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Captain of My Choices: An Essay

Life is a series of choices. They come at you bam, bam, bam from cradle to grave. We’re hard-wired for it. As little kids, we’re choosing a favorite rattle or middle-of-the-night wailing slot before we’re even aware a choice was involved. Parents know this via age-old wisdom, and though as adults they’re making horrible choices themselves, they try to get their kids choosing better.

There are countless choices at a supermarket. For example, store-brand Froot Loops always seem sketchy somehow, but they are fifty cents cheaper. The greenish state of bananas weighed against your banana-eating forecast. Then there’s the cat food aisle. The cat food aisle has a barrage of flavor combos, tuna and chicken and giblets. I don’t picture what goes into giblets. That’s a choice. Ignorance is bliss.

The cans come in delicate broths or cheese bits or some fondue-ish suspension. With test-marketed names like Gourmet Grill and Fresh Catch. It’s good fun choosing the flavors that your cats will decide they hate. But there’s one flavor that stops me cold there in the cat food aisle, muzak bouncing, stuck at some invisible crossroads.

Sea Captain’s Choice.

This cat food hypnotizes me. Can’t say why, which only deepens the allure. The can is simple and solid. A glimpse of two fish filets to keep us landlubbers grounded. No-nonsense, but no glitz either. And there’s barely a cat pictured on the label. Yet, that name–that name, Sea Captain’s Choice–that bluest blue label, the blue of tropical waters, island coves, buried treasure.

What I think it is, it makes me wonder about the captain. What kind of man is he? Or she, if the family’s daughters have taken the helm. A stern captain, to offer so consistent a pâté and so clean and tight a can design. A captain like this ventures through life with taut riggings and swabbed decks.

Our captain has made choices. It’s right there on the label. A cannonade of choices–and came to live with them. Like did they choose the sea, or did the sea choose them? The latter, I’ve grown to believe. Destiny surrounds anyone born who braves the oceans for the sole purpose of cat food.

More choices. Hard choices. Which fish are best among their catch, where to find them, why those primo selections remain unspecified on the label. It could be any fish, carp or marlin or even shark, caught or personally wrestled from the water anywhere. Cagey, my captain. Another choice, never to be pinned down as you ply the seven seas after a dream.

You need a crew for such an undertaking. A hearty crew, bosuns and mates. Another wave of choices, from who gets selected to how those brave sailors hired went to sea themselves. Some running from their crimes, some running toward cat food glory.

Maybe that’s why the Captain grabs me. I long for a captain. A steady hand to help chart my stars. Except, let’s be blunt, I couldn’t cut it in any sailing life, let alone under so formidable a command. Fact: I sunburn easy and prefer the shade. Fact: I like to sleep in. Fact: I have deplorable knot skills that I have chosen not to improve. Besides, if there is a call of the sea, I choose to hear it as a call to the Marriott swim-up bar. Sure, there was that time we went out twenty miles off Florida for gambling, but let’s be honest: That was about the craps table and complimentary drinks.

One day, the supermarket didn’t have any Sea Captain’s Choice. Not like they were out of stock. I mean, gone. The shelves had pushed the other cat foods together where Sea Captain’s Choice had always been, how supermarkets choose to fool the untrained eye into believing the shelves are super stocked. The captain, gone. I worried. Had the Captain gotten out of the cat food game? Had they made a disastrous choice, say to chase a school of cod into a furious nor’easter?

Or had they made a terrible choice? Captain, did you leave half your crew to the Kracken so that the rest were spared? Did you dump your catch to escape a grasping whirlpool? Captain, what drives you to take such risks? Or did you make the ultimate sacrifice? You’ve seen the movies: perfect storms, pirate clashes, megalodons. Anything can happen out there, when the sea chooses.

At whatever stage of the grief process, I began reflecting on why this Captain mattered so much. I hadn’t met them. I wasn’t joining their quest. I don’t eat the food. The cat does. Yet I stood there in the aisle, blocking the shelf guys and other shoppers, and slumped in unexpected loss.

A choice. A last choice.

My choice. I’d chosen to fill in certain rough-sketch details about this Captain and their quest, down to their final reckoning. And I’d chosen pretty well, if I might say so. It’s more fun buying from Captain, My Captain than from any old blue can slingers. In life, choose fun where you can. Choose adventure, even if it’s fiction.

Well, I’d overreacted. Sea Captain’s Choice soon returned to the shelves. The supermarket had just been out of stock and just chose trickery to keep panic from setting in. Be that way, supermarket. I choose the high road. The high seas and that Captain my Captain forever beyond the horizon, a built-up fascination I’ll never really understand.

In life, we don’t get all the answers. Only choices to make and the next questions each choice brings. Like, for one, why the hell do I have a cat anyway?

Her choice, I guess.

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