Last Laugh: Channeling Tom Sawyer

15 May 2020 By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration of one guy drinking and another making an online purchase
Illustration by John Devolle

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at

I was having trouble coming up with something juicy to write about this month. I’ve been researching several options but none of them — not even my exposé, Captains, Oedipal Complexes, and the Inability to Keep Hands to Yourself Syndrome — are ready for publication. Then I remembered a story in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Tom had to paint a fence that he really didn’t feel like painting. Being the clever fellow he was, he tricked people into thinking that fence painting was a fun job and actually convinced others to bribe him in order to do it and, in the process, teaching us all a valuable lesson on the moral bankruptcy of youth as a whole and the merits of swindling children in general.

Anyway, like I said, it gave me an idea. So, laptop in hand, I strolled to the local yachtie bar in the hopes of finding some colleagues inebriated enough they could be convinced to buy me drinks in exchange for being allowed to do my work for me. Believe it or not, people had something to say and the ghost of Tom Sawyer seemed alive. Here’s what one person named Edgar wrote:

“My favorite thing in yachting is this guy right here. Dave, man, you’re the best. I love you. You’re like, you know, I just love you. You always know when I shouldn’t have another drink (editor’s note: Dave clearly did not know this) and stop me from doing the dumb things I feel like…”

So, laptop in hand, I strolled to the local yachtie bar in the hopes of finding some colleagues inebriated enough they could be convinced to buy me drinks in exchange for being allowed to do my work for me.

That was Edgar from M/Y Carpe Beerum whose story was tragically cut short when he fell from his stool, forgot he was writing about Dave who, as it happened, was in the process of stealing a bottle of Fireball from behind the bar. When caught, he blamed Edgar, who was, once again, sprawled on the floor. Having somehow managed to keep ahold of the purloined bottle after his friend was ejected, he then offered the flaming liquor to me if only I would allow him to do my work. Sipping happily, I agreed.

“My favorite thing about yachting is getting up in the morning… okay, not that so much…but it’s when you’re in a different country than you were yesterday and because you were underway for so long you haven’t been to a bar and actually feel good for a change and go out and do something fun and then you go out at night and you’re like wow…I did that. And now I’m, like, in a foreign bar in a foreign place and they might rob me but I’d prefer if they didn’t. Maybe I should rob them first.”

A little concerned about where this was headed, I moved along to the other side of the bar where I sat down next to a table of young ladies and, for a while, was that douchey guy in public with his laptop looking troubled, creative, and drunk in the most vulnerable way in the hopes that, even though I can’t write anything more literary than a shopping list, someone might take notice. One young lady, Piper or Paisley or something insufferably millennial like that, had this to say:

“My faaaaavorite thing in yachting is meeting new people who have…like…you know…done stuff and finding out all the cool stuff they’ve done and then getting to do and see some of that stuff in like, real places and things. And I like getting paid to iron while on an adventure.”

In spite of getting these hard-hitting quotes about yachting’s underbelly, I didn’t feel they were doing enough to write the article for me and were, maybe, just slurring in 12-point type. Then I noticed an older gentleman sitting at the back. A little sunburned and a little worn, he stared with blank fixation, his unreactive eyes slowly flowing back and forth over the chaotic scene. I approached and quietly told him what I was up to. He nodded, took the laptop, and began to write.

I retreated back to speak to Dave who was annoyed by this because he was trying to chat up Taylor or Qwest or whatever she was called. I drank and bothered them for several hours while the old man wrote and I used the Fireball to blind myself more acutely than if I’d stuck Britney’s selfie-stick in my eye. The next morning, excited to see the insights the old-timer had taken so long to inscribe, I opened my computer. Here, unabridged, is his wisdom:

“I’ve been a mariner for thirty years. Don’t care what industry you’re in, you shouldn’t drink enough to stun a bull elephant and give your computer to a stranger. Thanks for the gifts on Amazon.

P.S. You’re an idiot. Not Tom Sawyer.”

And that’s what I learned. The truth hurts but when you play with Fireball, you’re bound to get burned.

This column is taken from the May 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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