The Fool And The Boat


Seven year old little Nell came into the kitchen in tears. “Daddy” she cried, “Sally is mean to me.”

“Come and tell your father what happened” I said, as she crawled up on my lap nearly up-ending my mid-morning coffee.

“Sally said that if I would, sob, ride with her on her bike that we could go, sob, to the playground by the school and watch them put up the rides for the, sob, carnival and they had animals and we could look at them and, sob, and everything and she got tired so I pedaled the bike and I pedaled as, sob, hard as I could ’cause I wanted to see the animals, you know how much I love, sob, animals, don’t you Daddy? sob, and when we got there she, sob, jumped off the bike and told me to watch it so nobody takes it and, sob, she’s older so I remembered that I’m supposed to obey older people and I was,sob, so good and watched the bike and she was gone a long time and came, sob, back and said we had to go home ’cause she had to go to a, sob, party and she saw everything and I pedaled so hard and I never, sob, get to see anything and she saw the animals Daddy, sob, sob, sob.”

“Consolidate yourself Nell” I told her, trying rather unsuccessfully to hide my amusement at her righteous indignation. “let me tell you a little story and you’ll forget all about it.” Little Nell said that would be allright but that she hoped it wouldn’t be one of my “lesson” stories because she didn’t want to learn anything right now. I told her that I know a story about a boat and that it would be exciting and full of adventures. And then I told her my “lesson” story about the Fool and the Boat.

Once upon about half-past three in the afternoon,(Nell insisted that I be specific as to time. She said that “once upon a time” is for babies and besides, it always means that it’s a “lesson” story) there was a boy who lived near the sea. Everyday he looked out at the big boats in the water and dreamed that one day, if he played his cards right…

“What’s played his cards right mean Daddy?”

“Uh, you know, was a good boy and didn’t screw things up.”

“Oh”

Now where was I…oh, well he thought that he would be a great sea captain and have his own ship. Well, after his parents died, he was taken in to live with a very rich uncle who gave him his very own boat when he turned eighteen years old.

” How did they die daddy?”

“Who?”

“The boy’s parents!”

“Oh God! I don’t… um, the three bears ate them I guess!”

“Daddy!!”

“What”

“But the three bears are good and wouldn’t eat anybody’s parents!”

“Oh, well, uh, this was way before they got into show business, I mean, books. They had a pretty checkered background you know.”

“What’s checkered, Daddy?”

“Things aren’t always as they seem, Nell, now no more interruptions and let me tell the story.”

And so the boy became old enough to be a man and he became a sea captain with his own ship and everything. He had only one problem. He had never bothered to learn anything about sailing a ship. He had a shiny telescope, a captain’s hat and a uniform covered in bright medals, but he didn’t know a porthole from a keel. And so he sat in the tavern on the wharf and bought everyone food and rum with the money that the rich uncle had given him until he found a poor sailor who had been at sea all of his life and knew the ocean and everything in it.

“Come sail my ship for me.” he said to the poor sailor.

“And what will you give me in return?” asked the poor sailor.

“Ah, you will share my dream of sailing all over the world and we will have adventures and riches.” replied the captain.

And so they set off on a journey of adventure on the seven seas. The poor sailor was happy because the captain gave him new clothes, a warm bunk and plenty to eat and drink. They became friends and had many adventures together. The captain wanted to learn how to sail his boat and asked the sailor to teach him. But when he realized how much there was to learn and how hard he would have to work, he decided to let the sailor do the sailing and he would do the captaining. “Think of this ship as your own” said the captain, “because as long as I have this ship, we are in this together.” And so the years passed.

One day, They saw a sail on the horizon. As the ship drew closer, her captain called over, ” Ahoy! My, that is a beautiful ship you have, captain.”

“Thank you, will you join us for lunch?” the captain answered. And so the two captains had lunch…which was served by the crew, which of course, consisted of the once poor sailor, who stood dutifully by as the two captains became friends.

“Who is this sailor you have here sailing your ship for you?” the second captain asked. “He doesn’t seem to know what he is doing.”

“But he is my friend,” the first captain replied. “And we have had many adventures together.”

“That will never do.” said the second captain. “You can’t be friends with your crew. You should throw him overboard. I think that I saw him sneak some of your best wine. Yes, you would be wise to get rid of him before he causes you any further trouble. I’m a captain like you and only captains know about these things.”

And so the first captain allowed the crew of the second ship to throw the sailor overboard. But now that he was all alone, the captain did not know the first thing of how to sail his own ship. “What shall I do now?” he asked the second captain.

“Don’t worry, you are with friends” the second captain said. “Let me have one of my men sail your ship for you and everything will be alright.”

That night, the captain was himself thrown overboard and the two ships sailed away over the horizon. The captain had just enough strength to swim to a small island and was glad to see that his old friend, the poor sailor had washed ashore there in the night. And there they lived out the rest of their days, never saying another word to each other.

But the question is…which one was the fool?

“Oh Daddy! It was a lesson story wasn’t it?”

“Well, yes. I guess it is Nell.”

“But what does it mean daddy?”

“It means that when Sally tells you she will give you a ride to see the animals and you do all the work and then she expects you to watch her bike for her, and then dumps you for a party, you should have walked straight home.”

“But daddy, what if someone had stolen her bike?”

“Oh Christ Nell! Fuck the bike! It wasn’t yours anyway!”

“Mommy, Daddy said ‘fuck’ again.”