Jomo Standby

“Jomo standby” boomed sonorously throughout the ship. The big trawl was ready to come up from the deep Pacific Ocean. I catapulted out of a deep sleep – I never got to my bunk before 4 a.m. on these squid cruises – into my working gear and out on deck in five minutes. I skipped breakfast. This is my favorite meal, but on the Japanese Fisheries Training and Research Vessel Miyazaki Maru, it invariably featured a variety of ice-cold marine invertebrates with many appendages and deeply reproachful eyes. Many of them I had disembowelled myself the previous night, so their reproof was not entirely unjustified, although they and I were each serving science in our own way. The cook offered only rice, miso soup and green tea with the breakfast bestiary at a painfully early 7 a.m., so I found it was easier on my sensitive soul and mid-thirties body to sleep till the morning Jomo alert growled into my cabin at 10 a.m.

My preparation for the afternoon Jomo was much less frenetic. Our science team lolled on the Miyazaki’s bow under the squid laundry, nursing complicated cocktails designed around hideously lumpy but infinitely juicy and delicious Tahitian limes. Ned, the senior scientist in charge of the all-night squid jigging, always brought a huge bag of them, freshly picked from the tree in his garden, on board. We stowed Ned’s Tahitian limes with at least as much, if not more, loving care as the science gear, and the limes repaid our devotion by not rotting during the fortnight at sea. Every afternoon the limes anointed our pre-Jomo drinks session on the Miyazaki’s smooth, spotless teak deck. My lime quota went into the darkest rum I could find to bring along. The more congenerics, the better the flavour, in my view; I prefer my rum to be about one distillate up from fermented molasses.

Unlike their US counterparts, Japanese science ships are mercifully not dry, although one had to bring one’s own tipple if one wanted a change from sake and Japanese beer. But to my mind, Bacchus-wise, French science ships rank first in the world’s research fleet. When I sailed on the French Research Vessel Iphigénie, two different wines appeared with lunch and dinner, except on Thursdays and Sundays, when the chef presented ‘les repas améliorés’. These ‘improved repasts’ – and the unimproved ones were already ambrosial – comprised five heavenly courses, instead of three, at both lunch and dinner, accompanied by three different wines, instead of two. Afterwards, we repaired for an elegant half-hour of tisanes, liqueurs and petits-fours in the officers’ lounge. Breakfast was also the best on French science ships. Instead of cold inverts and rice, a basket of warm, freshly baked baguettes, brioches and croissants adorned the center of the Iphigénie’s mess table each morning. The dawn boulangerie scents wafting from the galley irresistibly lured me out of my bunk, as surely as a morning Jomo, even if I’d just come off a long night’s watch. 

Calories pile the pounds on quickly when one is short, hates exercise, and loves good food. It’s especially hard for me not to gain weight at sea, even when the food is only okay. Although generally obsessed with keeping my weight down, with varying degrees of success, I soon realized that resistance to this French zenith of marine gourmandise was utterly futile. I decided the stress of refusing the Iphigénie’s food would be psychologically and physically much unhealthier than the effect of the increasingly dismal message conveyed by my inexorably tightening clothes. So I abandoned all restraint and gained fifteen pounds on a three-week El Niño research cruise through a long swathe of the South Pacific on the Iphigénie. How her officers and crew stayed so annoyingly rail-thin I never could figure out. They certainly ate as much as we, the science team, did. At least I lumbered through a guilt-ridden ballet barre on deck in the late afternoon, while the Jesuit priest paced around the ship with his breviary, piously directing a prayer at me and my pliés on each circuit. No one else on board moved at all unless necessary for work, showing up for meals, and coming out on deck to watch the sunset, an indispensable ritual at sea.

After the El Niño cruise, I island-hopped home to Hawai’i through the Pacific for a couple of months, and lost those fifteen pounds en route. Never has gaining and losing weight been so pleasant and so painless. My protracted and slimming return spared me the adipose embarrassment suffered by Paul, the Jesuit priest. An oceanographer like me, Paul was also the parish priest for a particularly remote part of the Micronesian island of Pohnpei, where he returned immediately after the El Niño cruise. At the very end of my homeward journey, I visited him in his peaceful, isolated and very traditional village. To get there from Pohnpei’s capital, Kolonia, I hitched a long, bumpy ride in the back of a truck carrying a large load of bright green banana fronds. After several hours, the driver decanted me and the fronds by a narrow, damp path leading into what looked like pristine rainforest.

“Where are you going?” asked a passing urchin.

To Paul’s house,” I replied, shaking bits of frond and associated bugs out of my clothes and short blonde hair. I pointed down the path. “Is this the right way?”

He nodded, but startled me with a bellow in Pohnpeian at some other proximate young who had meanwhile materialized from the rainforest. My plan not to upset the quiet life of Paul’s conservative community shattered. An alarmingly accreting gaggle of local kids escorted me down the path, through the whole village, to Paul’s modest thatched hut at the other end of the village by the river, chanting rhythmically at the top of their voices.

“How charming,” I smiled at the gaggle appreciatively after greeting Paul. “Were they singing a traditional Pohnpeian welcome for visitors?”

“If only,” Paul shook his head. “I’ve been trying to encourage them to keep using their chants. But for you, they were yelling ‘Father Paul, Father Paul, we have brought you A Woman!’”

We sat on the floor of Paul’s cool bamboo verandah. The gaggle settled down at the edge of the clearing to watch us. All the adults from the village also found a reason to wander slowly by Paul’s hut.

“I haven’t seen so many of my parishioners in weeks, not even at Sunday Mass,” he remarked wryly. In order to maintain the proprieties, I couldn’t enter his hut, even if he stayed outside. We remained irreproachably and virtuously displayed on opposite ends of his verandah and chatted about the El Niño cruise, life in his village, and marine research. I wasn’t just making a social call. I was there to help him do nutrient measurements in the water along a transect in his kayak from the rainforest through the mangroves out over the coral reef.

The senior village women kindly prepared excellent roasted breadfruit and steamed fish in coconut milk for our lunch, served to us on the verandah by girls from the gaggle. We reminisced about the Iphigénie’s repasts. Paul ruefully told me that even his ample brown Jesuit habit hadn’t hidden the horror of his great girth. His superior in Kolonia ordered him on short rations, and called him Friar Tuck until his robes fit properly again.

“It was much worse than Lent,” sighed Paul. He also had to write homilies on gluttony. By the time I got to Pohnpei, my weight was back to normal too. One of the village women converted the voluminous mu’u mu’u I had bought to disguise my own gluttonous shame on disembarking from the Iphigénie in New Caledonia, into a much more flattering and useful pareo. It accompanies me on all my research cruises now, as a salutary reminder.

Waiting with the rest of our lounging science team for the afternoon Jomo call to rumble round the Miyazaki, I sat cross-legged on that pareo, sipping my cocktail of Tahitian lime and deep dark rum. We all tried not to over-indulge on munching from the pile of dark green crunchy edamame, a delectable Japanese soybean nibble, heaped on a large plate in our midst. The squid laundry festooning the deck just overhead enhanced the salty marine fragrance of the ambience. Our Japanese colleagues and crew were especially fond of plucking and eating these mantles and tentacles drying in the sea air, another culinary delight for them from the nocturnal squid haul. But not all the squid made it to the laundry lines on the bow, or even to breakfast. Another, even more delicious dish emerged from the nightly carnage, as I learned during my first Miyazaki cruise.

My reputation for a steady hand and cast-iron stomach in all sea states earned me my night job of chief disemboweller of the squid caught by the jiggers. I set up my surgery at a table in a lab opening out on the deck where the squid jigging went on. I sexed the squid, measured and noted mantle lengths, cut out and packaged the light organ in their foreheads in dry ice, removed and weighed stomachs and, for the females, also oviducts, and packaged those too. With my back to the door, I operated on my victims on a cutting board under a bright table lamp. I had to work quickly, because getting the light organs on dry ice as soon as possible was especially important as they deteriorated rapidly. I also had to keep them ink-free, not a trivial challenge, because unhappy squid squirt ink from special sacs at the source of their distress. These squid were extremely unhappy, and they knew exactly at whom to shoot ink, and why. Squid would make excellent snipers.

It was a new moon on my first night of squid surgery, and the squid came in thick and fast. For several hours I didn’t move from my seat. I only barely kept up with the squid cascading onto my table, and soon gave up trying to maintain order among any squid bits currently superfluous to science. In my frenzy, I flung all severed heads minus light organ but with tentacles, all measured mantles, any (rare) unemptied ink sacs and miscellaneous guts over my shoulder on the floor behind me, to clean up later when the flow of squid staunched. When this did at last happen, I pushed my chair back and got up to start swabbing my lab. Turning, I faced a scene worthy of Fellini.

Half a dozen of our Japanese crew squatted in complete focused silence in a row against the back wall of the lab. Clad only in grey boxer shorts and thong slippers, eyes closed in bliss, they were methodically chewing their way through the drifts of heads, tentacles and mantles behind my chair. Black squid ink dribbled down their fingers, chins and chests and onto their bare toes. As I stared, one crew member left his dream world to select a few more tidbits. He nodded solemnly at me, languidly waved an inky hand over the carnage and ecstatically exhaled the pinnacle word of Japanese cuisine, voluptuously drawing out the vowels: “Sa-a-a-shi-i-i-mi-i-i-i.” The rest of the row hissed and sighed and swayed like a small breaking wave.

We were engaged in a series of oceanographic expeditions to study the biology and ecology of these intelligent and complex cephalopod mollusks in the open ocean around the Hawaiian Islands. Conducted jointly between the University of Hokkaido, on whose excellent vessel we were guests, and the University of Hawai’i, the two-week squid cruises had been occurring since the early eighties. Ned of the Tahitian limes was deputy to chief scientist Mick, a renowned, Hawai’i-based cephalopod expert. They always participated, as did Mick’s graduate students. Other scientists and students whose research, even if not specifically on squid, would be assisted by taking part, joined the cruises as necessary. I was one of the latter. In return for helping Mick with his work, I was allowed to pursue my own projects on board: “a perfect squid pro quo,” as I once cheerfully described our arrangement to my colleagues, for which horrible pun I have to this day not been fully forgiven.

To complete the science team, the Hawai’i-based group invited assorted Warm Bodies to help with the prodigious quantity of grunt work that accompanies research at sea. Warm Bodies needed no squid, or marine – or indeed any – science qualifications. We only asked Warm Bodies to be amiably willing to pitch in and help with whatever was necessary, whenever it was needed, and especially to stay up all night, every night, for a fortnight, squid-jigging with special poles and lures, without whining.
Warm Bodies usually had interesting reasons of their own to spend two uncomfortable weeks away from home. Over the years I sailed on the Miyazaki, my Warm Bodies included a Dutch lawyer trying to decide whether to leave her husband (she caught the biggest squid of all the jiggers on that cruise, and left her husband promptly on her return to the Netherlands), a business executive’s troubled teenage son (he loved the experience and straightened out), a geophysicist in deep Ph.D. doldrums (galvanized by the squishy, violent squid science, she returned to her clean peaceful algorithms with relief and finished her thesis early), and one of my best friends, who adores to travel, but whose husband can’t join her as often as she’d like; her occasional escapades with me are one of her happy solutions. I now prescribe Warm-Bodying on research cruises as panacea therapy for just about any problem that doesn’t require surgery or antibiotics.

My personal favourite of Mick’s Warm Bodies was pony-tailed, poetic Peng, a tall Chinese-American who tied his long, thin Fu-Manchu moustache back over his ears for close lab work, and his hair in a bun for deck chores. “I’m a Dude in a Snood” began one of his impromptu verses, spawned during a long night’s squid-jigging. The sequel, alas, was later lost at sea. Very well-read and highly entertaining, Peng was also flamboyantly gay, as all the most amusing men in my life seem to be (either that or they are Jesuit priests), much to my frustration. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. On land, Peng was a superb chef and a fanatical foodie. He did make it to breakfast on the Miyazaki every morning. Despite daily and lyrically acclaiming the reproachful inverts as being of the highest culinary quality and delicacy to delight the discerning palate, Peng never succeeded in convincing me that they, unlike fresh, warm croissants, were worth my getting out of bed for.

But best of all was when a Squid Luminary joined the Miyazaki cruises. Like the Mages in the Bible, travelling Luminaries brought valuable gifts: other perspectives from the world of squid science, and new sea stories. For a tiny team that had been going to sea together for a long time, new stories are especially prized. Even in this age of the satellite dish, videos, personal stereos, and a thousand TV channels, a bearer of interesting stories is warmly welcomed in remote communities. For the story-teller and -collector, the ‘Jesuit circuit’ in the Pacific Islands forms a particularly appreciative set of listeners and entertaining contributors. These very intelligent, highly educated and well-informed men live in prolonged isolation from their home world, and separated from their other island-bound colleagues by the vast ocean. Especially if properly introduced as such by fellow Jesuits, they happily receive any passing Tusitala, a ‘teller of tales,’ as Robert Louis Stevenson was highly complimented by his Samoan hosts, who also greatly value good storytelling. The excellent conversations with my Jesuit hosts over delicious local meals on many island verandahs enlivened and enlightened my own Pacific voyages and contributed several gems to my own treasure chest of stories. They in turn particularly appreciated my research cruise tales.

On the Miyazaki we did a Jomo trawl twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Each “Jomo standby” call signalled the start of at least an hour of intense, exciting activity on board. Bringing in the huge, heavy and unwieldy Jomo was complicated and dangerous. All hands, supervised by the first officer, had to stand by on the aft deck in work vests, hard hats, closed shoes and thick gloves. Everyone also stayed well away from the two straining, squealing winches and their increasingly tautening wires as they slowly and noisily dragged the Jomo up from the depths of the ocean. Our science team was always particularly careful about avoiding those wires, after what happened on one of the early squid cruises. This episode also added a stellar sea story to my treasure chest, courtesy of Clive, the very most eminent of the Squid Luminaries, with his contribution to Mick’s “Safe Science at Sea” lecture on the Miyazaki.

As chief scientist, Mick was responsible for ensuring the prudent behavior of his team. He always gave the vital SSS talk to us all out on deck on the first morning of every squid cruise. We mustered on the bow as soon as we passed the sea buoy out of Honolulu harbor, while the Miyazaki began nosing into the first ocean swells. Attendance by all at Mick’s lecture was mandatory, even for those of us Old Miyazaki Hands who had heard his SSS talk many times before. It was always the same drill. Mick fixed the ocean novices in his stern glare, sighed deeply, and slowly spelled out the three main SSS rules in a voice of doom:

“First, don’t stand in the bight of a line.
Second, don’t go out alone on deck at night.
Third, don’t stand near wires under tension.”

He illustrated the first two rules with a brief but dire example of what had actually occurred, with fatal effect, to some hapless soul who neglected the rule. First, bights have an unpredictable life of their own. A bight suddenly tightened itself around an unsuspecting ankle and jerked abruptly, capsizing the ankle’s owner, whose head smashed in his fall against a metal stanchion. He never recovered consciousness. Second, the early folder in an after-dinner poker hand didn’t return to the game he had briefly left “for a quick breather on deck.” Although his mates sounded the alarm after only fifteen minutes, and the ship crossed and re-crossed the sea area where he had accidentally fallen overboard for the rest of the night and much of the next day, he was never found, despite the sea being calm and warm. Had he been accompanied, his fall would at least have been seen, a life preserver would have been flung at him, and the man-overboard alarm would have sounded immediately. Then he might have had a chance. Alone, he had none.

I had never heard Mick give an example for the third rule. He did always warn us that a wire breaking under tension could slice right through one if one was in the wrong place.

“The wire moves too fast for you to avoid it. It can’t be dodged. Don’t even think that you can. Just stay away from it.”

As usual at this point, Mick fell silent and gloomily contemplated the novices, who dropped their heads and shuffled their feet. The rest of us, long familiar with Mick’s SSS dirge, gazed vaguely out to sea in screensaver mode. Clive’s voice unexpectedly cut into our thoughts.

“Yes, this is very true. A wire broke during a cruise I was on once. It was horrible.”

Mick raised an eyebrow, the novices looked up and everyone focused on Clive. Clearly gratified by our interest, he leaned against the rail and began his story.

“We were bringing in a trawl like this Jomo, very big, very heavy, from very deep. We had several promising young students on board, fine young men, much like you, about your age.”

Now Clive aimed a long, portentous stare over his half-moon glasses at our novices, who happened to be all male that year. We Old Miyazaki Hands stared at them too. They again began shuffling uncomfortably. Clive solemnly nodded his head and went on.

“We were all standing by on deck, waiting for the trawl doors to show at the surface, and listening to the wires squealing on the winch as the trawl was being pulled in. The screeching kept getting higher and higher in pitch. Most of us were in the wire safe zone – where all of us should have been from the beginning, of course, but we were getting careless. This is very foolish at sea, being careless. The ocean doesn’t forgive carelessness. Remember that. Anyway, the screeching got worse and worse, and the rest of us started moving back into the wire safe zone, but too slowly, much, much too slowly, as it turned out. The screeching reached an almost unbearable pitch and the wire snapped.”

“One of these fine young men – he really was very much like you guys,” 

Clive repeated ominously, pausing with a nicely honed feel for paedagogical histrionics, and again training his eyes severely on the now thoroughly discomfited novices, 

“was still outside the safe zone. What happened next, happened unimaginably fast. It was so fast that it’s going to take longer for me to tell you than it took for it to happen. The force of the snapped wire was so strong and the speed of the wire so quick that it sliced the fine young man right through at his waist, and it lifted and flung his top half over the rail of the ship into the sea, leaving his bottom half on deck. The force was so strong and the speed was so quick that the young man must not have felt anything at all yet, because as he flew over the side he waved and yelled, ‘I’m okay!’”

Even the most hardened among us were aghast. Mick, a buddy of Clive’s since they were in graduate school together some thirty years earlier, instantly challenged his veracity. Clive swore it was the unembellished truth, offered to provide corroborative details, and indignantly pointed out that at least he had graphically illustrated the reason for Mick’s prohibition on proximity to wires under tension. Mick observed the clearly sobering effect of the story on our young bucks, not to mention the rest of us more callous jades. Deciding its SSS value outweighed other considerations, he quit grilling Clive, who sauntered off looking smug and righteous.

Several days later, we were all standing by on deck for the afternoon Jomo, inside but still quite near the edge of the wire safe zone, listening to the Miyazaki’s winch shrieking. It was increasing in pitch, uncannily like Clive’s description. We had all begun moving back even further behind the winch house when, with a high banshee scream, a wire did snap. For a moment we all stood transfixed. Then every one of us, except Clive, chorused in unison, 

“I’m okay,” 

to each other, and then every one of us, except Clive, simultaneously looked down at our bottom halves. We nearly lost Clive himself over the side, he was laughing so hard.

While the Miyazaki steamed along at a few knots, the Jomo, which is the Japanese name for this immense deep-sea trawl, fished with its great open mouth held agape by two huge heavy wooden doors down at 800 meters depth for four hours on each set. From our ship, the only sign of its gulping presence so far below us was a necklace of bright orange balls trailing far behind us and a swirl of sea birds circling over it, because in that necklace was their lunch. The Jomo was big enough to swallow an airplane. We think it once tried to swallow a submarine, the only explanation we could think of when the Jomo came up mysteriously torn from end to end in a single gash. In the subtropical north Pacific Ocean off the Hawaiian Islands, where the sea floor can be 5000 meters deep, every Jomo haul harbored the unexpected. No one ever missed a Jomo call, not even the off-duty crew.

Once the Jomo was safely on board, we immediately sorted its catch on deck while it was still fresh, for identification, dissection and preservation. We separated the catch into squid and octopus – all cephalopods were grist to Mick’s mill – and into various other categories of critter, depending on the interests of the other scientists on board. We also described the content of the catch as a whole in the logbook. This gave us a partial snapshot of who was out there that day in that part of the ocean when the Jomo came trawling by.

Collecting Mick’s cephs always came first, because they deteriorated the quickest. We tried to have his cephs sorted as quickly as possible. This usually took about twenty minutes. We dumped the whole haul into a large shallow square container filled with fresh seawater. Mick squatted down and carefully combed through the haul with his long sensitive bare fingers, slightly spread, to let even the smallest remnants of a ceph catch on to them. Many of the cephs and other organisms out here in the deep ocean are fragile, watery and gelatinous. They don’t hold up well to being trawled along for hours and stuffed into an increasingly full tail end of the net. Much of the catch gets squashed and mashed together. Making sure no cephs got missed meant raking one’s hands repeatedly through thick translucent goo.

The retrieved cephs and ceph bits went into a bucket of iced water, to keep them fresh until Mick could examine them in the lab below. We helped him with ceph triage by removing the other critters from the big container to their own category buckets. From time to time we held up a hand dripping with a potentially cephalopodic piece of more solid slime, for a diagnosis by Mick. Intact cephs were best, but of the ceph remnants, he especially valued those bearing suckers. Mick could sometimes nail a ceph species on the basis of only one sucker on a smidgen of tentacle resurrected from goo.

Immediately after dealing with the morning and afternoon Jomos, we dragged plankton nets. These were much smaller and fished shallower and shorter. We usually did three twenty-minute net tows per plankton session. My principal day job on the squid cruises between Jomos was the removal of all the tiny ceph paralarvae from fresh, live plankton hauls. I enthroned myself aft on deck in the lee of the winch house on an upturned beer crate padded with a life jacket and deployed my specialized high-tech marine science gear: dime-store reading glasses to magnify the catch, manicure tweezers to ease the paralarvae out of the catch, a large Petri dish for sorting through the catch, small lidded Petri dishes to put these ceph babies in, and seawater in a squeeze bottle to squirt on the babies in their dishes to keep them alive until Mick could examine them.

As soon as a plankton net came in, a Warm Body dumped the contents in a bucket, and delivered it to me on my crate. I settled down to picking ‘baby ika,’ as I explained to passing curious Japanese crew (my Japanese language skills are unfortunately very limited, but I knew the Japanese word for squid, and ‘baby’ seems to be a universal word), as fast as possible out of what looked like thick, pale, glutinous, but actively pulsating minestrone. A Warm Body attended my pleasure to refill the squeeze bottle and run Petri dishes with ika babies in seawater down to Mick’s lab for identification and photography. Time was of the essence in getting ika babies to Mick. If they were still viable, we also tried to rear them in the aquarium on board.

In good weather I would have up to nine plankton tows between Jomos to pick through per day, so my ceph-in-goo search image had become finely tuned. I rather fancied that I had evolved a heightened sensitivity to the presence of any ceph in a sample, even if I couldn’t immediately see it. I would not relinquish a plankton sample to a Warm Body for preservation until I was sure, from both seeing and feeling, that it was ceph-free.

Once my ceph-second-sight led to a tantalizing discovery. After one Jomo haul, I was uncricking my back, stiff from bending too long into a non-ceph triage container holding some really beautiful and remarkably intact deep-sea angler fish. These are some of my favorite fish: all females, with huge toothy mouths, luminous blue lures, and each sporting her own tiny attached vestigial male: such a sensible arrangement.

As I groaned and stretched myself along the rail of the ship, Mick straightened up from crouching over the main catch container nearby and pronounced it ceph-free. My ceph antennae quivered as I glanced over into it from my rail and I said,

“There’s still a ceph bit left in yours. I see a couple of suckers in the goo.”

“No, I think I got everything,” 

replied Mick, picking up his iced ceph bucket and preparing to scurry down to his lab. I walked over to the main catch container, dredged through it with my hand, and brought up the promising bit of goo. Mick grunted skeptically but let me add it to his bucket for closer examination.

Later that day, I sat on my crate happily chasing some particularly lively baby ika around a fresh plankton sample with my tweezers. Suddenly, instead of the Warm Body, Mick himself appeared at my side with a pile of empty Petri dishes and a big grin.

“You know that piece of goo you found?”

“Any good?”

“I think it’s a new family of squid!”

Not a new species, not a new genus, but a new family – a rare and wonderful occurrence in biology. And this is especially wonderful in the deep ocean, about which we know rather less than we know about the dark side of the moon. A couple of suckers and enough of a tentacle remained in the goo to make this initial tentative assessment. The rest of the squid had probably been destroyed while the net came in. An intact specimen, complete with head and mantle, was still needed to confirm it as a new squid, describe it and formally introduce it to the world. Nevertheless, although proper authentication was still awaited, we were all cautiously delighted, especially Mick, who is in charge of squid for the Tree of Life on the World Wide Web. I only nagged Mick a little bit every day about naming the new family after me.

Back on land, the science team met up at our regular Thank God It’s Friday – known as TeeGee’s – evening beer and pupus gathering around the picnic tables under the plumeria trees behind the University of Hawai’i’s Marine Science Building. TeeGee’s is a prime time for sea stories. I told our new squid story to some of the oceanography faculty there. They smiled benignly and one of them, winking at me, addressed his colleagues:

“Well, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all to have allowed a lawyer into our midst, and even to take one out to sea.”

We looked at him in surprise. They then all turned to me, by this time many years flown from my first profession, but still sensitive to its largely unhappy reputation and my own precarious position among non-lawyers, which I had hoped to be repairing a bit.
I took a deep calming breath of the perfumed plumeria air.

“Why might that have been a good idea, then?” 

I inquired gently.

“Ah,”

replied the professor, collegially patting my arm, 

“because only lawyers can spot suckers at a distance.”