I suppose every young writer remembers his first time—the excitement, the passion, and sheer pleasure of holding The Little Book in his hands—a literary love affair that lasts a lifetime. Most American journalists are exposed to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style at University. I, of course, was barely out of school when I ran away to sea. Thus this compact distillation of everything a beginning prose writer needs to know entered my life much later—on St. Thomas, actually, in the early ’80s—from the hand of Andy Turpin, my editor at the august publication known as Caribbean Boating.
I use both the term editor and publication loosely.
Caribbean Boating was a marine fishwrapper that paid its writers more in promises than dollars. It was as much scam as newspaper. The whole idea was to get as many dollars coming in as possible and pay out only pennies—or less.
Of course, it didn’t take long before the newspaper’s proprietor Jim Long couldn’t walk down a dinghy dock anymore because he owed so many local folks money. His creative solution was to shut down his editorial offices and don bizarre disguises.
Thus, when Long needed an editor, he went in search of a victim with a blue pencil. Poor Andy Turpin just happened to be in town aboard a 29-foot double-ender with his wife Julie and two young children named Aaron and Zack—all of whom were addicted to eating. Publisher Long swooped in like a grinning barracuda, brought the entire family to a palatial home on Raphune Hill that someone else owned, told them to raid the refrigerator at will—and then fled before Andy could inquire about the specifics of his nearly non-existent salary.
Nonetheless, Long arrived the next day with one hundred gold-embossed business cards that read Andy Turpin, editor. Thus Andy began his long professional life of indentured literary servitude wandering the halls of various meagerly-financed marine publications, demanding to know where the payroll department was located—and what, exactly, was the hold-up on his checks?
Now Jim Long had a role model. That role model was Richard Spindler of Latitude 38—who cleverly pioneered the concept of baiting his readers into writing their own publication for free.
Unfortunately, more and more publishers warmed to this ‘don’t pay writers, it only encourages them!’ concept.
I, of course, knew none of this—I was starving to death out in Long Bay—too poor to use typing paper in my manual Olivetti portable typewriter and convinced I was the next Hemingway. (Rolls of dirt-cheap newsprint swung precariously in our main cabin while I pounded out my clumsy words—a trick I learned from the penny-pinching Jack Kerouac.)
Now Jim Long was amazed at how easy it was to sucker poor Andy into the newspaper fold with an empty purse and even emptier promises—but Andy soon came to him to complain. Not wanting to appear greedy, Andy didn’t complain about money first—we were all hippies and above money in those days—but rather how overworked he was.
Long, knowing that the subject of money would arise if he didn’t baffle-with-the-bullshit fast, immediately agreed with Andy, apologized profusely, and said he’d hire a staff writer instantly, if not sooner.
Just about this time—I swear Jim Long must have hunted for prey in maternity wards—my wife Carolyn and I launched our daughter Roma Orion. Diapers cost money. Thus, I, too, was ripe for a lifetime of literary exploitation.
Now, honestly, I thought of Caribbean Boating as, say, The New Yorker of the Caribbean Marine Community. Thus, I wrote a story for it. It took me months. It was the best story ever. Almost. Well, perhaps not. Maybe necrophilia wasn’t as popular a marine topic as I’d imagined? So I wrote another—this time with more gratuitous sex. And some random violence. Plus, a dash of creepy humor. Damn, this poor missive read like a Charlie Manson bloodbath! So I wrote another story. And another. Until I had fourteen of the most insane, over-the-top marine magazine articles that Mad magazine, Penthouse, Grove Press, and Yellow Silk could imagine.
Jim Long called me back and said, “I’ll take ‘em!”
It was the happiest day of my bizarre professional life.
“How much?” I asked.
“Ten dollars,” he said.
Now, ten dollars each for 14 stories that took half a year to write was only $140—so I pressed hard for a better price—and managed to get Jim from ten to forty, hooray!
I ran down to collect my money—and Jim gave me a receipt for ‘fourteen stories for forty dollars’ and I was so grateful I didn’t read the fine print.
Once Long realized I was as gullible as Andy, he said, “We’d like to hire you as a feature writer for Caribbean Boating as well.”
I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Plus, Jim immediately handed me 25 one-color (black) business cards that read, Cap’n Fatty Goodlander, feature writer and I swooned.
True, I was disappointed to learn that, in order to get paid, Andy and I had to run around to deadbeat accounts—like local grocery stores or fish markets that owed Caribbean Boating money for ads—to either beg for merchandise or literally steal stuff off their shelves to eat; such is the literary life.
One week I was paid, literally, in peanuts; the following week, in dead fish.
But I remember one fine day at the apex of our dual marine journalism careers—when I got a free tee shirt from the St. Thomas Yacht Club and Andy didn’t have to hop a ride to Puerto Rico’s Velasco Cup regatta on a boat. Jim Long flew him there in an actual airplane and also gave him a 24 exposure roll of TriX film to shoot the three day event with, hot damn!
Last week, nearly forty years after all of the above, I happened to be lying around Moorea—and there was a grey haired Andy Turpin nodding off at the Bali Hai in Cook’s Bay. We had him and his artist wife Julie aboard Ganesh, our Wauquiez 43, for dinner.
Andy is now loosely connected with Latitude 38’s Puddle Jump—perhaps on Jim Long’s recommendation. I still write a Caribbean column, having found myself wholly unsuitable for honest labor.
Anyway, I proudly showed Andy my dog-eared copy of the very same Elements of Style he’d so graciously given me while we both toiled for Caribbean Boating so long ago.
Isn’t life—and old friends—grand?
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn are currently on their fourth circumnavigation. Fatty is the author of numerous marine books. Visit: fattygoodlander.com for details.