Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

11 Oct

Another excerpt from my comic (and wildly exaggerated) novel about my years as a journalist in the shipping industry:

[The New York head office] decided that we all needed to work harder, so [they] created a couple of other incidental publications, in addition to [our]quarterly high-tech supplement and the regular weekly magazine.  One of the new publications focused on updating information about the smokestacks on freight ships, called Ship Stacks of the West Coast, which Derek immediately christened Shit Stacks of the West Coast.

“Who reads this crap?” I moaned to Derek. “Who really cares what ship stacks look like?”

“Well, it’s important to people who need to identify ships at sea—the Coast Guard, for example, and the vessel charter market.”

Oh, Christ, the vessel charter market.

That was a whole ‘nother aspect of the industry, a dark, mysterious, and inscrutable corner of it. The only person we knew who seemed to understand it was an elderly, stooped-over, barely sentient gentleman named Hal Aikens, who lived in a senior group home somewhere out in the Avenues.

Hal delivered an exhaustive vessel chartering report, called Freights and Charters, to Derek on a weekly basis. It was virtually incomprehensible, written in an obscure jargon that neither Derek nor I nor anyone else we knew could really decipher.

However, we never got any complaints from readers about Freights and Charters, so Derek assumed that Hal knew what he was writing about, and kept running the report, week after week, year after year. All Derek did was correct any obvious spelling errors and format it for publication. It used up space in the magazine, if nothing else.

Also, Derek was fond of parodying Hal’s bizarre reporting style mercilessly when the spirit moved him. He called the parody report Farts and Chowders, and it usually went something like this:

“Yo’mama Is A-Ho Consolidators took the 70,000-tonner M. V. Pastafazoo with delivery at Oakland for a time-charter trip across the Bay, at a daily rate of $50,000, plus a ballast bonus of $1 million. The charterers listed their cargo as empty inflated burlap sacks.

 “Meanwhile, Bastinado Corp. paid the 27,135-deadweight tonnage M. V. Brokedick $4,500 per day for a trip from Japan via Australia to somewhere unspecified, any continent, with option return to Earth.”

I pointed out once, with some justification, that Derek’s tongue-in-cheek chartering reports actually made more sense than Hal’s real ones.

This was borne out by actual events, as we discovered when an issue of the West Coast Weekly Shipper was mistakenly published with Farts and Chowders instead of the real thing.  This happened when Derek’s private Veri-Typer files mysteriously got mixed-up with his regular magazine files, an incident which he suspected was a lovely parting gift from [a disgruntled employee].

No one in our readership even noticed the parody version of Freights and Charters when it ran.

In fact, a couple of people called Derek wanting to know how they could locate the chartering company that handled the M. V. Brokedick, and Derek was forced to tell the callers that the ship had just been unfortunately sent out for scrapping.

“There are people out there in our reading audience who believe that a ship called the Brokedick actually exists,” Derek mused. “I find that terrifying on so many different levels.”

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