Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 15A) “Beautiful American Film Star “

Posted on November 16, 2009

Carole Landis

Note: Sometimes there is a conflict in a writer’s mind. He feels the need to honestly paint a TRUE scene with accurate, authentic brush strokes. At the same time, he doesn’t want to be seen to necessarily condone or approve of the behavior, ethics or values he describes. I mean no fundamental disrespect to anybody. Women, Native Islanders, or Oriental Values. It’s there, politically in-correct or not, and I describe it, truthfully. I ask you to bear that in mind. Sometimes we also cry when we laugh. The Absurdity of Man is well worth the mirth…

A Blip on the Radar

Part 15A: Beautiful American Film Star

For some odd reason, I remember every detail of those seemingly trivial moments.
I think it is maybe because I felt so stunningly alive. Aware. Living, thinking and feeling.
It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t anything major. But it has remained in my mind. If I shut my eyes, I can still feel the ship swaying underneath my feet, and the steady thump of the diesel engines. I was standing on the bridge, chatting with the captain, as I often did. I was leaning back against the teak wall, careful not to obscure the sight of Porcelain Andy, our shipboard Protector and Fish finder. We were a few miles out from the port of Wewak, Papua New Guinea. Steaming in, triumphantly, with a full load of fish. Caught in a record three days of fishing. The helicopter had performed well, very well, and had been a key factor in our hunting success. The sun was shattering peacefully off the calm waters of the bay ahead of us, blasting cheerful light rays helter skelter in all directions. The familiar distant mountains were still, even at this late stage of morning, mysteriously draped with cloud. Papua New Guinea lay ahead, land of plenty, land of poverty, land of old tribal traditions, land of struggling modernity. Land of Beauty, land of Ugliness. A place of Hope, and a place of Darkness. I was feeling contented, almost woozy. Pleasantly warm and mellow. The fact that I was now intimately wrapped around some of the captain’s best celebratory brandy probably had something to do with it. In a funny way, we enjoyed each other’s company. He was one of the Taiwanese star fish catchers, but he was also highly intelligent. A man whose education was self motivated. Had he been from a more privileged background, he would have gone to University, and become a bright and successful bureaucrat in some high rise office building in Taipei. I could imagine him in an expensive tailored suit, with polished black shoes, and a rainbow tie. He had always had the brains, but probably not the connections. And here he stood, a captain on a very successful fishing vessel, probably making a lot more money than many of those self important, preening puppets back in Taiwan….

The sea was more sheltered here, and the waves were less.
The smoother ride gave us more speed. I debated going up to the helideck, and watching the events from there. But I was enjoying listening to him. I shifted my position slightly, and settled down. Twelve knots… The engines sounded steady, unhurried.

By now we knew each other well. And we discussed many spheres. His knowledge and understanding of Men was astute. His crew and fellow captains respected, almost revered him. His authority and preeminence was unchallenged.

Once, when another Taiwanese ship became impounded for poaching, and was in danger of permanent forfeiture, it was to our captain that the vessel owner and the errant captain came running. I had watched them come on board, like penitents. Their downcast expressions, their humble entreaties for our captain’s wisdom and advice, indeed, his intervention on their behalf, had been a study in supplication. He, for his part, sensing opportunity, delighted in briefing me beforehand in detail about the wizard Poker hand he would play. His eyes were strong, and I knew his amazing ability to mold men to his iron will would now be brought to bear unerringly on a twelve million dollar crisis. He had greeted them sternly, with not a smile. Then he had sat down with them in his cabin, and I was allowed to quietly sit in a corner, and watch and learn. They were miserable, and almost in tears. They stood to lose a twelve million dollar vessel. The disgraced captain was treated to our captain’s frostiest treatment. The poor man sat cringing, staring at the table in front of him. He looked a simple fellow, an old deck hand, promoted through long years of service. He was way out of his depth in this crisis. With none of our captain’s political cunning and guile…

The radio crackled. Over the loudspeaker came the voice of the shipping agent, hailing us. A cheerful, helpful Australian. The captain acknowledged. The agent was worried. His lookouts had reported us coming in, so soon after departing.
“Ah, Captain, do you have a problem!? “
He wanted to know why on earth we were back so soon. Most vessels would be gone for anything from three to six weeks. I looked at the captain. He had the microphone in his hand, and from his studied expression, I knew he was carefully formulating his answer.
“Yes! We have BIG problem! “
The agent’s concern was evident.
“Oh dear! Captain, what happened? “
Our captain, ever the showman, waited a few seconds. He knew there would be many ears listening now. There were other ships, moored there and transshipping fish. But there were also other listeners, agents, functionaries, local businesses…
I could sense the ether transfixed. The Hsieh Feng 707 had a problem? The star Fish Catcher from Taiwan?
What problem?
He drew a deep breath, and then announced:
“My BIG problem is I have no more room to store fish! My ship FULL! “
His face was a picture, mischievous, delighted, proud. He glanced at me, pure devilment in his eyes, and I laughed out loud.
The two ship’s officers present caught the joke, and laughed as well.
Such a showman…

The fate of the impounded ship had instantly been transmitted around the whole fishing fleet. They had been caught fishing well within the six mile limit, and the locals, already hostile to foreigh fishing vessels, had actually rowed out and boarded the ship. Everybody knew the details, and speculation ran rife. The fact that the ship owner and the unwise captain had been to our Captain, imploring his help, doubtless would further have electrified the airwaves. But he, after the meeting, being the Poker player he was, promised nothing, and sternly bade them leave while he investigated the matter.
But no sooner had they left, than his stern face cracked wide open.
“Now Moggy! You watch and learn! You will SEE! I am BIG HEAD. I solve problem! “
“Yes, Captain ” I would say, meekly.
“You are a big head! “
He would beam in pleasure at my admission. There was a finer point of English language involved here, but it was one that I did not wish to point out. He saw it as a compliment, and I was loath to spoil the fun.

Now we were sailing in calm waters. I strained my eyes to recognize the other boats. There could be friends here. We would meet up, delightedly, and go to some strange bar. never knowing when we would see one another again. We would drink and eat, talk and laugh, and reminisce. The captain was at the helm now, aiming purposefully for a large refrigerated cargo ship. That was our destination, and the destination of our valuable cargo. He was smooth on the helm, purposeful, and inspired confidence. He was a stark contrast with another Taiwanese I had sailed with who was careless, rough, and who had, on one infamous occasion, embarrassed everybody by accidentally ramming the freezer ship, taking out part of the railing and tearing great gouges….

The officials had started to arrive on our boat to discuss the impounded ship. The first to arrive had been the lower echelon, noisy, argumentative, arrogant, the lure of easy money etched hard in their eyes. But the captain’s powerful presence soon subdued them It was in the icy strength of his eyes. He had told me beforehand that some would be looking for bribes. But that if he started to pay at the bottom, there was no knowing what the price would be at the top. It was important, he said, to deal courteously with the lower ranks, hold out the promise of possible FUTURE recompense “for services rendered “, but hold on to the green backs until he saw the King. He would enlist them, bend them to his will. And it had been fascinating for me to see how he applied his insight into men. How they would come in, brash and unpleasant. And how they would slowly sputter to a halt under the quiet steel in his eyes. They would cease their chattering, and there would be silence in the captain’s cabin. Sitting quietly in the corner, I would hold my breath, sensitive to the pin drop changing subtleties in the steady, remorseless psychology within that confined area. The stakes were high, there were millions of dollars in the game, and the arriving clerks would sit down in the assumption that they held all the cards….

With expert hand, he reduced thrust, and now we were closing smoothly and comfortably on the freezer ship.
He always made it look so easy. Even the way he spoke over the speakers, issuing orders to his crew on the decks, followed a well rehearsed ritual. There was a calm there, an unassailable authority, and the sailors eagerly jumped to his word.
The ropes were being readied. On the freezer ship, a distant metallic voice over their public address was similarly barking orders. There too, you could see men scurrying to readiness.
It was oddly pleasant just coasting on in. It was smooth. And there was a promise in the air. It was a sunny day, with a beautiful sky, calm, and I was waiting to see who else was in. Buddies, friends, mates. Bar room chat and revelry. Wild stories and funny anecdotes.
The way we were just coasting, so well aimed, so beautifully under control, with the light beaming down on us, I marveled oddly at the slow pace. The peace. The contrast between the hectic, the frenetic, the insane, the wild pace of humanity, and this, the slow pace of steady, deliberate progress. It was as if my own pulse rate matched the pace of the ship. Steady. Calm. Under control. A far cry from some of the previous frenzy in my little life….

Over a period of several days, the arriving officialdom had reflected higher and higher Authority. I knew who the captain wanted to see. He told me. But he never asked. He waited. Patiently. For the King.
All the messengers, the Acolytes, even if they arrived haughtily and intent on making demands, left thoughtfully.
All were swayed to the Captain’s iron will. He took names, phone numbers, addresses. He pointed out that the problem needed to be solved, could be solved, and would be solved. He implied, quietly, that “services rendered ” would not be forgotten. Of course. But not a dollar changed hands… Not yet.
First, he had to meet the King. The Top Dog. The Minister responsible. The Head Man.
Then, perhaps, the rewards to those, further down the line, who had been of service. The rewards for those who had, in the words of the captain, “cooperated to solve this unfortunate problem “.
It was interesting how everybody who left, penniless, but very well aware that their name and address was on a list on the captain’s desk, was eager for “the problem to be resolved “. How much they now liked and respected the captain. How much they enjoyed his fine brandy. How much they realized that their own best interests were -indubitably- best served by aligning themselves with the iron determination of this extraordinary man from Taiwan. The man with the steel eyes, unruffled, unshakable.
The man -strangely- in complete control of the proceedings…

We were alongside now, and the first ropes were being hurled across. Expertly, the sailors twirled the ropes, which were weighted at the end with lead, by spinning them round and round. Then they would release them, with remarkable accuracy, and they would gracefully soar across the gap between the two ships. On the freezer ship, sailors would grab, catch, and reel in. Heavier cables would then be slowly hauled across…

Sitting quietly in a corner, carefully sipping a fine brandy, ostensibly there to assist with translation, I was well aware that I was there in two roles. The smaller role was as translator. To help with English. But by far the greater role was to observe, and afterwards confirm to the captain his remarkable “Big Head “. I was there to confirm and admit his brilliance, his mastery, his unique stage management abilities. Frankly, I was impressed. If it had been a symphony, and he the conductor, I would have applauded warmly. When the King inevitably, as per the Grand Plan, made an appearance, and was ushered in to the Captain’s cabin, I knew the End Game, the Grand Finale, was at hand…

The heavy, steel cables had now been successfully transferred. The winches roared into life. Slowly, steadily, inexorably, steel gathered in steel. The two ships, slowly, inch by weary inch, started to move closer together.
We were coming to the end of this particular journey. This particular, unique adventure on the High Seas. Soon we would be as conjoined twins, fastened at the hip, and there we would stay, for three or four days, whilst sweating crew men commenced the tedious task of transferring 700 tons of frozen tuna.
For the lucky few, the ship’s officers, and the helicopter pilot, there would be shore leave, and the opportunity to explore locally. Buy fresh fruit, visit the shops, and dine out. For most of the crew, being in port was an eighteen hour day.
Toiling, uncomplaining, until late at night. Under arc lights, winches, and the ominous creaking shadows of cranes and cables.

* * * * * *

The restaurant was part of a hotel. It was named the “Windjammer Hotel “, and, in its own way, was something of a classic. A local land mark. A watering hole that had been around for decades.
The main bar had a hand carved counter, which finished in a spectacular crocodile’s head, mouth splayed, teeth grimacing in a hungry scowl.
It was a large room, and as we entered, other diners were already being waited upon by busy waiters.
We paused, six men, the ship’s officers and the helicopter pilot, guests of the captain, who had promised us a hearty celebration of a stunningly successful three days fishing. The Captain, at the head of our little party, the unchallenged leader, was taking in the situation. Calculating. Assessing. Nobody was taking much notice of us. I guessed the Captain was about to adjust that situation…
I was a bystander once more, quietly amused, wondering how this great Manipulator, this man with the intense will power, would deal with this apparent neglect.
I did not have long to wait.
He erected himself to his full stature, all five foot zero inches, and positively bellowed the words:
“WHO Head Waiter? ”
A small little black National, harassed looking, unhappy, swiftly sidled up. He looked tired, beaten. He inquired politely if he could assist. I watched, with interest.
The Captain looked the man quietly full in the face. There was a pause. Direct eye contact. You could almost sense the electricity. The transmission of a powerful message: “I am special. Treat me well. It will go well with you. “
A few seconds went by. Now the Captain now had the harried man’s full attention. Undivided. Dedicated.
The Captain slowly smiled. A brisk fistful of crisp twenty dollar notes suddenly appeared by magic in front of the head waiter’s face. A juicy fistful. There was the best part of two hundred dollars cash there. Maybe more. The head waiter’s eyes opened wide. How much wages did that represent? Three months? More?
“Best table! Best waiter! Best service! Number One! Later, maybe many, many more dollar for you! “
The Captain inserted the bills into the man’s breast pocket, and stood there, magnificent, magnanimous, supreme.
I watched the eruption of activity. Waiters appeared from all directions, even deserting other tables. We were swiftly escorted to the best table, chairs were pulled out for us in a hurry, and a bevvy of waiters plied us with our every wish.
An empty glass had merely to be wafted in the air, and was speedily replenished. The Hotel manager materialized, and never left our side. And the best food, the best brandy, the best wine in the house, regardless of paltry cost, was served up at record speed. Here was a Captain who had caught 700 ton in three days. At $1,700 a ton, he had brought in 1.2 million dollars worth of catch. He wished for everybody to know it.

The evening ex-ploded into one mighty shin-dig. The party to end all parties. A rip roaring, very loud, good humored, paint the town red black an’ flippin’ purple, and ‘who is your granny anyway’ kind of riot. Thick, juicy steaks and roast chickens were disappearing down hungry gullets by the trolley load. Good wine and strong port were also taking their effect. Through an increasing haze, I marveled at how this man now controlled the room. The other guests, robbed of their pre-eminence, far from exhibiting irritation, were quickly wooed by our Captain. He explained to everybody the details of his success, his “new record “. He bought everybody drinks, was charming to the ladies, and made the men laugh. Even as earlier diners were leaving, they came by our table to drink our captain’s good health, and thank him for his delightful company. Even the shipping agent, alerted by his spies no doubt, was quick to the scene. The Captain graciously bade him pull up a chair, and soon he too was part of the raucous party….

It was the Minister for Fisheries who had arrived on board eventually. A well dressed, quiet, thoughtful man.
I was once again asked in, to occupy my usual seat in the corner. Sipping a good brandy, I watched the proceedings unfold.
The ship owner was there, and the unfortunate captain. For the benefit of his powerful ministerial visitor, the Captain proceeded to slam the unfortunate captain and the equally unhappy ship owner. In no uncertain circumstances, he read them both the riot act. The Minister looked on, quietly. Both the defendants sat there, silently, heads bowed, penitents, the accused, miserable worms, placing the power of judgment in our Captain. Once the tongue lashing was over, they were curtly dismissed. They bowed obsequiously to both the Captain and the Minister. But even then, in a quick glance from the ship owner to the Captain, as the former was ushered out the door, I sensed…. the choreography. It was all an act.
A show… A high stakes performance, with a twelve million dollar pot.
The door had closed, and I had watched the Captain unwind the tension. Now he was buddies with the Minister. They were on the same side. There was much head shaking. A mutual agreement that the errant captain had been a stupid fool. A poacher, who deserved to be caught. All that remained now, was to settle the price. Keep everybody happy. Even the irate villagers. And the endless procession of minor players. Now there were smiles, even laughter. More brandy was consumed, more good fellowship was applied. Fine foods were brought in, and cigar smoke curled up to the ceiling. They were buddies now, friends, who would do more business together in the future. More mutually profitable business…

We were singing now. And I was dancing on the table with the Chief Engineer. The captain was applauding enthusiastically. I think we were singing an Irish Rebel Song. Or I was singing, and he was following on with a Chinese baritone, copying the unfamiliar words as best he could. It gave a strange stereo effect, which seemed to hugely entertain the audience. The Hotel Manager stood there, beaming, a drinks trolley at the ready…

As I was going over,
the Cork and Kerry mountains
I met with Captain Farrel and
his money he was counting…

A while later I remember I was trying to see if I could stick my head in the carved crocodile’s mouth, mounted at the end of the bar. I think I’d stopped singing at that stage. I’m not sure though. Or was it a dragon? I wasn’t sure of that either, but it seemed very important that I should see if my head fitted or not. The Radio Operator was there as well, standing in the queue, waiting to see if maybe his head, smaller than mine would fit…

I first produced my saber
and then I aimed my pistol
saying “Stand and deliver!
For I am a Bold Deceiver… “

The Hotel was making a fortune, and some of the finer drinks on the trolley cost ten bucks a pop. They didn’t care what we did, as long as we kept on eating and drinking. Short of burning the Hotel down, we could do no wrong. We were now dancing the Conga, my crazy idea, with all the hotel guests, and the waiters joining in. The bar tender was beaming, from ear to ear. The Captain had already shoved a hundred dollars his way, with a promise of more… The Captain’s control was one hundred per cent.

The atmosphere in the cabin was now relaxed, informal. Friendly. Gone was the icy sarcasm with which the errant captain and ship owner had been flogged. It was just the three of us now. When the pleasantries were finished, and the bonding had taken place, and the mutual interests were agreed upon… the safe was opened. And the money was counted out. In different piles, ranging from very big to small…
I lost count. It was a lot. Cash. It filled one very large envelope. And lots of smaller ones. Was it a hundred thousand? More? I wasn’t sure. But the Minister was beaming. The Captain was also happy. The problem of the impounded ship, in danger of permanent confiscation, was being solved. For a relative pittance. Carefully negotiated down, with charm, resolve, and an eerie insight into human psychology. The man was a genius…

I was back at the dining table, full, sated, supremely satisfied. I was having a problem standing, let alone dancing, so it seemed safer just to stay seated. The Captain was entertaining everybody. He turned to me.
“Moggy! “
“Yes, Captain? “
“Moggy, you get me two girls… beautiful girls! “
He flashed me two fingers. It looked like four, but two of them were kind of blurred.
Everybody looked at me. I was being charged with a sacred mission.
I thought about his imperious request. I knew his taste for women. In Guam, I had seen him with remarkably beautiful girls. Expensive girls. He had offered me my own. I had always politely declined. Now he wanted me to organize him two girls.
“Captain! I am your hu-helicopter pilot, not your pu-pimp! You ge-get your own girls! “
He looked at me, trying to summon a stern look. The ship’s officers squirmed uncomfortably. I returned his stare with alcohol fueled, somewhat giddy defiance. The room was doing funny things. Swaying…
His face relaxed. Instead, he shook his head sadly.
“Moggy! Punn-tann! Stupid! No good! “
I remained defiant. He was amused. He knew my sensibilities. It was more of a teasing. He delighted in poking fun at my values. I could see it in his eyes.
“Waiter! “
Instantly a watchful waiter was at his side. The captain repeated his order, and the waiter nodded. A fistful of dollars changed hands, several hundred bucks, and the little waiter disappeared. I knew some families got by in the local barter economy on as little as a hundred dollars cash a year, and I wondered what kind of star buying power the captain’s greenbacks would command.
The party continued, unabated, and not fifteen minutes later, the waiter returned with “two girls “.

I gasped quietly. Oh, the visions of loveliness…
I couldn’t help my thoughts.
Hell, you guys redefine butt UGLY….
They were older women, carrying a “pronounced surplus of body fat “, with heavy jowls. They probably weighed in at close to two hundred pounds each. I guessed it was the old coconut diet problem. The milk of the coconut, and the white flesh, are notoriously rich in calories. It seemed that all the young, pretty girls, quickly grew up into truly massive ladies. This pair almost had hair on their teeth, in addition to the facial hair. Not to mention the wavy nostril branches…

“A fine lassie ” by David Friel

They had obviously been chewing betelnut, a mild narcotic. Their teeth were stained red. As they attempted to smile seductively, I sure wished to hell they wouldn’t. It was like the smile of a long dead, recently awakened, over cheerful vampire. The captain weighed a hundred and ten pounds, perhaps. A worry crossed my mind. If one of them hopped on top of him, bless us, he’d smother to death. And he was going to tackle two of them…!!?
I looked at the biceps on the one Madam, and surmised she could land a haymaker on any man if she was so inclined.
The only thing missing was a Swastika tattoo…
Feeling guilty, I tried really hard to extinguish my uncharitable and singularly unChristian thoughts. I’m a frustrated idealist, and I try to be a Kind Spirit. A well meaning sort of fool. I don’t approve of prostitution. It undermines local cultures. It shows a dis-respect on some level. It’s not a good thing. But I really…. despite my best efforts… just couldn’t help observing that these Female Juggernauts were so far removed from the captain’s usual high class taste, that it was hard to find words to describe the screaming disparity.
I looked at him, studying his reaction. I half expected him to decline. Recoil in horror. Me, I would have run a frantic, quaking mile, and gone into hiding. I’d still be quaking…

The little waiter stood there, beaming, flanked by the two waiting Buxom Behemoths. Probably his aunts.
From his happy demeanour,you’d think he’d located Miss Australia and Miss Taiwan.
To my taste, it was more like he’d located the Blubber Brigade. Intent on making an easy pile of bucks. I wondered if they had left their walking canes outside the door. At least they’d remembered to put their dentures in.
Holy smokes…
I could see the Captain studying them closely, expertly, as only a true connoisseur of Fine Art can.
His face showed no expression. I wondered what was going through his mind. What was the Master thinking?

I held my breath, curiously awaiting the outcome of his silent inner deliberations…

(to be continued)

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 6, 2014, 12:06 pm

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