GOTHCRUISE

The devil of it is, they just want to have fun

 

Grown-up goths try a mainstream vacation and find they are as much the entertainment as they are entertained.

ABOUT GOTHCRUISE

The next GothCruise is an 11-day Mediterranean sailing on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas, from Venice to Lisbon, beginning Nov. 22.

• Information: 888-427-8473, ext. 262 or www.gothcruise.com. From $970 per person.

Columbia News Service

For his trips to Bermuda, Mexico and the Caribbean, Larry McFall, or Lobster, as his friends call him, packs items from his ''closet of doom'' and ``drawer of death.''

His luggage is more odd than ominous: Utilikilts (a cross between a kilt and a tool belt), rock band T-shirts (usually black), body paint, devil horns and theatrical costume glue constitute a significant portion of what Lobster wears on these journeys. On cruises, the goth often fields requests from grandmothers who want their picture taken with the man dressed as Satan.

''It's not the evil, dark, soul-catching Satan,'' Lobster said, explaining his character. ``It's just the Satan who's tired and needs a drink.''

Lobster, 39, is a graphic designer from Fort Worth, Texas, who lives the goth life and, once a year, joins fellow members of that dark subculture for a most mainstream diversion: a tropical cruise.

For his trips, cruising with young couples in pastels and retirees in Hawaiian shirts, he covers his body in red paint, pastes nearly a dozen horns on his bald head and, for the dance parties, dons a kilt.

AN EVENT IS BORN

What started as one cruise-loving goth's desire to bring a like-minded contingent along on vacation has become an annual event called GothCruise. On these trips, a group of people more closely associated with dark eyeliner and doom than with sunbathing and fruity drinks challenges common conceptions others have about them.

''People would initiate conversations with us, and they realize we're generally well-spoken, mild-mannered people,'' said Angel Weller, the originator and organizer of the cruises. 'And then they say, `Oh wait a minute. These guys just dress funny.' ''

The goth subculture arose among fans of 1980s gothic punk rock bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and postpunk bands like Joy Division. These days, goths can be broadly characterized by fashion -- head-to-toe black, velvet capes, and PVC corsets -- and a taste for dark, harsh rock or electronic music.

The incongruousness of goths enjoying a sun-soaked sail to paradisiacal islands is not lost on its participants.

''What is the most unlikely thing you could think of a goth doing?'' asked Bob Westphal, 47, a Tampa resident who has traveled on all four GothCruises.

These goths eat at the buffets, run up tabs at the cigar bar and pose at waterfalls, colonial sites and, yes, beaches. Favored onboard activities include ''scare-aoke'' (when GothCruise members take over the mike at the karaoke bar) and making ''goth soup,'' (sitting in the hot tub, but without the black satin and body paint).

Many who have gone on the trips say that they don't fit the stereotype of brooding goth because they grew out of it as they entered the working world.

Weller said 60 percent of those who have signed up are part of an online group called CorpGoth. These ''corporate'' goths are in their 20s and older, have mainstream jobs in big companies and have found ways to maintain their goth lifestyle while being accepted professionally.

OLD FRIENDS

Most see the GothCruises as simply a vacation with friends they met through a large, loose network, many of whom they only see once or twice a year. Some have even brought their children along.

''We wore black lipstick in the '80s, but now we're grown up,'' said Megan Green, a 39-year-old graphic designer for Merrill Lynch who found out about the cruise through CorpGoth.

Weller, 36, acknowledged that her like-minded vacationers are perhaps an unusual minority among goths. The travelers ''are not poster children for the gothic subculture,'' said Weller, a technical writer who lives in Tampa. ``We're not the freakiest people you'll ever see.''

But many on the GothCruise do raise eyebrows with their stomper boots and black T-shirts during the day and Victorian gowns for formal evenings.

Some, like Lobster, bring special outfits for the private dance parties that are the only official goth-themed events on the cruises, when DJs play Bauhaus, the Cure and New Order.

Reactions to their appearance range from the question ''Are you in a band?'' to terrified stares, to one older woman who asked Lobster whether he and his friends worshipped the devil (no).

Mostly, GothCruise-goers say, the reactions are positive. The ship's crew and staff snap pictures of them. The goth sightseers become sights themselves.

Other times, comments about their neon pink hair or studded collars work as icebreakers with non-goth passengers.

Paul Bresock, a 36-year-old mechanical engineer from San Diego, said fellow cruise passengers would approach him with compliments. They told him, ``You guys are having so much fun. I wish I could let loose like that.''

Weller said she came up with the idea for the group cruise during Convergence -- an annual weekend-long gathering for goths with gothic music, dancing, art and, most important, socializing.

During the 2003 Convergence in Las Vegas, Weller brought up the topic with friends, who agreed that they should take their reunion out to sea.

''None of us wanted to be the only freaks on the boat,'' Weller said.

GothCruise has included many who did not consider themselves fixtures in the goth scene. Lobster, for example, came onto the first GothCruise as part of a deal he made with a friend he wanted to take to the countercultural Burning Man festival.

Since then, however, Lobster has been hooked. He loves putting on floor-length gowns and feather boas for the cruises' formal dinners. He has also taken up the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, a more traditional goth activity that his fellow vacationers enjoy.

But there is one quintessential cruise ship experience he isn't ready to explore.

''Shuffleboard? No,'' he said. ``I'll do that when I'm 80.''

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