My Journal by Harriman Nelson- Lean on Me


Author's note: Heartfelt and grateful thanks to Janet for her unfailing support as a sounding board and observer from the beginning of this project to the very end.

Carol aka 'Catfish' Foss

Feedback welcome.

NOTE: This is the 5th in the series of Harriman Nelson's Journals. It's best to be familiar with them, especially Journal 4 (Cold Turkey) or a great deal of this story might not make sense.

* Most of the places mentioned in this story are real. All of the dishes are.

** The wall of televisions in the Tokyo McDonald's is fictional.

*** 'Dinner' and 'Supper' are used interchangeably by Nelson, indicating the evening meal.

My Journal

By Harriman Nelson


I’d just returned to NIMR after having spent my weekend lecturing at the Bren School of Environmental Sciences (one of the branch grad schools of the University of California) about methane vents.

I was in a foul mood, and not just because of the weather. I didn’t even care that my new blue business suit had gotten rather wet from the pouring rain that not even my umbrella and raincoat could protect me from. Sideways rain I’d call it.

“Bad day already, Admiral?” Angie asked, “I’d have thought spending two days with college kids would perk you up.”

“Normally, yes,” I huffed as I hung up my raincoat and hat on the brass clothes rack. “But I’m afraid they were far more interested in our Spanish gold doubloons and relics than the impact of thrown away plastic bottles on the world’s oceans.”

“It’s only been a few months since you found the Sea Nymph. It’s still a popular topic.”

“Yes, well…is the captain in yet?”

“Yes, in fact he has a visitor. One of the new clients. Some kind of problem. Ames has the details.”

“Thank you. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Um, sir?” she began then, “oh, um, never mind.”

“Ah…” I sighed, suddenly realizing that Lee might think of my ‘assistance’ as butting in or showing a lack of faith in his abilities. Lee had been in charge of approving and disapproving proposals without any help from me long before he went temporarily blind, and on medical leave from the Navy Reserve. “He won’t object to me dropping by to invite him to lunch at Sharkey’s, though, will he?”

“No, I’m sure he won’t,” she said with a grin.

The rain smashed against the corridor’s windows as I headed to Lee’s new suite and couldn’t help wondering if he’d had to wait for the bus in this mess. While he could certainly call the motor pool for transportation to and from NIMR or even for around town (hey, it’s a perk befitting his position as part owner), he prefers to use public transportation. (Which leaves him at the mercy of inclement weather like torrential downpours.) While he can handle himself rather well with the white tipped guide cane, I worry about him stumbling or slipping, crashing to the asphalt or getting himself run over. (Well, I can’t help worrying about all the ‘what if’s that could happen to him.)

“Admiral,” Drew Ames greeted me in Lee’s outer office. “He has a visitor right now.”

“No problem,” I said as I helped myself to the carafe of hot water and a packet of instant hot chocolate mix, Styrofoam cups and plastic spoons next to them. “You know, Ames, the whole point of my seminar was the hope of eliminating things that don’t disintegrate well, like polystyrene foam products.”

“Yes sir. But we do recycle these for the flower beds. Lee, er, the captain said they’d help aerate the soil.”

I noticed the door to Lee’s inner office was ajar then turned my attention to what I could see on Ames’ computer monitor. “That’s an unusual looking spreadsheet.”

“Foodstuff procurement for Seaview. Green - go for it, yellow – only if the budget allows, and red - absolutely not. Sort of. Lee’s approved a  small shipment of Spam.”

“Spam? Lee pestered me for how long, to stop ordering it!”

“Yes sir, but there’s a Spam Hawaiian recipe that Commander Morton really likes. His mother makes it whenever he goes home. The captain thought it might be a good idea to have a supply aboard for one of the upcoming cruises.”

“I see…” I began but just then Lee’s visitor began to shout, turning my attention to his office.

“Three ‘months’, Captain?” a voice was shouting. “I was led to believe that I could engage Seaview’s services in a more timely fashion than that! We have a contract!”

“I’m afraid we’re running a little behind and….”

“Yes,” the man interrupted, “counting all those silver and gold coins from the Sea Nymph must be taking up a great deal  of your time.”

“Dr. Wixom,” Lee said coolly, “we haven’t been able to recoup even a quarter of our expenses from what was left after giving a percentage to Bermuda and Spain.”

“So you keep telling the world,” Wixom interrupted. “Well, I don’t buy it, Captain. What about that golden helmet and breastplate? Surely they must be worth a fortune. Tell me, who’s the lucky millionaire who will be purchasing them?”

“Those artifacts are not for sale. But back to the subject.  Delays happen. You were previously informed that there were other clients ahead of you and that we couldn’t guarantee your proposed dates for Seaview’s services. If you wish quicker accommodations, of course, it’s your privilege to break the preliminary contract without penalty.”

“I realized you were blinded by your accident, Captain, but I didn’t realize you were blinded to such a great scientific opportunity. My proposal should take precedence over all of them!”

What I should have done, of course, was to go right in there and punch the man in nose! I was used to unfounded complaints about big companies, but he was being very rude to my boy!

 Chip had arrived, caught the tail end of the conversation, and clenched his fists, struggling with the same desire I had to barge in and rescue Lee from the verbal assault. But we behaved ourselves and let Lee handle it. As was his right. And part of his job description.

“Dr. Wixom,” Lee continued, “no one doubts the importance of investigating and possibly harnessing a new energy source that your new depth imagery system seems to have indicated. But a few months wait isn’t going to make that much of a difference. If time is of that much importance to you, as I mentioned, you do have the option of utilizing other oceanographic agencies with DSV’s. Now, do you want the use of Seaview or not?”

“Harry Nelson would move Heaven and Earth to accommodate me!”

“I’m not Harriman Nelson,” Lee said coolly.

“All right, all right,” Wixom finally said, defeated, “I’ll wait for Seaview to investigate the Pandora Trench.”

“Very well,” Lee said and clicked the intercom, “Ames? Send Commander Morton in as soon as he arrives.”

I let Chip go in unaccompanied and waited for more fireworks.

“Ah, Chip?” Lee said as soon as he heard Morton’s footfalls. “This is Dr. Ebenezer Wixom. Dr.? Captain Morton will need a complete list of any and all special equipment and provisions you’ll need for your project and of course, the names and gender of any staff you wish to bring along. ”

“That’s ‘Acting Captain’ Morton, Dr. Wixom,” Chip corrected Lee. “We have every confidence that Captain Nelson-Crane will be at Seaview’s conn soon, perhaps even for your expedition.”

“Whatever,” Wixom said. “I’ll have my secretary fax the information over.”

“Very well,” Lee said, “Ames can give you our  fax cover sheet. Good day Dr…. Chip? A moment  of your time, please.”

Wixom brushed past, clearly not recognizing me. Of course my rumpled attire didn’t exactly advertise who I was.

“Sir?” Ames said handing Wixom a fax cover sheet and nodding toward the open door to indicate how he’d known it was needed.

“Trained  monkeys, all of you. I hope to hell that Harry knows what he’s gotten himself into, using that has been of a sub captain of his  as Director of Proposals….”

“Ames,” I asked, “may I see Dr. Wixom’s contract?”

“And just who the hell are you?” Wixom huffed.

“Harriman Nelson. And only my friends call me Harry. Thank you Ames,” I added as I took the multi-page contract from Ames, and with a grin, ripped it up, the pieces of paper falling to the floor.

“You can’t do that!” Wixom screamed, “I’ll sue!”

“Apparently, you don’t remember the fine print. Tell him, Ames.”

“Prior to the purchase of any and all equipment and supplies pursuant to the expedition, a preliminary contract may be dissolved by either party at any time, for any reason.” Then  Ames bent down and picked up the pieces, holding them out with one hand and pointing with the other, “Right about….here, and here….”

Glaring at me, Wixom stormed out.

“Well done, Ames,” I said.

“You too, sir. Not too bad for trained monkeys.”

We laughed but had to stop ourselves in order to eavesdrop as to what was happening in Lee’s office, having missed some of their conversation.

“Lee, please….”Chip was saying.

“No! You’re Captain Morton, there’s no ‘acting’ about it.  And you know damn well that if I was going to regain my sight I would have by now.”

“You can’t give up hope, Lee. Give nature a chance.”

“Nature’s given up on me! I should be seeing something by now. Light, shadows, anything…. It’s pretty obvious that I’m going to be blind for the rest of my life. I refuse to keep everyone’s hopes up. Even Doc finally admitted that they may have missed something,” he paused, utterly defeated.

Ames had to grab my arm to keep me from dashing in.

“Does the admiral know?” Chip asked.

“No, not yet,” Lee sighed, “I…I just don’t know how to tell him yet…Chipee? Keep it quiet for now, okay? I need a little time to think. Now,” Lee added, “I’m sending the Naval Reserve Board my request to change your status officially from acting captain to permanent captain of Seaview and….”

“Lee, don’t be hasty. No matter what the doctors say, there’s always hope….”

“Why prolong the inevitable by wishful thinking?”


“Please don’t try to cheer me up. I’m used to the idea. Everyone needs to be. Now, I’m sure you have a zillion things to do. Oh, by the way, Ames got a brochure in the mail that you might be interested in. Some gastronomic tour of Europe….”


“That will be all, Captain.”


Chip emerged from Lee’s office looking as if  someone had drained a gallon of blood from him. I suppose I looked even worse. Suddenly he realized that Ames and I had heard and shook his head in sorrow then with a look toward Lee’s door began to speak. Loud enough to be heard.

“Oh, morning, Admiral. Ames? The captain said you had a brochure for me?”

“Well,” Ames handed him the brochure, “it’s not addressed to anyone in particular, but he thought you might want to look at it.”

“Thank you…oh, how did your seminar go, Admiral?”

“Not too badly,” I barely managed, choking on my words, “just thought I’d drop in to see if Lee might like to go to lunch with me.”

“I’m sure he’d…enjoy that,” was all Chip managed to say, and fled.


Lee did join me for lunch, though he wasn’t too thrilled about me having the motor pool give us a lift with an NIMR car. At least the rain was abating somewhat and looked as if it would soon be over.

It wasn’t crowded at Sharkey’s Diner,  and we took Lee’s favorite booth. We both chose the Corned Beef & Rye special, and for a moment I thought Lee had  chosen a sandwich because it was easier to eat than to use a knife and fork. Then I remembered how well he’d handled utensils after some training with the Division of Blind Services. Yes, they’d done a good job teaching Lee how live his unseeing life.

It was hard for me to enjoy my sandwich even though Lee got me to talk about my seminar and he talked  how glad Chip would be when Cookie presented him with Spam Hawaiian.

“Something wrong, Harry?” he asked. “I can’t help feeling you’d rather not be here. It was your idea, you know.”

“Huh? Oh, just tired, son. Never fails to surprise me just how advanced, technologically speaking, the younger generation is. I’m fast becoming a dinosaur. ”

“Admiral, Skipper, great to see you!” Sharkey approached from the kitchen, wiping his apron. “They only just told me you were here. Anyone want seconds?”

“None for me,” I answered.

“But you hardly touched it. If there’s something wrong with it? I can fix you something else if you prefer, no charge.”

“It’s fine. I just don’t have the appetite I thought I did.”

“Well, I’m full,” Lee said. “I’ll need a doggie bag, and Chief? Remember, Morton’s the ‘skipper’ now.”

“No sir. He may be Acting Captain, but there’s only one skipper of Seaview and that’s you.”

“I’m afraid not,” Lee sighed. “And I’ll never be again.”

“What’s this all about, Lee?” I finally had my opportunity to ask.

“I’ll never see again. I know it, Doc knows it, even though he keeps grasping at straws. I’ll only be able to command a desk from now on. You need to accept it. Will you do that for me, Harry? Francis?”

“Skipper….” Sharkey whispered.

“No,” Lee took the chief’s hand, “no longer. Take care of my boat and crew when you’re aboard, Chief. Especially Mr…Captain Morton. He’ll need to bounce ideas of someone with horse sense…”

“You’re the best damn skipper ever. I’ll call him captain, but….only you’ll ever be the skipper to me. And before you complain, sir, the word’s only traditional. There’s no rule about it.”

“Thanks but…for me, Chief? Call Morton ‘skipper’? It’s going to be hard enough for him to adjust to full command. It’ll help.”

“Admiral?” Sharkey looked at me, tears forming in his eyes, as if there were something I could do to change Lee’s mind.

“It,” I began, choking over my words, my eyes full of tears as well, “it’s going to be difficult for us all. But if Lee wants it….”

“Oh hell…”

“I take it that’s an affirmative, Chief?” Lee asked, grinning. As if on cue the rain stopped.

“Yes sir. Um…the bill’s on me, Sk…Captain.”

“I might take you up on that someday,” Lee said, “but not this time. And it’s my treat, Harry.”

We both watched as Lee took his wallet out and felt along the newly printed bills. Apparently he’d arranged the bills in a specific order and pulled out the cash he needed plus a little extra.

“A little something for the server.”

“Yes sir, thanks,” Sharkey barely managed as he took the cash. “I um, left something on the grill,” he added, rushing away, his eyes moist. But I knew there wasn’t anything he’d left on the grill. He just needed to go cry in private.

“You okay, Harry?” Lee asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?” I gulped. “You know I’d support any decision you’d make…even if I think you’re letting the wait to regain your sight get the better of you. There’s always hope, Lee.”

Suddenly I felt his hand on mine, the Nelson family ring pressing into my fingers.

“No. There’s no hope. It’s a new chapter in our lives, Harry. Not one either of us likes. But we’ll manage….somehow.” Then he took out his cell phone and called the motor pool to come pick us up.

As we drove back to the institute, I watched as the breeze from his open window ruffled his hair and the emerging sunlight glinted on both his rings.

He was enjoying the breeze against his face, and humming to the tune the driver had turned to on the radio without thinking. It was ‘Lean on Me’.


I’m the one who needs to lean on someone. Lee has been a tower of strength through all of this. And so here I am sitting in my office reflecting on our lives. Moving forward to God only knows what.


Entry #2