False Starts: Supertanker

I know wasn’t the only one who found it somewhat surreal when pirates suddenly became a daily topic. South Park tackled the subject brilliantly, but long before that episode aired I had an idea for a story about a man who, upon discovering the re-emergence of piracy on the high seas, goes quite mad and attempts to become a pirate in Lake Ontario.

As is often the case with these whim’s of mine, I didn’t get very far. But I think the beginning is quite fun, so I thought I’d share it. Here goes:

This morning I had to pinch myself. Once I was sure I was awake, I thought maybe I had pulled an R.V.W. and awoken in an inexplicable new era. No beard though, same face and all that. Skin still somewhat smooth, still somewhat sanguine. The last and only explanation was that I had been living under the proverbial rock, and/or kept in the proverbial dark, for some time.

I should explain that it was the morning paper which triggered this groggy line of reasoning. The headline was baffling not only on account of the words it contained, but also because of the discomfiting juxtaposition thereof:


Pirates hijack supertanker. Of these two things, it seemed to me that one belonged very firmly in a romanticized version of the past, while the other (whatever the hell it was) was surely the product of someone’s simplistic imaginings about the future. It was quite impossible that my daily paper, a source of what it is generally safe to call facts, was telling me that these two things not only both existed, in real life, but had in fact met, with the result of one hijacking the other. That was when I pinched myself.

The subheading informed me that the supertanker was worth one-hundred million U.S. dollars. As I walked to the bathroom to see how much I had aged, I tried to calculate what that much money might be worth in this post-apocalyptic world where pirates and robots (I was by then sure a supertanker was some sort of robot) wage bloody war on the high seas. It would either be a great deal more or a great deal less than I was used to, and I began to ponder how, in an even more distant future, it might be used by ornery old folk to demonstrate their disapproval of the times, and of growth-based economics:

“In my day, a hundred million dollars could buy you a whole supertanker.”

“…but you had to watch out for pirates.”

Hardy har har. I’ll spare you the story of my disappointment at discovering it was still the same year, and the remainder of my emergence from delusion, and skip to the part when I realized what the news was actually about. This, incidentally, coincided with the moment my eyes focused enough to read type set smaller than 72 points.

The first few paragraphs both confounded and exhilarated. The paper might as well have been delivered by a cowboy on horseback emerging from a patch of quicksand—the world stage had been repopulated with the same dramatic cast of characters it lost sometime around age ten, when life boomed: Exeunt Romantics.

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