I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary when the phone rang about ten one evening when I was the nighttime duty officer in the Boston Naval Shipyard. However, the caller said with some authority, “This is Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gates.”
A thought flashed through my mind, it’s Charlie Schofield trying to disguise his voice. He wants to get even with me because I told everyone about the day the haddock came in.
It was in 1957, I would soon be transferred after completing six years in the greater-Boston area and had not yet been fishing outside of Boston Harbor. Charlie agreed to take me on a Saturday in early April. I drove to Quincy where he kept his fourteen-foot skiff that was propelled by a thirty-horsepower outboard engine. It didn’t take long for us to cruise between Fort Warren and Hull, pass beyond the Brewsters and get our baited hooks over the side. The only other fishermen in sight were about a half mile away in a similar boat.
We were so engaged for about ten minutes when, within seconds of each other, we each got a hit and soon landed what I thought were beautiful fish, approximately eight pounders and just over twenty-inches long. I was elated until Charlie said, “Damn pollock!”
He furiously beat their heads on the skiff’s gunnel and then threw them over the side where they floated belly up. Those were the days before the region was over fished; fishermen could be choosy. Within the next ten minutes we both landed more. Charlie was getting madder as he went through the same ritual. Suddenly when there were at least six or seven dead fish floating around us, Charlie got a puzzled look on his face as he hauled in another and said, “Pollock don’t school like this. I wonder what they are.”
He started the outboard and headed for the other fishermen. When the two boats were about twenty-feet apart, Charlie held up the last of our catch and said, “Hey fellers, what kind of a fish is this?”
Apparently, the two men had not caught anything. Suddenly their deadpanned faces turned to glee; both jumped up and shouted, “The haddock are in! The haddock are in! Where did you catch them?”
Embarrassed Charlie replied, “Head in the direction we just came from until you see a bunch of dead ones.”
Charlie was farsighted and too vain to wear eyeglasses. He couldn’t get far enough away from the haddock in the small skiff in order to recognize them. The joke was on him. If the situation had been reversed, he would have teased me mercilessly. Naturally, the next day I boned up on the difference between a haddock and a pollock and arrived at the Navy Yard on Monday with a diabolical plan.
Charlie was an assistant to the chief planner and estimator. The people who did the planning and estimating work had to interact with him on a daily basis, sometimes two or three times. Thus, I asked each one, whenever they approached him, to explain the difference between a haddock and a pollock. It drove Charlie nuts because it was going on continuously all morning and because he was determined not to give me any satisfaction by losing his cool.
Per our daily routine, Charlie, some of the planners and I went to lunch together in the Shipyard’s cafeteria. The cashier was a good-natured crone who had a tooth missing, two or three white whiskers sticking out from her chin and who spoke with a strong Irish brogue. I managed to get into the cafeteria line about four places ahead of Charlie so that I would have enough time to brief her.
What caused Charlie to blow up in front of the others was the old girl simply saying, while making change for him, “Mr. Schofield, the haddock is the one with a long dark line on each side of its body.”
Thus, the haddock-pollock caper is what flashed through my mind when the voice on the telephone said, “This is Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gates.”
I was convinced that it was Charlie, but I played along for the next few seconds while hoping that he would give himself away. The caller said, “I just called the Shipyard Commander’s quarters and was told that he is now driving back to the Yard from Fort Devon. Congresswoman Rodgers is trying to contact him. It is extremely important that I speak with the Shipyard Commander before Miss Rodgers does. I’m relying on you to get that message to him!”
The caller really was Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gates! Charlie’s and his voices were uncannily alike. I caught on quickly because I knew that the Shipyard Commander was out of the Yard and that he had a flap underway with the newly created and small but active Federal Employees Veteran’s Association. The Association’s leader, called the National Commander even though Boston was blessed with the only existing chapter, had only to press a button to get Congresswoman Edith Norse Rodgers to amplify his demands.
I immediately phoned the Marine duty officer and instructed him to order the guards at the gate to intercept the Shipyard Commander and put him on the guardhouse telephone with me. “If necessary,” I said, “pull him out of his car.”
About 30 minutes before midnight, the phone rang; the tired Shipyard Commander angrily wanted to know, “What the hell is so important?”
When I conveyed Secretary Gate’s message, he suddenly seemed relieved and expressed his appreciation for my diligence.
Because far-sighted Charlie couldn’t see the difference between a haddock and a pollock in a fourteen-foot skiff, I had come dangerously close to telling the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to buzz off.”
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo