Lost Journal: Pale Pirates Infiltrate the Tall Ships

Journal entry: July 14, 1984 (age 15) – Tall Ships

I squinted ahead, along the slowly snaking line of people. The line looked long enough to be waiting for a half-off sale on Cabbage Patch Dolls. Worse, the sun was beating down on me like I was a redheaded… well, me. My parents, my brother, Dan, and I had driven from Binghamton to Rochester yesterday and we’re staying with my Uncle Dick and Aunt Helen Moehlmann. We’re here to see the Tall Ships sailing in the Port of Rochester. Apparently, every other family in upstate New York had the same idea, so waiting for a tour of one of the docked vessels was taking forever.

In my dad’s office at home, there’s a framed print showing the Tall Ships that came to New York Harbor as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. “Operation Sail,” as it was called, was eight years ago, and since then, I’ve always wanted to see at least a few of the majestic ships on the open water. But now all I wanted was an open water bottle. Dan looked even more overheated and miserable, presumably because he had no interest in this “bunch of old boats” in the first place.

My father and Uncle Dick were Phi Mu Delta fraternity brothers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. They are both engineers – Dad at IBM and Uncle Dick at Kodak. To them, an overly long wait in line is not an inconvenience to be tolerated. It is a design flaw to be solved. Uncle Dick had been surveying the situation for several minutes when he announced the results of a logistical and ethical formula he had just worked out.

“Most of the people in this line are much younger than us,” he said, indicating Aunt Helen and my folks. “We shouldn’t have to wait in line in the hot sun behind all these able-bodied young people.” Then, as if to underline his point, he lit a cigarette. In a conspiratorial huddle, he whispered something to the other three adults. The line we were standing in was paralleled by a continuous row of temporary tents, behind which staff and volunteers were staffing and volunteering. Uncle Dick nodded toward a gap in the wall of the nearest tent. It was obviously intended for use by people who weren’t us.

Surprisingly, it was my mom who first walked purposefully toward the opening. She apparently had had enough of this male-oriented excursion. Uncle Dick, acting as the rear guard of this scouting maneuver, sort of backed his way through the gap. A moment later, just his hand reappeared, motioning for the rest of us to follow. Aunt Helen went next, as quickly and confidently as my mother. Finally, Dad clapped one hand on my shoulder and the other on Dan’s and firmly steered us toward the tent.

On the other side, there was a clear shot to a ramp onto the ship. As we walked briskly forward, Dad noted that no historical recreation of the era of sailing ships would be complete without some pirates, or at least stowaways. Still, as we budged past a crowd that numbered in the thousands, I felt a little guilty. I did not, however, feel sunburned. Perhaps the gene that deprived my family of melanin also gave us a predilection toward moral relativism.

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Buy your copy of "Lost Journal - the Book" at www.timmollen.com. Each Lost Journal column is a journal entry written in retrospect. In other words, Mollen chooses a different day from his past, and writes about it as though it were today. The date may be last week, Halloween 1980, or the day he was born (May 4, 1969). Some of you may be asking, “But how would he have been able to write a journal entry on the day he was born?” To you he says: “Lighten up. It’s a humor column.” Mollen is a nationally syndicated columnist and actor, and he is available as a speaker on writing and humor.

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