If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.


"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chapter III.8


Death Has A Funny Way of Doing Business, Med/Persian Gulf Cruise, pt I



Wave Of Mutilation

Cease to resist, giving my goodbye
Drive my car into the ocean
You'll think I'm dead, but I sail away
On a wave of mutilation
A wave
Wave

I've kissed mermaids, rode the El Niño
Walked the sand with the crustaceans
Could find my way to Mariana
On a wave of mutilation,
Wave of mutilation
Wave of mutilation
Wave

Wave of mutilation
Wave[1]


Key West, a week or so before deploying for a six month cruise in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. This is it, the big game, what all the training and work ups have been for.


Copying poetry out of my poetry book into my laptop, sitting by the pool, drinking rum and cokes and listening to the Hooters Greatest Hits. It hits me all of a sudden while Johnny B. is playing); I’m not coming back from this cruise.” Overwhelming panic whelms up in me followed by assault waves of depression. Good god, it’s only a feeling. Don’t mean anything. But how can you ignore something like that? Is it fixed in stone, your destiny or is it a warning? Jesus, what if it is just a feeling but you believe in the damned thing so much that it actually happens— psyched yourself out, to death? Maybe, the feeling didn’t say you were going to die specifically, maybe it means that you just won’t come back physically, or that you will come back but will be different, the old you dying and being reborn anew.


Oh god, who knows?


Last Flight Out…

Just took off from Key West. Thank god the stewardess is quick with the drinks. You’d be surprised how many you can drink before you land in Miami, if you’re quick.


Been kinda down all day. Helped Buddy on the boat, looked for some new speakers and helped Norman move his boat back from getting spray-painted. Bud helped me carry my bags into the airport. He waved and smiled on his way out. I wonder if I’ll ever see him again, or any of my family for that matter.


How do you explain to your mom or dad that you’re going to go do something you have to do but don’t know if you’re going to come back? How do you tell anyone? How do you take it seriously? How do you not?


Goodbye is Never Easy

The stars aren’t
out tonight
and I ponder Death.
Outside Pete’s
the waves crash up on the beach
and inside
the jukebox plays Pearl Jam—
10, Jeremy;
reminds me of Waldos.
And somewhere
in the Persian Gulf
my death looms
like a quickly approaching albatross
around my neck—
how to avoid it,
how to meet it,
how to master it?
Depression
fills my soul
and yet,
you only die once
why miss it,
why lose it,
why not enjoy it?
So many things
yet to do;
goodbye
is never easy.


DAY 1

Stumbled into CVIC approx 0545 local the day before we’re supposed to leave on a six-month deployment for the Med and the Persian Gulf. Naturally I have duty that day, about four hours of sleep and technically, I’m still drunk, though I feel more like plain shit. They say a day in port is a day wasted, though I’ve often suspected that they really meant that a day in port was a day to get wasted. Thunderbirds are go.


*****

Pulled out today. Wasn’t topside so I didn’t see the sun, the crowd, or if there were any birds flying— an omen to the Greeks. Only 180 days; half a turn, cycle, the other way.


*****

What do you do with a feeling? What do you do with a feeling that you will not return from something alive? Is the future locked in concrete? Can it be changed by foresight and appropriate action? Or have you bought your ticket and you ride the ride— hoping like hell your car doesn’t leave the rails? Does having a feeling and believing in it make it more real for you, or is it like a radar detector— trouble on the road ahead, better slow down and act right?


Maybe the big thing is that I’ve never dealt with the idea of my own mortality before. The idea, at first is a little overwhelming at first. Everybody dies— life is terminal— but you’re not supposed to wake up one morning and realize that you’re going to die in X number of days. That is disquieting as hell. It is just supposed to happen, out of the blue; like waking up from a drunken night— how the hell did this happen?


I don’t know on what principle the universe operates on when it comes to pre-cognition and the future but I intend to be one fighting mother-fucker when the time comes.


DAY 2

Man overboard about 1500 today. Snaps me out of my sleep. Fumbling for boots and a shirt, where the hell is my hat? Fuck it. Tell Dave, “This had better be for real.” Fucked up thing to say but sleep is sacred. Forgot to even put a pair of shorts on. Running around in my boxers, who plans these kinds of things? At least the ship isn’t on fire this time, berthing filling up with smoke, EEBD plastic wrapper thick between your fingers.


This is not a drill, visual sighting of a blue shirt in the water—no float coat. At first, wondering, is this an omen? Are the bad jujus going to follow us for the next 182 days? But no, this kind of shit happens. They have him sighted and two helos in the air. Big scare, part of the job. Everyone go back to sleep, nothing to see here.


Back in my rack. Can’t sleep. El Capitan on the 1MC, no sign of him yet. USS Stout is on the scene to assist in the search. Funny, Joel P. used to be on that boat. It’s been almost an hour, don’t know what the water temperature is but why the hell haven’t they got him yet?


This is different then when the HH-60 went down with four crew during JTF-EX 97-1. Flying is a tricky, unnatural business with inherent risks. You volunteer for that shit. Regrettable but it happens. This however, was a working joe; airman nobody just going about his job. Nothing extra special, nothing extra dangerous, just another day of duty in a routine that can become hazardously repetitive. We are not safe; the ju-ju’s locked on in spite of our jamming, jinxing, chaff, and flares. Doze off listening to The Church, “…day of the dead down in Mexico


Damn CTs. Feet slapping on the deck and their shitty smelling voices— too damn loud. Rumor mill: he/she was depressed about a wife wanting a divorce, jumped over the side. Rumors, goddamned rumors. Maybe it’s true. We’d be off the hook then. No bad omens, no ju-jus, just some poor heart broke schmuck who couldn’t go on. Regrettable, terribly sad, tragic I’m sure to some people. But it means that we’re safe for the moment. No missiles inbound, no Iranian suicide boats, no mines in the straits or subs lurking for us just below the thermal layer. Grace, a reprieve, the future still ours to fuck up.


1815 local: Captain on the 1MC again, she appears to have jumped over the side. Witnesses and all that. Two life rings tossed over the side within fifteen feet of her and a helo over the sight in less than a minute. I don’t understand, how could they not get her out unless she was sucked under by the screws. The Captain has to feel pretty bad since we didn’t swing the ship around but headed off into the wind to recover aircraft overhead. And we’re going on, heading east across the Big Pond about midnight. I wonder if this will blow up into a copycat thing? Who’s to say? We keep going on, and on, until they’re not enough people to run the ship and then we go home. For what? “…we can drive it home with one headlight…” time is transparent, the tragedy is believing in the illusion. A hero, a quitter, a voice strong and clear, or a strangled cry in the warm Atlantic sun? I’ll never know and maybe I won’t even remember in a week. At the end of every life is a window ledge; only some people decide to jump. I don’t know that today was a good day to die, yet someone did. So long, fair winds and following seas.


DAY 3

Walked up into the center last night feeling shitty. Overslept, bad dreams, very negative, very down. Chaos, mass confusion, cluster fuck. It seems that somehow we have detected a sperm whale trapped in a driftnet and the admiral has taken it upon himself to free the fucking thing using SEALs. Supplot needs info fast and quick. We are supposed to lead the pack in providing all-source available intel. This is a fucking joke right? They wouldn’t even turn the boat around when the dame heaved herself over the side and now they’ve made the decision to risk men’s lives in the water with a 50-foot beast that is probably enraged and can stun giant squid with the sound of its voice alone. Unreal.


About this time four years ago, the Richmond K. Turner (CG-20) was also headed over for the Med with the Roosevelt BATGRU. Fresh out of ATD and with a very bad attitude I arrived on board after it had inchopped the Med. One day a lookout, who should have been doing what lookouts are supposed to do—sleeping or being bored— reported an UID object in the water that was big enough to catch his attention and jerk him out of his daydreaming to report it to the OOD. Turns out the damn thing is a refrigerator that someone chucked over the side of a ship. Rather than ignoring the thing, which would’ve been a wise thing, the OOD reports it up the chain and the word comes back down that the refrigerator is a hazard to navigation and must be destroyed. The lee-helm is cranked back to 1/3 and a turn is ordered to circle the refrigerator as the gunner’s mates pour out onto the fantail with ma deuce .50 cal machine guns, M-60’s, M-14’s, Remington 870 shotguns, and Colt .45 pistols. Everybody not on watch weasels their way topside to watch the worlds most powerful navy take on the fridge and hopefully get on something big and automatic; it’s not going to be a fair fight. The lookout promptly goes back to daydreaming. I blame all of this on him.


Soon the air is rife with cordite and bouncing tracers. Things are not looking good for the fridge. Eventually, they even broke out the M-79 (grenade launcher) and popped off 40mm grenades at the thing from the bridge wing with spectacular if not conclusive results. Some four hours and about10, 000 round later the fridge was still floating. I’m certain that someone brought up the idea of shooting off a Mk 32 ADCAP torpedo at the thing but the CO would have had a hard time justifying that expense, especially on a fridge; and it was already going to be hard enough to do with the small arms ammo they’d just burned though. This isn’t good and it’s beginning to look like Brer Cruiser and the Tar Refrigerator.


Next they called for the at-sea-fire-party, who immediately set about breaking out hoses, connecting couplers, twisting valves, and charging lines. The whole dirty lot mustered up on the foc’le, in what may have been a clever attempt by some chief or divo to get the fuckers wet and clean, with a fire hose in an attempt to sink the fridge by filling it with water.


Now, somebody forgot to tell the stupid OOD, or CO, or XO that refrigerators are made out of Styrofoam, which has the peculiar quality of floating on any liquid, and is not susceptible to any but the heaviest of firepower, say a 5 inch/.54 cal gun, which we did not have. Granted, with the rounds that had actually impacted the fridge, which was nowhere near the 10,000 expended, the thing would never properly function as a fridge again but it still wasn’t enough to sink it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you were to fill the free space in a fridge with water you couldn’t even achieve neutral buoyancy, much less sink the thing. Well, if nothing else, we proved that there were no rocket scientists on the RKT that day.


So, the at-sea-fire-party proceeded to hose the damn thing down for about an hour when somebody finally caught on and secured the water. The engineers began to drain and roll up their hoses, heads hung in defeat; they had achieved nothing more than the gunner’s mates and had been far less amusing to watch. Ultimately the RKT pulled along side the fridge, the deck apes of 1st division grapple-hooked it and heaved it up on deck, and then proceeded to tear the shit out of it with fire axes. RKT: 1, kinda. Fridge: 0, kinda.


So, screw the girl and save the whale. Girls committing suicide get you no medal or press and trapped whales do. But there are some things that even the mightiest navy in the world shouldn’t fuck with and that’s Mother Nature and refrigerators.


I guess the only funny side to this is the phone bill that Dave ran up on the POTTs line calling all over the world trying to find a marine biologist to get info so the SEALs would stand a chance. That’s what we do, that’s what we’re about down here in Supplot. He called some school in Boston, Sea World in Florida, Marine World in San Diego, another university in California, and somewhere in Hawaii, where he talked to a night watchman who didn’t know anything. Figures huh?


DAY 4

About 75% of my 12hr watch at night is spent scanning through reams and reams of message traffic. Bits and pieces of information that flow into national and theater level agencies through back doors, over encrypted circuits, in defense courier briefcases, down-linked from satellite imagery, handed in from people with no names or faces and all this is piled together like pieces in a puzzle with no definite picture or border and is assembled as someone’s best edumacated guess before being beamed out over the Navy-wide intel HF Long Haul broadcasts or beamed up SHF to comm sats overhead. And many times, many, many times, the assembled puzzle/picture ends up not representing or even looking like the real thing, a constantly changing chimera.


I sit, bathed in blue light, and sift through all these intel reports looking for a gem, a nugget, panning for some truth or warning—indications and warning—the first clue that someone out there is trying to kill us, has decided to poke the proverbial stick in the white-satinist-capitalist-dog-USA’s eye by popping off a couple SS-N-2d Styx or MM-38 Exocet missiles at the old USS John F. Kennedy.


So, death is my job. I don’t deal in it, that is left to the less refined, the less perceptive; no, I track it. Death is a virus, a cancer that can spring up anywhere given the right clime, the right factors. Death does not operate in a vacuum, it needs geopolitical light, it needs religious heat, ideology, tyranny, and mob mentality to grow. And I track the growth: Algeria, Libya, Albania, Zaire, former-Yugoslavia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and the list goes on and on. And once the growth is localized and the surrounding, contributing factors are known I move in, looking for the instruments that could be used to free-hand this death out: Koni FF, Osa PTG, Oscar II SSGN, SS-N-22, Mig-29, TU-160 Blackjack, SS-N-20, Houdong WPTG, C-802—a world of cryptic number and codenames all quantifying the range, speed, number, and destructive power, the capabilities of death at that given location and time.


This is all done at the top secret compartmentalized level to keep the facts, the truth from the ignorant masses— the airman who runs his ass off nineteen hours a day on the flight deck, or the sweaty, pimply mess crank who serves up 12,000 meals a day to an ungrateful crew, the disbursing officer who’s only here because it was the only way she could afford college and now she’s indentured to the Navy for another four years— none of these people want to know the complete and total ease with which the world can come in and make them dead without their permission, or without even having done anything except being American and on a big haze-gray boat.


But all that is only the preparation, no risk involved in that, no balls to the walls or pucker factor ten, hoping you don’t piss yourself. All that can be done from the safety of your own home, halfway round the world if you have the right equipment. No, the real money, the payoff is when you’re actually there, the real thing, transiting through the straits of Hormuz, or steaming south pass the Line-of-Death to kick Khadafi once in the teeth for all that’s right and good in the world. That’s when we really begin to earn our pay, glued to our monitors and circuits—watching, listening, feelers spread out all over like an octopus, information, indications, warnings coming in, small voices, birds whispering in your ear as the sweat trickles down the small of your back and you suck in another labored plastic breath through your gasmask because now, death has biologicals.


The ship’s sensors extend out around 120nm, this can be extended by an E-2C Hawkeye, an electronic eye-in-the-sky; but our senses go far beyond that and we can see you as you climb in your planes, as you load up the AS-11’s and AS-9 anti-radiation missiles; we can see as the Kilo SS tosses off all lines and noses out into international waters, as you load up CSSC-3 coastal defense missiles on their launchers and warm up the target acquisition radars. We see and hear all this, guardian angel eyes and ears over the battlegroup, warning the TAO, the captain where the danger lies, where the potential for death is hidden. Avoid death at all costs. There will be no killing today.


DAY 9

Things grow tenser everyday in the Persian Gulf, with Iran, in the aftermath of the Khobar Tower bombings as investigations progress. I give us a month, tops, till we get our steaming orders and head directly for there.


Algerians blowing up high schools and killing kids, some hard-line Islamist quoted as saying that the Koran allows for the killing of women in the name of revolution. What the fuck? South Africa where the ambulances are converted APC’s—bullet proof and gel filled tires so they won’t go flat when shot—and the paramedics respond more like a commando team, armed and fast ‘cause if the clan finds out that the victim is still alive they’ll return to finish the job. South Africa, whose gift to the world is the necklace, an old tire filled with gasoline and placed around the victim’s neck as it’s set alight. Indiscriminate, pointless, can, could you live in a government that came about by such means. Were we any different? The FRY where a 12yr old girl is made to watch as her parents are raped and then disemboweled before she herself is raped and killed. The FRY where a female reporter of one the warring factions takes a pistol from a soldier and shoots an old man in the head killing him, because she wants to know what it feel like to kill a Serb or a Croat or whatever the old dude was. W..h..a..t.. T..h..e.. F..u..c..k..???


I can’t talk about the shit; it pisses the living hell out of me. Death is what they all deserve, or to live in a cage like a fucking animal because that is what they have reverted to. Send in the B-52’s and Arc Light the fuck out of them till they are all dead. No one is innocent. But does that make me like them, has that dropped me to their level? An eye for an eye? Life is precious. Two sides of the coin. Most people don’t realize that they can, and do feel exactly two or more ways about one thing. What’s wrong with that? We approach life at many levels. But which one is right? Is there a right one? Situational ethics? A stringent code of honor?


It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion. To forget that life is a game. So often, locked up in my box for twelve hour stretches, not seeing the sun for weeks on end, no chirping crickets, no rain on the roof, no damned loud annoying robin in the morning, it’s easy to forget that the world is still a very beautiful, magical, mystical place full of warmth and love. Don’t forget.


*****

Funny, watching things develop with almost a detached eye. There is no fear, almost like the thought never happened. Except, sometimes on watch, out of nowhere, for no good reason, I can feel it burning in the pit of my stomach and I get quiet. Want to run. Nowhere to go. No safe haven to seek refuge in. I wrote sometime last year, “I’m not looking for salvation, to be saved, only a little grace for the monster that I know I have become. I just don’t want to die stupidly, because of my own or someone else’s, for something stupid, or cowardly. I would say that you should at least be afforded the dignity of dying gallantly or in your bed, although I guess dying at Pete’s wouldn’t be that bad either, but how many people around the world die every way in the most non-committal ways, just disappearing without a trace?


The samurai used to kill their families before going into combat so that nothing would distract them, no emotion keep them from the task at hand. I can’t imagine that. How alien, a man’s sense of honor and love, of war, overriding that for his flesh and blood.


*****

Monday was Cinco de Mayo; Dave and I ended up going out with the SEALs on El 4 and shooting with them. Who says saving the poor bastards from a sperm whale doesn’t pay? Dave said it was about the damn coolest thing he’d done since he’d been in the Navy, and I’d have to agree with him. I don’t think that much can compare with shooting an H&K MP-5 on full auto—


Wielding technology
Dealing death
A double-edged sword


DAY 11

Inchopped the Med 1000B. Went up topside to see what I could see. Never thought I’d see the rock again. To the left, Gibraltar and to the right, Africa, the Dark Continent, heart of darkness, alluring. Strange places with mysterious and exotic sounding names, that taste ancient and of the earth, rolling off the tongue. Suddenly I feel the pull of a new gravity tugging at the corners of my soul, main street USA long forgotten— smoking opium with William S. Burroughs, high on LSD on a train to the Valley of the Kings with Timothy Leary. The madness, the horror, the horror! History, intrigue, the place reeks of it and I’m still ten miles offshore and miles and miles of Miles Davis.


Sleek gray porpoises dove and turned, surfing along in the wake next to us. A good omen, to be met at the door by such friendly, and cheerful guests—guardians of the deep, we are in capable hands, er fins. I wonder if they have dolphins/porpoises in the Persian Gulf, I will need a friend there.


*****

Sometimes you can feel the panic rising and six months never felt so claustrophobic, like lying in a coffin struggling for breath. You can see some of the people starting to show sign of stress already. Some of that goes away once a routine has been established, but the fact is, some people should not be out here.


*****

I lay awake in my rack and wonder if I am writing this to/for you? I don’t want it to be that way. I don’t know who you are, a face out of my dreams, and I don’t want to write a six-month letter. This is something that you are on the outside of and will have to close your eyes and take my hand to see. This is singularly my life and it may be the last months of it. This is for me, my thoughts, my ideas, the things I see and feel, going on after me. It is a record. This is me, for me. Something that can be shared later but not at the outset, not at the creation. The motivation cannot be you, or anyone else. This is probably not making any sense and all I’m doing is talking myself into tighter circles so I’ll stop.


The following came to me in a dream sometime last year (2/20/96) and I actually remembered it to write it down:


I went down to London
to cross as many bridges as I could
before I died.


We have arrived. We are on station. It’s all for real now.


Demons, Epiphanies and Hidden Moments

And you sailed where Leviathan
where demons lived—
that vast greatness of nothing—
and at some point
no matter how busy you stayed
you found yourself
suddenly, unexpectedly
facing the one
that belonged to you
and time stopped, stretching
into Oblivion.
More often though,
a quiet, perfect moment
would sneak up on you—
glimpsing a sunset
through the hanger doors
or from the fantail,
Orion from a red-tinted
and hushed bridge
or a 2 A.M. cigar on the catwalk
under the brightest
stars in the world.
And suddenly
you remembered something
long forgotten—
that everything was right
and as it should be.


Day 17

The cigarette paper was wet on my lips, clump of clove clinging to my tongue; I never should’ve come out here tonight—staring down the barrel of a gun. The half-gone moon floats ¾’s across her nightly arc, a bridge shimmering white, stretching west, beckoning—so easy to just step off this liberty-bound boat and disappear over the horizon without a backward glance. West again, it’s always west calling my name; forever lurking under my nose only to pop up on nights like this to grab my attention. I shouldn’t have come out here. But I’m going east—back into history, back into time, into the barrel of a gun. The straits of Hormuz, clouded in a haze of red: C-802 range rings, Mig-29 CAP stations, missile patrol craft sortie routes, submarine op areas, and coastal surveillance radar coverage zones—the straits of death—the barrel of a gun.


Day 19

Notre Dame—sitting here alone, entombed in this gothic monstrosity of beauty and wonder, waiting. Waiting for some hope, some sign, a signal, burning ecstasy in my heart, a soaring of the soul, some kind of nod or wink from a god that I don’t believe in; something that will get me through the straits. I am waiting; I am wanting, ready; for some token that my life has some meaning in the grand scope of things beyond Sept ’97. But there is nothing, nothing at all. My soul, my life remains firmly rooted on the ground. If nothing else, I should be in complete awe of this architectural wonder and I can barely muster that up.


I wander around to the right, carried along by the flow of the crowd, the believers, the sightseers. I pass a statue of Joan of Arc; you can light a candle under her for 10f. They burned her at the stake as a witch and a heretic, now she is a saint. Maybe there is hope for me yet. I want to light a candle—a light against my darkness to find my way home by. I am as familiar with catholic practices as I am with zymurgy. It is better to walk on, away, then to offend. A lady walks up behind me and lights a candle, salvation. I walk back and deposit my 10f investment in the pope and grab a candle. I know no one and am no one—I figure I’ll place my candle on the lowest row, a sign of modesty.


You light your candle with the flame of one already burning and then make a prayer, I suppose. I straighten my wick erect and carefully hold it up to another of the candles. I have no prayer in my mind, just a wish maybe, a hope.


To my utter horror, the flame I am holding my candle to goes out—my sign at last. God-Jesus! I fumble and manage to light my candle from another, and then relight the one I inadvertently extinguished. My shame is great. My hope is none.


Letter to Jen

Jen, I see myself reflected in you or a dream of us. And I see myself, not necessarily in a truer light, but in a different one. Thank you, for something so simple yet so complicated.


*****

I am standing outside the crazy restaurant in Chicago where my mom and I ate dinner this last New Years Eve. Inside is dark but warm and bright with candles. Outside is dark, fuzzy-diffused light from the snow flurries blowing around in the streetlights. I’m looking in. You can almost hear, imagine the clinking of silver, plates, glasses and the hushed conversations and laughter. I want to be inside. I am dying; blood oozing out between my fingers and splashing red droplets in the soft snow.


Maybe I’m sitting across from Jen, inside, watching her smile. I don’t know.


Day 28

Currently participating in some big joint NATO exercise off the southern coast of France, I’l Dores (or something like that). An Italian AB-212 went down yesterday conducting a PAX transfer. The CO of the Birmingham (Have to check on that one) and Sirocco were on board as well as the pilots, air crewman, and five other souls. They recovered the five packages, the air crewman, the pilots, and the CO of the Birmingham; the CO of the Sirocco was listed as KIA last night. Just a simple hop from ship to ship for some formalities and a spot to eat. Whammo, sorry bud, death just called your number and you got bingo. Unfortunately, in the military, that kind of risk is more common than not. How do you justify that to your family, friends, whatever, yourself? What I am doing out here is not worth dying for. My job, the times, the political climate do not call for American deaths to support our way of life or the freedom of those we love. How do you justify it? Freedom has a price, and that is eternal vigilance and occasional blood?


I don’t know. I’m just rambling. I understand it and I don’t.


Death, death, death. What a concept. But I guess that there is nothing conceptual about death is there? The fear really doesn’t even hit me anymore except occasionally and I want to say that I’m not necessarily afraid of dying, just adamantly opposed to it at this point. I haven’t spoken my piece, done my deed and I am afraid of being choked off in mid sentence.


*****

A cruise, six months, is a very tangible thing. You can hold it in your hands and turn it about, peering at it from any angle; gnaw on the thing and taste the rust, salt-spray, the sweat, and funk. It has a definite beginning and end is very much defined in the middle, in this case 1051 feet long by about 250 feet wide by about some 20-26 stories deep. The whole concept of a cruise really allows you to break off a significant chunk of time and look at it as if it were a day. It gives six months, half a year, a perspective that one can usually not attain. You’re locked away, isolated from the things that make up your normal life. They already know you’re crazy for being here in the first place. So you are given just about total freedom to experiment with your little rat self in any way you see fit: take on those fears, tackle that weight problem, find Jesus, become a yes-man-promotion-getting-team-player, adopt a new sexuality, whatever the fuck your little ego can dream up for you.


I’m trying not to react to all these assholes like I used to. Part of it is a nod to the fact that I need to mature in that area a bit, and also, I’m just tired of being pissed at these fuckers all the time sans rum—not a good thing to go running around wacked out of your head out here. There is almost an overwhelming sense of freedom about this whole cruise thing. You can just let yourself go for six fucking months and pull back up on the other side. Why be normal, why be insane, why anything. What are they going to do? Lock you up in a box for six months?


Day 39

We pull the hook in about twelve hours and it may not be a moment to soon. Palma has been a failed experiment in human nature and the ability of the average, high school equivalent, American to function as an ambassador for the country. It worked in the sense that now Palma has a better, closer to the truth idea of what average town America consists of. In the diplomatic sense of trying to pretty things up and present some kind of New York glitz front, it was a total failure—the Kennedy sailors acted like the blooded, red-necked squids I know them to be. We had so many liberty incidences that the goddamned CNO called the skipper and wanted to know what the hell was going on, and we were damn near asked to leave the country and not come back.


On a personal level the whole scene could pretty much be described as a bust if not a total nightmare. No I didn’t end up in some Spanish prison on rape and assault charges (two did and won’t be leaving with the boat—trial in a year and not allowed to leave the country; which will then be followed by missing ships movement, UA, and other charges from the Navy when the Spaniards get done with them) or get the shit hammered out of me by the Guardia or some other squid, which seemed to happen entirely to often, but who can say they’re surprised? No, came down with a first class case of food poisoning. Woke up in the hotel some time in the middle of the night and hacked my guts up, running a high temp. Slept in and had to walk half an hour to the damn bus stop just to get to fleet landing and get on a ferry for the ship. Got the usual shit at Medical, how do you know you have a temp…do you have a thermometer or something? Shut the fuck up asshole, you ever run a temp of 103 or higher? You know. Ended up with a temp of 104.1, shakes, chills, you name it. Five liters of saline and a day and a half later they cut me loose and send me down to my rack for some Z time. So I’m half way through the day and I wake up to a quick short pain in my fucking jaw, what the hell? Later scrutiny reveals that I have been accosted by a spider or some other chitenous creature from hell and bitten. Great that will balance out the fever blister on the other side of my mouth. By about this time I look like one of the sorry fucker that ran into the wrong end of the Guardia’s clubs. There was one of ‘em down medical while I was there, off the Avenger. His nose was fucking smashed and taped into place, there were abrasions all down the one side of his face, like the bastards had been rubbing or dragging his face in the asphalt. They were taking x-rays of his head to see if there had been anymore internal damage done. The guy looked like hammered dogshit, I look like a scaled down version of him.


So I’ve been lying in my rack all day praying for tsunami to come and wipe humanity from the face of this god-forsaken island. This is without a doubt the worst liberty port I’ve ever been to; over-rated, over-hyped, and totally underdone. GITMO and Rosy were better ports than this. Oh well, when the hook comes up, all debts are paid.


Day 40

The hook is up and back to the grind. We move with the speed of hamsters here and the enthusiasm of whored out junkies. I want you to see this trip, to see me through my work: as a cog, a tool, a part of the machine, as something entirely dispensable, a tragic but necessary (oh really?) write off so this great nation can continue to produce, sell, and drive big, gas-guzzling cars. I only want you here to know me through my job, so that the line between me the person (whoever that is) and my actions blurs until you can no longer tell the difference. Only my job, my excessive drinking, and the afflictions and bewitchments I suffer through; only these. These are my life—shot in scratchy haze-grey black and white with blindingly surreal moments of color.


Once, back when we were in port, the engineers had to bust open a bunch of pipes in one of the heads. Seems someone had managed to flush a foul weather jacket down the toilet. I don’t know who did it but I know he was angry, fucking angry. It takes a lot, I mean a lot of work and time to flush a whole foul weather jacket down the toilet. There was effort, determination, a purpose; you don’t just flush and go. What he did, to me, it was a work of art; he found a way to express himself and it is obvious to me that he was mother-fucking angry. I’d love to meet the guy and buy him a couple of drinks. I know how he feels.


*****

The national anthem is playing—0800 local everyday in port, every U.S. ship the world over. It really does get old. It’s funny to watch all the sailors scurry about just prior to colors, trying to get under some cover so they don’t have to stand at attention and salute for the duration of the song. I can’t say that I blame them, haven’t been one of them; never say the point of standing in the parking lot at attention and saluting some flag a quarter mile away.


Up by 1845 (all times are local of course) and push yourself off the deck thirty or forty times before trying to curl yourself off it another 150 times. Or maybe it’s up at 1730 to ride the bike, the treadmill, a little reading, or some writing before another monster twelve-hour watch in the tomb of doom (dumb)—SUPPLOT. Struggle up a deck in your damned flip-flops to the head for a shower, brush the old tombstones.


OZ head, the only place on the boat where the engineers won’t go. This place is a shithole. Used to be nice, but every motherfucker and his kid brother decided that they’d rather go trash our head than their own. I mean, people walk all the way across the mess decks past five other heads just to use ours. If they trash their own head, they have to clean it, if they trash ours, they don’t.


We call the showers, “tropical” showers, ‘cause when you step into the stall, it’s like stepping into a rainforest—not really, but there’s green shit all over the place. It doesn’t really come off either; you just paint over it when it gets too bad. When you step into the shower, you have to look first—to make sure that no one shit in it; which happens more than I care to think about. We live with animals. We live like animals.


The big question mark though when it comes to taking showers, is the water. The water could be scalding hot, the water could be ice cold, there could be no water, the water might be full of JP-5, or any combination of the above. When you get a JP-5 shower you actually don’t have to towel off as the water just beads off of you like you were coated in Rain X or something.


Day 42

I gotta go back to Palma one more time; I just can’t leave it alone. How could a place with six-thousand, that’s right, 6,000 bars not even come close to getting it right? Haven’t any of these fuckers ever been in a real bar? I don’t want to sit in limey bob’s and have some fucking kippers with my pint, could you check the football on the tellie. What the fuck?


This is what happens when you play too fast and loose with the meanings of certain critical words, like “bar”. Palma has at least twenty TLAM-Ds reserved, courtesy of me. Shit they should’ve thrown us out of the country and we should’ve let ‘em. Only way out for all parties with a little dignity intact.


Day 48

Went to the bullfights yesterday, everything I’d hoped it would be and more. Originally it was Mike, Eve, West, and me but then the entire intel branch came over and sat with us in the western portion of the ring. Several of them were assholes. Mainly in the fact that they didn’t see the symbolism, the artistry, the beauty. Limited by western values they only saw a savage, one-sided butchery.


There were four fights. The first was a young kid, probably around 17-18. His bull wasn’t too spirited and it took him entirely too long to kill his bull. He couldn’t get a clean stick with his sword and he switched to a sword with a barb on either side of the point, which makes the chances of hitting a vital spot better. He kept jabbing the bull in the neck but not getting a clean stick. By that time, everyone was just wishing that he would kill the bull and get it over with. He finally did and the bull went down but it was not a good fight. Francisco Palazon was his name I think.


The next matador was a little older and had a little more style. Before the bull came out he threw his cap into a section of the seats where his friends or followers were sitting. His passes were much closer to the body and he had more flair. His bull was also more spirited. On one pass, one of his shoes came off and he kicked off the other one and approached the bull in stocking’d feet, challenging him. You could sense something in the air, a haughtiness, a taunting, daring the bull, daring death to take his best shot, that shoes were so trivial a matter that he wouldn’t even bother with a thought about them. The crowd approved and applauded loudly. It was one of the finer moments of the whole evening. The kill was quick and he was awarded an ear, recognition for an excellent fight.


Not many people sat in the eastern portion of the ring since the sun was still shining on that side and you’d be looking directly into the sun as it went down, plus it was hot. About ten drunk sailors sat over there though, shirts off, looking for all the world like the bleacher-bums at Wrigley field. About once during each fight, the bull would find himself over in that area, looking confusedly up into the bleachers at the ten squids, matador completely forgotten. The squids would jump up and cheer and dance around and the bull would just watch, confused. It was funny as hell and the funnier thing about it was that the locals seemed to find the whole thing funny too. For once the drunks on the Kennedy seemed to do something right.


The third matador was Lola Beltran, a raven-haired beauty with her hair pulled back into a long ponytail (god was she beautiful). The color of her outfit was a deep, blood red. After acknowledging the president of the ring/fight she gave her hat to a helper/friend/relative in the ring behind the protective wall.


Her bull was the liveliest yet and her passes were spectacular. She had a great deal of skill and a sense of style and flair for the drama. She would start the bull in a long charge with a close, slow, sweeping pass that would then transition into a series of short passes, working the bull very close but not letting him build up a head of steam. After the last short pass she would walk away from the bull, back to him, and brandish her sword, striking a pose while the crowd went wild; then she’d face the bull and start the process over.


When she went for the kill, her stick was good and deep. The bull went down on his front knees and then surged back up to all fours. Lola waved off the two (junior?) matadors that came out on either side to tire him and went into her pose for another stick. At this point there was almost as much applause for the bull as there was for Lola. His will to live was strong and you could feel the appreciation for that. The second time did the job and she received more applause than any other matador that day. She was awarded an ear, and threw it up into the crowd just to the left of where I was sitting, Smithers almost caught it. That fight was by far the best fight of the day.


And what was being enacted, the stances, the way the matador and the bull moved, it grabbed you and was understood at a lower level, on a symbolic, ritual level. I don’t know if I have the words to do it justice. While my more unconscious and judgmental shipmates saw a senseless slaughter for the amusement of the masses, what was really being played out in the ring, in a microcosm, was the whole panoply of birth and mortality, the dance of life and death, the cosmic cycle. In the closed, sacred space of the ring, the onlookers were allowed to participate, if vicariously, in a ritual that somehow strangely reaffirmed life. It spoke directly to the person’s soul, beyond good and bad, right and wrong and said that life creates life, life destroys life, life is life and all is well.


The crowd cheered for the matador, risking life, exemplifying courage, bravery, mastery of the physical, the ability to fight death and win. Yet the matador’s who did not respect death, who were not able to quickly and compassionately dispense it, who prolonged the bull’s suffering, were not held in as high a regard as those who did and could.


At the same time, the crowd cheered for the bull, sometimes louder than for the matador, for the bull also represented life, wild, abundant life, strong spirit and determination, the will to live, to get up again and again; it represented the ability to strive against the odds, against a certain death and still live in the moment, to be alive until the end and to die with dignity.


Barry Lopez, in writing about wolves and their prey writes,


“We are dealing with a different kind of death from the one men know. When the wolf “asks” for the life of another animal, he is responding to something in that animal that says, “My life is strong. It is worth asking for.” …The death is not tragic. It has dignity.”[2]


Every person in attendance, consciously or unconsciously, dreamed of being the matador, yet I have to believe that most probably felt a closer connection to the bull; I know I did. For, being skillful enough, surviving the encounter was a likely outcome for the matador; whereas for the bull, death was virtually certain. And each person understood that they had more in common with the bull. But, to live like the matador, to live bravely and then to die like the bull, courageously, that was a well-lived life, a life worth having and a life worth offering up.


“Native American cultures in general stressed that there was nothing wrong with dying, one should only strive to die well, that is consciously choose to die even if it is inevitable. The ability to see death as less than tragic was rooted in a different perception of ego: a person was simultaneously indispensable and dispensable (in an appropriate way) in this world. In the conversation of death is the striving for a death that is appropriate.”[3]


What more can you say than that? I saw something that day that, in a way far deeper than words can ever convey, pointed to the fundamental rightness of everything— fear not, death is certain, if not today than one that will follow, so what, play the game well and your time will have been well spent. The old man still sits on the mountain, the world still turns.


Day 50

Jamieson COD’d off today. He received word last night that his wife, or whatever, had lost her child in birth. Hardly surprised, she was terribly overweight. I should feel something I suppose, but the audio signal carries no emotional one with it. I could say I’m sorry, but I’m not. Sorry for what? I watch hundreds of people die on my screen everyday, come down and see it trivialized on TV for entertainment. This worries me. Am I living in my own calloused little world? Of course I am. Everybody is. But have I lost the ability to empathize, did we ever have it, are we tired of running in circles yet? I could tell you what a weasel he was and how he’d never done an honorable thing in his life and that most people, myself included, loathed him on most days and worse on others. But no man deserves to be kicked when he’s down like that.


Jamieson COD’d off today. He received word last night that his wife, or whatever, had lost their child. I wish him the best of luck.


*****

Never got to the fourth bullfight the other day. The last fighter was Yolanda Ramos and I don’t even remember what color her outfit was. A pale, subdued, platinum and silver I believe. She had her brown hair braided back and she was Eve’s fighter (he and myself having instantly laid claim to each of the two female matadors when they walked into the ring, mine being Lola.) Her bull was possibly the meanest of the bunch that day and she recklessly threw her matador’s hat off her head, it landing cup down some twenty feet from her.


Most matadors will carefully place their cap cup down in the ring because, if the cap lands cup side up, it signifies the beggars bowl that the matador’s wife/husband and children will ply the streets with after the death of the matador.


She made several close passes with the bull and then she passed him too close and got caught in between the two horns in the meaty part of his head. The bull knocked her over and was trying to gore her but he kept butting her with his head and stepping on her. The other matadors ran out and distracted the bull off Yolanda and she walked over to the ring’s edge to get another cape. It looked like she might have taken part of a hoof or horn to the right side of her forehead since a little blood trickled down.


She walked back out into the ring with her cape and sword to thunderous applause. She made several more close passes before getting caught inside the turn of the bull and this time he lifted her up and threw her before stomping her a couple of times. She got back up and still wanted to fight the damned thing. She had guts, but if you walked away from the bull, the ring, would you ever be able to step back in or live with yourself? There is no grey area in the ring, it is only black and white and demands a simple brute level of honesty that most people only dream about and would rather not deal with.


She switched out her swords for the killing one. She made about half a dozen sticks and you could tell she was beat up and shaken because none of the stick had the energy behind them to penetrate very deep and the bull shook each one of them out. She was getting a lot of help from the two matadors on either side of the bull, and finally after a particularly promising stick in which the bull went down, one of the matadors finished off the job with the little knife that they carry.


It was not particularly a good day for Yolanda as she took her bows and applause. Probably none knew it more than her, but she was still alive and there was always the next fight. Such is life.


Southern Cross

Mephistopheles, aye
locked in irons and
ten fathoms deep
on the road to hell—
The last light
held the highest of the clouds
in a dull silver
above the darker gray below
and in between
the jagged ‘W’ of a solitary
Frigate bird
betwixt sky and sea
effortlessly transitioning
the thermals.
I have come too far—
wasted on the way—
to turn back now,
as the sails briefly billow-
a lone gust
of wind
that has blown
from a very
very long way away.
“I have always been
the anti-hero,”
he thought, hand silently on the tiller
“not the (evil one)
but the outsider
the one with
(the black)
the demon heart…”
And so he laid himself down in peace
upon the Southern Cross—
a sacrifice to life
and love
knowing that
the Eternal Ocean
in all its Wisdom and Breadth
would catch him
if he should
fall.


[2] Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men, p 95

[3] Ibid, p 95


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.