The Time Mike Foiled A Jesuit Conspiracy To Infiltrate And Seize New Brunswick, Part The First
The following story is meant to be humorous, and is not intended to represent the real-life Mike Pence. As far as we know he is not, in fact, an expert in 19th Century whaling techniques.
Part The First
Of the youthful summers that live sweetened by time and memory in my mind, the summer my great friend Mike Pence and I, along with and our friend Romney, spent as lighthouse keepers in Downeast, Maine may be the sweetest. Little River Light, on an island at the mouth of the Little River in Cutler, Maine, played host to one of the most spectacular incidents—which is also one of the most closely kept secrets—in Mike’s life. At least so far.
This tale is about an event one cold, rainy, windy night that opened our eyes to the world around us and—I don’t want to overstate the matter, mind—made for a quick and unceremonious death of innocence for each of us. A bildungsroman, if you will, with stress on the dung.
That summer, Pence, Romney and I took over as temporary keepers of the light, through some class of arrangement concocted by Romney’s father. The usual keeper, at that time one Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, had jury duty and was hearing a case against the Lubec Police.
The short white lighthouse and the rustic, homely keeper’s house we found there—do you know I can still smell it when it is called to mind?—was home to honest work and earnest laughter.
To live on an island is to live on a flake of the sea so tempered by the cooling face of the waters that it has become a slowed sheaf of the fragile earth. Our little island was, facing a disconsolate sea, all great blocks of rock piled against each other haphazard like with a lone promonry. But atop these rocks was green grass, pine trees and an abundance of guano, which Romney collected in buckets.
One day I saw him plant an enormous flag of his own creation—a great Roman R gules, on a field argent—in the middle of his favorite guano patch.
“Romney,” I said as Mike and I approached him. “Explain yourself.”
He swung his arm to encompass the vast fields of guano.
“What do you see here, gentlemen?”
“Rocks,” said Michael.
“And what upon those rocks, friends?”
“Bird shit,” I answered.
“A great fortune in bird droppings, Bryan,” Romney said. “And I propose—no, declare—that under the authority granted to us as United States citizens by the Guano Islands act of 1856 this Island, abandoned at our arrival, is hereby claimed for the United States and I declare, also, that we three are it’s governing Triumvirate. Welcome to Romneyland, gentlemen!”
“Romney, it wasn’t abandoned,” I replied. “You are a mad—” I was lost for an apt geographical descriptor for him.
“I wonder, Michael,” I said, turning to him. “Is he a Massachusettsan, a Michigander or a Utahn?”
“I’m a citizen of this island, friend,” Romney said. “And so are we all.”
He clapped me on the shoulder.
“Michael,” I said. “It’s a stupid new world that hath such creatures in it.”
I left it to Michael to talk some sense into him and went back to the keeper’s house to check on my chowder. I could hear, through the open kitchen window, Michael patiently trying to explain the Missouri Compromise.
By the time supper came round Romney had accepted that you can’t just go around staking a claim to any bit of poop-covered rock you find and our conversation on that eventful evening circled around the order of watches for the night.
Romney, as was his wont, began the conversation at the end and left it to us to work out how we’d got there.
“Now, I want to, first of all, acknowledge the fine, fine job Mr. Michael Pence did last night spelling me for forty-five minutes while I overslept my watch. He is a good man and worthy of the respect and admiration of the American people. It is thus with great pleasure that I nominate a man of no lesser stature, a humble man who I think all will regard as worthy of the post, the gentleman from Howth Castle and environs, Mr. Bryan O’Nolan, as the leader of our night watch. Mr. President, I do now formally nominate Mr. O’Nolan as keeper of the first watch,” he said.
“But, Romney,” I cried. “You’ve not been on time for a single watch the entire time we’ve been here! Nor have you had first watch any evening in living memory. Michael, I have a low opinion of this—”
“Now, Bryan, I can understand how you feel.” Mike interrupted. He always did this whenever I was likely to step in it. “While I agree that Romney has not been holding up his end of the bargain, I suspect—” here a meaningful glare was given “—that a schedule could be made that all will adhere to.”
“Well, sure and it’s fine but your man over there needs to hold up his end of the bargain.”
“Bryan,” Mike said. “I think we can have a more substantive discussion over breakfast.”
And so it was that I took the first watch on that fateful night.
The others were well abed when I made my way to the light to check the oil. Dark, it was, and unseasonably cold. A storm had drawn in with the night. The wind drove me toward the lighthouse like the meanest taskmaster of old Egypt, short way though it was. Inside the lighthouse itself the sound of it was even worse. The brick and steel structure was like a fun-house climbing up it, all the howling and the gusting and allsorts circling upwards and the thunder echoing in the tower.
At the top, standing about our fifth-order Fresnel Lens and looking seaward, hail lashed my face, rain soaked my jacket. But I thought I heard something else amongst the sea noise and wind. Something like wood breaking and smashing, crying voices. As the light passed over them I could see two men floundering in the offing, clinging to a bit of broken wooden dinghy.
Sometimes one’s life feels like a great Rube Goldberg machine of infinite complexity and that one is merely the kinetic energy moving through it. I have never felt this more literally than I did in my attempt to get down the lighthouse’s spiral stair.
I slipped on the first step and rolled, arse over teakettle, the entire way to the bottom. I think I counted enough bruises the next morning to account for each individual stair.
At the bottom I stood.
I collected myself.
I sounded the alarm bell. There’d been a wrack! I needed a rescue harness on my back.
Mike was roused and moving by the time I’d got to the house. I quickly explained the situation. We gathered our gear and headed to the rocks. In the surf we found a man clamoring up, a great confusion of smashed lumber and, treading water, a great fat skellig of a man, his face white with cold and panic, being pulled back out to sea.
“To the rescue boat, Bryan!” Mike yelled. “I think I know a way we can rescue our enormous new friend!”
We got the rescue boat — a longish inflatable character — and a ponderous length of rope and had the boat in the water in no time. I was at the oars and Mike stood in the bow, like your man George Washington, but tying what looked like a great noose. How could even Michael save the man, I wondered.
“What in the hell are we doing, Michael?” I shouted over my shoulder and the ruckus of the storm.
“I gather you are unfamiliar with my treatise on the rescue applications of 19th Century whaling techniques, friend.”
“I am indeed, I am indeed. What do you mean to do with the rope? I can’t imagine you want to hang the poor man.”
He laughed to spite the wind.
“No, Bryan!” he yelled. “No, I aim to lasso him. I just hope he doesn’t take us on a Nantucket Sleighride!”
Oh, that was the last thing I’d need, the great fella diving deep and trying to take us with him. Sleighs are just fine by me, but I once met a man from the Grey Lady—the tales about him are greatly exaggerated—who I wouldn’t trust driving a screw, and the Nantucket Sleighride is one of my great fears, one of my few greatest fears.
Mike called out directions and I used my—I flatter myself to say, rather well-developed—rowing skills honed on our remarkable trip down the Allagash River, to maneuver the craft within range.
Mike had tied himself a lasso big enough to capture quite a large person.
He swung it in widening circles above his head. Lightning cracked above our heads. At precisely the right moment he loosed the lasso and it carried out through the wind and landed atop the waves with your man the large at its center. Mike girdled him up and between my rowing and our friend’s feeble attempts at swimming the three of us were ashore.
We met the large man’s compatriot and we stood in the grass, collecting our breath. The castaways wore yellow parkas like fish stick salesmen.
“I’m Shem and this is Shaun,” one of them said. I confess I could never establish with any certainty which was your man Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern.
“What are you doing here, friends?” Mike asked.
They shared a sidelong glance.
“Well,” the svelter one said. “We’ve heard wonderful things about the New Brunswick coast.”
“The what in the hell now?” I interrupted. “You’re not in New Brunswick, you’re in Maine.”
That’s when Romney appeared, yawning in his alarmingly brief bathrobe.
“Well, dadgumit,” Romney said with a smile. “Here comes everybody!”
That was when Mike grabbed my arm.
“Bryan,” he said with deep suspicion in his voice. “Our guests’ voluminous parkas are concealing Roman collars! There’s something going on here, or I’m not Michael Aristophanes Pence!”
Tune in next Saturday for The Thrilling Conclusion To The Time Mike Foiled A Jesuit Conspiracy To Infiltrate And Seize New Brunswick!