Thursday, June 30, 2022

Better to be lucky than smart

 We've got the morning off here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Home for the mentally constipated. 

 When I'm on days, I usually roll out of bed at 0430 to start my day before I start my day. I'm one of those annoying people who wakes up happy and has to wait for my day to ruin that, but I also don't like to speak much when I'm just out of the rack. We're all like that on here, in fact, which makes it comfortable. Generally, beyond a 'good morning' you wait for the guy getting up to start conversation, not the other way around. And that's how we like it. 

    During the quiet time before taking on the business of the day I check my personal emails and whatnot.  And today I got an email from a childhood friend who told our group that he was getting divorced. 

 Damn, that bummed me out. Of course you want your friends to be happy. I'm extremely fortunate in that I'm still on speaking terms and keep in touch more or less with my childhood friends. I'm 48 and have been friends with these guys since Kindergarten or primary school. 

 I look at the lives of so many friends and acquaintances, and I sometimes feel very fortunate, very lucky. Sometimes I question if I really have it that easy, compared to them, and sometimes the answer is yes. By 'them' I don't mean anyone in particular, but I see the challenges that people in my life face, and I am grateful that I am not dealing with these things too. 

  Last week we were coming into a berth in Bayonne NJ while I was off watch and out on deck, and I threw a line to the dock that was an absolute Hail Mary  .  Line throwing on a boat is a learned skill and I am only average at it, but I am more accurate when I am at the upper limit of distance for me. Basically you throw a heavy mooring line such that the eye opens and drops onto a bitt on the dock some distance away. The heavier the line the shorter the max distance you can throw.  And this was a 100% throw, the kind that I'm not supposed to do at age 48 but the mood was right and I didn't blow out my rotator cuff, so all's well, and I hit that bitt. 

I'm not on a tugboat but you get the idea.

 I lassoo'd that mooring bitt as we started drifting off away from the dock, and it was the best throw I've made in a few years.  As I handed off the line to the young deckhand, I said "See, it's better to be lucky than smaht anyday."  I said smaht because though I am a southerner, I still have the accent that makes me Boston Paul at work. Seriously, nobody knows my last name here, and of the few who do, it's not like they'll pronounce it right anyhow. 

   And maybe there's some truth to the value of luck here. Despite my best efforts, I guess I'd still be classed as 'smaht' given my past and what happens between my ears at times. But being smart hasn't brought me near as much as being relatively lucky and generally a fairly nice person. 

 I don't normally think of myself as being lucky. I never win shit on lotteries or scratch tickets, and I can't speed in a car without getting pulled over, and luck of the draw almost never favors me.  But in life? Yeah, I can't explain many of the good things I have as being things I've merely earned. My marriage? Lots of work put in to make it so successful, sure, but it was just dumb luck and probably my wife's poor eyesight that got the foundation put down there.  And given my nature I'm VERY fortunate. I mean, I'm more Lenny than George most days, and I can't see further through a brick wall than the next guy. The early years where communication had to be simple and direct because of the language barrier got us both attuned to the importance of communication, I guess, and as our vocabulary in each other's language expanded, we were both very lucky to find that we liked each other even more as our thought processes became known to each other. 

 Again, luck. OK, luck coupled with focus and hard work, but without that luck?   I'd still be kicking rocks. 

   My job? I'm only here because of a lucky interaction with a classmate in a Terrestrial and Coastal Navigation class I was taking. I was on my off time from the oil tanker I had a permanent slot on, and one of my classmates is part of the family that owns this company and they needed tankerman badly enough that my friend put a good word in for me. All this happened just as my former employer went tits up in a big way. Again, luck. Well, luck and good networking.

   That seems to be the pattern with me. Dumb luck and... some minor contribution on my part.  Hell, even before all this, when I was a 100% thoroughly unhappy and miserable grad student who hated his school, hated his professors and hated his career prospects, it was just dumb luck and a visit to my old high school teacher/captain at his lobsterboat in my hometown that made me realize how much I preferred being on a boat to being a goddam government administrator, which was my most likely career path at the time.  

    And the day it all came to a head for me, much later,  the last day of the last class in grad school, when I couldn't take the prospect of living my life as it was for just one more second, it was dumb luck that in moving back to my home town in Massachusetts,  I stopped at the town pier because I bought a sandwich and wanted to eat in peace and look at the boats before going to see my parents, and 10 minutes later I had a full time job on a boat. Again, just luck. I'm grateful that I have been blessed in so many ways, and that my challenges in life aren't more than I'm capable of handling. 


Monday, June 20, 2022

Tomorrow Too Soon

 Really, I only get 5 days off when I come home for just a week. I roll in after dark on (s)crew change day, and leave in the AM the day before crew change in order to get to the Weed Palace (The drug- and whore-friendly hotel where my employer puts us up to 'rest' the night before crew change, and by rest I mean listen to people scream over rap beats, police knocking on doors and hookers performing their trade all night). 

 So perhaps unsurprisingly I leave for work not with the excited anticipation of yesteryear, but a sense of duty and a pocketful of melatonin pills and earplugs. 

   This trip home, 5 whole days, was incredibly healing. Seriously, I did very little but enjoy time with my family and make a trip to my doctor, who said I was doing well but in his professional opinion, he diagnosed me as being fat. Like I didn't know. Anyhow, after the usual indignities, I was able to get a guffaw out of him when after pulling up my drawers I said "Geez, you know Father Porter used to at least give me a candy bar after."   I have a fun doctor. 

 Beyond the fact of my doctor getting to 3rd base without buying me dinner first, I have little to complain about my 5 days here. I spent part of every day in the pool with my wife, whether daytime or no, and while I did get a mild sunburn it was nothing to complain about, and I actually look healthy, rather than my usual mix of dead corpse white and brick red,  and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife baked her brown buns to a lovely golden hue. She took a few days off from work and so we slept late, ate too much and killed off half a case of champagne and a half bottle of good scotch. 

 You know if I worked at Burger King I could sleep in my own bed more. The choices we make... 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Let's go be tugboaters!

 Well shit fire and save on matches, I am beat up. 

      I got off the HQ last week, 7 days ago to be precise, and instead of going home, I was offered a cushy job as watchman on a hot-stacked tugboat. That is to say that it was an uncrewed tugboat that still had the generator on, and was ready to work once enough bodies showed up. And I got a dream gig to get a week's OT just to babysit.  That was nice, as I had planned to go home but OT is sometimes welcome, and OT for watching TV and reading books is doubly so. 

       My trip to tugboat Shangri-La lasted 4 hours. Port captain called and said that one of the tugs had a deckhand couldn't keep awake on watch who was sent ashore in infamy and shame, and given that we're always short on bodies in my place of employ, I got called up to be deckhand. 

     I am much too old and sedentary to be a tugboat deckhand by choice. First off, while I was once a damn good AB  (Able-Bodied seaman) that was 15 years ago last time I had any practice, and that practice had never taken place on a tugboat. I was a ship AB, a different animal. 

 Oh, there's no real difficulty there, an AB is supposed to be an AB, much of a muchness. But the past is a whole different country, and we tend to view it with a rosy tint. I knew enough to leave my ego at home, but it takes a bit of a bite down to have to admit that you need direction when it comes to doing some truly basic shit.  Coiling lines, splicing, anyone can do that. Throwing lines, making up, making off, tugboat linehandling, something I watched our tugboat crews do without truly seeing what they did or the effort involved... whole other thing. 

   So, turns out that the bulwarks on a tugboat up forward, at least the one I am on while waiting for my relief today, come up to about halfway up my ribcage. Linehandling, almost all of it, has to take place above that height. 

    Turns out, prior to this past week, the heavy part of linehandling has been something I've done from a height below the waist. This is pertinent in that it means I use my core muscles to help drag and handle heavy stuff... and really, the labor part of my job on the HQ involves hauling VERY heavy weights, like say the last 12 feet of a  6" black oil hose end, which is around 300-400lbs,  very short distances, mostly by dragging them.  And on tugs I am handling hawsers, which are lighter but actually fairly heavy, passing them and wrapping them around bitts and such that are at eye height.   This shifts strain from my core to my shoulders, something I am not used to.  I was damn sore the first 3 days aboard, and there's a twinge at the base of my neck that still ain't gone away yet. 

          Aside from seamanship tasks, I had housekeeping chores that took up an hour a day. Emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up after dinner, taking out trash, disinfecting and dusting surfaces and tidying up the wheelhouse, shining stuff. Domestic, not a problem. 

      I had much more fun than expected with the crew. The captain is someone I knew a bit, and proved to have a good sense of humor, thank God, choosing to laugh at me rather than fuss when I turned up a bit of linehandling into a cat's cradle situation, and the other deckhand is a workhorse with a great sense of humor, who had no problem whatsoever with helping me and also doing some remedial teaching. Also, a great cook. We all ate well. 

    The accommodations are tugboat standard, which is to say I shared a room with the other deckhand since one of us must be awake and on watch at all times, so I had the room to myself. I had the top bunk, and it was a bit tight, my nose being about 16 inches from the overhead when I was lying in bed. Still, not terrible. 

     A tugboat being engines with a small steel shell built around them, it's noisy. I was amazed, truly, that I could sleep after a couple of days. I guess you can really get used to anything, and turns out when the engines are running, you can't hear the other people or the annoyingly ever-on galley TV, so I actually slept better after day 4 with the engines running. 

 And now here I am, waiting for my relief to show up so I can go back to the office, take a shower and go to the airport and go home... for 6 days. Back to the HQ then. 

 The past week has given me new appreciation for the tugboaters I work with for sure. It was nice to be part of a crew in many ways, rather than being the guy who signs the papers and swings valves.  It was a mental break in that my tasks were elemental and there was less higher brain function. Not that there's tons of mental heavy lifting in my regular job, but there are more opportunities and responsibilities than what I had this past week. So that was nice. 

   It was hard on the ego, though. I don't like that I wasn't a really good deckhand and needed extra supervision. Still, I improved as the week went on. I hope that the impression I left isn't "Oh Jesus, thank you that that guy's gone." 

 It'll be nice to return to my more familiar job next week. But I have no regrets about this past week, beyond that I didn't get to sit on my ass and get paid and had to work up some sweat. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Painting is a nice hobby

 My kid approached me months ago and asked if he could repaint his room. His room was painted a bland tan color that we never redid when we bought the house, so I was OK. I have a big collection of paint in my garage, as I do woodworking and we had repainted the exterior of the house last year, and he likes to paint artistically so he can blend colors far better than I did. 

 I didn't put 2 and 2 together until he had me come look the next day and he had painted a mural across 2 walls. He finds painting to be relaxing and peaceful. 

        I find painting relaxing too, though. Which is good I suppose since I work on a big piece of floating steel that is, if not long in the tooth, approaching late middle age. And so with this weekend being gloriously between jobs, I've been unleashing my inner artist and painting too. 

 Little different though. I'm cracking open a 5 gallon bucket and rolling paint en masse. Still, I find painting, especially painting the deck, to be a very zen activity. I tend to tune out the problems and worries of the day and just be one with the roller, taking the pink and rust-streaked old paint and covering it with a dark red that has just enough gloss to get through the summer before UV kills it and starts the 2 year process of bleaching it out again. 

    Anyways, we're using a new type of paint, called polysiloxane, that is an epoxy (a polymer) paint, but chemically different enough that I no longer am able to see into the future and navigate starships when I am mixing the stuff. It's far less toxic apparently and easier on VOC's. 

 I dunno, I'm kind of disappointed. It's still relaxing, though.