Last Saturday, our family reenacted our own version of The Caine Mutiny. No strawberries, no ball bearings only a trip to the recycling center. That trip became the focal point of much drama.
Earlier in the day, we’d worked the fine crew of the USS Sturgeon at the reverse vending machines over in Portland. The lure of the return deposit offered in Oregon found our ship of intrepid adventurers sailing across the river driven by the promise of monetary return. Sadly, return deposit isn’t what it used to be.
No longer any dime-cash-redemption-valued cans or bottles, everything has been relegated to “Nickle Island.” The cold wind, the other seekers of bottle redemption and the general unsanitary unpleasantness of the job itself affected crew morale. While Captain Andy and I are used to the realities of work our younger crew members don’t have the experience “working the seas” that the captain and I have.
Their percentage of the booty was not as great as they anticipated and we began our return voyage in a somber mood that soon turned into an ugly one. We announced that upon docking at our home port, we would load up the recyclables and make a quick trip to the nearby recycling center before calling our day complete. The crew did not react well to this announcement. They did not want to ship our again so soon. And, the recycling center. . . well it might has well have been the Gates of Hell.
It wasn’t long and I discovered how easy it is to fall into an old parent standby, one that haunted both the Captain’s and my own childhood. It begins with these simple words, ” When I was your age. . .”
This simple sentence opener still makes me shudder. I shudder when I write the words. As a child, I heard this so often that just thinking about it now is enough to make me start twitching. You would think that this twitching would spare me from ever repeating it myself but there the words were, hanging in air like ominous parentheses.
Fortunately, I did catch myself before building up to a full parental rant. Instead, I employed another parental tactic and in a devious and deceptively benign maneuver directed my comments to the Captain in the same way a character in a play holds the stage with a soliloquy that is all for the benefit of the audience. In this case, our audience was our vocally mutinous crew.
“Geez,” I said with wonder and disappointment dripping from my voice in a downpour of guilt.
“They really don’t have a clue what real work is.”
“No,” the Captain joins in. “I would hate to seem them face the task of mowing the yard we had in Brunswick. It would probably kill them.”
I add, “Remember the diapers we had to change? Oh! Remember how we had to wash them out in the toilet?”
“Yes,” he says with a voice as clipped as freshly cut grass.
Silently, we wag our heads as one, united in the memory of the child labor laws that may have been violated in our childhood work assignments. For a few seconds, the Captain and I were lost in pseudo-Dickensian memories. We were Pip, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield rolled into one.
Suddenly, my parents’ voices break into my reverie. It is they who have been talking not I. Not the Captain.
“Oh, my God!, our parents are trapped inside our heads. Their words are coming out of our mouths. This has got to stop!”
I can barely keep my voice from trembling.
The crew is stunned into an odd, heavy silence. We’ve been waltzing down memory lane while channeling our parents and all the while we’ve been yakking and channeling, the crew has engaged in a vigorous protest. We have been pouring fuel on to this fire. We are at 3-alarms and growing.
Quickly preforming a quick internal exorcism, I recover my senses and try something new; empathy.
“You know, ” I say to my crew with a steady and calm voice. “Your dad and I complained to our parents too. We did a lot of things that we didn’t want to do and were still doing them. Neither of us want to go to the recycling center but we’re doing it because it needs to be done and since were already grimy from the other task, it’s the perfect time to get it done.”
The crew groans. They are getting weary of the fight. With downcast faces, they load the recycling and we set sail again. The wind is at our back and the job is done in mere minutes. Once pulling into the port, we see crew members of other ships that are the same age as our own. These kids work alongside their parents with nary a word of complaint. We need not say more.
Some hours pass and the leader of the crew expresses regret at the mutinous protestations.
“It’s OK, ” I say and it is.