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nonFICTION: Barnacles and Bedlam, Part 6

He balanced his paunchy, broad-shouldered body on the two hind legs of his chair.

His large mouth broke out in a broad, ingratiating smile, exclaiming, "Now we've got to live while we're working this fellowship idea, Paul. Here's a plan to get a steady income for us in the meantime."

He opened his desk drawer and handed me a miniature orange crate filled with kumquats, its label reading: "This is the box of oranges I promised to send you from California!

"All these tourists coming here want to send a souvenir home to impress their friends, and what's better than a little box that looks like a miniature orange crate?

What you've missed: During World War II, I, Paul, whose limited business experience is strictly land-based, sign on as third officer of a salvage vessel, manned by a similarly motley crew, sent to North Africa, on a priority mission, to clear a port of vessels sunk by the retreating Italian navy.

As usual, G.H. oozed with confidence when he presented the plan to his contact at the Fox Westcoast Theater chain office, who, without hesitation, turned it thumbs down.

"It's a great idea. Paul. It'll cost us about four cents to put the box together and fill it with kumquats, and we can sell it for twelve cents to the souvenir shops. That'll be a two hundred per cent profit." As he spoke, his piercing eyes met mine. His passionate zeal was contagious, and my response was enthusiastic.

"What are we waiting for?"

"We'll need some money" He sat back in his chair, folded his arms and waited.

"I've got thirty-four bucks in the bank," I volunteered, men­tally calculating that a 200 percent profit would bring in sixty- eight dollars.

"Okay, bring it around.That'll put us in business."

The Kumquat Project somehow never materialized, but it later came to light that my thirty-four dollars took care of his delinquent house rent!

His next promotion concept was even more exciting. It involved an exploration trip to Peru to investigate mining claims which a member of the prominent Leguia family of Peru, an acquaintance of G.H., insisted had considerable value. The Peruvian's father had been president of Peru a number of times, but after a few inquiries, we learned that our contact was out of favor with the country's then current leaders.

Still undaunted, G.H. and I next prepared a homemade brochure for presentation to the publicity department of a large movie theater chain, depicting printed autographed pictures of movie stars on stamps to be given away at theaters to promote attendance. As usual, G.H. oozed with confidence when he presented the plan to his contact at the Fox Westcoast Theater chain office, who, without hesitation, turned it thumbs down.

All of G.H.'s schemes expired along with my disability pay. It became necessary for me to again obtain mundane employ­ment as a clerk in a supermarket.

Even after reviewing these past letdowns, I couldn't resist following up his offer for travel to Africa. I visited him at the office of the San Diego Marine Construction Company at the foot of Sampson Street on San Diego Bay.

He greeted me effusively. "Let me show you around." He led the way to a ship tied up at the dock.

"That's the Chamberlain. They're making a mother salvage vessel out of her. She's going to Massawa on the Red Sea, south of the Suez Canal, to salvage a lot of ships scuttled by the Italians. The sunken ships are blocking the entrance to the Massawa harbor, and the English and our navy urgently needs that harbor for a repair base.This is a great opportunity for you. How about signing on?"

Who would I be working for?"

"Johnson, Drake & Piper. It's a big construction outfit from back east that has the contract with the U.S. Army Engineers. They're hiring all the personnel, buying the equipment and materials and getting the Chamberlain in shape. Flanagan is in charge here. In Massawa, Ellsberg, a commander in the navy will run salvage operations."

"How do you fit in, G.H.?" I asked.

"I'm Flanagan's assistant, helping him get the men he needs. I expect to sign on as a salvage foreman."

Carlyle pointed to the workmen scurrying from the dock to the ship carrying lumber, tools, and supplies. "You can see they're doing a lot of work on her."

I couldn't help but be impressed. "But what can I do?" I asked. "I don't know the first thing about salvage!

"Don't worry. I'll see to it that there'll be a place for you."

As usual, he had all the confidence in the world regarding his ability to promote, but considering his prior record of failure­s and my lack of knowledge about the Red Sea area, I was wary and decided to seek information about Massawa and its environs at the local library before taking the plunge.

BARNACLES AND BEDLAM
by Paul B. Behm
Part 6

Chapter 2
Signing-On Story
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