The Young Tars
ON THE NIGHT BEFORE the first official meeting of the Babbington Flotilla of the Young Tars, I paced the floor of my attic bedroom, certain that, the next day, as the first official piece of business at the first official meeting, I would be demoted from the rank of Commodore, probably all the way down to Swabby. The likelihood of my being demoted didn’t worry me half as much as the likelihood that I wouldn’t take it well. I had prepared some remarks for the occasion and copied them into a small spiral-bound notebook that I could carry in my pocket, at the ready in case I needed to prompt myself while I was taking the demotion like a man.
Pacing the floor, reading from the notebook by flashlight, I rehearsed the remarks.
“You know,” I said, adopting a puzzled look to indicate that sometimes, as on this occasion, the occasion of my demotion, the world was just too illogical, too crazy, for me to understand, “I always thought that there must have been some mistake when I became a Commodore.”
Here I paused, for I was certain that there would be laughter, relieved laughter, when the other Tars saw that I wasn’t going to cry or to punch Robby Haskins, who would, I was equally certain, be elevated to Commodore in my place. I continued in an all-kidding-aside tone: “I never thought that I was really worthy of the rank. I hate to be demoted, of course, but I have to admit I’m pleased to see that I was right all along. I wonder why the rest of you took so long to find out.”
I paused again for laughter. I felt reasonably certain that there might be a couple of sighs of relief here too, perhaps a couple of grunts of grudging admiration for my ability to shrug off disappointment, to take whatever fate dished out on the breadline of life.
I shifted, next, to an offhand manner and chummy tone meant to show that we could all relax now, secure in the knowledge that Peter was going to be all right, that he wasn’t going to fall apart over anything like this. I figured that if I got this far in my remarks without having to run from the room, then we would in fact be able to relax, and I would be able to make a good job of the offhand manner and chummy tone. “You know,” I said, “I’m reminded of something my grandfather often says. Every now and then, he’ll say, ‘Easy come, easy go.’ I never really understood what that meant until today. Now I understand what it means, and I’ve got the Young Tars to thank for that.”
I planned another pause here, because I thought that there might be some self-congratulatory applause from the assembled Tars.
“It means,” I went on, “that when you get something you didn’t really work for, you don’t really deserve it, since it came to you so easily. And since you don’t really deserve it, you’re probably going to lose it as easily as you got it. Easy come, easy go. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, and I know that we all want to raise a glass of cream soda to the new Commodore and grab a couple of cupcakes, but let me give you an example.
“Suppose you’re walking along one day on your way to school, and you find a dollar bill on the sidewalk in front of you. You bend over and pick it up. What do you do with it? Put it in the bank? No. Turn it in to the principal? Uh-uh. Stick it into the Red Cross box outside the nurse’s office? Heck, no. I’ll tell you what you probably do. You probably stop at the candy store and spend the dollar buying wax teeth for the whole gang. Later, when you get home after school, you tell your mother how lucky you were.
“‘Hey Mom!’ you shout. ‘I found a dollar on the way to school!’
“‘Aren’t you lucky!’ she says. ‘Where is it?’
“‘Huh?’ you say. ‘Oh, I spent it on wax teeth.’
“She gives you a look you’ve seen before, and suddenly the truth hits you. You realize that the dollar is gone and you’ll never get it back again. You’re left standing there with a mouthful of wax teeth and an empty pocket, wondering how you can sum up the lesson you’ve learned. Well, the next time you find a dollar and spend it on wax teeth, or the next time a mixup in uniforms makes you a Commodore until a new uniform comes in and you’re demoted to Swabby, I hope you’ll shrug and grin and say what my grandfather would say: ‘Easy come, easy go.’”
I was sure there would be applause after these remarks. I planned to drop my head and, with a swift movement I’d been practicing all week, slip a set of wax teeth into my mouth. When I raised my head, shrugged, and grinned, I would, I hoped, ignite a blaze of esteem and good humor in the heart of every Tar. The Tars might, I thought, gather around me to shake my hand and punch my shoulder and clap me on the back. It wasn’t inconceivable, it seemed to me, that they might hoist me onto their shoulders and carry me around the room for a while, singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” There was even at least a slim chance that, in a frenzy of admiration for my gumption and my ability to take the long view of things, the Tars might rise up in a body, demand in a single voice my reinstatement as Commodore, rip the insignia from Robby Haskins’s uniform, and drum him out of the flotilla.