“Home is always a place you've never been.”

Jul 28 2002 Kelly Norton

Sometimes you meet people who pass off quips with such nonchalance that their words are preserved purely by the virtue of their demeanor. Captain Conrad told me that home is always a place you've never been over a Polar Beer in the Flamingo's Nest bar overlooking a cloud-stifled sunset in Bonaire. If he had been writing the story rather than telling it, he probably would have used those words as a title in big bold letters. As he wrote he would have wound those words back in just as he did when he talked:

I left an apartment building that boasted a 1 year waiting list. I left a trendy monotone sofa, a set of glass end tables, and a hand-crafted wine rack that supported an array of high priced and thoroughly aged bottles of red wine. I left the place I had always been, and took to the sea so that every moment of every day I would have a home … in a place I'd never been.

As he tells it, he walked directly from work to the docks still holding his briefcase and in less that an hour was bound for a South American port in the fortunate absence of one Donald L. Kurtz who had managed to put himself behind bars after tequila had brought about his less flattering side in a downtown bar twelve hours prior. And since, Donald L. Kurtz's duties on The Patna obviously required that he be present and not behind bars, Captain Conrad (then only Mr. Conrad) was granted a home by the late Captain R.G. Brown. Captain Conrad served faithfully on board The Patna for roughly a year before he drifted off to another tour of duty as part of another crew of hard working ship hands. Several years later, he served out a couple of stints as water-clerk but like the recurring routes of shipping it grew redundant and robbed him of his home, and so he moved on. He was a man destined to wander the rest of his days, until fortune doubled back on him in the form of a bitter and demoted Donald L. Kurtz jamming a buck knife into his thigh on the deck of an Atlantic tanker. Had the wound been opened later in the trek, there would have been less time for the bacteria on Mr. Kurtz's knife to go forth and multiply in the Captain Conrad's muscle, but tales of the sea are always tragic. That was another of his quips. By the time he reached the west coast of Ireland, his right leg looked like a python ingesting a watermelon. And after the surgeons put down their scalpels it looked as if the same python had taken refuge in the business end of a double blade mower. Now he waddles around with some unknown contraption underneath his cargo pants that keeps him moving, though a little slower than the day he covered the ten blocks in twenty minutes with his briefcase and a longing for the insecurities of home.

It's only on vacation when one meets a man like Captain Conrad, and fortunately, it's only a vacationer that takes his quips seriously. Security for a man like that isn't his estate or his progeny; it's the life of his quips. At every port he tells a young man,

The wisest men are not equaled in the execution of their duties, and never take those duties serious enough to conduct them in boredom.

And so his contribution to the world spreads on the tongues and journal pages of returning vacationers relaying what they remember of a man who found a home in the most likely of places, everywhere he looked.