Thursday, September 30, 2010


So, last night saw my first opportunity to burn the cobwebs out of my head-case and figure out how to plan our next cargo load.

I've been asked to stuff a blivet- to stuff 10 lbs of shit into a 5lb bag. In terms of heavy liquid cargo, I have to carry a draft load- fill us to 98% capacity, which is the most we can legally stuff into our cargo tanks... in doing so, I have several concurrent issues to deal with:

1) We are discharging two products into each of three ships over the next few days, in another city- I have to segregate some products, which means that some of my cargo tanks can only be used for one ship's cargo, while others can be loaded on top- putting cargo destined for multiple ships in the same tanks.
2) I have to pray that the oil we load won't be too warm. Warm oil is less dense than cool oil. If the oil is too warm, we won't have the capacity to carry the required volume. If the oil is too cool, however, it won't flow very well, which means that it will take forever to get out of our tanks.
3). At the end of each job, we will need to have zero list (meaning that the port and starboard tanks have to match volumes) and zero to modest stern drag ( the difference in draft between the bow and stern. We're very low on fuel, so if I allow for too much stern drag, we'll suck air and kiss the generators and mains goodbye.
4). The volume in each tank at the start and finish of each job must be exactly as predicted and as it appears on the loading manifest- that is, after or between jobs, I can't gravitate cargo from a full to an empty tank in order to improve the stability profile of the vessel without voiding the cargo survey that will be performed before we sail. Further, getting a surveyor to sign off on an intermingled cargo will require an act of faith on his part if his employer doesn't own the entire contents of the tanks in question. So, I have to stuff oil into every available space, and pray that the first two ships we discharge into won't cut us off early.

Anyhow, planning the job took longer than it should have, but at the end, I felt somewhat more focused than I have of late. A good feeling.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

back to work

After what was easily the most exhausting, emotionally wracking and truly devastating week of my 36 years to date, I have returned to work, ready maybe to lose myself in some honest labor. Don't really feel like talking about it.

I brought a chicken pot pie with me. Store bought. I don't know why I bother. Every chicken pot pie is the same. Take a big ass pan, fill it up with water and a little chicken broth, thicken it with flour, add 12 peas, 3 pea-sized carrot chunks and 3 ounces of chicken, then add dough to make the crust. Total material cost: $ 0.89. Sell for $9.99. Feeds 4 my left nut. I've brought up lung clams that weighed more than the chicken that was in my 9" diameter pie. Assbags. I would have been better off throwing it overboard and making a soup stock out of the lint under the fridge.

Friday, September 24, 2010

back later...

Taking a short break from here. My dad passed away, and I'm home among family and friends.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is there anything worse...

...than having a bit of thread from a mooring line get under your glasses and lodged firmly into your eye? I'm having flashbacks to my days on a ship, where I could put on safety glasses, goggles and a face shield, and still have to fish bits of rust out of my eyes at the end of a needle-gunning session.

One very good shipmate, who passed away just last year (in his own bed, which is about all a sailor can ask for, I guess) used to be my go-to guy when something got in my eyes that I couldn't fish out myself. The first time he assisted me, after showing me the pinhead-sized bit of rust, he said (with an unforgettable Honduran accent) "Yes, but heem feel like a elephant." Now,when the occasion comes for me to pick out a bit of plastic lint, I always think of that moment, sitting under the flourescent lights in misery, with a male, non-family member waaaaay inside my 3-foot bubble.
Did the job, though.

One thing that did surprise me, when I was an Ordinary Seaman, was the decent variety of non over-the-counter remedies that were available in a time of need. Excluding the narcotic variety, which is none of anyone's business, there is also a good selection of ointments and unguents available to provide a decent level of first aid and palliative care.
My eyes being a magnet for foreign objects, I got very good at fishing stuff out of 'em. Every now and again, though, I'd get something stuck in the surface of my eye that didn't migrate out to the orbital membranes (the 'edge' of your eyes), and, since it's not possible to not flinch at a swab being passed over your pupil or irises, it was time for some serious help. We had an opthamological anaesthetic available that would 100% numb the eye, and I got to the point where I could swab a foreign object off of my own eyes in under a minute. Three times in 7 years I had this happen. I even kept a tube of antibiotic in my bag (from my own doctor) to provide aftercare.

What makes me want to hit myself in the head sometimes is the level of passive resistance I used to display regarding the wearing of eye protection on deck. When the mate on my ship began to really push the crew to wear eye protection 100% of the time on the cargo deck (and not just when chipping rust), I should have been the poster boy for that effort... instead I groaned and grumbled as much or more than the next guy. Stupid of me, really, though I did have my reasons. Safety glasses cost $1.99 a pair (the ones we used did, anyhow) at the tool supply shop near my house, but my employer sent only enough glasses to ensure that everyone had a pair. After a week of casual use, they were damn near impossible to see through, and I would get blinding headaches after about 30 minutes with a pair of shitty glasses. Asking for more was no problem... the limited supply was the problem, and I'm not kidding. Though my former employer tried very hard to create a safety culture, money was an issue. My ship used to receive the same number of gloves for a month's use (for 21-24 crew) that I receive now for 3 tankermen. My current employer is quick to remind us that once a glove no longer protects one from exposure to oil, they're actively keeping you exposed, and need to be disposed of ASAP.
Now, if you'll exuse me, my Visene is calling. I look like I have hay fever.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Security Theatre, Inc.

Well, today I finally sent off the final copy of an article I've been working on for the past 6 weeks. I don't feel like I've given birth, I feel like I just walked out of the bathroom, 2lbs lighter than I came in.
Discussing and dissecting operational-level maritime security was about as uplifting as a family funeral. The more I learned, the less secure I felt, and the more frustrating it was. The feeling of watching a puppet show became pervasive. The dark side to all this is that I'm now much more aware of the hand of the puppetmaster dancing 'round my unmentionables.
For the most part, I'm not motivated enough now to drop into professional mode here and actually tear up anyone's paper-mache security constructs. Some aspects common to all maritime security plans and noted goals, however, should be exposed to the light of day.

One misconception that I had going in was that security plans are made to enhance security on board ship. This is absolutely not the case- security plans are supposed to be simply a codification of actions and reactions based on common sense, and made to enhance communication by simply getting in situ personnel on the same page as the shoreside staff should there be an issue, and to maximize efficiency in forming and executing the response to an issue by all parties.
Unfortunately, creating a uniform response plan within an organization, port, or other archtype isn't enough to promulgate the creation of a new layer of industry, and thus, security plans had to grow in scope to justify the creation of security planners as an industry job, and this is where security plans start to suffer. Like a good Tiramisu, the creation of extraneous layers does nothing to enhance quality overall. Rather, it just improves the chances that the whole thing is going to go to pieces when pressure is applied.

So here we sit in the latter half of 2010. Ships and shipping are suffering from economic pressures. Security planners are buying the McMansions that ship managers lost in foreclosures earlier this year. And security plans have grown from modest documents to a reference library of 3-ring binders, which, for some obscure reason, have to be kept on paper, too, btb, and not on CD, here in our paperless society. As a result of the need for security planners to justify their own existence, security enhancement has become part of the stated goals of security planning, though the means of enhancing security don't actually merit discussion, beyond referring to common sense practices. This has led to our current practice of staging Security Theatre, where the need to do anything for visibility's sake has outstripped the need to improve security.
I've really tried not to be cynical as my knowledge base has increased on this subject, but I want you to know that it's hard. I see the root subject matter, and I see the need for security planning... but I have observed, as well, that efforts to contain the spread of the mandate of security planners are not being made. In all reality, on an operational level, the benefits of today's security planning efforts are actively undermining management-level job performance aboard ship, through making security theatre exercises part of ships' drills. This has none of the common-sense level of motivation for afloat staff, when compared to lifesaving drills, and that's a shame, because, in theory, enhancing security could be a lifesaving measure. Rather, we have the overwhelming need to look busy when the boss is watching. Any failure to measure up to standard can be squarely placed in the lap of the administrative-level of security planners, as the opportunity to do something positive has waned rapidly with the need to cover a host of subjects that are not germane to operational-level security enhancement.

So that's my 2 cents... and, like the day after submitting any article, I don't want to look at the subject for a while. Unfortunately, I'm floating around in my metal box, so I have to go and look at this months' security drill on board. Grrrrr...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

anthropology lesson of the day-sex and fashion

For some ridiculous reason, Time, U.S. News, and other hemidemisemi-reputable magazines periodically feel the need to remind us of the link between sex appeal and genetics. This is like giving kids a lesson on why candy is appealing- it should be unnecessary, but it is fun to think about, especially when you're a science geek.

The one thing that puff-piece articles do get right is that it's worth teaching people that the reptilian part of our minds, as men, still plays a significant role in our modern lives. What escapes comments more often than not, however, is what a strong role genetic drives plays in all aspects of modern women's lives, as well. Unfortunately, most articles on this subject veer into Hollywood issues, isms, and quotations from no one who we care enough about to continue here's the cliff notes version for you, regarding sex and fashion, as compiled my me.

Look here, in the US, in 2010. fashion models are linear, with only modest curves about the breasts, and, for the most part, squared-off, spare hips. But look at fashion from 40 years ago... idealized women were curvy, with measurements that would require buying clothes from Lane Bryant today.
We're predisposed as men to like women with symmetrical facial features (to be passed to children who are more likely to find social acceptance because their features fit the standard), healthy boobs (which contain fat, to ensure that in the event of food scarcity, they'll be able to produce milk longer, which translates into greater survivability for children), and wide(ish) flared hips (greater survivability during chilbirth, for both mother and child, as the woman was the sole source of nutrition for the child for most of human history).

In this way, it is difficult to see how the genetic drive to create appeal for an attractive, robust woman has led to today's fashion models, who resemble coat hangers with mosquito bite boobs... except for lingerie models, who, unsurprisingly, look like women, since they're selling through the use of sex appeal.
Here's the thing, though. Female influence in fashion is on the rise. Women are buying clothes that are attractive to them, not to men. While fashion is intricately and wholly related to display behaviors, which is part of the mating ritual, there has come a false dichotomy whereby display behavior also is cridited primarily as only a show of social standing. The need for fashion to stimulate men into opening their wallets, or hearts without breaking social norms has declined. With increased spending power, the role of sex in fashion is not critical in all areas... except when it comes to sexy clothes, when, surprise, surprise, the models can't be mistaken for 12 year-old boys and still sell.

What is interesting, to me, is that the non-mating display rituals- buying clothes that are interesting and memorable, but not designed to attract a mate, are secondary mating ritual behaviors, as well. So, the woman who buys the expensive, overpriced, attractive but unsexy top that is modeled by another women who resembles Olive Oyl, isn't buying for the sake of sex appeal. She's buying because the nice shirt is also a status symbol. She can afford the clothes, they look nice to her. That's conditioned behavior, because no one needs an overpriced shirt. She's compelled to buy the shirt because making an effort to look nice is a competitive behavior. Competitive behaviors are a mating behavior, a war by proxy for breeding rights, in our case.

So, although clothes may be unsexy but attractive, solely for women, they're still being bought to attract mates, at the root of all things, denials notwithstanding, sex still sells, even when we're not talking about sex, because efforts to promote reproduction are still the cornerstone of humanity's longevity, and the primary driving force in most human behavior, even today.

Good News!

The Fox has declared that the henhouse is free of predators!

(OR, "Tijuana bar manager concludes investigation into presence of donkey show at his bar, finds no wrongdoing.")

DHS Inspector General reports clear USCG Judges of misconduct

Two reports by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General clear Coast Guard Administrative Law Judges of misconduct or bias, but make 11 recommendations for improving the service's handling of mariner license suspension and revocation matters.

The reports, OIG-10-107 and OIG-10-108, stem from an October 2008 request by the Coast Guard's Vice Commandant for a review of allegations made May 9, 2007, by former Administrative Law Judge Jeffie Massey.

Report OIG-10-107 details recommendations made to address programmatic issues that while not directly related to Massey's allegations, were noted during the review of those allegations.

Report OIG-10-108, focused on the review of Massey's allegations, says that DHS OIG inspectors found there "is no evidence supporting ALJ Massey's claim that the Chief ALJ held improper conversations with other ALJs about desired outcomes in specific cases or otherwise deprived mariners of due process in administrative proceedings."

The report also states that the Office of Inspector General:

Found that Massey repeatedly failed to follow Coast Guard regulations;

Found that Massey had in one instance, openly refused to follow Coast Guard precedent;

Was not able to substantiate Massey's allegations;

Did not determine that the Chief ALJ (Judge Joseph Ingolia) and others made remarks alleged by Massey;

Did not identify any evidence that the Chief ALJ told subordinates how to rule or attempted to control case outcomes;

Did not uncover evidence that the Chief ALJ expects ALJs to rule in favor of the Coast Guard or directed them to do so.

Found no evidence supporting Massey's allegation that the Chief ALJ directed a subordinate ALJ how to rule.

"The Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Program welcomed this independent and thorough investigation which exonerates the ALJ program of alleged misconduct," said Rear Adm. Karl Schultz, director of governmental and public affairs for the U.S. Coast Guard. "These current findings are consistent with an earlier GAO audit which found the ALJ program to be unbiased and that Coast Guard ALJs fairly adjudicate the interests of those who come before them."

Report OIG-10-107 provides the service with 11 recommendations on how to improve the Coast Guard's handling of merchant mariner suspension and revocation matters.

The Coast Guard concurs with each of the following recommendations:

1. Evaluate current procedures for training ALJs and create a formal training program.

2. Develop formal written procedures for investigating allegations of misconduct against an ALJ.

3. Create formal guidelines for the Chief ALJ to follow when deciding how or whether to discipline an ALJ.

4. Revoke any obsolete policy guidance and consolidate current policy guidance into a manual.

5. Develop a standard format for the issuance of policy guidance that establishes to what extent an ALJ is required to follow the guidance.

6. Administer a formal orientation and training course that investigating officers complete before handling suspension and revocation cases.

7. Make available or require, if necessary, ongoing or advanced skills training for investigating officers who seek or need to improve their prosecutorial skills.

8. Promote the use of the Center of Expertise to ensure that investigating officers have access to training and legal support.

9. Take steps to decrease the length of time required to issue Commandant's Decision on Appeals.

10. Create a database of Commandant's Decision on Appeals and ALJ decisions in which the public can use a topic or key word to locate relevant Coast Guard precedents.

11. Develop formal procedures governing interactions between personnel in the ALJ program, the Judge Advocate General's Office and the Office of Investigations and Analysis.

"The swift implementation of the DHS IG recommendations, which is already underway, is beneficial to all participants of the adjudication system," said Schultz. "This investigation is in fact the second independent review of the Coast Guard ALJ Program within a 12-month period. These reports provide the facts that help our merchant mariners and the American public to confidently place their trust in the fairness and integrity of the Coast Guard's suspension and revocation program, our Administrative Law Judges and the staff who administer a program that is vital to maritime safety."

Massey's allegations were reported in a series of Baltimore Sun articles and repeated during Congressional testimony. The allegations were also relied upon in three, civil lawsuits seeking to reverse Coast Guard actions and up to $31 million in alleged damages from ALJs and others. The lawsuits were dismissed, and the dismissals were affirmed on appeal. Two plaintiffs re-filed their suits which were again dismissed. Those dismissals are on appeal before the 5th Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals.


Congratulations again, to the ALJ's, and their impressive 99% conviction rate... of course, it's easy to judge a man guilty when your boss tells you to find him guilty... come to think of it, why do we call them "Judges?" Shouldn't they just be referred to as prosecutors? Further, shouldn't mariners have the opportunity to allow their peers to judge them, rather than an employee fiscally bound to and institutionally trained by the same people who sign their paychecks, and more disturbingly, their pensions?

This is a fantastic argument for the growing movement to strip the US Coast Guard of the power to levy judgement, and shift the mandate for adjudication to the NTSB , returning the USCG to their goddamned job of fishing people out of the water and inspecting ships, the only two things they're good at, anyhow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I've been really enjoying Borepatch lately. He's a solid writer who uses humor with gusto to prove his points, and doesn't tote a party line. He's also the guy who gave me this from his blog:

Which pretty much sums up the frustrations of just about everyone I know.

I make no secret of the fact that I'm not apolitical, but tend to be reluctant to sha emy views too heavily. Most people assume I think the way they do when I fail to counter or ally myself with their views. This is interesting from a sociological standpoint, but I just do it because I'm usually too busy, or too wrapped up with something in my own head to bother. The truth is that I'm a conservative and unashamedly libertarian in my leanings. I'm not retarded, so I don't like being pandered to, and Borepatch's position does often coincide with mine: the silent majority is viewed as an underclass by the ruling elite on both sides of the aisle.

In my brief foray in the world of New York Harbor tugboating, I found that the crew of the boats I encountered were staunchly Democratic in flavor, while the captains were a mix. This says something about the role of economics in political views to me. Most guys were outright pissed that I wouldn't agree with their view, and I was accused of being a snob.

Now I work for a mid-atlantic based company, with a heavy proportion of captains and crew from just south of the Mason-Dixon line. The political environment is absolutely more Republican, which should seemingly fit my interests more closely, but, to me, it's all just more folks touting the party line. I think of the individual man or woman when it comes to politics, but the truth is, with the exceptions of the mayor of my old home town, and one friend from my church who's a town counselor, there isn't a single elected official; local, state or federal, who I would trust to babysit my kid, and how awful is that? So, yeah, the truth is, we're trending downward with no sign of the hope and change promised, and no alternatives from the dim bulbs on the other side. I'd rather vote for the people who aren't entrenched like ticks on the ass of a squirrel, and see what they can do. Things will either improve or they'll accelerate, and there's no dignity in this decline anyhow.

Anyways, enough non-maritimy stuff. In a little while, we're going to load up a brandy-newey bulk carrier with a mix of fuels, then, presumably, make the 12-hour steam home tonight, where, with any luck, I'll be able to raise up a few striped bass.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9 years ago today was a beautiful, clear morning, and The Notorious B.O.B. and I were hauling lobster pots about 3 miles due east of Boston Light. We didn't have a radio aboard- our entertainment was the sound of the hydraulic hauler and the constant stream of ridiculous BS that we passed back and forth as the B.O.B. hauled the pots and I baited, sorted the bugs, and fired the traps up into stacks of 25 in the back of the boat.
I remember very distinctly two acquaintances discussing the first plane to strike the Towers over the VHF. The B.O.B. and I assumed it was a Cessna. I think I made a joke about a 60-foot tall gorilla being at the top of the building being responsible. Then the radio got active again. "Jesus, another jet hit the other tower. Guess it wasn't a coincidence."
The B.O.B. and I stopped for a second. I very clearly remember putting my hands on the corners of the trap I was carrying, and sliding my fingers into the mesh of the trap, and sort of leaning over on the trap, putting some of my weight on it as it balanced on one edge of the wash rail. Bob and I made eye contact. I said "Jesus Fucking Christ," and Bob nodded. Then I spun around and slip the trap into place, about midway in the pile. We continued on.
I didn't get the scale of the destruction, or even that someone was using passenger jets as weapons. When word got out over the VHF that a plane crashed into the Pentagon, Bob said "We're under attack."
We hauled another 50 pots- about 45 minutes or an hour later, when I looked up. "Bob", I says, "Where the hell are all the planes?" An hour before, every minute or so, a jet would pass by overhead, only about 6-700 feet or so- we weren't far from the airport.
No contrails, no noise. We hauled another 25 traps, and a Coast Guard Falcon jet screamed by only 200 feet above us, maybe 300 feet away. It was deafening. The plane circled us once, and Bob switched to VHF channel 16, the distress and hailing channel. Almost immediately, the pilot of the plane hailed us by our hull registration number (Printed neatly in large block letters on the overhead, or roof, of the wheelhouse). He asked us for the vessel name, our homeport, and the number of persons aboard. After answering, the pilot told us to stay on channel 16, and that all vessels were ordered to return to port immediately.
A few minutes later, as we were setting the traps back in the water, another voice on the VHF made the official announcement that all vessels were ordered to return to port, there to stay until released by the captain of the port.
Bob tuned us slightly south of west, and throttled up to our high cruising speed. I rinsed the deck off while he washed down the dashboard and control station. We didn't talk much for the 10 minutes or so while we cleaned. After finishing the cleaning, I took the wheel while Bob had a smoke. Neither of us had any idea of the devastation, but neither of us was feeling relaxed, either. We knew something bad was happening.
We were among the last of the boats to tie up at the dock. Normally a social time, the dock was deserted, except for a friend of Bob's who was waiting for us, and told us about the scale and scope of the attack. We were all stunned, and spoke only quietly. That was among only a handful of times when Bob and I didn't have a beer before heading home. I went to my parents, stinking of bait and covered in dry salt, and sat at my mother's kitchen table while we talked about what had happened. I saw the video footage of the buildings fall at that time. My mother had told me about it happening. I knew to expect it. I didn't expect that I'd start to cry when I saw it. I've got my emotions pretty tightly reined in normally.

Russian Adoptions

I'm not sure how to critically look at the quality of the ancient Russian-built hulks that I occasionally encounter. For the most part, they're horrible to behold, and also horrible to moor alongside and fuel, too. Whether this is the result of design, the level of care, or the amazing age of these rustbuckets is debatable... or, more accurately, which factors contribute most to the awfulness is where the debate lies, I suppose. It's sort of a sliding scale, contributory effect thing.

One thing I will say is that Ivan hasn't tried to repackage limited steelworking ability as an asset, like some US companies. Some of you have seen Reinauer towing's so called 'facet tugs' (example seen here), I'm sure.

Photo courtesy of WORKBOAT.COM

Reinauer is well known for having some high quality tonnage in their fleet, and I'm sure that this tug is up to par. That being said, there's little difference between the construction methods used to build this way and to build this way:

Photo courtesy of BATEAU.COM. And if you want one of these little beauties, I can build one to your spec for about $600
When you don't have the ability, or don't want to pay to have the ability to bend steel into complex shapes, you build a hard-chine boat with angles instead of curves- that is, rather than bend steel to conform to turns in the bilge and at the stern, for example, non-trip chines can be built (multi-angled hull shapes conforming to something almost, but not really like a traditional hull shape) at half the price. Example above- look at the hull of the boat, which is triangular under the waterline. Much easier to build than to frame-and-plank it in traditional form:

Photo courtesy of Arch Davis Designs. And I can build you one of these, too, for about $4000.

And so it went with the aged ship I worked on last night.

Now, when you move from the traditional wineglass-shaped hull to an angular approximation, you change the stresses on the hull considerably. One interesting aspect of this is that the shell plating of the hull becomes part of the structural design- in traditional boatbuilding, the framing takes up the stresses and distributes them; in this stressed-skin design, the 'hard points' (joins in the welds and angles in the hull) distribute stresses linearly, creating a laminar (linear layers of similar value) focused effect of stress distribution, rather than a generalized distribution that is proportional to the distance from the focal point of stress.
Anyhow, if that's getting too technical, imagine hitting a 2x4 with a guillotine with 500lbs behind the blade. Regardless of how you support the 2x4, it's getting split. Now, imagine running over a 2x4 with a Harley Davidson. So long as it's supported properly, no problem. Distribution and focus of stresses are important.
Now, these effects are predictable and well-studied. It's perfectly possible to build a ship using these techniques, and to expect it to last! That's one reason why I like building small boats using stitch-and-glue over removable frames- stressed-skin hard chined boats are durable and solid, if not so perfectly rugged as a traditional design. And, in the case of the Reinauer tugs, I don't know how much bending and flexing the hull does, compared to a ship. I suspect that the tugs are overbuilt like crazy to deal with the shocks and hits that seem to be part and parcel of the business.

Now, one final thought about the Russian ship before I wander completely afield: This was a 40+ year old bulker, in an era where 30 year old ships are extremely suspect. The Ivans certainly did some things right, design-wise. Putting the bunker connection on the centerline was NOT one of those things, nor was the access tunnel- the 24-inch circular, 3-foot deep hole in the superstructure through which the unhappy crew had to snake my 100-foot long heavy bunker hose by hand to meet their connection.
Oh, and the ship had an icebreaker bow. I never actually saw one of those before. No bulbous bow, and it looked like the anti-torpedo-plating of a WWII battleship. The panting (standing-out of the framing under the steel plating) on the superstructure was so prominent that the wheelhouse looked like a nude photo of an anorexic girl's ribcage, but the hull, especially at the bow, was stunningly fair. Everything that was NOT the hull was falling apart.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

At home and Abroad (Part two) I'm back at work now, and feeling energized by either my time off or the three large energy drinks I shotgunned during the ride down south this morning. Once again, I'd like to wish a raging case of crotch crickets to the Connecticut Highway department for their stellar performance in creating traffic jams at 4am on empty highways by coning off 3 lanes to park unused highway equipment in the breakdown lane. S' a great way to increase the local economy by encouraging people to take a leak in town rather than at a rest stop.

I think that, on reflection, there's no time more stressful than the last days of the wait before a large project comes to fruition. In my case at home, we had two big, expensive issues that have just borne fruit, and the long days of worrying and organizing damn near killed me, or, more accurately, my wife nearly killed me while I was frenetically wrapping things up at home prior to coming back here. In the process, I've gained new insight into my newfound raging case of generalized anxiety, and how that stresses out my family.
I've been writing about finding a balance between work and play, and the particular stresses that I, as a mariner, encounter and deal with (or not, as the case may be) when I return home. The largest new issue I've identified in myself is my tendency to compartmentalize household needs and issues- there's stuff I can do at work and stuff I can do at home, but there's also stuff I should do in one place that sometimes has to be done in the other, and these jobs aren't ones I ask for help with; rather, I just try and manage the issue as I can, and, if I do a piss-poor job, I chalk it up to being part of the price I pay for being out here.
I've been failing to connect the dots when it comes to running my household from work. I've gotten used to doing things without the assistance of my wife at home. Before I was married, I had to organize my life so that the household(and by household, I mean the room that I rented in my buddy's house) could run on autopilot for long periods. While I'm no longer working for months on end, I've been trying to run a household that is now 100% occupied 100% of the time with my wife and kid while I'm away, and doing so using the methods of a bachelor merchant mariner whose worldly assets could fit in the passenger seat of a pickup truck.
From what I gather, a goodly portion of my married friends here tend to let their wives run the household- they ensue that the check gets deposited (not a stunning feat in the days of direct deposit), and hold back beer money, and the wife does most of the heavy lifting at home in seeing the necessary gets seen to. I've been putting off handing over the keys to the treasury to the Mrs... not that there's been a reason for it, but I assumed that it was easier for the native English-speaker to play banker at the B family Monopoly board... and that chomp sound is another assumption biting me on the ass. Like the old fisherman who taught me to catch lobsters used to say "Assumption is the mother of all fuckups." Not so pithy, but it seems he was on to something.

I'd love to know how the hell my parents used to run the house when my dad was at sea. From everything I can tell, it was an old-school system where my mom was required to wait for a check to get to the mail from wherever in the world my dad mailed it- those days being before it became necessary to carefully prostate oneself before the unholy trinity of Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, I suspect that we've got a lot more calendar watching going on now on a regular basis, but who can say?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

At home and Abroad (Part one)

I'm gonna do something iffy, open up a little more than usual, and maybe foment discussion. I really would like to learn about how mariners deal with the home and sea life, finding their balance.

If you're a traveler or a mariner, pretty prease, leave an email at my personal address here, an anecdote in the comments, whatever, and talk about how you try to balance your home life and your personal life. I'm sort of struggling with mine, sitting here on the cusp of doing the Big Things that a marriage needs- building a home, forming long-term plans, and learning how to disagree. So, if you've ever enjoyed reading the stream of BS and occasional truth that comes out of my mind, please drop me an email as you read the next few entries.

Part one.

So, I'm running consistently into the same stumbling block here at home: Specifically I'm not having the fun I need to balance my weeks at work with the more meaningful pleasures to be found at home. The art and science of being a good mariner and a good husband are at war, and it's not a war of attrition or any sort of slugfest- I think I'm simply doing a bad job of keeping everything in balance.
I've been trying to make long-term plans with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife for our future, and we're hitting disagreements on almost every level, which is frustrating for both of us; one of my greatest fears is that I'll start to look to work as a rest period from the more challenging aspects of my life, namely my home life, and this most recent time off has been stress-filled to the point where, yes, the stress of work is easier to handle by comparison. I guess that I feel that in acknowledging this and making plans to shake things up, it's a reasonable start to putting the fun back in my fundament.

The first time my wife ever met my folks, back when we were dating and her English left her unable to yell at me meaningfully (sigh... those were the days), I was ambivalent about the situation. I was by no means sure that I was going to stay involved with her, beautiful as she was, but sort of pro forma, I spoke to my mom about putting in the good word about how it was fun and easy to date a merchant mariner who worked 4 months away from home at a time. After all, I was following in my dad's footsteps, and the 12+ month voyages he used to do were a hell of a lot longer than my 120-day voyages... besides which, I only made one full trip a year, my lobstering schedule being more important to me at the time.
So, when I put in the word, I says "Ma," I says, "Put in a good word for me about the sailing. This one seems nice."

My mother, you have to understand, has nothing but fierce allegiance to her family. She, of anyone, would put in a good word for her youngest boy, the one who had trouble meeting nice women.
Well, my then-girlfriend and my mom hit it off. My mother, being somewhat deaf, but too vain to wear a hearing aid, likes when people speak slow and carefully, and my wife, being unfamiliar with English, spoke slowly and carefully. My ma did the same.
So, with a behind the girlfriend's back, bulging eyes-and-waving gesture, I remind my mom to put in a good word. As if on cue, my wife-to-be asks my mother "end iss okay liffi'ng with hees chob and da' lon' timey away?"
My mom, ever the bastion of family loyalty, picks this moment to drop a bombshell that no one, especially my dad and me, expected out of her. "Oh, no, dear, it's a terrible burden, waiting and making a life and a home, and then he comes home and screws it all up for months."
As tactfully as possible, I say to my dad "Jesus Christ." Imagine, torpedoed by your mom.
Luckily, my mom's outburst being unexpected by everyone, including her, I guess, she blurted the words out fast and hurried... and my wife is nodding and smiling, saying yes. Dodged a bullet there. She didn't understand, but was too embarassed to ask my mom to slow down.
...and then, seeing my mom's look of query, she does what she has never done before or since... she asks someone to repeat themselves.
After, I'm thinking "Shit, she was hot, too."
What happens truly amazes me. My girlfriend and my mom are laughing, hard, apparently at the 'oh shit' face I'm making. Being mature and poised, I let out a whiny "Maaaaaa!...." My mom briefly puts an arm around my girlfriend and gives her a squeeze before turning to my dad and letting her go.
I guess I noticed this, but it didn't register at the time. Other girlfriends had approached meeting my parents as running a gauntlet, and maybe my folks did the same. This was easy. Not fun, per se, but funny.

So, that was how my wife met my parents. My dad is getting really sick now. The guy who wasn't expected to live to see 1990 is finally running down, a victim of simple anno domani. My mom is keeping everyone together, and doing what she does, watching over my dad, and us. The place my parents met my wife-t0-be was a beautiful if smallish Italian cucina, a marble-and-tiled homey kitchen, perhaps the last beautiful vision brought to fruition by one of my brothers, since, unhappily, laid low by a broken back and unable to take a person's vision and transform it into their home. While I thrive, much of my family struggles, now, and that's a story with no happy endings, but many happy moments, and one that weighs in on my conscience, if not on my plate. While familyhood continues, and I struggle under a deadline to be a good dad with the time I have, and a good managerial employee, and a good person, we live our lives.

TO be continued.