Story and By Ken Krayeske • 9:00 AM EST
Editor's Note: I couldn't write a real column this week because I had my last law school exam! (It's all done but for a paper and that little test called the bar exam). The following story was first published in Dockwalk back in December 2009. I am told that I should write more humor. It may not be a bad idea considering the current state of the world...Enjoy.KK
Waking for midnight watch was a challenge when I was a deckie on a 150-foot stinkpot, but even more difficult for me was staying quiet when the live-aboard owner opened his mouth.
All sorts of drivel emanated from privileged lips of Mr. Shady Owner Man, and it was all I could do to zip my lips. But it's amazing how a paycheck and the promise of passport stamps hush a tongue.
I didn't sign up to for Mr. Boss to be on board some 80 out of 150 days for the delivery from Fort Lauderdale to Thailand (110 days of which were spent underway). But that's what we got. And I learned to deal with it.
Captain Bill first trained me to shut my trap a few years earlier on a 120-foot ketch. One Saturday during a yard period, Captain Bill gave me a last assignment at 5 p.m. I thought I was Jon Stewart fending off Tucker Carlson when I responded "I'm not your monkey boy." Captain Bill has called me "Monkey boy" ever since, even gifting me a specially-embroidered "Monkey Boy" shirt and hat for my birthday once.
The captain's good sense of humor disappeared with Mr. Liveaboard, especially when he brought his son to Fort Lauderdale to help finish the refit. Teaching the soft-handed teenager to scrape barnacles off the bottom of the crew tender wasn't easy. I made it thankless when I told the boy that I disagreed with the Iraq invasion, and had been jailed for civil disobedience protests.
"Are you stupid?" Captain Bill asked me (but not so nicely – this is, after all, a family website). At that point, I feared for my job. So I invoked my right to silence when the owner or his family entered my workspace, be it in the bridge or on the sun deck.
The fishing platform provided the most face time with Mr. Old-Man-And-The-Sea, and he always wanted to chat. Once, cruising for barracuda in The Bahamas, I listened to him degrade fat Americans who drive SUVs, hoping out loud that the price of gas hits $5 a gallon so chunky Americans will be forced out of their cars.
Considering that Mr. Limousine Liberal's yacht used some 40,000 gallons of diesel to cross the waters of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red and Indian seas, I comforted myself by repeating silently the famous Miranda warning: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you."
A bigger test awaited in the middle of the Med when Mr. Show-Off's know-it-all friend yanked the rod and reel out of my hand as I was about to set the hook. "Don't you know what you're doing?" the know-it-all said as he lost our first hit from a big-game fish in 2,500 miles. Everyone was grumpy afterwards. But I smiled, because I didn't respond with a big "Kiss my ass."
Come 2 a.m. that night, 100 miles from Malta, the Med kicked up its mistrals. We pounded headlong into heavy waves, Mr. Land Legs wobbily made his way into the bridge. He looked green. His wife, Mrs. I-take-Dramamine-for-a-sea-trail-in-Florida's-Intercoastal-Waterway, must have been ghastly. Woe to our poor stewardess who had to clean their head!
Mr. Sea-Sick-Owner-Who-Thinks-It's-Romantic-To-Do-Deliveries, grabbing onto the balance bar on the instrument panel, glanced at my watch partner, the engineer, and then me, and pleaded "Can't you make it stop?"
"Of course," I wish I replied. "The Wave Regulator! Why didn't I think of that? Silly me. I am so sorry we inconvenienced you. I turn the waves down now." But I could never understand why he took his Mrs. when she was obviously not a sailor.
Our Kiwi engineer, who never wasted words, deftly suggested that he could talk to the captain, and we could look into turning a few degrees port, but we'd rather not go beam-to. Mr. Barf Bags retreated to his cabin.
Mr. Money Bags only got worse as we motored more miles, and left Western culture for the Arab world. To pass the Suez Canal, vessels must hire an Egyptian electrician and line handler. The Egyptians use the canal to squeeze every ounce of wealth they can in baksheesh of booze and cash for the agents and of dozens of packs of cigarettes for the refueling bunker and seemingly everyone else.
On big container ships, the crew members escort the Egyptian electrician and line handler to a cabin with a TV and a DVD player, safely in the bowels of the boat, where they can do no harm.
We crew on Mr. Moonbeam's floating five-star hotel didn't think it prudent to show our Egyptian sailors the guest cabins. With the Egyptian pilot occupying the one empty bed in our crew cramped, humble crew quarters for the 15 hour trip, which began darkly at 2 a.m., we had exhausted our options.
Knowing how Arabs pride themselves on hospitality, I had to reciprocate somehow. I started to put some old sheets on the deck cushions so that our Egyptians might sleep, because we didn't need their help to go through the canal.
That's when Mr. I'm-not-a-Racist-Because-I-Worked-for-an-Oil-Company-in-Africa-in-the-60s asked me what I was doing. Uh-oh. I was trapped. I had to talk to him. I couldn't run away. "Uh, I'm making a bed for them to sleep?" I said sheepishly.
Not on his boat.
"They're Arabs," he said gruffly. "They're used to sleeping on the concrete. They can sleep on the floor."
Ouch. Awkwardness ensued until Mr. Classy Klansman puttered away. Our two Egyptians spoke English, they knew exactly what he said and for the next 15 hours, I dealt with two cranky Mohammeds (their names were really both Mohammed).
Six hours down the canal, after a gorgeous sunrise over the Sinai and a small breakfast, one angry Mohammed threatened to take a dump on the teak. We brokered a truce and let him use the guest head in the main salon when Mr. White Supremacist wasn't looking.
If I was embarrassed, and the Mohammeds were pissed off, Mr. Eurocentric Supremacy showed no shame. The further east we went, the more cantankerous Mr. Demanding grew.
When we left from Oman to the Maldives, Mr. and Mrs. Bold as the Seven Seasicknesses attempted to make the 10-day delivery with us again. The Kiwi engineer called me a wanker who wanted to see people suffer for betting him that we would turn around before his staggered shift ended at 2 a.m.
Like clockwork, at 2 a.m. Mr. Oblivious trudged up the stairs and had us wake the captain. I didn't need to say anything at that point, because the whole episode was ridiculous. We turned around and motored back 10 hours to shore.
The Arabs in the pilot boat in Oman were hospitable enough to take Mr. Posh and Mrs. Queasy back to shore so we wouldn't have to clear customs again. The engineer paid me my beers in the Maldives. But not before Mr. Eager Beaver stood waiting for us on the dock in the Maldives.
Luckily, I wasn't in the tender when Mr. Wanna-Be Sailor issued the order to the first mate: "Take me to the nearest knock shop." I might have suggested he go back to Egypt to discuss this with the agent who asked us if we wanted ice cream cones, lasciviously licking his lips to indicate he was not talking about the mango sorbet from the pushcarts on the main boulevard in Port Said.
The first mate tactfully pretended not to hear the request for a good, um, door knocking. Mr. Happy Ending probably found his massage parlor anyways, but he did it without our knowledge or assistance.
Mr. Man-Child seemed to need our assistance for everything else, though. His eating habits drove the chef nuts, like the sunny afternoon in the Maldives when she announced a lunch of glazed quail on a bed of mixed greens.
When the stew placed the plate in front of him, he crowed "Why didn't I get any quail?" The chef, wading through an uncomfortable silence, delicately tried not to demean Mr. Magoo's powers of observation.
Sir, there are two quails on your plate," she said diplomatically. "We cleaned the quail because you won't eat meat on the bone." Crew exit deck right.
After moments like that, I began to savor my radio silence. There was more entertainment in waiting for the next inanity Mr. Wealthy-Foot-in-Mouth might utter. Before I left the crew, the last one I really relished came on New Year's Eve.
Mr. Harrod's-Cookies-For-A-Christmas-Tip took his family to a resort for the evening so we the bedraggled, short-handed crew, after working for 21 straight days, could ring in the New Year's together.
Of course, Mr. Impatient called us at 12:10 and asked for us to come pick him and his people up. Captain Bill and I jumped into the tender. At the dock, helping everyone in, I handed each guest a silly, shiny cone of a New Year's party hat.
Mr. Just-Can't-Be-Satisfied accepted his hat, inspected it and scanned his now-merry looking guests. Rather than graciously thanking me, or praising the festive cheer, he whined "Why doesn't mine have a tassle?"
Thinking about how I might tell the anecdote to my fellow crew members, my silence felt golden. And it proved golden when Mr. Swiss Passport handed me a curled up 1,000 Frank Note as I disembarked three days later.