PUTTING TIME IN A BOTTLE

A Special Communication Rides the Waves

A message in a bottle sure didn't start with a Kevin Costner movie.

He was only 10 years old when his parents decided to take a trip on a Merchant Marine ship, the kind that has room for only fifteen passengers in small staterooms. He was an only child, so he kept to himself a lot, especially in that summer of 1960.

He was sitting alone in his own stateroom. Yes, children that age were sometimes left to fend for themselves back then (he has a better story than that: Organized crime was his babysitter a year earlier in Las Vegas when his parents decided to take a vacation there and leave him by himself in the casino lobby while mom and dad gambled their brains out).

But this year, 12 months later, the vacation was on the water instead of in the Vegas desert. Just a small trip from Galveston, Texas, to Puerto Rico, swinging around to Caracas and then Curacao for good measure. Those merchant ships, with their small passenger list, really couldn't handle much longer voyages over open water.

Back in his stateroom, the boy had a brainstorm...all he needed was a pen and pencil.

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The aging dictator was in a bad mood. His brother was actually the president now, the real ruler's health had been so bad. So why did they boher him with this? The paper was yellow with age, and the boss was forced to use a translator in order to understand what was written. His face got red when he heard the words. Must have been a smart-ass American. Or maybe a home-grown dissident.

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The young kid was a fan of the news. Pretty unusual for a boy right out of fourth grade. His playmates, the ones he had at least, couldn't care less. But to him, current events was where it was at. So when his dad suggested he get out of that stuffy room and come out on deck for some fresh air, he was more than happy to oblige. His idea was taking shape, even though for the rest of his life he never knew if anybody had ever noticed.

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In that fancy presidential palace, he held the paper in his hand, and clinched his fist. Was this some sort of insurrection? He was determined to hand it over to the secret police that was surely talented in ferreting out disloyalty. He may be old, but he'd get to the bottom of this.

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Up on deck, with a clear blue sky and a fairly calm sea, the boy had what he needed. Yes, they made him put on a lifejacket, that was standard-issue clothing on an old bucket like this one, especially if you were a kid. But even the cumbersome clothing didn't restrict his movements too much, as he prepared to do his thing. Who knows where his message might end up? The boat was in the Caribbean, after all, and there was land all around.

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The old man had been steeped in paranoia, even as a young man when his soldiers had deposed the country's ancient head-of-state in a coup on New Year's Eve. What a relief to topple that disgusting pawn of the West. The old revolutionary had kept power since then by having a keen eye, and a sharp ear, for anybody who might be ready to betray him, even some of his closest aides. Many of them had paid the ultimate price for his suspicions. He hadn't lost his touch, however, despite his advanced years. Sure, it was the summer of 2002, but this newly-discovered document--dug out of the mud, supposedly by chance, by a fisherman in the waters of the Bay of Pigs--roused the anger in him, the kind that used to strike fear in the hearts of his countrymen. Just because the message was old, waterlogged almost beyond recognition, and contained only two words, the elderly dictator was not about to let this slide.

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The boy tossed it over the side of the ship. The bottle didn't break apart on impact, like the captain had warned him might happen. It just floated away, slowly at first, then at a fast clip, until the waves swallowed it up and it went out of sight. He was so proud of himself. Just two minutes earlier, he had put the cork snuggly in the top of the opening, with his political statement written in child's handwriting in black ink: Castro sucks.

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