I sat on the bench at the West end of the docks, looking out to sea, and watched the ships pass by. Occasionally I went there to free my spirit from the arrhythmic tides of city life. The horizon of the sea promises adventure beyond, and distant ships sail away.
The guffaw of gulls interrupted my pelagic reverie for a moment, and I noticed an old man approaching. He looked the quintessential mariner, an old salt in dungarees, a peacoat with the collar up, a watch cap, and augmented by a pipe extending from an aged, frowzy beard. As he came closer I noticed the deep wrinkle lines in his face, and his hands; aged by a long, nautical life. I thought, this is surely Davy Jones himself, and I must be well underway into a Melvillian mist. I can tell you that I was rather taken aback when he chose to sit on the bench next to me.
After a moment of silence, in which my imagination billowed, the old man spoke.
His voice was aged, and cracked, but not so much as mine when I nervously replied.
“Have you been waiting long”?
I was again taken aback; what was he asking me.
“I don’t understand,” I replied.
“It won’t be too much longer.” He continued. “I bring you tidings.”
“Who, may I ask, are you?”
“You have already imagined a name for me, am I correct? You want to call me Melville, or Ahab, or Nemo, or maybe Popeye. Call me Pops, for now.”
“Okay, Pops, but how do you know me?”
“I was born a hundred thousand years ago, and there is nothing that I don’t know.” He began his story. “I saw Peter, Paul, and Moses playing ring around the roses, and I can thrash the man who says it isn’t so.”
Cautiously, having heard these lyrics before, I interposed, “It’s a lie, it’s a lie.”
The old mariner gave me a sideways glance with a twinkle in his eye, and then grunted, “Ship ahoy, ship ahay, ship ahy.”
Another brief moment of silence passed, then he spoke again, “It won’t be too much longer. Your ship is coming in. Oh, it will not be laden with loot. That’s a dreamer’s myth. Your ship is coming. Look out there.” His old hand shook as he motioned at the horizon. “Beyond the horizon there are marvelous, new worlds. Enjoy this berth, for it is a port-o-call. Be kind and loving and all will be well. You are, and shall be, your captain.”
“Pops…” I started to speak, but the old mariner stood and walked slowly away; gradually just faded away. I heard his voice drift off into the briny spume, “I’ve sailed the seven seas, and sniffed the salty breeze, but I never, never, never saw a mermaid.”
The guffaw of the gulls piped like a rowdy shanty, and awakened me. Sometimes I rather like my afternoon naps.