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He strode smartly along the gangway, from the dock to the towering main deck of the world’s largest ship, the USS Titanic. A tall, lean brown man, garbed in a new Armani-designed uniform that made him look like the very symbol of naval elegance, he moved gracefully, head tilted slightly upward as if gazing toward a destiny not yet fully realized, but inevitable.
As he reached the deck, he was piped aboard by an unprecedented full symphonic orchestra and the Gay Men’s Chorus from San Francisco. Hundreds of crew and staff and junior officers lined the railings, standing at attention. The captain moved down the deck, reviewing those under his authority almost to the aft end of the ship — then, still saluting crisply, he reversed his direction without turning around, and moonwalked back up the line, past the gangway, and almost to the forward end of the deck! The crew cheered loudly; nothing like this had ever happened before.
But everything about this man, this new captain of the world’s largest ship, seemed unprecedented.
Amazingly, he had never commanded any ship before! Unlike most big ship captains, he had never served in the military, spent any time at sea, never run a business or administered any for-profit organization. His actual preparation for this august position consisted of some community work in Chicago, a couple years as a state senator, a year or so as a U.S. senator — and this brief four years was spent mainly running for the next highest office, with little accomplishment at all to show.
How this happened is the stuff of dreams, of fantasy. The huge Titanic had sailed before and was highly celebrated, but eventually fell into some disrepair and needed some serious overhauling. A consortium of extremely wealthy men decided to buy the ship, which they did with all cash. They laid plans to redo it completely, changing everything about it, and they looked about for a man to bring aboard as captain who would look and act like a movie version of a ship commander, but who most importantly would scrupulously do whatever they told him to do.
In effect, they wanted a handsome puppet, and they found him. What they hadn’t counted on, however, was that once selected and put in authority, he wouldn’t be so easy to control. His new power was intoxicating, and he began to use it according to his own whim.
So now, the captain dismissed the crew and sent them to their positions, with orders to start the engines and prepare to raise anchor. He called his junior officers to join him on the command deck for last questions and directions.
Once arrayed in front of him, his second-in-command Lt. Blighden frantically raised his hand, and the captain nodded in his direction. “Sir … uh, excuse me … captain, may I ask why you ordered that all our most exclusive and expensive staterooms be assigned to rank-and-file union members with their leaders, at no cost – and that the CEOs and top executives of all the companies who manufactured every part of this great ship and made it seaworthy be assigned to steerage, the lowest and most cramped part of the ship? Isn’t this backwards?”
The captain glared at him. “Mr. Blighden, those union members were some of my staunchest supporters when I was considered for this position. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve not only ordered that they occupy those staterooms as long as they choose, but that they can charge all their food and expenses to the ship! You’d do well to leave decisions to me. By the way, why are you wearing that life jacket?”
“Oh, this, sir … I mean captain?” the first officer stammered. “Just force of habit, I guess; over the years I’ve never known how, or when or which way I’d have to jump, depending on wind directions and data and all, so I just try to stay ready. Sorry.”
“Well, take it off. It doesn’t indicate much confidence on your part. Yes, Mr. Snow?” The captain indicated the main steward, who had anxiously raised his hand.
“Captain, we have a very serious problem. Somehow, we’ve taken on four times as many people as this ship can sustain! They all rushed on during your ceremonies, and have filled every nook and cranny on board. If they remain, we’ll be completely out of food in three days at sea. These people haven’t paid for anything, but they’re demanding rooms and privileges like paying customers. Security officers are telling us they’ve seen some of these interlopers carrying what seem to be explosives, and we’ve heard they intend to explode the devices while we’re four days out, killing themselves, everybody on board and you and your family, sir — believing this will please their idea of the Almighty. Sir, the ship is already listing to starboard from their extra weight. What do you want us to do?”
“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Snow. I’ll talk to them. I believe in diplomacy first; maybe I’ll invite these misguided terrorists to dinner in my stateroom and make friends of them.”
At this point, the Chief Engineer interrupted, “Captain, I’m sorry, but evidently the quartermasters you appointed misjudged our fuel needs. I reckon that by five days out, we’ll completely run out of fuel. When we do, we’ll lose all power, all communication and we’ll be stranded, completely at the mercy of the elements. And the weatherman tells us there are heavy storms and ice floes, even drifting icebergs, directly in our path!”
Astonishingly, the captain seemed supernaturally calm and confident. “Listen, you people have got to put your trust in me, not in these negative reports. Sure, there are problems, but I’m sure it’ll all turn out alright. I’ve got a destiny to fulfill, and together we’re going to make this voyage a great moment in history!” Again he tilted his head upward, partially closed his eyes, and ordered in deep, theatrical tones — “Now lift anchor, secure the hatches, and full steam ahead! And may Allah…or may God, however you perceive Him or Her, bless us all!”