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by OPOVV, ©2019

Photo: skeeze at Pixabay

(Jun. 8, 2019) — The sun just set on a balmy June night in the middle of nowhere, literally, about 3 miles due east of the China-Vietnamese border. We’re on the foc’sle of a WWII destroyer that had her keel laid in 1945, laid to rest in ’46, resurrected in ’50, mothballed in ’55 and, again, brought back to life in ‘62, just in time for Vietnam. We’re snooping around just to see the reaction of the natives if they should spot us. Legally we’re in International Waters, but pirates and other lawbreakers don’t bother with laws and we sure as heck don’t trust the Chinese as far as, well, let me just say as far as it goes. There’s a few sailors just lazing around so what do you say we join them and see what’s up?

 “Evening, gents.”

“Hey, how you doin’, Sparks, Sir? You promise to let me know if you ever pick up WABC?”

“Rain or shine. Had WLS for a spell; all excited about some insect group.”

“Ah, who cares about Chicago, anyway; bunch of hicks. Now you take New York City, the city that never sleeps. Why, you can get anything you want at any time, night or day.”

“Pizza for breakfast with a malted?”

“Any kind of pizza; maybe you want Sicilian with anchovies.”

“Who in the heck ever heard of fish on a pizza; why, it’s sacrilegious, and if you’re a Catholic I bet they disbar you for a month, but they’ll still expect the weekly offering.”

“You mean ‘excommunicate’ you.”

“What I mean is that fish, any fish, has no business being on a pie. Whoever heard of such a thing. Next there’ll be pineapples and chocolate chip cookies.”


“I hope we go back to Hong Kong; what do you think, Sparks?”

“I think if we don’t get sunk or taken prisoner we’ll make it back. I’ll say this: these waters give me the creeps. I wish I knew how to speak Chinese; then maybe I could tell you more.”

“What we cruising at, 3 knots?”

“Five; slow-enough maneuver so as not to cut a fishing boat in half but fast enough to not be recognized.”

“So we’re not flying any colors?”

“None; so what’s the big discussion tonight?”



“Hold on: what’s that over to port, about 10 o’clock?”

“Don’t move a muscle and don’t make a sound. It’s a Chinese destroyer sneaking around, probably stealing whatever they can from unlucky Vietnamese fishermen. They’ll probably think we’re doing the same, so let’s not give them anything to wonder about. By the way, is Gunner’s mate Johnson on the aft 5?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Photo: alles at Pixabay

“Then we can bet our next liberty that he’s got a bead on that destroyer’s bridge. Let’s hope they don’t want any more hassle than we do. Feels like we’re speeding up and making it out to sea; no, we’re making a 180. You know what? We’re lucky to have a captain that can think on his feet. I bet we’ll lay back awhile and then slowly fade away so as not to raise suspicion, for whatever reason.”

“Getting back to Hong Kong.”

“Yes, after we finish here we’re going back for a little R&R for a whole ten days.”

“Hot dog. So, about what we were discussing: what’s it all about?”

“You mean why are we here? The war?”

“No, well, maybe that’s part of it. But why are we even here? I mean, why even have a universe, if you get what I mean.”

“It’s a question that’s been asked for thousands of years around countless campfires and especially by sailors because, face it, there’s no better view of the heavens than from the middle of the ocean. I sure as heck don’t have the answer, and I doubt if anybody ever did or ever will. Maybe we humans will never figure it out, so the safe bet would be to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who taught us the Golden Rule, and let it go at that.”

“I hate to bring this up, Sir, but didn’t you just get divorced because your wife cheated on you?”

“Yes, and it was a real bummer: I never cheated on her and it was quite a major disappointment to learn that we didn’t share the one basic value that’s more sacred than any other.”

“What would that be, Sir?”

“Trust; it’s the main event of civilization; it’s the cornerstone of success; it’s the keystone that holds it all together, because without trust we’re right back in the Stone Age, but driving fast cars. We refuse to accept the number of deaths caused by war but we don’t bat an eye when the same number die on our highways every year. Go figure.

“So we’re supposed to get along with everybody?”

“Not quite: if someone steps on your toes you set the record straight, which is why America got over here in the first place. I can see the writing on the wall and it bodes ill for the the draftees who are going to learn the hard way what the word ‘expendable’ really means.”

“Gee, you paint a rather dim picture.”

“Not at all. It just looks like I made a bad choice; it happens, like I’m not the first cuckold husband. What do you say we hit the hay; tomorrow’s going to be another busy day. And Sanders? Whenever I can catch WABC bouncing off the ionosphere I’ll send for you. Goodnight, all.”

Choruses of ‘Goodnight, Sir’ are heard as the men saunter away. Well, we just heard a discussion that’s been repeated a zillion times by men of every navy and in every language since we’ve been sailing the seas. Do we have the answer to it all? Does anybody? Maybe we’re not even asking the right questions; who knows? Goodnight.

Stranger on the Shore” (3:00)


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