O Captain, My Captain

No Telling


Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie has died. If you’ve never watched Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, then you probably don’t understand the enormity of such news. Captain Phil was a Bering Sea crab fisherman, a roughneck, a superstitious seafarer, a treasure hunter, a pirate with a heart as big as a refrigerator. He died Tuesday at 53.

This series began on the Discovery Channel about the time The Perfect Grandson was born. Our little guy had some scary reflux, and for the first three months of his life he slept in an upright position under the watchful eyes of either his mother or me. One of us was always awake with him. We slept in shifts, and my night shift was from 10 pm to 3 am. The Discovery Channel and those crab fisherman on Deadliest Catch were my salvation in the wee hours. No matter how much sleep I lost, those boys on the Cornelia Marie lost more. When The Perfect Grandson woke fretfully, we cuddled and watched the boats rise out of the waves and snatch crabs from the freezing bottom of the sea, the Cornelia Marie crew dangling like bait from their own boat.

In fact, I made a list at one time of Things The Perfect Grandson Can Never Be. A Crab Fisherman in the Bering Sea came in at #2, just behind A Prisoner of Any Kind and several ahead of A Republican.

But that’s not why I’m heartbroken over the passing of a man I only know from a reality TV series on the Discovery Channel. Captain Phil was every boy I went to high school with who drove muscle cars too fast and partied too hard, who screeched into the school parking lot with a Marlboro clenched in his smile and a warm roach-clip tucked in the ashtray. Phil was every rough boy playing pool with his paycheck on Fridays and sporting a two-day shiner on Monday mornings. The kind of boy who made you laugh despite yourself, who winked and called you darlin’ in front of your boyfriend. The kind of boy who fell in love, hard, every time.

Captain Phil was every unapologetic charming rascal I’ve ever known. They defy geography and time, those fellas. For the most part, these boys are bulletproof – you can’t kill them and they can’t kill themselves, no matter how hard they seem to try.

So I was understandably gut-punched to hear that the good captain died, of a stroke no less, at 53. While I’ve come to some sort of hand-shaking terms with my own mortality, it’s trickier to see the charming rascals of my youth as human enough to die. At least not from something like a stroke. A crash or overdose or barroom fight gone south, maybe, but not from some old man’s disease. There’s no hero in a story like that.

A man who rode the Bering Sea like a wild horse for thirty years needs a stronger ending.

(Photo via CorneliaMarie.com)