He’s Got His Number by
(353 Stories)

Prompted By Imagined Lives

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We were recently on a deluxe cruise around Italy and Croatia with some well-heeled travelers on a beautiful ship, 600 passengers in all. We certainly didn’t meet most of them, so could make up stories about the lives of people we only saw in passing. Several evenings we had to wear formal attire. On almost every other night, men had to wear jackets, women wore cocktail attire. During the day, we could wear anything. One man, whose cabin was on the same level of the ship as ours, I frequently saw in workout clothing and on the two days that I used the gym, he was there, working hard with heavy weights, doing crunches, and an aerobic workout. I’d peg him to be in his 60s, with a full head of silver hair, but who knows. He looked good.

1980, starting line of Boston Marathon

Back in Dan’s marathon running days, he worked out with the same group of guys, all members of the Greater Boston Track Club. One used to say sarcastically of anyone who was NOT is shape, “yeah, he’s got his number”, referring to a qualified number to run that year’s Boston Marathon (in those days, one had to run a sub 2:50 marathon to qualify for Boston; there were no charity runners). The phrase came into being after our friend saw the photo I took at the finish line of the 1980 Marathon. It was a hot day and Dan did not finish the race that year. He “hit the wall” at Heartbreak Hill and crashed at a friend’s house, who lived right there on Commonwealth Ave at the time (ironically, we now live around the corner). I waited at the finish line (we then lived in the Back Bay), snapping away and got a photo of the first woman across – the infamous Rosie Ruiz, who hopped on the subway, hoping to be in the middle of the pack, but accidentally WON the race, so I took her photo as she came across the line.

1980, cheater Rosie Ruiz finishes Boston Marathon

Our friend took one look at the cellulite on her legs and said, “yeah, she’s got HER number”, and a slogan was coined. Dan and I still use it, as we did when we saw that buff man, heading to the gym every day on our cruise, but not meant sarcastically. We really meant it when we saw him.

(A college friend excelled at sussing out cosmetic surgery and gave me pointers. I do not mean to be harsh or catty with some of the following comments; just making honest observations – some women do “refreshes” and look great. Some women either go too far or their doctors are not skilled and they do NOT look great. I can usually tell the difference.)

Toward the end of the cruise, we sat near a group that included the buff man and his wife, a blonde creature who’d had too much plastic surgery, wore her cocktail attire with a leather studded jacket draped over. I began to imagine they were from Texas and he wore a Stetson when not cruising (I heard a slight drawl from him, not enough to be from Alabama or Mississippi, which is why I dreamed he was an oil man from Texas; purely speculative, of course).

I pointed out another woman that same evening (a good one for people-gazing – we had a great view of the dining room). She had cheek implants and blown up lips. How could I tell about the cheeks implants, Dan inquired? I just knew (thanks to my college friend). They certainly did not look normal. Her husband looked much older. That might have been a mirage. I have a friend, someone I’ve known since my college years, who is very involved in the art world in Boston and Palm Beach. He made a sardonic comment to me once about the women in Palm Beach. He said there are so many “smiling” faces (faces pulled too tight by plastic surgery) who are not happy. I felt like I saw some of those aboard this ship. Some were immaculately groomed and dressed in beautiful gowns. They were not on any excursions we went on. Perhaps they luxuriated all day at the spa.

View to the pool from the top deck

The ship had lovely amenities. I took a “Pilates” class one afternoon. It was unlike anything I’ve taken and I’ve taken a lot of classes over 14 or so years. This was a series of squats and lunges, using weighted hand-held balls, then some shoulder bridges and push-ups. OK, we’d call that some form of Pilates fusion here in the States. The teacher was a young German man. At least I got a body workout. The other woman in class was German, dressed in leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. She spoke perfect English and informed us she had a shoulder injury, so couldn’t actually do much in the class, but I admired her persistence. She wasn’t familiar with this form of Pilates either.

After class, Kamil, our instructor, asked what shows we’d seen (at 9:30pm there was always some sort of entertainment). She liked the Motown review we’d seen the night before. She wasn’t happy when I gave the Vegas-style dancers in their sequins, doing ballet moves, a thumbs down. I informed her that I come from Motown, started to sing “I’ve Heard it Through the Grapevine” and dance properly to it, as any true Detroiter would. The instructor was impressed. She just sniffed and said she enjoyed the show as it was performed. This woman knew nothing of real Motown. I thought she might be around my age, perhaps a bit younger, hard to tell. Foreigners don’t know how to dance like we did, growing up in Detroit. They just want a show. But hearing the show singer with a foreign accent perform “Proud Mary”…well, no one can rival Tina. Or Aretha, as that same woman tried to sing “Respect”. I can’t imagine anyone rivaling those originals, or ever coming close.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Thanx Betsy for this great piece of observational fiction!

    A cruise ship indeed is the perfect place to people-watch and opine about the back stories of your fellow passengers. And then of course there was Katherine Porter’s masterpiece Ship of Fools!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    I can imagine you giving a lesson on the real Motown–too bad it wasn’t appreciated! Certainly Tina and Aretha were icons, which is probably why a lot of people do try to imitate them. I saw a pretty ambitious attempt in 2002 at the Sydney Gay Games, when we went to what was billed as an aboriginal program, and were treated to a really amazing aboriginal “Tina” doing Proud Mary. And here I had been thinking, stereotypically, we might be hearing digeridoo. Hah!

  3. Reminds me that I once got up to 13 miles running and the pride and my improved health that I continue to enjoy today.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    I used to run for exercise, before discovering mountain biking (and rediscovering cycling in general). My longest distance was ten miles, and I thought that was a long run. The idea of being able to finish a marathon, at any pace, is nearly incomprehensible to me. My mind would rebel….

    A cruise seems like a great venue to make up interesting stories about strangers!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m with you, Dave. I can’t imagine running for that long either, but Dan loved it (his body finally rebelled and he can no longer run those long distances). It was also the basis of his social life at the time. When he was injured, he took up long-distance bicycling. He does not do things by halves.

      The cruise was, indeed, a great venue to make up stories about strangers, but we also met some very nice people.

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