Wednesday, March 30, 2022

  I got back on board at about the usual time to start my next tour. 

     We were picked up by a launch fairly early, which was nice, as the 1-hour ride back to the Brooklyn office sucked up some time, and from there I had a quick meeting to go over my summary and comments about my trainee these past 2 weeks, whereupon I got to take a brisk 20 minute walk to the grocery store and load up for 10 days or so's worth of greenstuff and staples. 

              So far so good. Now, at this point I've been up for about 20 hours and I sucked down an energy drink, but rather than making me feel a little better, it made me nauseous. First time that happened. Even so, I loaded up a taxi with my groceries and headed back to the office, where there was one of our big tugboats waiting to pick up widows and orphans- which is to say tankermen, who generally travel solo or in pairs, vs. our tugboat crews, who travel en masse. I was fortunate to be the last man on, and  traveling only to the nearest anchorage, which meant that I was first one off after a short 20 minute ride out on one of our pokey tugs.  It was nice to catch up with friends and shipmates, and catch up on the news, which as is normal, mostly consisted of 'Hey, you know who's a real asshole?' and then everyone agreeing or not. 

   Suitably informed for the next few weeks, I got my grub and my trash (food and seabag) aboard and stowed, and by noon I was in my room and asleep. 

 Now it's late evening and I'm on watch, waiting for a tug to come by and herd us into a loading berth. 

 It's been absolutely blissful to sit here on the HQ, so clean, organized and quiet, relative to the former HQ, which... is no longer that way.  

   Anyhow, I've got a few moments to sit and just be, so Ima go do that now. 


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The reward for hard work

 ... is more. 

    Tomorrow I go back to the HQ. I ended up staying on the former HQ for 2 weeks, and it was pretty successful, but the close quarters and utter lack of privacy or quiet time finally got to me 2 days ago. Claustrophobia, sadly timed with a cold snap here in the northeast that made going outside in the ever-to-be-damned constant frigging high winds even less pleasant than normal. 

   Well, tomorrow I go back to the HQ. And while we have a load fixed for tomorrow night, I hope to get a few hours to catch a nap before taking over the watch. Because it is crew change, my company chose to leave us as far away as possible rather than put us at our usual anchorage a bare few miles from Brooklyn. Even if it is a major inconvenience to them, they always do so on crew change days. No fucking way it's accidental. 

   But oh well, I'm on my last watch, and we finished the work part of the watch, wrapping up a discharge and making all fast in lovely Newark NJ with no shore access.  I should have a quiet few hours when the others go to bed and get the F out of the galley so I can relax... well, it's their galley, too, not just mine, but I'm really looking forward to the quiet. 

 So, yeah, I'm riding the struggle bus a bit these last few days, and trying not to be overly grumpy, but I'm actually REALLY trying to be nice. 

 Stop laughing, I'm not lying. I'm trying. And not always succeeding.  Even so, the guys themselves are pleasant company, I'm the one who probably isn't.  And the idea of doing this again makes me want to fellate a handgun to completion. I've apologized a half dozen times for being distracted and quiet. 

   I'm approaching middle age.  This shit is just cruel. 

     Anyhow, I'm ok. I'll be better when I am on the HQ and facing down the prospect of 4 more weeks before heading home. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Let's move on...

 I'm still working on my off time, and tomorrow I will do a bag drag and transfer onto another bunker barge for another week. So it goes. It was really nice to spend the week on a place that I used to call home and where I have good familiarity with the basics. 

      Tomorrow I'm going to more... spartan... accommodations. I'm trying to be positive. I mean, I'm positive it compares favorably to a Pakistani hospice. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts...  No trainees to shepherd so that's a plus.   I'm trying to just go day-by-day, because as a reward for all this, next week I will start my regular rotation on the HQ. 

     My rant last week 

where I wrote about comparing the experience at my local maritime school  with the union school I used to attend for Continuing Ed classes got reposted to a large maritime forum page, which is fun. My sense of humor actually was shared and enjoyed by at least one person. Now, after making fun of myself, I knew I was exposing my flank by also poking  fun at the silly snobbery I experienced at MITAGS a few times. I also knew that someone would get to clutching his pearls and running for his fainting couch, overcome,  and I was not disappointed.  I was accused of having an inferiority complex and being insecure because I experienced some pretty obvious classism, neglect and snobbery and was shocked by it. I'm not sure if it's a matter of being blinded by penis envy, or lead pipes at Kings Point, that led the Mean Gurls of the forum to prove my point for me, though I am grateful for them proving my point. 

     Fellas, I didn't go to a trade college. The reason you have to read the Greeks while taking STEM classes at traditional places of learning is to instill a more supple form of thinking. The bridging of synapses. S' good for the mind, helps one to appreciate the value of being around people with greater knowledge than yourself, without making you feel diminished by their presence. An inoculation against self-doubt. 

    While I was living in Boston I got less condescension at the Harvard Club on Fridays sitting with the world's true elites than I experienced at MITAGS by a bunch of self-assured WASPS, some of whom I respected as experienced professionals but found to be shitty human beings once they got a couple of glasses of Loudmouth Soup into their bellies.

  They're jokes not dicks. No need to take them so hard. 

       Funny thing, I once heard E.O. Wilson, THE greatest mind in evolutionary science of all time, call Stephen Hawking (who wasn't there) a snob and a prick. He was distracted at the time, chasing a kernel of corn around his salad plate with his fork, or I don't believe he would have used such coarse language. But both men are dead and gone, now, more's the pity, but it surely shows that snobbery is a character flaw that is unwelcome even among men so elevated as to have no peers. 

 Dr. Wilson refused to believe that I could lyse the dendrites of chemoreceptor neurons using the osmotic pressure gradient caused by exposing them to ultrafiltered water. I couldn't convince him, even after showing the evidence, and even after it became a widely (for values of wide, lol) accepted practice. It was something he just tore me up and down on in public on several occasions. I was just an undergrad stammering his way though a presentation where I was the only non Ph.D presenting a publication on the conference circuit that year. After the 3rd time,  I stopped being timid and speaking as though I was unsure of myself. I never minded public speaking after that, and to date I still enjoy it. 

And so, being called insecure is... a little silly . I suppose if my sense of self  was bound by my job I'd be more prone ad hominem digs. I am surrounded by guys who are REALLY GOOD at their job. I've spent a fair amount of time to ensure that I'm also around a fair proportion who are also good people, too. 

         Speaking of good people, there's a better-than-even chance that I'll be partnered with a friend tomorrow when I transfer for the week, so misery loving company, I'll be able to sleep well knowing that I know the guy whose got the watch knows a thing or two about a thing or two. So I'm saying a little prayer that there won't be a bait-n-switch that sees someone else come aboard like they did to me last week.  I'm fortunate that I got to spend this past week with someone I know and respect, and that my poor trainee, whose time I hope I didn't waste, was improved by the experience. 


Friday, March 18, 2022

I am not an authority

 God help the poor soul, I have a trainee this week. 

    I am working over, working in my off time, and holy-o-dogshit, did I take it in the seat a bit this week. I accepted an easy gig, overseeing floating storage for fuel at a powerplant... but that got taken away and I ended up bunkering, which was disappointing but OK. 

 I'm an old cus for a guy who isn't quite middle-aged, I get that. Among other reasons, one of the things that keeps me in my position at work is that I have a LOT of time to myself, something I value immensely. 

 I really, truly enjoy being alone at work. It was the same when I was lobstering. Fishing singlehanded is a lot of work, and I could be twice as productive and not get my ass kicked by having a sternman, a deckhand, and I did, but in fair weather, I also didn't bitch too loud when the guys failed to show up on account of being drunk or generally unreliable. A 12 hour day of working hard and not having anyone bother me was a good day, even when it was a bad day, if you get my meaning. 

 So it made me pretty soggy and hard to light when I showed up to a bunker barge on Wednesday and there was a trainee on board. 

    Alone time is of at least equal value to my salary. That is, if my salary was doubled, I could accept having a trainee. I mean, I accept it, I wasn't ready to quit over it this week, but for me to willingly accept a trainee without being a dick about it, It'd  cost my company a daily rate increase at least equal to my current pay.  Anything less and I would just as soon forego the raise in pay in exchange for not having a trainee. 

The last time my supervisor offered to bribe me to take a trainee, I offered to bribe him for me not to take a trainee.

 I say this not to bitch, but to lament that I was foolish enough not to ask if there was a trainee aboard, because I would have just asked for another job. Picking peanuts out of elephant poop, maybe, provided I could do so solo. 

 So, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, but I won't make that mistake again. 

 Anyways, I'm not so much of a dong that I won't do my best to teach the trainee what I can in the time I have. It's not punishment that got me a trainee, and I can't take out my misanthropy on the poor guy, But my company didn't do him any favors for sure by saddling him with me. How can I give my best if I hate being there? I can't. I can only give my best despite being there. Hopefully that will be sufficient to help. The last time I got a trainee foisted on me, he ended up doing well, and as far as I know he's still a tankerman for my company, positioned a couple hundred miles to my south. 

      I'm frequently guilty of false bravado, of engaging mouth before brain is fully in gear, but I worry about second- and third-order effects of having a trainee- to wit, it might happen more in the future if I do a good job. My precious alone time is an incentive, not a shackle... but it might be, at that.   

Monday, March 14, 2022

The price I paid

 Turns out, I had to pay market price for having missed a couple of days of work on short notice to take a class last week. 

 I'm down to 2 more watches here on the HQ and then it is time to go home... but I'm not going home. For the first time in more than two years, I am working over on my off time, leaving the HQ to go fill in somewhere else... two somewhere elses, in fact. 

 I used to work a LOT of overtime. For a few years I was only taking 6-8 weeks home each year, working 10 weeks, going home for 1-2 weeks, repeat.  The money was great, but no matter how much I made, I wanted more and while my family life stood up to the challenge without undue strain, I found that the value of my time had increased while I wasn't looking, and all the OT in the world wasn't worth what I was being paid for it. So I stopped, took the loss of income in stride, and made do with just my salary. And it's been sufficient. Granted, my lifestyle is getting less fun these days, inflation and all, but I'm also getting older anyhow and we had the foresight to buy a home that we wanted to enjoy while I was running around working like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor.  Seriously, I don't enjoy leaving my home. I have my pool, my shop, my jacuzzi and my family there. No real need to go out. 

          But this time I AM working OT.  I missed those days last week and inflation sucks and my wife and kid are busy with work and such... plus, spring is coming. The snows and ice are mostly over and it's not time yet for the sun to bake our balls off at work, so now's the time, and no need to do it again for a while.  It makes the value of my trip home, and the airfare, tuition and such a lot easier to stomach. I had that one great night with the fam, so I'll muscle through the next tour... and with my kid graduation high school in May, I'll be taking an extra week off at home to soothe the burn of having worked OT, too. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

...and back again

 It's been a pretty hectic few days. I flew home on Sunday, got in just before 1am on Monday, was up and on the road by 6:30, and in class for 2 days, I got to sleep in my own bed for 2 nights, anyhow... well 1 1/2  but hey. Monday evening was the crown on the trip, though. I was able to spend the night with my family, which was a treat. Tuesday, well, another marathon. I finished my class, drove the rental car to the airport and turned it in, and made it to my gate with 90 minutes to spare, which was probably the most down time I actually had this whole time.  

       I went to Maritime Professional Training  in Fort Lauderdale, FL, about an hour from my home. As always, it was fun to be there,  in a learning environment within my own field, and able to talk to others who do other jobs on the water. MPT does a lot for yacht and charter boat crew, who make up a big chunk of their clientele. Think young, attractive, healthy people of both sexes. And then, there's the smaller cohort of commercial guys like me. Trucker caps, older, beer bellies, fucked up hair, gimps and scars, F-bombs everywhere. 

      It's kind of nice to get grouped in a place where your in-group has legendary status. Without saying that the yachties had a little bit of hero-worship towards the commercial guys... there is a bit of hero worship going.  The yacht folks talk about great ports of call where they got drunk and something funny happened... You know "Oh, Saint Maartin! Man I got hammered there with a Dutch crew on a 154' whoozits yacht, and we all slept on the beach and someone stole my shoes."

 For the commercial guys it was more "Hey, what's the name of that bar up over the berm in Norco up past Belle Chasse anchorage, the one right next to the refinery?" "Oh, I love that place, but I forget the name. I got stabbed there once."" That was you? I heard about that!"  (everybody laughs, yachties quietly go pale)

 So it was fun to mingle during break time, although I found myself (and this is strange for me) more inclined to silence than otherwise. Maybe I'm getting old, although it's probably more to do with me feeling like I had cut school and tomorrow I was going to catch hell at the principal's office.  I really, really don't like not being at work when it's my tour to work. 

 At any rate, I did well in the class, learned a bunch and had a good review of the things I already knew. MPT is a great school, and they foster a good learning environment where everyone is supposed to come away with what they need. This stands very much opposite to my experience at MITAGS. 

 I have always viewed MITAGS as the gold standard in maritime continuing education, but, while I have attended the lions' share of all my continuing ed classes at MITAGS over the years, MITAGS is very much a union school for Unlimited officers. This, despite having many programs not geared towards unlimited masters, I found that unlicensed and junior officers were very much second-class status there. Perhaps it is better now. There were some exceptionally good instructors who were enormously helpful... and also some epically terrible retired ships' masters who were clutching their pearls that a whole room full of uppity Able Seamen were at their precious clubhouse trying to (gasp) learn despite none, not a single one able to boast of having had family on the Mayflower! 

    Thurston Howell III, please pick up your abacus and a fresh cravat, it's your turn to teach the Poors about Cargo Handling and Stowage. 

 Well, none of that at MPT.  While I'm being very slightly sarcastic (minus the Mayflower comment. I really did have to listen to a blowhard instructor from the Prick Factory (The US Merchant Marine Academy) wax orgasmic about his family pedigree), I have found that I am able to learn more when I'm not feeling class-conscious or being condescended to. 

    Only once did I give a little back, and of course, I had been drinking. This was long ago. 2005-2006 maybe?  At the bar at MITAGS' conference center, in a discussion where I was more or less being head-patted and patronized, being the only one in the room who wasn't a merchant marine academy alumnus, and I had been limited to asking questions and listening when conversation wandered into a narrow window where I had subject matter knowledge and  suddenly I was able to speak with unassailable confidence about the issue. In noticing that I got the side-eye from one or two people,  I finished with a "they don't teach you this shit at a trade school I guess" and stifled a burp. It was one of those moments like when a savant builds a steam engine out of a teakettle.  Anyways, short story, it was fun to insult a bunch of stuffed shirts who were getting high off the smell of their own farts, and I am happy I tried out a new school for my educational needs. 

 And now I'm back to work. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Suddenly, class

 So I have to fly home tomorrow for a few days and then come back to work mid-week. Without being overly mysterious, I have to take a class that I've been putting off, and it's work-related, so... off I go. 

 Gonna be a bit of a marathon. I have to stand 9.5 hrs of my watch tomorrow, get to shore, get to the airport, fly out, rent a car (I'm flying back to work from an airport after class, too far from home to drive), go home, sleep 4-5 hours, then drive to class. I get Monday night at home, though, and that's cool. Tuesday it's back to class, then after class I head to the local airport and fly back to work. 

        Not a lot of time for sleep, but not much I can do about that. 

While we were loading cargo the other day, we had a SIRE (Ship Inspection Report Esomethingsomething) inspection. It's a safety managmement thing where a 3rd party looks up our skirt and under the rug. Along with the inspector were 2 guys from our local shore managment team, and I'm happy to say that we did very well. It was a bit of a zoo for a while there, as I was actively working with the shoreside cargo surveyor as we were doing the SIRE inspection, and the surveyor was running very late and was cranking out his own paperwork stream at the same time.  Hectic day, but in the same way that it goes, like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it just feels so good to stop. So when everyone was gone I had a nice 15 minutes of quiet before we actually started loading. Very zen. 

 The discharge, though... it was unpleasant. So it goes.  We are loading tonight for tomorrow's marathon day. I'll get us started before handing off the watch and getting as much sleep as possible. 

So it goes.