Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Scofflaw

Captain Ray Iacabacci appeared on the bridge of the Comet with an armful of bottles.  An unlicensed seaman nicknamed Wash followed him, talking constantly and apologizing repeatedly.  As Captain Icky and Wash turned to go out on the port bridge wing, I followed them to see what was going on.  As they reached the side of the ship, Captain Icky relaxed his arm-hold on all the bottles and started pitching them into the sea far below.  One by one they dropped into the water with a splash and were left behind to sink in the Comet’s wake.  Wash became silent and appeared grief-stricken as he watched his treasures leave his possession forever.  Whiskey, gin, rum, cognac, vodka, wine, and a few beer chasers all went to their final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic.

When the deed was done, Captain Icky stood up straight and spoke sternly to his subordinate:  “That takes care of that.  I won’t do anything else about it this time.  Just don’t ever bring any more of that stuff on board again!”

Wash replied, “Yes suh, Cap’n.  Ah mean, no suh, Cap’n.  Ah won’t do that no more, Cap’n.  Ah’ve learned mah lesson, Cap’n.  Ah promise Ah’ll be good, Cap’n.  Thank yah, Cap’n.”  He bowed and backed away submissively as he spoke.  Captain Icky grunted a dismissal at him and then both men left the bridge.  No official record of this disciplinary action was made; the offender received only a verbal reprimand and suffered the loss of his liquor.  Captain Icky had administered justice with mercy.

Such was Captain Icky’s way.  A gruff but good-natured man, he was always willing to give an offender a second chance, but he wanted the culprit to learn a lesson in the process.  In this case, it worked very well.  Demonstrating that “he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (Prov. 12:15), Wash never caused any trouble again.  In a subsequent case with a different and less contrite personality, however, Captain Icky’s good nature was put to the test.

The Comet loaded military vehicles in New Orleans and then sailed for San Lorenzo, Honduras, via the Panama Canal.  Moored to a concrete pier that extended into the water from an immense jungle, the ship was unloaded by her own deck crewmen assisted by American Army personnel stationed in the area.  Because it was a high-priority cargo, the unloading continued without respite long into the night.  Most of the crew worked overtime to get everything ashore so the Comet could sail again in the morning.  A few of the fellows were able to take a couple of hours off and go into town, but most of them returned promptly and reported that there was nothing in the town that was worth seeing, let alone spending money on.  One of them lingered in the town bar, however.  His shipmates tried to convince him to return to the Comet with them, for they sensed that trouble was brewing.  But demonstrating that “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,” (Prov. 12:15), he did not heed their counsel.

This fellow was an able seaman.  His name was difficult to pronounce, so it was often just slurred into Go Bell.  He was not a bad person, but he had a few bad habits which did not endear him to his colleagues.  Many of them found one habit in particular extremely irritating.  Quite simply, Go Bell talked too much.  He talked at people instead of to them, and he talked with affected authority and knowledge on all subjects, including the operation of the ship.  Whatever anyone else said, including his boss, Go Bell would top it.  He always knew more and knew better than everyone else.  Cynics would wonder aloud, “If he’s so smart, why doesn’t he have a Master’s license?”  He never took anyone’s advice, and he certainly never heeded the oft-repeated advice to just shut up and stop irritating others.  It was predicted that sooner or later his big mouth would get him into trouble, and in San Lorenzo, it did.

Around midnight aboard the Comet, the bosun asked Captain Icky if he could have a few of the men help him rig the heavy lift gear.  There were several oversize and overweight items stowed forward on the main deck, and they needed to go ashore.  Captain Icky was conferring with the bosun about this operation when Go Bell returned to the ship and interrupted them.

A kind stranger had rescued Go Bell and brought him back to the Comet in a taxi.  He explained what had happened.  After his shipmates had left the bar, Go Bell became the lone merchant seaman among a large group of Army men.  The only other people there were the bartenders and some young ladies who were soliciting the servicemen’s interest in additional recreational activities.  The prettiest of these girls became the center of several men’s attention, including Go Bell’s, and a dispute arose.  Go Bell made the mistake of claiming the young lady for himself while remarking to the Army men who outnumbered him on their comparative lack of intelligence and virility.  These comments were not well received, and the dispute escalated into a brawl.  Enraged by the invectives that Go Bell had directed at them, the Army men attacked him savagely.  This sober Good Samaritan intervened and dragged Go Bell out of the place after he had been knocked unconscious and likely prevented him from being beaten to death.

By the time Go Bell arrived back aboard the Comet, he had regained consciousness and was able to walk with difficulty.  All of us who saw him were horrified by his appearance.  His face, neck, and arms were covered with bruises and dried blood.  Over his left eye was a mass of black and blue the size and shape of a baseball.  This growth oozed blood and pus and enlarged to the point of forcing the eye shut and blocking his vision.  This was the spot where he had been hit by the swinging barstool which had knocked him unconscious.  Captain Icky took one look at him and ordered him to go back ashore to the local hospital.  Insulted by this unsympathetic no-nonsense greeting, Go Bell refused.  Instead, he went to his quarters and got in bed.

Captain Icky, the chief mate, the bosun, and three or four other seamen were having some difficulty with the heavy lift gear.  This was delaying the discharge of the main deck cargo, annoying some high-ranking Army officers who were waiting impatiently on the pier, and threatening the ship’s scheduled sailing time.  Into the middle of this problem had stumbled the badly beaten up Go Bell.  Captain Icky, already anxious and now angered by this new development, dispatched the chief mate to Go Bell’s bedside to clean up his wounds while the rest of them got the heavy lift gear working.  The mate returned after only a few minutes.  Go Bell had refused his treatment as well.

When the heavy lift gear finally became operational, Captain Icky left the bosun in charge of using it to unload the cargo.  Next, concerned with the possible repercussions of Go Bell’s adventures ashore, an uncharacteristically infuriated Captain Icky went to the gangway watchman and instructed him to make an entry in the logbook describing Go Bell’s condition when he arrived back at the ship and recording his refusal to accept medical attention.  In the event that Go Bell decided to file a grievance or initiate litigation after he had sobered up, Captain Icky wanted the proper documentation to hold the Comet, her officers, and her owner immune from liability.

The Comet sailed from San Lorenzo the next day.  She proceeded up the West Coast of North America, stopped at two American ports, and then went transpacific and stopped at several ports in the Far East.  Along the way Go Bell’s injuries gradually healed.  The large souvenir over his eye took the longest time to clear up; vestiges of it remained well over a month later.  The most remarkable difference, however, was the silence.  Go Bell acquired the new habit of simply doing his work without the constant talk and pretense of superiority that had long irritated his colleagues.  He seemed to have learned his lesson.  Then the Comet arrived in Pusan, South Korea.     

Once again, the Comet was delivering an Army cargo, and numerous Army personnel came aboard the ship after she arrived in Pusan.  Among these were two young men with a dog.  They came along with a special request after the ship had been docked for a few days.  They explained that their dog had recently completed training in contraband detection and that she needed some real-life experience in sniffing out such things as illegal drugs.  They asked if Captain Icky would mind if they took the dog on an inspection of the Comet for this purpose.  Captain Icky had no objections.  He welcomed them aboard but advised them, “You fellows are wasting your time here.  No one in this crew is involved with illegal drugs.  You won’t find anything on this ship.”

One of the third mates led the way as the two Army men and the dog toured the Comet’s public rooms, work spaces, and crew accommodations.  Just when it seemed that Captain Icky’s prediction would come true, the dog latched onto something in one of the crew accommodation areas.  The third mate called for the chief mate, and the chief mate called for Captain Icky.  They investigated the location of the dog’s discovery and found a package of marijuana in Go Bell’s belongings.

Captain Icky was not pleased by this turn of events.  Not only did he sternly disapprove of the use of illegal drugs, but he had been made to look foolish in front of the two Army men and their dog.  He was not the vindictive type, but if he were inclined to let the incident blow over, he could not.  The Army knew about this now.  There were procedures to be followed.  Questions would be asked and reports would be filed.  As he told Go Bell, “There’s nothing I can do for you now.  You have to go back to the office, and somebody there will decide.”  The next day, then, Go Bell was paid off the Comet and sent to Seoul by rail and then to New York by air.  Simply stated, he was fired from his job aboard ship, and it remained to be determined if he would be fired from the company altogether.  And we all thought that he had learned his lesson half the world away in Honduras.

In many General Conferences of the Church the counsel has been given that while people are free to choose their actions, they often are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.  In other words, the results often lie beyond people’s control.  Go Bell is a good case in point.  He chose to be antagonistic toward his shipmates, but they chose to be patient and not react to his provocation.  In the bar in San Lorenzo, Go Bell chose to drink too much, to participate in the dispute over the girl, and to hurl invectives at the Army men.  The resulting brawl in which the Army men beat him up so badly was a consequence not of Go Bell’s choosing but one that he nonetheless brought on himself by his actions.  Similarly, the dog’s discovery of his marijuana in Pusan was a consequence that Go Bell did not choose, but a result that arose from his choosing to do drugs.  In every case Go Bell chose his actions, but someone else chose the consequences, and whether favorable or unfavorable to him, they remained largely beyond his control.

In a world full of beauty and opportunity and interesting things to see and do and experience, I’ve long wondered why someone would want to repeatedly impair his intelligence and pollute his health by overdosing on mind-clouding chemicals such as alcohol and marijuana, among others.  As with so many of the popular vices, the desired pleasant effects wear off after a short while, but the undesired unpleasant consequences last much longer.  Furthermore, there are so many better things that people can do with their minds and bodies and so much greater good that people can accomplish when they remain unimpaired by these demonic concoctions.  As Shakespeare so artfully expressed it,

What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason!  How infinite in faculty!  In form and moving how express and admirable!  In action how like an angel!  In apprehension how like a god!  The beauty of the world!  The paragon of animals!1    

President Gordon B. Hinckley made this same point more directly at a youth meeting:

I hope nobody here is on drugs.  How foolish can you be to take illegal drugs, really?  They do not help you in any way.  They hurt you.  They make you poor and weak.  They shorten your life.  They take away your control of yourself.  What a crazy thing to do, really, when all is said and done.         

The Lord has blessed us with these wonderful bodies, these wonderful minds, these things with which we think.  What a marvelous thing is a human mind.  How wonderful it is.  I put a record on my phonograph the other evening—one of Beethoven’s concertos.  I do not know anything about Beethoven. But I know that out of the genius of that mind came something really tremendous and wonderful.  The human mind—what it can do!  Your minds—don’t cloud them with drugs.2

President Hinckley hastened to add, however, that for those who have stumbled there is a second chance, that one can make a fresh start and do better:  “Get hold of yourself, get control of yourself.  Stop it, and seek help.”3  In the same way that Captain Icky had given Wash a second chance after throwing his cache of hard liquor overboard, the Lord gives all of us many second chances to not only “stop it, and seek help” but also to live up to our potential as his “piece of work” which he has made the “beauty of the world.”  He wants us to live like angels and not demons.

1 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II:ii:310-313.
2 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Denver, Colorado, Stake Youth Meeting,” April 14, 1996, in Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume I, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004.
3 Ibid.

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