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

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Chapter III.6


Mayport- Sailors and Dogs Keep Off the Grass


I arrived at the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) on December first, a Friday. She had just returned from a two-year refit in the yards in Philly. The ship was a wreck. I was informed that we were undertaking a two-week fast cruise starting Monday. My jaw dropped. Fast cruises traditionally lasted about eight hours, if that. We were going to be tied up pierside and unable to leave the ship for two weeks? Unfuckingbelievable.


That was just the beginning. CVIC, the ships intel center, was largely a series of empty spaces with bare metal decks and all of two computers, old 386s, running a very early Windows and the MS Word with the blue screen, white cursor, and the template over the f-keys which were the only way to make anything work. When I went down to get the daily message traffic from Radio, it was on a 1.44MB floppy and I read through the traffic using MS-DOS; not exactly cutting edge. Our chart lockers looked like they’d been hit by a hurricane and SUPPLOT was a closet where the contractors stored their tools when they left at the end of the day. The rest of the ship was largely in the same shape. The next six to eight months found us doing almost no work related to intel but instead stenciling pipes, painting fan rooms, sorting chart lockers, and hoisting up systems racks from the hanger deck; all things that should have been done in Philly.


On top of that, most of the IS’s had come straight from boot camp/NMITC or shore duty and had never been underway a day in their life. Out of the group, only one, the chief, who was a bit dodgy anyway, had any experience working in an intel shop at sea. My first day at quarters he announced to us all that he was sending Jay to CCU. I didn’t have a problem with that, per se, it was the further information that he had come to that decision with the assistance of Jesus that made me wonder what I’d gotten myself into. I’ve spent a lot of time memorizing my chain of command; it was a favorite pastime at boot camp and one was often quizzed unexpectedly on it. I have never once seen Jesus on chart or diagram. A chaplain? Yes; but Jesus? No. What’s his rank: seaman, admiral? How many bells does he get? Does the CNO answer to him or him to the CNO? I have a lot of uncertainty about a man who, after arriving at a decision by whatever means, announces it, but doesn’t take responsibility for it. It was obvious that it was going to be an interesting time, which coincidentally is a Chinese curse; and I would spend much of it furious and frustrated as the shine on our P-ways was usually of more importance than if any of our IS’s knew anything about running a successful intel shop underway in a threat environment. Good god. Not for the first time, I wished I was back on the Turner.


Never Take Orders…to a TAR/Reserve ship coming out of the yards!

It matters not that you have the most gifted and agile of minds, the most enthusiastic individuals, and the top-of-the-line equipment if the equipment does not work, there is no time to train and we are not aware of our resources and deficiencies.


We do not train because we catch up. We do not catch up because we clean, finish up the things left undone in the yards and troubleshoot. We do none of these things because we fight about keeping our people to train, which we can’t do in the first place because we’re catching up, because we’re…


We are in serious danger of being the first center, the first ship to fail COMPTUEX and have its Med deployment delayed.


Mayport Desperation

It is the sound of a boot
on broken concrete,
of a broken bum
retching in a tired gutter—
a child’s silent scream.
They wear their desperation here
like badges
displaying in grades
just how little they have to lose.
It must have been like this
during WWI; waiting in the trenches.
Well, some of these people have
been waiting in these trenches
their whole damned lives. Waiting for
“Over the top!”
to charge the police-laid barbed wire
and claim their promised land.
Somewhere deep down they have to
know
it was sold
a long, long time ago.
But they keep waiting
just the same.


Dames Point Bridge

Dames Point Bridge— Pete’s bound
to my right
the city was gripped
in a steel-gray fist of rain
the air smelled of it, hot
and black tarmac.
To the left,
an old merchant limped out to sea
on red, rusty legs-
escorted by wheeling seagulls in her wake
white specks against gray clouds.


Active Duty

If I am insane
then you are my insanity.
They took the sky
away from me
and now I scurry out like a rat
into the haze-gray maze—
looking for booze
to ease the spasms of consciousness
inflicted upon me in your cage.
You stole the sky
but it’s not what you want—
my soul in a bowl
with Wheaties and milk
to make you feel
like something you’re not.


V. and Sloppy Joes

And what god-forsaken circumstances find me in this dressed-up, yuppie hell? Sloppy Joes my ass.


Almost finished with Pynchon’s V. One of the themes throughout the book is “inanimateness”. At one point, one of the main characters is afraid to (believe?) in this one girl for fear that he will come to know her and she will prove to be as inanimate as everything else in his life. That, if you don’t grab hold onto something too heavily it will continue to live its life with all the expectations you’ve assigned it. The whole concept is interesting to me.


How often do we float/drift through our lives, interacting with people on the most superficial levels, as if they were not personal, animate, living beings? Our fucking lives, the world, revolve around ourselves and our egos would scream bloody-murder if we admitted it.


What sad, twisted marionettes we are. Produce, consume, sell. That has become our credo. That has become our lives. Beat it to fit, paint it to match. Help us, save us, take us away.


So here I find myself on the second night that Sloppy Joes is open in Jax Beach and it sucks worse than the real one. You don’t sell products, you sell attitudes and people are here to be seen, to be cool, to be envied, hip or whatever passes for it around here.


It’s all so sad really; because I can’t see them as real people with real feelings, loves, hurts, hates, scars, etc. They are inanimate. And I imagine that I am the same in their eyes, just another asshole. The whole place is one big, fucking pretense— some pretending to sell what others pretend to want.


Nothing is real.


January Ocean

The Ocean is sad and depressing in the wintertime.
driving south on First Street, overcast skies—
I saw two boys walking along one of the streets that
runs perpendicular to First
their shoulders were touching as they walked
talking about things that interest eight year old boys.
Their dog ran ahead of them enjoying the world, its sights,
smells, and sounds.
I understood the dog in his dumb joy at life.
I don’t know what interests young kids anymore,
Don’t remember what I used to talk about or what was
important.


Cold Cat

The gray rain falls softly
on slow, solemn swells
shifting blue markers
to the pilots
catapulted under keel
strapped in tight—
last thoughts of home
the world they would
never see again.
A gull dips
the clouds hang low
and a thousand raindrops
same as yesterday
the day before
and so many others.
Nothing changes
and the world goes on
spinning silently
through the void
impervious to the cries,
rants, whispers, screams, and songs
of the people who ride her.
I find myself sitting
on what passes for a fantail
on this pig
soaking up the rain’s
wisdom; watching
the wake slowly wend
its way out behind us.
The aft-lookout
is the only other one here
but we don’t speak
lost in silent reverie—
a step out of time.
The Sea
is an unforgiving mistress
often fickle
and capricious
but never spiteful
like the Stennis
and its hard, gray deck
and cold cat;
never forgetful
like those left behind;
and never a willing taker
of life
but a protector of it
when so entrusted
with such a gift
or two.
I get up
and head foreword
life goes on
and I have nothing
more to say
tears to cry.
Shine on friend
good night
in the darkening of the light.


Last Tango

Waiting for you
on the beaches of Dunkirk
way down in Mexico
so many miles away
why did you have to go?
And they play that sad, slow tango—
dance of the dead
as the fan beats back
the hours
and all the things we said.
The wind blows low
and fast over the hills
your blood quickening with it
guitar playing so softly
in the background
as your life
spins
out of control.


Jukebox Music for Wondering from the Border of Nowhere


And the problem is that this is not some sad story grounded in cynicism with no hope; but a story about beliefs and responsibility and sadness and love and sacrifice because of what you are and believe. Not because you’re some tragic victim. 10/10/96


Just finished Border Music; sitting here in the warm, cozy glow of brown wood and Christmas lights at Pete’s. The book fits and yet it scares. It rings with how I’ve been feeling for the last several weeks.


What is life? Do you try to transcend it, an illusion, hang onto it desperately before it’s gone, or spend it liberally and half-recklessly hoping that somewhere down the road it all pays off? Can life even be known; narrowed down to one, two, a half-dozen things?


What do you want out of life? Maybe that’s the question. Do you want to know the, big, “secret”, do you want a nice house and job security, or do you want life-road wisdom and crazy stories? Each way has its costs and benefits. Life has something for everyone…in a size close to your own. Do you have the balls to admit what you want?


Last week or two, felt like I’ve kinda run my life into a rut. So many things I want to be, so many things I think I am, or at least sell myself as, and all that I think is that I’ve turned into the beast in Beauty and the Beast. I now live in a very self-centered world, lost touch with my wisdom, my intuition, my compassion— afraid to risk, afraid to love— so secure in my hardness which is just a blanket to cover the insecurity. Spiritually, my life has slid to nil. Look back at how much I’ve written in the last six months and see for yourself. Professionally I’m learning and gaining experience, but in a dead-end job.


I feel like I’m dying…and I don’t know how to stop it.


And as a perfect day turns into an early evening I can feel the panic set in. Why? Why this overriding sense of urgency, to run, to hide, to stick your head in the sand until the feeling of dis-ease passes by like some plague in the night?


I talked to Amy A. today. She’s been on my mind in more subtle ways than before, damn her. Or maybe just damn me. A part of me wants to say, forget about ever having anything beautiful, anything wise, funny, alive in your life. Nobody who possesses any of those traits could ever love you. They would quickly realize, see you for what you are/were/will be. The darkness will drive them off or destroy them.


And there maybe lies the paradox of my soul— to want something so badly and to feel at the same time that I deserve it and that I don’t. There’s a big gaping hole in my life where a woman is s’posed to be; friend, lover, whatever.


Maybe the thing that afears me so is myself; the long, dark shadow of myself falling across the forced innocence and ignorance I live in— murderer, killer, rapist. I. Dark, so dark sometimes…and so alone. And Amy, all I want from her is respect because she understands, and it is the one thing that she will never be able to give me.


To walk in the beauty, the eyes, the world of another once more. Now that I think about it, I wonder if I’ll ever see her again. Perchance; but perchance not.


If you write enough on yourself you’ll die of ink poisoning. If you write enough about yourself you might die because you don’t find what you are looking for, or maybe you do.


It will rain later tonight— the relief of tension. I am no longer afraid; just terribly sad, lonely, and empty.

*****

I feel like something would come pouring, crashing out— the damn to burst— if I could just find the thing to release it. I feel so much emotion: anger, sorrow, fear, loss, hurt, pain welling up behind the floodgates and I want to unleash it, see it goodbye, be rid of it. The problem is that I’ve inherited my mother’s thing for control and the only way to free the reigns is to drink, drink, drink; or write aimlessly- throwing darts at the sky with your eyes closed, hoping to hit something that makes sense.


So much fucking control. I keep things from myself, sometimes my own worst enemy. Just to let go, to give up everything and trust. Things feel like they’re getting near crisis levels. Control. It’s never my turn, always must be on guard, always alert, vigilant, at the ready. The trooper. Never my turn, always on the march, the move. Don’t let them get too close. Don’t let them in. Don’t let the darkness out. Duty. No time for you. No time for tears. You must be strong. You must support everyone else. You must be resolute. Don’t stop. Don’t let go. Don’t stop. Don’t let loose. Keep it in. Bottle it up. Don’t let it out. Don’t let anyone know.


And it seems that the only way out is the sweet, dark embrace of death. Not suicidal, not running away, just relinquishing a burden too heavy to carry. The hail of bullets too great to carry on under as you sink gratefully into the sand. No dishonor, no shame, no mercy.


But there must be mercy for people such as I; for if I am not deserving, than who is?


All is not well with my soul tonight and hasn’t been for a number of years. But some nights you know it, remember it, better than others.


Duty

Crucify me on the cross
of my own doubt and suffering—
writing is a dirty habit
picking and repicking
at scabs and wounds best left
untouched, unmasked, and unanswered.
The dragons are all gone
and no one wants a hero anymore
just a steady income
and a psychotically predictable life
with interspersed
well-planned orgiastic binges
in a heavily controlled environment
with the return ticket already paid for.
Fuck you
Fuck you and your picket fences
Screw you and your television
Fuck your anal-retentive
narrow-minded
high-blooded
conformist ways.
Fuck your ingratitude.
Who do you think paid for
your illusion?
Who stands in the rain
on the other side
of the fence looking in?
Who always has one more
lifetime block to walk
to make it home?
And I apologize for my envy
for what you hold every night
that I will never know;
what you taste
is a story around the fire
what you are is unconscionable,
unknowable.
Shiver in the dark
and check the lock on your door
as I walk my post.


Look

She took my hand in hers, looking deep in my eyes and said, “show me the real you and I will love you forever.”


Excitement welled up like a wave as I contemplated in a mere second the ways to show and impress her. I returned her gaze and invited her in— regaling her with loss and gain as a boy; conquest and defeat as a young man; and a world full-wide-open of adventure, beauty, danger, strangeness, and novelty spent as a nautical traveler- or in less glamorous terms- a seaman. There were pictures of wild drunken nights in the Caribbean, a full moon and stars rocking beneath an inky mast and superstructure while the balmy trade winds played with your tired hair and your shipmates murmured in their sleep; the grey non-skid scratchy beneath you. I showed her the Ft. of Lost Souls and the adventurous/foolish kid who scaled the heights and broke its perimeter; the French Riviera and the street performers who sang so sweetly for the rich; the beautiful Sicilian sunsets painted by the wrathful hand of Mt. Etna; the simple pleasures of Bob Marley and snorkeling on your birthday or the joy of dolphins playing in the bow wake of our cruiser in a crystal clear Mediterranean Sea.


I showed her all this and more. The wisdom and folly I had seen; the joy and sorrow of a life at sea; the sacrifice.


She returned my gaze, deeply plunging into the stagnant pools of my soul, surfacing with a grimace. My heart skipped a beat or maybe two. All of a sudden it seemed that I was within grace’s length and then I was out of reach.


“I was hoping to get an idea of the real you,” she whispered, pulling away, “but I guess I was wrong.”


My guts roiled up inside me, twisting into some kind of unbearable agony. She looked at me forlornly and I felt a piece of me dying.


Slowly I reached out across the chasm, lifting her chin with two finger and our eyes rested even, though miles apart. God I was scared. I don’t know which scared me more- telling the truth or lying. I dropped my right hand to hers and lightly brushed her left with mine. Her fingers were almost painfully electric.


The gates and defenses were all open as she slowly descended. I went numb all over. Slowly reverently she peeled back the last of the barriers. A tear sprung from her left eye and she kissed me hard on the mouth. The image burned hard into her mind— a desert lying in all directions with a young man kneeling at its center, bent over a lone small flower trying to keep it alive with his salty tears; knowing that if the salt in the tears didn’t kill the flower, it would surely die when his tears ran out, as they sometime must.


Starfish

Have you ever seen
the starfish at night
luminescent against the rock and corral
the stars and moon rippling in the picture with ‘em
orange and white-stripped clownfish
darting over
and among the flowery anemones and
spiny urchins?
I once dreamt
the whole world was made
of starfish holding onto each other.
I woke up crying,
feeling terribly sad.
I don’t know what it meant—
I don’t even live by the Sea.


Diego’s

The gray clouds
slowly drifted north
along the Gulf Stream
with the breeze;
in the street
a dead white gull
forlornly thumbed a ride
with it’s broken wing—
are you going my way?
The smoke from the clove
burned the back of my throat.
“That smells good,” Leslie said—
my lovely, tanned, Margarita-Angel
with another round.
Gulls wheeled and hovered on the breeze
screeching for a three-year-old-Cheeto-handout.
The rain was coming
and there was nothing we could do.


Troubleshooter

An HH-60 went down last night—
Trouble Shooter 615-
all hands lost.
I didn’t know any of them
or their friends or family
and it’s very easy to keep on about your business
like it was some damned Ethiopian
half way round the world
but the fact is
it hurts…
way deep down inside.
Our ranks have been thinned
and we carry the weight
of the fallen with us.
I can’t explain how I feel.
My grief is far less
dramatic than if it were
someone I’d known—
yet it runs deep
and I don’t know how
to touch it.
Forgive us our silence Father
as we step up to the gap.


Untitled

To become a hero
is impossible.
To be a hero,
as easy as dying.


Yesterday

When the wind no longer
Carries you my name
And the shadows on your soul
Have all changed
When a face in the crowd
Looks like mine
A lone leaf left by the tide
When yesterday is
Dead and gone
The rings all run out
From the pebble in the pond
When the lust for life is waning low
It is finally then
That I will know—
Days long forgotten
Buried a-way
And the people we loved
No longer to play-
My soul has died
A piece a time
Riding out slowly on
The ebbing tide.


Innocence Lost

“It was a long hard fight but we’ve won,” the generals said. “We have the world’s evil and bad karma surrounded on all sides. A new age of peace and prosperity is at hand. The generals were all smiles and there was much slapping of backs, handshakes, jingling of medals, and a few heartfelt hugs.


The president thoughtfully rubbed his chin and looked sternly at the generals, “So, we have it contained. Can it be destroyed, totally eradicated?”


The generals froze and there was much hemming and hawing as they looked back and forth at each other in confusion. “Uh, we don’t know sir,” one finally ventured. “As you can see on the display here,” he gestured rather nervously, not enjoying the spotlight, “we, uh, have it beaten; a brilliant string of tactical victories within a strategic framework…fighting is our job, not, er, containment. We’ve won the fight and just kinda figured that someone else would deal with the aftermath, the State Department maybe?” Silence.


“Maybe the chief theologian would be better able to speak of such things,” another general finally ventured. The rest of the generals nodded their assent, eager to get off the X and anything that drew attention away from their victories. The stepped aside as an old man in red robes and a preposterous hat slowly ambled forward.


“You can neither destroy nor defeat evil entirely,” he gravely intoned. “It is as indestructible as “good” for it is based on an idea, an ideal, a concept. It may be contained, but indefinitely…I do not know.”


“Mr. President,” one of the chief scientists. “We have planned for such an eventuality since the outbreak of this war and though our technology is on the cutting edge of current knowledge, a few years beyond it actually, the machinery we have would contain it at best, for a short time. The technology is improving but it’s just not there yet.”


“How short of a time are we talking about here?” the president snapped.


“A year or two,” looking down and shuffling notes, “at best; two days worst. Of course, none of the equipment has been tested. Though if it does work as expected, there’s no reason to think that we won’t have more capable technology within those two years.”


“Not good enough,” the president growled. “Are you telling me that we damn near have this thing licked and we can’t get rid of it once and for all? This isn’t going to sit well with the voters.”


The generals nervously looked around at each other, the theologian crossed himself and the scientist intently pored over a series of flow charts and projections. No one said anything.


“There may be a way yet,” a voice, seeming booming in the utter silence. All eyes turned towards the back of the room to stare at the lone voice. The chief philosopher slowly stepped forward. “The chief theologian is right; evil may never be completely eradicated, short of giving up the idea of good as well. However, there may be a far better way to contain it than the scientist’s untested machines.” The scientist snorted in derision.


“Well, out with it man,” the president snapped, impatient.


During the long, dark years of the war, the chief philosopher has seldom been called upon, spending most his time reading and studying and weathering the mockery of his contemporaries. It gave him no pleasure to speak up now.


“Evil is an idea, as the chief theologian stated, and until the world is willing to give up the idea of good as well, and the idea of all opposites for that matter, it cannot be completely destroyed. However denied physical manifestation, it has no life of its own and is powerless to act. To that end, it must be compressed, hounded into a single thought, a single idea and then deposited into a receptacle capable of carrying and containing it.”


“And what would this receptacle be?” the president queried, leaning back in his chair with a sigh and envisioning dollar signs, lots of dollar signs.


“A child,” the philosopher said, barely a whisper, “a child.”


The president frowned and steepled his fingers in front of him. “Are you telling me that a child is the only thing capable of doing what all these men,” he gestured around the room, “can’t?”


The philosopher nodded, “Yes sir.” There was the low hum of disbelieving grumbles but no one was willing to speak up and openly disagree. The philosopher continued, “A child is the only thing with enough spirit, heart, and forgiveness in its soul to carry such a heavy burden. In time, the evil will become one with the child and he will know it as himself. And…if he be strong enough…the evil will not be able to manifest to the degree or magnitude of now in the child’s lifetime.”


The president nodded his understanding, though it didn’t make him happy to do so.


*****

“Will it hurt,” the little boy asked, looking intently into his kneeling father’s face, “you I mean, or others?”


The father shook his head slowly, once again amazed by his son. He was all at once fiercely proud terribly sad, wishing desperately that there was something that he could do to take this burden upon himself.


“How shall I address it, the evil?” the boy asked.


“Give it a name,” choking back a sob, “give it your name.”


“I will,” the boy threw his arms around his father’s neck, “I will.” He slowly pulled back and wiped away a tear. “I’m ready.”


Ex-Isle

We are the hollow men
in hallowed places
standing alone in the hollow night.
Here,
the wind blows
rustling through my straw man heart—
what can death offer me
that you have not?
Wading for the summer rain
you are an affront to humanity
and the demons demand blood
dancing in the summer pain
of a young boy’s dream.


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