Saturday, August 13, 2022

being grateful

 We're scrambling here on the HQ like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor.  It has been NON STOP since I came aboard, minus a few small unintentional breaks caused by missing a tide or waiting for a tugboat- none over 2 hours. Today, with 3 hours to go until the tide, will be the longest break I've had since I came aboard 10 days ago.  The heat wave hitting the northeast has made this very unpleasant, but it broke yesterday and this morning before the sun came up I had to put a long-sleeved t-shirt on with the breeze blowing. It was glorious. 

   Yesterday I was a bit of a soup sandwich from the get go. The day before was very busy especially in the late afternoon, in the peak heat of the day, and I overheated, despite my best efforts. Got dizzy and nauseous. At some point in my job, there is just no avoiding that, and the safety nazis can go suck a diseased elephant cock if they preach otherwise.  Burning my balls off in the sun, wearing the approved PPE, neck in agony from staring straight up (and into the sun more or less)  for 20 minutes running a crane with a ton or so of hose hanging 60 feet in the air to help 2 overworked tiny Filipino gentlemen on the lifeboat deck of a monster container ship to wrestle the hose flange into position to bolt it to their fuel manifold.  Sweat is pooling in my eye sockets, so on top of being half blind my eyeballs burn like a mad mother too. The staring straight up is agonizing after just a few minutes and so I need to roll my head around every minute or so, but even so, how many years has it been now since I had full range of motion in my neck? Gee, I wonder why. Container ships are getting taller, crews are getting smaller, and the time it takes to connect a hose is increasing.  So, the other day, the candle on this cake was that with all this happening, it had also rained that morning and so I had damp drawers and a nice case of diaper rash as a result, in with high 90's temps with high humidity in the afternoon, I wanted to empty my stomach of the shitty wilted salad I had for lunch, because we've been so busy that we're out of good healthy greenstuff, and the last of the salad represented the last uncanned green thing on board, so I didn't want to throw it up. You just can't eat anything but light foods in this heat. Anyway I held it in until I could go back in the house and put my head in the sink to run tepid (no such thing as cool water on a steel boat in summer) water over the back of my neck and have some ice water, which we do have, thankfully.  Anyways, it's a picture that every military person and every construction worker outside of Alaska has had to deal with, so it's nothing special, just miserable, and I wanted to paint a picture for a reason. 

   So that was the other day. Yesterday I woke up ready to be displeased by the world. Feeling cunty, as we say. But... the heat had broken in the night. There was a strong wind, 20 knots, not quite enough for whitecaps but refreshing and it lasted until about 9am before gradually tapering to a breeze, and the heat came back, but not as bad. Still, it wasn't enough to turn my frown upside down. My neck ached abysmally, breakfast came from a can, and we were running late on a job, and if I did hurry, I had a safety inspection waiting for me when we got to the next tank farm to load, so I could do double duty. 

       Yesterday's ship was a pretty but elderly small breakbulk ship, loaded deep, but not to her marks, because they were light on fuel and so stopped by in New York harbor to bunker on their way from the Caribbean to Canada. The crew were the usual gaggle of Filipino unlicensed and Eastern European officers that you find on bulk ships- which tend to pay lower than tankers or container ships, but go to better places for longer port stays. The Filipino guys were the type that I like to work with- friendly, hard working, and good team players- they had my cargo hoses connected and slung properly in short order and my deck height and theirs were level so we could talk. No staring into the sun for me, which is a blessing and a treat. 

          The chief engineer and I had our pre-transfer conference right there on our decks, about 5 feet apart, passing papers and talking through the process in a very satisfactory and professional way. After, waiting for the crew to swing valves, we got to talking, and I knew I could hear a Ukrainian accent and that's a whole can of worms right there, but I asked about where he was from, and he was from Odessa, and out came the story. 

    A month ago the chief left his home in Odessa, hitched rides and snuck across the border to Moldova along with some refugees, which involved a lot of running from various people in various uniforms, and no food for a few days, in order to get to an airport and to meet an agent from the shipowner to smooth over the irregular entry into Moldova with customs (presumably with cash gifts), and to get on a plane to meet his ship. This guy is supposed to have a 6 month contract but will likely not be going home any time soon and will have to see what he can do to help his family beyond sending them money. 

     This guy looked tough, resolute, but... obviously deeply troubled. A tortured soul, I would guess, with a good game face. He had an Immaculate Heart of Mary pendant, so I pointed and said "Eastern Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, right?"  He laughed and said "Yis, exactly! I pray whole time I travel to Moldova. She very good for me." He pulled a gold and jeweled rosary out of his pocket. "This too. You know what is?"   "I do. I'm Catholic, but mine is at home, and not that nice."  "This was my mother's. You should travel with. You no want die without. Is good to have when you go." The Filipinos are all smiling. Of course they're all Catholic too. Generally ships seem to be either Catholic or moros, who tend towards Islam, when it comes to their Filipinos on board. How such things are organized I don't know. 

   Anyways, this all hit me like a bomb. I'm a sentimental person, although I take pains to not appear so. In talking with these guys, part of me is deeply ashamed at how self-centered and pitying my thinking has been the past few days. It was a good wake up call. I shouldn't be crying because it's not perfect weather. Here's some guys who are really dealing with some shit, and I'm all 'waah, my ass hurts and I'm hot, waah." 

 So at the end, when all was done and we called 'released' which means we're all free to part ways with all the work done, the chief waves to me and says "God bless you, now, keep you safe,'  and no bullshit, I choked right up, hard. I had been dwelling on his lot while we were working.  Near to shamed myself when he said that, I came that close to tearing up.   After about 5 seconds that felt like an hour I got out a real froggy "God and Mary and Patrick be with you," which is a nice and very old Irish parting blessing I'm very partial to but have few opportunities to use. 

    The rest of the day and this morning have been a little better, and I'm feeling more grateful for what I have. I think I got my clock reset. 


Rob said...

Don't know what you've got till it's gone....

Bob said...

Good post. We all need to hear what others are going through to appreciate what we have.

doubletrouble said...

Good story Paul; He can enter into our lives in the most unexpected circumstances.
Don’t let those events pass without recognition- a good opportunity for personal prayer.
God Bless, & may God & Mary & Patrick be with you!

JP said...

Hey Paul, been lurking on your blog for years. This post is why I keep coming back. You're one of us only better at writing about it.

js said...

You almost had me bawling too.I'm a friend,donor,volunteer at Missions To Seafarers in Atlantic Canada.I fill my car with Filipinos & Ukrainians & run them to Wal-Marts & ABC Stores.They are 'Seafarers Of Distinction'. js (QMED retired)