Sunday, April 12, 2015

Another Law of the Boat

There are rules aboard tugs- some written, some not.  Today, the rule about closed head doors was violated.

I was having a shit and looking at some news on my phone, when the door burst open.  I was startled and looked up to see the sleepy but equally startled face of the other hand, Termite, looking in through the foot and a half wide gap of the open door.  He had been in the bunk and woke up for a piss.  His hair was disheveled and he was shirtless.  His face had a disturbed look upon it; one eye squinted, still not adjusted to the light, the other popped wide open in surprise and staring straight at my lap.

“Da fuck?” was the only thing I could say at that moment.  He pulled the door shut and I finished my visit to the head.  When I left the head, the door to his room was closed.  I walked back out on deck thinking about the rule.

When the head door is closed, it means that the head is occupied.  The door doesn’t need to be locked; no one will open it.  The only time that the door to the head needs to be locked is in the case that the head is between two rooms and shared.  Then, if the mate is inserting a suppository deep into his ass with one leg hiked up on the sink, the engineer won’t accidentally walk in on him.  But that’s another story.

If the door to the head has been pulled to and closed by accident with no one in there, the crew will still observe the rule.  They won’t begin to test the door until quite some time has passed.  When the possibility of an empty head presents itself, someone will knock and listen for a voice from within to announce that the head is being used.  If no voice is raised, the door is slowly opened as more knocks are applied and if the head is empty, the door is set to right again.

This isn’t a difficult rule to follow, and for the vast majority of the time, it is observed without fail, observed to point that a popular prank is to pull that door closed for no good reason, just to watch the crew nervously monitoring the door for signs of activity.

Termite paid for his lapse.  When I saw him again, he couldn’t make eye contact with me.  It was as if he were now unclean, having seen the naked thighs, the sides of the buttocks, and possibly the privates area of another man.  Termite is a churchy type.  Any reference to homosexuality makes him squirm so the vision of me on that commode probably twisted his well-being into knots. 

“Ah doan know, preacher.  I seen the penis.  You sher I ain’t full a sin and vice today?”  I could just hear his nasally little voice now, panicking and fearful, the call to his minister, as he sought answers to the questions posed by the sight of pasty man flesh.

Well, good for him.  I hope he cried himself to sleep.  And maybe next time, he’ll see the closed door of the head and observe the rules, the way the rest of us do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

He fires a question.

Today has been another day of lingering in warm spaces.  There are about two of those, and of the two, only one offers a fair amount of solitude; the second is occupied by rational crew.  All the others are still occupied by Sloth, Christopher, and  Geoffrey, the bipolar engineer.  Not much relief.

After a morning of traveling between the deck office and the wheelhouse, I finally had that moment when I was forced to walk in close proximity to Sloth, allowing him to initiate a conversation.  But rather than ask me the usual drivel of boat questions, he put an engineering question out, one that would give him the opportunity to catch me in a situation of managerial incompetence. He asked, "Why do the flood lights keep going out?"  I froze for a second, sensing the attempted entrapment.

Should I explain to him that the generators' governors weren't adjusting quickly the way they used to? Would he understand the term "marginal ballast failure?"  I wondered for a second more.  Then, "Voltage drops," I blurted out, and continued walking.  He had nothing.  It was so obvious and direct an answer that he had to think quickly for something to add.  He had nothing.  Standing there with a dumbfounded look on his face, he appeared stupider than he usually had these last few days and I smiled as I passed through the passageway and into the galley.  It was my first public smile in these last few days and in just a minute or two, my smile grew so wide that my chapped face hurt.

Sloth is going home tomorrow.  Our education is over.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ice. Ice. Baby.

I've seen a lot in the last few days.

Ice thicker than I've ever seen in my life.

Ice so thick, we could sit still in it overnight, with no anchor.

I've seen various forms of ice breaking.

I've listened to it torture the hull for hours on end.

I found out that I can handle the cold.  The real cold.  Sub-zero cold.

I've done a two and a half day job for 5 days now.

All because of the ice.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Passive Aggressive Deckhand

Engineer:  So why did you move my book?

Deckhand: I was tidying up.  I like to keep busy.

E: You moved it so far away, I thought it was lost.

D: Ah.  Sorry.  It's the way I do things.

E: Yeah, I've seen the way you do things.  It's driving me nuts. 

D: What?

E: I eat a hot dog from the leftovers, you throw them away.

D: I was cleaning out the reefer.

E: I eat some roast beef out of a new package and you throw it away.

D: It was bad.

E: But you save the slimy green turkey.

D: The mate likes turkey.

E: Fuck the fridge. What about my clothes? You move my laundry to the washer, put three dryer sheets in with it, and you didn't even have laundry to follow mine.

D: I thought I was being nice.

E: You're not nice.  Ever.  So what's with the good deeds.

The deckhand sat in the corner of the settee, folded up at the back and knees in a compact pile, staring at the television, but every now and then, he took a furtive glance at the engineer.  This could get interesting.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Career Path

The cold battered his body, gnawing at his joints and seeping  his skin from all sides, in its march to his core.  It reminded him of his brief time on deck of the tugs.

He had, before his many years as a tug captain, done some days on deck.  They said he should become an AB Unlimited.  He said they weren't ambitious enough.  They said he should get some endorsement, become a Tankerman or some other rating.  He told them he was smarter than that.  This man was born to lead.

In no time, he showed them what he was capable of.  His fast track to the big chair was impressive.  He was lord of all from the boat deck and above; he had the galley to himself.  For 35 years he lived that dream and never had to suffer the labor of the deck or the engine room.  Then the bottom of the industry fell out and wouldn't come back in time to save him.

He found himself on the hunt for a job.  He was in line with men who had suffered for 35 years on the deck and in the engine room.  They would be lucky and suffer for a few more years, for a few more dollars.  He would suffer rejection.  They said they needed experienced hands, not boat drivers.  He said he could catch up.  But there was no fast track to take him to the others.

Now, on his concrete bunk, blanketed in a piece of old canvas tarp, he slept under the stars.  When his mind wasn't numb from the cold and the fear, he pondered his brilliant career.

Sunday, July 3, 1994

The soup pot is lost.

He had one job.

The deck hand only had to clean the big soup pot after dinner. It had a bunch of stuff stuck to the bottom so he got the idea that he'd rinse it in the harbor. Unfortunately, the line he tied to the handle of the pot slipped its knot and he watched the pot sink and disappear into the dark harbor water.

Gone forever.