Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 9) “Deck Boss have Big Problem “

Posted on October 9, 2009

A Blip on the Radar

We were all ship mates.
In our own way, despite different nationalities, cultures and priorities, we often relied on each other. I was learning Chinese, and I often chatted for hours with the crew members about their lives, their homes, their goals in life. They showed me photos of their wives, their girl friends, the house that they were building back home in China…
I didn’t look down on them. Why should I? And they sensed that. They said as much…
They told me they disliked some expat pilots and mechanics. “But not you, Moggy… You OK! “
As time went by, I was touched by the trust that some built up in me. To be called upon by name, when a man is in distress, is a strange honor. A compliment? I don’t know, but the following stories tell you something of the instinctive, human calling out for help. When a man is in dire trouble, and he calls out for the fellow he thinks is best able -and willing- to help…

Part 9: Deck Boss have big problem

I got along real well with this cook.
He was funny. He smiled a lot, and was very good to me. We would chat about things. Very often he would have served a hot meal, and there would only be him and I. The rest of the crew were still on deck, working. If the net wasn’t in yet, the crew worked until it was in. Then they ate. If there was a problem bringing the net in, the crew worked. When the problem was solved, they ate. The Chinese work ethic is simply awesome. No wonder their economy is booming.
Funny thing is, I don’t recall I ever heard anybody complain. Oftentimes, by the time they got their food, it was stone cold.
Not a grumble.
One night, there was a big tear in the net. It was quite badly damaged. The weather was awful. The wind was blowing, the spray was flying, and it was chucking down rain. It was kind of unusually cold as well.
I was sitting in the galley, looking at all the empty rows, and the steaming tubs of hot rice, untouched. I wasn’t eating.
The cook came in.
“Moggy! Why no eating?’
“Err…. duh… I feel BAD. Everybody working on deck! Only me! Pooh-how! “
I felt guilty. There was no way I could help with the net. I would have been a hindrance and a liability rather than any assistance.
“Moggy! You are stupid! Pun-tann! Tomorrow you fly! No eat…?? “
And with hand gestures he mimicked a helicopter taking off steeply, flopping upside down and crashing. The sound effects made me laugh.
I ate.

Another time he cheerfully bowled into my cabin with a Playboy magazine. He wanted me to take his photo, posing proudly with his Playboy! Maybe it was a status symbol or something. Something he could send back to his village back home to prove how well he was doing. He just made me laugh. The rest of the crew liked him too.

My good buddy, the cook

Then came the day I heard this wailing outside, and frantic banging on my door.
“Moggy-Moggy-Moggy!!!! “
Surprised, I opened the door, and there stood my buddy the cook, all pathetic and child-like, sheepishly holding up his thumb. There was a nasty arterial spurt of blood coming out, and he was trying to hold a finger on it. His face was white. He had been slicing something in the kitchen, and accidentally half chopped his thumb off. I grabbed a first aid kit, and quickly got him sorted out. He was exceedingly grateful.
Afterwards I heard he had caused consternation on the ship, as he erupted, yelling, out of the kitchen, bowled past many of the crew, up the stairs to the bridge, past the surprised Navigator and the Fish Master, to go see his trusted friend, the Mad Irishman!
I was honored. And kind of touched as well.

On another time, another boat, we were in port in Papua New Guinea. A few days offloading fish, and the chance to go ashore.
Buy some groceries, see the sights.
I was reading a book in my cabin one morning, lying on the bunk and relaxing. A knock came on the door.
“Moggy! Come to bridge! “
There was a note of urgency. I sensed trouble.
I swung down, and wondered idly what was going on.
The captain was on the bridge, microphone in hand, looking puzzled. The Navigator was there as well, looking equally non plussed. It was the Navigator who spoke to me.
“Deck Boss have big problem! You talk with ship’s agent! “
I took the mike, and keyed it. I knew the ship’s agent very well. He was a cheerful, obliging Aussie, who assisted us with everything from supplies, customs, documentation, and even unhappy deck bosses.
“It’s Moggy! What’s up, dude?’
He sounded perplexed. He had received a phone call from the local hotel. All they could tell him was that our Deck Boss, who had gone ashore the previous day, was in dire straits. Apparently he refused to come out of his room, and was screaming for me.
“He’s doing what!? ”
It didn’t make much sense. Due to the language barrier between the guest and the hotel staff, all the receptionist could tell the agent was that he was very upset. Hiding in his room. And screaming for “Moggy! “
I conferred with the captain. He was not pleased. He shook his head, in disgust, and told me to take the helicopter in to the beach, and find out what was going on.

It was only a short flight, across the harbor. As I flew along, I reflected on this strange, wild country of Papua New Guinea. Blessed with natural resources, lumber, minerals, even diamonds. Cursed with exploitation, corruption and mismanagement. The few outrageously rich, politicians mostly, and the many, many impoverished.
A strangely violent society. With endless tales of murder, rape and robbery.
I myself had found the people mostly friendly.

If you smiled as you passed, many smiled back. The children either laughed or hid behind their mothers. Occasionally you met only dark scowls. Some of the groups of young men, standing idly on street corners, unemployed and unemployable, gossiping and chewing betelnut, would scowl en masse. Their ever present, ever razor sharp machetes would gleam in the sun.
Then I would sense something, something ugly, feel uncomfortable, and walk quickly on by. But mostly, I got along fine.

I banked hard above the local airfield, my blades slapping the humid air. I could see the bomb craters, dating back from World War Two. The airfield had been built by the Japanese, and had suffered heavy bombardment by the Allies.
Small bomb craters. And medium sized craters. And a few really humongous pits. Maybe the Allies had gotten frustrated one day. And let rip some jumbo jobs. Whatever it was that they had dropped, presumably in a hail of gunfire, it must have deafened the defenders when it went off. I was flying over History. The scene of suffering. Brutality. And premature death.

Another Just War in the name of Compassionate Mankind. Amazingly, all the Good people were on one side, and all the Bad were on the other.
The Japanese were all militaristic, fanatics, sub-human. Just like President FDR, the great war hero president, encouraged Americans to believe. There were no Japanese soldiers who were there reluctantly. No musicians, writers, poets, doctors, dreamers, and humanitarians.

Stinkin’ Japs…

But now… it was also the scene of children romping along the beach. Playing in the sand. Running in and out of the surf.
It was they who had won. Not the guns, or the bombs, or the bayonets.
Everybody lost World War Two.
Except Time. Time triumphed. And made a mockery of FDR’s great speeches.
As it was to make a mockery of his ‘New Deal’.

A new Day. A new Dawn.

I landed beside what passed for a control Tower, and got a ride to the Hotel.
The receptionist seemed relieved to see me, and quickly gave me directions to the right room. I walked down the hall, past small, faded photos of a bygone colonial era, and further along, past huge, gawdy technicolor posters touting some fizzy drink. The hotel was a strange mixture between old and modern. Intricate carvings and murals, beautiful hand woven rugs, and plastic vending machines. A maid smiled at me, I smiled back. And an very old gentleman, a caretaker or a carpenter perhaps, was on his knees, repairing a wooden bench. He looked too old, too frail, too silver haired, to be doing such work.
It was a job for a younger man. I thought of the gangs of youths on the main street, idle and dark, chewing betelnut and spitting the road red.

When I knocked on the door, I immediately heard footsteps.
They came, almost running.
The door opened a crack, and there, eyes fearful, stood our Deck Boss. Wrapped only in a sheet.
Immediately he swung the door open.
“Moggy! Moggy! “
He was upset, I could almost see tears in his eyes. His relief at seeing me was palpable. He was speaking in Chinese, way too fast, and I couldn’t follow.
“Slow down….What happened? “
“Girl! Bad, bad girl! No good, no good, pooh how! Saitee! “
Eventually he managed to explain. Going ashore for a night on the town, our hero had found himself a local girl. He had plied her with beer and wine, flashed his wallet at her, and enticed her back to his room. There he had enjoyed his wicked way, satisfied the urge, exercised the old relic, hammered one for Moriarty, and generally had a great time. Then, overcome by the effort of love making and the effects of wine and debauchery, he had… fallen fast asleep.
Upon waking….
No girl. But what was worse…. no wallet, and no clothes. Not even his under garments.
You can steal a man’s wallet, and that’s bad, but to steal his trousers and knickers… now you’re dealing a double blow to the poor sailor’s pride. Hence it was, that the unfortunate man’s only recourse was to stand behind the door, peeping out, scantily (and most unheroically) clad in a once white sheet, shouting for help.

It was an old prozzie dodge. It was not the first time I had heard of this happening. Randy sailor, with money in his pocket, meets poor island girl, with little money to feed and cloth her extended family. It’s an explosive combination. The oldest trade known to Man lives on, and will for as long as certain hormones course freely through our veins.
I felt sorry for the Deck Boss, and I understood his anger and frustration. He told me indignantly that a Chinese whore would never do such a thing. Presumably their customer P.R. was on a higher level. The whole boat was angry and indignant on his behalf, and I’m sure the sense of injustice was a righteous one.

I alone could see it also from the other side. From the two-faced whore’s side. What was that story the eye witness related, in “Hard Times “, that classic, piercing study of the American Great Depression, by old Studs Terkel?

“The NYA was my salvation. I could just as easily have been in Sing Sing… Just every bit a chance. Hell, yes. Everybody was a criminal. You stole, you cheated through. You were getting by, survival. Stole clothes off lines. Stole milk off back porches, you stole bread….. it created a coyote mentality. You were a predator. You had to be. The coyote is crafty. He can be fantastically courageous and a coward at the same time. He’ll run, but when he’s cornered, he’ll fight. They’re mean… but how else does a coyote stay alive? He’s not as powerful as a wolf. He has a small body. He’s in such bad condition, a dog can run him down. He’s not like a fox. A coyote is Nature’s victim as well as man’s.
We were coyotes in the Thirties, the jobless…. ”

The whore, Nature’s victim as well, lived in a society where primitive barter is the dominant source of income. Where many families survive on little more than $100 a year. Where a sailor with a thousand bucks in his wallet is as rich as a king.
In a society where women have few rights. Where they are often beaten, and made to do all the work.
The impact of Modernity on those old cultures is probably a devastating one. For all the good that came with the white man, much harm came along as well.

She didn’t do right by our crew’s standards. But she probably provided for her family for months afterward.
Or else her husband beat her, took it, drank it, and peed it all against a wall.
It makes you wonder.
And, given the fact that the locals were tall and thin, don’t you also just wonder a little bit…

Who got to proudly wear the fat little Chinaman’s trousers?

Francis Meyrick

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Last edited by Francis Meyrick on December 24, 2014, 9:07 am

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6 responses to “A Blip on the Radar (Part 9) “Deck Boss have Big Problem “”

  1. Oh, Moggy, good one.  I like this.  Poor chinaman – but I reckon he shoulda known better, eh?  So pitiful, but funny to imagine.  I like the story about the cook as well.  I don’t know why people get upset about folks that are different. Wouldn’t it just be a too boring world if we were all just alike?  Ewwww.  But Moggy, does no one but the Asian folk ever shave out there?  You look like a wooly bugger.   

    Great story, Moggy man.  Keep ’em coming.

  2. Cultural heretic, eh?  You got a lot of nerve.  Do you see any women standing around fawning and flapping over those beards?  I thought not.  Maybe a mustache or a short, well-trimmed beard, (rough on women’s skin, though), but goodness, Moggy, that one yer sportin’ in that picture and the one on that guy in the middle there look like they could be used to hide things in – or maybe even have little critters in them.  Ewwwww.
    Yer choice, darlin’, but I’d just bet if you asked women, they’d all tell ya pretty much what I am saying and that surely doesn’t make me any cultural heretic – you, you big wooly bugger!  If yer all into hair – grown out what’s one yer head and keep yer face shaved!

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