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Rock the boat gently

By

William Briggs Whitaker

 

                                                     Can a Hoosier be a sailor I often wondered as a boy

Can a small town kid with a wandering soul really know the oceanís joy

Or is it eight to five and a two-hour drive back to my neighborís fence

It took thirty-five years of struggling, thank God I had good sense

Crown Point is really a cute little town up near Lake Michiganís shore

It served me well through high school but still I wanted more

Donít get me wrong though Iím long gone I still love her from my heart

But like an Indy driver I was eager for the race to start

 

 

But what to do ... I didnít know ... all I had were dreams

of sailboats and bikinis and songs with Hawaiian themes

Lake Michiganís beach was within close reach; thatís all I really knew

But I suppressed my wandering weed, there was work to do

So before I began to live my dreams and take control of my given days,

I hustled off to the college life and into the establishmentís ways

To old I. U. and Wharton too, my education was complete

But I wouldnít really learn a thing until I hit the street

 

 

Ford was my first employer in their River Rouge steel mill

But when I saw them pollute the river well, I couldnít fill the bill

Now let me think, yes it was Flint Ink where next I spent my days

Served three and a half years filling-out forms inside an office maze

But Michigan just wasnít it, not what I was looking for

It hit me one day in a traffic jam as I listened to a dieselís roar

Trucks and cars and country club bars in a suit with a fancy vest

Horace Greeley started calling me; I resigned and headed West

 

 

We moved to California, and "who is we," you say

Oh a lovely wife named Judy who I lost along the way

Itís really true what I say to you it was 100% my fault

And a picture of her smiling face stays locked in my memory vault

I worked in San Francisco beneath her sparkling hills

though it was across the bay in Oakland where we lived and paid our bills

But I knew at night that it wasnít right, the way life rolled-on by

So Iíd fix another highball and stare into the sky

 

 

And then my life began to churn as the future closed-in on me

I found my only refuge in the freedom of the sea

His name was Jack as I think back, the man who changed my life

He turned me onto sailing just before I left my wife

With two little girls it can break your heart to have to walk away

It chokes you up and tears your eyes and thereís nothing you can say

Inside you know that for love to grow you need more than just a seed

and the love in our distraught family fell victim to the wandering weed

 

 

A wandering weed that tugged at me and drew me to the sea

As it strangled and encompassed, it refused to set me free

My workday chores became real bores, as Iíd slip down to the boat,

back when Agnew was vice president and Nixon still could gloat

A wandering weed that had grown in me from the days of a little boy

It had made my life a nightmare, instead of one of joy

It clutched at me to set me free as I moved from job to job

And before I knew it I hit the street, landing with a sob

 

 

And I continued to churn away inside to learn what had gone wrong

What happened to America, why are we killing Vietcong

Oh I knew there was more to the nasty war than ever weíd be told

It was just that I was restless, Iíd turned thirty ... getting old

The wandering weed within my soul started reaching Ďround my mind

I had to make peace with my wandering thoughts, our future was entwined

With money low, a divorce you know, I needed to think of work

but the wandering weed that gripped my mind wanted me to go berserk

 

 

As time rolled-on I sailed more and more, selling real estate by day

Oh, the memory of our parties out on San Francisco Bay

My partner Jim ... you donít know him; he was a wild and crazy man

yet when it came to business he was the leader of the band

But when it came to sailing, Iím afraid I led the group

of Oaklandís famous pirates, a merry little troop

There was Sandwich Sue, Double Boober too; Bob & Chris were in the clan

And Shorts and Jack and wild man Conn, topped-off by Chesty Chan

 

 

                                                  Ah the stories would amaze you of the funny things we did

But as I look back on those distant days I think Iíll keep emí hid

A bit wild to put it mild but I might go back some day

and sail again with my pirate friends out on San Francisco Bay

One foggy morn I turned thirty-five; it was time to look within

to study all the errors and where my life had been

The vagabond seed - my wandering weed - started to smother me

It pulled and tripped and strangled as it drew me to the sea

 

 

I just couldnít handle land anymore, too much hypocrisy

Yet I was selling real estate; Iím not too smart you see

When Nixon lied my confidence died; heíd sunk our ship of state

But life was inching forward to link me with my fate

Bill Scranton had been governor the warm and balmy day

Iíd graduated from the Wharton School with my hard fought MBA

He gave the charge to a class quite large to go out and seek our star

And now that Iíd turned thirty-five, well, Iíd not traveled very far

 

 

As a sailor selling real estate, I hadnít done too well

Six months after startiní the market had gone to hell

But my partner Jim, you remember him, well, he sold a castle proud

And that left just enough money to keep-up with the crowd

Then one day I made a deal, a deal with the wandering weed

Iíd surrender to him while yet thirty-five; I had l0 months to succeed

Then Iíd follow him, be it sink or swim, out into the sea

That was my deal with the wandering weed and that his deal with me

 

 

The wandering weed within my soul withdrew into his shell

In his little seed pod cavity he tucked away quite well

The change in me was plain to see; I was free of the clinging vine

There was a battle to be fought and a victory to be mine

So I went to work and hatched a plan, a crazy one I guess

but when it came to selling real estate we werenít like all the rest

Had we joined the board, oh no, my Lord, such would never please

Too many of its members had the money love disease

 

 

                                                   The money love disease is sad; itís worse than a leperís fate

And those who wallow in its slime tarnish the image of real estate

They lie and cheat at a steady beat all in the name of greed

Such was not for my partner Jim nor I and the wandering weed

There was a lot of anger churning as I planned-out what to do

A gift for overtaxed homeowners, something to see them through

Down at city hall they had a ball spending our hard-earned money

But down the street at Brigantine Sales we didnít think it funny

 

 

Itís wrong, I said to Jim one day, the way they run the show

They sit in their fancy offices and siphon-off the dough

Then they create a plan to save the land and raise the rate some more

Hereís where Iíll fight my battle and hereís where Iíll wage my war

Jim and I were close you see like a surfboard and its wax

and even Jim thought it a little nuts to battle the property tax

But if I were right and could win the fight thereíd be ample reward for me

for then Iíd shake hands with the wandering weed and sail across the sea

 

 

But first I had to lead a fight against the tax-eating men

and the deal Iíd made with the wandering weed made me plunge right in

I took a vow ... it seems silly now as years of anger took vent

It would be over my dead body that Oaklandís tax rate go up one cent

But what to do ... I didnít know ... all I had were dreams

of sailboats and bikinis and songs with Hawaiian themes

Down at city hall, a structure tall with eagles looking down

Thatís where to lead my battle, I decided with a frown

 

 

A frown caused by frustration at the body politic

Vietnam and Watergate were enough to make me sick

But Iíd sneak right in and battle them behind the establishmentís door

Little did I know that Iíd soon be dead, a scream in the oceanís roar

So I jumped right in and wrote a speech, a speech for city hall

I got placed on the agenda, in eight days, if I recall

But Iíd not live to ever give the speech I wrote that night

for the very next day Iíd know death itself and see the oceanís light

 

 

The wandering weed still had his day but only one day per week

On Thursdays we went sailing where in private we could speak

Just my friends and I under a sunny sky as weíd sail across the bay

and the wandering weed within my heart could bask for another day

And such was the day that we set sail out into the bay

Two friends and I and the wandering weed who had nothiní much to say

There was something wrong as we sailed along; I could feel it in the air

Thatís when I turned to speak to the weed and saw a worrisome stare

 

 

Our boat sailed along, I didnít know about our coming fate

We came about and raised more sail as we slipped beneath the gate

With an ocean blue and sunshine too we sailed into the sea

Two friends, a weed and I on a voyage through destiny

Now unless you know the ocean itís hard to pin the spot

I knew the local waters though Iíd not sailed there a lot

The noonday light with its rays so bright shone through an azure sky

We hugged the Marin County coastline and time just glided by

 

 

Then all of a sudden the sea rose up and plunged into a breaker

The instant that I saw it I knew Iíd met my maker

With a bansheeís howl and a tigerís growl it roared across our wake

The monstrous wave was fifty feet high I might add, for purityís sake

Well the second breaker got us when it lifted up our stern

Iíve got you now, declared the mighty sea and thereís a lesson to be learned

Whoís the crew youíve brought with you she asked the wandering weed

I see you brought three candidates - which one gets the seed

 

 

By now our boat stood on its bow as we raced down the monstrous wave

The wandering weed leaped free as we plunged toward a cold wet grave

Take your choice cried the weedís small voice, from the three you get to choose

But I already knew by the way he jumped that we were all about to lose

And then the wave encompassed me as I grabbed a futile breath

I got snarled-up in the rigging; Iíd soon breath a liquid death

But the mighty wave my life did save when it pulled me to its womb

and there on his locker sat Davy Jones across the watery room

 

 

                                              Well look at you he smiled at me; I wondered when youíd come

Iíve been tugging at you for several years but youíre always on the run

That wandering weed is my friend indeed; he brought you safe to me

And now if you want to bargain, Iíll speak for the sea

Yes look at you, he said again as he spied my quivering hand

What makes you think youíre fit for the sea; what have you done on land

Do you still pollute and wear a suit while the ocean goes on dying

The mighty whales are almost gone; canít you hear their crying

 

 

Those of you who live on land would destroy the mighty sea

with your oil spills and pollution, whatís wrong with humanity

Well Iíll tell you a thing or two from the maker of us all,

Youíre gonna lose this lovely planet if you donít get on the ball

Look at the way they kill our whales, the Russians and Japanese

Even it takes a boycott they must be brought down to their knees

The human race is quite a disgrace and theyíre headed for Judgment Day

But it looks like yours is here right now - so what have you got to say

 

 

I love the sea, was my opener and I quit once over pollution

What is it that you want from me, what price is absolution

My mind was red; I near dropped dead, a fatherís words to his son

If youíre gonna rock the boat lad, do so gently ... you son of a gun

So I held my breath and waited for Jones to make another remark,

as we raced along with the monstrous wave inside his magic ark

Then I soon learned as he abruptly turned that he had a deal in mind

I hear youíre in a tax fight not to mention your present bind

 

 

If I help you out of your present fix and place you back on the sea,

would you remember this fateful day and someday give aid to me

Iíll relieve your strife and spare your life; Iíll release you from my jail

and what I want in return from you is to share my love of the whales

What you must do is spread the word so all the world will know,

that itís a sin to pollute the ocean and disrupt its natural flow

The eternal sea gave birth to thee; we all come from one source

Once youíve destroyed the oceanís whales youíve altered natureís course

 

 

                                        With that he stood and walked over to me; then he hoisted a bottle of rum

Next he produced a pearl handled knife and sliced each of our thumbs

With a proper toast my famous host mixed his blood with mine

and then we drank and dripped that blood till the decks ran with our wine

The next thing I knew I was back in the sea, though I should say that carefully

for the man who swam the towering waves was a brand new man to me

Jones kept the weed but I had a new seed, a blossoming love for the whales

And there but fifty yards away was our boat down to the rails

 

 

While Iíd been busy with Davy Jones my friends rode in the sea

The boat had done a pitch pole but now was floating free

I let out a roar ... back to shore; Iíve got work to do

And Davy laughed beneath the deep; oh I swear that this is true

While Davy worked some magic I paddled like an eager pup

He leveled out that raging sea but donít repeat it - theyíll lock you up

Then with a roar he amazed me more when he beckoned a coast guard boat,

searching the ocean for some other men whose bodies would nae again float

 

 

I was given the life of another man, a man who died at sea

And two days after rescuing us the coast guard found his debris

A fishing boat, no longer afloat had sunk with the poor manís bones

and now he rests in the briny deep a dealiní with Davy Jones

Of course the tax fight meant even more to a man with a driving passion

and those who were my closest friends thought Iíd gone nuts after a fashion

But Iíd returned, some lessons learned, from a voyage through destiny

and now Iíd been given a second chance, a chance for victory

 

 

A new man strolled into city hall that night to give a speech

and he had the blood of Davy Jones who was listening within reach

But not for the whales did he stand at the rail with notes in either hand

This was the night to battle the tax and finish the work on land

Well I spoke that night and raised holy hell as Davy laughed in my ear

Some of the councilmen squirmed in their seats; some had a look of fear

Then the mayor frowned banging his gavel down as the gallery began to roar

I was speaking fightiní words and they were ready to join my war

 

 

                                        The war was short as history goes; the councilmen changed their minds

Theyíd planned to boost the rate four cents but a victory was finally mine

Well I rested a while, then with a smile I entered our office one day

I grabbed some mementos, said good bye to Jim and then I sailed away

But where to go ... I didnít know ... all I had were dreams

of sailboats and bikinis and songs with Hawaiian themes

You guessed the rest, I sailed Southwest and now all I do is sail

and write a little poetry all for a love of the whales

 

                                                                                                                  Rock the boat gently,

 

 

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