Monday, May 31, 2010


Damn, we're working right steady this tour.

This has been the longest month of my sea time since I left deep draught shipping last year... it's not that I've been remarkably busy, though we have been busy; it's not that the weather's been rotten, or I'm bored. I just miss my wife really, really badly this tour, for some reason.
Everyone's got their coping mechanisms. One big pleasure for me is that working inland and near coastal as we do, I get to talk to Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife twice a day. Morning and night, which makes me feel like I'm still participating in family activities. We don't talk for long- maybe 10 minutes a day, but those 10 minutes are the high point of my day, for certain, and that's how it should be, of course.
It used to bother me that one officer that I sailed with before would talk to his wife and 4 kids maybe once a month or so when we were in port at least once a week, sometimes more. I was fearful that I'd fall into that sort of living situation when and if the time came that I got married. I'm not a big phone person. I can see the potential in our living situation for a husband and wife to grow apart, with the greater independence required in our living situations. So far, though, I seem to be having a 1-week mini honeymoon every time I come home. I hope that in 10 years this will still be the situation.
In the meanwhile, work continues. We are loading a parcel of black oil destined to fuel up a reefer ship in Philly tomorrow evening, and after that, this tour will be done. Amen.

I can't help but wonder how other sailors handle checking in with the fam... international voyages, of course, change things, but

Saturday, May 29, 2010

two things...

One: This is something that won't receive much press, but I've had my suspicions that the global warming bandwgon has been producing bullshit articles for some time by the rectal removal (aka: pulling numbers out of one's ass) method.

Take this much ballyhoo'd study data released about a month ago... and how, after the gloom and doom of the results cited in the press release... well, turns out, there was no study.

There was no publication on the subject matter by the journal cited by the news agencies, and there is no author by that name who has ever published a paper in the field of environmental sciences. So, there was no study.

BUT, that doesn't matter. The news agencies and Green Inc had a resounding success. They've inserted numbers into a debate where the science didn't support claims, and never had to actually study jack shit in the process, saving millions.

Man I'm pissed.

Oh, and point #2. If you're like me, and have to eat a lot of salad sort of against your natural inclination to live on steak and cheeseburgers, buy yourself a can of hearts-of-palm.
Slicing up a couple of these totally changes the texture and flavor of a salad.

Oh, and a little easter egg for you, for having read this far. More Brazilian Carnival dancers:

Friday, May 28, 2010

new blogs!

Well, new to me, anyhow.

Borepatch is wicked smart, wicked good reading, and also echoes my sentiments on many things, which obviously makes him a good person, too.

Bowsprite is an NYC artist who's inspired by all things marine, and works in watercolors, a personal favorite of mine... her blog has been in my bookmarks since I bought this laptop, but as one of my daily hits when I get online, I never transferred the URL to my blog after I changed it early last year.

Coldisthesea is also another smart blog- world events, maritime thoughts, and artwork- all things I am not good at but enjoy looking over.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The steel beach zen garden

The question you might ask is 'why would you paint your deck with a 3-inch (7.5cm) paint roller?"

It's not about the speed at which I paint. Last summer I spent every spare moment painting the cargo deck and working gear. This year, I've just got the bow area and stern to paint.
When I first came to my barge, I went on a painting spree right away- we weren't that busy, and, coming from a ship, anything that wasn't tied down or actively running away while cursing was painted. With acreage to paint, speed was a factor. In the case of my barge, I've got little painting to do, and about 4 months to do it, now.
My belief is that when I came here, being a 'ship AB,' I was probably being eyeballed to see if I could take initiative as a tankerman. I'll admit that there's a certain comfort to being told what to do at work, and having minimal responsibilities, but even a loose collar chafes after a time, so I thrived on being thrown into situations where I had to make decisions on my own.
Painting my barge gave me an opportunity to do simple work that showed results. The fact that I stuck at it and did a nice job, I think, has given me a decent reputation as someone who isn't afraid of work... but, truth is, the familiarity of it is a comfort, too. The mindless nature of the work gives me time to sort out my thoughts and let my mind go adrift. I don't exactly go all Walter Mitty, but it does give me license to turn inward.
I noticed today that I could feel my heart slowing down as I painted the bow. I let my body do the work, and cast my brain loose, and went on autopilot. A few minutes later I started counting heartbeats, and noted that it was far below where I started... I felt good, relaxed in a way that other people get from sitting in front of the TV or in a beach chair, I think. As I worked, moving slowly, I got to stop and enjoy the warm breeze. I had a moment of Zen.
If you've ever read "Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (and if you haven't, you should), the author spends a lot of time extolling the need and desire for Quality (his capital Q), in the things we do, and how rare it is to find today. I read a great discussion on this not too long ago, using cell phones as an example. You can't find a cell phone that makes calls with the reliability of the old analog networks. You also can't find phones that last ten years. You can find a phone that reminds you to powder your balls if it senses you sweating, but you're more likely to break the phone than you would with the old style cell phones of 10 years ago.
Anyhow, I had my moment of peace, and it was perfect. I was able to shut out my concerns for my helper, a guy filling in, unfamiliar with our ways, who was killing trees wholesale while filling out the paperwork that goes with a triple cargo load with six cargo parcels to be dealt with. I was trying not to hover over his shoulder as he sweated and scratched out numbers... persistence paid off- he got his numbers to add up, and I quelled the ever-present anxiety that is my constant companion, just for a little while.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wanted: giant rubber ass


It's been 24 hours since we nudged up alongside this Russian POS breakfulk freighter. There isn't a single engineering officer who speaks English, which has been a nightmare- trying to bunker a ship via the translation efforts of the one English-speaker on board, an Ordinary Seaman with the attention span of a parakeet "Yis yis, you start pump now and we, Look! Something shiny!..."

Anyhow, while under normal circumstances, I can reasonably expect to transfer fuel safely and operate in the safe zone and be protected via due diligence and strict adhesion to the agreement and declarations that we sign before the pumps kick on, in this case, I couldn't help but notice that after I sent up the paperwork to the ship, everyone disappeared.
For an hour I attempted to contact the ship via VHF, hand signals, ships' horn, screaming, throwing nuts and bolts at the wheelhouse, calling the agent and holding a seance. Just as I was pulling out a Ouija board, a plastic bag and a can of ether, the US Coast Guard showed up.

Turns out the CG was out getting subs or something, and noticed the hideous-looking ship. They then proceeded to find a host of problems on board, which explains certainly why I was being ignored- the engineering department was certainly being butthurt yesterday, and on a Flag-Of-Convenience shitheap mostly made of Red Hand and rustcicles, well past its' service life, I can imagine that being a chief is not a fun job.
So we got to wait 10 hours before we started bunkering. By then, I had been relieved, had lunch and a 2 hours' nap, and was ready to start pumping.
Then the fun really started. The deckhand/translator told me that I had to pump 80.83 cubic meters of diesel, stop pumping, then pump the remainder when asked, and then there would be 5 stops for the black oil portion of the job.
I explained, carefully as I could, that we don't use cubic meters as a unit of volume, and that it wasn't a good idea to forego sounding and topping off one's tanks in lieu of passing the buck to a guy on another vessel. I think my exact words were something along the lines of "Jesus, please, let's try to be more professional than that!"
Now, if, for whatever reason, the chief engineer really wanted to just fill one tank at a time and list the ship all around in the process, more power to him- it's his ship, and I don't take topping tanks at all lightly, myself. I'm willing to make stops in the job in order to help the engineer do his job safely... BUT, when someone is making me responsible for doing his job, and compromising safety, and already has a visible streak of ass in his disposition... no.
I was then cussed at in Russian, I believe. We then started pumping cargo with the pump engine at idle. This most certainly gave the engineer time to sound his tanks, as I'm pretty sure I could have filled that tank up faster by drinking a case of beer and peeing into the sounding tube.
Fast forward 6 hours. The engineer has definitely been filling the ships' bunker tanks one at a time, judging by the visible list and trim of the ship, which is leaned over like a drunk at a urinal- and down by the stern quite heavily.
With only 4o tons of oil left in my last tank, the engineer pantomimes for me to shut down. Problem: with only a sloppy calf-height level of oil in the tank, the chances of shutting down and losing the prime on the pump are excellent. I tell my translator this. He tells me that the ship's tanks are full, and we only have 'a little time.' I inform them that if I lose the prime on the pump under these circumstances, that the shipowner is going to be paying for me to return the remaining oil back to the refiner. The engineer actually JUMPS UP AND DOWN while screaming. Dude had a tantrum. He didn't threaten to hold his breath on me, but I could see that happening. He then pointed fingers at the translator and waved about... either cussed him out, too, or told him to steal third, I'm not sure which. The translator held his hands up in the universal 'what can I do?' gesture and told me to shut down.

While I shut down and tried to swing valves to preserve the prime on the pump, the engineer and his boy disappeared. Again. Another hour, I was relieved, again, and made my phone calls to the office, passed the watch, and passed out.
When 5am rolled about, just a little while ago, I wasn't surprised to see that we were still alongside the ship, and that the hose was still connected between my barge and the ship. Apparently the engineer went to bed, as my 2nd man got fussed at for spotting a mate on deck and sending him to wake up the chief for a powwow vis a vis walking the fuck off a job.
At this point, a bright and sunny day is not raising my spirits much. Apparently the engineer believes that he can load the bow down with cargo and that this will make enough of a difference in his tanks to take on the additional cargo. Now, I haven't been invited to take a look at his strapping charts, but I'm pretty sure that a pretty decent list and trim isn't going to make a 40+ ton wedge in the tanks that can be remedied by selectively loading cargo. Not in a 400-foot ship, anyhow. I could be wrong, of course. I certainly would have expected the mates to ballast the ship, rather than load her funny, but that's just me. There's probably either no working ballast pump, or equally likely, the ship could be running on her tank tops, with the ballast spaces breached to the sea. In a shitbox like this, anything is possible. Especially tetanus.
So that's where I am, as day 2 dawns. I'm here for another week, so it's no skin off my ass for me to stay here, but, being fairly diligent, I hope, I hate seeing my barge tied up for a case of assbaggery.

Monday, May 24, 2010

ye olde docke daye

Finally, we had a chance to unload trash and take on stores, fuel, water, grub and spares... being the only non one-trick pony in Philly, we're busy running around like a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest while the other bunker barges in the port seem to be on a sunday Goin' to meetin' schedule... the price we pay for being versatile in ways that others here are not, I guess.

Anyhow, rearmed with fresh vegetables and salad fixin's, we're ready to cast off lines and continue our relentless assault on the septic system while we bunker up the thirsty ships of Philly. In just over a week, I can return home, where Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I plan to celebrate our 2nd anniversary. Since, of course, I was at sea for our first Anniversary (and our first Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter), it's on me to pull off a night to remember.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"networking and gaining access"

In my abortive early career as an academic of sorts, I used to teach a class on social networking as a means of accessing hard to get research data, source interviews and industry inside information.
This was before the days of Facebook and rampant online media; as an example, an online metadata search in Biological Abstracts cost $50 a minute. This was before Google and the Pentium computer chip.
As an information junkie and one of those people who get to know people in odd places, I helped prepare young researchers who were preparing to travel to foreign locales to perform cross-cultural studies in diverse fields; it was a lot of fun and a lot of work for the 3 weeks a year that were taken up with conferences.

I certainly don't have my old touch.

I've been trying to help some of the unlicensed mariners who lost their jobs when AHL Shipping Company went under a few weeks ago, by finding new job opportunities for them. One of the tremendous difficulties about this is that AHL was a union-based company, one of the few maritime organizations that were staffed top-down from one single union... unfortunately for the unlicensed crew, the small offshore unlicensed division of the IOMMP was a one-trick pony, with only one company left in the union, and that company now apparently gone the way of the dodo (I keep hoping that there will be a big surprise, where a last-minute infusion of cash will show up and keep so many mariners employed... a pipe dream, maybe, but a good one).

In the meanwhile, there are plenty of career mariners out there now without a union and without a ship.

I've been in contact with Capt. Kelly Sweeney of Maritime Headhunters , who has been one of the few people I know of who can find ship jobs for unlicensed guys in this economy, in the hope that he'll be able to keep some of my friends and former shipmates from languishing on the beach. I'm certainly not having much luck myself. I've helped one guy out, so far... well, one and a half- another guy is now on a commercial fishing boat in New England, which is like being in hell only not so restful what with the communists taking over NOAA and gutting jobs this month under the new pogrom, or program, whichever it is.

If anyone knows of a deep-draught job for Able Bodied Seamen or QMED's, please contact me so I can forward the info. Thanks!

Finished With Engine

More pictures from my days with the now-defunct AHL Shipping company.

Old meets new. The after hull and engine room of the 60's era Gulf Solar was joined to a new forward body to make the New River. The joined sections made a funny double wake in the water, but never gave us a day's trouble.

They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Not my photo, but it shows how much surface area needed to be maintained. This was a case of 'never enough time' to get everything pretty all at once.

The Cargo Control Room in the foreground was situated above the main deck, instead of the house- this was done to facilitate construction.

The turbines of the Captain H.A. Downing. Steam propulsion made for a quiet ride.

Almost all prettied up. Note the yard worker under the propeller, 7 o'clock position.

"The Ski Slope" was a nod to safety. Where the old hull had underdeck housing for the unlicensed, construction rules now dictate that the crew be kept above the level of the cargo deck, so old had to meet new in a compromise.

Shit weather.

These ships were often commented on for their very spacious bridges, which ran the width of the house.

Steam power means no direct link to the throttle.

Look carefully at that last one. "Finished With Engine." Goddamn, now I'm sad.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit:" Monday.

"Oh, Jesus," I said, "I can't look."

The buoyline made its usual growling shriek as the first pot came off the bottom.

I was standing at my usual spot, about 5 feet behind Bob at the port rail, just aft of the hauling station. I was leaning against one of the four barrels of bait that we had aboard. If the salmon skins didn't fish, we were going to be in for a long day of slinging the glop overboard, then refilling the bags with our pleasant-by-comparison slightly stinky salted herring bait.

Photo courtesy of the World Wide Web

The first lobster pot broke the surface of the brown, muddy water. There was a flash of dark orange and brown in the middle of a whole mess of spider crabs. "Larry!" Bob shouted.
Larry the Lobster was a children's book character. We'd shout his name whenever one showed up unexpectedly, which, in mid summer, was every damn pot.
"Looks short," I muttered.
"Mah! That's a keeper"
I started flinging crabs out of the pot. Broken spider crab bits flew; we tend not to be very careful with them. They're a pest species.
When I had a clear path to it, I grabbed the lobster by the carapace (the head segment), spun it in my palm to look for eggs on the underside (eggers go overboard, gently, with a little v-shaped notch that we cut in her tail to tell other lobstermen that she's a breeder, and not to be touched), and gauged the size. One end of the gauge went gently into the empty part of the eye socket- the other to the back of the carapace. The gauge fell short of the end of the carapace segment.

Photo courtesy of the world wide web

"Keeper." The pleasant clunk of the lobster being dropped into an empty bait bin followed.

"Nasssssty," Bob said, holding the old bait bag up for my inspection.

And it was nasty. The crabs and lobsters had plucked many of the skins half out of the little meshes in the bait bag. It looked like someone had tried to make a wig out of a mop. There was mud and black goop that must have been pockets of bacteria.

"Hey, it don't smell bad at all!"
And it didn't. The bait bags full of salmon skins had retained the smell of salmon, but the smell of corruption was gone. "Throw some fish in there and we'll fish the skins again." We were going to recycle the salmon skins by adding a herring or two to each bag and putting them back in the traps.
The next trap came up empty. Strangely empty. Only one or two spider crabs were in the pot. Even an empty pot will come up full of spider crabs when you're fishing their territory.
Inside the pot was a bag with five pounds of salmon fillet. "Guess the fillets (prounounced 'fill-its' when you're a fisherman) don't fish."
"Lobster repellent, Bob."
"Glad we didn't use too many."
The next trap came up empty again. This one had a salmon skin bait bag.
"Well, shit, I'm kinda relieived. That bait was fuckin' disgusting."
Bob dumped the bait bag's contents over the side. About half stayed. He then spent about 20 seconds picking the bag clean. "Oh, ain't this some shit! We might be fucked, buddy."

The next trap came up. "Deuce!" two lobsters, damned rare in mid-summer.
"Jeeezuss... two hardshell males... quarters." Two high-valued lobsters, full of meat, and decently sized. Also rare in mid summer. Lobsters take time off in the summer to shed their shells and grow... While they're 'soft' the shell is hardened after a few days, but there's not too much muscle underneath yet- they haven't grown into the new shell... so they're not worth as much money, being made up of more water than hard shells.

When all 25 traps were up, the final count was 10. About 1/2 a lb. per trap. Not bad for the time of year.

"OK, so the skins fish. And they're free."
"Yeah, Bob, but we're going to lose a lot of time fucking with the bait."
"...which is free."
Sigh. "Yes. Free."

The next trawl started only about 100 yards from where the last one was reset.
"Larry!" A keeper and a short lobster in the first pot. The short went over the side in a arcing toss.

"Deuce!" Another double in the second pot.

"Larry!" a single in the third.

"Oh, Shit! Three Bagger! "

The next trap came up with three very fiesty, big lobsters. All keepers.
"Oh, shit, Bob..." At about the same time, a slow grin began to creep onto both of our faces. We sat there smiling at each other like a couple of idiots. Bob was the first to speak.
"Salmon Skins!" said quietly, but with emphasis.
"Big money!" I said, copying the tone.

That trawl averaged out at a pound a pot. 25lbs of lobster, when we were expecting maybe 8 or 10.

As the day wore on, we worked our way out into Quincy Bay. The catch was as good as any October day, when the fall 'runs' of lobster bring in the majority of the annual income of a lobsterman.

Any time another lobsterman swung by to say hello, we stopped hauling. We weren't ready to share the secret, or the glory, just yet. We didn't want anyone to look into our traps and see the cannonball of salmon skins in the bait bag, and the lobsters it was bringing up. Now that we were out of the estuaries, the spider crabs were gone. Instead, we were bringing up the occasional small green crab- a pest that is annoying only when in great numbers. The two or three green crabs in each pot we left alone- they're too small to bother even throwing out of the trap. Now, the only thing coming up was seaweed, little crabs, and lots and lots of lobsters.
By noon, the bottom tier of the holding tank was full. I had to stop the low drain in the tank so the seawater level in the tank would rise.

And the catches kept improving. We were up over 1.5 lbs a pot out in the bay. By the end of the day, the holding tank was full- something I had never even seen before. We were both exhausted. The extra work involved in dealing with all the lobsters, plus the unwieldy nature of the bait, which was still making the deck slippery as hell (though strangely this was no longer important, it being a smasher of a day)... we were burnt out.
When we were both completely, utterly burnt out, we called it a day. Bob called ahead to the lobster dealer, to make sure that he was in.

The next day... same thing. Big, crazy numbers. We had cycled through all the gear once, now. At the end of the second day, we sat down on the pier and started drinking the beer that was waiting in the bait cooler. Bob's father always made sure that there was something in there for us at the end of the day. Most days, Bob's dad would have a beer with us, if he was there, and Bob and I would have two beers each... sometimes three. And, sometimes, seven.
This day was a seven beer day. We toasted the salmon skins, retelling stories that weren't even a day old yet. Chuck, a lobsterman I had worked for when I was in grad school, came by.

"Heard you guys had a slammer yesterday."
Bob and I grinned at each other again, but it was a sickly one.
"Cat's out of the bag, now, Bob." (that was me.)

"What, did the dealer tell you?"

" I heard about it in Scituate when I was getting bait."
"Jesus, Bob, we're highliners!"

Highliners are big money fishermen, the top earners, famed among fishermen. Bob and I had earned temporary fame for bringing in quadruple what anyone else did. Scituate, several towns over, is well outside Boston Harbor, and a world apart, stylistically. Different fishing, different markets, different bait sources, everything... and word was out.


We were never able to get a big consignment of salmon skins again. The skins that became available were snatched up, such that no one that I know of ever found them in bulk like we did again. Perhaps they're not shared equally, but shared enough that no one I know of ever did what we did. But they fish, goddammit. They fish.
Bob and I, in all our years together, never had another set like the salmon skin set. We had a fall run one year that culminated in a big day where we caught more lobster than the day of the salmon skins, but it didn't match the excitement. It was fun, sure, but it was the fall run, and didn't come out of the blue like the salmon skin adventure.
Of all the stories of our time together, that day stands out as among the happiest I've had. The lighthearted avariciousness of the whole situation has to be exactly what gamblers feel when the're in the middle of a roll. Being a highliner for a day was fun for the ego, but mostly the day was about doing our job, and the unexpected nature of being rewarded for years of patience.
Good times.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit." part 3.

The next morning was clear and fresh. A breeze had sprung up overnight, chasing the hazy summer fug off of Boston Harbor. The breeze was by no means certain, but as the day started, Bob and I certainly were much improved for its' presence. It also kept down the flies.

Bob surprised me that morning, beating me to the boat. When I picked my way across the pier (noting how slippery the area around the bait cooler was), I saw the boat opened up, and the engine was turning over at idle- almost inaudible. She really was the quietest boat I've ever been on.
I slung down two barrels of our regular bait- these were smaller barrels of salted herring pickled in brine. Along with the barrel of leftover salmon skins, we agreed that we'd work until the bait ran out, at which point we'd head for home, it being Friday.
Since Bob had loaded up the bait bags already, I got to enjoy the ride out of the Back River and into Quincy Bay. We were steaming to our 'outside' gear out in the southern half of the mouth of Boston Harbor- an area called Nantasket Roads.
The deck was a little tacky, becoming slick when wet. It smelled.

"Jesus, Bob, I still stink from last night. I woke up, my pillow smelled awful."
"Lemon Joy, bud. That's the good shit."
" s' the lemon- just like eatin' fish. It cuts the smell."
"Yeah, well, I can still smell you, and you smell like my ex girlfriend."
"Yeah, but I smell better than you do, bud."

(Author's note: If anyone shows this to my mother, you're dead to me).

We proceeded to haul about 300 traps over the next 8 hours. We worked slow, as the remaining salmon skins still made the deck like a skating rink. I discovered that my ass, sides, shoulders, legs elbows and arms were already bruised, as whenever I slipped and fell, everything hurt before I even landed. Eventually we did get through the day. I remember that on the next-to-last lobster pot, itself a trawl we referred to as "the shitties," being old and rotten, with razor-sharp rusted edges poking out of the trap everywhere, an errant piece of wire caught my overalls at about thigh-height, tearing them to pieces when I bounced a trap off my knee prior to throwing it onto the stack on deck.
"Shit! Fuck!"

You cut?"

"Nah. I don't think I'm going to be able to patch this, Bob."
"Meh! Duct tape, a little suit sealer... good as new! Ah well, last trap, anyhow. " The last trap came over the rail.

That night, Bob and I were unable to stand the stink of ourselves, and only drank one beer after work together. We agreed to meet up later at the local biker bar, a place where neither of us belonged or fit in, but where both of us, strangely, were welcomed. Bob, actively, being friendly with the crowd, and me, benignly, being a friend of Bob's.
Bob and I, when we're together, shift constantly between old memories, new conversations, and stupid inside jokes, all done seamlessly, stream-of-consciousness style... and, working 60-72 hours a week alone, together, 11 months out of the year, year in and year out, you get to know someone.

That night, both of us, skin shining from a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids via the flying greasy salmon skins, and both of us reeking of lemons, we proceeded to be ridiculously drunk. The salmon skins became something funny. My overalls being snatched off my body like a breakaway jumpsuit, leaving me half naked out on deck, also funny.
I had gone to my apartment, been thoroughly cursed out by my roomate, my neighbor (himself a former sternman of Bob's, coincidentally), and my neighbor's girlfriend for the stink coming off me. I stripped down to my underwear on my porch, forever scarring a whole generation of kids playing baseball on the field behind the apartment house, I'm sure. In the shower I had packed for a clinical-grade decontamination: anti-bacterial soap, a quart bottle of lemon Joy (an ultra-concentrated dishwashing detergent),two flavors of shampoo, and two lemons cut into halves, just in case. I proceeded to scrub my skin until that shit was shining like a new penny. I squeezed the lemons over my head, rubbed them all over (except for one pass in a sensitive area... After I stopped screaming, I gave that part of me a wide berth with teh citrus).

Normally, a good shower with a decently strong bar soap will rinse off the fish smell.

Anyhow, an hour later I was headed for the bar, and Bob and I proceeded to be our drunk, stupid selves, and it was a good time. About 2-3 hours later, sitting at the bar, I started getting a whiff of...something. Something that made me hungry.
"Jesusss, Bob. I shmell like a sammin dinna!"
"Yeah, me too, buddy. I started getting that earlier. That shit won't come off."
"You know, my skin feels... good. Healthy. S' the oil, maybe. You know the weirdest part? It doesn't smell bad... it smells like a good cut of salmon, fresh out of the oven, with lemon, and everything. Jeez, I'm friggin' hungry now, and I'm broke. I'm going home and raiding the fridge."

It was the same story come Sunday. With slow fishing, we took the whole weekend off. Sunday morning, I called Bob to see if he felt as hungover as I did. Bob outdrank me, and he weighs at least 75lbs less than I do. We each cursed ourselves, ("Why, Paul ?Why?"), and I went down to my parents house. Before I left, I scrubbed down again in the shower, using my last lemon in the process. I hadn't seen my parents all week, so it was nice to come into their house and catch them reading the Sunday paper.
The first thing they said to me was "You smell like fish!"

TO BE CONCLUDED in part 4... where we learn whether or not the stink is improved by 3 or 4 days underwater.

Friday, May 14, 2010

can't fight tempus fugit...

I'm 36 today.

I'm all growed up, I guess. 35 may have been a vintage year, as it ended with a positive balance, in terms of the gestalt of yours truly.

Rather than make a list and check it twice, I'm going to mention that I'm sailing down the Delaware river to Wilmington, DE, with thundersqualls all about- a hint of things to come in the next few months, I guess. We're loaded fairly deep, bucking the tide and steaming slow to make our midnight appointment with one of the most beautiful ships I know of, as far as tankers go... pictures some other time, certainly, after the fact.
Of late I've been sort of focused on my hairline. Contrary to the genetic history of my family, I seem to be getting a little thin at my old hairline... this is worrysome as I've already got a gigantic forehead. I already look like I can talk to dolphins underwater, so I don't need any help there. Id say the stress of the last year has done me in. My sister took my blood pressure just before I drove south to rejoin my barge, and, well, it was high. I could probably stick a lump of coal up my ass and make a diamond.
So, 36 sees some changes in the ol' life and lifestyle. 35 saw me drop 20 pounds from start to finish, which is a step in the right direction. I now have to avoid salt, which is not to my liking. There are salads for lunch and with every dinner.
Ah, but, there is also a lot of positive. I look ahead, instead of behind, when I want to go to my happy place. Good plans in store. I didn't achieve every goal I reasonably set for myself for age 35, but I did knock out some things. I hope 36 is as good or better.

Now, on a more maritime-y note, I'm starting to get a feel for the activity levels of the port of Philadelphia. It seems like this place has become a major transshipment point for goodies set to go to and from Puerto Rico. This is a surprise, but I've noticed that Thursdays and Fridays see a spike in container traffic bound for the Caribbean. I don't yet know why Jacksonville or Norfolk aren't carrying this traffic, but I'd suspect that they're both rather expensive to operate out of, being top-tier container hubs.
The regular liners that I see running on a less-than-2-week turnaround aren't great in number, that I can see, but there's plenty of commerce going on... enough so that I'm starting to put a schedule in my head of when I can expect a slowdown in the backlog of bunker jobs on the horizon-it seems like it will be an every-other week Monday and Tuesday slowdown for liner services. Now, the next thing will be to start becoming more aware of breakbulk and bulk shipping. The fruit boats and cocoa boats (Hershey's IS in Pennsylvania, after all!) are regular as clockwork, as is the OJ tanker...
You know, I'm writing this stream-of-consciousness style, it occurs to me. I always hated reading books written in that fashion (Yes, James Joyce, I'm looking at you. I hope you're being suspended in the air with fishing line, hung by your testicles, in use as the pendulum in Satan's grandfather clock). It also occurs to me that what I've been doing. I'm formulating the opening arguments of a predictive algorithm to guess at when I can reasonably expect time to sit in the sun and read a book, or something equally nonproductive. I'm such a geek.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

act the Second of "if this catches lobster, Bob... I quit."

Read part one here. When I get to the end of this, you'll be glad you did... I hope.

Part 2.

The next morning dawned hazy and still, full of promise for a scorching hot day with little in the way of a breeze.

Getting the bait on board was something that I usually started, and the B.O.B. and I would finish it together. I usually showed up 5-10 minutes earlier, as the B.O.B. stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for our morning coffee while I checked the engine, warmed her up and started pulling bait out of the cooler.
Now, in my particular corner of New England, we have diurnal (twice a day, regularly spaced) tides of about 10-11 feet on average. This means that when you've got a boat, you need a pier above it if you're going to have shore access to your boat, and either a gangway or a ladder to get you from the pier to the boat or to the floating dock to which you tie your boat.
The RITA C was tied to a finger dock bolted to the main dock, and at low tide, sat about 15 feet below the pier, which is where the bait cooler was. Now, Boston-based lobsterboats often have an open stern- that is, the deck drops off into the water without a raised transom... here's an example-

The Rita C was set up such that her deck level was almost exactly flush with the main dock that we tied to... essentially, it was no problem to drag something like bait right from the dock to the main deck, once the bait was at dock-level, anyhow.

The super-sized pickle barrels presented us with a challenge... they were another 100-150lbs in weight. And the salmon oil that slopped all over everything the day before was intensely slippery. Cocking a barrel to roll it somewhere was problematic- there wasn't enough friction to make the barrel roll... we mostly turned it in place. So, with all the grease everywhere, we hugged and lugged the barrels over the edge of the pier and down to the dock, down the deck of the Rita C, and up onto the engine cover, where the baiting area was.
When we were done, we were filthy and gasping for air. The day hadn't even really begin yet.

Remember the stink I talked about? This morning brought about a new dimension to the smell. Down deep in the barrel, where the weight of the mess of oil and salmon skins compressed everything, little pockets of decomposition were working away, creating gas bubbles filled with assorted degradation products. Circle of life and all that. The bacteria were working away, until they themselves died... then, other bacteria that like sulfur products and enjoy an oxygen-free metabolism started taking over... making more gas.

You might see where this was going. All the jostling around released little burps of hideous gas from the barrels. The smell of anoxic bacteria going to town triggers the human gag reflex- it's ingrained in our brains as part of our instinctual survival mechanisms... so I was gagging and salivating like a mad bastard as I stood over these barrels of death, afraid to begin the next step.

I am hideously allergic to fish oil. Strange, huh? The lightest touch of fish oil on my bare hands makes the skin fall right off them in massive sheets, leaving behind red raw hamburger... I've been spending my days on fishing boats since the age of seven. Obviously I'm insane.
I wear gloves when I'm going to be working on the water. I favor heavy rubber gloves with a long gauntlet that runs at least 1/2 way up my forearm... for protection.
With my gloves on, I dig into the first barrel, slopping a softball-sized fistful of skins into a bait bag. I have 40 more bait bags to fill.
There's a reason why sternman on lobsterboats are also called the 'master baiter." I could fill 40 bags with 2-3lbs of bait each in 5 minutes. Anything slower, and I would have to face the shame of stopping the operation while we were pulling traps so that I could bait up some bags. This is not cool. So I bait fast.
And, as I fill bags, the level of bait in the barrel starts to drop. I have to dig deeper, get my arms in there. By the end, my head and one shoulder are in the barrel under normal circumstances.
...but these are not normal circumstances. The smell is changing... evolving into something that was probably exactly what Yeats was talking about when he referred to the "rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born."
I am now dry heaving, filling the bags. At this point, we have left the dock, and are heading upriver.
One more dry heave, and I have had enough. I crawl over and through the bait barrels to the fresh air of the deck.

"I don't know, Bob. I don't know if I can do this."
"C'mon Bud. We don't have anything else, and we have to bait."
"Oh, Jesus."

I bait a few more bags. I dislodge a bubble as I dig out more salmon skins, and it pops audibly, spraying my face with a couple of drops in a fine mist. I promptly vomit into my mouth a little, and head for the deck again.
"No! Dude! Fuck this!"
"Paul! Come on, man! We got no choice!"

By now we're far up the Weymouth Back river, a small estuary south of Boston, and at the end of the street I grew up on. In the early summer, I can see the buoys of our first traps from the dock. In winter, the closest gear is 10-12 miles away, in the open water.

The deck is slippery all around the bait barrels. Dripping oil, blood and other unsavory juices (called 'gurry' by us) have created a slick so potently viscous that I have to hose off the deck of the baiting area in order to be able to safely walk out onto the working deck.
Turns out, this just spreads the oil a little.

We begin our usual ballet of retrieving the buoy at one end of a trawl. 25 traps are roped together, 15 fathoms apart. Both of us quickly work at picking spider crabs (large, slow, inedible crabs, resembling foot-long spiders) out of the pots. Gorgeous hard-shell lobsters occasionally show up, but this is July, the summer doldrums, when lobsters are scarce. The B.O.B. empties the old bait bags over the side as we go, attracting seagulls. The empty bags get tossed in a box to be filled with bait after all 25 traps are aboard.
As we work, one of us hangs the bag of salmon skins in the trap just before it is closed and stacked on deck. Mud, water, crabs, old bait and gurry flies. Periodically, lobsters do too... undersized lobsters are tossed over the side- keeper sized lobsters make a pleasant 'clunk' as they're dropped lightly into a plastic box. This time of year there aren't too many clunks. Maybe 8 or 9 in this trawl, which is OK for this time of year, and better than much of the gear elsewhere.
I slip and fall, or slip and catch myself a couple of times. The deck is getting slippery. About 15 minutes go by, and we've got all 25 traps stacked on deck neatly. I retreat to the bait area and band the claws of our keeper lobsters, dropping them in the holding tanks. I then begin gagging and baiting again.
Something strange is happening... the seagulls are loud as hell, and there's way more of them than normal. They're agitated, too.
The salmon oil is leaving a little slick in the water that disperses after a few moments, but for now, we're leaving a sheen, and it's got the birds all excited. The B.O.B. swings the Rita C around and throws the end buoy in the water, letting the line extend behind the boat. When he's where he wants to be, he throws the last trap (or pot, as we call them) in the water and idles downriver.
Gravity and friction do the rest. The drag of the pot in the water pulls the next trap off the stack, and so on, until all 25 are in the water. There are now at least 100 gulls circling the area where the traps are... virtually none follow us. The bags of salmon skins are leaching oil into the water, leaving a sheen on the surface that is irresistable to the confused birds, who are apparently awaiting a feast that will never rise to the surface.
We marvel at the sight, and enjoy the birdshit-free moment, laughing at the squawks of delight and impatience behind us. I am rebaiting the bags quickly, slinging gurry everywhere- on the overhead, the side windows, etc... and on my face again. This one I can't hold in. I vomit up a mouthful of coffee on the deck. The taste in my mouth is far more pleasant than the smell of the bait.
...this continues for 8 more hours. By the end of the day, 3 of the barrels are empty. The deck is a nightmare, it's so slippery. I walk with one hand on the rail, or with my arms extended like a tightrope walker when I'm without a handhold. I've fallen 30 or 40 times, and I'm starting to bruise from it. The B.O.B is slipping like there are banana peels on the deck under the helm station.
... at the end of the day, we hose off the RITA C. We're a few miles from the dock, which gives us time to clean the boat as we steam home. I upend a LOT of dishwashing soap on deck to cut the grease... it sort of works. I only fall once or twice. When everything's soaped, I tell Bob, and he accelerates, giving me the pressure on the hose that I need to wash everything overboard.

We got to the dock shortly thereafter. I remember very distinctly slippping and falling as I walk off the boat. It is too much, one fall too many.

As we sit on the pier, having our after work beer (or three):
"I don't know what the hell we're gonna do if this stuff chases the lobsters away, Paul."
" Yeah, well, I'm more afraid that it WILL fish, and we'll have to do this again... If this shit catches lobster, I fuckin' quit."

To be concluded...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

unauthorized visitor on board!

So we had a little scare the other night. Well, the deckhand on the tug did, anyhow.

We had an unexpected visitor. He landed directly on the deckhand when he dropped from the sky.

His name was not on the crew manifest.

No ID.

When presented with the sign-in log, he took a big ol' shit on it.

Other than that, he was friendly, lonely, cold, and obviously lost.

So I had my picture taken with him.

Now, I've owned parrots in the past.
That being said, this little cockatiel, who escaped from someone's home in NJ or Philly, was a people-phile. As soon as the deckhand gave him to me, the bird climbed to my shoulder and promptly fell asleep. He squealed when I picked him up to take him off my shoulder (this is the mark of a hand-fed bird- you can pick them up without the bird getting in a panic), and whistled quietly until he could climb back on my shoulder. When placed on a perch in the galley, the bird made a beeline for my shoulder again.

Ultimately, I would have been happy to keep the bird. I found him to be friendly and sociable, and quiet, as far as birds go... BUT, Grumpy Tankerman, my opposite, hates birds, and maybe everything else, too, but birds first. I couldn't subject myself to a week of bitchery, so the bird (named Ed Grimly for the short time we were together) went to stay with the engineer on the tug that was made up to us.

Reports since then are that the bird has made himself at home, preferring to sleep in the engineer's quarters, but residing mostly on people's shoulders during daylight. No surprise there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit."

I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn't lost so many pictures from my days on the lobsterboat RITA C.
I fear sometimes that the seven years I spent aboard her as deckhand and eventually as captain will be the best memories of my working life. I fear this because the RITA C is no longer the RITA C. She changed hands earlier this year.

I've been through a few storms where the 700-foot ship I was on seemed too small, and had to play Texas Chicken in Houston, where my loaded oil tanker and another ship regularly went head-to-head in a narrow channel, but nothing challenged or rewarded me like lobstering did when I was home.

I've been saving this story for a long time. This is the story that The Notorious B.O.B. (the captain, and eventual owner) and I would retell each other in later years while we were sitting at the dock drinking of a Friday night, something we did on a pretty regular basis, both being single at the time.

The B.O.B.'s dad owned the boat. The B.O.B. was captain. I was the sternman, the deckhand, having been made miserable, poor, and ready for a life change (thanks to grad school) to go fishing, thus achieving my childhood dream of being both a marine biologist AND a fisherman. Sorta.

Anyhow, the lobster dealer we sold our catch to was trying to give a little back to his suppliers, and he occasionally secured us free lobster bait, which is both disgusting and disgustingly expensive to handle and acquire.

makes me want to throw up just looking at it. This isn't the RITA C, BTB.

Anyways, we needed half a ton of bait a day to fill the 400 traps we would haul.

So, one day the B.O.B.'s dad tells us that he's gotten four pickle barrels of salmon skins from a fish processor (Pickle barrels are big barrels with a screw-top lid), gratis, courtesy of Timmy the lobster dealer...only the barrels are in the back of the truck, too heavy for one man to wrestle down, and have been in the sun for a couple of days, so we have to use them fast, before they go completely bad.
When the day was done and the B.O.B. and I were back at the dock, we met John, the B.O.B.'s dad, who, with hand flourishes, introduced us to the four barrels that were attracting a serious cloud of speculative flies. The truck was loaded DOWN. Those barrels were straining the suspension.
The B.O.B. and I got in the truck, and with much groaning and straining, got the thing to the tailgate. We removed the tailgate, assuming that the weight of the barrel and us would be too much for it. We got the barrel to the edge of the bed of the truck, and the three of us then carefully muscled her closer and closer to the edge, when an odd thing happened. The 400-odd pound barrel suddenly slid like it was greased, and the barrel rocketed to the ground and up-ended, blowing the top off the barrel, and unleashing hell in the process.

I can't describe it to you. You know the sound of a beehive when they're doing movie sound effects? That was the sound of every fly in North America suddenly converging on us. And the smell... fish, and sugar, and shit and burnt cooking oil... all of us, hardened fishermen, gagged audibly for a few seconds.

Did you see that picture of the bait up above? I'd eat a ham-and-cheese with pickles, surrounded by that on a sunny day in July, no problem. And we were all channeling Ralph for a few seconds from the smell of this bait.

Like I said, I can't describe it to you. Salmon has a fishy smell of it's own. Not unpleasant at all. That hunger-inducing smell was still there, but so was the smell of corruption, and the 2 or 3 gallons of rancid Omega-3 fatty acid that collated at the top of the barrel was scattered across the dooryard of the dock. Fly heaven.
Anyhow, chastened, horrified, vaguely bemused, we muscled all the bait into the refrigerated bait shed for use in the morning. Then we washed down the dooryard with water and bleach and had a beer before going our separate ways. It was a 90+ degree July day, and the heat and salmon skins ruined an otherwise good opportunity for drinking beer.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

End of the road Pt. 1.

I spoke to the captain of my old ship today.
The S.S. New River, seen here:

The New River was the first ship I ever worked on. I started in the engine room, chipping and painting in the dark tunnels of the Double Bottoms, between the outer and inner hull. I moved on deck as an Ordinary Seaman, a day laborer. I became an Able Bodied Seaman, Limited. I upgraded to AB unlimited. I've taken over 6 months of classes to upgrade my skills and receive certifications to become a 3rd mate. My employer paid EVERY SINGLE CENT of that. The New River paid for all of that.

Here's where her latest, and presumably, last voyage ended:

This is the boneyard, the mothball fleet of Beaumont, TX, where ships go to die.

Now, I left my former employer, AHL shipping company, about a year before all this happened. Being a newlywed, my salary as an Able Seaman and part time student wasn't enough to live on up here in New England. That's just the way of it. Every time I went home for vacation, I went to work for part of my time at home.
As things happened, I made some friends in my navigation class who got me a temporary job to fill the time while I was at home... and I stayed. I stayed with my new employer, even though I never planned to, because they liked me, and the feeling was mutual. I was treated like a valued person. Eventually I told AHL that I wasn't coming back. Even in that, they treated me with class and respect, as they did with so many of the permanent seagoing employees.

So, I'm not feeling bad for me. I'm feeling bad for my friends who are losing their jobs.

AHL was always 'the little company that could,' an underdog success story. The pay was... well, on the low side. The ships were spartan. The crew were fantastic, a family, at least on the New River. A mildly dysfunctional family, just like everyone's.

The first person who called me after I proposed to my then fiancee, was the captain of the New River.

"What are you doing, Paul?"
"Hi Cap... I just proposed to my girlfriend about 10 minutes ago!"
"Oh yeah? What'd she say?"


As I said, I spoke to the captain last night. It wasn't the man you see in the picture above, though. He retired a few months ago. The new captain is my good friend Doug, who was Chief mate for my 6 years aboard. The one thing that made the New River special to me is that the chain of command existed without the rigid bullshit outmoded divisiveness between the licensed/unlicensed portion of the crews. The dozen of us that made up the permanent crew were never completely bound by the normative behavioral codes between officer and ranker. Since we spent more time together than we did ashore with our families, respect was based on performance more than tradition.
Anyhow, Doug and I became fast friends when we met. He lives in a remote Downeast Maine village that happens to be down the road from the remote marine biological facility that I worked at in my summers while in college. We had mutual friends. So, when I visited my old field station in Maine after my first trip to sea, it was natural that we met up... and we ended up becoming friends ourselves. Similar personalities, I guess. Anyhow, I was so excited for Doug when he became captain... and now the ship's being made ready to collect rust until she's ready for scrap.
Doug is the guy who helped me plan my schedules, talk out about whether or not I was ready to get married, how to balance work and home life...

It's the people that made the New River special.

Driving while Mexican

I've been talking about the immigration debate with my wife. Since she spent plenty of time in a gray area, immigration wise, we've had some spirited discussions. In a way, I feel guilty about showing her the reasoning behind the opinions I hold, because every now and again, I change her opinion, and I have to see her falsely positive impression on US life die its' natural death.

Now, when we talked about Arizona, my wife found it hard to believe that someone could mistake her for a Mexican. She's South American. She was not amused when I told her that an Arizona cop wouldn't care.

napkin holder being thrown at my head AGAIN in 3...2...1...

At this point, she told me than in Brazil, people would assume that I was British, as I don't wear ugly, garish clothing like most Americans.
I responded calmly, of course. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, don't say that in front of my parents!" My mom's family is from Cork City, and my dad's was from somewhere in county Mayo or maybe Sligo. He was orphaned at an early age. The Irish sea and 800 years away from England, anyhow, is my point.
Anyhow, one might think that my wife would be an Open Borders sort of person. Not true, in fact. She recognizes that while our economy depends to an extent on illegals for cheap labor, there has to be a limit to the influx, or the equation becomes unbalanced.

My own opinion is that I know some illegals, most of whom are here to work hard, and any hardship imposed by being an illegal immigrant in the US is better than the life that they could have back home. The American Dream lives on, in a twisted way.
I fear the loss of our individual freedoms. I can hardly believe that this is the same country that I spent my childhood in. Being half Ginger, I'll never have to worry about being mistaken for a Mexican, I guess, but the fact that I'm not being impacted directly isn't ever remotely germane to my beef. I see an incremental erosion in our individual liberties- the War on Terror made it possible for Big Government to get a little bigger, and to do so without a watchdog on hand. People bitched about being branded as 'anti-patriotic' for their stance on the war in Iraq. Now we have senators and news agencies promulgating a baseline assumption that our domestic terrorists are people who disagree with the health care vote.

Did anyone else catch that for the first few hours after the failed Times Square bombing that we were supposed to be on the lookout for a 40-something white guy? Accusations were flying that it was someone who was opposed to the president's agenda.

Whoops, it was just another muslim, doing what they do here lately, blowing up New York. Again.

Now we've given the state (well, one state, so far) the ability to hold someone on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. YEAH, that's not going to be abused, is it. Even Scott Brown, the Great White Hope of Assachusetts, is getting in on the action: He's co-sponsored a bill to 'revoke' the citizenship of people suspected of being musli... uh, I mean, a terrorist.

Look, I want a minimum blast distance between me and the nearest muslim as much as the next guy, but let's assume for a minute that some of them might NOT be terrorists. We're going to REVOKE YOUR CITIZENSHIP based on suspicion that you're associated with bad people... Yeah, that's not going to be abused. Fuck due process, anyhow. The US constitution? Suggestions. The whole due process thing is such a drag, anyhow.

Anyhow, courtesy of the current political crew, we now have a bill that would make it illegal to be suspected of doing something illegal.

You're under arrest for thoughtcri... uh, suspicion of storing Pressure Treated Lumber within 100 yards of a wetland... 20 years ago, when you bought a swing set for your kids. We know, we saw a picture. That looks like PT, Ahmed.

What happens when it becomes illegal to be suspected of associating with someone who is suspected of associating with someone who is suspected to be associated with someone who is under suspicion of being associated with something illegal.

I'll tell you what happens: someone gets arrested for his association with a homeless man in NY city whose cousin's uncles's sister's former roommate went to a "Footloose" showing at a midnight movie in which a woman in a burka was busted for bringing a bag of Mike and Ike's that she bought at a Tedeschi's on her way to the theatre.
And then WHAM! Kevin Bacon is headed for Guantanamo, or, if he's lucky, gets his citizenship revoked and heads back to Great Britain, where his family was from 350 years ago.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

with reason comes age

I may not be getting more wise in proportion to tempus fugit, but some things are hard to ignore.

I'm feeling pissy today. I went to bed after a long night, extremely tired, and slept lightly due to a LOT of noise and motion from the chop that worked up in the mid-morning. When I got out of bed in the late afternoon, I found that cargo operations had been shut down 'for weather' for a few hours. I went outside and found gusty winds... but not what I would call dangerous winds by any means.
Here's where things get tricky. I am obligated to support my partner on here, because he was the man who put pen to paper and took responsibility for the operation while I was in my bunk being shaken like a baby in the hands of a British nanny. As soon as I walked outside after getting out of bed, though... well, we started up soon after, leaving me with a bad, bad taste in my mouth.

I chalk today up to a difference in age and expertise. I am never willing to chance disaster in the name of expediency, but I've also been on hand for a lot of marginal weather, both in my former career as a commercial fisherman, and on board a ship, as well. Without talking out of school, I suspect that the approach and tie-up to the ATB we're bunkering was very challenging, and made my opposite skittish... and that's OK. The wind was gusting very strongly, and if there's any second-guessing to be made, it's at the tug captain's choice to come alongside another vessel in high winds, knowing that the weather would calm as soon as the front passed. At the end of the day, my shipmate operated in a safe manner, which is my chief concern. My opposite is a brown-water tankerman- not comfortable with open water by any means. I'm respectful of wind and current, but there are no heavy seas in this river- I'd guess that, while I am not getting wiser in proportion to the march of time, my ability to judge a situation, or perhaps simply my self-confidence in assessing the scene, has brought me to a point where I'm comfortable making the call with the Mark I eyeball.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

the hard sell...

While I was at home last time, the Fam got a new car.

I think this says it all regarding my attitude towards parting with money:

Anyways, it's pretty much my wife's car, although she's traditional in that you'll never see her driving it when we're together. She refuses to answer me when I ask if that's because she comes from a more traditionally patriarchal culture, or because I tend to wail in abject fear when I'm the passenger in her car.

I joke, sort of. I don't wail. I just squirm uncomfortably and sweat heavily.

Last week marks the first foreign car I've ever bought. When asked, my rationale was that I don't feel like being part of the reason why another family in the Midwest has to cancel Christmas this year... but that sort of rhetoric only goes so far nowadays that virtually all car companies are completely globalized. Anyhow, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife now has a new set of wheels, and yours truly is driving his first Family Car around town. Yes, folks, I own a mom-mobile. She chose the red color, maybe to better match the color of my face and eyes.
Ah well. She's happy, anyhow.

The dealership we bought the car from was actually the second one we visited. When we settled on the model we wanted, the price was a LOT more steep than I liked just for the base model, but we went there specifically on a day when I wasn't in a position to buy a car, having just given a couple of grand to the Eye Arrrrgh Ess. We proceeded to get The Hard Sell, you know, when the auto dealership tries to sell you a car by jamming it up your ass. We were paraded, serenaded and gang-banged by a team of greasy, jowly ass-slappers... pretty much like you'd imagine.
Rather than run screaming, I just dealt with it, and got the info I wanted, then we ran like hell out of there, and a few days later we went to another dealership that didn't try to lure us in butt-first.
Anyhow, short version is that I got a better model with way more options for less than the first dealership offered for their base model. The finance girl was Brazilian, as it turned out, so she and my wife rattled away in their language for a while, saving us a couple of grand in the process, so everyone went home happy. No hard sell.
I'm not enough of a prick to make a scene 100% of the time when I'm being talked down to. I tend to vote with my feet and my wallet. I realize that the folks who sold me a car made some money in the process. That's the way it's supposed to be. I wasn't about to kneel down and take it in the seat, however. I wanted to be treated like a human, to be given the basic respect that one gives a man who is about to spend a lot of money at his own discretion. When I found the right people to sell me a car, I bought the car.