roberta Burns,
Mark Sellers, Velma Roppolo

Mike Dorman, Edward Sanchez, Rachel Martin,
Cathy Riser, Karl Rorabacher

Mystery Lady, Ron Paradoski, Charisma Petrie, Barbara Miller, Cindy Moore in white


Eurindia Ochsenbein, Barbara, Cindy,
Lisa Kang, Liana Waldberg

Our group members weren't the only ones watching.  One level above, spectators lined
the railings from 3 different directions.

CJ Riser, Mystery Lady, Maite Rombado,
Kristi, Amber Poole, Richard Solsberry,
Carolyn Reed seated, Karen Clawsen


Deborah Taylor and Marla

Andy Bach, Mary Cioffi, Marianne Pearce,
Dave, Crystal, Linda Fleischer seated

Lisa, Phyllis Sullivan, Liana, Sylvia Wetuski, Jeff, Mack Warren, Lila Waring


Another one bites the dust.  This time the odd man out is Alicia Manrique, the same lady who narrowly eliminated Lobster Boy Dave earlier.

These people lived by the Gladiator credo -
We who are about to die salute you. 

Here the survivors include Andrew, Rose, Carolyn Cowan, Tim, and Marlene.

This time I think it was Andrew Bach's turn to be eliminated.

It looks like Pam Brautigam and Rose Hitchcock put the squeeze on him.

That's Jenny DeLaFuente in the red dress with Leah Macial and Penney Warren beside her.

Sandra McCunis demonstrates her classic seat-grabbing technique.

Sandra was the sharp-eyed lady who got a $100 trip for her sister Carolyn Reed.  At the last minute someone had to drop out, so Marla offered a first come-first serve opportunity to the cruise group.  Sandra hit the email button seconds later.

Tyler Bridges and Leslie Taylor are pictured here.

Notice that Tyler is already seated while Leslie hasn't even made her move.  Obviously that purse was a handicap.

That purse bothered me.  It showed me that Leslie was more interested in guarding a purse with no money in it (we all used sea passes for money) than she was in winning. 

You can just see it in her face.  Ladida.  She is too cool, too gentle to have any chance to win.  You have to have passion.

In a ruthless contest like this one, a person has to know their priorities.

Don't fool yourself.  Musical Chairs is not for sissies.  Ask Tyler.  He is a tough guy.  He has the right look of determination.  Tyler's mother is Peggy Mac, the Designing Woman.  I am sure Peggy was very proud of Tyler's impressive showing. 

That's my boy!!

This picture alone verifies Darwin's Survival of the Fittest.

I have seen Disney films with lions stalking their prey.  These women are straight out of the animal kingdom.  They have the look of the Hunt written across their faces. 

Look at Peggy McElroy stroke her chair!  Oh my goodness.  Not since The Terminator have I seen such a look of relentless pursuit.  If I had Peggy Mac chasing me, I might just jump overboard and take my chances with the sharks. 

Knowing Peggy, she would probably jump in after me and the sharks would all say 'Welcome back!'

On the other hand, as Sandra and Penney trail Peggy Mac, they look just as intense. 

The nice guys and the nice girls have long since departed. 

Now only the killers remain.

Steve numbered his pictures. Here in picture #5795, Marlene is in front followed by Rose and Jenny.  As the numbers dwindled, the tension mounted.  Jenny and Marlene are concentrating.

Now look at Rose.  It looks to me like Rose has completely stopped!  What's that all about? 

She is smiling.  She is distracted.  She is standing up straight.  Everyone knows you can't "spring" or leap to a chair with straight legs.  You have to bend your knees to jump.  In the jungle, that precious microsecond is everything. 

Meanwhile, Jenny is looking at the chair directly beside Rose. 

Even though Rose is closer, if the whistle blows, who do you think is going to get that chair? 

Now there is another chair directly behind Marlene.  I am positive Marlene was ready to twist backwards and grab that chair in an instant.

Rose, get your your head in the game!

This is picture #5796, the next picture after the one above. 

It is rife with an undercurrent of tension.  Obviously the whistle has not blown yet.

Uh oh, Rose is still oblivious.  Meanwhile, Jenny is preparing to take Rose out with a nudge to the butt.  One push and that chair belongs to Jenny.  Rose is toast!

I told you Musical Chairs isn't for sissies.  What I find amusing is the grin on Jenny's face.  She has no mercy.  This is a woman who wants that cabin big time!!

Meanwhile as Sandra rounds the corner, she is begging for the whistle to blow.  She has a clear shot at that chair right in front of her.

This is picture #5797. 

Richard is safe.  So are Leah and Penney, the women with their backs to Richard directly behind him.  Leah has a black dress with bare shoulders and Penney has the strapped dress.

Clearly Marlene and Jenny are happy.  They will make it to another round. 

However, something seems wrong. In the previous picture, Rose was sandwiched between Jenny and Marlene.  Now there is no sign of her between the two women.  Where did Rose go?

And how did Jenny get behind Marlene?  I am not sure how the women got out of order, but I think when Rose stopped, Jenny decided not to push Rose in the back, but instead went around her.  In addition, Sandra passed Rose too.

My guess is that Rose must have stopped for some reason and both Jenny and Sandra decided to bypass her.  Maybe both women preferred to have the unpredictable woman behind them.  Nothing else makes any sense.

Study Picture #5797 again in a closeup. 

If you look closely, Rose and Sandra, the two ladies with the matching dresses, are fighting it out. They are duking it out for the remaining seat.   

So, which woman won the skirmish?  Did Sandra win?  Or did Rose win?  Or did they both survive?

Rose had been flirting with disaster.  Would her attention lapse cost her a seat?

Believe it or not, Rose won.  Rose appeared in the next set of pictures, but Sandra was nowhere to be seen.

I guess Rose woke up just in time to save her seat.

This is picture #5806.  Steve added his nine "Faces in the Crowd" series between this picture and #5797 above.   Marlene is the big winner here.  Jenny is safe and so is Rose.

The real surprise is that Peggy has just been eliminated.  You can see her walking back to the crowd.  Once the whistle blew, Peggy knew she had no chance so she just kept walking into the crowd.

Peggy is welcomed by Leah, another lady who made it to the Final Ten only to be eliminated in a recent round.  This touching scene is reminiscent of the dead Greek warriors who welcomed the newly-fallen to Hades during the Trojan War.

By the way, that is Rose sitting there looking at Peggy.  As I pointed out, she must have won the skirmish with Sandra.

But I don't get it... Rose is suddenly back in between Jenny and Marlene.  I promise I am listing the pictures in order.  I have no idea why the order of the women kept switching.  Obviously there was constant jockeying for position.

Here we have a dramatic picture of Rose being suddenly eliminated.  I may have underestimated Rose.  Earlier I thought she was almost certain to lose to a seat to Jenny or Marlene due to her lack of concentration, but she magically survived.

This time, however, her luck ran out.  Poor Rose.  She wasn't on her toes.  And that's how it goes.

By the way, do you see that empty chair right behind Jenny?   I can't see anyone aiming for it.  I guess there must be someone out of the picture about to sit it.  Otherwise Rose would have run around Marlene to grab it.  That is a mystery.

With Rose out of the picture, we know Jenny, Marlene, and Penney were still in the game.  At this point, my money would have been on Jenny.  She had the right idea.  Jenny was ready to push a woman in the back if that's what it took. 

Plus I could see by her legs that Jenny was athletic.  Indeed, Jenny later told me she was a Junior High School Physical Education instructor.  Not only that, she conducted "Musical Chairs" tournaments in PE all the time! 

Athleticism, Experience, and Ruthlessness.  It was no accident that Jenny had made it this far.  I expected her to take it all.

My next picture shows Penney and Jenny squaring off for the showdown.  I can only assume Marlene was just eliminated.  In addition, I never did figure out the explanation for that empty chair in the previous picture.

Several rounds ago I had been told by Marla to turn my back while the contestants circled the chairs. 

I didn't want to turn my back because I didn't want to miss out on watching the fun.  However I agreed with Marla.  By turning my back, no one could suspect I was playing favorites.  No one likes a blind ref, but everyone prefers a blind whistler.

Too bad I didn't watch.  Maybe I could have figured out how people were switching positions!  You just never know what might be going on behind your back.

I did not want to turn my back for the final round, but I had no choice.  May the best man win.  Or something to that effect.

It's down to our final two ladies.  As you can see, Jack, Keith, Tom, and Charley in the background are greatly amused.

Heck, we are were.  This had been a very spirited competition.  Everyone had done their best to win.

So here we are.

Which lady do you think wants it the most?

Penny?  Jenny?  It's Ennyone's guess.

At the moment, Penny has a clear advantage.  Jenny is out of position.  I think Jenny should have hesitated on the other side of the chair.  However, unless the whistle blows at this exact moment, Jenny will soon be back in the running. 

See if you can pick the winner before looking.
















And the Winner Is..... Penney Warren!


The Thrill of Victory goes to Penney. 

As you can see, Penney was a very happy girl.

Let me add that Jenny was a very good sport.


To the victor goes the spoils. 

I heard a rumor that Penney threw a huge party in her new Balcony cabin one night.  I wasn't invited, so I have nothing to report. 

Nothing to report?  Hmm.  That's probably why I wasn't invited.

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