CAP'N JACK

By Don Gardner

The saga of a retired Coastie's first day on a new job....

The Coast Guard so-called “retirement check” was stretched to its uttermost. I needed more income and had to think of something I could do. For several days I wracked my brain and took many aspirin when, suddenly, I hit on the perfect idea. I called the newspaper and obtained an appointment with an editor.

After pitching my idea, the editor leaned back, closed his eyes, and mused for a moment, took a big drag off his cigar and blew a large ring of smoke, which covered me in a foggy shroud for a few moments. Selling the idea of writing a weekly personal interest story seemed to be successful, so far. He appeared to understand my desire to write and my need for extra income.

"OK, here's what we'll do." He quickly scribbled on a piece of paper. "Build your interview around these subjects, then write your story and put it on my desk this afternoon. Keep it tight," he added tersely.

Wildly flicking a large ash from his cigar, he further cautioned me to make the story interesting, otherwise he couldn't use it. (Or me either, I reminded myself.)

I wiped cigar ashes from my shoes while scanning the list of subjects. Editors have a warped sense of humor, I decided. And what did his grin mean?

 

The backless benches at the mall were hard and uncomfortable. My bottom had long ago become numb. Two hours of waiting, shifting positions frequently, trying in vain to find a comfortable spot that would last for a few minutes, searching a hundred faces for an "interesting" person to interview, had come to naught so far. Everyone looked so . . . well, normal, which equals boring in this business.

Needles of pain were shooting up my back as the phrase, "Take this job and shove it," began to interject itself more and more into my thoughts.

Suddenly I saw him—a tall, lean, white-haired, gentleman walking toward me. He was wearing a navy blue double-breasted suit, a white shirt and a black tie with a small anchor stitched in white below his immaculate knot. His black shoes were highly polished, and his ivory-handled cane added an air of distinction to his striking appearance. His stern, authoritative countenance reminded me of Admiral Claiborn.

Yes, this is the one to interview! This gentleman is a retired naval officer, probably an admiral who has commanded large ships. I mentally patted myself on the back for this astute observation. (Astute observation helps in this business.)

Giving him my best friendly smile, I slid over to make room. The gentleman's bones creaked and snapped as he unbent and lowered himself slowly, carefully onto the bench.

"Nice day isn't it, sir?"

"You like my tie, sonny?" he replied in a voice so loud my eardrums set off alarm bells.

I raised my voice and spoke as distinctly as possible. "It's a nice day, isn't it?'" Shoppers began to stare irritably.

"Day? Oh, yes. Mighty fine day."

"My name is Don, sir."

"I'm Jack Weatherbottom, skipper of the fishing boat Beaufort Belle. You can call me 'Cap'n Jack.'"

So much for astute observations, but at least he was a Captain. He stuck out a calloused hand and shook my hand in a vice-like grip, setting off the arthritis in my knuckles.

"I've been on my feet for an hour while my wife shops," Captain Jack boomed, then took a deep, relaxing breath, exhaling slowly as he settled deeper into the bench. "My feet are worn out, sonny."

His eyes must be bad, too, I thought. He's calling me "sonny"!

"I'm working on an assignment, Captain Jack." I hoped that announcement sounded important. "Would you mind if I interview you?"

"You're about to graduate from high school?"

I decided to play along if he was making a joke. "I have to finish this project before they'll give me a diploma," I replied with a nervous laugh.

"Well, I've been around for a while, maybe I can help."

"What can you tell me about Jesse Jackson?" I asked tentatively.

"Why, that's an easy one—I know all about him." Captain Jack seemed pleased with the question. "Few people know he played a season in Baltimore."

What on earth is he talking about? "A 'season'?"

"See, you didn't know that, did you?" Captain Jack boomed again in delight.

"Yup, called him 'Mister October' 'cause he hit home runs in the world series."

"You mean Reggie—"

"Don't interrupt your, I say, don’t interrupt your elders when they're trying to help you, sonny," Captain Jack snapped.

"Sorry, Captain," I answered contritely. "Don't you mean Reggie Jackson?"

"Who else did you think?"

"I was referring to Jesse Jackson."

"Well, why in the blue blazes didn't you say so!

". . . Let's see . . . Jesse Jackson . . . Didn't he play for the White Sox? Called him 'Shoeless Jesse' as I recall."

"Sorry, Captain, I didn't know that Jesse Jackson.  Let's try another question," I interjected quickly to keep him interested. "Long John Silver is a character—"

“You knew Long John? Tall and skinny, ugly as homemade sin, too. Cost me a week's fishing, that's what."

"I was referring to—"

"Long John was almost ready to run the net out when he doubled over in pain. Had to radio the Coast Guard to get an ambulance to meet my boat. Did I tell you I was the Cap'n?"

"He isn't the—"

"Just when the fish were running. The doctor said it was Long John's liver."

I bit my tongue.

"What's the next thing I can help you with, sonny?"

"Carpe diem is a Latin phrase meaning—"

"Meaning day-old carp. Everybody knows that, Sonny" Captain Jack replied with an end-of-argument jaw-clenching snap. “Am I getting through to you, boy!”

"Well, uh, OK. . . . Moving on then, the next question is: 'What do you do for entertainment during a long power outage?'"

"'Power outage' you say?" Captain Jack pondered this important question. "H-h-u-u-m-m, let's see . . . Well, there's the time Hurricane Penny knocked down all the power lines and our fish-processing plant couldn't make ice."

"I remember that hurri—"

"Do you know what fish smell like after a week?"

"I'm sure they smelled—"

"There you go, interrupting again!" Captain Jack exploded like a cherry bomb, then quickly forgot what had sparked him.

"Sorry, Captain. I was just saying—"

"Awfullest thing you ever smelled, sonny."

"Thank you, Captain Jack. Here is the last question, and it's also about fish."

"Glad to help, sonny, this doesn't tax the brain at all."

"Do you traditionally eat fish on Friday," I asked hesitantly, wondering where the Captain would go with this one.

"Eat fish! Why, sonny, no one likes to eat rotten fish that's been sitting around for a week. Don't they teach you anything in that fancy school of yours?"

"Sorry, sir." I felt a little stupid after his chastisement.

"Thank you for helping me with this assignment, Captain, you have been a great help." It was a relief to end the interview before the contentious Captain punctured my eardrums.

"No trouble at all, sonny," the Captain smiled as he reached over and patted me on top of my head, forgiving my youthful inexperience.

"Oh, look!" I exclaimed, as I waved to someone in front of the shoe store. "My teacher is waiting for me, Captain Jack." I rose and began walking away, trying not to appear anxious to escape. My ears were already thanking me.

The old gentleman called sharply: "SONNY!"

I stopped and turned slowly, apprehension gripping me.

"Y-y-yes, sir?" (Did my voice squeak!)

"There is one thing I've got to say before you tear off in such a big hurry."

"What's that, sir?"

Captain Jack jabbed his cane toward me, punctuating his remarks. "You tell that teacher of yours that if this is the kind of school work you young'uns are given, none of you are ever going to amount to anything!"

 

After giving the subject much sober thought, I have reluctantly concluded that writing for a newspaper seems to be more work than I bargained for, and the money isn't that good anyway. I hope the editor won't be too disappointed.

Maybe I should ask how much they pay their carriers?

 

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