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

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chapter III.9




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



Every man has two

battles which he fights:

he fights with god in his dreams,

and he fights with the sea when awake.

— Antonio Machado


Day 57

Koper, Slovenia—a nice place actually. Green rolling hills, cute little European town nestled in between, blue fjords (do they have those here??). But all I can see is German Tornados coming in low and fast, flying nap-of-the-earth, dropping down into the valleys, twin white contrails flowing off their camouflages wing tips, snub-nosed Mk- 86’s hanging low and dirty down the centerline; or a lone sniper and his spotter squatting down in the top floor of some shelled out husk of a building, smoking greasy Turkish cigarettes and patiently waiting for a target of opportunity to show its face. This place is Bosnia, what it looked like. That’s what I see. No more. No less.


Day 59

Laying here in my rack writing with this pen some dude gave me for the sole reason of being a U.S. sailor. All tore the fuck up, listening to Rancid with my pirate eye patch on, drinking orange soda ‘cause that’s what Mikey fought the mess deck fuckers off to get. Threw up in my boots last night—both of ‘em— that rates a first; with Mikey walking around yelling, “Take a shower! Take a shower! Take a shower!” All we want to do is go home.


And Jen, Jen—I religiously fill out these postcards without a reply and it doesn’t really matter ‘cause you’ve become a symbol, a fantasy—somebody who I can imagine looks out at the sea from time to time and wonders where I am, an ear in the great void tuned to my lamentations.


The crew, the whole fucking sick crew, that’s what I got. And these fuckers will get me back/through. Actually, I couldn’t feel better, headache aside. It’s one of those half-hung over, half-drunk mornings. A piece of heaven and hell where you just sit back, languish, and feel good— “I want to stop and dance with you, yeah, stop and dance with you…”


*****

I remember crawling around on the deck of Supplot one night on the late watch while we were in some port, I don’t remember which, Benidorm perhaps. In any case, I’m alone and happy as a clam to have no distractions so I can get some work done— chart-packing up our main PG/Iran chart; plotting lat/longs, threat radii, sea lanes, etc. Spent most of the watch working on it, and the whole time I just jammed to the first song on White Zombie’s Super Sexy Swinging Sounds— Electric Head Pt.2 (Sexational After Dark Mix). It was a good night.



Day 72

Well we passed the 1/3 mark somewhere back in Cannes I think and are well on the way to the half-way point. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess.


Cannes was a trip, I guess; mainly the second night and the 4th of July. The second night was the first night I went out with the whole sick crew and we were s’posed to meet these kids that they’d met the night before. God, you wouldn’t believe the lies the gang from the ship told them: SEALs, pilots, whatever, you name it. Not a single enlisted sailor among the lot of us. Not wanting to duplicate anyone since we already had four pilots— two F-14, one F/A-18, and Junior was flying the U2/TR-1 off the Kennedy and had to leave the next day for an over flight of Algeria (that is too fucking funny)— and two SEALs (the really good things to be) I opted to be an intel liaison officer to the carrier. Why not? Sorry, but no one wants to be an S-3 pilot, at least not around F-14/18 zoomies. They call the thing “the Hoover” for christ sakes. ASUW just isn’t sexy without the Russian Akula out there anymore.


Anyway, these kids are all going to some language school in Cannes for a portion of the summer. Most are from either Sweden or Finland. Gustav, the ringleader, who we promptly labeled “Hollywood”, because he’d seemed to have seen damn near every American movie that had come out in the last ten years, was funny as hell. But what really struck me was how much more animated the crew seemed that night. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in bars with some of these cats and seen them when they’re on and when they ain’t and it was almost unreal. And I think, that for a little while, everyone got to be a hero. They got to leave the drab, dreariness of their bullshit jobs behind, the thankless duties that make them the same as the other 5,000 people on the ship and real heroes, the things that nobody but their shipmates will ever see or know. Maybe they dreamed of being able to do the things they said they did, but it was the fact that for three or four short hours someone else looked at them like they’ve always suspected that they might be—special.



Day 76

The 4th of July—had to have been about the best one I can ever remember. Woke up and got off the boat around 11ish. Don’t remember if I had duty the night before or not, doesn’t make a difference anyway. According to the standard routine, we went to McDonald's for lunch. Oh yeah, they had put out the day before that we had to wear our uniforms until 1800 local. This of course pissed everyone off, especially since we were going to the beach anyway. So Bri, West, Mendanhall, Dave (in some really tight milkman’s), Doc, Mikey, and myself go trooping off. After McDonald's we headed east for about 15 blocks or so to the liquor store, which was conveniently closed until 1430. Fortunately, the grocery store around the corner also sold booze so we hooked up with something like three or four fifths—gin, rum, and some vodka I think. Once we hit the beach we stripped off our uniforms and hoped that the damned shore patrol would leave us alone. Then it was, commence drinking…now…now…now.

It was a nice day, sunny, and we were supposed to meet the Swedish gang somewhere around 2000. They had promised to take us down to the beach somewhere to watch the fireworks. The day itself was pretty non-descript—went swimming, drank, talked, played Frisbee with some kids, hit West in the head with the Frisbee, the usual in-port- glad-I’m-not-on-the-ship day.


So around 1800, when we figured it would be safe to be off the beach in civilian attire we started heading back into town. We stopped to buy some cigars and grab a quick bite to eat at Mcd’s again and accidentally ran into some of the Swedish gang while they were having dinner. We sat down with them while they finished and walked back with them to their school. We sat in Gustaf and the other guy’s room (can’t remember his name right now) for a while drinking and talking and then we wound our way down to the beach.


There was a swim platform, probably a quarter mile round trip from the beach; West, Bri, and Mendanhall were like, “hey man, come on, lets go.” So I finally get up and the water is not warm. I start heading out there and they’re like, “uh, we’re not coming with you. If you drown we’re not coming to get you.” I kept on going and ended up watching a beautiful sunset from out there. I was freezing for about forty-five minutes after I swam back. God it was cold. By this time the whole gang had shown up and there were probably about 10-15 people all sitting around drinking and talking. Doc ran off and found some store owned by a guy who used to live in New York and bought a BOX of beer. That was a big hit.


In some way I guess, I had seen all this coming so I had been sure to pack my Jimmy Buffet Barometer Soup; the next to last song talks about the 4th in St. Martin. As it grew dark, I climbed up in the ledge between the road and the beach with my CD player and got comfortable. Around 2200-something the fireworks started with a bang. As I sat there watching this beautiful aerial pyrotechnic display I was touched. I mean here we are, the Kennedy, a cross section of America, we’ve almost been thrown out of one country all ready and these guys are celebrating a holiday that isn’t even their own just for us—a boat full of nobodies. It hit me like no 4th in the states ever has. It was so beautiful. I saw fireworks that I had never seen before. And the whole time I’m listening to this Jimmy Buffet song over and over just sitting there by myself with tears in my eyes ‘cause it just meant a lot and it was about the nicest thing that anyone could have done for you on the fourth. A boatload of nobodies and they did that for us. “…that was the night I painted the sky…”



Day 80


Twenty

Give up learning and put an end to your troubles.
Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring, some go to the park and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Others are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am and dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.[1]



Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea
And the hunter home from the hill.


-Robert Louis Stevenson


Jen sent me that (the latter) and I can’t even begin to describe what it means to me; so concise, blunt, and yet poetic. Me thinks that Mr. Stevenson and myself might have had a lot to talk about. It all seems so unreal that I don’t believe anything anymore. Just about a month till we transit the Suez and are on our way to the Gulf.



Day 82

Drifting through Old Town, Corfu; the symbol of the city is a ship with a broken rudder—symbolizing Odysseus. I am Odysseus now, or maybe Theseus in the labyrinth would be better. I’m lost and brought no string to find my way back. I drift this way and that, where the current, sights, sounds and smells pull me. At places I can reach out both arms and drag my fingers along the white concrete stucco of buildings on either side. My fingers are like the needle of a record player, vinyl beneath, searching for a track, a groove, something familiar. Who have I descended into this maze to find? How will I ever return?


-------------wild dream-----------


Crazy on a ship of fools. I’ve temporarily traded this labyrinth of cool-shadowed, painted stucco, and strange faces and tongues for a haze-gray, pipe-studded one. I know where the heart of the maze, the Minotaur, lies—instinctively—and keep turning from it. But inevitably, he draws me inwards. To turn out is to turn in—and nobody can turn on anymore.


Time is my enemy, slowly pushing me, dragging me in, day by day to the Straits. How can I prepare anymore? The orders are in and the threats plotted. A ship without a rudder…ever taking me into danger.


*****

And as the days go by, you start to know people better than you’d like to, largely because you realize that basically they are idiots and they run the very real possibility of getting you killed. And that’s when the hatred starts. Because you, all of a sudden, if you want to be sure, want to live, have to take on their job as well as your own. And so the dichotomy becomes apparent; those who do and those who don’t, those who want to live and those who don’t even know that their lives are in danger. It gets to the point where you just wish they were dead, simply so they won’t drag you down with them.


And it sounds cruel, sounds like the law of the jungle—and yet my greatest fear is that I’m going to die for some stupid reason because of some mindless act someone commits. And ultimately, no matter how you rearrange your cards, no matter how much you prepare, you will be reacting to someone else’s problem and you can only do the best you know how.


*****

And somewhere along the way, the mutts overtook us. And that’s when things really started to get strange, ‘cause they knew more about Old Town than we could learn in a lifetime.


So after West and I had a nice dinner, and several bottles of wine, we picked up two dogs that decided to tag along with us. So far this is the only port I’ve liked dog-wise ‘cause they have regular sized dogs and not those fucking, punt-me-yap-yap things that seem to have been everywhere else we’ve gone.


Anyway, these two strays hung out with us while we wandered the streets; often running out ahead, barking, choosing where we went next, or catching up to us after exploring something new or paying their respects to an old haunt. If you’re going to be a dog, Old Town ain’t such a bad place to be one I guess. After about thirty minutes, we went our separate ways under amicable terms. Somehow I suspect, as drunk as we were, that we were too tame for them.


Anyway, we’re sitting outside of this cafĂ©, the rest of the guys were drinking wine and I was sipping a rum and coke while enjoying a cigar. And this poor little stray comes up to our table begging for scraps and I don’t have any to give him. It is so thin and I pet it for a while, scratching its ears. I stop for a minute for some reason and it curls up at the foot of our table shivering like it were below freezing though it must be near 80° out. I feel absolutely terrible about this dog, half considering ordering something for it to eat.


And here I am, the guy who tells the dirty little gypsy urchin kids to get lost when they come around begging for Drachmas while I am trying to eat my lunch and drink my 1200 dr tequila and orange juice. I don’t know if I like what it says about me, or what I’ve become.


*****


Lambs Waiting for Their Ship…

XO’s Theater, Silence of the Lambs, and it strikes me that, unlike Clarisse, I have no primal motivating factor. How many people do? For a while there I thought I did. But that belief has fallen by the wayside as the years have gone by in the Navy. Did I lose it or did I ever even have it? Most times I just feel like a ship without a rudder— where I go is where I wind up and where I wind up is where I’ve gone. No rhyme, no reason, no lambs to save.


*****


Rhodes. Climbed to the top of some tower, there were bars in the windows; to protect the less judicious I guess, or the lovelorn. You could see the ship out of one, Greece to the west and Turkey to the east. The window frames were white stucco and you could almost lay in them comfortably like a cockeyed “C”.


There were two girls there; fourteen or fifteen; I’m a terrible guesser of age, though am pretty good at telling if you’re alive or not. In any case, they were young and very lean. One had seized control of the window looking northward towards the ship, the other the one facing Turkey. The wind blew through the bars and the clatter from the street rabble below drifted up through the windows. None of us said a word.


I got up to go back down the narrow stairs; I needed a drink and couldn’t believe that I didn’t have one, or six, already. As I headed down, the overarching impression that I left with was that both of those girls were waiting for their ship to come in. They looked like they’d been there a long time. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I came off the damn thing and was still waiting for mine.



Day 88

Sitting up in SUPPLOT, waiting to get off watch. Haven’t seen the sun since we left Corfu, haven’t seen much of anything. Republika is playing and I can feel huge summer grey storm clouds building up. I can see them out of the corners of my eyes. The air is still, and heavy and humid. I don’t know how I know they’re out there but they are and I do. Can feel the breeze blowing through my hair and my shirt, window down on the Jeep, music, a cool gin and tonic between my legs. I’m missing summer and that sucks, as the first fat drops start to splash on the hood and windshield, throwing themselves recklessly about just so, now driven by the stiff breeze that has picked up—blowing the clouds my way, into my vision, into my mind, into my dreams.



Day 104

Eternal happiness, a moment: standing behind the serving line; left foot forward, weight on my right and the volleyball tucked between my right hand, wrist and hip. The sun is hot and the breeze cool, the sweat rolling down my back. Across the net, in the opposite court stands Rusti, hands on her knees. Her head is tilted slightly to one side and I can barely make out her ponytail poking out behind her. She is wearing a blue and white checked bikini; and I try to keep from trying to see down her top from where I’m at. I lose. She’s talking shit to me, smiling that half-quirky smile, eyes alight. I’m trying not to laugh ‘cause if I do I will serve right into the net. I can’t help it, she’s just too cute and it’s a perfect moment.



Day 114


Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…


God, I can feel the fear sitting in my gut like some bad…god knows what. I’ll be so busy during the day and I’ll forget it until I get a few spare moments and then it pops back up. It’s like something you can’t get rid of, always lurking around, reminding you of what’s to come. I can’t believe that I have finally come to accept this thing so much. Only eight more days till we hit the Straits of Hormuz; eight more days to get my gear ready.


Submitted my list of first aid supplies to Doc tonight, already waterproofed matches and some other necessities (…it’s the bear necessities, those Mother Nature recipes; forget about the worries in your life…). Just because the fear is there doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you have to do and will be able to do it, it just make the time until then a living hell. I spend most of my time by myself now. They switched the shifts around again so they are the way they were before and I work with friendly co-workers but not co-workers who are my friends. I don’t get much of a chance to talk to anyone and I can’t talk about this to Dave or Mike, it would just put them in an awkward position and I don’t want to do that to them. Bri is different but it even feels weird talking to him. The last night in Haifa I felt like the kid in Ray Bradbury’s book, The Halloween Tree (think that’s what it is called). Never actually read the book but saw the animated movie on the Turner. There are four kids and something happens to the ringleader, falls off his bike, in a coma, or the Halloween tree eats him and he is in the clutches of this crazy old man. It is up to the other three in the gang to save their friend and each of them has to face their fears of death, etc, all centered around a Halloween theme. I feel like I can only be saved by my friends but I don’t know how. They don’t know or believe me. It is like it is all out of my hands and all I can do is sit back, watch, and hope for the best.


I wanted to talk to Rusti but we ran out of time the last night that we were out and it is damn near impossible to track her down now. Besides, I don’t want to come across as pathetic or on an angle or god knows what. But that is all in my head and not really giving her the benefit of the doubt.


*****

Last night in Haifa, Aug 7, I guess, got a late start and ate a quick dinner at McDonald’s that tasted like ashes in my mouth. Caught a bus back down to fleet landing so I could get to the beach to watch the sun set; the way things were running it looked like I would get there about 1900, half an hour before sunset. Gin and tonic were in the bag and I had packed one La Unica for the occasion along with some choice music—my last sunset on dirt. Well the fucking bus at fleet landing decided not to stop by the beach and I ended up right back where I had started at. Fuck. Had enough time to throw back a couple quick drinks at the saddle pub, where everyone else had converged. Started walking west. Haifa sits largely on top of a large hill and I knew from the buses that drove us up to the USO that on the western edge you could look out over the ocean, at least. Twenty-five minutes later, I can catch a glimpse of the sea between a stand of trees on the left and an apt building on the right. There are clouds on the horizon and the sun is just starting to dip beneath them. On my walk down I run into a cute puppy that looks half German Sheppard, half something else cool and a Jewish lady who smiled at me like she knew what I was trying to do and what was to come of me in the gulf. I petted the dog and talked to him for a minute and smiled at the lady. What else can you do? So as the sun disappears from view, but not yet set, I light my cigar and pull out my CD player and selecting Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.


When I was going to school at WMU, sometimes I would drive home on the weekends. During the winter the sun would set relatively early, somewhere along I-94, long before I hit Indiana; during the summer not till I was in Illinois and almost home, depending when I left. Always seemed that I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon as the sun was setting. Driving in the Anarchy-Mobile, listening to Pink Floyd, going home, it all came to be a feeling that meant warm, home, security—I miss it.


So I stood there, listened, smoked, and drank, not according to plan but pretty damn good anyway. Who knows what the people who walked by thought, who gives a damn. Could they sense the death, the finality of the moment, did they unconsciously shy away and avert their eyes? Did they shiver and hurry up their step? I don’t know. I’ve always had a feeling for moments and ceremonies, it was one of those times and I was far away, eyes west back to the states, Pete’s, my friends. After that I walked back and met up with everyone at the Paradise Pub and proceeded to get drunk on warm rum and cokes. They played Fallen Angel by Poison.


*****

Anchored in Port Said, EG for about six hours, waiting to enter the Suez Canal. Six long fucking hours. Time to think about what you’re leaving behind. Time to think about crossing the ditch, the really wrong one. Time to think about what is waiting for you on the other side. The river pilots and tugs finally arrived and we reeled in the hook and took the first, slow, tentative steps into the putrid waters, building up steam and speed. And you could feel the Med closing like a door behind you as we went south and switched over comms to the Fifth Fleet theater. It was like watching the last slice of sky disappear slowly, never to be seen again, a sense of finality so heavy that you wanted to claw your way out of your skin, screaming.

So far three women have tried to kill themselves, one has. Did they know or were they just dumb, desperate, or god knows what?



The CDR’s Intel Brief

Sammy Davis Jr. called
the night we transited the Suez
eighty thousand tons of diplomacy
rigged for deceptive lighting—
he wanted to go secure.
I handed the phone to Dave
and watched him initialize the STU
in the eerie blue light.
Mikey stared at CNN.
Things were picking up.
“Hezbollah strike again
half a block and one week away—
you can run but you can’t hide!”
“Who cares??
I’ve already bought it in the Persian Gulf.”
“The Muslims got Peter Dugan
in Kosovo.”
“That Bastard!?”— Dave
“Christ…”
“A sacrifice for the Cause.
Burn the Madrigori I say!”— Mikey
“What’s it like living in the phone system, Sammy?”
“Lonely, would you like to hear a little number?”
“Bugger off you fascist bastard.”
“Well, I got to be me. Can I call you again?”
“When we’re not so busy.
Oh, and Sammy…
Go analog next time; it’ll sound just like the Old Days.”



As you regress south, you get used to the feeling and you begin to not even notice it; acclimation to the dark. It only take 30-40 minutes for your eyes to adjust to night vision capability, but if you should look at a white light it all goes to shit in a second. Don’t hope. They’ve gone to running the red light in the P-ways around here at night, reminds everyone of where we are—rats trapped in a tunnel, waiting for the gas.


Israel was a rotten fucking place, they have the bunker mentality like you wouldn’t believe, but they’re tough. We’re a bunch of kids who wouldn’t know how to kill in self-defense. Hell, I can’t wait till the first time we get lit up by a Rice Pad coastal defense fire control radar in the straits of Hormuz and see how many of these big-shot flag commanders shit themselves and begin crying like babies. The really cool thing about the CSSC-3 coastal defense missile is that, even if it engaged at maximum CWIS range, about a mile, the warhead is so big that the shrapnel from the blast will still penetrate 11-12 inches of steel armor. We are not warriors; we are a bunch of techno-geeks and high-technology thugs. The samurai used to kill their families before going into battle so that nothing would distract them from the fight at hand. We get videos of families pretending to be having fun back in Mayport shown on the ships TV. What would you be willing to do to ensure your survival, or at least complete attention? I have no one to kill at the moment but let me tell you that I know what is important and which side we’re going to get it from.


Day 123

Tomorrow will be exactly four months underway to the day. Four months ago today I had duty. Four months ago yesterday, I got drunk at Sloppy Joe’s and Pete’s; I danced, rather badly, with Jen. Tomorrow we go through the Straits. This is it, the last free dinner. After tonight, everyday, every hour, every breath is a gift. Remember that. Don’t take it for granted. Every moment is precious and not to be wasted.


*****

The weirdest thing happened yesterday. They had an unannounced GQ. They began feeding us tippers and info in SUPPLOT and none of us thought for a moment that it wasn’t real. F-4 Phantom’s were inbound from Chah Bahar and they called away GQ and it was like, “why not?” It was all so strange and detached. I can’t even say that I got overly nervous or excited or that I couldn’t breath or anything. Just had a little harder time typing on the Zircon chatter to CSG Bahrain as we tried to figure out just what the hell was going on. My fingers just didn’t want to flow. I swallowed the whole thing hook line and sinker right up until the end when the called away a missile launch and then I knew ‘cause they had fired from entirely too far away. Just like that, you can be two days out of what you consider the real threat area and death just sneaks up on you. And all I could think about was that all my E&E gear was down in my damn locker ‘cause it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon.

Out of no where, just like a surprise storm blowing in on the breeze, that’s how fast it can happen out here in the Persian Gulf where there is even less time to react. Somebody makes a decision somewhere and birds are airborne wings dirty with your number. You can’t rationalize it, you can’t even think about it too much or it’ll make you a nervous wreck—it’s just the nature of the beast.


*****


Letter to Jen

Well Jen, hope this finds you in good spirits. Got your letter the other day and it made mine. This brings the total of “good days underway” to four since they haven’t served any more corndogs. You would think that in a 135 day they would be able to serve them more than just once. Sure, I ate six but that was all at once. I’m now reduced to getting a couple of green hotdogs and a couple of pancakes at midrats and making due. What the hell are you supposed to do the rest of the time? Anyway, thank you very much for the cloves. I have a hack that you wouldn’t believe and I owe it all to you. Actually they make my head spin and it’s a small consolation in a Navy that no linger serves grog.


I don’t know what to call what follows. It all leads up to some tomorrow in one way or another and I guess that’s what it’s about. I don’t know what else to say. Strangely enough I find myself totally empty right now. Things get a little crazy when your landmarks and indicators don’t mesh anymore. In any regards, I am still kicking and intend very much to catch a sunrise with you and a bottle of tequila. I had eight entirely too long days off in Rhodes, GR and managed not to catch a sunrise even once though that was my intention every night (too much rum, etc.) and in Haifa I just barely managed to catch the end of the last sunset in spite of fate’s attempts to the contrary. It was very strange to stand and watch the sun go down and know that you could draw a straight-line over water back to Pete’s.


29AUG97

Gulf of Oman


Day 141

Two days ago, on the 14th, 306 went down in Star Wars Canyon, Oman. Almost nothing left. He was the juniorest pilot in VFA-15. All the pilots talk about how Star Wars Canyon is the shit of the whole cruise; and from the mosaic that Tony put together of the crash site I can see how that would be true. It’s about the closest that you could come to flying through the trench in the Death Star without actually piloting an X-Wing. They sent in the SEALs to look for any remains, which were minimal—he flew into the side of the cliff. About three weeks before that a CH-53 from Sigonella stopped off to pick up an engine out of an F-18 for transport back to the NAS for repairs. They had a hard landing at the base, and the crew chief and engine were thrown from the back of the helo. The engine landed on the chief and he fought for about twelve hours before dying.


Well, we’re out of the Gulf and I’m still alive. Watched the sun set tonight and thought of that Life Savers commercial where the father and son are watching the sun set and the dad says, “going…going...going…gone.” And the kid laughs, “make it happen again daddy.” It doesn’t mean anything I guess, just a cute commercial.



Red Sea Blues

There is a hot wind
blowing in my face tonight
as I gaze west;
the earth rotates
and the sun disappears below the horizon.
Pete’s is 6,645 nautical miles to the
west-north-west
I know—
I checked it on JMCIS.
The exhaust discharge is blowing
dirty-hot
as Blue, White, and Green shirts
forlornly stare west also
cigarettes hanging limply from their lips—
lost in thought.
The Vicksburg plows ahead resolutely
on the port quarter
a block of gray
stamped against the sky
and the goddamned Red Sea
just another day.



Day 156

Well, less than a month to go. Northbound through the Suez on the 25th I think. Bri and I went out and just sat up on the bow. It felt so good to be out in the sun and taste fresh air—not this recycled, breathed-by-thousands, sterile crap they pump throughout the boat. It was cooler and when I go out at night to smoke, I can feel the first hints of fall in the air. It makes me wish I was back in Chicago. I miss fall terribly, fall, Indian summer.


Dynamic Mix is a whole lot of boring for being the largest NATO exercise in the Med this year. The days drag by, each one seeming to last a fucking lifetime. There seem to be more days where everything just seems to be two inches to the left or right of normal and nothing makes you smile. Just want to lose consciousness until things are okay again. Even my music is tired and nothing sounds good, having listened to damn near everything to the point where it now makes you sick. All any of us want is to get out of this rut of consciousness we’re in—the doldrums, in irons— a drink, a kiss, a fuck, a shot of heroine in the arm; anything to make these tired white walls and grey hull look new and alive. And even though I don’t fear it, the closer we get to what we (think) we want, the closer we get to the end, a death. The cruise will be over, a magic time, a time out of time, or better yet; a time in between time, when the normal rules of ordinary average life did not apply and anything could happen in the next port. There was a sense of freedom, of desperate goodwill and fun and that will end as soon as the first line is over the side in Mayport. The whole sick crew will walk down that gangplank and right back into their normal everyday average lives, the cruise a fast-fading memory blown away like a wisp of fog in the breeze. On top of that, the whole sick crew is splitting up and going their separate ways, hell, Dave and Junior split out of here in three days for Sigonella and then Virginia Beach.


Another chapter, another era slowly starts to wrap up and come to a close. How many of these does a man see in his lifetime? How many friends seen for the last time in a rear view mirror?



The Personal Indifference of Autumn Pt I

And with a turbo propped roar
the gray-white C-2
slid down the flight deck
and Dave and Junior were gone
leaving only a contrail of hot
black/brown exhaust in their wake
as the summer finally ground to a close.
A week later
in Tarragona
we drank sangria
like the world was coming
and smoked cigars
to an end.
And back on our drunken boat
of sanctuary
with the bow pointed west
we hit Mayport
on a cold October morning
some three weeks later
to the sounds
of J.P. Sousa
and tugboat water cannons.
The impact
threw me into Pete’s
and points westward
until I finally came to rest
up against the Rockies.
Now I hear the Ocean
in my dreams
and I see familiar smiles
in unfamiliar faces
feeling my friends
like some weird ghost limb
that was amputated that day
in October.



Day 159

Well, Dave and junior left today and it was the beginning of the end, they were the first to jump boat and won’t be the last. We went up last night and all smoked cigars on the O10 level. It was the only way to send them off. I’ve been low-grade bummed all day long. I honestly have to say that I didn’t even know how good a friend Dave had become until now, after he’s gone.


Dynamic Mix is finished and we pull into Spain in two days, but now there is really a sense of finality, at least for me. It feels very autumny and I just see myself sitting out on the smoking sponson a lot watching the sun on the water, lost in thought and reverie. It is a quiet time. Starting to let go and savor the bittersweet melancholy of the whole thing. There is a part of me that screams that there must be some kind of way where to keep the crazy ride going and all stay together. Some of these guys getting out have friends, family to go back to but not me. It just seems that much worse that I’m not going to be a part of something elite, if you can say that about the Navy, just another average joe on the street.


In Spain, the tourists’ will all be gone and the nights will be getting colder. I think that we might drink more than we did in Falaraki Beach but it won’t be loud drinking, it will be like old men slowly killing their drinks, remembering the good days in hushed voices. The seasons change and there is nothing you can do to stop them and only a fool would try.



The Personal Indifference of Autumn Pt II

I remember lying
in the back of the bus
one of those nights
in Tarragona
Mikey passed out
next to me
waiting for a ride back to the ship—
head rested on backpack
full of Cuban cigars
PEZ
and a flask full of rum
unlit cigar butt jammed in my mouth.
There was a sense of the End then,
already
even though we were still
a month out of Mayport.
Maybe it was the night air,
already cooling off,
oar the way the waves seemed
to reflect more of the autumn spectrum
hinting at things to come.
Or maybe
it was the silent absence
left by Dave
and to a lesser degree, Junior
that just could not seem to be
filled
no matte what we tried
or how much we drank.
Whatever,
you could still look back
at the last five months
as if it had been
a week
and for the first time—
even though you’d dreamed of it
for months—
you could see
the End
and suddenly
that
that seemed worse
than pulling back out
and doing it all over again.



Goddamn…

Thirty-three pages into Herzog and it leaves me with the same impression/feeling as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did, a kind of low-level dread. Except that this time, maybe I understand it, the dread, better. Herzog’s fatal flaw is that he retreats from any confrontation. In this, he never stand up for himself, never claims that “masculine” part of himself.


And I get the feeling that I often do this also, and I don’t like it. I’m afraid, afraid that I will forever be surrounded by doubt and hesitation, afraid that I will never be able to recognize my own happiness by always wondering if it is what it really is and how long it will last. Doubt and uncertainty are certainly seemingly more a part of everyday life than security; but to be able to be secure in that; that is living.


Reading this book, I can feel every time the “world collapses” in my life— when the bottom drops out, you think life as you know it has ended, and you wonder how you’ll ever be able to go on. I can feel it with perfect clarity, the mind-numbing routine of Saul Herzog, continuing to put up storm-shutters after his second wife tell him they’re through. You can try running but there’s really nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to. It all comes with you. I know, I’ve been across the deep blue sea and halfway round the world, twice.



The end

Well, last day of leave for me; sitting here in the Jax airport waiting for my ride, guess it’s time to wrap this thing up. We will have pulled in two weeks ago tomorrow and the time has flown. It was cold as shit that morning when me and Bri went up on the flight deck, just about the time we hit the breakwater. The tugs were out but there were no other ships in sight as they had scheduled all the arrivals about an hour apart so as no to kill the traffic on the base. We were up on the port side way forward and then we switched it over to the starboard. The crowd wasn’t as big as I had thought it would be and there was no band, but the people on the pier were yelling and the guys on the boat would yell back. Not a whole lot more to it than that. Next thing you know we’re pierside and that’s about it. Bri saw his wife with the five Woodstock balloons and waved. Mikey found us. By the time that Bud and I walked off the boat, it had warmed up a bit and we caught a cab to Manatee Rays, which was closed, so we ended up eating lunch at Sloppy Joe’s, right next door. After that, Mark gave us a ride to Pete’s and we played pool with Doc and some other kid and proceeded to get drunk— which pretty much describes the next six days or so.



Homecoming

Stood on the slight sandy rise
facing east
the cold October wind
whipped nervously about me
restlessly shifting sand
and blowing Sawgrass this way and that.
The Ocean was angry
and threw white-capped fist
after white-capped fist
onto the beach—
desperately clawing, trying
to come ashore.
Behind me
I could hear them
the warm, drunken roar
and laughter that was Pete’s
and my friends.
A lone gu11 wheeled and dove
silently in the fast-waning light
under steel-gray skies—
a loner in the storm
like myself.
I gazed out over the frantic swells
and the horizon
I waved to myself
standing and watching the sun set
in Haifa
hang in there kiddo,
if you have to
you can make it home with one headlight.
The gu11 was gone
and the laughter louder.
My cup was empty
and I needed a drink.
I smiled and turned back
towards Pete’s.



And that’s it. Of course a whole lot more happened during the whole dammed thing and not a whole lot of that is reflected in here but this is what stuck out enough to make the cut, besides, nobody wants to here six months worth of stupid and inane drinking stories about people you probably don’t even know. In any case, I get out of the Navy in a little over a month and I am very grateful to have been able to end on a high note.


Somos pocos pero estamos locos!

10NOV97
Jax Intl Arprt



Disengagement…

And it strikes me that I am slowly becoming more aware of myself again. It’s like coming up for a breath of air after having been immersed for a long, long time. Whether it’s the end of the cruise or the impending end of my Navy career, I find myself taking a look at myself, wondering where I am, and where I need to go.

It’s like I’ve been submerged in what I’ve been doing in the Navy for the past five years and now that’s quickly coming to an end. In some ways, I feel lucky. This wasn’t an unplanned for transition, like getting fired, and I have the leisure of time to look around and take stock without having to panic in the progress.



19DEC97

Well, it’s official; at 0900 local EST I walked off the Kennedy and out of the Navy. This is a big day, not so much because of what I’m fixing to do but because of what I’ve done.


This draws to a close probably the biggest chapter of my life. It seems like it should feel more somehow, ‘cause it doesn’t feel like anything at all right now. I mean, when I left the Turner it felt like something.


And to a small degree, I can get a sense of the enormity of what I’ve done, but it’s like trying to look at the whole Grand Canyon all at once; it’s just too big to take in all at once and it leaves you in awe, a quiet humility that is still somehow exhilarating. Smaller chunks though, lend themselves to easier comprehension. It’s just too big to take in right now.


Well, it’s definitely been an accomplishment and I’ve managed to do most of it, in spite of myself, with a fairly decent sense of style, or at least as much as you can in dungarees. That’s gotta count for something.



Somehow

And somehow
the Ocean became a part of my soul
the dull roar of the surf
and the gentle rocking of the waves
slowly creeping into my dreams
and Israel
was four months
and 7,000 miles behind me
as the clouds raced low
beneath a bone-bleached
full moon…
and somehow,
I made it through.





[1] Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


No comments:

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