NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts — It takes time to find yer legs after a few years on the sea. If it’s a hard journey, and it ’twas, takes time to find yer wits too; some sailors never really do.
We had been a’whalin’, the men and I, setting sail from New Bedford in ’09 before we were wrecked by a mighty fish far from English lands, the survivors seeking refuge in the hills of an island ruled by a French-speaking people we dared not approach, and seemingly frequented by roaming “influencers” whose occupations, countries of origin, and vapidity of thought perplexed us, and left us unable to interact with any but each other and the crabs and seagulls we lived on.
The last beds we’d seen were in The Spouter Inn, in whose dark, downstairs tavern we now gathered, liftin’ our glasses to those souls we’d buried in the jungles and on the waves, and another to the United States, long may she reign. We might not a’ toasted at all if we’d known the tattered state of our proud country and the party we’d returned to.
The rumors that our politicians were amiss began the next morning, when a boatsteerer spotted on the TV box a so-called Marco of Florida — the spittin’ image of our cabin boy — spoutin’ off his gaw on Mohamedans bein’ treated unfair-like in the Orient. Strange, thought I. Surely ’tis no care of ours if the tiny emperor quarrels with the pirates and slavers who’d bedeviled us from Barbary to Manhattan.
But it didn’t end there, you see. Somethin’ called “women’s sports” was at great risk, the heads on the screen told us. Every Christian must stand against the threat to it.
“That’s the day!” the old ship carpenter croaked. “Womenfolk a’ sportin’ and Christians by their side. They must be makin’ jest!” says he. This caused a ruckus in the pub, you might imagine, nearin’ a riot by my estimation before a steady-minded boatswain commanded our ears with a mighty bellow.
“Surely, we can get to the bottom of this prankin’, boys” he hollered above the din. “The barkeep here has a ‘eye-pad,’ says he, a sort of tablet that can sort out all our questions for us just like a nice library up in Boston for the readin’ type.”
We waited as he and the barman conferred quietly over the glowin’ thing in their hands, but little could hide the perplexion on our boatswain’s face. A number of our youths, he’d go on to tell us, were engagin’ in mutilations far stranger than any lip discs or neck stretchin’ we’d seen on all the volcanic islands of the Indies, and then enterin’ themselves in women’s sportin’ to see it destroyed from the inside out.
“That’s not for me, that sort a’ thing,” the carpenter cried when he’d heard enough, “but any man sets out to topple ladies being thrown to the mercies of the boxin’ ring or the gymnasium, he’s got my vote he does!”
The men hollered their agreement, though I saw the barback, a boy of maybe 22 in a leather apron and fancy mustache (who looked like a child in his father’s beard) seemin’ perturbed by our proud displays of manly patriotic feeling.
We figured quite enough shock for one day, and the officers certainly seemed to agree ’twas best to steady our nerves with some Navy rum, but the tablet and the TV weren’t done with us yet.
Now, I like the rest have always been a northern man, having no mind or time for the lazy slavers down southward. We stood right proud by the shippin’ and industry that paid our way and filled the purses of my native Massachusetts. We’d sailed with many a freedman, and even a few cannibal harpooners far more decent than the criminals and ne’er do wells of the Irish race, and all mentioned had made fine sailors yet. The Grand Old Party for us, we thought — but we were in for a fright.
While we learned Jefferson’s Democratics still stood strong for segregating, ‘gainst black and white folk sharin’ a home, ‘gainst federal troops in their cities, and for open rebellion in the streets, our own party of law and Lincoln had taken quite a turn, fightin’ now for women weight-lifters and the such.
One can tolerate a bit of change. It’s a’ must when you’re away so often — and so long — as a whaler. The officer’s rum ploy seemed to be workin’ out dandy until we heard that the mayor of the federal district in Washington had put a ban on dancin’ closely with other people, citing its danger to public health.
That seemed right and good by us, but our own party’s Senate men, we heard were mockin’ it and callin’ it a fool’s errand. Well, that was just too much on the boys, and the rum that had been doin’ its work dullin’ our senses turned about-face and fueled our rage.
“Well that’s quite enough for me!” cried I, my temper flarin’ hot and mighty. “I’ll see the day in hell when God-fearing Yankee man stands for close dancin’ in our partyrooms and parlors!”
And so we set out, the men and I, to have a stern word with the assemblyman and fixin’ to set him right quick if he was wrong. We were hopin’ for a dialogue, mind you, and a good churchman to set our hearts at ease and assure us what we’d heard wasn’t so at’all.
Of course, we fetched a bit of tar and a feather pillow should we not like the way our conversation might be taken by the canny politicians. They have a way with words, you understand.
And so my dispatch from The Spouter Inn draws to a close. I’ll be sure to let the readers of The Federalist know how the evening progresses when we return, and I’m confident all this will be put to rest in no time at all.
Scoops Delacroix, Whalin’ Man