On Tattoos

I do not sport a tattoo, and by force of habit will never put an arm or chest under the needle. Why? I had a Merchant Marine father who wore a large one on his right arm and firmly discouraged tattoos. Once again, you ask, Why? According to my father, tattoos were used by police to identify suspects. And being so many people either have unique designs that are easy to spot, ” it has the names and dates of the last Rolling Stones Concerts.” Or have the same dozen designs, ” he had a big Harley-Davidson tattoo on his right arm.” You become easy to either identify or misidentify.

From his history as a seaman visiting hundreds of ports, my father believed that police were reductionists; you have that tattoo; therefore, you did the crime. While disagreeing with my father on many issues, I had a high opinion of any statement he made regarding seamen and life at sea. The Carreras clan has always been salty and wet, and our oral tradition on things maritime is strong.

I do not object to tattoos for others; they can take their chances being pulled in by the police in Samoa as suspected pedophiles, thieves, or drug-addled purveyors of disputed political platforms. But until they enact legislation banning the darned things, it’s an individual choice.

As you can see, I have no strong opinion on the matter at all.

Mahan and the Mermaid

 If you read the “about my stories” page on my blog, you’d see that I love and appreciate sea stories. These generally have the approach of TINS – this is no shit. In other words, ” I heard this from my buddy, who served aboard the USS Pig Tail when it happened.” Sea stories do not have the classic “they lived happily ever ending.” More likely, they end with everyone heading off to the Blue Anchor for an evening of carousing.

Well, to each his own. But each genre has a perverse “you just know this didn’t happen” take on things. For example, visiting the Unseely Court for fairy tales and mermaids for sea stories. So there is a sort of connection.

Mahan was married to a mermaid. It seemed unlikely that a stunning daughter of the sea would pick Mahan, the Navy’s most unkempt and alcoholic Bosun’s mate. When we first heard about it, we figured it was an alcoholic hallucination. But in fact, that’s what the marriage certificate said. Mahan was seen every month driving to the pet store to get the twenty-pound bags of Miracle Sea to add to her required bath water. On the few occasions that Stella was seen in social company, she was always in long green sheathlike dresses that seemed as though it was actually “her” rather than clothes. Her tiny feet seemed an afterthought and not natural. She always hung on Mahan for support and had a way of flipping her legs about that didn’t seem normal. The other Navy wives and girlfriends thought she was odd, used no cosmetics, and loved the seaweed salad at the harborside sushi restaurant. But Mahaan was smitten, and Stella was smitten with Mahan.

Their families did not get along. Hers objected to her marrying a member of her people’s age-old exploiters. And his family found her background too “fishy” and improbable. Being of old Irish stock, the Mahan family knew about the “special” people of Ireland and wondered aloud why he couldn’t marry a proper Irish Sidhe and not some watery tart.

Stella and Mahan felt confident that the families would reconcile when the children came along. But the grandmothers to be argued endlessly about whether the birth should happen in the hospital or nearby harbor. Mahan, his father, and his father-in-law sensibly left the delivery location to them.

Then they laid a course for the Blue Anchor, bought multiple rounds for the house, and left birthing to the ladies.

The Devil

I

You’d be hard-pressed to find any family of seafarers, fisherfolk, or plain coastal types without some horror tale on the water. It just goes with the territory; salt water envelopes most of the world and is dangerous. 

Lurking beneath that calm tropical paradise you’ve vacationed in are currents, tides, rips, rocks, tidal flats, and reefs – these might all be known hazards, but that doesn’t mean that they are less deadly. Circumstances and bad luck can be the dividing line between inconvenience and tragedy. And that’s just the stuff you can make plans to avoid or correct.

There’s just a ton of stuff you can’t plan for; rogue waves, sudden squalls, engine failures that put you at risk on lee shores, collisions with unseen objects, and illness at sea. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It’s no wonder that hidden in every sailor is a tiny little superstitious knot. It might not be as apparent as a refusal to sail on a Friday, no bananas on board, or not whistling while you set sail, but it’s there. But without a doubt, the most dangerous element at sea will always be the human element.

Where I lived on the coast, it was considered bad luck to change the name of a boat. But, if you did, many boatyards followed procedures that seemed more like heathen rituals than practices you find in any of the local Baptist, Congregationalist, or Methodist church.

Libations would be poured to Neptunas Rex and Davy Jones. Coins under the masts would be added to, carefully put back in the exact locations after repair, or eliminated in exchange for a completely new set, and of course, the boat would be thoroughly cleaned fore and aft. Sometimes this would not be enough.

II

One of the Allens from over to the cape purchased a very smart lobster boat third-hand. He did this against his wife, father, and brother’s wishes. He’d been thrice warned.

The boat had started life as a workhorse lobster boat built by a well-known builder out of Boothbay. She’d worked the waters of the mid-coast for years as the Hattie Carroll. Then, about 1974, she’d been sold to a New York City Banker who had her gutted and fixed up as a fancy boat to tour clients around during the summer; what we call a lobster yacht these days. 

Then, without any to do, he’d had a signmaker slap some vinyl letters on her, and her new name was ” The Cheek Of The Devil” in a fancy script. The boatyard had suggested that a bit of ceremony would be nice, but he wanted what he wanted, so he got it. No ceremony, but it was the talk of the harbor. Using the Devil in a boat’s name was not typical and not thought lucky.

He didn’t enjoy his boat long. A fire started offshore, and all aboard went into the bay. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been enough floatation devices aboard for all the guests, so he yielded his floatation vest and drowned. 

The boat survived with severe fire damage but was salvaged and put up for sale.

She lay in Spinney’s yard for two years before being sold. I wouldn’t know if the reason was the fire, the owner’s death, the name, or a combination of all three. But sit in the back of the yard, she did. To locals, it was the Devil when someone referred to that boat. That should have been enough to discourage any local from buying it. 

History and name suggested that nothing but ill luck was involved in that boat. Wash it in a bathtub of holy water from Saint Jerome’s, pour libations all day long, and do whatever hocus pocus you wish, and none of that would help. My father-in-law, the Cap’n, put it succinctly enough when offered the boat at a bargain rate, ” I wouldn’t allow any of my kin to sit in its shadow, much less step aboard.”

III

The Devil sat there until Jacob Allen went looking for a cheap boat with fast lines that he could pour a high-power engine into for lobster boat racing. The Devil fit the bill. And over a long Maine winter, he worked to rebuild the boat into his dream of a fast racer. 

During the spring, his trial runs seemed to indicate that he’d be a contender in any race he entered. Unfortunately, Jacob was not the type to go full speed ahead, only at a race. He’d run circles around other lobster boats in the local harbor gang he belonged to. Jacob took pleasure in almost swamping small craft he considered to be in his way. Jacob wasn’t well-liked.

Jacob was known to infringe on the territories of nearby lobstermen and was closely watched until, one day, he was caught. The first time you get caught, you will likely pull your traps and find a half hitch in your line. It’s a warning that your trespass has been noted. Do it again, and the penalties will go up. 

The Devil proved as successful as Jacob believed it would, and victory was frequent. Now I do not know how plush the prizes are these days, but back then, it was peanuts. You raced for the joy and pleasure of it. Jacob also raced because he loved to rub other skippers’ noses in how fast the Devil was. In a family of quiet Mainers, he inherited all the ego.

IV

I was helping out at Spinney’s boat yard that September hauling out summer people’s boats, and overheard Spinney talking to my father-in-law, the Cap’n. They both agreed that Jacob was heading for a fall. they quieted down when I walked up, but it was common knowledge that Jacob had been robbing traps, and something was bound to happen.

Things get slower as the weather gets colder; lobstermen spend more time repairing and making new lobster pots ( or traps), repairing their gear, and taking care of their boats. But on Halloween evening, the blast rocked the entire harbor as the Devil blew up with Jacob Allen aboard. The official report said Jacob had ignited a puddle of gasoline while starting his boat. A death by misadventure, I guess. But knowing people understood that Jacob Allen had been a scrupulous man in caring for his boat.

Murder was suspected but never proven. There wasn’t much of the Devil or Jacob Allen left for an inquest, just the mutterings of people about the enemies he’d had and someone finally canceling a grudge hard.

At the coffee shop in the morning, there were comments about how the boat had been ill-fated from the start, and then, more quietly, someone muttered that the Devil had certainly known his own.

Anchor

Sailors can fill idle hours with stories about the sea’s mysteries. And
popular literature is full of tales about the Kraken, mermaids, the sirens, and other ancient inhabitants of the deep. It’s easier for the land-based to accept fantastic myths than cope with a deck of foaming green sea threatening to wash you away despite lifelines.
I think this is why fantasy writers fill pages on the mythical; it’s easier than relaying what it’s like having your pins swept from under you and getting drowned in cold spume and salt water. Lose that secure connection with the vessel, and swim in desperation as your sloop sails away under the wind’s command.

Little things will do for you. Items that are routine but were put off through laziness or inattention. Not connecting a safety line, or in my case, being in a hurry to rig a small sloop while trying to impress a young woman. I was distracted and failed to tie a stopper knot on the end of the main sheet. Once on the water, a puff of breeze snapped the line from my hand, the boom went far outboard, and I had no control of the boat. Using the rudder and redistributing weight in the boat, I eventually jibed, grabbed the bitter end of the sheet as it whipped by, and recovered control. Throughout this, I was grateful that I had insisted on wearing life vests.

Sailors often animate the sea and credit it with a native wit, always ready to take advantage of our weaknesses or inattention. It can seem dangerous to discredit this idea while offshore, where the sea is most pervasive. I can assure you that fair and calm one minute and heeled over in heavy squalls just a few minutes later is not abnormal. It’s why the weather report is constantly repeating on the squawk box, and one eye flicks to the little yarn pennants on the mast to sense what the wind is about to do.

There are warnings if you are alert enough to catch them, experienced enough to know how to respond, and interested enough in the sea to continually set yourself to matching it.

I am privileged to be part of a group of old mariners, and every one of them has years of experience beyond mine. Even those pushing their nineties would love to go looking for a ship. But, of course, the retort of their spouses, children, and friends might be you’re too old. To which the response is, “So what?” You’ll never feel so alive, challenged, and rewarded.
Eventually, the conversation drifts to talk of places called the Blue Anchor, the Three Sheets, or Sheerwater Inn. The talk drifts to ports you’ve visited, people you’ve sailed with, and incredible experiences. No one mentions Leviatan or the Kraken. But some Chief Engineer will laugh and holler out, ” the Sirens can call me all they wish; I’ll still show them a good night!”

You can’t be passive around the water. That’s always going to be when it’s most dangerous. So you are respectful but also bold.

The Markets

Former petty office first class John O’Toole loved to get in little digs at me. He remembered when I was ” not the sharpest tool in the kit.” In short, he remembered when I was an addled brain sailor whose sea locker and sea bag always needed a good tossing and cleanup before inspections. Just every once in a while, he’d enjoy pointing out to friends and girlfriends that there was a time when I was not so squared away, and Bristol fashioned a lad, and he – never to be a chief petty officer- O’Toole had been instrumental in squaring me away.

But, of course, he never mentioned my carrying him back to the ship from the Blue Anchor, the time he was royally drunk when I pulled him out of the harbor when his walking on water stunt did not work, or other incidents. Such events were every day on Liberty and barely rated an idle mention.

He tended to sail into my life periodically when needing a place to crash, a bit of help with a scheme, or just when the whim took him to visit. He’d eventually become a financial advisor who kept his methodology for market analysis secret.

One day O’Toole invited me along to a presentation he was giving a private club on economic trends and how to best time investments in a Bear Market. He presented his findings and an analysis of his results to an astonished gathering of peers. But beyond a few vague comments refused to outline his methodology. Instead, he merely stated that his repeated results spoke for themselves, QED. Beyond saying that his methods derived from statistical methodology he had mastered while in the Navy, he’d say nothing further.

Of course, as a sort of protege, I knew the secret. In a small locked box in a storage box were the tools of analysis: a statistical calculator, a worn old-fashioned game spinner, a Magic Eight Ball, and an Ouija board. His methods were rooted in powerful methods developed in the Navy. In the Navy, we were called upon to file repetitious, idiotic, and time-consuming reports on the mundane events of our daily work life. So, of course, we developed ways of cheating. The clever developed ways of cheating and not getting caught. The incredibly creative never were caught and garnered excellent performance reports, commendations, and promotions.

This art was called Gundecking, and its name came to the USN from our predecessors in the Royal Navy but derived almost without doubt from the Phoenicians, Greeks, and other early Navy. It was, therefore, nearly as old as sails, rudders, and scuttlebutt ( navy gossip).

While in the Navy, O’Toole, an eager consumer of correspondence school classes, had incorporated some esoteric twists from statistics into his methodology. Watching him work the Eight Ball, spinner, and Ouija board in conjunction with a spreadsheet and calculator was a dizzying affair. I asked him if his methods were any better than those of a college graduate from Babson or some other business school, and he glared at me. ” Lou, some have little statues of Fortuna on their shelves and light joss sticks; others read the fifth word in the fourth paragraph of random books found in church book sales. Others faithfully read the Wall Street journal and religiously wear their lucky socks. It’s all VooDoo, and I mean that if you are into sacrificing black cocks at midnight. My methods are based upon tried and true techniques developed during my sojourn in the US Navy. They have survived examination by petty-minded naval officers and proven to work. What more do you want.

O’Toole did, however, maintain a sort of Naval “truth in advertising” code of ethics. He preceded each lecture with a statement that this was his best possible analysis and said he’d checked his results with associates who agreed with the methodology.

Unless there were very astute former seamen in the audience, they missed the key phases that introduced and ended a classic Sea Story:
First, his best possible analysis – ” now, this is no shit…
Second, checked his results with associates – “…and I heard if from my shipmate who was there when it happened.”

I accused O’Toole of selling his client’s phony statistical methods based on Navy cheats and telling them sea stories. He smiled at me and said, “Lou, economics is a very inexact science. Look at the statistical success rate of most predictions. It’s almost as bad as random chance. I outperform the random. Call it luck; call it whatever you will. It works.

In the years that followed, I lost track of O’Toole, but I did notice that he was right. Unfortunately, market predictions were hedged about with so many caveats that they did appear to barely beat the random effects of a Magic Eightball, game spinner, and Ouija board. It’s almost enough to drive you to apathy.

But it does gives you something to think about. How many financial wizards now have Eight Balls, spinners and Ouija boards in their drawers?

Kendrick’s Gold

It was the barest glimmer of gold. Barely a speck. I took the empty cup and dug into the coarse sand, trying to recapture that gleam.
When I found it, it was surprisingly large, more the size of a half dollar, and gleaming brightly in the setting sun. I held it up to show Georgia. “Oh, Wes, that will look good on a chain around my neck.” But, feeling more than a bit possessive, I told her, “only if I find its mate so we can both have one.” We used empty cups to filter the coarse sand but found no mates to the doubloon. With a sharp eye, the Cap’n told us that it was that.
“Best to throw it back.” We had no intention of throwing it back. “Some of Kendrick’s gold, I expect. It’s best to throw it back now rather than curse it and throw it back later.
Over the next hour, the story came out. The pirate Kendrick’s had lost the sloop Belle Isle offshore on the Widows, he and the crew had gotten off, but the Belle Isle was lost with all the proceeds from raiding along the coast that season. A week of salvaging had brought almost no results, and Kendrick cursed the wreck and whoever salvaged her cargo.

“So better to toss it back now than later; it’s done nobody good in the past. Others have found it, and none have kept it. Sooner or later, it winds up back here being sifted in the sands near the Widows. They had a doubloon up to the town Historical Society when I was a boy. They had a program on Kendrick and his gold, and then the building burned to the ground. The doubloon was there in the middle of the wreckage, unmelted. They were smart and tossed it back here where it belongs.”

There was no way either Georgia or I would toss it back into the tide. Over the next two days, we spent every spare moment sifting sand, looking for a matching piece. I held onto the original. Georgia looked at it with envy, and every time I allowed her to hold it, I felt a bit bereft for not having its solid weight in my palm.

On day three, the car broke down, and we walked to the little shingle and sand beach. Unfortunately, Georgia fell and sprained her ankle hopping from stone to stone on day four. However, the Cap’n maintained that it was not mere misfortune. Day five was marred by food poisoning. It was Sunday, and I ate what everyone else ate; lobster. But only I got sick. My dreams were marred by Kendricks visiting me and demanding his gold back.

On Monday, I woke from food poisoning to find the gold gone. Georgia had taken it to a jeweler for fitting into a necklace. That evening we had the worst fight ever, and I almost struck her. With an insane fervor, I raged at how stupid she was to leave the gold with a complete stranger. I immediately drove over town and retrieved the coin from a bewildered jeweler.

When I returned, I found the Captain and Georgia talking to a reporter from the local paper about how we had found the coin. I refused to speak or allow the coin to be photographed. Later the Cap’n found me down by the float replacing a worn line. “Give it up now, Wes; this is how it starts. It’s just small stuff, and then it builds until something fatal happens, or it gets returned to the tides.”

I stood up and made to hop aboard the ketch. I slipped and, in catching myself, wrenched my arm and fell between the float and the boat. A swell first moved the ketch away and then crushed me against the float. I saw nothing for a long while.

When I woke, I was in the emergency room. I reached for my pants on the chair but found the pocket empty. I began yelling. The Cap’n was the first to appear. ” you can quit hollering. It’s gone. I deep-sixed it in the tide not long after bringing you in.”
Something about the term deep-six brought back memories of my father talking to me about Davy Jones and how lost sailors and possessions gone overboard all belonged to Davy. Sometimes, the tides tossed up Davy Jones’s Locker items, but they were on loan only. So sooner or later, they would find their way back to the sea.
Speaking to the Cap’n, I found that agreement on this was a rare time my Marine Engineer father and Master Mariner father-in-law were in agreement: cursed items belonged to Davy, and it was best to leave them where found. Or return them ASAP.

After that, Georgia and I stayed away from the little shingle and sand beach. It took me several weeks to recover from my mishap, and after that, I have been careful regarding what I remove from the sea.

Last month there was an article in a glossy New England-themed magazine. They now think that they’ve located the Belle Isle and her cargo using exceptional underwater imaging technology. So I took a chance and wrote to the head of the expedition, explaining my experience. I received a thank you note and an invitation to the exhibition opening.

I instead think that I won’t go.

Wake Up!

If you’ve read my work for a while, you know that I’m a prose person. I’ll read poetry, but other than a lousy haiku, I don’t write it. A while ago, I ran into the poem I am presenting below. Sad to say, It epitomizes a lot of the hype of being a sailor. I want to assure my readers that I am scandalized by it, and this was not me when I was young…or older. None the less I am presenting it here as a sort of ethnographic curiosity, a counter to the more abstemious images of a sailor’s life.

                          A Sailors Prayer

            Whether I wake in Thailand 

                or Norfolk or Guam,

or wake up in Subic with half my stuff gone.

Or wake up in a hot tub, butt-naked and drunk,

  Lord, Let me find my way back to my bunk.

The author is one Bill Watts, who my suspicions lead me to think was either a deck ape or snipe. So I hurry to implore the readership that I never partook in such scandalous activities.

But I know how vital that bunk is. Even in a crowded berthing compartment, it can be as close to an owned private, secure space as a sailor can have.

I haven’t been able to find anything out about Bill Watts or this poem. If you know anything, please let me know. The man’s been there! I, of course, state this hypothetically.

Mr. Wakey Wakey

Ah, October, readers, and writers spend time separating the cryptid from the cryptic and the insuperable from the insufferable. Vampires, mummies, witches, and ghouls cavort. Bah humbug!
Not to be splitting hairs, but there are much more frightening things than the undead – my apologies Vlad, but bear with me on this. We have some scary shit at sea that beats your banshee, raises your zombie and calls your Cthulu.
One October evening, the Capn’ and I had some hard cider with Willis. We sat around the woodstove, sipping quietly; the only sounds were the quiet drawing on their pipes. Outside, the wind was rattling around a pile of lobster pots and leaves. Willis made lobster pots, traps to you.
His yard was littered with oak staves, boards, and debris from the process. The yard looked like a hurricane had done for a small boat and left the remains in his yard. In the fading light, it did look like a wreck.

So around the stove, we sat, and soon the stories started. Willis sighed and related in ’33, he’d been on board a trawler that snagged its nets on a wreck. The winches pulled and pulled, and eventually, up came the wreck. It was the Lucy W. lost a year previous and crewed by brothers and neighbors in his small coastal town. The axes couldn’t cut the gear fast enough as they all stood there wondering if their loved ones were still onboard.
The Capn’ looked into the flames and said, “Well, they all talk about the Mary Celeste or the Flying Dutchman; Bridge officers on the midwatch see things all the time. After the last war, my ship spotted flares to port and picked up a weak radio signal that sounded like a distress call. So we altered course, but all we found was an abandoned life raft. That was 1946. A liberty ship with the name on the raft had been torpedoed at those coordinates in 1943. Lost with all hands.

The silence and the looks told me that it was my turn to share something. “Mister Wakey-Wakey.” they looked at me skeptically. ” Onboard my ship, a particularly sadistic bosun’s mate had been given Jonah’s Lift one night ( tossed overboard). His ghost came back looking for revenge. He walks the ship just before the mid-watch waking people from sleep. He lays his corpse cold hands on you and says, “Wakey Wakey, beautiful dreamer, you have the mid-watch!” The Capn’ looked at me, “what’s so bloody scary about that?” I replied, ” some of those he lays his hand on don’t wake; ever. They’re found in their bunks with horrible looks on their faces. The watchstanders going around waking for the mid-watch find them that way.”

We sat around watching the flames and sipping for a few hours. Then, finally, the Capn’ drifted off to sleep while Willis and I continued to talk. Just before midnight, I decided that we better head up the hill to the house. Cora was bound to be worried about what the Capn’ might be getting into.
Perhaps it was the storytelling or just a bit of a desire to tease the Capn,’ but I laid my cold hand on the back of his neck, leaned close to his ear, and in a hoarse voice whispered, ” Wakey Wakey skipper- you have the mid-watch!” He shivered, jumped up like he’d been shot, and was out of Willis’ shop in a shot, only to stumble and fall in a puddle. He was not amused that Willis and I stood in the doorway laughing at his fright.
“Tomorrow, I want that chain locker cleaned up, Mister Wakey Wakey. Is that clear?” “Aye, Aye, sir,” I responded while I laughed. It’s hard to give orders smeared in mud, lying in a puddle.

Scuttlebutt Syndrome

What follows is a discussion of the newly named scuttlebutt syndrome found primarily among sailors:

Scuttlebutt is a favored term among sailors for how information can get relayed. As in,” scuttlebutt has it that mooring fees are going up next year.” Or, ” the scuttlebutt is that our next port of call in Naples got canceled.”

 For those not initiated into the watery ways of Poseidon or Neptunas Rex, the scuttlebutt was the large centrally located barrel of water on a sailing vessel that sailors could dip water from to quench thirst. Sailors would congregate and pass on news and events. The barrel is long since gone but, the term is still alive and well. Even those of us who have long since “swallowed the anchor” use the phrase with a certain reverence. Sailors are traditionalists and don’t appreciate unexpected change – unless it’s an extra tot of rum in their toddy; they love to pass on the scuttlebutt.

Scuttlebutt is not necessarily a source you should take when you visit the stockbroker, accuse your spouse of infidelity, or buy a boat. Especially buy a boat.

Perhaps something magical in seawater encourages an intrinsic change in a sailor’s sense of reality. The woman or man seems incapable of actually describing the last evening ashore in objective terms. It becomes the most raucous, magical experience of the cruise, and these days the phone provides photographic proof with blurry evidence. 

As a purely scientific experiment, ask a standardized series of questions the following day and two days after leaving port. The next day grunts and groans followed by a rush to the head are all you’ll get. But two days later, that evening transforms into a wondrous experience.

This seems to be a widespread phenomenon among Navy, Merchant Mariners, and civilian sailors and being that it is a worldwide phenomenon, we really can’t blame it on the sailor. No. They are poor victims of some toxic miasma of the sea that causes these figments to become a reality in their minds.

The only way this can spread is by waves. Waves can travel across an entire ocean in days. We do not know at this point how much exposure is needed to result in a full-blown case. We are applying for funds to study further this debilitating syndrome for which no known cure is known. We do know that taking the sailor away from the sea can make it worse.

 Our best advice currently is that parents not let their children become sailors. 

There is no known treatment. Neither Ivermcectin nor Hydrogen peroxide is beneficial. However, clinical trials of dark Caribbean rum show some promise as palliative care. Give the patient several drams, and they lose the ability to tell sea stories. This may not help the afflicted, but it offers relief for those who listen to the endless lies.

Plans

As Dwight Eisenhower said -plans are worthless, but planning is essential.
So not to be too jocund, well maybe just a little humorous, we may now refer to the “Seven P’s”: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
I was first introduced to this paradigm for success by Petty Officer First Class John O’Toole.

When I met John, I was trying to escape duty a deck ape should be doing, not someone with my delicate hands. I learned fast that avoiding work with John was a novice sort of thing. He knew all the tricks and evasions. Soon though, John found more valuable work for me and my skills: bootlegging.
John did not produce the hooch. Where the hooch derived from is a mystery to this very day. But John was the man in charge of making sure each bottle made its way to Officers Country and the Chief’s wardroom. Of course, mere peons, such as John and I, were not included in the larger scheme of things. But with proper prior planning, he and I managed to divert small quantities for our consumption.
The bottles had no tax stamp and never got resealed. Instead, they were carefully recycled and cleaned between uses. The “Source” filled the bottles and passed them on for distribution. John brought them to me in the sickbay for careful measurement with the available lab equipment. We had found out that the “Source” was imprecise in filling. We merely averaged out the system, adding occasionally but most often removing small amounts. When we finished, each bottle was amazingly uniform, and we had enough Scotch, Rum, Rye, or Bourbon for personal use.
John and I felt that we were doing an excellent service to the ship. While we were in charge, quarrels about unevenly filled bottled ceased – peace reigned among the drinkers.

All good things end. I got reassigned, and my successor was a teetotaler not interested in participating. I did not run into O’Toole again until after I was out of the Navy. He was still a PO1 and never even tried to make Chief. He claimed it would cramp his style. His ship was at the Navy yard for overhaul, and he asked me if I’d like to pick up some fast cash every week. All I had to do was pick up and drop off uniforms on their way to be cleaned and repaired – ripped seams, insignia replaced, and the like.`He had an arrangement with a Charlestown tailor; he took a cut from each job he handled and had a cut-rate deal with the tailor. He’d even arrange fittings for custom uniforms for a minor consideration.

Sitting around at the Harvard Gardens one night, I asked him how many little rackets he had going. John took a bit of umbrage at the term racket; he preferred services for which he took a fee. He then counted out about seven ” services” that ran concurrently. One or two were freebies – he used the Latin Pro Bono. They were simply for goodwill and trust among the officers and crew. He carefully maintained the fairness of all he did. “Reputation is everything when you do the sort of work I am involved in.”
“And how did you get all this started?” His answer was, “Planning. I observe every little rub or friction in life, calculate how much of a nuisance it causes, and evaluate what it might be worth to people if I eliminated the irritation. Do that often enough, and you have a service. Then, create a smooth manner to carry out the service at a price you can profit from and have a revenue stream. Finally, get enough services going, and you have an income. See – proper prior planning. Do it right long enough, and you gain the trust of your customers. That prevents the piss poor performance.” O’Toole was outfitted in a custom-tailored set of dress Blues. Dressing for success was an absolute for him.
My own life was changing directions, so I turned down some other work opportunities with him. So I have a sort of bittersweet feeling about this. I’m pleased with how my life turned out but a bit envious of the O’Toole Financial Group’s success in managing retirement funds and investments.

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