Bright sun. There are two of us from the detachment sitting on the VLS
launcher on the front of the ship staring into the mid-morning sun, staring
at the light on the water in the northern Arabian Gulf. Two cans of
Heineken sit nestled between battered black leather boots now almost brown
from wear and tear over the last couple of weeks. The last four weeks,
the last four days, the last four hours, minutes, seconds,
detachments. Another vicious pang stabs through the spine and I stiffen
automatically, take another sip of the, (at least cold,) beer and push the
urge away. What I want to do right now I cannot, or at least as of four
days ago I cannot. Quit smoking which means I am going to have to pick up
another vice now. This is beer day, after forty-five days at sea.
"Yurei." Aaron stopped his maudlin version of the Violent Femmes'
'Blister in the Sun' two verses ago leaving me with the less amusing real
thing playing over large speakers in front of the five inch gun mount.
"Hmm." Swirling canned beer around; I stare at the bottom of the
aluminum container and wonder about what it would look like to have a camera
in the can taking pictures of myself staring blithely at it from this side.
"Wanna go with me on the thirteenth?"
"What happens then?" I ask, resolutely morose.
"I reenlist." Aaron says with finality. "Going for a flight."
"Ahh. Yeah, what the hell." Another measured sip of beer pushes me a
little further toward being finished, then having to find something else to
do before going to sleep.
"I'm goona get a bunch of fruit too." Giggling quietly, Aaron opens the
door on something I am not sure I want to walk into and then make myself
"Fruit? What the fuck for?" I almost lose the measured quantity of
beer. That would have been bad.
"Going to throw it out of the bird."
"At the ship?"
"If we can." Aaron says. The tone thanks me for understanding the humor
in the gesture. Not only the humor, but also the quality of art involved in
throwing bad fruit at the ship. This is something more significant than the
discovery of artificial intelligence, more beautiful than life, more
hilarious than the situation.
"Oh hell yeah."
"Okay then." Aaron raises an aluminum can in silent toast. In return, I
do the same while watching the light glint off of the rim of coated
aluminum. Never thought I'd see something like this, we're drinking beer
underway and best of all it's legal.
Evening. Mongo and I are sitting under the large expanse of green
tarpaulin at the NSA Bahrain Desert Bar. NSA in this particular instance
means nothing close to what it does at home, this place has a dozen names.
Naval Support Activity, Naval Support Facility, Naval Support Unit, Naval
Security Detachment, it used to be American Services Unit but too many
people were calling it the Alcoholic Support Unit. So they changed the name
for one reason or another, probably just another plot on someone else's
part to award themselves for something pointless like renaming a group of
buildings. This happens periodically in the Navy, (and I assume elsewhere
in the armed services,) people just change a name or the wording of a
sentence and then walk around congratulating themselves. Nothing ever
really changes, the names and letters are rearranged and this is pronounced
a marked improvement over the previous condition. The only thing to do here
is consume beer, non-boat food, and poorly mixed drinks that you can
purchase two at a time.
Mongo and I are smoking cigarettes under the waning heat of the desert sun,
silently glad to be off of the ship for the next six hours. Six hours of
unsupervised time then back to the ship for an underway chaser. No idea
where we're going, no idea what we're doing, no idea if I'll wind up back
here someday. Now the problem with all of that is that I do not care, for I
am Apathy Man. My superpower? A typical and almost incomprehensibly
uninteresting ability not to give a smoking rat shit about anything. I have
resigned myself to smoking while drinking, after two beers the monkey gets
to whipping on me with a hammer and things get a little difficult. Some
band from the 80's is banging out glam metal racket from an unattended CD
player in one corner of the bar apron. Seating runs for about 500, enough
that if an aircraft carrier were to pull in here things would be
completely out of control. The bar area is enough. This will keep us going
long enough that we won't lose it over the next several weeks before we hit
somewhere that speaks English, is properly civilized, (read: uncensored
books,) and allows us a little more freedom than we have here.
Things have been out of control for the last three days, after sixty-three
straight days at sea we finally pull in and the command structure wisely
chooses to make this a working port. Wisely because they know if we're
allowed to run amok for more than five or six hours a day we're going to
come back to the ship far more drunk than we have been. I had duty
yesterday, spent three hours sitting in the midnight darkness of the
berthing making sure that someone wasn't drowning in their own vomit. Six
hours of unsupervised time combined with sufficient determination and
available resources yields people passed out sitting on toilets. Others
find catharsis with the tension through loudly protesting the nature of
reality and quietly sobbing in dark corners of the ship. Held at the ready
for sixty-three days, electric dread circulating through every surface of
the ship twenty-four hours a day as we suspiciously examine every ship,
every small boat, every aircraft that comes near the so far unblemished
"Finish the beers and go make a phone call?" I ask the unnecessary to
interrupt Mongo and I from dropping too far into the mental abyss.
Nietzsche was right. It does stare back into you.
"Yeah." We call this man Mongo; he speaks quietly and is a good guy. He
just looks like Billy Bob Thornton in 'Slingblade' and listens to speed
metal. It is rumored that a gerbil on a wheel that you can randomly trip
for personal amusement powers Mongo's brain. Nothing could be farther from
the truth in this case.
"I don't think I want to live in interesting times anymore." I mutter
quietly, watching the unauthorized gyrations of a couple on the edge of a
dance floor. We were specifically ordered not to go near any of the women
on the ship, another wasted breath. Some of us are self-policing; others
just don't care and do what the flesh wills. "Really."
"I should have done my laundry tonight."
"Yeah." For some reason I cannot seem to clean the shit out from
underneath my nails, black grime traces ten individual arcs beneath hardened
keratin. "Goddamn this crap. I never get my hands all the way clean."
"I gave up a while ago." Mongo considers the nails on his own hand
briefly and then places it back on the table. "Not like it matters, you
"I suppose." Dirt, blood, doesn't matter.
Maroon dawn. Mark and I are standing in the smoking area watching the
dawn crawl slowly over the pier area in Bahrain. In six or seven hours we
will be underway again, making steady progress toward an unattainable goal.
I wonder if this is worth writing about, I wonder if anything is worth
writing about anymore. Nightmares haunt consciousness, pushing back and
forth against reality. The same one that I have been having for several
weeks now came again last night, leaving the waking moments of the day with
the usual miserable depression and self-deprecating humor. Other people
have nightmares about monsters, falling to their deaths, being in freakish
car accidents or having their boss/wife/husband replaced with by a five
hundred pound grizzly bear with bad indigestion. This nightmare is
"Had this whack dream last night." I am fiddling with the light meter on
my camera and trying to work out a decent shutter setting for the 200 ASA
film currently loaded in my camera. After coming to the conclusion that it
is going to require a ten second exposure time, (given that I have a slight
twitch from four cups of coffee, no patience, and no tripod handy,) it is
decided to wait for more light. "I mean, I dunno if this thing classifies
as a nightmare or what."
"Oh yeah?" Mark watches my fiddling with the shutter settings with a
slight mocking smile. Both of us are armed with cameras and are taking
super-random photographs of the front end of the boat at dawn in Bahrain.
This is specifically forbidden for some reason or another. Actually,
photography of the pier area is forbidden due to security concerns but
someone decided that photographs of the ship featuring no part of the pier
are also a bad idea. "What's it about?"
"Okay, I'm married and some kind of programmer right?" I notice that for
some odd reason I still have a circular polarizing filter screwed onto the
end of the lens that I am using at the moment. Cursing lightly I pull a
small plastic case out of my pocket and notice that there is a Sky 1A
filter in the box where the polarizer is supposed to be resting.
"Something wrong?" Mark asks.
"No, wrong damn filter." I say while going through the gentle process of
exchanging the two. "Kind of thought it was a little bright out here for a
ten second exposure time."
"Ah. So the dream?"
"Right, so I'm like married. I come home, have dinner, wife and I
talk and you know do that normal sort of thing. Chat, dicker over this or
that. Watch television. Whole week goes by and this is all that happens,
friends come over on Friday night and we go out for a little bit. Live in
some decent house up in San Francisco." Finishing the filter swap I drop
the box back into my pocket with a slight rattle.
"Man, it's just so depressing. I think it's a nightmare."
"Because it's everything I don't have. Stability, a life, something to
go home to, I mean I feel like I just ought to stay out here and tell Jim to
go home when six gets here." Mark and I have had this conversation before
over the merits of staying at the dance versus the long drive home. I am a
perpetual bachelor, simply due to the fact that you don't find too many
women interested in people with my travel schedule and occupation. "Now I
feel stupid and depressed."
"Fuck it." This phrase is a staple of our linguistic diet here.
"Hmm." Silence in the still dawn interrupted by the rhythmic clicking
and whirring of a pair of camera drive motors. "Whaddya think?"
"You're a little weird, and you worry too much."
"Oh, that just makes me feel so much better." I meter again and then
stop to turn and face Mark. "I've had this thing a few times now."
"Yurei, shaddup." Laughing quietly, Mark shakes his head and lights
another cigarette. The monkey is blissfully asleep for the time being.
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