Mar 2, 2008

Barney Fife - A Real Life Encounter with One

Ever known a real life Barney Fife?

Barney was, of course, the bungling, inept deputy on the Andy Griffith show. He was played so perfectly by Don Knotts and kept millions laughing at his inane attempts to catch crooks, or his exaggerated sense of importance.

But, I really knew a Barney Fife once. He was as close to the caricature of Barney Fife as anyone could come.

I met him in the U.S. Navy. We served on the same ship together and even went through boot camp together. While in boot camp, we were all standing at attention for inspection one morning when “Barney” suddenly grunted after a loud noise came from his position in the lineup. We were all supposed to be looking straight ahead, but some of us sneaked a quick peek his way. The inspecting officer had whacked what appeared to be a kind of night stick against “Barney’s” stomach. But, the sound wasn’t one of wood striking flesh. It had struck something else.

Turned out, “Barney” had hidden a notebook of some sort in the front of his pants and covered it with his jumper. He suffered for that screw-up for a week scrubbing latrines and floors on his hands and knees.

He had several other mishaps during boot camp, but they paled into insignificance against the ones he had once he got aboard ship. I got to be a witness to the first big one. The ship was in port in Seattle, Washington, for repairs and overhaul. Fire drills were held periodically. During these drills, the team assigned to a particular area would grab a fire hose and rush to the site, prepared to put out a fire.

Now, we had a Commander who’d come up through the ranks and was tough as nails. He was built like a pro wrestler, always had a short cigar jutting from one side of his mouth, and had glassy black eyes. His voice was gravely and he could make a sailor lose all desire to go ashore on liberty if the Commander happened to be standing near the gangway.

On this particular day, I was standing on the Flying Bridge, way up at the top of the ship, drinking a cup of coffee when the fire drill started. I stood looking down and saw the Commander, in dress whites, with white shoes, standing on the deck just to the right side of the ladder (stairway). He was there to observe and critique the performance of the team. The sailors came running up the ladder with the large hose. Leading the team was none other than “Barney.” He rushed up the ladder, cut to the right, and ran, nozzle in hand, towards the assigned location.

He didn’t see what I saw. I watched (with a large grin, I must confess), as “Barney” dragged this large, heavy, and very dirty hose, across the tops of the Commander’s white shoes and against the bottom of his white pants. The Commander immediately looked down and then his face flushed red. He didn’t move his feet but his head whipped to the right and he glared at “Barney” in disbelief. He simply could not believe someone would be so stupid. Frankly, I had trouble believing it, too.

“Barney” paid a heavy price for that one. First, he got a tongue lashing such as no one aboard that ship had ever heard in their life. It was an incredible array of curse words strung together like machine gun bullets erupting from a barrel, coupled with a finger that must have felt like a steel rod that was constantly poking into "Barney's" chest. Poor "Barney" was put on bilge duty, cleaning out the nastiest part of the ship, crawling down below the grates at the bottom of the ship where oil and filthy water and who knows what swirls around.

He did a few other dumb things along the way, but the final blow for him came within a month or two after he’d ruined the Commander’s shoes. He’d been assigned to clean the Foc'sle deck, which is at the bow of the ship. Ships that are at anchor or sitting beside a pier (which is where we were), would periodically blow heavy accumulations of soot out the stack in order to clean the tubes. (This was a day in which there were no environmental concerns, and today, it is not a practice that is done in modern ports.)

The ship decks would accumulate a fine layer of soot from this, so it became necessary to swab the decks with a large mop. “Barney” was assigned this task. He’d worked for several hours when his buckets of water became so dirty from rinsing his mop, that he needed to empty the buckets and get clean water. The unwritten rule aboard ship is that you always dump dirty water off the “fantail” (stern) of the ship. “Barney” decided he didn’t want to walk the long distance all the way back to the fantail of the ship to dump two buckets of black water.

So, he walked to the end of the bow and tossed the dirty water over, then followed it with another.

Unfortunately, directly beneath the bow was where the Captain’s gig (boat) was tied up. There was a landing there for the Captain’s convenience, with a small ladder leading to the pier. Also, most unfortunate for “Barney,” the Captain and another Captain from a sister ship had just tied up and both men were leaving the gig, headed for the Captain's quarters for lunch. (Even the script writers for Barney Fife couldn’t have dreamed this one up.)

The dirty water drenched both men (Yes, they were wearing their dress whites.). The sailor who ran the gig for the Captain was also furious because it turned the white canvas covering for the gig into a speckled mess.

There was such a furor over that incident that “Barney” tried to go into hiding. But, they found him and within 3 days, he had orders cut for an immediate transfer. I saw his orders. His orders said: “Midway Island, duration of duty.” If you don’t know about Midway Island, I can only tell you that it was, in the mind of every sailor, the absolute worst assignment you could draw. There was nothing there. Liberty was taking walks alongside the beach. The best times were when a ship would come in and you could get to see new faces, talk to new people, and if you were lucky, walk around aboard a ship for a few hours.

The really sad thing is that many of us are Barney Fifes, albeit, in a little different fashion.

We stumble through life, making stupid mistakes, and sometimes getting assigned to islands of grief from which we feel we cannot escape. Millions are snared by the consequences of their choices in life. So many are trapped by bands of guilt and remorse. We’ve often slapped our foreheads and uttered, “Duh! How could I have been so stupid!”

But the real tragedy is that so many are convinced there is no escape, that they are where they are for the duration of life. Indeed, unless there are substantial changes, that will be true.

But it doesn’t have to be.

There is a way of escape from the islands of despair and grief.

That escape is found here: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” -John 10:10 (The Bible).

However, you must know the way to have that life–that abundant life.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” -John 14:6 (The Bible). That is the only way of escape. There is no other way of escape. There is no way to God, but through Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to stumble through this life filled with regrets and feeling abandoned by the human race, or feeling as though we were on an island all by ourselves. We can be part of a family that is more united than any family on earth. We can actually be kin to God. And as kin to God, we can expect far more than a Midway Island kind of existence. We can expect and receive treatment accorded to royalty. For, if we have turned from our own ways and turned to Christ, accepting the sacrifice made at Calvary and surrendered ourselves to God, then we are children of the most high God, the creator of all the universe.

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (17) And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (18) For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” -Romans 8:16-18 (The Bible).

So, come on aboard.

It beats Midway.

Copyright 2008 Voyle A. Glover


jenniferw said...

Absolutely wonderful post! Thank God for His mercy and faithfulness. Poor Barney ...

MaryAnn said...

What a wonderful and funny story!
May we be patient and kind to each other as we "blunder" through life.
Hope and Pray that someone will read your blog and realize the "Jesus is the Way"!