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A Tale of High Jinks on the High Seas

<i> Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer</i>

The telephone rang just as the room-service waiter arrived with breakfast on that hazy day in Washington, D.C. Cradling the phone on my shoulder, I reached to sign the tab.

“Sixty-two dollars and 48 cents?” I blurted. “For coffee and muffins?”

“Excuse me,” I said to the earnest government aide on the phone. “I’ll call you right back.”

The waiter opened the heated compartment beneath the table and produced plates of eggs Benedict, French toast, corned beef hash, sausages, hot oatmeal and some sort of fish, maybe kippers.

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I shook my head.

“But this is your order,” the waiter said, handing me a copy of the menu I’d left on the doorknob the night before. Yes, it was my room number and my signature.

But apparently some clown had ambled--or staggered--down the hall in the late hours and checked off other items.

That is not my idea of a clever joke. It is a waste of time, food and money. Except for the coffee and muffins, the dishes went back to the kitchen; the charge was removed from my bill.

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It reminded me of another practical joke that seemed more tiresome than amusing. A hard-working writer for whom I have great respect checked into a hotel in Bangkok, a place where travelers often seem to arrive and depart in the wee hours. Sleep is a first order of business.

It was sometime after 3 a.m. when my friend got to his fresh, cool room. He put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign--in a dozen languages--and hit the bed exhausted.

An hour later he was awakened by a loud knocking on the door. It was breakfast: spicy, garlic-tipped Thai dishes, heavy with noodles and pork. There were bowls of peppers, pots of tea and tall Singha beers.

Again it was a hallway prank, a matter of changing signs. But in this case, my friend guessed the culprits. They’d flown in on the same plane from Hong Kong. I never heard whether his revenge was sweet or sour.

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The relaxed rhythm of travel, especially on group tours or cruises, can inspire fine and original humor. Tag lines, silly scenes and the merry murder of language can continue to bring laughter for years.

The Australians, who do jolly jokes better than many and more often than most, keep setting records. When sailing on the Wind Song, a 74-cabin vessel that plys the South Pacific from Tahiti, I heard about a recent Aussie charter and about the games they played.

Capt. Dag Dvergastein of Norway said that the Sydneysiders proclaimed a Roman theme night. Those who were not wearing a toga would not be served dinner.

The captain, who thought he was exempt from passenger ploys, entered the dining room in uniform. The Aussies merrily chanted him back to his quarters to change. He reappeared wrapped in white sheets, but with his gold bars on one shoulder.

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Among the ringleaders was a bald man with a rather large nose and walrus mustache. On his birthday during dinner, he was called to the phone. When he returned, it looked as if he were staring into a fun-house mirror. Every passenger had put on a rubber mask copied from his photo--bald, large nose, drooping mustache.

The captain said the bald man laughed the loudest and insisted on being photographed with “all those handsome people.”

My favorite story involved a Chicago psychologist who chartered the Wind Song for a South Seas week and brought along his patients and disciples. The doctor gave morning and afternoon lectures and led interaction groups and therapy sessions.

Somehow, two Japanese travelers also had booked passage for the cruise and showed up on the dock in Tahiti.

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“The Japanese faithfully attended all the sessions at sea,” Capt. Dag said. “At week’s end, they commented: ‘It is a beautiful ship, Captain, but you have very strange entertainment.’ ”


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