Venturing into the world of columnist fiction

August 2006

By Dodge Morgan

Columnists write non-fiction as a rule. Or maybe they write true stories as hallucinations as a rule (hallucination here being an accurate replacement word for opinion.) Excepting for Dave Barry and Tom Snyder, columnists do want more than anything else to be insightfully believed. Only the truly arrogant columnist actually expects to be believed, just as only the propagandist demands to be believed.

The line between fiction and non-fiction is difficult to find and even the word “non-fiction” shows us a reason. Whoever thought of a label that said what something was not rather than what it was? “Non-fiction” writers unite. We don’t classify all crewmembers who are not allowed on the wheel as non-helmspersons. Or people in the audience at a rock concert as non-performers. We don’t even refer broadly to people who cannot cook worth a damn as non-chefs; we refer to them as food consumers or slobs. Those of us who write in words that don’t rhyme do not have to call our work non-poetry. The obvious un-negative name for non-fiction is of course “fact” and, but for the Barry and the Snyder types amongst us, it would be. Fact and fiction has a nice alliterative precision to it. But this column has absolutely nothing to do with fact so it must be fiction, and it is high time to tell a sailing joke to illustrate the compelling art of non-fact column creation.

I will not tell you my famous and hilarious Irish Yachting Story because it has that “s” word in it and ends with the punch line “he’s only done it twice; the first time he got sick and the second time his hat blew off,” because this is a take-the-high-road family publication with no agenda for the “s” word or any “s” references. (In the cause of factual clarification and certainly not for sly erotic purpose, I must note that the referred “s” word is not “sail” and only has three letters.) So herewith for you is a funny fiction, read joke, that I am sure will get by the recently appointed band of tight-assed, Points East censors and even by those readers who live in a verbally “s”-free cage.

The captain of an English Man-O-War heard his lookout call from the crow’s nest, “Ship on horizon showing enemy colors heading our way.” The captain turned to his first mate. “Fetch me my red shirt!” he commanded. Upon the mate’s return the captain donned this red shirt and the battle ensued with the Man-O-War the victor with no life lost.

The mate asked his captain, “Sir, what was the role of the red shirt in our engagement?”

“It was for the case I would get wounded so the crew would not see my blood flow thus keep on fighting”.

Just then the lookout called down, “Fifteen ships on horizon showing enemy colors heading our way!” The captain turned to his first mate and commanded, “Fetch me my brown trousers.”

Okay, I know you are pissed off because I did not fill in the Irish Yachting Story details, so here they are. My old South Boston friend Shamus O’Connor belongs to a neighborhood men’s club that holds monthly meetings at which members take turns delivering a speech on subjects of their own choosing.

Last month Shamus spoke and his chosen subject was “s.” Upon arriving home, his wife asked, “How was the meeting?” and Shamus replied, “Well attended it was, well attended”.

“How did your speech go?” she asked.

“Well received it was, well received.”.

“What was your chosen subject?”

Shamus knew that the truth here would keep him awake all night with harassing lectures so he answered with the first word that came into his head, “Yachting, it was.”

The following day, the wife met a fellow club member who raved about Shamus’ speech the night before. And she responded with the punch line quoted above.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.