The sky is still dark as he leaves the apartment. Walking to
the car he tries to see the stars, but can’t.
The key turns in the ignition, the engine turns over and the
heater begins to whirr. The windows fog with the sudden rush of air.
Reflections of the house lights and streetlights dance on
the hood. Sunglasses resting on the dashboard slide through the turns.
The parking lot is getting full of cars as the sedan finds
its spot. He carefully gathers a few things from the trunk as he walks towards
The radio was sitting on the plywood floor in what would
someday be the hallway. It’s tinny classic rock ballad was echoing throughout
the house, with no sheetrock or carpeting to stop it.
“Hey, I need a street-ninety. Grab one from the van.” He
shouted, over the abysmal radio station.
“Alright, I’ll get it. Do you need any glue or primer?”
No reply, I guess not.
I thought as I jumped down from the foundation and ran towards the truck.
“Where the hell are these things!” I yelled to myself as I clawed
through the unlabeled bins on the shelf.
Everything was tied down, and to someone watching on a
television you might not notice the pitch and roll.
Why’d they do this?
I thought as I carefully tried to mend the delicate aluminum mast.
“How much time do you need.” He asked, as he stood bracing
himself against the doorway.
Although nothing looked like it was moving, I can assure you
that it was. With each roll, I had to try to pull myself away from the work and
keep the tip of the stinger from the surface.
“Soon, just meet me up on the boat deck at 2230.”
The room was bright; the covers from the fluorescent lights
had vanished long ago.
My socket-set was open and sitting on the pile of pelletized
lime bags in the center of the room and several boxes containing new Radio
Flyer wagons were to my left.
It was my favorite day of the week, the day I assembled
wagons and set them up in front of the store.
The first time I was tasked to build wagons, I had no
system. So, one at a time, I’d carefully piece each one together, carefully
reading the instructions each time.
Now was different.
The call details printed across the display on the
“So this would be a possible 50150 hold?”
“Yea, she’s a repeat caller.”
Five minutes later, the door opened and the elderly lady looked at the two
officers standing in front of her.
“Hello Ma’am, how are you tonight?”
She proceeded describe the glowing foam that was growing
from her bathtub.
I know what’s going on
here, I thought as I asked about upstairs neighbors.
That was the last night we received calls from that house
and also the last time her neighbors used dish soap for bubble baths.
“. . . Fire alarm activated for facility at. . .” reported
the voice of the dispatcher, from the tinny pager on my desk.
What the hell am I
doing, I thought as I left the house and dashed through the wall of pouring
Racing down the windy rural road, the lightening was
blinding and the rain deafening.
“. . . Fire alarm activated for facility at. . .”
Pulling into the station, I ran into the open bay door and
donned my turnout gear.
Shortly, our skeleton crew was barreling through town
towards the call.
“Hey, you need to move.” He said, grumpily, as he tried to
line up his putt.
“No, get your shadow out of my way,” he again yelled.
Obviously my movement was not enough.
And so the day continued, with me carrying the golf clubs up
the hilly course as they sped ahead in the cart.
I had been waiting in the shack for hours without a call
that morning. It was a brilliant day and the course was packed with golfers,
but many of the caddies remained waiting for a call.
My call was, supposedly, done as charity for me.
It’s arguably one of the best days of my life, my fourteenth
birthday. As a present to myself, I walked into the local McDonalds and applied
for a job. It was May and I had just interviewed for my fist steady income.
Sitting across the table, the manager asked me a series of
questions and had me complete a job application.
Later that day I wandered into the Superintendents office
and got my work permit.
That summer was great, and early shifts were always my
favorite, riding my bicycle to work first thing and getting hot cakes before my
“Hey, DC2, you awake?” he asked, patiently, clipboard
Turning over, I grabbed the curtain with my hand and
slid it back a little.
“Yea, I’m up and I’ll be there.” I replied, wishing
that I had a few more minutes of sleep in before watch.
He fumbled with his light and clipboard combination as
he scurried out of the dark berthing area.
Before long I made it up the ladder to the dark mess
deck and found myself some sandwich materials.
The transition from the dark passageway to the bright
engine room was always rough.
Everyday at one o’clock there’s a meeting for all of the shipyard
One week I found myself looking at the people sitting around
me. One project manager was nearly seventy, another not far behind. The
Technical Managers were of a similar age.
What’s the average age
of the people in this room, and where do I fall on the scale.
As it turned out, the average age was fifty-four.
I, being twenty-eight, was one of three people under the age
of forty in the room.
“You could do anything in this yard, but you need some gray
“I want to introduce Randall. He recently graduated from art
school with a major in photography. He’s going to be our judge tonight.”
Announced the club president.
The room was quiet as he finished the announcements.
The Photographic Society was mostly comprised of retirees
looking to pick up digital photography and swap insight with other shutterbugs.
Normally the judge would be a senior member from another local chapter.
During the judging, Randall needed to talk above the low
roar of the talking crowd as he judged each image.
The normally polite audience was atypically rude and
unconcerned with Randall’s input.
“You know, you’d be so much more effective if you worked
someplace else.” Said my co-worker.
“What do you mean, where?”
“Well, someplace where they actually treat people well and
value your sort of intelligence. Some Tech company I suppose.” He replied in a
I know what he’s
getting at. Someplace for young people, I thought.
“Honestly, that sounds great. However, I don’t have the
background for Tech.”
“But you’re energetic and smart. There’s better places for
you.” He replied excitedly.
“Thing is, I only have a background for ship repair. An
industry that doesn’t value young people.”
Everything was damp.
Walking along the
pier I could feel the drizzle on my face and hear the light splash of standing
water under my boots.
Consciously I knew I was in the northern California shipyard
I call home, but subconsciously I was walking along the pier in Portland Maine.
Just after setting the anchor I walked aft towards the newly
set gangway. Making my way off the ship I walked along the pier looking at the
hundreds of people waiting to tour the ship.
It was damp and the salt breeze from the ocean kept the
humidity in check.
What the hell is that,
I thought as I watched one of the first responding officers putting a four-foot
long katana in the truck of her patrol car.
“The call said there was a series of fights on the street,
involving various types of weapons. What are we going to do?” I asked.
It was a cold December night, one where I was actually happy
to be wearing my wool uniform and vest.
“We’ve got most of everything taken care of on this end of
the street, but there’s another subject who wandered down towards the end of
It looked like a twisted mess of pipes and valves.
It was a twisted mess of pipes and valves.
Every morning at roughly 0445 I would walk on the deck of
the barge and make my way around the catwalks, ducking when necessary to avoid
hitting my head on errant pipes.
With my faithful Tetra meter humming away, I would check the
spaces and update the paperwork.
That tank is safe.
Wandering through the maze of haphazard compartments was daunting.
Older bulkheads were riveted, newer ones welded, and others made of wooden
“Welcome to the flashover trailer.” He said, as we stood in
the lower half of a modified conex box.
“You are now going to see everything we just talked about in
He then walked up to the front of the box, which was raised three
feet above the rest of the container. On the raised platform was a fifty-five
gallon drum filled with Masonite boards.
He carefully set the contents of the drum on fire and then returned
to the back of the container with the rest of his students.
Shortly we were watching fire dance across the ceiling.
“Do you guys sell any nuts and bolts?” asked a concerned
customer, looking at the mess, which was the store
“Of course,,” I replied confidently. “If it’s something you
need, we’ve probably got it.”
We walked through the store and turned down the narrow back
aisle of the store. The Midwest Fasteners cabinets we kept there were quite
“What are you trying to do?” I asked.
“Well I bought a new set of roof racks for my truck and I
need to mount a few things to them.”
We then walked out to his truck and assessed the problem.
Red patches of paint showed through layers of oil, grease
and metal dust.
I must’ve been six feet below the deck, while looking for
the flashlight I dropped into the bilge.
We had four flashlights in main control:
I wasn’t about to lose the oiler light when we were at sea
and unable to replace it. The engines were roaring and I wasn’t expected in the
booth for another ten minutes.
Frantically pushing my hands through the bilge water, I
found the light and quickly made the ascent up to the deck-plates.
I could hardly hear myself think above the audible humming
of the dim incandescent lighting.
“Hey, Tyrone!” I shouted.
“What do you got over there?” was the abrupt reply.
Wiping the excess grease from my hands, because I never wore
gloves, I climbed out of the port aft engine room bilge.
“Do you have the valve matrix, because I just finished
putting in that eight inch globe valve down there.” I said with an arrogant
grimace, full well knowing that he wasn’t quite finished with the other one,
which he was installing.
“No, that’s just one valve you bilge monster.”
It was coming still down when I left the house.
Looking down the street, I could feel the stingy snow
hitting the exposed skin on my face.
This is a gold mine,
I thought as I looked at the unshoveled driveways. For a fifth grader, this was
the most productive way to spend a snow-day.
I met Mike at the end of the street and we started the
fruitful process of going door to door, in that winters storm.
Some might argue that we should’ve waited until the snow
stopped, but then we wouldn’t have any repeat customers that day.
Everyone was quiet and patiently waiting for the last few
stragglers to make it up to the waist. The sails were full and the ship was
listing to port with the wind.
“Is that everyone?” I asked, looking at the 1st
“I’m pretty sure that’s all of them DC2.”
With that, I dragged one of the bright red canvass bags
across the soaked teak and into the center of the crowd.
“Before we start, make sure all of you have your books ready
to be signed off.”
“Alright, let’s talk about the role of investigators during
It was August, and likely one of the hottest days of the
year. We were all standing there, in black wool uniforms awaiting inspection.
Standing still as possible, I occasionally glanced down at
the shine of my boots. They need to hurry
this up, the polish is getting totally dulled by the light, kept thinking.
While I kept my body still enough, I was able to see the
command staff actively inspecting classmates in my peripheral vision.
Damn, this cover is
really hurting my forehead, I thought, between bouts of mentally reciting portions
Regardless, we all kept standing.
“Heartline is in sickbay. He is leaving tonight, if any of
you want to see him, you can go tonight. "
By this point, most people were simply focused on graduation
and weren’t too concerned with the wellbeing of our ailing shipmate.
Several of us decided we needed to see our shipmate off
before he left.
After the flurry of daily activity had ended, we donned our
PT gear and quickly trekked across the snowy base. First passing the lone
recruit playing taps, then passing the parade ground and Munro Hall we were
silent and fast.
The place was eerily quiet.
It was a bright and cloudless day, sometime in early spring.
We had just finished loading all of our equipment onto the
crew boat that would take us to the Hughes Mining Barge.
“What do you need me to grab?” I asked as we pulled up next
to the barge and quickly started to unload the gear.
Within several minutes all of the hoses, needle guns and
lights were sitting underneath the Sea Shadow.
“Do we have anything else?”
“Nope,” was the reply.
Sitting inside the Hughes Mining Barge looking up at the Sea
Shadow, I couldn’t help but smile.
After the oil had started to vanish from the surface of the
Gulf, everyone began looking towards the next step, cleaning up the equipment.
For my part, I helped scout a location for our
Bayou La Batre was our first stop. It was a small and
relatively inaccessible location, which didn’t fit our needs.
Next we looked at the site of an old Coast Guard station in
Pascagoula. The foundations for the buildings were sitting in a vacant lot and
the boat house was quietly decaying over the water.
It was close to open water and wide open.
It was four in the morning when I stepped onboard the tug
Hercules. My meter was humming along and all of the readings checked out.
That morning I had made sure to check all the other ships as
efficiently as possible, save for the fact that I wanted to take my time with
this historic craft.
It was all part of the job, and I was happy for it.
Climbing through the forward workspaces under the bow,
ducking around the steam boiler and looking at the pistons. Checking
atmospheric conditions was something that allowed me to extensively explore the
Constant chattering, the sound of the registers and the
alarms on the Fries never went away.
“So that’s two number ones with medium diet coke and HiC.”
“Yes,” replied the distant voice through static.
“Please drive to the first window.”
I was on the other window, quickly preparing the drinks and
“Thank you very much,” responded my friend at the first
Food is already in the
bags, two fries included, I thought as I skillfully filled both drinks simultaneously.
With the drinks now in the cup holder and the food assembled in the bag, the
order was ready.
In turbulent seas, Bosn’s Stores, or lower boats as we
affectionately called it, was never a pleasant place to be.
Just below the windlass room, it was far forward and
therefore constantly pitching with the swells.
“How much water is in there, exactly?” We asked, curiously.
“Right now, there’s only a few inches on deck,” replied the
nervous security watch stander.
Shortly I was wrangling with broken submersible pump, which
was permanently installed in that compartment.
It’s a scary thing, to be in the Bearing Sea and have
nothing but a leaky sea valve between you and the freezing water.
It’s a story I’ve told dozens of times.
We were sent to rescue Wake Island shortly after a violent
typhoon. Upon arrival the hydraulic starting line for the Starboard turbine ruptured.
Unfortunately that turbine was our last piece of functioning
propulsion equipment, save for the bow thruster.
Later that day, a C-130 flew overhead and dropped two
fifty-five gallon drums into the water. One contained the parts to repair the turbine;
the other contained a block of cheese and a giant American flag.
Before the boat crew could reach the barrels, one quickly sank.
Sadly it contained the turbine parts.
It was icy and cold.
“In order to water test the pipes we need to fill them up
from the vent line on the roof”, Dan said as we stood in the unfinished garage.
“Ok, how do I get up there?”
We then walked around the outside of the building and
climbed up the narrow scaffolding that was resting along the back of the house.
“What if I fall?” I asked, looking up the steep pitch of the
snow covered roof.
“I’ll be standing right here to stop you.” Dan said
confidently, as he carefully balanced on the narrow planks.